Green Building Blog

low cost eco-building

Lammas, Wales April 19, 2010

Filed under: Britain,Inspiring examples,Notes from fieldwork,Photographs — naturalbuild @ 12:00 pm

In early April I visited Lammas ( in Pembrokeshire to catch up with their progress since they were awarded planning permission for 9 smallholdings and homes in August 2009. Building is quickly progressing on site – there is an almost complete house on plot 7, a straw bale round house on plot 8 and a timber-frame barn on plot 6 (using Douglas Fir wood with straw infill). Much of the layout of the plot has been finished with a new hardcore drive, visitors parking area, drainage, water pipes laid and a visitors compost toilet. On many of the plots willow and other trees (such as blueberry) have been planted and there are polytunnels and raised beds on the plots around the terrace (plots 1 to 4). Last year Lammas also won funding for their community hub building from the British government and plans for this are rapidly evolving.


I found visiting Lammas completely inspiring. Despite a harsh winter of cold and snow, and hail during much of my visit, it was a place of great momentum and excitement. It has taken then 3 years to get to this stage and numerous planning applications and appeals (full details, including all submitted planning documents are available on their website). Now the place is full of invention, creatively and people doing it for themselves – always with an eye on protecting and nurturing the environment.

What is particularly inspiring is the way in which everyone is working together and supporting each other but ultimately each have their own space, freedom and choices in how they use their plot and make their livelihood. One resident described it as ‘more a village than a community’ in that they live side by side but do not predetermine how everyone should live. At the same time there was a clear belief that individually they would struggle to build and live off the land – that without the physical and emotional support of each other it would be a long hard task of survival. There is a strong sense of mutual solidarity, sharing and kindness. Lammas itself it run by a Management Committee and people are paid to take on various roles – such as volunteer co-ordinator or accountant.

In terms of affordability residents have made their buildings low cost by:

  • Building it themselves and with the help of volunteers (thus saving on labour costs)
  • Using local and natural materials (for example several quarries were found on site, and Larch on site is building used in some of the building, straw bales are a relatively cheap and natural material)
  • Building modest dwellings (in other words not unnecessarily large in size)
  • Generating own electricity (there is no National Grid power to the site, so people are using photovoltaic and wind turbines to generate their power. Moreover several residents are not using power tools in the constructions of their homes thus further reducing the need for electricity)
  • Using ecological design which will reduce running costs (by using passive solar design for example) and maintenance bills.
  • Finally, by applying for planning permission on farmland under a special clause in planning regulation which enables Low Impact Development in area where ‘normal’ building would not be allowed, Lammas was able to purchase the land at a cheaper rate than had it been allocated for development per se.



On my visit I learnt how to make glass bricks from old bottles (more on that later), plant willow and saw wood for part of the barn construction.

If you are interested in more info about Lammas or would like to help they are welcoming volunteers and holding visit days: More info at: If you are interested in conducting research with Lammas or making an educational trip please contact them as they are keen to develop their role as an education centre and to work with Universities.


Green Hills, Scotland

Filed under: Britain,Inspiring examples,Notes from fieldwork — naturalbuild @ 11:01 am

Last week I visited Green Hills in Scotland, a small eco-community which makes its living from running a Community Supported Agriculture scheme whereby they sell weekly vegetable boxes of home-grown organic food. They have built an oak-framed straw-bale home in the woods and have recently started building an earth-sheltered house with earth-filled tyres as its back insulating wall. The straw bale cost £12,000 to build, though they did all the construction work themselves and use reclaimed materials wherever possible. One night I had the privilege of sleeping in one of the bedrooms of the straw bale house and realised quite how warm and comfortable it was – even though we had not had the fire on for a few nights. Downstiars there is a large kitchen and dining area. There are also a few other structures on the land such as a yurt and a canvas-covered tunnel.

Green Hills is completely off-grid – generating all their electricity from photo voltaic panels and a small wind turbine. The use a compost toilet and collect rainwater.



Unfortunately Green Hills is not currently accepting any visitors.


More useful books

Filed under: Useful books — naturalbuild @ 10:01 am

  Broome, J (2007) The Green Self-build Book: How to Design and Build Your Own Eco-home. Green Books, Totnes.

This British book is packed full of case studies but also useful reflective chapters on issues such as design for longevity. It’s recent publication makes it particularly useful in this quickly evolving field. Contains a good chapter on the implications of Pattern Language.

  Burnham, R (1998) Housing Ourselves: Creating Affordable, Sustainable Shelter. McGraw-Hill Professional.

This is an American book and slightly dated but the only book I have found so far which explicitly links sustainability with affordability. It is a mixture of ‘how to’, numerous examples, and reflection about the need and impediments to affordable eco-housing. I particularly like the chapter (2) on Antecedents for Affordability which links the ideas of Henry David Thoreau with the American dream of housing for everybody. It also outlines a proposal (Chapter 8) for a new theory of affordable housing using modular design.


Rethinking design: Pattern Language

Filed under: Academic articles on green building,Useful books — naturalbuild @ 9:41 am

 Alexander et al. (1977) Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press, New York, pp.1171.

Pattern Language is a way in which to approach architectural design and town planning to maximise the enjoyment and use of the space for people. It is about ensuring that design is for people rather than just to look good. The ‘language’ creates a detailed understanding of how each house (and town) should be to maximise comfort, utility and enjoyment. Despite being three decades old it contains a huge number of rules for design which we appear to be ignoring to our detriment. For example, on the matter of home ownership it suggests that “people cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs” (p.393). However, this does not mean everyone should own a home, instead “keep the emphasis in the definition of ownership on control, not on financial ownership. Indeed, where it is possible to construct forms of ownership which give people control over their houses and gardens, but make financial speculation impossible, choose these forms above all others” (p.394). Other rules include 159. Light on two sides of every room, and 197. Thick walls. It also advocates modest dwellings, where a house for one person would be single room with a number of alcoves and “the entire house may be no more than 300 to 400 square feet” (p.391).


Details about affordable eco-homes research project

Filed under: What is this blog about? — naturalbuild @ 9:19 am

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.


‘Affordable eco-homes’ is a one year research project on low cost eco-housing. The aim of the project is to improve British approaches and practices to affordable eco-building. It hopes to understand how we can create more opportunities for people 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, collective organisation, finance, and using non-conventional materials; and
  3. to identify common successful strategies in creating affordable eco-homes which could be adopted in Britain.


It is run by Jenny Pickerill who is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester ( It is funded by a Winston Churchill Trust travelling fellowship ( to spend the summer of 2010 looking at examples in Britain, Thailand, Spain, Argentina and the USA.


Changing how our houses are constructed, the energy they require and use, and their location is one of the most productive changes we can make to reduce our environmental impact. However, in Britain low-impact environmental living tends to be the preserve of the wealthy who can afford single-dwelling eco-homes, and few opportunities are available in rural areas for low-income residents.

On a personal level I believe that academia should contribute to progressive social change and that is why a project such as this is important. As part of this change I live in a self-designed eco-house and have spent many years working with eco-village groups in Britain such as Lammas (, who recently secured planning permission for nine low-impact dwellings in rural Wales. I have also co-edited a book on the imaginative eco-homes of a number of groups in Britain (


I intend to achieve my aim by exploring successful projects which are small-scale, community-led, rural, self-built and targeted at low-income potential residents. I am keen to understand how such successful projects have navigated the problems that we have been experiencing in Britain – reticent planners, local resident objections, the logistics of collectively organising finance and legal structures, the problems of defining how to live together as a community while ensuring enough individual freedom, and the risks of using non-conventional materials. I intend to visit a variety of projects. In each case I hope to undertake interviews with co-ordinators and participants, take photographs and participate in life at each project.

What will the project produce?

  1. A project website (eventually multi-lingual) with summaries of eco-build projects and key findings. Also facility for interaction to enable those involved to share their experiences of low cost eco-building.
  2. A short book (written in an accessible style) and some academic articles.
  3. Material to be used for talks around Britain to groups interested in setting up self-build low-impact projects.

On local community radio

Filed under: Project outputs and findings — naturalbuild @ 9:12 am

Yesterday (Sunday 18th April) I was interviewed live for my local community radio station – The Eye 103FM ( – on the need for affordable eco-homes. It was good fun – I enjoy a challenging interview that occasionally goes off on interesting tangents. It was also good to be doing something so local and articulating the importance of the ideas on this page to residents in my local town. I was part of a community segment that runs every Sunday morning – so anyone who is interested in local Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire) community info have a listen online!

Last week I was also in The Melton Times (my local weekly newspaper) with an article entitled ‘Jenny on affordable eco-homes mission’ (19th April, p.19). I am not so sure whether I would have used the word ‘mission’ but it does make me sound important and it was a good few columns about the project.