TV house: Hand-built ecological home in Wales

As part of an eco-village in west Wales, Simon and Jasmine Dale set out to hand-build an ecological home, starting with only £500 in the bank.

By Emily Brooks | 20 March 2017

As part of an eco-village in west Wales, Simon and Jasmine Dale set out to hand-build an ecological home, starting with only £500 in the bank.

See this Hand built ecological home in Wales 1

The story of Simon and Jasmine Dale’s Pembrokeshire home starts with the couple’s lifestyle and livelihood. Architects talk about taking a holistic approach, but that maxim rings pretty hollow in the face of a house that was built from trees felled on its own plot, that is completely off-grid, and that created virtually zero waste. As Kevin McCloud put it when their project appeared on Grand Designs last year, ‘this is the lowest of lowimpact houses.’ It might be the cheapest of low-impact houses, too: when Simon and Jasmine started the build, they had only £500 in the bank.

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The couple had some experience of building with round-poled timber and straw bales before they found their present plot, but it was the permanence of this new venture that inspired them to be more ambitious in their plans. This is to be a home for life. ‘This time, we are making a home we know will last,’ says Simon. ‘Previous projects I have built for our family have been on other people’s land, so we knew we would only need them for a couple of years.’ This time, he wanted to up the spec, experimenting with the idea of a house that could have modern comforts, such as underfloor heating, a generous bathroom and a carefully crafted finish, without compromising his ecological principles.

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The TV programme was one of those episodes where you make note of the start date – 2012 – and know it’s going to be an interesting ride. A seven-acre smallholding, the plot forms part of the Lammas eco-community, endorsed by the Welsh Assembly under its One Planet Development policy. In exchange for planning permission, the smallholders were given five years to demonstrate that 75 per cent of their everyday basic needs could be met from the land. The need to set up the small business side of the smallholding, both to make money and meet the planning conditions, meant the house was sometimes sidelined for months at a time.

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On the planning side, the house’s sustainability was given more weight than would be usual, which meant there were more lenient allowances for building methods. This was just as well, because it would have been impossible to build exactly to plan – the construction method uses timber poles, which do not conform to the strict dimensions of the average building material. To start with, part of the south-facing hillside was excavated, before a retaining wall was constructed made from earth-filled bags. The main building structure and roof were made from larch, with lime-rendered straw bales filling the gaps and sheepswool for insulation. A damp-proof membrane offers protection, while a grass roof blends the structure into the hillside.

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