Green Building Special: Eco-renovation Break Through!

Dave Seeker
Thursday, 1st April 2010

New Eco-renovation technique tested at the first strawbale-clad flint house in Hampshire.

When cracks started appearing in the flint walls of his 19th century house, owner Pete Nowall thought there had to be an innovative solution...

"Flint houses in this area were traditionally built with no foundations straight on to the chalk," reports Pete Nowall. "In my case the toll of time was ringing in my ears. When I saw cracks appearing that were cleaving whole flints apart in the walls, I knew there had to be an innovative and environmentally friendly solution."

Pete bought every building book he could find from Green Shopping and immersed himself studying them for weeks. "I didn't actually find the answer directly in any of these books, it was more of a synchronous serendipitous synthesis that suddenly came to me in a flash of inspiration – to clad the house in strawbales and tie them into the old walls," he enthused.

He engaged the interest of an engineer friend, Jim Watt, who set about providing the calculations, design and drawings and helped him take the process through planning. "I was surprised at the positivity I received from the planning department who granted permission with minimal fuss."

The local planning officer summed it up by saying, "This is a brilliant and creative solution that solves a problem that is occurring more and more in this area. It means that the intrinsic value of our old flint buildings is preserved whilst significantly enhancing their environmental specifications. It's a win-win situation and one day I expect to see many of our houses in this area retrofitted in this way."

Watch this space for more green building retrofitting solutions...


Further Reading

Building With Straw Bales - A Practical Guide For The UK & Ireland by Barbara Jones

Design of Straw Bale Buildings - The State of the Art

Serious Straw Bale Building - a home construction guide for all climates

The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes

To see the engineer's drawings and planning application plus the extraordinary end result:

petecooper |
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 10:30
I don't know what the U-value of this novel slate-straw hybrid is, but it looks like it's a winning combination. It also seems to have the added benefit of being flexible enough to be combed straight to improve the rain run-off and water-tightness of the structure. As a fellow renovator specialising in natural building, I also recommend replacing existing putty with the more naturally eco-friendly porridge proving paste and unsightly architraves with blocks of tofu (or other mycoprotein-based substitute). If you are requiring some reading material, I can thoroughly recommend The Green Self Build Book ( and also Building With Straw Bales ( - clearly Pete Nowall has been doing his research, though if I was being critical I may question his decision to tie the bales to his my experience a liberal application of porridge proving paste is a far more suitable bonding agent. Bravo, Permaculture Magazine, more of this in-depth reportage in future, please!
John Boshier |
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 18:18
Here's 75 pages of learned research into how to do it Sorry to spoil the joke ;-)