A young couple’s unusual approach to building their first home

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For environmental educators Sam Ryan and Dani Austin, building their dream house from straw was a natural choice. “I studied environmental science, and Sam studied environmental management,” says 30-year-old Austin.

“As kids we enjoyed the tale of The Three Little Pigs, we are lifelong fans of David Attenborough and love Grand Designs, so I suspect these have had a strong influence on us!” she laughs.

The couple are building their dream house on 450 square metres of beautiful communal land in Aldinga Arts Eco Village, an hour south of Adelaide. “We were drawn there by the beach, the village lifestyle and the like-minded community,” she says.

The couple’s home is one of several straw buildings in the area. Other homes are sustainably built using other natural resources such as rammed earth and mud brick. “Luckily, building our house is very much a community effort,” says Austin. “Everyone is pitching in.”

First time homeowners and builders, Austin says she and Ryan felt confident embarking on the project. “We studied natural building methods at lowimpact.org, a not-for-profit organisation in the UK that provides training in sustainable building,” she says. “We also had invaluable training from straw bale builders and renders House of Bales, who taught us how to erect straw bale walls, which we were then able to execute ourselves with friends.”

First-time homeowners and builders, Dani Austin and Sam Ryan felt confident embarking on the project after studying natural building methods. Photo: Dani Austin

The choice to use straw was a logical one. “Its insulation properties are excellent, which make it ideal for a city like Adelaide where temperatures fluctuate dramatically. The size and thickness of the straw bale walls are also beautiful to live within. They make you feel very protected and nestled.”

The 120-square-metre house consists of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a very large pantry and open-plan living. “The walls are 450 millimetres wide with a 35 millimetre render on each side,” she says. “The external walls are a cement-and-lime render, and the internal walls are an earth render that comprises of clay, sand, water. The end result is very strong but beautiful.”

The choice to use straw was a logical one for Austin and Ryan. Photo: Dani Austin

In the open-plan living space, the couple have installed four beams crafted from 150-year-old jetty timber. “They are gorgeous but also very functional,” says Austin. “Our lights and ceiling fans will be suspended from them, so we don’t have to make holes in our ceiling.”

Also to be installed are copper pipes, a large solar panel array and storage for 20,000 litres of rainwater. A shipping container on the property – being used as a storeroom – will later be transformed into a woodwork shed for Ryan. “We are cladding it in recycled timber and will build a green roof where we can grow grasses,” Austin says.

The couple are building their dream house on 450 square metres of beautiful communal land in Aldinga Arts Eco Village, an hour south of Adelaide. Photo: Dani Austin

Their material choice and building methods have constituted a sound financial decision, with the entire project coming in at about $420,000. “We paid $165,000 for our land, and expect the house to cost us around $2100 a square metre,” she says.

When the couple complete the building process and move into their straw house in a couple of months, it will be with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. “There have been stressful moments, but mostly building our straw house has been an incredibly enjoyable process,” Austin says. “The only downside is I am not as fond of The Three Little Pigs any more, because, as you might expect, we get the ‘but the wolf will blow it down’ joke a lot.”

Other homes in the area are sustainably built using natural resources such as rammed earth and mud brick. Photo: Dani Austin

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