A British farmer has built a house for just £150.
Using an ancient building technique and materials he found in skips, Michael Buck, 59, built the ‘cob house’ at the bottom of his garden in the Oxfordshire countryside, reports the Daily Mail. Info on HOW to build a cob house at the end of this article.
‘The house is built from locally-sourced materials and apart from the glass they are biodegradable, said Michael. ‘With proper maintenance it could last forever but it would also naturally return to the Earth if it was left alone.
‘One day it will disappear back into the landscape – it would just be a mound of earth if it was left.There are also some personal touches – the names of everyone who helped in building the house are written on the wall.
‘It includes the names of three cows – Marigold, Crystal and Mist – who provided dung which helped to make the walls.’
The former art teacher, now a rural smallholder near Oxford, has started renting out the property and his current tenant – a worker on a neighbouring dairy farm – pays for her lodgings in milk.
The father-of-three also taught himself how to thatch in order to create the house’s intricate roof.
Although it has no electricity the cottage boasts free running water from a nearby spring and walls painted with a chalk and plant resin mixture.
It has a kitchen and dining area, along with a bunk-style bed to maximise space below.
Heat is provided by a wood-burning stove – and thanks to the cob walls and thatched roof the house is surprisingly well-insulated.
A shallow well outside the front door also acts as a primitive fridge to keep milk and other liquids cool.
The isolated retreat even has its own thatched outhouse complete with composting toilet.
Mr Buck, who spent two years gathering materials and constructing the house, said he wanted to challenge the notion that paying for a house should take a lifetime.
He said: ‘It was meant to cost nothing but some things went wrong so we ended up spending £150 on it.
‘If I were a property developer I’d have an infinity overspend because as a percentage of nothing, which was my target, £150 is quite a lot.
‘But I believe in the idea of houses not costing much.
‘A house does not have to cost the Earth – you only need earth to build it.
‘There’s this idea people have to spend their whole lives paying off their mortgage doing something they don’t enjoy which I wanted to challenge.
‘I also used mostly natural materials – I wanted the house to fit in with the landscape rather than intrude upon it.
There was a time when cob – a mix of straw, soil and water – was one of the most common building materials in the Westcountry. But these days, very few people have the knowledge and the skills to build with this most ancient of techniques.
Indeed, when Con expert Kevin McCabe built his first cob house, back in 1994, it was the Uk’s first to be constructed in this traditional way – using earth, sand, straw and water – for 70 years.
Since then, Kevin has built six cob houses, all of which have won awards. His latest cob house is almost finished and was featured on Channel 4 TV series Grand Designs. “They filmed with us for four years, from the beginning when we were trying to get planning permission for the house, right through all the construction,” says Kevin, who these days is renowned as a cob expert both for new homes and repairs to historic buildings.
Kevin’s latest house will appear on Grand Designs and is more of a cob castle than a cob house. It has 10,000 square feet of inside space and will meet the highest environmental performance targets ever set.
The new house is formed of two vast curved cob roundhouses, connected by glazing and topped with wild-flower meadow roofs. In all, it contains 2,000 tonnes of cob.
His current home is perched in fields on the scenic edge of Ottery St Mary in East Devon. Indeed, this house, too, has starred on television in its own right, featured in a show called (with tongue firmly in cheek): “I live in Britain’s best home”. Keppel Gate has been the family home for Rose, Kevin and their children Heather, Dale and Ben since Kevin built it.
“Keppel Gate is a wonderful place to live. It’s been a fantastic family home for us and is only for sale so that we can move into our new house, which is such an exciting project,” explains Rose.
Cob is naturally environmentally friendly, offering natural insulation and, as a consequence, Keppel Gate is rated an impressive B on the Energy Performance rating scale. As well as cob’s natural insulation, the house has solar-powered water heating and ground-source under-floor heating.
“Cob is made using natural materials which breathe and allow mois-ture to dissipate,” explains Kevin.
“This means that a house built of cob has a flywheel effect on the interior atmosphere. In summer the cob releases moisture to cool down the hot dry air. In winter it absorbs chills and damp, so that the a cob house is very comfortable all year round. I really couldn’t live happily in a house that wasn’t made of cob.”
The material is also is hugely versatile, lending itself to creative shaping and structuring. As these pictures show, Keppel Gate is uniquely designed with curving walls, broad spiralling staircases and all sorts of quirky features. These include the cob en-suite showers built in to the thick walls like the inside of a seashell.
“There’s no need for shower curtains or trays,” explains Rose.
The three-storey home has top-spec finishes throughout, such as the tactile bespoke door furniture, which was made by a local craftsman blacksmith.
The house also has oak ceiling beams, sweet chestnut door frames and beautiful porcelain floor tiles in the kitchen and conservatory.
Alongside the under-floor heating, the traditional log burner in the sitting room and the four-oven Aga in the kitchen ensure that the house is filled with warmth all year.
The house also has an enviable location. It is situated less than a mile from Ottery St Mary in East Devon, where there is a sought-after secondary school, rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, as well as easy access to the A30, M5 and Exeter.
But the house itself is at the end of a quiet no-through-road, with few neighbours, two acres of grounds, surrounded by lovely country views.
Today, the house is roofed with reclaimed Delabole slates but it was originally built with a thatched roof. A house fire in March 2010, caused by a spark from the log fire, destroyed the roof. Today, though, the house is “as good as new – in some ways better,” says Kevin, after the damage was fully repaired.
“We took the opportunity to change the roofing material and also redesign the top storey,” says Rose. The top floor, formerly open plan, now has a large sitting room and a spectacular bedroom with views over the countryside and towards Sidmouth. Keppel Gate comes with a sizeable two-storey detached annexe, garage and barn, built of cob. There is also a wood-fired pizza oven in the garden, perfect for outdoor parties and gettogethers – and that too is made of cob, of course.
You can see Kevin McCabe’s latest cob house in Channel 4’s Grand Designs, which is showing at 9pm on Wednesday October 23. Keppel Gate is for sale for £1.1 million with Hall and Scott, Ottery St Mary (01404 812000, www.hallandscott.co.uk) and Jackson-Stops and Staff, Exeter (01392 214222, www.jackson-stops.co.uk) What is traditional English cob? Traditionally, English cob was made by mixing clay-based subsoil with sand, straw and water, using oxen to trample it. The earthen mixture was then ladled on to a stone foundation in layers and trodden on to the wall by workers, a process known as “cobbing”. The construction progresses according to the time required for each layer or “course” to dry.
After drying, the walls would be trimmed and the next course built, with lintels left in for doors and windows. The walls of a cob house are generally about 24 inches thick, providing thermal mass which is easy to keep warm in winter and cool in summer. The material has a long lifespan even in rainy climates, provided a tall foundation and large roof overhang are present.
For more details on Kevin McCabe’s work with cob, visit the website www.buildsomethingbeautiful.co.uk
See more pictures of Michael Biuck’s home at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513154/Farmer-builds-house-just-150-using-materials-skips–current-tenant-pays-rent-MILK.html
HERE IS HOW HE DID IT
Michael Buck and his friends first mashed up or ‘poddled’ a wet mud and straw mixture — known as cob — stamping barefoot on it on a large sheet made from the skin of an old trampoline found in a skip.
‘Poddling with the feet is very important,’ he says. ‘Being barefoot is far more efficient than wearing boots to mix it. It used to be done by cattle. It’s a wonderful sensation as it squidges between your toes.’
The straw mixed into the cob came from a nearby horse yard and cost £150 — the only money spent on the building project.
The water added to the cob mixture came from a well Mr Buck had dug, and the sand and clay came from the soil dug out for the foundations.
The cob was then shaped into bricks and left to dry before being used to build the walls.
The walls rose 4in each day of building. Mr Buck then used a large knife to smooth them into shape. The whole process took four months.
The ceiling inside is made from wattle and daub — a framework of woven sticks and mud-based plaster — and insulated with sheep’s wool donated by a local farmer.
Timber for the roof was taken from poplar trees in a nearby wood.
The roof structure runs through the top of the walls and up to a crest. Mr Buck taught himself to thatch, using long straw wheat grown by a local thatcher and reed found at Duke’s Cut, a waterway that connects the Oxford Canal with the River Thames.
He carried it to the house in 10ft bundles to avoid a carbon footprint. The thatch is held in place by intertwined sticks of local hazel.
Sheep’s wool stuffed into a duvet was used to make a mattress for the bed on the wooden mezzanine.
The floorboards are made from reclaimed wood salvaged after the local Woolworths store in Oxford city centre closed down.
Alcoves were moulded into the interior walls so candles could be used to light the building.
Cob houses are almost fireproof because so little wood is used. The density of the walls, usually around 2ft thick, ensures the house is well insulated.
This was made of cob bricks and topped with broken tiles found around the site to prevent rain coming down it. The house itself is heated with a wood-burning stove.
Bathtub and sink
Hanging outside is a large, metal bowl that can be filled with water from an ancient nearby spring. The bowl serves as a sink, bath tub and washbasin.
A lorry windscreen found in a rubbish tip was fitted as one window.Three discarded wooden windows from the same tip were turned upside down so the rotten lower sills became the top sills.
The glass and frames were fitted into the walls and gothic-style windows set in the cob mix.
The site had to be on ground with the ideal soil to form the basis of the mixture used in the ancient ‘cob’ building style — where bricks are made from a combination of earth, sand, clay, straw and water.
The technique is believed to date back to prehistoric times and is still common in the Middle East and Africa.
Too much clay in the soil and the cob bricks will become brittle and fracture; too little and they will crumble. Luckily, the soil in Mr Buck’s smallholding contains the perfect amount of clay.
He dug the foundations a foot deep to get to the ‘subsoil’, which he set aside to make the cob mixture. Then he created foundations from large stones taken from a neighbour’s dilapidated wall, adding some of the cob mixture as a form of cement.
The outer layer of the wall was plastered with a smoother type of cob mixture. It included crushed-up bullrush heads from a local stream and cow dung from a nearby dairy to add some texture to the mixture.
The names of the three cows — Marigold, Crystal and Mist — which contributed are inscribed on the wall of the cottage.
The walls inside and out were finished with ‘Ali’, a cross between plaster and paint which is made from plant resin, clay and chalk, which Mr Buck collected from the Chiltern Hills, and flour that he ground himself on his farm.
The marble kitchen worktop and the woodburning stove were donated by Mr Buck’s sister during the renovation of her Dorset home.
Some poplar branches are built into the walls of the kitchen, from which pots and pans can be hung.
The lavatory is a ‘composting toilet’ that uses sawdust and moss to conceal and break down waste.
It’s also a loo with a view — of the beautiful, rolling Oxfordshire countryside.
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