Community Rebuilds is a non-profit organization that builds affordable housing using straw bale construction. We were provided with housing, bulk foods, and a monthly stipend in return for our labor in building a straw bale home from start to finish! CR is originally based out of Moab, Utah, however I participated in their second build in Colorado. Our project was a three-story duplex straw bale/ straw cellulose hybrid home. Due to a setback with the foundation, we literally did just about everything from foundation to finish minus the plumbing, electrical and a portion of the drywall.
You hear people say that sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, but in construction, it almost never goes as planned. Our foundation was supposed to get laid in the fall of 2015, however due to how many houses are being built in Mt. Crested Butte, the concrete company was behind and that never happened. When we all arrived on May 9, 2016 our site was literally a hole in the ground filled partially with rainwater. We were all expecting to begin framing the following week…oh to be young and naive. We spent our first two weeks practicing with different power tools and building some furniture for the intern house as well as making bathroom vanities out of pallet wood for the house we would be building. Eventually the ground was compacted and we were able to go up to the site and build the form for the FOUNDATION so that it was ready for a pour.
Once we finished with the foundation we were a month behind on our project so we were asked if we could extend our commitment until December 16 rather than the original November 4. I had no idea at that time what I was getting into, and I think if I had I might have reconsidered agreeing so hastily. However looking back now, I can’t imagine not have being there for the entire build.
We began FRAMING on June 7, the straw bales started going in on August 23, which was also the time that the trusses for the roof were simultaneously being installed. Straw bales were completely finished on September 22 and after came siding and the door and window installation. Siding was finished October 25 which then led to lots of prep for drywall and plastering. I believe we began plastering by November 18 (I stopped being as good with my notes by the end) and our last 2 weeks on the build we knocked out the Tadelakt showers and adobe floors!
There were many days that I thought the house would never be done, we had several interns leave early due to various reasons and I can’t lie that the thought of quitting crossed my mind on several occasions. A lot of the work was frustrating, it could be extremely tedious, and sometimes my brain just hurt from thinking so much. I found that I hated the process of squaring the framing because it NEVER seemed to be right. I realized I can’t stand cutting or hanging drywall and working with straw causes a lot of sneezing and itchiness. However, with all of that being said, I have to say that my time with CR was one of the most unique, positive, and educational experiences of my life.
There is something about pushing through difficult times that is incredibly rewarding and brings so much sense of accomplishment. The feeling that I had when we finished our commitment and we had this three story home standing in place of the hole in the ground that we had first seen 7 months prior was unexplainable. The friendships I formed with my roommates where we were living and working together was irreplaceable. I had formed a new family and we had all worked together to create something beautiful for two lower income families who were SO wonderful to work with. I felt like the entire project took me through this complete transformation of becoming both emotionally and physically stronger. It was 7 months of belly laughs, tears, love, frustration, breathtaking scenery, bonding and learning. I couldn’t have asked for anything more special and I am eternally grateful for my Community Rebuilds family.
I would HIGHLY recommend this program to anyone who is interested in learning how to build a straw bale home. I learned more than I ever hoped to learn and all of the staff and interns were wonderful. In fact I loved it so much I have begun to think about doing it again in Moab!