For the very best in green building, fall in love with the Lord of the Rings hobbit home Simon Dale built for his adorable family with a chainsaw, a hammer and a one inch chisel. Thoreau in Walden said “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” It appears that is what Simon Dale is accomplishing with his buildings.
What is green about this house?
- It is dug into a hillside in Wales for shelter and low visual impact on its environment.
- Its foundation and retaining walls are made from the most natural materials, stone and mud from the diggings.
- It is framed with spare wood oak thinnings from the surrounding woodland.
- Its floor, walls and roof for are straw-bale for super-insulation.
- Its environmentally low impact roof is plastic sheet and mud/turf.
- The finish on its walls is lime plaster that is breathable and uses low manufacturing energy compared to materials like cement.
- Its floors and fittings are reclaimed scrap wood.
- Its windows, burner, plumbing and wiring are all scavenged from “rubbish piles”.
- The home has no windows in the front of the house because it is north facing, but the length of the rear wall has large windows.
- It uses solar panels for energy to run lighting, music, and the computer.
- Its water comes by gravity from a nearby spring.
- It has a composting toilet.
- It collects roof water into a pond for the garden.
- It has a skylight for natural light.
- Its refrigerator is cooled by underground air from the foundations.
- It is heated with a woodburner and a renewable, locally plentiful wood source.
- It did not use large transportation energy resources since the materials are local and natural.
- It is a very healthy home with no materials that offgas or hurt the environment.
Simon is not a builder, just “able bodied, having self belief and perseverence and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.” The house took four months and £3,000 (about $4,782) to complete. The couple had no capital and had agreed to be full time parents while their children are young. Their annual income is not quite $8,000 so a mortgage was not possible. A landowner in west Wales offered them £2000 ($3,188) for materials and the use of a plot of his land for free for an eco-house with no long term ownership in exchange for looking after the area and they accepted. Simon Dale and Jasmine Saville built the house for their family with Jasmine’s father’s help while they worked at ecological woodland management, small scale animal husbandry, and on a forest garden in the surrounding woods. It would have been impossible for them if they had mortgage or rent payments. Jasmine states that they also built their natural organic home because they had concern about toxic materials inherent in most buildings and exposing their two precious babies to them.
Some sample quotes from Simon about the project are:
“Being your own have-a-go architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass-produced box designed for maximum profit and the convenience of the construction industry. Building from natural materials does away with producers’ profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.”
“Suggesting positive alternatives to the standard route often raises some uncomfortable feelings. Mostly these feelings are of an implied criticism of the way others lead their lives, in terms of ecological responsibility and the following of ones own dreams. These are both hard things to approach for all of us with lots of barriers from our societal conditioning”
“The age of cheap energy may well becoming to an end, as we respond to both environmental imperatives and dwindling supplies of oil. I think and hope that this will lead to more small scale, low energy solutions to meeting our real needs. This should mean an increase in individually produced homes of natural and local materials.”
“The attempt to find a synergy with nature is then the approach that we are using to design systems for living. These systems include buildings, food production, waste and water systems and much more. When we are working with rather than against nature, the rest of nature works with us and things become easy.”
Simon’s website, http://www.simondale.net/house, is packed with so much wisdom that it would fill up many pages on the low-impact approach to life and living in harmony with the natural world and ourselves. The site details how to build this ultimate green home, a good explanation of permaculture and what we can do about the ecological crisis and energy decent. Take time to read the entire site and try some of Simon’s suggestions. The idea obviously appeals to many people evidenced by the website response. Originally Simon put some pictures on a simple web page to show a few friends who had helped in the building. Within weeks it appeared on some blogs, has been receiving up to 50,000 unique daily visits, and has had two million viewers.
The couple has since begun a larger home as part of the Lamas Project, the first authorized “low-impact” permaculture-based ecovillage in the UK in Pembrokeshire of nine 5 acre landholdings. Read about it at www.lammas.org.uk. They offer hands-on learning experiences in their building projects, helping them set up permaculture and forest gardens, learning about self-sufficient living, renewable power systems, aquaculture and joining them in community activities, with “plenty of good food and merriment.” Email Simon at house @ simondale.net or phone him at +447773372280. Keep in mind he has had thousands of emails, so be patient for a response.
A major obstacle for the Lamas project was the five years of paperwork it took in getting Planning Permission, but it finally did go through. Planning boards and building code ordinances would be a similar obstacle in most of the United States. It is understandable why the changes would be fought by the building industry, governments who prefer more tax money from expensive large homes, and lending institutions who profit from mortgages. How would real estate appraisers deal with homes that cost less than $5,000 to build?
On August 5-12,2012 at Highland Lake Cove near Asheville, North Carolina, Kleiwerks will be holding a nartual building skills workshop from Sunday to Sunday. It will cover cob, adobe, wattle & daub, and slipstraw walls, natural finishes, earthbag building foundations, working with wood on timber frame and carpentry with walls, wood shingle roofing, and living roofs. There will also be a non-hands-on session on strawbale, earthen floors, and passive solar design. If you dream of building an organic home similar to Simon Dale’s, check out the class at
www.kleiwerks.org/1-week-natural-building-workshop-usa/. Simon’s website has an extensive list of suggested resources and reading materials on natural homes and ecovillages.
Locally to see organic homes view www.earthaven.org to make tour reservations for Earthaven, an ecovillage off Route 9 south of Asheville, NC, available on scheduled Sundays for ten dollars.