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.