Tag Archives: self-build

Sheep Wool Insulation

The ‘shell’ of our house, i.e. the walls, floors and roof, is made from panels that contain sheep wool insulation. Although we have our own sheep on our farm we could not, unfortunately, use their wool as this would have been much more expensive than buying the left over wool from carpet manufacturers.

Wool for carpets is brushed, and what cannot be used for the manufacture of carpets is what goes into our walls, hence the different colours!

Wool for carpets is brushed, and what cannot be used for the manufacture of carpets is what goes into our walls, hence the different colours!

Wool is a brilliant insulating material (as we know from wearing woolen jumpers!) – it has loads of tiny air pockets which traps the cold air, which is why the wool is not packed in too tightly into the panels. Wool absorbs and releases moisture without impacting on insulation properties (unlike cellulose insulation). It is also supposed to be a brilliant acoustic insulator, which is something that we will be able to confirm once we have moved in to the house, as we have used the wool in internal partitions where we needed an additional noise barrier Before it can be used in walls it has to be treated with borax to enhance its fire protective qualities and to protect it against moths and other pests. Needless to say it is a very eco-friendly building material as it can be used over and over again and will not harm the environment once it has been disposed of.

Panels are made from OSB sheets.

Panels are made from OSB sheets.


Exterior face of the OSB panel is painted with water resistant paint.

Exterior face of the OSB panel is painted with water resistant paint.

Every panel gets a number which corresponds to numbers on a computer generated model of our house; when the builders are ready to install the panels each panel has an exact position it needs to be in. The (floor) panels slot easily into place and rest on the glulam beams as shown on the image below:



Once all the floor, wall and roof panels have been installed the joints are sealed on the inside of the house to help make the building air tight. The tape we used was incredibly strong, you can get it here from Tapes Direct!



Installation of the panels only took a few days as everything is put together like a LEGO house!


Pad Foundations of our Eco House

Our architects recommended we build our house on pad foundations instead of strip foundations, which are more common. The advantage of having pad foundations are that you use less concrete (each pad is between 450x450mm and 800x80mm wide and at least 300mm deep) which means it is more environmentally friendly and cheaper as you use less material. By using pad foundations you also disturb the ground less than you would with strip foundations.

Excavation for a pad foundation

Excavation for a pad foundation

As the structure of our house is made from glulam posts and beams, we have one pad under each post. We also have some strip foundations, mainly along the external walls. When 2 pads were close together we merged them into one, keeping the specifications of the bigger one.

Levelling the concrete in a pad foundation

Levelling the concrete in a pad foundation

Below is a picture which shows how our house is built on posts – each post has a foundation pad below it. Due to the slope of the ground the finished level of each pad had to be carefully measured, although the posts can be slightly altered as they sit on galvanised steel ‘foots’ that are fixed to steel plates, which are bolted to the concrete pad.

Post with ‘foot’ and plate (not yet bolted onto concrete pad foundation) to allow for approx. 25mm leveling.

If you want to know more about foundations click here for a clear and comprehensive website. 

First ideas in designing a new house

Below are a few ideas I first played around with when I started designing a new house for myself. As a fully qualified interior designer I am used to having the structure already laid out, so this was a new challenge for me. The only constraint we had was the square metres of living space we were allocated by the council, so the first exercise that seemed logical to do (and this is what they taught us to do when I studied Interior Design) was to set up a list of rooms and decide how many square meters each room would have. Then I thought about which rooms should be linked to each other, as shown in this diagram for the ground floor:


Relation of rooms to each other

Allocation of square metres for each room


I then did the same for the first floor. This gave me a good idea of which rooms need to be close to each other and which rooms would be on the ground / first floor.

I then focused my attention to sunlight. The one disadvantage of our plot is that, although we have an amazing view, the site is on a field that slopes eastwards. This means that we get good sunlight in the morning, but not a lot of direct light after approx. 12 o’clock. Therefore, it was more important to ensure that as many rooms as possible get a good view, as this is our main advantage. To do this I came up with the idea of a ‘zig zag’ layout. If I had chosen a square layout (which would have been the cheapest option), only one room would have had a perfect position for view and light. By opting for the zig zag layout I managed to get the same result for 3 rooms.

Both Layouts_jpg

Space Planning for New-Build showing ‘Zig-Zag’ vs Square Layout.

I then tried to imagine walking around the house. I started by opening the front door: what do I do first when I arrive home (take off shoes, wash my hands)? Where will I be likely to go next (to the kitchen to drop off shopping or make a cup of tea / upstairs to get changed / etc.) to help me decide further where rooms would have to be in relation to each other. This is obviously different for each family so I will not get into too much detail here.

So after a while I got quite a good idea of what we wanted and how the house should ‘work’, but I needed the help of an architect to complete the design of the building. This was when we contacted the Cornish eco-build firm Ecofab from Bodmin: they completely understood what we wanted and their first proposal is pretty much what we ended up building! Here are some computer visualisations from the architects:

Design of a modern farmhouse

Design of a modern farmhouse

When you are designing a new house make sure you are not rushed into any decisions, especially if you are building the house for yourself – you don’t want to look at, for example, a window that should have been slightly larger for years afterwards!