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Michael Rilling
The Straw Bale Connection

By Patrick McDonald
Michael Rilling, owner of the Straw Bale Connection in South Texas has been building Straw Bale Homes since 1994.  He and his wife Sarah have hosted many seminars and workshops attended by people from all over the world and all walks of life.  Sarah, with her background in public relations has been invaluable in spreading the word on Straw Bale Building and Sustainability.  Together they live in a straw bale house they built with the help of their friends in Boerne, Texas. 

Better Earth News:  What's your background Mike? 
Michael Rilling:  Well, in 1978 I got involved with conventional construction and that got a little boring.  Then, I was into rammed earth and also recycled steel-frame construction.  We did that for a while.  After that, I kinda got away from building for a while and got into property management. 
In 1994 I got back into construction and decided on straw bale building. 
BEN: What attracted you to straw bale? 
MR: It was really a no-brainer.  It was so simple.  Everything fit the way I like to build.  It didn't require a great deal of skilled labor as long as you had somebody who'd done it a few times before and could guide you through it.  It used basically a residue left over from the agricultural process.  And it gives farmers another source of income; I always make sure to buy from local farmers wherever I am. 
BEN: Do people still look at you like you're crazy when you tell them what you do? 
MR: Oh yeah.  It's becoming more acceptable but still, people look at me like I said I saw a UFO or something.  But, once you talk to them, and if you present yourself as a serious human being who's not likely to grab a rifle, climb a tower and start shooting, people will accept it.  I encountered the same thing with rammed earth and with steel-frame construction.  You have to remember, it wasn't that long ago that we were all building with stone and concrete.  Someone had to come along and say "hey, let's use wood frame for everything".  People looked at them as though they were foolish too. 
BEN:  What about on a governmental level,  have you experienced any change in the way financial institutions and insurance companies view straw bale houses? 
MR:  It's becoming more accepted because simply, there are so many of them being built and so few of them which are built improperly.  And, the preponderance of the evidence shows that what was done 110 years ago by people who couldn't even read or write, actually works. 
BEN:  There's a lot of very old straw bale buildings still standing all over the U.S.  especially in Nebraska. 
MR:  Yeah, in Nebraska and that area there are several still standing from a hundred years ago. You just can't say that about the homes that are being built today.  You've got to go back 15 years later or so, eight years maybe and do some serious remodeling.  And it's not just dry climates (that have old straw bale buildings).   There's a mansion in Alabama that's built of straw bales.  It's been there since the middle 30's and it's still in good shape. 
BEN: What about here in South Texas, is there any precedence for financing yet? 
MR: Well, there are banks around who finance, and there are cities - here in Boerne for example who allow load-bearing straw bale homes. 
BEN: You build mostly load-bearing don't you? 
MR: I like to build mostly load-bearing as long as it's one-story,  because it's not (continued)
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