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GrnEyedDvl's Desk

Adventures in Home Buying

Rating: 3 votes, 3.67 average.
For numerous reasons my wife and I have decided to buy a new house. Home prices in the Denver metro area are pretty ridiculous with the average price being in the neighborhood of $390,000. Ouch!

For that you can get a nice sized house that's fairly well appointed, but that has a yard you can spit across, and when you stand between your house and the neighbors you can touch them both. We currently live in an older part of the city (house built in 1949), and my yard is two or three times the size of anything "modern". So as we started looking in areas that are convenient for both of us, we started finding lots of things we didn't like. To replace the house we are in would cost well above that 390k average when you consider I am in a 5 bed 2 bath house with a 3 car garage and a workshop on the back of it. When you consider I paid $63,000 for this house in 1993 and today to get approximately the same house in a different part of town is going to be in the neighborhood of $450,000 and have half the yard I was not impressed. Not to mention every single one of them is in one of those pesky HOA communities.

So we began looking a bit outside of the Denver metro area. The drive isn't a big deal, especially considering its actually shorter in terms of time even though its longer in miles because of how badly Denver traffic sucks. We picked an area on the same side of the city we work in so we can skip almost all of the normal rush hour traffic, and the more we looked around the more we liked it. And we decided that if we are going to spend this much money on a house, then it would have everything we wanted. We made a list of requirements, and anything that doesn't fit that list is immediately skipped and we move on to the next one.

One of those requirements is room enough for a rifle range with a layout of the land to accommodate that. For what I want to do there nothing under 20 acres of land is workable, and we are actually looking at properties in the neighborhood of 35-40 acres, and still within a 30 minute drive or so from the center of Denver. We have actually found quite a few, and the last few days we have gone and looked at several. One of them I really liked had everything she wanted (huge kitchen, granite and marble all over the place, lots of other open spaces), met the land requirements, and also has a 3 car attached garage with a 10 car detached garage that had its own office, shower, and laundry room. It was awesome. Unfortunately it went under contract the same day we looked at it and has now been sold. Houses here are moving fast, that one was on the market for only 17 days.

Back to the drawing board. Today we went and looked at another house, and we really liked this one. Its actually bigger than the other one we liked though it doesn't have a detached 10 car garage with it. I guess I will have to live with a 4 car attached garage until I can build a shop if I buy this one. And it has a lot of things we were not expecting nor were we looking for. And it also has a big surprise which I was not prepared for and will detail at the end. A quick rundown of this house:

4500 square feet - Quite a bit bigger than our requirements
36 acres of land
5 bedrooms - again more than we require + a huge office that could easily be a 6th
5 bathrooms
A monster kitchen that she fell in love with. The kitchen in our current house is laid out 1949 style which she has always hated.
A fully finished basement - with 10 foot tall ceilings. I have never been in a basement that was 10 feet tall before today, but its pretty awesome.
Room in the basement for a full size 9 foot pool table. This was a requirement I was not going to live without and its tough to find.

The house has 3 80 gallon hot water heaters, two of them solar powered. The other is just a backup for when its cloudy for several days. The house has exterior walls that are 2 feet thick and is super insulated. Today it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit when we went out there (that's 0 Celsius for you Europeans) and of the 3 heat systems in the house (yes 3) all they had running was a little gas fireplace in the basement that heated the entire house. The house has another bank of solar panels for powering the house, and a bank of batteries that are good for more than 24 hours, has a backup generator and is also tied into the main utility grid. During the summer the power meter actually runs backwards and the power company pays the owner of the house for the electricity he puts back into the grid. Its not much, his biggest check this year was $7 but that's a lot better than writing them a check, and it can be increased by adding more panels. There is a 1000 propane tank instead of natural gas, and a well that's drilled into an aquifer just over 500 feet deep.

As long as you had food and diesel for the generator, you could literally go entirely off the grid for months at a time and not even leave the house. That could be pretty useful when we have the 5 foot blizzards we get here every few years. The current owner of the house is also the guy that built it, and I spent several hours talking with him today. He's a very sharp guy. He and his wife built this house 20 years ago with the plan that they would retire and die in it, so he built it exactly how he wanted it. His circumstances have changed so they are selling it, but he doesn't want to.

The land the house is on is almost perfect. The house is more than we expected. Its in the price range we decided on and actually quite a bit lower than our maximum.

Ok GED, so what the heck is the problem? Buy it already!

That is actually what I was thinking the entire time we were out there. And then came the surprise....

Its built out of straw bales. wtf?!?

That's right, bales of straw form the exterior load bearing walls. That's why they are so thick, and also why they are super insulated. He actually pulled out pictures of the building process and walked me through how its done. I had never heard of such a thing before. Even my real estate agent was baffled. Apparently its an old technique that is picking up steam again in parts of the US and other parts of the world, but its not common at all in Colorado. I am still a bit surprised by it and I have been reading up on it for the last few hours. For those of you who have heard of this, shame on you for not informing me beforehand! For those of you who have not heard of this, I grabbed a few links.

These two are from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

There are steps to go through when inspecting these houses because they are so different, and most home inspectors probably are not qualified to inspect them. And that is just one hurdle in the way if we actually decide we want this house. There are lots of other potential pitfalls such as financing and insurance and who knows what else, because this is not a house built in any of the "traditional" manners. Apparently there are only 90 straw bale houses in Colorado, and most of them are in the southern part of the state. But there is an organization called the Colorado Straw Bale Association and also an international registry of straw bale homes which is where I got the number 90 from though there may well be more that are not listed.

I honestly have no idea what we are going to do here. But I must admit I am intrigued.

Updated October 29, 2015 at 01:12 AM by GrnEyedDvl

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  1. Gigantus's Avatar
    If you are not under time pressure then this is worth following up on. Even more so if it is in a good maintenance shape (20 years can play havoc if you don't pay attention).

    Running a little gas heater to warm the whole house? Getting money back from the electricity guys? Not that I know anything about heating costs where I live (it's also 30degrees but that's Celsius), but if I could just open a little fridge and cool the whole house AND get money back I would certainly be on the straw bale trail and check out stuff.
  2. Junaidi83 de Bodemloze's Avatar
    Since its made from straw, that mean its will easy to catch fire isnt ???
  3. GrnEyedDvl's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Junaidi83 de Bodemloze
    Since its made from straw, that mean its will easy to catch fire isnt ???
    That was the first thing I said too, but apparently not.
  4. Derpy Hooves's Avatar
    Hopefully a big bad wolf doesn't come around and blow the house down :surprise:
  5. y2day's Avatar
    I've never heard of a strawbale house. lol Taking that out of the equation the place sounds perfect, as you said it exceeds all your requirements. I know you will do your homework on the straw bale walls and if the pro's out weigh the cons I say go for it. I would def find someone that has a bit of experience to inspect it before I pulled the trigger. A quick google search and I found this link below.


    Just a quick read and it seems the biggest thing to check for before buying and if you do buy it, in the future is avoid any and all moisture from getting into the straw. You mentioned 5 ft. snow falls in that area....That would have me a bit concerned about the moisture issue. Good luck and please keep us updated. I subscribed.... :)