Earth Floor on channel 4’s: Grand Designs

I’m very proud that an Earth Floor I created has just been shown on Channel 4’s: Grand Designs.

The episode can be seen here for a few more weeks

It was a joy and honour to be a small part of Ed and Rowena’s incredible journey in creating this very special home. The approach and outcome are equally wonderful. 

 The finish was linseed oil and a final coat of beeswax to finish. This floor is waterproof and hard wearing yet it has a slight softness to it which is very satisfying to walk on.

The clay for the floor was dug on site and the sand was from within a mile away. 

Many thanks to Joe from Hartwyn for his hard work helping to lay the floor before the TV deadline!

More info on earth floors can be found on

Limewashing a lighthouse

lime washed lighthouse


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.

lime washed lighthouse

Cystic fibrosis – Using natural materials in the home, to create better indoor air quality. (part 1)

indoor air quality

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

lime wash – How to make a hot mix

The finished limewashed house

We just finished applying a hot lime wash to our ‘Ty Twt‘ building in Wales. Here you can see the finished building.

Ty Twt with its final coat of hot lime wash.
Ty Twt with its final coat of hot lime wash.

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

Natural floor insulation

Thermofloc is a natural floor insulation. Made from cellulose that has added minerals to make it fire retardant. It is simple to install and is much more affordable than any other natural insulation we found.


double whisk mixer

To break apart the insulation blocks we used a double whisk mortar mixer. By using an online calculator to work out how much we needed for our floor dimensions, we could be sure to achieve the correct density and therefore U-value.


NaturePlus – Thermofloc is the first cellulose insulation to be awarded the coveted NaturePlus mark of quality and sustainability.

  • Laid density of 40kg/m3
  • Thermal conductivity 0.039W/mK
  • Fire classification as per EN13501-1
  • Free of hazardous substances as defined by ETA-05-0186

Assessments show Thermofloc does not provide a suitable habitat for rodents and as such rodents will avoid nesting within the insulation.

Locally sourced materials

It is important to us to build with locally sourced materials. We have lots of clay, so are utilising that as much as possible. If this build were elsewhere in the country we would be choosing a different approach. We can’t just have a template for a ‘sustainable home’ that doesn’t factor in what local materials are available as transportation accounts for a huge amount of energy usage.

our straw crop is locally sourced
Our straw crop – a few days before it was baled (Photo Jake Chadwick)

Our locally sourced materials

  • Our straw comes from a farm less than 5 miles from the site. We were able to go to the farmer, check the size and density of the bales… and even request that they be made as tight as possible… which they did! (The even cranked it so hard the baler broke – once the part was replaced, fantastic dense bales were the result – The best I have ever used!).
  • Most of the timber is from a local saw mill, using locally sourced timber.
  • Our gravel and sand is from a local pit.
  • The sheep wool insulation is all from Welsh sheep.
  • We are making clay plasters from clay dug on site.
  • All of our lime comes from Ty Mawr Lime, 60 miles away.

These are our obvious success stories….

Not so local

We have not been able to source everything locally, our smartply for example, came from the Czech Republic. Not great!

Other considerations

There have been other more subtle design choices that have allowed us to use more local materials. An example of this is how we have sheeted the roof. The conventional way is to use 18mm ply sheets, usually shipped across the country, if not Europe. We have opted to use larch planks from our local saw mill – It takes longer to build, but the environmental impact is far better.

More reading

Car tyre foundations – Video

Car tyre foundations team

This week we have been laying our car tyre foundations for our #BalesInWales cabin.

We have chosen to use gabion basket foundations. Though our Gabion baskets are reclaimed car tyres.

Car tyre foundations are the perfect choice for this build as:

  1. They are cheap – actually the tyres are free, local garages have given all the tires we need as they have to pay to have them disposed of. We are only paying for the pea gravel to fill them.
  2. They make a capillary break – Rising damp occurs when a porous material is used as a foundation. To combat this, conventionally a damp proof membrane (plastic sheet), is used to stop moisture coming up in the wall… but what if any moisture gets into the wall from above? It creates a paddling pool which our bales would sit in. Because neither pea gravel or rubber is porous, moisture can only travel downwards with gravity.
  3. They find a use for an otherwise problem material. Tyres are said to have a life span of 30,000 years, so disposal is a big issue.
  4. They are low embodied energy. To turn a tyre into a foundation, just takes the pea gravel and some porridge to power our workforce!

This last week we have been happily filling our car tyres in neat stacks, here is intern, Jamie showing us how it’s done!

Foundations Video from JeffreyTheNaturalBuilder on Vimeo.