Green Building Blog

low cost eco-building

Straw bale council house, Lincolnshire March 25, 2010

StrawNK logo

Today I visited the nearly complete first straw bale council houses in Britain (2 three bedroom homes). North Kesteven District Council have been building these houses at Brumby Crescent in Waddington, Lincolnshire and they are due to have tenants move in end of April 2010. Designed by amazonails ( they are a beautiful building with wonderful wooden balconies, a Sedum roofed porch, solar thermal water heating, lime render, and straw bale walls. The straw bale makes the walls curve at the edges and the lime render gives the whole house a lovely looking texture. The only source of heating is a wood stove and the passive heat through the large south facing windows. All the materials used have been ecologically sourced, including the use of ‘smart ply’ which does not use chemicals in its manufacture. Inside it is open plan downstairs with 3 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Tenants will be chosen using the standard procedure from the housing waiting list. The project has been so successful that the council are starting work on two more similar homes in Martin nearby. The main problem the build has encountered has been the lack of an established supply chain for many of the materials they wished to use. Overall it is inspiring to see such building techniques being used to build accessible public housing.

More information about the houses is available at:




Useful source for inspiring examples

Filed under: Inspiring examples — naturalbuild @ 2:54 pm

The Building and Social Housing Foundation ( is interested in identifying and transferring good practice in building, along with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and social justice. Moreover, they are linked to the World Habitat Awards ( were there is an excellent worldwide database on previous winners/finalists. It is both a great research resource and a useful way for individuals and organisations committed to innovative and practical solutions to housing problems to raise awareness of their work. If you are involved in such a project why not think about entering?


Useful books

Filed under: Academic articles on green building,Useful books — naturalbuild @ 2:44 pm

There are a large number of books about eco-building, eco-living and eco-communities, but far fewer which deal with issues of affordability as well as sustainability. A few I have come across recently are:

Ecominimalism: The Antidote to Eco-blingLiddell, H (2008) Eco-minimalism: the antidote to eco-bling. RIBA Publishing, London

A great book which argues that careful integrated ecological design is necessary to build sustainable homes and critiques the rising use of technological fixes to ‘make a house eco’. This approach – careful design – can often also be cheaper. The book does much to dismiss many examples of inappropriate use of technology.

Kennedy, J, F (2004) (Ed.) Building Without Borders: Sustainable Construction for the Global Village. New Society Publishers, Canada.

This edited collection includes numerous examples from across the world of innovative, often low cost, green building. The book takes it remit as ‘housing the homeless without destroying natural habitats’ by exploring local traditions, how environmental building ideas have travelled, and the need for resident participation in design. Its particular focus on vernacular (everyday) buildings and its concern for inclusion and the homeless means it has a great deal to say about low cost eco-housing.

   Fosket, J and Mamo, L (2009) Living Green: Communities that sustain. New Society Publishers, Canada.

This book is packed full of examples I have not found elsewhere, with specific chapters on affordable housing and ‘greening grey’ it takes a more diverse approach as to who can live in green housing than I have seen in other books. Crucially, like all these books, it does not just mention examples, but critically reflects upon what has worked and what has not. Mostly examples from USA and Canada.

   Jones, B (2009) Building with Straw Bales: A practical guide for the UK and Ireland. Green Books, Devon.

A excellent book about straw bale building in Britian. Written by the founder of amazonnails (the leading company for strawbale design in the UK) it is packed full of examples and although is very practical in its content, it includes a useful chapter about affordability.


Nant-y-Cwm School, Wales March 12, 2010

Filed under: Academic articles on green building,Inspiring examples,Photographs — naturalbuild @ 8:45 am

I am always looking for inspiring examples of eco-buildings and one is Nant-y-Cwm – a Steiner Waldorf School in Pembrokeshire. One of their buildings is a low impact eco-build which has been studied by my colleague Peter Kraftl who has written on green architecture. Below are some of his photos of the building.

Nant-y-Cwm - almost invisible with its grass roof (taken by: Peter Kraftl)

Nant-y-Cwm up close (taken by: Peter Kraftl)

Inside Nant-y-Cwm (taken by: Peter Krafl)

A good article about the building is: Kraftl, P. (2006) “Building an idea: The material construction of an ideal childhood”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 31(4): 488-504.


Photos of low cost green buildings in Britain March 10, 2010

Filed under: Photographs — naturalbuild @ 3:18 pm

A roundhouse in Wales

Tony Wrench's roundhouse Brithir Mawr

Canvas covered geodome and yurt at Green Hills, Scotland


Press release: Eco-homes – not just the privilege of the wealthy

Filed under: Project outputs and findings — naturalbuild @ 2:44 pm
A new research project spearheaded by the University of Leicester is set to influence the building of eco-homes in Britain.
Dr Jenny Pickerill, a Senior Lecturer from the Department of Geography at the University of Leicester, has been awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship ( to undertake an 8-week project to discover how to make affordable eco-homes a reality.
Dr Pickerill will be travelling to the USA, Argentina, Thailand and Spain to carry out research into the best and least expensive ways to build eco-homes.  The aim of the project is find out the best practice for building eco-homes, and bring the findings back to the UK to prompt the building of more British eco-homes.
For example, a project in New Mexico, has built numerous eco-homes very cheaply using natural materials found locally.  The techniques used to make the homes may appear basic, but actually provide for very comfortable, efficient and environmentally friendly housing.
Finding affordable ways to build eco-homes is of central importance to the project.  Dr Pickerill aims to ensure that environmentally friendly designs do not become the privilege of the wealthy, but can also be available to those on a lower income.
Dr Pickerill commented:
“There is a real danger that the rise in popularity of eco-homes will cause more inequality and heighten the rich-poor divide.  As environmental issues become more and more topical, we need to keep in mind the economic pressures people face.  In the rush to find environmental solutions, we shouldn’t forget social justice.”   
Dr Pickerill will begin her 8 week project on the 1st June 2010.
Notes to Editors
For more information about the project, please contact Dr Jenny Pickerill via email at or contact University of Leicester press office for her number 0116 252 2415 or email
About Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowships
The Travelling Fellowships are based on the Trust’s Object of: “The advancement and propagation of education in any part of the world for the benefit of British citizens of all walks of life in such exclusively charitable manner that such education will make its recipients more effective in their life and work, whilst benefiting themselves and their communities, and ultimately the UK as a whole”.
Each year approximately 100 Fellowships are awarded for a wide range of projects. Churchill Fellows can be of any age and in any occupation. Everyone has an equal chance; a lack of qualifications is not a bar to an award as every application is judged on the worth of the individual and the merit of the project. All British citizens resident in the UK are eligible for the annual awards.
Applicants must demonstrate that their project is feasible and worthwhile, and of real benefit to their community and to the UK on return. The Fellowships involve overseas travel for between 4 to 8 weeks, but can be longer, and all travelling and living expenses are covered by a grant.
Past award winners are people from all walks of life including nurses, artists, scientists, engineers, farmers, conservationists, carers, craft workers, artisans, members of the emergency services, sportsmen and women and young people.

Affordable eco-homes

Filed under: What is this blog about? — naturalbuild @ 2:05 pm

This blog is primarily about a research project I am doing on affordable eco-homes. The aim is to understand how we can create more opportunities for people on low incomes to self-build their own eco-homes in rural areas.

The project has three objectives: (1) to identify successful small-scale community-led, self-built eco-developments targeted at low-income potential residents; (2) to understand how such developments have overcome problems of planning, local resistance, organising collectively, finance, and using non-conventional materials; and (3) to identify common successful strategies in creating affordable eco-homes which could be adopted in Britain. I am going to achieve this by visiting successful projects in Britain, Spain, USA, Argentina, and Thailand.

I have been awarded a travelling fellowship by the Winston Churchill Trust ( to do this work.