In the age of the internet, I am still a huge believer in the humble natural building book. I can be drawn much deeper into a book, and stay much more focused. On our Hartwyn internship builds, I bring along my bookshelf for the interns to paw over, it’s really lovely to see!
So here, I shall list my favorite natural building books. I suspect this will be a work in progress as more come out (I’m eager to get my hands on Chris Magwood’s new one!).
If you think I have missed an important one, please add a comment!
Natural Building books
Making Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Construction for Homeowners and Contractors – Chris Magwood
“Making better buildings” looks at each element of a build (foundations, insulation, roofing), and analyses the options available. Using handy graphics you can quickly see how the options compare to each other and which fits your criteria for construction.
It goes into a small, but concise, amount of detail for each option but will give you a good starting point for further research.
The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction – Jacob Deva Racusin & Ace McArleton
I first became aware of Jacob and Ace at the International Straw Bale Conference in Colorado. I was hugely impressed by Jacob’s presentation and the level of thought and detail he put into his work. This book is a powerhouse of information – it is a proper read!
…energy bills have continued to rise in real terms to about £1,110 a year, according to the study, in part because of higher fuel costs. If all the possible improvements outlined in the report were made, bills could drop to £560 a year.
The Lighthouse was opened in 1873, and is a rare example of granite stones being used on the West Coast of Norway. Because of this, it has been given Norway’s highest order of listed building protection. The lighthouse also has a lot of history from the second world war, where it was modified by German troops to be a lookout, and features artwork on the basement walls painted by troops stationed there.
For many years there would have been people living in the lighthouse, burning fires in the fireplaces. Nowadays the lighthouse is automated and functions as a museum and art gallery. The lighthouse has been increasingly suffering from damp, which is damaging the building and the historic painting within.
The dampness has been attributed to:
Inappropriate materials being applied to the building – in the form of cement pointing, and latex paints.
The change in use of the building and no longer having proper ventilation (the chimneys have been blocked)
The Solutions to Damp
As part of a series of works to preserve the lighthouse, it was decided to:
Remove the cement pointing and replacing with lime.
Fix the guttering so that water did not pour onto the face of the wall.
Lime wash over the blocks and pointing to give the building a ‘skin’ of breathable lime.
Why use Lime Wash?
To many, lime may look much like cement. It has some very key differences in how it handles moisture. Cement will trap moisture in, while lime will allow the moisture to breathe out of the building.
Many historic buildings have had cement added in efforts to protect them by well-meaning people. Cement is a harder and stronger material, but because of the way it handles moisture is largely unsuitable…. and some other reasons that I shall save for another post.
Why not use a local contractor?
The job was put out to tender, following the production of a report on the lighthouse. None of the proposals that came back were suggesting using suitable materials. Some even suggesting the use of cement.
The knowledge of how to use traditional materials seems to have largely died out in this part of Norway.
This is the first part in a series of posts about creating healthy homes with natural materials for people who have cystic fibrosis. The following topics will be covered:
Part 1 – Cystic fibrosis and how indoor air quality has an impact
Part 2 – The design and materials choices we have chosen to create the healthiest indoor air quality
Part 3 – Household product choices to help cystic fibrosis
I am working with Rebecca and Daniel to renovate their home, a 1930’s semi. Rebecca is a student, studying P-DTR and a pilates instructor, Daniel is a garden designer. Rebecca has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition affecting more than 10,800 people in the UK. Continue reading →
We just finished applying a hot lime wash to our ‘Ty Twt‘ building in Wales. Here you can see the finished building.
Ty Twt is a load bearing straw bale house completed by my company, Hartwyn using our intern building model. The house was completed in 11 weeks in 2016, with a final weekend to finish up the lime and green roof just completed in July 2017. Continue reading →
We have been looking at how carbon can be released in the production of some materials common to modern construction. These sketches show the carbon footprint of a tonne of cement. The bubbles show emissions of carbon dioxide (a release of carbon dioxide from the manufacture of the material).
Passive solar design is a very premise on how to use the sun to heat your home in the winter. This fantastic video by Community Rebuilds intern Rebecca Barrett sums up the fundamentals.
It’s so simple, right?
All the houses I build with my company Hartwyn use these design principles.
Largest windows are on the South side and are sheltered from the hot midday summer sun. Thermal mass in the form of earthen floors, clay plasters or rammed earth walls store the heat from the sun. Highly insulating natural fibres keeps the warmth inside to keep you cosy.
Sculpted by hand from a mixture of clay, sand and straw, building houses out of cob is a full mind and body experience; one that requires patience. But these homes are worth the wait!
Building on ancient traditions, today’s timber framers and selective loggers are forging a sustainable future. Visit the people behind some of the most intriguing wooden structures in British Columbia
It seems counterintuitive that a framework packed with straw bales could create such a sturdy home. In fact, the straw acts as a natural vapour permeable insulation that allows these buildings to breathe.
A rammed earth wall is durable, energy efficient, and made from the most abundant material on the planet. Learn how these builders and homeowners applied this ancient technique to create timeless contemporary homes.
**I don’t agree with adding cement to a rammed earth wall. It doesn’t need it, and it actually changes the way the walls handle moisture for the worse while making the walls too rigid. Cement has been added over the years because people don’t understand. It’s such a shame!