yup – still alive and kickin’

It’s been a few months since I wrote here last.

I was in Australia and Singapore for nearly 3 months enjoying the sun and family and wine and seafood.

I’ve been doing heaps of research on all aspects of cob building and when I get a second I’ll pull together all the cool sites I found and share them with you. I may post them as a permanent page at the top of my blog. I could also do them up in a pdf that I’d be happy to email to anyone that would find it useful. Let me know if you want it.

Some of the areas I have been researching include:

  • small house design
  • passive solar design
  • compost toilets
  • straw bale and hybrid building
  • designing a rainwater collection system
  • non concrete foundations
  • architectural salvage in Ireland
  • walls & windows
  • ceilings
  • roofs
  • energy technologies
  • earth floors
  • kitchens
  • natural finishes
  • gathering stories and photos of cob builds

Slowly, slowly I’m gathering information and good sites. They are all saved to favourites and to my files but I need to do some proper sorting and cataloguing. Give me a month or so. Nothing like a deadline to motivate!

I mentioned on another post that I had bought a lot of very interesting cob building books from Walnut Books through their online store. Nora is a dote and very helpful.

Well, it seems to me that there’s a section missing in all their books and a lot of the sites. This became clearer to me when I was talking with my friends that are sustainable renovating their cottage (see previous post for photos).

They borrowed the books and then said that there’s nothing about what materials to use to build the bathrooms. Obviously you can’t have exposed cob – as water and cob are a bit like vampires and sun – melting. And quite a few materials won’t adhere to cob or allow a proper airflow. My friends solved the problem and now have 2 gorgeous tiled bathrooms. Anyway – that’s a section for someone’s book.

Speaking of my friend and their cottage. It’s nearly finished and I’ll post photos in a few weeks. It will be available for rent and is the soul of peacefulness. You can sit on the decking and look out onto the curving stream (that legend has it – Charles Atlas used to swim in as a boy.) and the mountains. The downstairs has an open kitchen/living/dining and a HUGE det of french doors to the decking – as well as 2 bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. One of the bedrooms and bathrooms is wheel chair accessible.There are stairs to a lovely mezzanine/ entertainment area plus another bedroom and toilet. It’s a clay, hemp & lime build with all sorts of sustainable materials.

I’m going to book myself in for a week and just retreat and write. The cottage has been in Frank’s family for 7 generations and will soon be part of the Greenbox sustainable holiday rent scheme. If you’re interested in renting after May this year let me know and I’ll link you to them. I’m going to help them develop a blog with photos and a small video tour of the cottage.

It’s not easy finding designs and photos of small house design. Some people’s idea of a small house is something just under 2000 sqft! And as our American friends would say – Hello!! Here in Ireland we are used to living in much smaller spaces.

If you want to see a really interesting small house have a look at Simon Dales self built home in a woodland. I call it the hobbit home and I love it. And – just for the fun do a Google of hobbit homes.

If you do a Google search on small house design some interesting sites do come up.

Check out the natural homes site. It has done a mashup of Google maps and you can see where natural builders have their sites (in real time and online) around the world. If you have a site – add it in.

The other thing I’ve found really interesting is going to You Tube and typing in ‘cob building’. There are a heap of short videos and slide shows with some of the cob innovators as well as tours of homes. Worth a wander.

Still looking for land around Ballinamore at a price I can afford. I have one of those feelings that something will come along around June or July. House and land prices in Ireland have dropped a fair amount in the last 6 months.

You know – part of sustaining a dream is to allow for the moments when you wonder whether it will happen – or should you change you dream.

I wonder if I’ll find the land for a reasonable price within 5 miles of Ballinamore. I wonder whether the bank will give me a loan to build a cob house. I wonder whether the Leitrim County Council will give me planning permission – if I get the land and the loan.

All fair wonderings. Right now I’ll just wait and see what comes up in the next few months.

Meanwhile I can still share with you the information I find from my research.

Take good care.



Another sustainable cottage


Some friends of mine have been renovating a family cottage. It’s been in the family for 7 generations.

As part of the Greenbox sustainable tourism development programme they were part funded to do a sustainable renovation. Ten other cottage/home owners in cross border counties were also funded to renovate their buildings to make them available for rent as part of an overall eco tourism programme.

What does that mean? I’ll let them tell their story in more detail another time as they are still busy doing the renovation.


Basically they have used a clay, hemp, sand, water and lime mix (which is eerily similar to cob) to build walls, floors and part of the roof. You’ll notice the timber framing with the clay mix inside. One of the lessons they learnt was that they didn’t need to use so much wood (which is one of the big expenses after labour). If the walls are wide enough (2 to 3 ft for outside walls and much thinner for inner walls) they hold their own mass and are all load bearing.

For my cob building the only wood I’ll use will be to ‘frame’ doors and windows, for lintels, the roof trusses and any shelving I decide to embed on the cob inside – although I’ll also be embedding slabs of stone as shelving as well.


The tiles on the roof are recycled tires and they’ll be painting the inside rooms with eco paints (which are infused with essential oils and you get this wonderful smell of orange as you paint). Insulation included cob and sheeps wool (that had to be sent to the UK to be treated – anyone want to start a value add business in Ireland?). There are a number of skylights and a solar panel.

On all my visits I have been stunned by how clean it all smells – no chemical smells at all. The earth materials also mean that the cottage has a high thermal mass. With the insulation contributing to the passive heating – I don’t think it will need much active heating.

The cottage is sited in Aughacashel which is about 5 miles from where I live in Ballinamore. It looks over to the iron Mountains and has a stream running through the property. It’s so serene and peaceful that you feel yourself relaxing and just gazing out into the scenery.

In the process of the renovation they found that the clay on their land was not only ideal as a building material but it also looks amazing – like poured honey. So, it’s been used to make the hemp and lime mix – and the plastering material.


They’ve started selling the clay to other natural earth builders.

The plasterers had to learn a new way of putting the natural clay mix onto the walls – a kind of throw and splotch (don’t you love all the technical building terms!). I love the rounded plastering at all the ‘edges’. The curved plastering is carried through inside the house.


The cottage was initially a traditional 3 room Irish home that at one time housed up to 7 people. The extension now has 2 ensuite bedrooms downstairs (one with disabled access) with an open plan kitchen and living/dining area and fireplace.

When you walk in the front door you are in the open area and you look straight across and out through 2 huge french doors. They frame a view that just astonshes me with its quiet beauty. There are stairs that take you to 2 open mezzanine’s that have multi function – as another relaxing area or bedrooms.

The earth material needs a few months to dry naturally and in the spring they will fit out the kitchen and bathrooms.

The cottage will be available to rent in mid 2008 for anyone interested in staying in an eco cottage surrounded by mountains, lakes and some lovely local towns and pubs. And just in case you have a pint too many, your landlords are also the local taxi service.

I only live 5 miles away but I’d be tempted to book myself in for a week retreat as I plan and develop all my micro enterprises.

The whole journey has been a huge learning curve for my friends – in terms of both money and time. But I’ll let them tell their story when they get their own blog going.

My home building journey?

Right now I’m getting ready to spend 2.5 months in Singapore and Australia visiting my family and friends. When I get back in February I’ll start looking for some land near Ballinamore. I’ve already booked and paid for a 1 day cob workshop in Galway sometime in April. And – friends have mentioned a few people building cob houses in the surrounding counties that I’d like to visit in March and April. I also want to buy a small van so I can start buying doors and windows and other house stuff from salvage yards in 2008.

Take good care.