If you think that this 'owner builder' or 'straw bale' thing is only for experienced or 'handy' type people, you would be mistaken. We had very little experience when we started on this journey, and we have built a fairly complex house (in terms of the shape) without too many disasters, so it can definitely be done!
Peter had barely picked up a hammer in his life (except to hang a picture or two) and Natasha had no experience whatsoever except for a 4 day course she did with Brian Hodge from Anvill in 2006, a few years before we started building. Having said that, we reckon there are few key ingredients to being a successful owner-builder in this straw bale house caper. They include:
* Having a building consultant to guide you
We think this is critical on a number of levels. For us, we needed someone who was experienced in building, and straw bale building. We had Brian help us design our plans, and through him, got our drafting, engineering, energy rating, and building inspections/surveying. This made the process easy, and we got our plans and building permit approved in 6 weeks with no problems.
Throughout the build, Brian was on hand to answer any questions we had (over the phone), of which there were plenty. We had Brian's book, and DVD series, as well as Natasha's notes and book from her course with Brian, and these were all used extensively throughout the build.
In saying this, Brain did not set foot on our property during our build. Sometimes we needed to sendhim photos, but mosty everything was done over the phone.
* Getting some hands-on experience building and/or straw bale building before you start your own
This was the best thing we could have done. We found a straw bale owner builder 50 min drive from us, and Peter helped them build for a few months (2-3 days/week). It was an investment of his time, but absolutely invaluable - in fact it's almost worth paying for! There is simply no way we would have been able to build our house like we did, without this experience. Peter gained so much confidence and experience during this time, and there is simply no substitute for the hands-on approach. There are plenty of owner builders out there who would love to get a spare pair of hands (ie yours) to help them build, and would be very happy to give you information, experience and contacts.
* Get some good support people
We were very lucky to have our friends and family around us to help, both in time and money (when we really needed it!) and lots of emotional support as well. If you think you can do it alone, think again!
* Determination and willingness to work hard
This may seem quite obvious, but it really is important. Our test came very early in the build, in trying to get our stumps in. In 6 weeks Peter lost 10kg and Natasha lost 5kg, digging, cleaning out and re-digging, and re-digging and cleaning out, and then filling in, our stump holes. If you are a bit of a softie when it comes to hardship, adversity, or things not going your way, it might be a good idea to re-consider!
So, although you don't have to be an experienced builder or handy-man, with some key ingredients, it can definitely be done! In fact, we reckon that if we can do it, almost anyone can!