Sunday 16 March 2014

Straw Works, and the dangers of cement in building

On Wednesday I went to Todmorden for the day to learn first hand about some of the design details of straw bale buildings from local expert Barbara Jones of Straw Works.

It was a really good day and Barbara really showed her knowledge and experience - having worked as a carpenter and joiner since the early 80s and about 20 years of building with straw bales.

I've read her book of course but there were lots of little details that I appreciated, from the banal (but important for me) observation about 10mm graded gravel being excellent for drainage (in a capillary break) because of the gaps that are created between the individual stones, to the slip joint that Straw Works use to attach straw bale extensions to existing buildings.

Most of all I loved Barbara's little lecture about the dangers of cement in foundations (and buildings generally). It turns out that if you have a well made foundation - particularly one that's self-draining, breathable and flexible - then it doesn't have to be very big and it certainly doesn't need a damp proof course. Barbara stressed that having an impermeable plastic sheet (DPC) in the middle of your wall was a pretty bad idea, because any water in the wall is eventually going to drain down and collect on the plastic. In fact the main reason as far as she was concerned for having a DPC was to protect the house from inappropriate concrete foundations, as the concrete sucks in water and without the DPC it can then help to rot your walls or feed mould on your kitchen walls!

Lime is the saviour here, as it helps to manage moisture. I'm already a lime convert, but this added insight was very interesting. There are technical sheets available to download from the Straw Works website that include drawings of different cement- and DPC-free foundations, details for installing doors and windows, and roofing details.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Build a house that can 'love you back'

This image was taken from Elke Cole's website, and the little inspiration that follows. Elke is a 'Social Entrepreneur in Natural Building' which sounds good to me, and she seems to have been involved in some beautiful projects.

Elke wrote a list of 10 ways in which your house can “love you back” which I really like:
  • it offers you shelter from the elements
  • it keeps you connected to Nature
  • it supports your health through superior indoor climate
  • it provides plenty of daylight for all your activities
  • it helps keep you grounded
  • it supports your personal flow of daily actions by design
  • it gives you pleasure through its beauty
  • it is energetically aligned with you through your participation in the building process
  • it is easy on your bankbook through smart space design
  • it stimulates your creativity through organic form
There's more on Elke's original blog post which is worth a read, and maybe you might want to ask for her help, or commission her...

Monday 3 March 2014

Passive Solar Greenhouses - A DIY Design Guide

I'm getting this free ebook in my email by instalments at the moment, and I really appreciate it's insights and quality so far.

It's written and published by Rob & Michelle Avis at Verge Permaculture in Calgary, Canada. Their website is (really good, loads of good resources) or click here for more info about getting the ebook.

The two rather random things I really like are:

1. All the references to dealing with snow, for example the load it can place on the roof, the angle of the roof for avoiding snow build-up, and the design of the knee wall to deal with snow. These are the kinds of details you rarely get in most of the literature I've seen where permaculture sites are in much warmer climes...

2. There's a real emphasis on good graphic design as well as good content. There's a huge need for permaculture to become more mainstream - for hundreds of millions of people to be using it in their daily lives. For this to happen the material needs to be good, and it needs to appeal to people who've grown up in the age of mass advertising. Of course this isn't the only reason for good design - design makes things more accessible in many ways too.

You can also see this emphasis on good graphic design on which Verge Permaculture are also associated with. Check it out - looks great.