Sunday, 16 December 2007

Earthship in Spain and the Principles of Green Building

See for more on the project whose pics are above.
I helped on the 6th December, on my annual visit to Sunseed in Spain.
Its a beautiful place, an interesting project, and great people. The idea is a building that is self sufficient, getting its warmth and water from the sun and rain. To do this it needs to be very well insulated and designed, at the right angle to get the winter sun and shaded from the summer heat. The roof collects rainwater that can be filtered and used for driking and washing. Its make from recycled materials, mostly tyres filled with earth, rammed into position with sledge hammers.

I worked on the one in Brighton in September 2003, which was great. Unfortunately Britain is a bit too crowded to live in single storey buildings, but the principle that makes them work can be applied to all buildings.

Below Ive copies some pinciples of Green Building that I wrote some years ago, so some of the refences may be a bit old.

Green Building is similar to Green Living, be sustainable and reduce waste. Its better to reuse an existing building, improving its insulation, than to build a new one even with all the gadgets, solar panels, wind turbines etc. For materials, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Embodied energy, the energy used in the transportation and preparation of materials, must be minimised. So just as with shopping for vegetables, look first for the most local suppliers, including your own garden. Good examples are cob (straw and mud), brick (fired clay) with lime mortar and straw bales. Environmentally bad materials are Concrete (very polluting and high greenhouse gas emissions) and mineral fibre insulation. Steel can be recycled but its got a high embodied energy. Sometimes there isn’t a choice, but when there is, choose the lowest embodied energy.

Reduce Waste. Most of our housing stock was built between 1900 and 1939, when ventilation was more important than insulation due to the fumes produced by gas lighting and wood fires. We heat the air coming in through windows with radiators placed below, and fireplaces. Then loose the heat through walls made of single or double layer of brick, or single glazed windows with gaps in the frames. Old chimneys may no longer be used but still provide a way for heat to escape outside. Even those built in the 60’s and 70’s are not much better, with metal framed windows that have little insulation and thin walls. Insulation can be retro fitted, 300 mm in the loft, secondary glazing on the windows or replaced with double or triple glazing. Walls can have 50mm added inside or outside, cavities filled and draughts sealed off. To paraphrase Tony Blair, we need Insulation, Insulation, Insulation.

BRE has calculated that an average “EcoHome” house contributes to 2.8 tons of carbon per year, compared with 4.14 tons generated by a standard new home—a reduction of more than 30%.

Useful Green Building Links and addresses
Solar Trade Association Pengillan, Lerryn, Lostwithiel, Cornwall, PL22 0QE
The Centre for Sustainable Energy, Bristol. Tel: 0117 929 9950. .
Thermomax Ltd., Balloo Crescent, Bangor BT19 7UP 01344 874747
The Centre for Alternative Technology provides factsheets and further information on different solar systems.
The Green House, an environmental education centre in Norwich, has produced a good report on solar with plenty of useful information
Report at

Construction Resources 16 Gt Guildford St., 0207 450 2211
Excellent supplier of a wide range of environmental building materials. Will mail materials nationally.
Salvo, Tel 01890 820 333.
National association of salvage traders
See also: The Real Green Building Book and The Green Building Handbook, Eco Business Links.

Fluidmaster, CMI Distribution, Bristol, Telephone 01275 84 88 43.
For silencing a cold water tank- they also work a treat on toilets
Ecoflush, Gesek Ltd., PO Box 17115, London SE16 3ZQ. Tel 020 89880103. Web:
Device to control water flow in toilets. The Ecoflush can be installed on any existing toilet with a front mounted flush handle but will not work on toilets with side mounted handles or toilets without handles.

Index Building Products Ltd., 17 Queen St., London W1X 7PJ, Tel. 020 7409 7151.
Euroroof Green Roof from Alumasc Ltd, White House Works, Bold Rd., Sutton, St Helens, Merseyside WA9 4JG. Tel 01744 648 400.
See also: The Centre for Alternative Technology. They provide factsheets and further information on DIY turf roofs.

Vent Axia, Fleming Way Crawley, West Sussex, RH10 2NN. Technical tel. 01293 526 062. The main manufacturer of fans which supplied the equipment we used for the ducting.
Other leading fan manufacturers making inline duct fans are:
Greenwood Airvac, Tel 01903 771021, and Ductex, Tel: 0767 69129
Our heat exchanging fan was made by Baxi Tel: 01772 695 555

Low Impact Living Initiative (LILI)
LILI is dedicated to helping protect the global environment by promoting sustainable alternatives to various aspects of everyday life. Courses on straw bale building, solar energy etc at Redfield Community, Buckingham Road, Winslow, Bucks, MK18 3LZ. Tel / fax: (01296) 714184

Recomended places to browse for books are Greenbooks, the Earth Repair Catalogue, and the Centre for Alternative Technology online shop.

Eco-renovation: The Ecological Home Improvement Guide
Edward Harland. 256 pages Chelsea Green Pub Co; ISBN: 1890132381 £11
Sadly - considering the shelf space given to feng shui, there is currently only one book on the market on eco-renovation (ie specifically aimed at people with existing properties). This provides a reasonable overview, and is good for anyone who is not planning a major project, but we found it to be rather out of date and lacking in technical detail. The books below were more useful.

Living Spaces, Ecological Building and Design. Schmitz-Gunter, Abraham, Fisher. Konemann, 1999. £20 This excellent book is detailed, and written at just the right level for someone who wants to be treated with respect but without jargon. And it is nearly 500 pages, beautifully illustrated and a bargain price. The main frustrations are that it is written by Germans (so it contains information on products and technologies that are unobtainable in Britain) but translated for Americans (so all data is in imperial measures that are extremely hard to translate).

The Whole House Book: Pat Borer, Cindy Harris, CAT Publications, Paperback - 320 pages ISBN: 1898049211 £35 This is probably the best book for an overview of the principles of environmental design. It's very readable and well illustrated with a wide range of examples given. It's irritating that the price is so high, but it's definitely worth forking out for it if you are serious about eco-building.

Ecohouse (3rd Edition)by Sue Roaf, £29.99 978-0-7506-6903-0 £24.99 Architectural Press; ISBN: 0750649046. Another excellent overview of the principles of environmental design, drawing strongly from Sue Roaf's practical experiences building her own house. There is a website for the book

The New Autonomous House: Design and Planning for Sustainability
Brenda Vale, Robert Vale £20 Thames and Hudson; ISBN: 0500341761
The Vales are pioneers in eco-housing. This classic book is concerned mainly with their new-build low energy house, but there is a wealth of information about low energy design. Especially interesting is their astonishing attention to detail, including the minutiae of appliance consumption.

The Real Green Building Book
An annual directory of the the members of the Association of Environmentally Conscious Builders. An excellent place to find contacts and sources of materials, information, and professional advice. Only £2.50 from the AECB.

The Green Building Handbook Tom Woolley, Queen’s University, Belfast, et al. Volume 1: Pb: 0-419-2269990-7 £32.50, Volumes 1 and 2: Pb: 0-419-26150-8: £50.00 A two volume manual on the environmental impacts of different building materials. The best source of comparative technical data on materials. Available by mail order from Centre for Alternative Technology.

More information...
Sustainable Housing Schemes in the UK: A guide with details of access.
Edited by Nick White from the Hockerton Housing Project. 2002.
The only national guide to eco-houses that can be visited by the public. Comprehensive, detailed and with many case studies and contacts. An excellent guide to the principles of eco-building. Order through
'Sustainable House Book' produced by CAT.

See also the eco-homes listed in the Hockerton guide to Sustainable Housing Schemes in the UK (details above) and the photogalleries on Eco Business Links. Com (details below)

Nottingham Eco House
The project that is most similar to The Yellow House. Penney Poyzer and Gil Schalom have a terraced Victorian house and have done a full eco-retrofit, including a rainwater system and compost toilets. Their website is excellent.
Hockerton Housing Project The Watershed, Gables Drive, Hockerton
Southwell. Notts NG25 0QU Tel 01636 816902 (28/01/02) email:
Hockerton is an inspiring self-build project. The HHP publishes a national guide to UK ecohouses.
The Vertual House
This is not an actual house. it's an online house which you can explore room by room and click on items to find out more about green living. Great graphics (you need Flash) and interesting to use:
Leicester Eco House
A new build eco-house which is open to the public four afternoons a week, with information on insulation, compost, recycling. There is a shop with a range of materials and books. Web:
The Zero Emissions Development (ZED) project at Beddington, in the London of Borough of Sutton. An inspiring new build which maximises solar heating to achieve zero emissions. It is designed by Bill Dunster Architects whose website has details of this and other ZED projects
The Woodland House
Extremely low impact new building. Built from local timber and straw bales, heated with solar and wood, water from rain water. The owner, Ben Law, also writes widely about low impact lifestyles
The Underground House
Website of a low energy underground house in Cumbria with drawings and construction details
The Round House
Brithdir Mawr, a community in West Wales, has many experimental dwellings, especially wooden and turf roofed sheds, on its property. More info. Most famous is the Round House, a turf covered solar powered house, whose owner, Tony Wrench, has had a protracted battle with the local planning department who are demanding that it be taken down. It even has its own website More info
The Brighton Earthship

Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB),
PO Box 32, Llandysul, SA44 5ZA Tel: 01559 370908, Pioneering organisation with an excellent magazine.
The Ecological Building Network
US network for Eco-building.
Ecological Design Association (EDA), The British School,
Slad Road, Stroud, Glos. GL5 1QW. 01453 765575. Organisation with 700 members with excellent magazine
The Green Register - 020 7820 3159 courses in Green Building

Energy Advice Centres
There is a national network of centres that can advise you on all aspects of energy efficiency, grants and solar suppliers. For the details of your local energy advice centre call: 0800 512 012
For addresses :
Shine 21- London and SE 0800 298 5222
Shine has specialised in training plumbers to fit solar technology
Sustain 01934 863650 Organisation specialising in promoting energy efficiency. They have been organising local solar clubs.
National Energy Foundation Milton Keynes 01908 6645 5555
Research group specialising in energy.
Centre for Alternative Technology tel: 01654 702400
Energy Saving Trust 21 Dartmouth St London 0207 222 0101

The Forest Stewardship Council Web:
Provides information on sources of timber from sustainably managed forests. Although there are still problems with the FSC, the FSC is the only certification that is in any way a reliable indication of origin.

Rising Tide, 16B Cherwell St. Oxford OX4 4BL
National network of grassroots groups campaigning against climate change. There is a wide range of materials on the website They have a cd rom on the Yellow House for £12.50 that I can recommend.
A good range of links, divided usefully into categories inc. Including Eco-housing projects, materials and paints, Architects & engineers, Renewable energy Advice & information. Also this site allows you to submit your own links- well worth supporting:
Somerset Trust for Sustainable Housing : excellent all round links:
Eco Business Links. Com A huge US site dedicated to all aspects of eco-building and environmental materials (and related environmental campaign issues). There are photo galleries of a wide range of environmental housing techniques and technical information on materials. A great place to get an overview of what is possible (if you can overcome the frustration of being limited as to what you can buy)


Anonymous said...

Earthship Biotecture creates buildings that...

* Heat and cool themselves naturally via solar/thermal dynamics
* Collect their own power from the sun and wind
* Harvest their own water from rain and snow melt
* Sewage containment and treatment on site
* Produce food in significant quantities
* Utilize materials that are byproducts of modern society like cans, bottles and tires

Lizzie said...

eco-building in Spain, using earthship principles, straw bale, stone, lime, earthbag, etc.

Anonymous said...

So here's the next step: recycling clothing. It would be weird to live in a totally recycled home while wearing non-recycled clothes (although that would be better than no clothes at all--by a long shot.) You can get excellent, stylish, recycled clothing from . Check them out!