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.
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.
Below is a quick reference of the benefits of clay plasters!
Environmental benefits of clay plaster
if you make your own base plaster, material can be sourced locally, with lower or no transport costs / emissions
unlike gypsum (and lime, although lime re-absorbs CO2 on setting), no firing required, so lower energy use / emissions
clay doesn’t set chemically like gypsum does – it just dries; so at least for the base coat, if it dries, you can wet it and knock it back up again, which means less waste
no nasty chemicals
Benefits for the building
breathability: clay plasters prevent excess moisture in vulnerable buildings. Clays are hygroscopic – they absorb moisture if humidity is high, hold it without being damaged, and when humidity falls, release moisture back to the air. So they maintain a consistent humidity, and minimise damp, and moulds caused by condensation
gypsum on the other hand absorbs moisture, but it’s not breathable, as it doesn’t let moisture out again, and it gets damaged in the process – it moulds, and / or the plaster can blow, and fall off
clays can be used with / over other breathable materials without taking away their breathability
flexibility: clay is soft and pliable, and can move, like lime, without cracking; it can cope with situations where you get minor movements, and so is excellent in old houses
gypsum on the other hand is not flexible, and cracks with any minor movements
protection of timbers: lime absorbs moisture through capillary action, but with clay, there is a chemical attraction that draws moisture in – and because clay absorbs moisture at a faster rate than lime or timber, it takes moisture away from the timbers of the building, protecting them from damp, mould, rot and insects
plus as clay absorbs moisture, it seals and prevents water from passing right through into the structure of the building. Moisture is held and released when the air around it dries. This is why clay can be used to line a pond – clay allows so much moisture in and then provides a barrier
aesthetic: clay plasters are beautiful in their texture and the way they reflect light, and they have an organic, natural feel.
Health benefits from using clay plaster
clay plasters maintain a consistent relative humidity of around 50-60%, which is beneficial for people with asthma or other respiratory problems, but detrimental to dust mites, which reduces problems associated with allergies
they contain no nasty chemicals, and are able to absorb toxins and thus improve indoor air quality. Of course, you’ll try not to use toxic cleaners or buy toxic househould products, but in this day and age, it’s difficult to avoid toxins completely, and so clay plasters can help
you have to be in a room with a clay plaster to understand how beautiful, sensuous, natural, earthy (add your own epithet here) they are. They just make you feel good
When we are talking about our design and material choices in a natural home, we often discuss the embodied energy. This can be defined as:
Embodied energy is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building, from the mining and processing of natural resources to manufacturing, transport and product delivery. Embodied energy does not include the operation and disposal of the building material, which would be considered in a life cycle approach. Embodied energy is the ‘upstream’ or ‘front-end’ component of the life cycle impact of a home.
Why does Embodied Energy Matter?
I once wrote to a well-known insulation manufacturer asking for their calculations on the embodied energy in their product. The reply came back that insulation doesn’t have an embodied energy because it saves you energy. Alarming no?
So if I build a house with the most energy intensive insulation available, and I mean really fill the house with the stuff, way over code. The fact that the building may cost the earth practically nothing to heat and cool over its lifetime… is massively overshadowed by the enormous energy debt the house is in to start with. Even if the house exists for 200 years it might never pay off its initial construction debt.
Like this author, they conclude that the only way to seriously reduce our life cycle energy cost is to live in smaller apartments downtown, but that is another slideshow.
But when you look at the list of materials in the passive house they studied (on TreeHugger here) you see it is full of 135 cubic meters of polyurethane foam insulation, sixty cubic meters of concrete, clay brick cladding and clay tile roof. There is a seriously high amount of embodied energy and carbon in this house.
Read more in this great slideshow from Lloyd Alter @ treehugger –