Crismon Strawbale Home

In 1996 construction of the Crismon Strawbale Home began in Pinal County, Arizona.  The site is in the foothills of the spectacular Superstition Mountain.  Situated in a rural setting, the nearest city is Apache Junction.  Phoenix is about forty miles to the West of the home.  Similar to the famous Chrisman Springs Home in the Schenandoah Valley in Virginia, the project was a family affair.  Eighth, ninth and tenth generation American Crismons contributed their time and efforts to the construction.  Also like the Chrisman Springs Home, management of resources influenced the time necessary to complete the project.  Three of the Crismon families live on thirteen contiguous acres of Sonoran Desert.  Horse bridle paths connect the three properties within the compound.  Family members and friends performed every phase of the construction except pouring of the concrete slab.  Some family members came from out of state more than once to work on the house.  Considering that most of the eighth generation family members were beyond retirement age at the time makes this construction feat even more remarkable.

The structure is made of steel “red iron” beams. No lumber was used in the construction of the house. The only wood found is the interior doors and cabinetry. Interior non-load bearing walls are made of metal studs. The red metal posts and beams were fastened together using “L” shaped metal clips and self-drilling TEC screws.  The house is forty feet wide and sixty feet long. The height of the roof is twelve feet sloping down to eleven feet. Using custom tools designed and fabricated by brother Fred, brother Bob was able to hoist and fasten the 40’ overhead beams by himself. A metal flat roof was installed and then a parapet surrounding the house was attached above the roof.  Wheat straw bales imported from California were impaled on the rebar pins protruding from the foundation.  The benefit of straw bale construction is its very high R-Value insulation, reported to be about 50.  Straw has no nutritional value so therefore is not attractive to termites or other vermin.  Straw bale homes built in the USA over 200 years ago are in use today.

In October 1999, more than thirty family members from all over the country showed up to stack the bales.  Another opportunity to have a Crismon Family Reunion!  The straw bales result in wall thickness of about two feet.  The straw bales do not support any weight.  They are simply used as insulation material.  The “Santa Fe” style house has a stucco exterior and the interior walls are plastered.  In the foreground is a Palo Verde tree, one of many indigenous plants found on the Sonora Desert.  More than a dozen Saguaro cacti throughout the compound provide an impressive landscape.  Wildlife abounds including coyote, quail, roadrunner, cactus wren, hawk, cardinal, robin, dove, desert rock squirrel, and many other critters. We have also seen an occasional mountain lion and a family of five wild pigs.  Over the years only two snakes have been spotted near the straw bale house, neither was the dreaded rattlesnake.

‘El Toro’ mounted on the parapet came from Mexico. The horseshoes holding up the bull skull came from Sam and Karin’s ‘Whispering Mesquite Ranch’ next door.  Fred and Polly at ‘Fort Riley West’ fabricated the bracket holding it all up on the wall. Notice the thorns on the Mesquite tree in the foreground.  The tree in the foreground is named “Don’t mess with Texas” in honor of Betty’s mom, Ollie (93 years young).

The Crismon Strawbale Home would not have been possible without the help of Fred Crismon. This guy is a Master of all Trades with a heart of gold.  Very few who have met Fred don’t feel they ‘owe him’.  In the picture notice the outside light between the last two windows.  These outside light covers are made of wooden beer barrels.  After we properly disposed of the beer Fred quartered each barrel into four individual light shades.  Also, notice the “Viga” (Spanish for roof rafter) poles protruding out from the building below “El Toro.”  Vigas are usually wood.  However, wood may crack under the Sonoran Desert sun and could result in water leakage within the Strawbale walls. (As of it ever rains in Arizona.)  So, how does Fred solve this problem?  The Viga poles are actually two empty coffee cans Fred welded together. 

The final construction phase of the Crismon Strawbale House will be a twelve-foot deep wrap-around porch.  This will result in 5,376 square feet under roof.   This is a photo of the front section.  The remaining three sides are under construction.  The majestic Superstition Mountain provides quite a view.