02 January 2007

A Very, Very, Very Fine House

"A Low Impact Woodland Home" tells the story of a beautiful, self-built, Earth-friendly home in Wales. I want one! :-)

When we designed and built our own house (over ten years ago, now) we were working with very tight cost, time and schedule constraints.  Probably just our own lack of imagination.  So our house is nowhere near as environmentally low-impact as we would like, and not even close to what the Woodland Home achieves.  (I remain convinced that my on-going hayfever battle stems from having moved into the house when the CCA-treated timber was still outgassing noxious poisons.)

I know of several neighbours who would rush out to replicate the Woodland House if they saw it.  And they would be missing the point completely!  One neighbour has imported several large truckloads of sandstone from hundreds of kilometres away for the house she dreams of building (but cannot afford to finance, build, maintain, heat or cool, is too large for her and her family's needs, and in every way represents the malaise of cheap-abundant-energy thinking).  She, too, has completely missed the point.  Another neighbour recently built an additional (timber-frame constructed) cottage on her property atop stilts that raise the floor of the house about 3m above the ground, so as to get a better view.  Every drop of water has to be pumped up to the house, which becomes a challenge during the not-infrequent power outages.  It must be hell in a storm, facing into the teeth of the very fierce Northwester storm winds.  And I'd hate to have to bring in the groceries or buckets of garden produce.

Here we are designing for a totally different set of problems, requirements and constraints than we would face in the Southwest of Wales or anywhere else.  We have a different fund of locally abundant materials.  The point is to make best use of what is locally available; not to import materials from hundreds or thousands of km away.  The Woodland House uses local timbers; we would also use structural timber, being in a forest area.  They use straw-bales as insulating infill for walls; here we would prefer wattle-and-daub, or perhaps cob, since strawbales are unlikely to survive the onslaught of local insects, and we sit on a deep layer of very high-grade clay just below the Earth's surface.  A sod roof is out of the question for us, since we need to harvest all our water from the sky -- no other water source is readily accessible.

So, much as I love and admire the Woodland House, I would shudder in despair if I saw someone here trying to replicate it.  Think local!  Look around you with your eyes truly open to the opportunities and gifts of The Place Where You Find Yourself.

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