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The centre piece of the natural building world and revival movement is in creating structures and habitats that are suitable to the needs of the occupants. The use of material sourced from the ground and locality on which they are built,that are built in a style and structure that is respective towards the environment that they are laid down on ,creates an ambience in living that produces beautifully shaped homes that are in keeping with land river lake and sea.
Many people commute daily to towns and cities that they never really get to know,to work among people who they never really quite get to know,and all to return to a street or a neighbourhood to live among people whom they really never get to know.
The natural building movement is a self build revivalist initiative ,however its primary concern is in the depletion of suitable living environments that not only create environmentally sound buildings but also create and preserve the village structure mode.
The natural building movement in North America have identified the need for villages and intentional communities have emerged in the last ten years that are designed and built through co-operatives ,to the express design model of a village with a centre where people gather and food production without the harmful soil erosion. In a word the typical Irish village found anywhere in Ireland up until the 1950.
The Natural Building
Traditional Irish villages were the most ecologically sound habitats found anywhere in Europe maybe the world ,and it is now that the leading experts in science and ecology are upholding this lifestyle as the way forward in the face of extreme climate change. The use of natural materials were always in use in Ireland,and the decline in these skills and the need of neighbours and friends to construct them ,seen something sad, something more than the passing of these crafts ,maybe the passing of the “meitheal” or the village structure where ,every one really did know every one else.
Building a natural building ,requires no destructive excavations ,which harms the topsoil. The issue of topsoil erosion nowadays, is as important as climate change but one which i cannot go into in this article ,but again a villager would not only know where they were losing topsoil and what to do about it ,but most likely even knew the name of the field and indeed where ,crops and food best fared there. This is the personal relationship with the land that ,is the centrepiece of sustainable villages.
The depth of a foundation need only be effectively a frost barrier. These are then built up with cob ,which is a mixture of clay straw and sand ,wetted and mixed to create a very strong building material. The straw acts like re-bar within the walls re-enforcing the structure. The word cob is a derivitive of the word “clauber” or mud. It speciated to clobber,then clob and is now reffered to as cob.
The thermal mass qualities of cob make it a great companion to masonry stoves or rocket mass heaters ,as it can hold heat for days and many self builders are running the heat normally ,wastefully going up their chimneys; into cob benchs and beds ,to contain heat within the building. I would recommend using straw bale in wind and rain exposed buildings as it is a natural insulator next to none and is also sound proof.
The use of post and beam ,was always used in traditional Irish cottages. The “fordouras” was a post that went through the walls and the main rafters “maidi snaidmh”sat upon these with the “maide droma”or ridge beam completing the roof. The addition of lime plasters to exposed walls gave good protection from the elements. The use of rocket mass heaters to heat underfloor heating is ideal when used in association with an earthen floor ,which is a similar mixture to cob and retains heat within the floor,whilst keeping the room temperature constant .
There are a range of natural vapour barriers available ,and i have even seen one completed in glass jars which created a natural air cushion and eliminated damp. Natural finish’s to floors using linseed oil give a wonderful natural finish.
The use of earthen plasters using clay slip and iron oxide for pigments , a difficult to copy ,natural finish.The harmful fumes always found in a new house which is known as off-gassing and contains volatile organic compounds that are best avoided.
The combined use of natural paints ,a skill lost to most people gives the ultimate earthy finish.
The result is a hand crafted building with a natural exterior and interior and because of the flexible and pliable nature of these materials ,the creation of frescoes and interior artistic wall designs are within the scope of even the most novice self builder.
The use of clay slip and wood chip ,mixed to a specific consistency and rammed into shutters creates an insulated wall that can be plastered using earthen plasters and burnishing techniques. These walls are durable and warm again zero carbon footprint. The use also of " tadelakt" lime plasters crate magnificent waterproof finish’s.
This is is a Moroccan plastering technique which is used in showers baths and sinks and gives a finish like marble which is soft like soap but water proof ,and can be used on interiors and exteriors. Once the preserve of Arabian Palaces ,it is now becoming increasingly popular in the natural building world .
Building a house from natural materials is significantly better ergonomically as you get to design the house that suits the needs of the occupant ,requires no costly outlay except help with mixing materials (which usually can be supplied by volunteers ,in a community project for instance) is significantly energy saving ,in that the materials waste none of the energy used to heat the house,they are healthier as they are always built within the correct line of sun light ,as the materials require and they are always in keeping with the landscape and apart from the 2 foot foundation which is all that is necessary to construct them,they preserve the perrennial structure of the land around them ,which prevents soil erosion and creates wonderful food production areas for the inhabitants who with a few lazy beds(yes,these are massive in North America also) should see the households needs well catered for.
The concept of natural building is not new ,in fact it has always been with us,we just forgot how it was done. The ability to build a house ,with natural materials is not beyond anyone with the engineers costs and the planning application been the only real external involvement in your project. The rest is available locally if you know what you are looking for and have the basic know how ,in how to assemble it.
The great thing about these houses is that they are unique and there is never two alike .They are desirable to those seeking a lifestyle of zero carbon footprint that is emerging as the choice consumer market, as consumer conscience is been drawn towards the eco-build ,and they are not going to be satisfied with just an eco -friendly set of wardrobes or a door re-cycled from 100% recycled cardboard.
This is a new vision of an ancient building model,which not only provides the habitat for a family ,but a system of families within an environment that truly belong to each other and one another.
Michael and Angela Holmes
Daubworks , Culmore
Foxford , Co Mayo