Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

For sale: studio made of straw

Appraisers, North Lawrence couple disagree about value of rare structure

March 28, 2006


It may be beautiful and environmentally friendly, but it's the only one around.

That's the problem Scott and Victoria Garrette have run into as they prepare to sell their home at 305 Lincoln St. in North Lawrence. Behind the home sits a free-standing, 400-square-foot studio that the Garrettes built a few years back using bales of straw.

To the Garrettes - both of whom are artists - it's an unusually valuable space, with high ceilings, a lot of natural light, splendid insulation and great acoustics afforded by the thick, straw walls.

But the Garrettes said they've been disappointed by the low value appraisers have placed on the building, a factor that could complicate matters when they put the home on the market this week. The couple are moving out of the area.

They believe appraisers are detracting from the value because of the unfamiliarity of straw-bale construction.

"I think basically our issue is, 'What do you do when there's nothing to compare it to, since that's how you value homes?'" Scott Garrette said. "There's no comparable buildings to this."

A county appraiser said they might be right.

"It's something that's unique, and it's hard to say what the value is because people just aren't used to it," said Steve Miles, appraisal manager for the Douglas County Appraiser's Office. "I think there's going to be some skepticism about it."

An online registry of straw-bale buildings lists only 443 of the structures in the United States, with nine in Kansas.

The Garrettes started building their studio in 2003 and finished it in 2005.

As far as they know, it's the only straw-bale structure in the city of Lawrence large enough to have required a building permit. They used post-and-beam construction to support the roof, and they built the walls with 70 bales of straw bought from a farmer near Lecompton. The walls are covered inside and out with clay plaster.

The couple estimates the structure's value at close to $50,000, based on the work and materials they put into it. But they said appraisers had put the value around $15,000.

Their entire property, including their home and the studio, was appraised recently at about $97,000. They plan to set the property's asking price at $159,900.

Because mortgage lenders generally won't issue a loan for more than a home's appraised value, the Garrettes are worried potential buyers won't be able to buy the home unless they have a large amount of cash for a down payment.

"We know there's going to be people who want to buy it. We just hope that they'll be able to buy it," Victoria Garrette said.

Straw House


kcwarpony 12 years, 1 month ago

Straw bale construction is being used on some Indian reservations as a solution for the lack of proper housing on the rez. Red Feather Development Group is a non-profit that uses straw bale construction in their housing program. They have a web page that explains how a house is built. I wouldn't mind living in one.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago

These structures are far more energy efficient than most new structures in Lawrence,Kansas for that is their purpose. If the Energy Hog put his test to so many new or almost new structures, no matter what the cost, in Lawrence it would reveal several leaks where heat and AC are escaping. That is due to poor installation of insulation and/or not the best choice of windows.

cowboy 12 years, 1 month ago

I was around many of these and adobe structures as a kid in Arizona , they're strong and well insulated , had to knock one down for a friends dad once , jeez they are tough !

neopolss 12 years, 1 month ago

And to think, a $97,000 house might actually be reasonable. But wait, this is Lawrence. Let's overinflate the price to $159,000. The bottom will drop out from this town in years to come.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 1 month ago

If this structure was built well, and from what I've heard it was, then it's a much higher quality building that 99.9% of anything else being built in Lawrence these days. So it should be valued at a premium over other structures, and the going rate these days is easily $100 per square foot, meaning that $50,000 isn't unreasonable.

But didn't this have to be built as an "out building" because straw bale is a non-conforming building technique according to Lawrence's building codes? I suspect that may be part of the problem. Lawrence needs to update its codes to allow for alternative techniques, especially ones like strawbale which have a good track record-- it's been incorporated in codes elsewhere which could provide a model for Lawrence codes.

It does sound like they want more for the main house than it may be worth, though. By my math, even if they get $50,000 for the studio, the whole property isn't worth much more than $135,000.

jayhawks71 12 years, 1 month ago

What is "staw" and why is it part of a graphic on the front page? Oh... stRaw. I thought I was going to learn about something new!

LawrenceKSisgreat 12 years, 1 month ago

Info is from

Frequently Asked Questions About Straw-Bale This section answers some of the most commonly asked questions about straw-bale construction.

Will the bales rot? Without adequate safeguards, rot can occur. The most important safeguard is to buy dry bales. Fungi and mites can live in wet straw, so it's best to buy the straw when it's dry and keep it dry until it is safely sealed into the walls. Paint for interior and exterior wall surfaces should be permeable to water vapor so that moisture doesn't get trapped inside the wall. Construction design must prevent water from gathering where the first course of bales meets the foundation. Even if straw bales are plastered, the foundation upon which the bales rest should be elevated above outside ground level by at least six inches or more. This protects bales from rain water splashing off the roof.

Will pests destroy the walls? Straw bales provide fewer havens for pests such as insects and vermin than conventional wood framing. Once plastered, any chance of access is eliminated.

Are straw-bale buildings a fire hazard? The National Research Council of Canada tested plastered straw bales for fire safety and found them to perform better than conventional building materials. In fact, the plaster surface withstood temperatures of about 1,850° F for two hours before any cracks developed. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, "The straw-bales/mortar structure wall has proven to be exceptionally resistant to fire. The straw bales hold enough air to provide good insulation value, but because they are compacted firmly, they don't hold enough air to permit combustion."

Soapdish 12 years, 1 month ago

Hey LJworld. You spelled it "Staw" on the headline. Might want to fix that and I wonder how it printed?

John Spencer 12 years, 1 month ago

I tink I taw a putty tat! I di I di, I di saw a putty tat. Doesnt't the JW proof-read? I remember a headline a few years ago that read "MURDER VICTIM THREATENED" I thought to my self did the murderer go to the morgue and start yelling at the corpse? I wonder how long the headline will be wrong? I am betting it will be fixed by 9am.

LawrenceKSisgreat 12 years, 1 month ago

Straw bale houses are nothing new. Homesteaders in the NW of the US built straw bale houses around the 1880 and probably much sooner.

The earlier site I listed used data from a Canadian study. I know many of you will find some fault with that just because they are Canadian. But, hey, they now have a conservative government. Here is a site with good info from a US .gov site /envelope/framing/strawbale.html

!!!!! Copy and paste the 2 above lines seperatly into your browser to make them onel long URL !!!!!!.

nb4d 12 years, 1 month ago

"and from what I've heard it was, then it's a much higher quality building that 99.9% of anything else being built in Lawrence these days"

Where did you hear this? Seems like people just making up numbers.

Also, everyone is talking so much about how this is so energy efficient. Who cares? It's not the main house. This is just the art studio in the back yard, just like my detached workshop in my back yard. I don't live in my shop, and they don't live in their studio.

LawrenceKSisgreat 12 years, 1 month ago


Can you do something about the problem pasting long URLs here???

Try this URL instead /components/envelope/framing/strawbale.html

!!!! Copy and paste the 2 above lines seperatly into your browser to make them onel long URL !!!!!!.

LawrenceKSisgreat 12 years, 1 month ago

If the US public would embrace this Staw Bale House technology it could certainly, and is now being used widespread in the SW of the USA, as main houses

moveforward 12 years, 1 month ago

My guess is that it is worth about exactly what someone will pay for it.

76_IH_Scout_Dad 12 years, 1 month ago

The only reason I see that would make the studio hard to sell is the fact that it's ugly as hell. One other thing that makes no sense to me. It the county thinks the whole ball of wax is worth 97k, and the straw building worth 15k. Then you could do the math and assume that the house is worth appraised 82k. The Garrette's are asking 160k for both, believing that the straw building is worth 50k, So they are also thinking the house is worth 110k? The only point I'm trying to illustrate is it's possible that the Garrette's might be over valuing there property, straw building or no.

lunacydetector 12 years, 1 month ago

i wonder if Fred and Wilma are looking for a house, but they'd have to take a time machine into the future.

how did something like this pass building inspections? wonder if the owner had to hire an architect and engineer to get this thing built.

is it still illegal to build old tire houses?

can i build a mud hut in my backyard to store my lawnmower ?

this thing might have a lot of money in it, but i just can't see a bunch of people beating down the door to get their hands on it, especially when its value is $35,000 more than what an appraiser says it's worth.

perhaps one of the 'greenies' who writes on here will be a buyer, but most (if not all) lenders want someone who is gainfully employed.

cutny 12 years, 1 month ago

uh...lunacysubjector, I don't think the terms "gainfully employed" and "greenie" are mutually exclusive. Dang, aren't you the rocket scientist though, to establish the theory that mortgage lenders typically want to lend money to people with jobs. Wow, it's like a lightbulb just went on in my head.

bluerose 12 years, 1 month ago

that structure is one of the most beautiful and valuable that i have ever seen in lawrence, possibly even in new mexico, where i lived for several years. i can hardly wait to ride my bike over there and look, see it in person, this weekend. it seems to have been built with joy and consciousness. the value is incomparable, especially if the comparison is with the identical cardboard structures jammed in west lawrence.

i must be a "greenie" and i'm glad. and i am gainfully employed, but as it is at KU, i will likely never be able to afford to buy such a house and studio.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 1 month ago

"can i build a mud hut in my backyard to store my lawnmower ?"


bankboy119 12 years, 1 month ago

bozo my math is coming to the same conclusion yours is. And that's actually giving them another $3000 on top of the $132,000. Good luck trying to sell that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago


"Where did you hear this? Seems like people just making up numbers."

Quite simply, a well-built post and beam, straw-bale house is much better than a standard, stick-built house about anyway you want to measure it. But it's also a more expensive (as in labor-intensive) method, and requires a bit more skill, as well.

Marion-- I agree that codes here need to be loosened up to allow for more alternative techniques, but one reason they aren't is that there aren't standardized, national codes for most of those techniques.

The city and county could open themselves up to liability issues if they allow a non-conforming technique to be used, and problems turn up later, whether or not they are they are caused by the technique itself, or just poor execution.

moveforward 12 years ago

Fred and Wilma?!?!?! I am on the floor laughing... nice.

benm024 12 years ago

"My guess is that it is worth about exactly what someone will pay for it."

Exactly right, but the homeowners do have a point. People will only be able to get loans based on appraised value. Even if they are willing to take out a loan and pay what they and the homeowner believe to be a fair price, they may not be able to get a loan to do so.

BDub 12 years ago

With respect to this couple who built this neat little studio, they had to have known this would be an issue when they built it. So either someone will agree with them that it has a greater value and will want to pay for it, or tough luck. They knew it would be a problem, and guess what? It is. Can't really feel sorry for them.

Godot 12 years ago

1920's bungalw, 654 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, block basement with a small, homemade straw studio, all on a really small lot in an area prone to flooding. $159,900? They are correct; someone is going to have to have a lot of cash to buy it for that price.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago


I really like that random caps-lock thing you have going. It makes your pointless posts even more idiotic, greatly increasing the comic value. Keep up the good work. I'm sure the JW appreciates your contributions to the entertainment value of this forum

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Oops. Guess they don't appreciate it as much as I thought.

badger 12 years ago

I wonder if they get a lot of Big Bad Wolf jokes...

rse1979 12 years ago

Hmmm, I doubt they were complaining about the low appraisal when they got their property tax bills all those years.

baykivo 12 years ago

Scott and Victoria built an amazing studio and made so many beautiful improvements to their home. I will be sad to see them leave the community and wish I could make that little house on Lincoln my home.

james bush 12 years ago

I hope they find someone with money and as "arty" as they are who like their creation. Good luck Scott and Victoria!

sgarrette 12 years ago

It's nice to see the debate. We are not asking for sympathy, just exposing an issue we feel is important. Am I wrong, or does everyone want to do their best for their future? As far as home value and studio value go, county sq. footage is incorrect and there are many improvements to the property and house, not including the studio, that have increased the value of the property. If you want to debate with all the information, contact our wonderful agent when the property is listed to get all of the details.

Oh, we are not considered to be in a flood plain, that requires extra insurance. We did design the building so that the bottom of it is protected from water. And of course, we did have a building permit and passed all of the inspections that the county requires.

It's interesting that this type of building, and others which are considered alternative or non-traditional, were very common in England (wet) and other parts of Europe hundreds of years ago. Many are still standing. I bring this up to point out how much influence industry has on public opinion. Could it be that Lumber, Brick, Iron and Steel, etc. have had influence on codes and laws and were able to force their will upon the public? Why do we have to be burried in a cemetery? Well we don't, but there is a law that you've got to be in the ground in 24hrs. Could this law have been created by someone who just wanted to make money by forcing a service upon the public? Something to think about... My points are that there is no exact science to valuing a house and that your opinion of the value of a building method may have been given to you by money hungry industries. There are faults in every building method, even straw, that's why buildings need to be maintained. Thank you all for the chance to be seen and heard. Scott & Victoria

bangaranggerg 12 years ago

I went through a long search to find the home I currently own and found that some of the "arty" folk will paint up their house all crazy and do some really questionable things decorating, thinking that it makes their house worth more money. It's like that TLC trading spaces episode where the designer put straw on the walls. Just because something appeals to your taste doesn't mean you have raised the value of it at all. Plus no matter what web info you find saying straw is a good building material, try getting affordable home insurance on it, I bet most carriers would laugh you out the door.

lunacydetector 12 years ago

i wonder if something like this could be used as a tourist attraction.....ahhh Kansas!

someone could buy it, then hand dig a well nearby, then have a twine drive THEN it could be promoted as a preview of all the great tourist attractions of kansas - all in one place!

mom_of_three 12 years ago

According to the websites I have visited, there are a number of insurance companies who are willing to insure a straw home. Buildings of this nature are common in the Southeast. I have seen shows about straw houses, as well as those made from old tires, and aluminum cans. All of those options are very economical.

I think it is a unique home that someone would love to buy. I don't understand why it is appraised so low. I have seen shoebox type of houses sell for over $50,000 in Lawrence, and not be as energy efficient.

mom_of_three 12 years ago

I don't think you can limit "artsy" folk to strange decorating in order to sell a house. When we bought our house 10 years ago, our main bathroom was painted pink, our entry way had paisley style wall paper, and the dining area was pink and tan striped. All were done before the house went on the market, and we purchased it from a bachelor. (and yes, we changed it all). People's tastes and opinions vary.

hobb2264 12 years ago

How "common" could they be? According to the article, there are only 443 of these structures in the entire country.

I think the county should go ahead and appraise it for a reasonably higher value assuming that this was normal construction. Then let market forces tell this couple what the county appraisers are trying to tell them....this property isn't worth what they think it is. Then, when it hasn't sold by this time next year, they can pay the higher property taxes.

Confrontation 12 years ago

Kansas: As Full of Straw as You Think

sgarrette 12 years ago

Here's one for y'all. An artist creates a painting, sculpture, etc. and places a value on it. Sure, you can live in this art, but is it really any different?

Fatty_McButterpants 12 years ago

Now that the Journal-World has printed what their home was actually valuated at, there's no way they will get their asking price.

sgarrette 12 years ago

it is public record and there is no reason to hide it

away 12 years ago

County has it at $84,200 with previous year at $77,700.

donsalsbury 12 years ago

"An artist creates a painting, sculpture, etc. and places a value on it. Sure, you can live in this art, but is it really any different?"

People don't generally take out mortgages to buy works of art.

Best of luck to you. If there's one place in the world where you can get that much money for what you're selling, it's Lawrence, KS...

mom_of_three 12 years ago

Buildings of this structure are more common IN the southeast as opposed to this part of the country. There, are you happy now.

gccs14r 12 years ago

I can't see anything in North Lawrence being worth six figures. Sorry. The Kaw will eventually reclaim everything over there, just as it will eventually wipe out both Perry and Billtown.

NorthLawrenceDude 12 years ago

Uhhhhh folks, the straw studio is nice. But the main house in front looks like a junk yard. 159K? what a joke. Clean the place up before you put it on the market please.

Confrontation 12 years ago

Would this be a good site for a new Salvation Army shelter?

NorthLawrenceDude 12 years ago

OFF TO THE RIGHT, you are so correct. (I just rolled when I read your post) All of these so called "artists" in North Lawrence are driving down property prices with these "dumps" they decorate and call houses. I think the county should immediately raise the taxes on the shack, and let the "artists" pay fair tax amounts like the rest of us.

bluerose 12 years ago

i am starting to understand why the garrette's might be wanting to sell their home and wonderful studio and pack up and leave lawrence. it was still an interesting and open place when i moved here about 7 years ago and certainly still is, in some respects. but wow. reading this stream of commentary today, i have the impression the town is filled with intolerant, dull-minded conservatives. ugh.

NorthLawrenceDude 12 years ago

bluerose, maybe you should buy it...and the "crack house" next door too. Clean up both properties, and the good people of North Lawrence will be MOST tolerant of you. (smile)

kansas_prairieland 12 years ago

This town is FILLED with dull-minded conservatives?!

Yeah, sure.

Okay. Whatever.

portstorm 12 years ago

I bet if the house and studio were full of PVC plumbing (that explodes), had a low strength concrete foundation (that will crack and sink), were sided in pressboard siding (that is currently involved in a class action lawsuit for rotting off the sides of people houses), was painted in one coat of builders grade paint (that was sprayed on in 15 minutes), and had a roof of cedar shingles (that are required by many silly homes associations) it would sell for $200,000 like every other house in Lawrence.

I'm not surprised at all. It seems to me like the appraisal companies have no idea how to appraise homes that aren't either 1.) in the really nice parts of town or 2.) built like 600 other homes in the neighborhood by the same builder.

I bet it was . I've had dozens of friends lately who had their homes appraised by them (at a significant reduction in value). Not because of the downturn but because they counted the SQ/ft, lot size, rooms, bathrooms, etc incredibly wrong. Sure you can dispute it, but even then once the appraiser makes a correction (usually a few thousand bucks) that's it.. you are screwed... good luck getting a mortgage even if you can pay it no problem.

Linda Aikins 12 years ago

Some of us are pretty nice folks.

james bush 12 years ago

LJW, thanks for a different story once again. Scott and Victoria, thank you too. I think you and people like you make life interesting. I'm too conservative to buy a place like yours and maybe wouldn't want it next door either. But truly, I do hope the best for you and your buyer! Hey, maybe all that diversity training really did get to me! No kidding, good luck!

james bush 12 years ago

PS.I live in Jefferson County rural area and there is a straw house not far away that's been there for at least 15 years. Never been in it though

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

"Actually the straw artsy fartsy hut dump looks a lot sturdier than the actual house the owners are living in!"

That's because it is-- and probably strudier than any stickbuilt house in town.

pierced_daisy 12 years ago

I can appreciate that the owners of the house wanted to expand on their legally owned property to better suit their needs.

However, they need to understand that they live in North Lawrence where property values are not as intesnse as other parts of lawrence. They own a smaller home and they built a straw home/addon on a flood plain that took up the majority of their back yard. A backyard is something that many potential homebuyers look at especially considering that Lawrence is such an animal friendly town.

This family spent close to 50k on building this structure. That is more than half of the value of the established residence. I can understand doing add-ons to an already established property that would definately raise property value. However, why make an add on that is not already sent through the appraisal office before hand to get an estimate of the future to come? Why does this couple think that their add on is worth 50k? As a homebuyer, I would only pay about that cost for an add on if the yard remained spacious, the add on had running water, a sink, and a shower. Basically, an additional room that isnt connected to the house is NOT worth 50k.

I understand that they put in that amount of money, but they built a straw foundation on a flood plain. They can explain how they tried to flood proof the home and the structural soundness of it - but the buyer still sees the bottom line = original house standing, Zero yard left, new structure made out of straw on a flood plain without sink or shower. you will be lucky to get 125k for it especially given location.

Next time you decided to build a cool addition, make sure you can load it up on a semi and not try to pass your costs to the buyer who honestly wont pay for it!

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