It was an amazing mud adventure. Kim Siu’s gorgeous hobbit house in Moray is now finished, and it's a showcase of natural building. It ticks every box: a straw bale house with rubble trench foundations, living roof, earthen plaster, wattle and daub/cordwood interior, and a stunning earthen floor. Not only that, but it was built to code. In the UK. Yup, you read that correctly. It’s 100% legit. Building permits In. The. Bag.
But let’s not lie. Clawing your way over those bureaucratic hurdles is anything but a picnic. “I’m not building again,” says a somewhat frazzled Kim this end of the build. “I don’t think my frayed nerves could take it. Two builds is quite enough. I’ll stick to buildings that don’t need permissions such as gazebos or chicken sheds!”
Many thanks to Kim Siu of Get Rugged and the Hobbit Hideaway for sharing with me this honest, warts-and-all story of a phenomenal build.
There really is no better foundation for a natural build than the rubble trench. Tried and true, it beats concrete hands down in terms of cost and drainage. You can read exactly how to build one here, but basically it’s a trench, in this case lined with geotextile membrane, and filled with stones and rubble. That’s it.
As with most straw bale structures, you throw up the post and beam structure first. That includes the roof. The straw bales are basically the infill for the walls. The advantage of constructing your roof first is that you have this wonderful sheltered area to store materials, use as a shelter, and work within.
I asked Kim how she went about obtaining those elusive building permits. This isn’t her first house and we documented the UK permit process in detail in a post on Kim’s other larger straw bale house.
“Getting planning permission and the building warrant followed exactly the same procedures as our other house,” explains Kim. “It was far easier this time though, as we had an architect that not only knew his stuff, but knew how to communicate with officialdom. Sam at Rocket Architects restored my faith in architects! He got us through all the permissions gracefully, without too much stress.”
The Building Team
Kim employed an alternative building firm in the UK called Hartwyn to build this gorgeous house. Yes, you don’t have to do it yourself, and there are some definite advantages for getting a professional in.
“Hartwyn commission Rocket Architects as part of their package. That’s one of the reasons that we chose them for our project, because we knew we needed to jump through many, many hoops. Especially as this build was a hardcore eco-house,” says Kim. “Hartwyn were the natural builders and educators. Another reason why we chose them was because they would recruit and teach students as part of the build. This was such a great fit for my vision of the build and how it could be beneficial to others.”
Yes, it was a wonderful concept. I followed the process online and found it heart-warming to see the next generation of builders being trained in another, more sustainable construction methodology. You can see plenty of photos of the students at work with Hartwyn on the Get Rugged Facebook page. It all looked great fun.
Where did Kim find out about Hartwyn? “Ah from Talking Natural Homes,” she says. When talking to Jeffrey (the Natural Builder) it was very obvious that our values were aligned and it was a no-brainer to choose Hartwyn.”
The Toughest Part of the Build
During the building of the main structure, things move along at a nice clip. Motivation is high, and something is blooming out of nothing. That’s the easier part, in my opinion. I think the toughest section of any project is the finishing. Everyone is tired. Money is running out. And plastering and detailing are trickier and more time-consuming than you think. Kim, it seems, would agree.
“I think the final stages where the most difficult as they sapped me of all energy. There was just so much detailing left to finish. We had several months left of sanding, sealing, scraping, painting, fixing and finishing to get it ready and this seemed to take forever. I was under so much pressure at the time as my mother was dying, and we had got into huge debt with the build and needed to get it rented out and bringing in money as soon as possible.”
What would Kim do differently next time?
This is where Kim said there wouldn’t be a next time. :)) “It’s the financial pressures and permissions that took the most out of me. I’m still knackered. Who knows though, a few years down the line and I may well be looking at an earthbag structure. I think if I did build again, it would be with earth and stone...”
He he he, watch this space. :)
5 great lessons to take away from this:
The Hobbit Hideaway now
Kim’s hobbit house is now the most beautiful little bed and breakfast cottage where it gives people the chance to taste what life is really like inside a bonafide natural home. Guests continually come away shiny-eyed and rejuvenated. If you’d like to know more about it, or book a stay, look here. https://www.facebook.com/hobbithideaway/
Photos by Dewi Roberts
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13/6/2019 01:37:24 pm
This is gorgeous.
20/6/2019 02:16:13 pm
It's such a fabulous build Cath. And if you're in the right neighbourhood, it's a lot easier and cheaper to go under the radar. It was going to cost at least double the cost of my whole house to get a permit in Turkey!
14/6/2019 02:23:39 pm
Nice build. I am hoping to build a Hobbit styled Earth Shelter home. My idea is to build into a slope with a cast-in-place reinforced concrete wall at the back (I have 25 years experience building with concrete) and use a combination of superadobe tubes and Timber Framing for the side and Front. I visualize the front looking like the exterior walls of the New Zealand Hobbit movie set Hobbit Holes and the Green Dragon Inn. Heavy timber frames with insulated wattle and daub with Lime Putty plaster and some brick in fill. The roof would be heavy timber frames with plank decking with rigid polyurethane insulation and waterproof membrane over. A living roof of 2 feet of soil with heavy turf and perennial wild flowers (shallow root cultivars) over everything. Slop the roof contours at the back so it matches the slope of the hill. Modern plumbing, a fireplace, a few light tube sky lights and an insulated reinforced concrete floor. I want to stamp the concrete to look like flag stone. I know it is a massive undertaking but I think I can do it for about $40 k - 1400 Sq. Ft. finished. There will be a bunch of hardwood trees on the property and I will use as much recycled brick and other materials as possible.
19/6/2019 03:22:34 pm
That sounds amazing. I do hope u do this and post pics. Many Blessings.
20/6/2019 02:20:37 pm
Good luck! I know you're a concrete guy but I'd really consider another material on the floor though. Concrete and mud don't go well together. It changes the entire atmosphere of the building because concrete holds the damp in a way mud and lime don't. Also, if you're using superadobe, you probably don't need the concrete wall in the slope either. Just berm it, and buttress. Earthbag built properly is a LOT stronger than concrete, though it does depend the size and shape of your structure.
20/6/2019 09:57:56 am
Hi I have lived off grid for 16 years in hazel bender I am now helping my son to Julie a chestnut framed cabin cladded with wavey edge oak planks on the inside and the outside the cavertiy has flour sacks fuller with dirt . The mud girls make some wicked building
20/6/2019 02:14:10 pm
Oh yes the Mud Girls in Canada are great!
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