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News 08.09.18
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Clayfest 2018 at the Irish National Heritage Park, Co. Wexford

8th September 2018

clayfest 2018

In just over two weeks time, this quiet corner of the Irish National Heritage Park will be buzzing with earth building enthusiasts as Clayfest 2018 gets under way. We will build experimental structures and sculptural installations. We will learn heritage crafts and artistic skills. And this empty space will be filled with mini-buildings and walls and lots of great memories. So what is Clayfest all about anyway?

heritage park

Many of you know that I have been involved with Earth Building UK and Ireland for a number of years now and since 2015, we have been active in Ireland. The UK crew have hosted an earth building conference every year since 2009. But they began to realise that many people who work with earth don't necessarily want to sit in a lecture hall all day long; they want to be hands-on and learn from each other in a more practical way. And so the first Clayfest was born. It was held in Errol in Fife, Scotland ... and was such a success that it was decided that Clayfest should become an annual event.

turf workshop   rammed earth workshop

Clayfest 2018 will kick off on Monday, 24th September, at the Heritage Park in Co. Wexford, with workshops in many different earth building techniques, such as Artistry in Clay with natural building legends Bill and Athena Steen, Experiments in Earth Block with Tom Morton (the brains behind the first Clayfest) and Becky Little (RebEarth), and Stone and Earth Mortar with local mason Brian Tobin.

artistry in clay   experiments in earth block   stone and earth mortar

All of the workshops at Clayfest take place side by side. So even if you sign up for the Upcycled Cob Dome Workshop, you can still eavesdrop in on Wattle-and-Daub and keep an eye on your neighbours' progress with their Clay-Hemp walls. We'll be teaching Mudwall Repair, by the way. There's no need to worry about the weather, either. All workshops will be under cover.

And if you feel that committing to a full day's workshop is too much to begin with, why not pop along to our drop-in Cob Meitheal. It's free. While you won't be taught the specifics of earth building, it will be an opportunity for you to experience the process in an informal way. It might inspire you to sign up for a workshop after all.

treading cob   earth oven   rammed earth workshop

Clayfest is about experimentation. It's a chance for both participants and workshop leaders to play with earth and test its limits. It has led to some pretty amazing structures being built over the years.

mud and stud pavilion   earth block nubian vault
cob mobius strip   rammed earth vault
viking house   twisting rammed earth columns

But Clayfest is not just about the building, it's about the connections, about finding your tribe, about meeting like-minded people and forging new friendships. It's about establishing mud networks all over the world.

colin, bill, athena and feile   joel
johannes and rowland   the girls   jem and jules

Clayfest is hands-on. It is an opportunity to get mucky with some of the most knowledgeable experts in their fields. Earth is a very tactile material; to really understand it, you have got to literally get to grips with it.

mucky hands and feet   cob pull test



clay plaster

Clayfest is all about having fun and trying out new things.

cob stomping   cob blocks   tree pose on rammed earth column
building turf

Pop-ups have become something of a tradition. Do you have a project you want to present? An experiment you want to carry out? A demonstration you want to share? Every day, we invite all participants to bring something to the table. We have tried (and failed) to set clay-coated straw bales on fire, we have mastered an adobe-making machine, we have examined the role of fibres in earth mixes, we have learned about earth building in Estonia, Croatia, Slovakia, Iceland and Cyprus. If you have a pop-up idea, we would love to give you a platform.

making adobes   carazas cubes   kids and athena

Of course, Clayfest isn't just about the hands-on stuff. The conference is still a hugely important part of the festival. This year, it will be held in the Crannóg at the Heritage Park, which is itself an earth building. We are delighted that this, the 10th EBUKI Conference, will be held in an all-natural building for the first time, on Friday 28th September. And it will be just a stone's throw from Clayfest's workshop area .... so everyone attending the conference can see the fruits of our labour. The theme this year is The Secret Life of Earth. With 13 speakers from Ireland, the UK, Europe and U.S., there really is something for everyone. Check out the full line-up here. And in the evening, the 'auditorium' will be transformed into a dining hall and dance floor when the feast and céilí kick off.

crannog in the heritage park   interior of the crannog

We are also very excited to have eight properties opening their doors on our tour day, Saturday 29th September. From beautifully appointed mudwall cottages to farmhouses under renovation to 13th century churches, and even a castle (!), there is something for eveyone on this tour. Some of the buildings will feature in the conference, so this a great opportunity to see them in the flesh.

ballysampson house   medieval church

If you haven't already booked a place on any of our seven workshops, what are you waiting for? Click on the links below for more information and to buy your ticket.

clayfest 2018 Clayfest 2018: General Information

artistry in clay Artisty in Clay with Bill and Athena Steen

clay-hemp Clay-Hemp Walls with Tom Woolley

earth blocks Experiments in Earth Block with Becky Little and Tom Morton

mudwall repair Mudwall Repair with Féile Butler and Colin Ritchie

stone and earth mortar Stone and Earth Mortar with Brian Tobin

upcycle cob dome Upcycled Cob Dome with Lizzie Wynn and Louise Halestrap

wattle and daub Wattle and Daub with Niall Miller and Joe Gowran

ebuki conference EBUKI Conference: The Secret Life of Earth

Céilí in the Crannóg


Thanks to our sponsors for helping make Clayfest 2018 happen:

wexford co co
  irish national heritage park   failte ireland
heritage council     hg matthews strocks   archers


See you at the Heritage Park in a few weeks! I can't wait to see what we create together!



Copyright 2018, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood



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5 Day Wood House Building Course and 10 Day Mud and Wood Course

7th June 2018

The 5 Day Wood House Building Course kicks off in just over a month on the 9th July. All this sunny weather has put us in such a good mood, that we have decided to have a flash sale. Anybody who books on this course before midday (noon) on Sunday, 10th June, can avail of a 10% discount on the normal price ... a whopping saving of €50! Pay just €445 (normally €495) for 5 days of expert tuition in timber construction. Click here for more information.

The 10% Discount Offer ended at 12:00 noon on Sunday, 10th June 2018. You can still click on the button below to book the course at the regular price.


So what do we cover on the 5 Day Wood House Building Course? Take a look at how everyone got during last year's workshop.

checking structural timber   hand-sawing   using a cordless screwdriver

This course is suitable for multiple levels. We start with the fundamentals - how to use the tools efficiently and safely, how to select the right timber for the task at hand, and so on. Participants will learn to make and use some basic and practical equipment and tools for themselves, rather than having to buy or hire expensive kit. Here are some the testimonials from past courses:

"So much helpful info in just a few short days and everything explained well for beginners - a really enjoyable experience".

"Excellent. I never used hand tools or carpentry tools before, but this course has given me the confidence to try this out for myself".
Dylan Fitzgerald, Cork

scaled plans   setting out a building   finding levels for a building

We then look at how to get a building off the paper and on to the ground, with tips for all shapes of building - how to set out right angles and different types of curves ... and how to figure out your levels (you want your floors to be flat - don't you!). As far as we know, no other amateur course covers this vital information.

straw bale wall   external side of straw bale wall   curved straw bale wall

At Mud and Wood, we have developed our own construction system for timber frame and straw bale. The frame has been designed to be robust while using as little timber as possible, saving you money. The straw bale gives excellent insulation. And we don't plaster straight on to the straw bale (unlike many other natural building courses) ... the straw is just too susceptible to rot in this part of the world. Instead, we will show you how to build a wall that is both breathable and weather-proof ... even on the stormy Atlantic seaboard. And if you want it curvy, we can do curvy.

floor beam and floor joists   natural edge wood   flat timber roof

We will talk about foundations, assemble timber beams, decipher span tables (these let you know what dimension and strength of timber you need to build your timber floor or roof), hang joists, get tips for salvaging materials, learn how to select the best insulation for your project, get professional tips for making natural edge wood furniture, and build roofs - both flat and pitched.

pitched roof   the class of 2017

Each day, before you get on with the practical, hands-on stuff, we run through the theory of what you are about to do. At Mud and Wood, we believe that it is just as important to understand why you do something the way you do it, and not just learn how to do it. This will give you greater freedom in the future to modify details, choose appropriate materials, etc. This is the only timber construction workshop with its own dedicated handbook (included in the price of the course) covering all of the details and techniques that you will learn during the 5 Day Wood House Building Course. The only way to get your hands on this handbook is to come on this course.

If you have any questions, please call us on +353 (0) 86 806 8382 or drop us an email at We would be delighted to answer your queries. You can also find out more information about the course by clicking here.

The 10% Discount Offer ended at 12:00 noon on Sunday, 10th June 2018. You can still click on the button below to book the course at the regular price.

5 Day Wood House Building Course


Of course, you may also want to consider the 10 Day Mud and Wood Course (02 - 13 July 2018) which also has a 10% discount offer on the full price if booked before midday on Sunday, 10th June. Click here for more information.

The 10% Discount Offer ended at 12:00 noon on Sunday, 10th June 2018. You can still click on the button below to book the course at the regular price.

10 Day Mud and Wood Course


Hope to see you here in July!

Copyright 2018, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Recent Design Course: Model-Making and Building Costs

18th May 2018

model making in design workshop
Working on the Models

Designing through Model-Making

Click here to jump straight to Building Costs.

Back in March we ran our Design Course (which will be repeated in November - click here for more information or to book). The weekend covered many topics including:

  • choosing a site or house,
  • figuring out where to place a new building on the site or where to build an extension in relation to the original house,
  • how to get your design concepts out of your head and on to paper,
  • how to get something, that was once just an idea, built.

Those last points can be the most challenging. Ideas about how you want to live in and use your home, about flow, about hopes and dreams, can be quite nebulous in nature. But constructing a building? That's about as bricks-and-mortar as it can get, literally. Which is why model-making is such a great way to tackle these lofty, wafty notions and examine them with real materials in real 3-D space.

I often think that when people design on a computer, even when they are superbly skilled at it, there is still a point , somewhere deep in the brain, when the creative process has to stop and the logical computer programmer has to step in. Using a pencil to design cuts out that analytical middleman somewhat, but the designer is still representing spatial volumes in a 2-D format. Model-making is the most direct connection between the creative brain and the physical act of producing 3-D designs.

design for small cottage   design for a small cottage
Design for a Small Cottage

When you see how a design does or doesn't work, it is easy enough to pull out a wall, carve a new window, relocate a kitchen counter, etc., and get immediate feedback on whether or not these changes are for the good. One helpful tip is to use model-making materials that mimic the characteristics and properties of the real building materials. For example, clay is perfect for cob models; lollipop sticks suit timber frame and twigs are great for round-pole construction.

Even though the model-making element of the Design Course can seem quite daunting for some participants, everyone manages to get into it, and usually finds it the most satisfying part of the workshop. It's not about producing the most beautiful, sculptural piece. It's about getting the creative ideas flowing and about not being too precious with the model .... not being afraid to rip out an entire room or bend a wall to form a new shape. Once immersed in it, model-making is actually an invigorating and empowering way to work.

While the model-making session comes out top-of-the-list as the most enjoyable activity on the Design Course, there are two hot topics that usually generate the most discussion and debate over the weekend. This first is the planning process. The second is the issue of construction costs. Often, there can be something of a rude awakening for our participants when it comes to budgeting for a building project.

ground floor plan   first floor plan
Model of Ground Floor and First Floor for Family Home

Budgeting for a Construction Project:

What many people don't realise is that a building budget goes far beyond the construction costs alone. If you hear a builder say that he can build something for €x per square foot, this literally only covers the cost of building the physical building and possibly some very basic landscaping outside, such as a standard 2m wide concrete path around the building (even this should be confirmed).

Let's take a look at what is not typically included in the construction costs:

  • VAT on the contractor's cost per square foot (currently 13.5%).
  • Professional fees for architect offering a full service (from design, through planning, building control and tender process, to site inspections and sign-off). These are typcially around 12% of the construction costs ex VAT. This is on top of the construction costs, not included in the construction costs.

There is a caveat here. As an architect for unusual, non-standard, natural buildings, often self-built, my clients may go a long way in reducing the overall construction costs by using low-cost, free or salvaged materials and carrying out much of the labour themselves. However, my workload stays the same. In fact, often, my workload goes up.

When I am working with professional contractors, they have experience of building, they have a working knowledge of the building regulations, they understand the logical stages of building and can anticipate what is coming down the track. Many self-builders do not have this experience, and so I may need to spend more time than usual helping them to navigate the complex world of construction.

In these cases, while the construction cost (€x per square foot) may be low, my fee could end up being much more than 12% of this figure. It is important to factor this in when budgeting for a project.

  • VAT on the architect's fees (currently 23%).
  • Additional professional fees may be required depending on the design of the building or the ground conditions on site (structural engineering requirement?), the degree of sophistication in the plumbing and electrics (services engineer requirement?), the degree of budget control required (quantity surveyor requirement?), whether opting in or out of building control certification (design certifier and assigned certifier requirement?). These costs could run into the thousands.
  • Health and safety coordinator fees (mandatory for all projects lasting more than 30 working days - from €500 upwards).
  • VAT on additional professional fees (23%).
design course model
Developing the Site during the Design Course
  • Planning application costs:
€30 - €50 to advertise in a local weekly newspaper (closer to €200 for a daily national paper),
€57- €87 for official A4/A3 O.S. planning maps (mandatory for all planning applciations),
€65 planning application fee for a new-build house,
€34 planning application fee for an extension,
€2,000 - €13,380 development contribution levy to council for the privilege of being granted permission
  (cost depends on where in the country you are).
  • Additional planning application costs (that are regularly incurred):
€500 + site assessment report (mandatory if a wastewater system is being installed/ upgraded),
€450 + topographical site survey (required if sites are significantly contoured),
€??? environmental impact report (depends on site's location in relation to sensitive habitats),
€??? ecological report (such as a bat survey or survey of some other protected flora or fauna),
€??? archaeological report
  (required if a monument or archeological site is close to the proposed development - this is a real issue in our home county of Sligo, where you can hardly walk two fields without stumbling across one),
€??? conservation report
  (required if your proposal involves a protected structure, is within the curtilage of a protected structure, and may be required if your proposal is in a conservation area - depending on the nature of your proposal).
house model plan   model house perspective
Plan and Perspective of Family Home
  • Service Connections:
The fee for connecting to electricity will depend on whether you can connect into an existing pole or whether a new pole is required, and how far the existing/new pole is from your home. Each project is quoted individually by the ESB. The cost can run into the thousands.

Mains Water and Wastewater
Irish Water is the body that oversees and charges for these connections. Each project is dealt with on a case by case basis. For more information, click here. Again, costs can run into the thousands.

On Site Water:
If you cannot access mains water, you may need to consider a well or rainwater harvesting. Costs will depend on how deep you need to drill or how much water you can collect and need to store. Costs can vary wildly from under €2,000 to €8,000 for wells. The rainwater harvesting system at the Mud and Wood House cost €4,500. This is at the lower end of the scale.

On Site Wastewater Treatment System:
This may or may not be included in the contractor's cost per square foot. Depending on your sub-soil's drainage, and the proximity of sensitive natural features or habitats, wastewater treatment can cost anything from €2,500 to €10,000. In my experience, in the northwest of the country, €3,500 to €5,000 seems about average (but I have had a number of projects in the €8,000 to €10,000 bracket).

  • Furniture and Fittings:

Appliances, couches, tables, chairs, beds, etc. are never included in construction costs.

Finishes and fittings may be included in the construction costs quoted by a builder, but you need to be careful. Did the contractor allow for the most basic tiling in his estimate? Do you want marble tiles imported from Italy? Did the contractor allow for a formica kitchen counter top? Do you want polished granite? Did the contractor allow for a hanging flex and bulb? Do you want a designer chandelier?

If you are clear about the specification of these items when the contractor (or you) is pricing the job, then you shouldn't get any nasty surprises. However, if you don't consider all of these items at the outset, the costs can seriously start to add up.

  • Contingency Sum (10 - 20% of the construction costs ex VAT):

This is a figure that is often overlooked when budgeting for a project, but it is vital to include it. Particularly in this day and age when raising money or obtaining a mortgage is so difficult. You don't get a second bite at the cherry if you realise you need a top-up to complete the job.

The contingency sum is the "just-in-case" fund.

Construction projects never go completely smoothly; there are too many unknowns. This is particularly relevant when working with existing buildings or unusual forms of construction. I have been in situations where we discovered that foundations were missing, where there was a spring underneath the building site, where an additional 50% of a wall had to be demolished due to structural defects being uncovered.

When there are extras (and there will be extras), the money has to be found somewhere to cover them. If you are halfway through a project, have been hit with extras that you didn't budget for, it can be (at the very least) highly stressful to figure out ways to claw back savings or (in the worst case scenario) impossible to complete your home.

It is estimated that between professional fees, county council development contributions and service connections/provisions, you will spend a minimum of €20,000 to €30,000 without even turning a sod. Depending on where you live and what kind of construction project you are undertaking, those costs can escalate rapidly.

I also cannot emphasis enough the importance of having a Contingency Sum. No one-off project goes exactly to plan because every one-off project is a prototype. It has never been built before, quite like this, on this piece of land, by this builder, with these exact materials, etc., etc. Self-building is a stressful process. Building your home, full of its hopes and dreams, is a very loaded, emotional process. And for most people, this is the biggest financial outlay you will have in your lifetime. Don't add to the stress by underfunding the project.

model house perspective   house model plan
Renovation of and Extension to Old Cottage

Setting the Cost per Square Foot/Metre

Now you know all of the things that are not included in your cost per square foot, how do you figure out what the cost per square foot should be? There are two very helpful sources.

The first comes from the Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland. Every year they release a document called 'Are You Fully Insured?'. The most recent one is from August 2017 - click here. So we can expect the next one during the summer of 2018. The purpose of this document is to allow you to calculate insuring your home correctly. It looks at the cost of reconstruction should your home be razed to the ground and need to be rebuilt from scratch. The SCSI collects data from all over the country, getting a reasonably accurate and up-to-date picture of the cost of construction in Ireland.

What is particularly interesting about this document is that it breaks the information down by type of home (detached, semi-detached, bungalow or terraced) and by location. When you look at the figures you will see the Dublin is the most expensive place to build, unsurprisingly. And that the northwest of Ireland is the cheapest place to build, also unsurprisingly.

Pay close attention, and you will see that these costs do actually include some extras not typically counted with the pure definition of 'construction cost'. There is an allowance for some professional fees and for VAT. So these costs would need to be stripped out if you want to get back to your pure construction costs for budgeting purposes.

You will also see a lot of caveats about how these costs only relate to very typical, standard, just-meet-the-regulations-and-no-more types of houses. If there is anything unsual or non-standard about your build (non-typical shape, unusual or specialist materials, high-spec built-in furniture or finishes), then the figures in the document would need to be adjusted upwards, and sometimes quite significantly. But it is a good starting point.

house model plan   house model
Design for Home beside a Ringfort

The other useful source for setting the cost per square foot/metre comes the Institute of Architects in Ireland (R.I.A.I). In 2016 they released a document called 'Building/Construction Cost Guidelines'. You can download it here. The document is based on pure construction costs and reminds you about what is not included (see above). When you look at the costs for 'Single/Two-Storey Houses in a Speculative Development', they correspond pretty well with the SCSI figures for standard estate-type houses. This gives us some confidence in the figures.

What is interesting about the R.I.A.I.'s document is that it breaks the type of construction into the following headings:

  • One-Off New-Build,
  • Basic Extension to a House,
  • Extension to a House with Renovations,
  • Works to a Protected Structure (a listed building).

It also gives good advice on how to adjust the figures if works to the roof are involved for extensions and renovations, and how small-scale work tends to cost more per foot/metre squeared compared to larger projects.

Saving Costs

Many of our Design Workshop participants get a bit of a shock when looking at the actual cost of building. The Euros add up .... and they can add up really quickly.

So how can you save a bit of money?

Self-building is definitely one way to go ... but you have to be realistic about your skills and capabilities. You also need A LOT of determination, commitment and stamina.

Self-building can save on labour, but it doesn't help with the cost of materials. This is where making home-made materials, such as cob, and salvaging materials can have a huge impact. There is actually quite a skill to salvaging building materials. You can pick up some very useful tips in our Wombling Article.

The Irish Association of Self Builders has a helpful website. They have an excellent breakdown of the different elements of a house and how much each one costs. You can find that here. For example, external walls typically make up 17% of the cost. If you build them with cob or salvaged timber and straw bale, there is a great saving in the bag straight away.

If you are serious about self-building and using natural and salvaged materials, then I recommend you come on our 10 Day Mud and Wood House Building Course. We will cover all aspects of house construction and give you a handbook full of details that will help you build your home at a much reduced cost.

If you can't commit to the full 10 days, then why not try out our 5 Day Mud House Building Course or our 5 Day Wood House Building Course.

Running in the first half of July, these courses could save you thousands. A good first step on your quest for affordable housing. Maybe we'll see you here!


Copyright 2018, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Insurance and Natural Building

25th February 2018

Some of you may be aware that Simon and Jasmine Dale's eco-house in Lammas burned down on New Year's Day. It took 6 years to build and cost them £27,000 (hailed as the cheapest family home in the Western hemisphere). Now they are trying to raise £20,000 to start building again. Their home was not insured.

Simon and Jasmine Dales's Eco-House - Photo: Simon Dale

The most recent government statistics show that emergency services in Ireland dealt with just under 5,000 residential fires in 2016. 65% of these were chimney fires. 30% were house fires. 5% occurred in apartments, mobile homes and caravans. While it is something that none of us want to dwell on, the reality is that homes go on fire, houses get flooded and buildings can be damaged. And so insurance might be something you want to consider. But is it possible to insure a naturally built home?

cottown mudwall house
Historic Mudwall House, Cottown, Perthshire, Scotland - Photo: Becky Little, RebEarth

When we first started looking into the issue of house insurance, we discovered that we were being quoted premiums three to four times those of conventionally-built homes. I thought it was ignorance on the part of the insurance companies; that they really didn't know what they were dealing with, they didn't trust or understand this left-field form of construction, and therefore they were hiking the prices because they thought this type of building was inherently riskier.

In some cases, this was true. I had one insurance representative inform me that he would not consider insuring our cob home because of our "non-waterproof" lime render. He felt that our earth walls needed more protection from the Irish weather and a cement render would do the trick. I wrote a long letter back to him pointing out that since cement and concrete became widely and cheaply available from the 1950s onwards, they have caused more damage to our historic mudwall buildings than any other intervention. We see the inappropriate, failing and destructive repairs and blame the original material. I informed the well-meaning rep that cement render sounded a death knell for cob and his 'learned' recommendation would only serve to destroy our earthen walls. Needless to say, he didn't respond with a quotation.

cement renderand damaged cob
100+ Year Old Mud Wall Damaged by Cement Render - Photo: Mud and Wood

I was recently at a seminar on insurance for protected structures (listed buildings) and unusual construction. And it turns out that when you are dealing with insurance companies that do actually know something about more unconventional forms of construction, these high premiums do not necessarily stem from an idea that these buildings are more likely to go on fire, or will suffer more damage in a flood, compared with mainstream houses. Owners of natural homes are being penalised precisely because they are not mainstream. They are niche.

burnt cob house
500 Year Old Cob Longhouse after Fire, Dorset - Photo: Rowland Keable, Earth Building UK and Ireland

Many of you are aware that cob does not burn. We use it to build pizza ovens for that reason! (And if you want to learn how to do that, come along to our Cob Oven Course: 19 - 20 May). You can see from the photo above that all of the cob walls of this 500 year old longhouse in Dorset are still intact and standing following a major fire, although looking somewhat worse for wear.

Fire is not actually the greatest threat to an earth-built home. But the cavalry can be. Once a fire takes hold and all occupants are safely outside, the most efficient way for fire-fighters to extinguish a blaze is to pour gallons and gallons of water on the building. And this water can cause damage, either to the structure itself or to the finishes.

mudwall house
Historic Mudwall House after Fire, Co. Limerick - Photo: Cáit Ní Cheallacháin

In the case of the house above, there were no commercial earth builders available to take on the work when extensive repairs were required following a fire. So a team had to be brought in from England. This costs a lot of money compared with hiring Jimmy the builder from down the road. Many natural homes are self-built and one could argue that it would be the owners who would carry out the repairs, negating the need for teams of specialist builders with potentially long waiting lists. However, the reality is that the insurance companies must plan for the absolutely worst case scenario.

What if the catastrophe meant that either you or one of your family had been injured and were not physically able or were not in the headspace to take on the work yourself? Maybe your life has moved on and you now have a full-time job or other commitments that didn't exist when you first built the house. Where will you live while the repairs are being carried out? And if the work is not mainstream and you need to wait a while for a competent contractor, or the work is slow by its nature, then how long will you need to stay in your alternative accommodation? What if you need to bring the contractors from far away or from abroad? What if specialist training needs to be provided for a local contractor? You can see how the costs could start to mount. And when an insurer is deciding to provide cover for your home, he/she needs to be sure that all of these potential costs can be accommodated.

mudwall house after fire
150+ Year Old Mudwall House after Fire, Co. Kildare - Photo: Mud and Wood

Some people might be tempted to omit the fact that their walls are made of mud or straw bales or hempcrete when filling out an insurance proposal form, so as to avoid high premiums. This is not a good idea. The insurance industry relies on the concept of Utmost Good Faith and Full Disclosure. If you let them think that your home is built of concrete blocks, but you need repairs to be carried out on a previously undeclared cob wall, then the insurance company could refuse your claim.

straw bale
Straw Bale Walls - Photo: Mud and Wood

Many insurance policies also contain a provision called the Average Clause. If you undervalue the cost of rebuilding your home by more than 15%, then the Average Clause (if it exists in your policy) can be activated. This means that the insurance company need only pay out 50% of your claim. It is a formidible disincentive to prevent people from undervaluing their properties.

For example, if you self-built your home for €100,000, this does not necessarily mean it could be rebuilt for €100,0000, should it be razed to the ground. You need to factor in that you may not be able to rebuild it yourself due to injury or life changes, you may have to wait 6 months or more to engage a contractor competent in unusual construction methods (building up your own alternative accommodation costs) or may have bring in a contractor from abroad (building up their accommodation and travel costs), or wait for the Spring (work with lime should stop when temperatures hit 6°C and falling), you will not have all of your (free or cheap) salvaged materials to hand, etc. Your €100,000 house may actually cost €300,000 or €400,000 to rebuild! And it's not you who gets to decide this. When you have insurance, the insurance company takes over and runs the show the way that they see fit.

Looking at the example above, if you insured it based on a rebuild figure of €100,000 (what it cost you to build it first time around), you could be short by €200,0000 to €300,000. But because you undervalued the cost of rebuilding your home by more than 15%, the insurance company may only pay out 50% of your claim, or €50,0000 in this case. The Average Clause packs a double whammy, leaving you even more out of pocket.

hempcrete building
Hempcrete (hemp and lime) Walls - Photo: Mud and Wood

So how can you estimate the cost of rebuilding your home accurately, and therefore insure it properly?

As outlined above, the original cost of construction or the cost you paid for your home does not necessarily equate to the cost of rebuilding it. This is not a safe way to calculate reinstatement costs. Mortgage valuations are unreliable too. The banks are only concerned about covering the cost of the loan, They don't actually care about the total cost of reconstruction. The Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland provides a rebuilding cost guide. But this is only appropriate for standard construction.

For non-maintstream construction, you may want to consider engaging a surveyor/valuer, who will be able to examine the many aspects of rebuilding your home that you may not have taken into account. Look for insurance companies that have experience in covering listed buildings, Georgian and Victorian properties, thatched cottages, etc. They should be able to recommend a competent valuer/surveyor with experience in non-conventional construction. And it is critical that they do have an understanding of the materials involved in your construction. Should they need some additional advice in this area, you can always point them in our direction for a consultation,

Generally speaking, these specialist insurance companies who liaise with surveyors/valuers do not apply the Average Clause to their policies. However, it is always prudent to check that. By dealing with a valuer who will provide a bespoke estimate for your exact circumstances, you will have displayed to the insurance company that you have made every effort to accurately value your building. The good news in these circumstances is that the insurer is then obliged to cover the costs, no matter what they actually amount to. For example, you, the valuer and the insurance company all agree that €300,000 is a fair estimate for the cost of rebuilding your home. You have disclosed all facts about the building. Disaster strikes, but it actually costs €375,000 to reinstate your house. The insurance company will cover that additional €75,000.

At the seminar, we were given a few tips which can help to bring risks down, which in turn can have a positive effect on your insurance premium.

  1. The top cause of fires is faulty wiring. Get your wiring checked and certified.
  2. The second biggest cause of fires is tumble dryers. If the lint filters are not properly cleaned out, they can spontaneously combust. Buy a tumble dryer that will not operate unless the lint filter has been cleaned out.
  3. Externally monitored smoke detectors can mitigate risk (and therefore reduce your premium). How? If a fire brigade can reach a fire within the first twenty minutes, it is far more likely that they will be able to bring it under control without having to resort to pumping gallons and gallons of water into the building. However, this may not be an option if you live more than 20 minutes away from the nearest fire station, as is often the case in rural Ireland.

It is clear that as long as natural building remains specialist and niche, there will be additional insurance costs to pay compared with conventionally-built homes. Until there is a sizeable pool of commercial natural builders to draw from, it will be difficult to resolve this issue.

Many of you know that I am involved with th group Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI). Over the past few years, much work has been done with our European partners on developing training standards for earth builders. The standards are divided into different Levels. The higher the level, the more you are expected to know and to be able to do. You can check out some of the training units for cob construction here and for mixing earth materials here. If you want to check out the full, extensive range of training units, click here. In the UK, earth building is now recognised as an official occupation. Training is up and running. EBUKI is now working on providing official assessors, who can award earth building qualifications which will be recognised throughout Europe. We expect the first of these to come online in 2018/2019.

rammed earth exam
Rammed Earth Level 3 Exam, Germany - Photo: Rowland Keable, Earth Building UK and Ireland

There always will be and must be room for self-builders. But if natural building is to become more mainstream .... and it needs to if we are to preserve our planet .... then there also needs to be an official career path for commercial natural builders. The more of them there are, the more natural homes can be built ... and the more insurance premiums will fall.

Copyright 2018, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Clayfest 2017: 12 - 17 June, Lincoln, England

1st May 2017

It's exactly six weeks until Clayfest 2017 kicks off, EBUKI's annual festival of earth building. This is the most inspiring, creative, informative and fun week on the earth building calendar. So be sure to join us for six days of workshops, conference, symposium and tours in and around Lincoln.

    Clayfest launches with four days of hands-on workshops, which will be held within the impressive walls of St. John's Castle at the Heritage Skills Centre. Mud and Wood will be there running our Cob Workshop over four days. There are also six other earth workshops to choose from:

Across the road from the castle is Lincoln Cathedral. Building began in 1072 and now this beautifully embellished building stands 83m tall at its highest point. It is home to the Magna Carta which, in 1215, stipulated that the law of the land applied to everyone, even the king. This charter is considered the genesis of the concept of human rights and that no-one is above the law. Sadly, this 800 year old concept does not seem to extend to Irish bankers in the 21st Century!

    I was over in Lincoln recently doing some preparation for Clayfest and was surprised by how beautiful the old part of town is. Steep Hill would not look out of place in a Harry Potter film and is home to plenty of crooked buildings, quirky shops, character-filled eateries and cosy pubs.
ebuki conference  

Clayfest is all about bringing people together to learn from and inspire each other. The annual EBUKI Conference will be held on Friday, 16 June. This year's theme is 'Building Bridges'... bridges between materials, between professions, between techniques, between cultures. You can check out all of the speakers here. Book your ticket for the conference here.

As well as the main conference, there will be a symposium focussing on the local earthen vernacular of Lincolnshire, mud and stud. The symposium will take place on Thursday, 15 June. As well as talks on the history, style, conservation and appreciation of this building form, participants will benefit from live demonstrations in the workshop area outside. Book your ticket for the Symposium here.

The photo below gives you an idea of level of activity that takes place during the workshops at Clayfest. This was only Day 2 of Clayfest 2015. What had been a completely empty car park now boasted a Viking-like turf wall, two sculptural rammed earth columns, a serpentine cob wall and experiments in coloured earth plasters. All of Clayfest's workshops run side by side, so there is a real exchange of ideas and inspiration .... and the buzz is palpable. Clayfest is a brilliant opportunity for getting your hands (and boots) dirty, whatever your level of experience.

clayfest 2015

tramping mud building cob

If it is your fist time working with earth, you can try a different workshop every day if you like. Or you can stick with one earth building technique and advance over 2, 3 or 4 days.
If you are experienced, Clayfest is a wonderful gathering of skilled practitioners, eager to exchange information and compare notes.


This year there is quite a strong emphasis on experimentation and fun in many of the workshops. Workshop leaders have been encouraged to explore ideas not tackled before, while still teaching the fundamentals of working with earth in all of its various forms. So what workshops can you do at Clayfest 2017?

Cob Workshop- Mud and Wood
Taking the idea of experimentation to heart, we aim to build a cob mobius strip. This will address hand-building with cob, building with cob blocks, forming arches and sculpting cob. We will also look at incorporating some timber elements into the design. The first day will start with the basics of soil testing, foot mixing and hand building and we will progress from there. Stay with us for all four days or join us for a day or two between other workshops. Click here to book.

  cob workshop
mud mortar workshop  

Earth Mortars - Nigel Copsey
Whatever about mudwall and its regional variations being largely invisible, the situation is even worse for stone buildings bonded with earth mortars. The reality is that earth and earth-lime mortars were the common mortar of masonry construction across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the Americas until the end of the 18th Century, used in conjunction with hot mixed lime pointing and finish coat or render mortars.

On this course, master mason Nigel Copsey will look at the numerous examples of this widespread pattern of construction and will explore the materials and methods necessary to achieve compatible repairs and responsible conservation. Click here to book.


Earth Plasters and Decorative Finishes - Organica
This Czech duo will examine the basics of earth plasters on Day 1 - materials, mixing, application. Then advance to creative bas-reliefs and sgraffito using a range of textured and coloured plasters.
Click here to book.

  earth plasters earth plasters

Light Earth, Clay and Natural Fibre Composites - William Stanwix
This workshop demonstrates the versatility of spray machines and the range of possibilities for clay/fibre spray applied coatings and monolithic walls. It also demonstrates the possibilities for insulating light-earth blocks and load-bearing earth blocks for use in mainstream construction.

William Stanwix is best known for co-authoring The Hempcrete Book and for founding the hempcrete building company, Hemp-Lime Construct, now known as UK Hempcrete.

Click here to book.


Steppe Oven: Food Without Wood
- Maria Brown and Rowland Keable

Developped for countries where trees are scarce, both as a building material and as a fuel, this oven is built from earth and straw using adobe and ramming techniques.

Where money is scarce too, this oven can be built using only natural materials, all available close to hand and for free. It is designed to cook using materials such as straw for fuel.

Click here to book.


  clay and fibre sculptures  

Sculptural Earth and Fibre - Becky Little & Tom Morton
Get funky with clay, straw, willow, rushes, hessian and whatever else comes to hand. Be inspired to create large 3-dimensional forms and structures using a broad range of earth building techniques.
Click here to book.


Mud and Stud - Rob Ley and Trevor Oliver
Mud and Stud is the local Lincolnshire form of wattle and daub. We like to think of it as wattle-and-daub on steroids. You can join this workshop for one or more days to build a large scale model of a typical mud-and-stud structure.

First you will learn about the materials and techniques used to construct the timber framing with vertical riven ash laths. Then you will learn about material selection, mixing and application techniques for daubing the laths with an earth-and-straw mix. Attention will be paid to the treatment and detailing of junctions of the 'earth material mix' with other materials such as the masonry plinth and timber-lined openings. Click here to book.

rammed earth arch adobe blocks  

Clayfest is an invitation to experiment. Last year Rowland Keable and his crew built this beautiful free-standing arch during their rammed earth workshop.

Pop-ups are also a really exicting feature of Clayfest, where everyone is encouraged to showcase a project or technique.


Maria Brown shared her adobe making machine with us.

The EBUKI crew ran a series of scientific experiments explaining how earth works as a building material.

And it was fascinating to watch Bee Rowan attempt (and fail) to set a clay-covered bale on fire.

  training kits burning bales
mud graffiti  

Maybe you could set up a mud graffiti wall... Maybe you worked on an earth-based project and would like to present a slideshow during the lunch break... Maybe you want to find like-minded people from your area and set up an earth building group or find out more about one that already exists... At Clayfest you will have a fantastic cross section of earth builders, designers, researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts at your finger tips.

Clayfest Tours
On the last day of Clayfest, there are self-drive tours to a selection of six contemporary and historic earth buildings in the region. From an experimental building project by the students of architecture to the historic mud-and-stud to a contemporay rammed earth training centre, there is something for everyone.

lincoln mud and stud   lincoln mud and stud
There are lots of accommodation options in Lincoln, but if you're up for it, we recommend camping. It's a great way to continue the conversations started during the workshops, symposium and conference. This is networking at its best, when classmates can become life long friends.   camping and chatting jumping on cob

Information on the campsite will follow shortly. Watch this space. We really hope to see you at Clayfest 2017 - make the effort to come. It will be worth it!


Copyright 2017, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Early Bird Specials End Soon - Book Now to Save

14th February 2017

First off, thanks to everyone who came along to our Open Day on Sunday. About sixty of you braved the cold and dropped in to see us. There were plenty of questions as we showed our visitors around our home. We really enjoy and appreciate it when you display such an interest in what we have done and what we continue to do. Hopefully we have inspired some of you to take the plunge and take on a natural building project of your own.

cob heart

Turn inspiration into action by coming on one of our many Mud and Wood workshops. If you want to get the best bang for your buck, the deadlines for the Early Bird Specials are fast approaching. For most of our workshops, book before 31st March 2017 to avail of our Early Bird Specials, saving you up to €90.

There are a few courses which must be booked before then if you want to avail of our discounted rates:

Course Title
Early Bird Special
Full Price
Book By
Weekend Design Course
04 - 05 March
Weekend Natural Edge Wood Course
25 - 26 March
Introduction to Cob Course
08 April

2017 courses

Click here to check our full 2017 Timetable. And don't forget that we are available to run private workshops for community groups, friends, colleges, schools and more. Contact us at if you would like to discuss your ideas.

Remember, if you travel to us by bus or train, we will come and collect you from the station if the local bus timetable is not working out. We also guarantee to get you to and from your accommodation if you stay within 12km of Mud and Wood. We also have some bikes to lend out too.

Besides doing a Mud and Wood Course, there are loads of great reasons to come and visit here.


Co. Sligo is somewhat off the beaten track; not the most obvious tourist destination. We think it is Ireland's best kept secret.

There are ancient castles such as Parkes Castle on Lough Gill and Easkey Castle overlooking a world renowned surf break. There are neolithic monuments in every other field, including giants' graves, barrows, dolmens and cairns. Carrowmore and Carrowkeel Tombs are worth a visit, as is the Warrior Queen Maeve's grave at the top of Knocknarea. Internationally acclaimed poet, W.B. Yeats is buried in Drumcliffe; you can row a boat to his Ilse of Inishfree.

Ride a horse on Streedagh Strand with Benbulben for a backdrop. Catch the surf in Strandhill or Mullaghmore. And if all that sounds too exhausting, enjoy a relaxing seaweed bath in the Victorian Bath House at Enniscrone or sink a few pints and enjoy the craic. A western frontier, facing onto the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, nothing beats our sunsets.

So hopefully we will see you here in 2017. Don't forget to book soon if you want to get the best value.

Copyright 2017, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Farewell Hazel Bear

8th February 2017

It was a dark, stormy night when Hazel Bear bumbled into our lives. The 20th February 2007 became her "Found Day" because we never knew when she was born. Colin was night-training with the mountain rescue team in Hazel Woods. They found a distressed dog abandoned in the car park and Colin offered to bring her home until her owners were located. Colin jokes that she is the only thing he ever rescued with the mountain rescue team. But really, she found us.

hazel bear on the beach

I was pregnant with our first when this massive bear of a dog walked into the caravan. She seemed to practically fill the living room floor. Of course, we didn't even know if she was a he or a she at that point. But despite her size and her German Shepherd heritage, there was nothing threatening about this dog. In fact, from the way she cried, it was clear that she was a big, big softy. Our dog, Lakey, was not too sure about this interloper either and made it clear that despite her comparatively diminutive size, she was top dog.

We thought this scruffy dog was old, maybe about ten or so. She was fat, very fat. She could hardly walk. She was very stiff. We contacted all the people you are supposed to contact - the dog warden, the guards; we put an ad in the newspaper. But within a day or two, we had already lost our hearts to her. And by Day 5, we had made the decision that if her previous owners showed up; we would fight to keep her. She hadn't been cared for properly. We wanted to mind her for the last year or two of her life.

We brought her to the vets. And that's when we learned that she was not an old dog at all. She was only about two! And sure enough, on a strict diet with plenty of walks and a bit of chiropractic, the weight fell off, her ears perked up, her eyes brightened and she found the spring in her step.

hazel with a stick   hazel

We named her Hazel for the woods where Colin found her. It's obvious where "Bear" came from - the cuddliest teddy bear of a creature we have even known! She was also the hairiest creature we have ever known. She was only with us a few weeks when she started to cast for the first time. And so began a decade of battling with her hair. I used to collect it in bin bags after brushing her.

Hazel absolutely adored our other dog, Lakey, and tried to copy everything she did. As Lakey streaked along the shoreline chasing plovers above the waves, Hazel lolloped behind her. What she lacked in grace, she made up for in enthusiasm. Hazel could never beat Lakey on land, but in the sea, crashing through the surf to retrieve a stick, Hazel won every time. ... until the last year or so, when she slowed down and her back end started to weaken. I loved watching her barrelling through the waves. It was pure joy.

hazel and lakey

Lakey spent a lot of energy asserting her top dog status. We used to laugh at that because Hazel was so laid back, she never had any intention of usurping her. Lakey often treated Hazel like an annoying little sister. But if Hazel got hurt (and believe me, Hazel let you know if she was hurt), Lakey was straight over to check her out and administer kisses. The few times when Hazel was sick, wearing the "cone of shame", Lakey never left her side.

hazel in the living room

You always knew where Hazel was, because she was right in the middle of everything. If it meant that you had to step over her, then that was the best place to lie. The only place better was on the couch or in bed, snuggled up to a human being. And Colin was her favourite. He had been her saviour on that dark, stormy night and she never forgot it. If she couldn't find a person, a teddy would do. But Hazel Bear loved cuddles. I mean, she really loved cuddles. If she hadn't been getting enough of them, she would find you and head butt you until you dropped to the floor and wrapped your arms around her.

hazel and colin

She absolutely loved her walks, but she could be lazy too. I remember one time in the caravan when Daithí was trundling up and down on his trike. Hazel was lying down looking very comfortable, but Daithí was repeatedly riding over her paws. You could see the cogs slowly turning in her head, "Will I move or will I just stay and take the pain?". She opted to take the pain.

Both of our kids were born at home in the caravan. Hazel was part of their world, literally from their first moments of life. She was always such a gentle soul and put up with no amount of crawling over her, sitting on top of her, pulling and poking at her. She didn't mind when the kids wanted to dress her up. They set up agility courses for her in the garden ... though more often than not, Hazel ploughed straight through the hurdles rather than jump over or crawl under them. Despite her size, often towering over the kids and their friends, children were never scared of her .... even those who normally had a fear of dogs.

hazel and daithi on his bike  

Like all bears, Hazel loved her food. Dinner time was the highlight of her day. She barked and yelped and pranced all through preparation until her bowl was set on the floor and then wolfed it down in seconds. We learned pretty quickly that you couldn't give Hazel a plastic bowl ... or that ended up half-eaten too. And poor Lakey was driven demented protecting her unfinished dinner from an opportunistic, hungry bear. Hazel once ate a set of bongos, tempted by the goat skin. And only recently I found her trapped in a bag of dog food, caught redhanded!

hazel caught redhanded

There was clearly German Shepherd in Hazel. We think there was a good bit of Golden Retriever too. As well as having such a beautiful, soft face, she loved to carry things. Shoes ended up outside. Stones ended up inside. Things were always going missing, turning up in the oddest places having been "Hazelled". It's been sad to see all of our shoes present and correct on the shoe rack in the hall these past few days.

Hazel survived mastitis, the result of three phantom pregnancies; an emergency hysterectomy and aggressive mammary cancer. Her cancer was so bad and so extensive that the vet could only operate on one side to begin with. We then had to wait to see if it came back before deciding on whether or not there was any point in operating on the second side. The vets did not give a good prognosis, but miraculously, the cancer had been eliminated. She had her second operation and, against all odds, that was also successful. Hazel had been given weeks to live. That was five years ago.

feile and hazel

In the last year she had started to slow down. As with many German Shepherds, she had trouble with her back hips, but acupuncture helped. Our wonderful vet had a hard time trying to get the needles to stay put among all of that fur. Hazel needed a bit more encouragement on her walks and no longer tried to keep up with Lakey, but she still loved to go out. Every evening we heard her heavy, clunking steps up the stairs. She slept on a mattress at the end of our bed (she always wanted to be in the company of others) and we wondered when we would have to move to the bedroom downstairs to make it easier for her.

Like plenty of human elders, she needed the toilet a few times in the night. Usually it was Colin who got up with her. He saw many beautiful starry skies thanks to Hazel Bear. We didn’t always wake on time ... there was a lot of mopping in the last few months. But we had just gotten to the bottom of her problem. Her kidneys were fine; she had a rare hormonal imbalance which was very simple to regulate with drops. We only ordered them from the chemist last Friday.

Then, on Saturday morning she was off-form. She was slow. She was panting. I was taking the train to Dublin that morning. But I started the day sitting on the rug with the kids, stroking Hazel. We were concerned about her, but not overly-concerned. I gave her lots of cuddles and asked the kids to mind her. I suggested that they brush her to make her feel special. She loved being brushed. Then I joked with Colin to keep her alive until I got home that evening.

hazel cuddling ellie   hazel in the garden

Half an hour after I got on the train, Colin rang looking for the vet’s number. He wasn’t even particularly worried at that point, but thought it would be wiser to get her checked out. A friend had stayed with us on Friday night and he said he would take the kids to his house, so that Colin could go.

Half an hour later Colin rang me to let me know out big, beautiful, dafty bear was gone. They didn’t even make it to the vet’s. On the way, Colin just knew that Hazel was leaving us. He pulled the car over, got into the boot with her and held her big, soft head as she sighed her last breath. He was with her at the start and he was with her at the end. It was exactly how it should have been.

Her death was sudden. And despite her age, somewhere around 12 years old, it was completely unexpected. But it was quick, it was painless and she was surrounded with family and cuddles until the very end. Colin collected me from the train, with our bear still in the back of the car. We brought her home and laid her out on the rug so that the kids could say goodbye. She is buried in the garden and we will plant flowers on her grave.

hazel in green

Hazel Bear was embedded in our life and now there are so many signs that she is gone. Her bedtime snores are silent. There is no scratching at the front door when she wants back inside, escalating to barks if we ignored the scratching for too long. The clunking on the stairs and the snuffling under the living room door is absent. Our shoes are where we left them. The hair is not gathering on the stairs and under the benches. Feeding Lakey is a much quieter affair. And there is no big, warm shape to step over in the doorway, on the rug, in the kitchen, in front of the fire, on the office floor.

Anyone who has been to our home, for workshops or for meetings, has met her because Hazel Bear always wanted to be in the middle of it. And everyone always remarked on what a gorgeous, big, gentle dog she was. And she was. We were so lucky to have in our lives.

Farewell Hazel Bear.

hazel and daithi

Copyright 2017, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Come Along to Our Open Day, 12th February

3rd February 2017


Our annual Open Day is taking place on Sunday, 12th February. From 11:00am onwards Colin and I will open our doors to anyone who wants to stop by. We will be very happy to show you around and tell you something about how we started out and where we are now. If you are curious about what a naturally-built home looks and feels like, if you want some real-life inspiraton to kick-start your own project or if you want to find out about our hands-on workshops in person, then make sure you drop in for a visit. The kettle will be on.

The doors will be open between 11:00am and 5:00pm. No early or late arrivals, please!

For directions, please click here.

newbuild cob house

Time to Book for Our Early Bird Specials

3rd February 2017

If you follow us on Facebook, you will know that planning recently came through for a new-build cob house I designed in collaboration with a young family in Sligo. Two years ago, one half of the couple came on our Design Course and last year, the other half came on our Mud and Wood House Building Course. With planning granted, they are now another step closer to turning their dream into a reality. Maybe this story will inspire you to join us for one (or more) of our courses in 2017!


We try to give you the best possible value for our workshops. If you are smart, book early and you can avail of discounts of up to €90 per course. The deadlines for Early Bird Specials are looming:

Course Title

Early Bird Special


Design Course (04-05 March)

Book by 17/02/2017


Natural Edge Wood Course (25-26 March)

Book by 24/02/2017


Introduction to Cob Course (08 April)

Book by 03/03/2017


All Other Courses

Book by 31/03/2017

€10 - €90

If you have any questions at all about our workshops, please contact me at And hopefully we will meet you here, either on the Open Day or during one of 2017 Mud and Wood Courses.

Copyright 2017, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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What Will We Cover on the Natural Edge Wood Course: 08-09 October 2016?

5th October 2016


The Natural Edge Wood Course, running this weekend (08-09 October), really is about the journey from tree trunk to furniture. So what better place to start than in the local woods. Second generation carpenter, Colin Ritchie, will take you through the forest, identifying the species that grow in Ireland, looking at their characteristics and explaining how different types of timber are suited to different uses.

How do get your tree trunk out of the forest? Colin will tell you how. Then it's time to convert that trunk to slabs of wood. We have a number of videos which show exactly what goes on in a saw mill. How do you know how thick to cut your slabs? Is the grain direction important? How do you choose which sections of the trunk to cut? By the end of the weekend, you will have the answers to these questions and more.

stacking wood

Freshly cut timber contains too much moisture to use immediately. As it dries, it shrinks. You don't want your piece of bespoke furniture to shrink or warp. So drying the timber is very important. Learn how to stack and store your timber for optimal drying. How long do you need to leave it? Does all timber have to be kiln-dried?

making a stool

Having looked at how to source and prepare your timber, it will be time to get on with some making. The first piece of furniture you will tackle will be a simple stool. The techniques that you learn in this exercise can be adapted for making tables and chairs.

making a stool   making a stool

Colin will be on hand to demonstrate each step of the process and to give full guidance on the use of all tools.

natural edge wood workshop

There will be plenty of insider tips, showing techniques that will save you time and will ensure that any mistakes are ironed out before you start to cut up your beautiful slabs of wood. Using templates for irregularly shaped furniture is one such tip and eveyone will get to make their own templates of real window boards, counter tops and shelves.

There will be a tour of the Mud and Wood House, but not your average tour. Drawers will be opened, doors popped off hinges, tables turned upside-down and beds dismantled. Each of the timber elements in the house will be exaimined, literally from all angles.

natural edge wood course   natural edge wood course

Then it wil be time to make a natural edge wood shelf. Again, one-on-one guidance will be provided in the use of all tools so that you can achieve the best possible outcome. There are free off-cuts of timber available. However, there will also be some choicer samples of timber available for purchase if you want to make a high-quality shelf that can take pride of place in your own home.

table saw

Colin will be on hand to operate some of the larger equipment if you want to be extra ambitious with your project.

putting up a natural edge wood shelf

This course is suitable for beginners as well as those who have experience in working with wood.

natural edge wood course

There are still spaces available on the Natural Edge Wood Course this weekend (08-09 October). The cost is €160 (€145 student/unwaged). Each day runs from 10:00am to 5:30pm at the Mud and Wood House and includes big, hearty, hot lunches. Book now if you would like to join us.


Or email if you have any questions. Hopefully we will meet you here this weekend!


Copyright 2016 Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Restoration of a Mud Mortar Cottage

23rd August 2016

cottage restoration

Fig. 1

Cottage and Barn

This cottage is nestled on a sloping site close to the village of Riverstown in Co. Sligo. Abandoned 65 years ago, the buildings have remained relatively pure, albeit in a derelict state. The new owner, who is actually a descendant of the original homesteaders, was keen to restore the cottage sensitively. He does not want to live there, but rather preserve the building as a record of how people lived and built in olden times.

The cottage and barn tell a story of expansion (it was extended at least twice and probably three times), of advances in technology (moving from a turf fire built off the floor to a coal-fueled raised grate fireplace) and of changes in style (from ceilings that followed the roof line to flat ceilings). The home also seems to tell a story of an unexpected interest in design and appearances, with an Art Deco style pediment above the front door which matches a surviving wooden headboard, unusual bi-fold doors and a fake fireplace in the "good room".

The cottage is built from stone bonded together with an earth mortar. In conservation, there is a concept that the materials used to carry out repairs should be as similar as possible to the original. In short, replace like with like. This makes technical sense too. As long as the source of the problem can be identified and resolved (e.g. rotten roof timbers pushing out the tops of walls, missing slates and gutters allowing water to pour into the tops of walls and wash out mortar, etc.), using materials that match the original ensure that the repairs will expand and contract, absorb and release moisture, react to salts, etc. in a similar manner. This puts less stress on the repair and it is more likely to survive longterm.

Therefore, it was clear from the outset that this cottage would be repaired using earth mortars. It also made sense that the earth would be harvested from the site, as they must have done years ago. However, it would also be important to ensure that the characteristics of the new earth mortar would match the original as closely as possible.

cottage with roof removed

Fig. 2

Roof Removed from Cottage

Samples of existing mud mortar were taken from a number of locations within the walls. The mortar is clearly quite gritty with plenty of small stones evident. There are also some white lumps present, which can be an indication that some quicklime is also present in the mortar.

earth mortar   earth mortar sample

Fig. 3

Stone Wall with Earth Mortar (and Earth Plaster)


Fig. 4

Sample of Earth Mortar

Earth used for building is always harvested from below the top soil (unless you are dealing with turf construction ... but that is a whole other story). You want your building material to be as inorganic and "dead" as possible. You can't build walls with a material that is still breaking down. We took sub-soil from the site so that we could run some tests on it and see if it was suitable for building with. The site was full of rushes and was poorly drained, indicating that there was probably quite a high clay content in the soil. When we dug up the soil, the spade left a shiny, slick mark behind (Fig. 6) - another indicator that there was a lot of clay involved.

digging up soil sample   clay in soil

Fig. 5

Digging Up the Sub-Soil


Fig. 6

Slick Surface = High Clay Content

Back at , I carried out a whole range of tests on multiple samples to see exactly what we were dealing with. The first test was the drop test. A golf ball sized sample of the original mortar was dropped from a height. There was some flattening of the base, but it held its shape well and there were no visible cracks in the ball. This is what we would expect from a good building mix.

After testing a number of original earth mortar samples, I looked at the sub-soil from the site. You can see (Fig. 9) that the golf ball flattened considerably and did not hold its shape. It was sticky and took some effort to peel off the table ... all signs that the sample was too rich in clay to use for building.

drop test 1   drop test 2   drop test 3   drop test 4

Fig. 7

Mortar Sample Drop Ball Test


Fig. 8

Underside of Mortar Sample


Fig. 9

Site Soil Sample Drop Ball Test  

Fig. 10

Underside of Site Soil Sample

Earth basically consists of two components - stones/gravel/sand/silt (these are all essentially the same thing, just at different scales) and clay. The aggregate (stones/gravel/sand/silt) is the skeleton. This material is inert. It provides the strength. The clay is the binder; it provides the stickiness that glues the material together. For good building earth you need the right combination of both - enough strength and enough stick.

The next thing I looked at was the distribution of particle sizes within the earth mortar samples and in the site sub-soil sample. The mortar samples all featured a significant amount of larger particles, something you might not expect to find with a contemporary mortar mix. There was also a significant amount of fines, between 60% and 70%. The soil sample displayed somewhat similar characteristics, but there was a lack of mid-range particle sizes, particularly in the 4 - 8mm range.

particle size distribution   particle size distribution

Fig. 11

Particle Size Distribution - Original Mortar Sample


Fig. 12

Particle Size Distribution - Site Sub-Soil Sample

When considering the range of aggregate sizes within the material, another thing to consider is whether or not they are well graded. This means that there should be some large particles, some medium particles and some small particles. The space or voids in between two large particles can be filled with medium particles. The space in between those can be filled with small particles. The bigger the range of sizes, the more the voids will be filled and the stronger the material is. The void to material ratio in a good mix is 33%. Void ratio tests were carried out for all of the original mortar samples and they all displayed excellent grading, measuring at exactly 33% or just 1 % over or under.

First the material is dried in an oven to remove all moisture. It is then measured (Fig. 13). An equal volume of water is then measured out (Fig. 14). The water is poured on to the dry sample until it becomes completely saturated but no more. This point is reached when the sample is fully wet, but just before ponding would start to occur on the surface (Fig. 16 and Fig. 17). The amount of water remaining in the jar is measured (Fig. 15), which informs how much water has filled the voids, i.e. what is the volume of the voids in comparison with the overall volume of the material.

sample size for voild ratio test   water for void ratio test   void ratio test

Fig. 13

Volume of Dried Mortar


Fig. 14

Volume of Water


Fig. 15

Remaining Volume of Water

saturated soil sample   saturated soil sample

Fig. 16

Saturated Mortar Sample


Fig. 17

Saturated Mortar Sample

Another test that can tell us about the aggregate and the clay content of a sample is the squeeze test. A sample that has a lot of aggregate will feel really firm in one's hand when squeezed. Under compression, it will not budge. As the amount of clay in the mix increases, the sample will feel more malleable and it will be possible to extrude it (Fig. 18). When the clay content is high, it is much easier to squeeze and it will extrude easily and quickly from one's fist (Fig. 19). A good building mix will feel strong and firm in the fist, but there should be enough give to allow a small amount of slow extrusion.

squeeze test mortar sample   squeeze test soil sample

Fig. 18

Original Earth Mortar Sample - Some Slow Extrusion


Fig. 19

Site Sub-Soil Sample - Excessive Extrusion

Another test to find out more about the properties of an earth sample is the palm test. This is a favourite of ours at . The sample is smeared on to the hand about 2 - 3mm thick (Fig. 20), which is then held out horizontally (Fig. 21). Keep the fingers straight, while bending at the first knuckle (where the fingers join the hand) (Fig. 22). Return the fingers to horizontal (Fig. 21). Repeat the move, counting each repetition.

If the sample falls off between 1 - 3, there is too much aggregate and not enough clay. A good building mix will fall off between 4 and 8 counts. Above that and there is too much clay. The original mortar samples were coming in around 7 to 8. The original sub-soil sample came in around 30, clearly much too clay rich to be used in its natural state.

palm test 1   palm test 2

Fig. 21

Hold Hand Out Horizontally

palm test 3

Fig. 20

Smear on Sample

Fig. 22

Keep Fingers Straight. Bend at Knuckle.

The results from the tests indicated that the original mortars displayed good building characteristics. However, the samples of earth dug from the site were too clay rich to be used for building. This soil needed to be modified so that its characteristics were in line with the original mortar. In matching the performance of the original mortar, this satisfies the conservation principle of repairing "like with like". It also prevents the repair from putting stress on the original materials or absorbing excessive stress itself. It allows harmony between the old and the new.

High clay content in the soil sample had been established. To balance that out, to provide more skeleton and less binder, additional aggregate was required for the repair mortar. As discussed above, the particle size distribution is important. And we know that the mortar sample contained more aggregate in the 4 - 8mm range compared with the site soil sample. A number of sands and combinations were tried and all of the tests (drop ball test, void ratio test, squeeze test and palm test) were repeated. A mix which incorporated additional coarse sand proved to align most closely with the original mortar. This was no surprise as the coarser sand added to the 4 - 8mm particle range.

mortar mix 1   mortar mix 2

Fig. 23

2 Sub-Soil : 1 Coarse Sand : 2 Fine Sand


Fig. 24

2 Sub-Soil : 3 Local Plasterers Sand

mortar mix 3   mortar mix 4

Fig. 25

2 Sub-Soil : 2 Coarse Sand : 1 Fine Sand


Fig. 26

The Final Earth Mortar Mix

If you look at the ball drop test of the selected earth mortar mix and compare it with the original mortar ball drop test (Fig. 7 and Fig. 8) above, you will notice that the results are very similar. By contrast, I had looked at a sample where I added two parts sand to one part sub-soil and you can see from the ball drop test (Fig. 29) that it could not hold together. Too much aggregate had been added, meaning there was no longer enough binder (clay) to stick the material together.

mortar mix drop test 1   mortar mix drop test 2   sandy mortar mix drop test

Fig. 27

Repair Mortar - Ball Drop Test


Fig. 28

Underside of Repair Mortar


Fig. 29

Sandy Mix - Ball Drop Test

Likewise, with the selected earth mortar mix, the squeeze test yielded very similar results to those of the original mortar samples (Fig. 18). Whereas with the sandy mix, there was no extrusion at all, indicating that the clay content was lacking in this sample.

squeeze test mortar mix   squeezt test sandy sample

Fig. 30

Repair Mortar - Squeeze Test


Fig. 31

Sandy Mix - Squeeze Test

The specification for the repair mortar was now known. There was one more ingredient, however. As there was evidence of quicklime in the original mortar samples, a small amount of kibbled quicklime was also added to this mortar mix ... between 2% to 3%.

* * * * * * * * * *

The cottage was in a very dilapidated state. The first task was to remove the roof. It was amazing to stand in a room filled with light which up to now had always been so dark. Then the chimney, which had become destablised by vegetation growth and water ingress, had to be carefully dismantled.

The outshot is a feature of these cottages. It is an alcove which extends beyond the external wall of the building and is situated beside the fireplace and as far away from the front door as possible (typically diagonally opposite, as it is here). A bed or settle was located in the outshot, the warmest place in the house, often reserved for the grandparents.

original chimney-breast   chimney breast minus roof   chimney breast with chimney demolished

Fig. 32

Chimney Breast in Cottage


Fig. 33

Roof Removed


Fig. 34

Chimney Dismantled

In the photo below (Fig. 35) you can see the remains of bog timber collar beam trusses. Others in the cottage survived relatively intact. Much of the original scraw from the thatched roof remained, along with some lovely examples of straw rope.

The cottage had been extended and modified a number of times. There used to be an opening on the left hand side of this wall, which was blocked up. At high level, there had also been a window, also blocked up. This is evidence that this used to be an external wall and that there had been a sleeping platform in this half of the room. There also used to be another external door opposite the front door (just visible on the extreme right hand side of the photo). This had also been partially blocked up and a window was inserted into the opening (Fig. 36 and Fig. 37).

kitchen transverse wall

Fig. 35

Transverse Wall

(Note: Large Cracks on the Left where Previous Opening was Blocked Up)

It was known that there were structural problems with the rear wall. Some were caused by rotten roof timbers pushing the top of the wall outwards. Some were caused by the extensive root system of an ash tree beside the rear wall of the cottage. Some were caused by historic repairs to the stonework. There was a significant bulge to the left of the window where the outer layer of stonework was not tied into the inner layer.

kitchen wall minus roof   propped up kitchen wall

Fig. 36

Roof Removed


Fig. 37

Wall Around Opening Propped

As is often the case with projects like these, opening up an old building is like opening up a can of worms. It had been hoped that this rear wall could be stablised with spot repairs and minimal intervention. As it turned out, large sections of the wall had to be dismantled. The stones were laid out in sequence as they were removed. While the reconstructed wall could never be built exactly as the original (and it would now bear the signature of these modern masons), it would be as faithful as possible to the original.

rear wall of kitchen demolished

Fig. 38

Rear Wall Partially Dismantled

Stonemasons Seán, Brian and Séamus from Tir Conaill Conservation are very experienced, well used to working with lime. However, they had never worked with earth before. They took to it like ducks to water. Typically masons will mix earth mortars in a trough with spades. However, these guys found that the clay in the sub-soil was so strong and the tiny percentage of quicklime made the mix so stiff, that it was easier to mix by foot - literally dancing the mortar into existence. What a great way to build!

kitchen with rear wall rebuilt

Fig. 39

Rear Wall (including Outshot) and Blocked Up Opening Rebuilt

The major rebuilding of the walls is now nearly complete. Next on the list will be the chimney (in the foreground - Fig. 39). Once the walls and chimney are stablised, the new roof will be erected to provide protection.

In the photos below, you can follow the progress made on the rear wall of the cottage. The root system belonging to the ash tree (Fig. 40) severely destablised the walls. Removing it proved one of the more difficult tasks on site.

rear of cottage

Fig. 40

Rear of Cottage

Note: The Outshot Extending Beyond the Cottage Wall (to the Right of the Window)

rear of cottage without roof   rear wall under demolition

Fig. 41

Rear of Cottage with Roof Removed


Fig. 42

Dismantling of Rear Wall Underway

rear wall dully demolished   rebuilding rear wall of cottage

Fig. 43

Dismantling of Rear Wall Complete


Fig. 44

Putting the Finishing Touches to the Rear Wall

There is still a way to go. But it is extremely satisfying to see the building being restored with such care and expertise ... and using the resources from the site in the traditional way. It is also great to see the earth mortar making such a good impression on these veteran stonemasons. They love building with it. To me, that is the best seal of approval.

Copyright 2016 Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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10 Reasons to Book for the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, 14 - 22 May (€810)

14th April 2016

It's exactly one month to our 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course and if you would like to come on this natural home building workshop, it is time to let us know. This year we decided to run it early on in the season so that you will have the whole summer to practise what you learn and maybe even cut your teeth on a small project of your own. If you are trying to decide if this is the course for you, here are our top ten reasons to choose .

cob course

1. Experienced Teachers
Cob is a very democratic material. Anybody can build with it. That's what we love about it. However, cob alone does not make a whole house. Colin Ritchie is a carpenter apprenticed by his father (it's in his blood) and has been working in the building game for 30 years. Féile Butler is a practising registered architect and an executive of Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI's first ever Irish director) with almost 20 years of professional practice under her belt. So between them, they have decades of combined experience regarding the practicalities of getting a real house built. They have both been researching and working with cob since 2005 and teaching in Ireland and abroad since 2009.

colin and feile   colin teaching
feile teaching

2. Working Knowledge of Planning Regulations
One of the questions we get asked most is how we got planning permission for the House. The answer is that it went very smoothly, but we put in a good deal of work beforehand. There is a lot of misinformation out there about the planning process in Ireland. We have plenty of tips to help you get the most positive outcome possible for your plans.

planning granted   design

3. Working Knowledge of Building Regulations
Many cob building courses have little or no regard for building regulations. Even if you manage to build your home very cheaply, it will still probably be one of the major financial investments of your life. At we believe it is important that you are taught how to build a house that is legally compliant. Otherwise, you will have problems getting it through building control, applying for a mortgage or selling your home in the future. Regulations cover everything from how much insulation needs to be in your roof/floor/walls to the size and location of your toilet, from what type of hot water/heating system you can install to the dimensions of your stairs. We also discuss the current challenges of building a legally compliant cob house and how you might go about dealing with them.

plinth wall   building control
building construction details

4. Working with Cob on a Big Scale
On the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, we start by teaching the traditional method of foot-mixing and hand-building cob. We believe that it is really important to get a good feel for the material. However, for anything bigger than a tiny cottage, this method is not practical. It is painfully slow. At we developed our own way to mix and build with cob on a much bigger scale. This system, using digger-mixing and plywood formwork, allowed us to build the walls of a 1,400 sq. ft. house in less than one building season (April - September). On the course, we spend a lot of time teaching you how to make the forms, how to make your own specialised tools of the trade and how to get large cob walls up quickly.

digger mixing   formwork   tamping cob

5. Theory to Back Up the Practical
At , we believe it is as important to understand why you do something a certain way as well as simply learning how to do it. So while you will spend a lot of time building and practising on our course, you will also spend plenty of time in the classroom. When you understand how certain materials work together, it will empower you to make good choices about your own building project. When can you substitue one material for something else a little cheaper or when could that decision actually be harmful to your building? Why do certain details work the way they do and what happens if you get rid of some of the layers/components? The theory will really stand to you when you begin your own project.

sculpting   wall plate   shelves

6. It's Not Only About Mud - There is Wood Too (and Straw Bales)!
The House is not only built with solid cob walls. We also invented our own detail for a timber-frame wall insulated with straw bales (and this is only one of a number of details we will teach you to help get your cob building through the building regulations). Learn how you can modify cheap and easy-to-find/salvage materials to build this type of wall. For anyone who is not a master lime-plasterer, this is a great way to use straw bales in our rainy climate.

timber frame straw bale   timber frame straw bale

7. Tips on How to Use Salvaged Materials
A lot of this comes back to the theory (See No. 5 above). It's all very well salvaging lots of free building materials. However, if you do not use them correctly in your building, they can end up causing damage to your structure. Get some really practical tips on how you can use all of this free stuff safely in your home.


8. A Course Developed by Mud and Wood specially for Our Part of the World
The 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course (and accompanying handbook) was developed as a direct consequence of Colin and Féile's experiences working and building in Ireland and the UK. The guidance from international cob building books and experts has been adapted to suit the local climate and local legal requirements. This has been possible because of Colin and Féile's wealth of knowledge and experience in practical house building.

electric conduit   setting out on site

9. It's Not Only About the Walls
From personal experience, Colin and Féile encountered gaps in cob building courses. Some important stages of house-building were left out. students have the opportunity to set out a building on the ground, to physically build a simple roof, to make timber beams, etc. Colin and Féile are always available to answer students' particular queries if a topic has not been covered adequately during the course.

building a roof   floor joists

10. It's in a Beautiful Part of the World
Sligo is home to Yeats' Isle of InisFree and to the Warrior Queen Maeve's tomb on Knocknarea. World renowned surf breaks are on our doorstep, as are miles of glorious beaches. There are more megalithic sites per acre in Sligo than anywhere else in the country. If all that seems too active, chill out in the local seaweed baths, catch a trad session in the pub or pass the time of day fishing some of our great local rivers. And the sunsets on this northwest coast have to be seen to be believed!


11. The Craic
Okay ... so I know we've added an extra one here ... But it's an important one. Nine intensive days together is pretty intense, so you will get to know your fellow natural builders very well. As well as working hard, there will be plenty of time to hang out, get to know each other, have the craic and be inspired. It's an opportunity to establish a good network of like-minded folk and it's highly likely that some of your classmates will go on to help you with your projects in the future.

the craic

So this is not just any old cob workshop. This is a Wokshop. Realise your dreams of building your own natural home and come on our 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course. Click here to book your place or to find out more information. And if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

See you here in May!

Copyright 2016 Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Inspiration for Upcoming Courses

22nd March 2016

st patricks day

Last Thursday was St. Patrick's Day and who can resist an opportunity to dress up (certainly not Colin). We took part in the parade in the local village, where Colin discovered that he had the super-power of terrifying small children and making them cry. I wonder why? At least the Easter Bunny decided to make an early appearance to help soothe the traumatised onlookers.

If you would like to meet up with some of the glamorous folk in this photo, then it's time to sign up for one of our courses ... or even two or three! Approaching fast, we have the Weekend Design Course (09-10 April) which is filling up nicely. The Natural Edge Wood Course (23-24 April) is also just a month away. And if you think you need more convincing about whether or not to take a design or wood course, take a look at our new video on YouTube. That might be inspiration enough.


Thanks to everyone who came along to the open day. We had about 80 or 90 through the door. As always it is so great to meet up with like-minded people or people about to embark on a similar journey to ours. If you want a reminder about how our story began - click here or click below.

the beginning

Copyright 2016, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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News Catch-Up

26th February 2016

We have been very quiet online recently. As usual, that's because we have been really busy with other things. I hope to write more properly soon, but here is a brief round-up of some news that might be of interest:

  • Calais Update

Many of you will have heard the news that a large area of the Jungle Camp in Calais is about to be demolished. There is an excellent article about it on the BBC's website. Click here.

Although the shelters, shops and cafes (people's livelihoods) will be demolished, as we currently understand it, the shelter than Colin built along with the church and school will be allowed to remain.

the team

We have only just succeeded in opening the official bank account for collecting donations (it really took that long!) and we couldn't spend the remainder of your generous donations until the money was ring-fenced in the account (or the taxman would have charged us for it). With the demolition of structures, it definitely looks that ploughing money into building projects is not the way to go. So we will organise to get socks and thermorests out there.

If you would still like to donate, here is the info:


Ulster Bank, Stephen Street, Sligo

Account Name:

Colin's Calais Camp Fund

Account Number:


Sort Code:

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This is going ahead next Sunday, 6th March.

Come and meet us at home in the Mud and Wood House for a chat, a tour and a cup of tea.

mud and wood living room

Click here for directions.


Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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The Full Story of Colin's Trip to Calais

8th January 2016

To protect their identites, I am not using my Syrian friends' real names nor showing their faces. Some of their families are still in Syria and if it could be proved that these men had escaped to the West, those left behind could be in grave danger. The outlook for these men could also be very grim if they were to return from the West during the current regime.

the jungle

I used to read a lot about the world banks, global capatalism, corporate greed and the exploitation of developing countries assets. I experienced some of it first hand fifteen years ago, when Féile and I spent a few months in Laos meeting local people who were beginning to fight back against corrupt logging and energy companies stripping their forests and hijakcing their rivers. But too much negativity in the media can be too much to bear. So I gave up watching the news and reading the articles and retreated back to my own little world. Just as I did as a kid, I watched the cycles of nature, the birds and the trees. They don't get hung up on global politics, inequality, war or recession.

However, some stories are just too big ... and too human. And so it was with the refugee crisis. Images of capsized boats, dead children washed up on beaches and families being driven from their homes filtered through ... and couldn't be ignored. We were comfortable in our lovely home, looking forward to Christmas. Meanwhile, thousands of other families were embarking on dangerous, desperate journeys with no certainty of a happy ending. Féile wanted to pledge a bed. I wasn't sure. Would it be awkward to have two families living on top of each other? Would it be tough on a foreign family to live so rural with no-one else from their culture nearby? Then one day at breakfast, she asked me if I would be willing to go to Calais to help build shelters for the refugees who were camped there.

I needed some time to process the idea. I knew it would open up that world of politics that I had chosen to ignore to preserve my sanity. And I knew that I would find the task very emotional. But I have 32 years' experience as a carpenter and 10 years' experience of childhood shelter-making and I figured I could be of some use. So after 24 hours of mulling it over, I decided to go.

Féile had already been communicating with a few different groups who were running projects out in Calais. We were both committed to ensuring that whatever I did out there would provide the best value possible. And cost was, of course, the first stumbling block ... the cost of getting over there ... and staying there ... and eating there. But we have a great following on and within 15 hours of first asking for help online, we had met our target for getting me to Calais. And people kept on giving. But more about that later.

There was a small Irish team heading over on the 2nd December to erect a communal refuge for the women and children in the camp. It was to be a safe place where they could seek relief from the weather and the mud, and seek support and companionship from each other. The team had sourced a kit-building in England that was highly-insulated, could accommodate a solid-fuel stove and could be assembled in a matter of days.

I liked the idea that this was a project that had a beginning and an end, and that it would be possible to see it through to that end while I was in Calais... and the result would benefit many and not just a few. Having a small team around me would also give me the emotional support and camaraderie that I felt would be essentail to get through the project. So I booked my flight and within a few days was on the 1:00am bus from Sligo to Dublin Airport.

I was supposed to travel with two of the team and share a hired van from Paris to Calais. But Gerry and Mags ended up diverting to Gatwick ... where they rendezvoused with Elaine and Liam who were collecting the kit-building in the south of England. It was only 20 years since I had spoken French ... how bad could it be on my own? After a bit of a train, planes and automobiles mission (largely speaking Spanish with a French accent) I eventually made it to Calais by tea time. The rest of the team were travelling by ferry from Dover ... and it was actually only an hour or two after my arrival when the five of us met up together for a much needed pint. The following morning our final team member, Freya, joined us too.

colin, gerry and mags

Colin, Gerry and Mags

My first stop was a huge warehouse in Calais where most of the aid supplies are taken; food, clothes, tents, tarpaulins. It is a massive operation supervised by a team of volunteers, everyone contributing their time, energy and compassion to the cause. There is also a carpentry workshop housed in another warehouse, where basic shelters are prefabricated and then erected in the camp.

The camp itself is known as the Jungle and this was to be the next stop on my tour. Walking into the Jungle for the first time brought up a lot of emotions. The previous week had seen constant, torrential rain. Most of the camp inhabitants live in tents designed for summer festivals. They were half-collapsed with extra tarps thrown over them wherever possible to minimise leaks. Many were pitched in sodden hollows. But despite the shocking conditions, I was surprised at how many smiles and welcomes were directed at me.

the jungle

The Jungle, Calais

Elaine, who was the main organiser for our trip, brought me to meet two Syrian men. They were in very low spirits. It was the day that Britain had decided to join in the bombing of Syria. Abdullah's family are still in Damascus and as I talked to him, he collapsed in floods of tears. His two children are the same age as mine and it brought the reality of his situation home to me. Before long, I had a lump in my throat and tears welling up. Over the next few days, this happened a lot. Ibrahim's family are in a refugee camp on the Turkish border. The pair joined our building team. After a few days. Abdullah got word that his family were safe for now and the lads' spirits lifted as they got on with the building project ... something to keep their mind and bodies active during the day. Mobile phones are a vital link to the families left back home or elsewhere. It is devastating if they got lost or damaged, as happened to one of my friends during my stay.

When I first met Abdullah and Ibrahim, they were tired having spent the night trying to stow away on any of the numerous trucks travelling to England. This is the main goal for many of the Jungle's inhabitants, as it is generally believed among the camp's population that the UK is a good country in which to seek asylum with the opportunity to repatriate your family too. Also, many of the asylum seekers already have extended family members with businesses and work opportunities in the UK.

colin and the lads

Colin, "Abdullah" and "Ibrahim"

The would-be stowaways know how much trouble the truck drivers can get in to if unofficial passengers are found on board. There is a tradition in the camp that if you make it, you leave a message behind for the truck driver saying sorry and thank you. Border security has been ramped up in recent months. Massive new fences have been built. All undergrowth beside the Channel Tunnel Railway has been cut to minimise hiding spots. It has become much, much harder to sneak on board transport. The stakes are high. Some get injured. Some have died; a Somali man was killed while I was there. Most fail. But all are desperate.

Partly due to the increased security and, therefore, decreased chance of making it to England, the numbers in the camp have fallen recently from 9,000 to 7,000. The approaching winter probably had something to do with that too. 7,000 people ... that's approximately the size of Lusk in Co. Dublin, Edenderry in Co. Offaly or Buncrana in Co. Donegal.

The Jungle is loosley divided up into many different "neighbourhoods". During my time there, I met Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Libyans and Sryians. These people are so thankful for the help of the volunteers and for the aid they are receiving. It lets them know that they are not forgotten and that people care. As the week went on, I realised how much a smile and a "hello" was appreciated. Most of them had been living in fear for years in their home countries. Their own families had been killed or presecuted by groups such as ISIS or the Taliban, or by western bombs and missiles. In the camp, all of these different groups live side by side. They have to get on with each other; they have no other option. There are daily meetings to ensure that grudges are dealt with before matters escalate out of control.

There are amazing people in the Jungle. Many of the volunteers camp with the refugees. They have established a theatre, a flue vaccination station (imagine the dire consequences of catching the flue while living in a sodden, cold summer tent), a doctors' surgery, a language school, a library and even a (very impressive) church. In a mainly Muslim environment, it was some feat to set up a church in the camp. But Solomon is a an amazing man and a wonderful diplomat with a very special way about him. He helps everyone.

solomon's church

Solomon's Church

So ... I wasn't in Calais just to have the chat or to observe. I had work to do. Our team was great. The refuge was so important as it would be a heated, well-insulated communal space for the women and children in the camp. There are make-shift restaurants and coffee shops in the Jungle (all with amazing food), many of which are heated. But culturally, these are where the men hang out; they are not places where the women go.

The kit-building was bought at a massively discounted price. There were glitches with erecting it ... For example, there were no vents, the floor had minimal structural reinforcement and the roof section was not designed for heavy rain. My skills and experience were definitely of massive benefit to the team. Some of the additional funds that we raised covered the materials needed to address these shortcomings.

We were building opposite Solomon's church. One day, there was a meeting there discussing the need for new gas bottles for the food stations. They needed three, but they could just about raise the money for one. I bought them the three.

the team

On the Roof: "Ibrahim" and an English Volunteer; On the Ground: Colin, Gerry, Elaine, Gavin, "Abdullah" and "Hakim"

We completed the job on time. Within 24 hours, the refuge was being used. I left a set of tools, screws and timber with the Syrian lads who helped on the build. They planned on adding a porch to the refuge, so that there would be a place to leave shoes outside and additional protection from the weather. It was very empowering for them to have the tools. It gave them a sense of purpose. It helped them to have a focus and to keep busy. It allowed them to help their fellow camp-mates.

People's generosity has been overwhelming. I think many of us have seen the images and are at a loss as how to help. The fact that I was going over to do something tangible and real, with my bare hands (as one of our friends said) ... encouraged people to donate. But it also meant that I felt a huge responsibility to spend that money wisely and well. Scroll to the end to see a full breakdown of how the money you helped raise has been spent so far.

We have raised €2,419 so far. €1,294.86 has been spent. Thanks to your generosity, I am now trying to decide what is the most beneficial way to spend the remaining funds (€1,124.14).

In the Jungle, I noticed that a lot of the sleeping shelter buildings are quite big but can only accommodate a few. They are not insulated. There is no electricity to speak of on site or many heat sources. Lighting fires and gas burners in tents is common, so outbreaks of fire are a constant danger and feature of life in the camp. Since coming home, I have been wondering if the sleeping shelters could be sub-divided and insulated, so that body-heat alone would be enough to spend a relativelty comfortable night. But it comes back to the basic problem ... there are thousands in the camp and the sleeping shelters can only help a few at a time.

Thousands are sleeping in tents. As someone who does this regularly myself, I know how cold it is to lie directly on the groundsheet. So one option is to source thermorest-type mattresses at cost price and distribute these among the camp inhabitants. If they decide to move on, for whatever reason, they can take them with them. Also I noticed that while there are plenty of generous clothes donations, people rarely donate socks. Good thermal socks, if I can source them at cost price, could make a massive difference to their daily comfort.

I don't have any political answers to the problem. I went over there to help provide shelter for those in need. But I do know that if we don't start bridging our cultural divides, if we keep listening to the fear mongering of governments and media, then the problems are only going to escalate, both in Europe and in the Middel East. The Jungle showed me the power of a friendly smile and greeting ... no matter what the race, belief or skin colour. If enough of us stopped fearing each other and started to communicate and accept and love each others' differences, the world would become a better and safer place. Instead of looking the other way I , for one, am going to try to nod and smile at more strangers. This is as true for those in difficulty in Ireland as it is for those struggling abroad.

Some people may complain that I went abroad to help when there is a homeless problem here. This is the cause that found me ... and extending the hand of support and friendship across nations and cultures has never been more important.

I could not have done it without your generous donations. And I really do think that your kindness has made a real difference to the people of the Jungle. So thank you.

Breakdown of Spending


Sligo - Dublin Airport - Sligo

€ 26.12

Plane with Checked Bags for Tools

Dublin - Paris - Dublin

€ 102.89


Paris (Beauvais) - Amiens - Paris

€ 30.00


Amiens - Calais - Amiens

€ 55.56

Accommodation x 5 nights


€ 150.00

Accommodation x 1 night

Paris (Beauvais)

€ 60.00

Food x 7 days

  € 175.00

3 no. Large Gas Bottles

Solomon's Food Stations, The Jungle

€ 120.00

60m Black Jack Flashing

Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle

Handles and Door Locks Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle  

4 no. Open/Close Vents

Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle € 220.00

1 no. Box 70mm Screws

Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle  
1 no. Box 100mm Screws Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle  

8 no. 2x2 Sectional Timber

Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle  

Donation to Abdullah and Ibrahim to complete porch.

Women and Children's Refuge, The Jungle € 170.00
1 no. TYPE Cordless Screwdriver

General Contstruction, The Jungle

€ 120.00

Generator Diesel

The Jungle

€ 10.00

PayPal Fees (3.4%) on € 1,626.00

  € 55.29


€ 1,294.86

I am in the process of setting up a dedicated bank account, Colin's Calais Camp Fund for the remaining € 1,124.14. When I know exactly what will happen to that money I will let you know. And if any of you have any ideas you would like to put forward, I would be interested to hear them too ( ... but I am leaning strongly towards socks and camping mattresses.

If you would like to donate, you can do so here.

Thanks again.

Copyright 2016, Colin Ritchie and Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Please Help Cover the Costs of Getting Colin to Calais

28th November 2015

****** UPDATE ***** 4th December 2015 ***** UPDATE******

colinin calais

The current total now stands at €1,552.67. Thanks a million for being so generous.

Colin has put in a few days work now. This picture was taken on Wednesday, when the walls of the library/refuge were being erected. This building was bought in kit-form and delivered to site. For all of the other shelters, there is a large warehouse which is being used as a fabrication workshop. The walls, roofs and floors of the shelters are built there and then transported to the camp site where they are erected in situ.

Speaking to Colin, he has found it quite an emotional experience so far. Two of the construction team are Syrian men from the camp. They are seeking asylum in Britain and left their wives and children, who are of an similar age to ours, behind in Syria while they made the journey across Europe. Knowing the France and now Britain are are bombing the hell out of their home country must be unimaginably harrowing.

But at least, the team are all working together to achieve something good in a desperate situation.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We are really overwhelmed ... and glad to see that there is still plenty of good and love in a world that currently seems such a dark place.

******************** UPDATE **********************


Colin Ritchie is heading off on Tuesday 1st December to the refugee encampment in Calais to help build much needed shelters. Winter is closing in and worn-out and vulnerable refugees are arriving every day to the camp where the population has exploded in recent months.

He is travelling out with an Irish team of four who are completing building work to a library/refuge for the women and children in the camp, somewhere warm and safe for them to retreat to. The team expects to complete that work in only a matter of days, so Colin will be redeployed wherever he is needed the most.

For this trip he will be staying out for 6 days, returning on the 7th. Depending on what he finds out there, he may be going back out in January for a more extended period. We'll let you know when we know.

Colin has to cover all of his own costs and all of the work he will do in France will be voluntary. So we are looking for your help. Here is what we need to cover:

Return Bus: Sligo - Dublin Airport - Sligo

Flights to Paris (with checked bag for carpentry tools)

Shared Car/Van Hire: Paris - Calais - Paris

Shared Fuel Expenses

Shared Accommodation at €30 per person per night for 6 nights

Meals at €25 per day for 7 ½ days


PayPal Fees (Donate Button) 3.4%


€ 26

€ 109

€ 95 (estimate)

€ 100 (estimate)

€ 180

€ 190 (estimate)

€ 700

€ 25

€ 725

A few months ago, we felt powerless to help out in the midst of the refugee crisis ... but this a really tangible way that Colin can use his skills to make a real difference to real people's lives. Any of you who know Colin know what a hard, fast worker he is, what a genius he is at building with whatever materials he has to hand, what a people person he is, and what a team player he is. So I think he will have a really positive experience out there and also, hopefully, have a positive influence too.

If you can support him, you will know that some of this has been down to you. Every donation, no matter how small, will help. A lot of fivers can go a long way.

We'll let you know how he got on when he gets back and give daily updates on the amount raised. Should we get more than we need, we will either save it for the January trip or donate it to L'Auberge les Migrants who are coordinating much of the aid work in Calais.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Earth Building Ireland 2015: 13 - 14 November, I.T. Sligo

13th October 2015

You have probably noticed that our blogs are getting fewer and farther between. That's usually a sign that we are pretty busy. There has been a lot of great things happening recently ... which hopefully we will find the time to tell you about in more detail in the future, e.g.

catch up

  • Colin's beautiful work on the interiors of acclaimed eatery Pudding Row, Easkey which got a few mentions in the The Irish Times recently;
  • Planning permission has been granted for renovations and extensions to a cottage in Co. Leitrim. The cottage has earth mortars and earth plasters. The extension will be hempcrete. We are just getting ready to put that out to tender;
  • Colin's recent week-long trip to Sweden where he learned how to built mass earthen stoves;
  • Preparations are underway to start on site with the conservation of another earth-mortared, earth-plastered building in Co. Sligo. Earth floors will also be reinstated in this 300 year old cottage and barn;
  • Our recent workshops including the Cob Oven Workshop at the Organic Centre, a very mucky session with 5th and 6th class from High Park National School (great kids!) and our Natural Edge Wood Course;
  • Our earth building stand at the annual IGS Heritage Skills Weekend - the first time ever that earth has been represented.

But the big news is that as a project officer for Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI), I have been organising Ireland's inaugural earth building event, with help from Shirley Markley, archaeologist at I.T. Sligo.

ebuki ireland 2015

So what will be happening at Earth Building Ireland 2015?

The morning is dedicated to presentations. After a formal welcome of Ireland into Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI) from Dan, our chairperson, we start with the ancient world of earth building. Shirley Markley will present examples from Medieval times (1100 - 1600) and even earlier. Ireland's leading stone mason and author of 'Lime Works', 'Stone Buildings' and 'Irish Stone Walls', Pat McAfee will talk about his many encounters with earth when working on old buildings.


Moving forward through time, Anna Meenan will share some of the Heritage Council's experiences with mudwall buildings dating from the 18th Century. Jim Barrett received a grant from the Heritage Council to rebuild the collapsed mud wall of a farm outbuilding on his property. He came to us for training and will tell us how he got on with project.

Very little has been written about the earth-built heritage on this island. Hugh McConville co-authored one of the only books, 'Ireland's Earthen Homes'. He will give a presentation on his journey archiving this almost-invisible vernacular tradition. I will be talking about a project where I asked all of Ireland's current stakeholders in earth building to share their stories and thoughts with me on the present situtation, including perceived barriers (from others) and the many (often surprising) benefits of working with earth. Then Gareth Phelan and Ciara Barett (no relation to Jim) will talk about their experience of building a contemporary earth home.


For those of you who are more hands-on, we will kick off the afternoon with a practical session with one of EBUKI's project officers. Over a series of ten simple experiments (aided by lovely volunteers from the audience) he will illustrate the science of earth building. What are the constituents and forces at play in earth which allow it to be used as an enduring building material?

demos and workshops

Then, you will have an opportunity to really get to grips with mud .... literally. Workshops in a variety of earth building techniques will be led by Colin Ritchie of this parish and Paul Dillon of the Mud Bandits and Cob Cottage Company. And depending on numbers, I may run a workshop too. Bring your wellies!

Click on this link for more information.

Click on this link to buy your ticket ... only €25 - bargain!


What is really exciting about this day is the recognition that it is being given. The event is being sponsored by I.T. Sligo, Sligo Co. Co., the Heritage Council and ÉASCA (Environmental and Sustainable Construction Association) - big, big thanks. A network of organisations has agreed to help spread the word, such as the Irish Georgian Society and the Irish Architecture Foundation ... and more. And the Intitute of Architects (R.I.A.I.), Engineers Ireland (I.E.I.) and the Institute of Archaeologist (I.A.I.) are all giving Continuing Professional Development points for the event. It is the first time that earth building is really going mainstream. Hooray!


If you fancy staying overnight, four local earthen buildings will be open for visits on Saturday morning (14th November), 10:00am - 1:00pm. Both our own Mud and Wood House and Ciara and Gareth's cob house will be open as examples of contemporary earth construction. If old school is your thing, Shirley Markley will be on hand at the site of a Medieval church with earth mortars. And you can find me at a 300 year old cottage with earth mortars and earth plasters. You will be given directions to each of these sites when you register for the conference and workshops on Friday.

self-guided tour

The intention is that Earth Building Ireland will be repeated every year, travelling around the country to highlight our regional earth-built heritage and local contemporary projects. So if any of you reading this would think that your county is the place for Earth Building Ireland 2016, let me know now!

It has been organised for November this year, simply because Ireland only officially became part of the charity EBUKI in the summer and we really wanted to have an impact on earth building in this country straight out of the starting blocks. However, the hope is that future events will take place at a more benign time of the year.

So, put the date in your diary: 13th November 2015 and buy your ticket before it's too late.

See you there!


Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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The Final Courses of the Year are Fast Approaching

8th September 2015

The kids are back at school, a chill is in the air (although it seems that the sun has decided to make an appearance for more than a few minutes at a time) ... we are in the home stretch. There are only three Mud and Wood Courses left for 2015. Which one will you do?

Natural Landscaping Course: 26 - 27 September

This is a new course run by Colin Ritchie. How can you use your garden or yard more effectively, even in Irish weather? Over the weekend, Colin will show you how to build walls and fences from stone, earth and wood. He will give you ideas for dividing up your garden into a series of outdoor rooms, taking account of sunlight, wind and shelter. No planning permission required!

You can read about some of Colin's landscaping work here.

To find out more about the Natural Landscaping Course and to book your place, click here.

outdoor areas

Natural Edge Wood Course: 03 - 04 October

If planning and building garden walls is more than you want to tackle, but you would still like to learn how to incorporate some of that flowing style into your home, then the Natural Edge Wood Course is the one for you.

Over the weekend you will make your own shelf and stool, as Colin takes you through all the steps to turn a tree trunk into a beautiful piece of furniture. If you need some inspiration, check out some of Colin's work here.

If you need more information on the course or would like to book your place, click here.


Design Course: 07 - 08 November

Have you ever wondered why there are some rooms in your home that you love to spend time in ... and some that you don't? No matter how nicely you have done up the sitting room, you just never really seem to hang out in there. Do you always use the back door ... or the front door? Is there one room that is always dark? And one that is flooded with light?

These patterns in your home are the direct result of design decisions. On this course, we will look at how your home should respond to your site, to light and, most importantly, to you. This course is suitable for anyone planning an extension, renovation or new-build project. You will be very welcome to bring information about your own real life project (if you wish) to use as an example during the workshop.

For more information check out this blog.

Click here to book your place on the Weekend Design Course.

design course

So hopefully there is something there that tickles your fancy.

See you here over the next few months!


Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Building Control to be Relaxed for One-Off Houses and Extensions to Homes

4th August 2015

jumping for joy

Paudie Coffey, Minister for Housing, announced last Tuesday (28th July) that the requirement for new-build homes and large extensions to be inspected and certified by an assigned certifier will be dropped. This change to the Building Control Regulations is expected to come into effect on 1st September 2015.

The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations were signed into existence in March 2014, despite warnings from building industry stakeholders that the legislation was rushed, impracticable and placed an excessive burden on self-builders.

Click here to read a blog I wrote about those regulations back in January 2014.

The regulations were a knee-jerk reaction, an attempt to solve the problems identified in developer-built projects such a Priory Hall. These apartments were signed off by the developer's in-house architect (anyone see a slight problem with that arrangement?), but were missing critical components to prevent the spread of fire from one unit to the next. They were a potentially lethal time-bomb. In 2011, all of the occupants were forced to move out of their homes by Dublin City Council, who assured them that remedial works would be carried out in a matter of months. However, thanks to the recession the developer had since gone bust and those works did not take place. The apartment owners, however, were still required by the banks to keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned and unusable homes. The stress took its toll and in 2013 one of the former residents, a father of two young children , took his own life. The government reacted and S.I. No. 9 of 2014 came into being.

The new Building Control Regulations required construction projects to be inspected by a competent professional (registered architect, chartered engineer or chartered surveyor) on a very regular basis. Frequent inspection is a good thing but, naturally, it comes at a price. For the average one-off house, the guidance from the R.I.A.I indicated that the amount of site inspections would double. Not only would the number of site visits rise, the volume of associated paperwork would also increase, as the new certification process required input from multiple parties and carried more onerous legal responsibilities than before.

The regulations were reactive to problems caused by cowboy developers looking to cut corners. However, in my experience, self-builders are the best builders. They may not understand all the buildng regulations or quite how building physics works (which is why I do recommend that self-builders collaborate with a professional to work out compliant construction details), but their quality control is second to none. If you are building your own home for your own family or your own future, you are not going to take shortcuts.

Another problem that was particularly tough on self-builders was the clause relating to the occupation of the dwelling. Many self-builders move into partially complete homes and save money on rent and travel, as they take their time to finish off the rest. This was not possible under the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations. The building had to be fully finished and signed off by the Building Control Authority before anyone was allowed to occupy or use it.

There were a lot of grey areas, including fear about the legal rights of someone to self-build. The govenment insisted building costs would only increase by a few thousand. However, the Irish Independent reported last Tuesday that the regulations were adding up to €16,000 to the cost of building a home. Essentially, the government were hiring out the responsibility for compliance with the building regulations to private enterprise (the architects, engineers and surveyors) along with all of the associated additional formidable professional liability. If you ask me to do more work (much of which is pointless paperwork to cover my ass) for which I could be sued, of course I am going to charge for it!

But it did not have to be like this. In the UK, the local authorities regularly send out building inspectors during the construction phase of a project. Builders and designers alike know that they have to do things properly, because there is a very strong possibility of inspection. In Ireland, we failed miserably at sending out independent inspectors. I worked on sites in Ireland for 12 years and never once met a building control officer. I worked on sites in the UK for 18 months and met three.

I am unclear as to how much detail will still be required by Building Control at commencement notice stage - must there be documentation to prove compliance? While the need to engage an assigned certifier will be dropped, your site can still be inspected by a building control officer from the local authority. The government is claiming that a minimum of 15% of all construction sites will be inspected .... that remains to be seen.

So - from September, you will be able to self-build your home or extension without assigned inspections and certification. Your home still must comply with the building regulations and for that, I recommend that you work with someone who knows what they are doing to develop a clear set of construction drawings. Inspections are also a good idea too. This will ensure that the building is being built as intended and some small but vital details are not slipping through the net. However, you will not need to pay for someone to turn up at your site 4 or 5 times a month and for them to spend hours on the paperwork to prove they are fulfilling that role.

Go forth and build!

Click here for the press release from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.


updated 3:00pm 04/08/2015

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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EBUK Clayfest in Errol, Scotland: 8th - 13th June 2015

7th July 2015

Last month, we were involved in the UK's first week-long dedicated earth building festival - Clayfest. It took place in the village of Errol in Scotland, not too far from Dundee and Perth - not exactly a typical conference or festival venue; but over 40 historic buildings here are built from earth.

Organised by Earth Building UK (EBUK), people from 18 countries attended over 60 events. They came from places as far flung as Malawi, Botswana, Arizona, Slovakia, Brazil, Argentina, Cyprus, Iceland and Sligo! And they learned how to ram earth, build with turf, plaster with clay, sculpt with cob and much, much more besides.


The photo above shows the calm before the storm. Bill and Athena Steen, of the Canelo Project, got the Rolls Royce service with a tent for their plastering workshops. We thought they would need it for the rain; it turned out they needed it to keep out of the sun. The turf builders' sods are laid out on the flat-bed trailer, prepared by the wild men .... Joel and Mark. From Rammed Earth Consulting (and a project officer at EBUK), Rowland's formwork is set up, ready to go. And in the foreground is my serpentine wall, the base for our cob course. All of the one tonne bags contain the sub-soil and sand, the raw ingredients for our workshops.

workshops start



On Day 1, we started with our soil sample tests, foot-mixing and hand-building ... plenty of really tactile work so that everyone got to grips with the material. Cob (and any form of earth building) is very intuitive. With a bit of practice, you can feel when a mix is good.






On Day 2, we started to speed up the process a bit, building with cob in a more traditional manner. We pitchforked large quantities on to the wall, danced on it and used tools like the "whacker" to beat it into shape. Our students learned how to make their own tools and then, with an eye on the next day, we built formwork to speed up the process even more.






We finshed Day 2 by trimming the wall to ensure that it would be good and plumb for the lift the next day while enjoying 25 °C sunshine, which was to continue for the rest of the week - such a bonus.

On Wednesday our group, who were like a well-oiled machine at this stage, assembled their formwork and placed it on the wall. After filling a layer of cob, Colin demonstrated how to adjust the form to ensure it is plumb ... although these guys had done such a good job, there wasn't really any need.


Using whackers, persuaders, cobbers' arms and some good old-fashioned stomping, the next lift went up in no time. An STV film crew paid us a visit, checking out what this hive of activity behind Errol Village Hall was all about and we made it on to the Scottish news for our 2 minutes of fame.

clayfest pop-up



One of my favourite aspects of the week were the pop-up demonstrations and talks. These were events where people decided to share the amazing work they have been doing or wanted to show us examples of their native earth building culture. They took place during lunch breaks and tea breaks or after workshops ended or whenever there was enough interested people. It was really dynamic and really inspiring.

Above left, is a demonstration of the excellent work Bee Rowan of Strawbuild has been doing on clay-based fire-retardant coatings for straw bales. A straw bale wasn't available on the day, so she used a much more combustible hay bale. It was coated with an earthen plaster, worked into the the bale to a depth of 1 - 2cm. Then she set a blow torch on it, as you do. After about 40 minutes, she stopped the demonstration. It had gotten pretty boring by then.

Above right, Athena Steen (U.S.) of the Canelo Project and Boris Hochel (Slovakia) of ArTur are handling an adobe block, which they just made under the tuition of Maria Brown (Spain) of Estepa, although that's Bee in the background (Maria is peeking over her shoulder). A lot of the projects shared (such as Maria's adobe-making machine) grew out of a desire to help people in poverty-stricken areas house themselves cheaply, sustainably and in comfort.

For me, one of the most inspiring presentations was Bee's work in Pakistan, where she has been experimenting with lime-stablised earth to combat the catastrophic floods which have been wiping out entire communities in recent years. Click here for an overview.


It was amazing to get all of these people together in one place for one week. What was even better was that most of us were camping on site. So the conversations didn't stop at the end of the workshop ... but continued into the evening or over breakfast. There was time to really get to know people and that was very special.




On our last day of workshops, Colin and I split. I took a new group for an Introduction to Cob Course and Colin tackled lintels, installing windows and other advanced construction details with our experienced crew. We got some great feedback from our participants - thanks to all of them for making it such an enjoyable week.




Above is the mass oven built by Johannes Riesterer and his team in just 3 days for one lucky villager in Errol. It is highly efficient system based on squeezing as much heat as possible out of the combusting gases and harnessing thermal mass storage. A 2 - 3 hour burn will provide heat for 24 hours.

Then it was time to wander around the site and see what some of the others had been up to. The turf boys had built an amazing wall. They used large, rhomboid-shaped sods as building blocks and thin sod runners as "mortar". The herring-bone pattern ensured they were wedged together. It looked like a Viking pyre. In fact, there was a campaign in the village to keep the wall, it was such an impressive structure.


Jem and Jules Cox led a sculptural clay and fibres workshop in the village park. This was the most free-form workshop at the festival. Everyone who participated loved it ... and found it compulsively addictive.




As well as construction techniques, there was also plenty of artistic exploration. The crazy bench created during Jem and Jules clay and fibres workshop was pretty bonkers. Athena Steen's sgraffito was stunning. There were also a series of art installations on a trail around Errol. Inspired by the concept of earth buildings melting back into the landscape, this site specific work of poetry and sculptural interventions was titled Un-Melting. Click on this link for more.

As if the workshops, the art installations, the pop-up demonstrations and the craic weren't enough, there was also the annual EBUK conference. I am delighted to say that my talk on the Culture of Earth Building in Ireland went down very well. I made them laugh, I even made them shed a few tears (and in a good way). I think the power of my talk came from the fact that I asked for contributions from everyone I could think of who had any kind of a connection to earth building in Ireland. The response was really quite overwhelming and people's generosity was humbling ... and I'm pretty sure it was that depth of feeling from all of those contributors which touched the audience's emotions. There will be more on this project to follow, as it has definitely grown legs.

After the conference, there was a céilí ... that was wild! When you put 18 nationalities who have been bonding over mud for a week in a room together with a live trad band ... well, it just can't go wrong, can it?! Bodies were getting spun and flung all over the place - craic of the highest order! When that madness all finshed up, we sat around singing and playing music from all of our countries until the wee hours.






So - a week of building with earth, learning from all those around us, being inspired, enjoying the sunshine. It was great. And one of the best things was having time ... to catch up with old earth building friends and to make new ones. I feel now that we can probably travel to quite a few corners of the world and there will be an open door for us, as long as we bring our muddy boots and are willing to muck in.


And then, just like that, the week was over. And the buzzing workshop space was suddenly empty and quiet; the rammed earth columns and the serpentine cob wall remaining after everyone was gone.


And then .... they were gone too. And there was no evidence of the amazing energy, creativity and activity that had taken place behind Errol Village Hall. It was just a car park again.


But if you stroll down to the park, there just might be a crazy bench-creature or two waiting in the wings ........ maybe.


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This is Your Last Chance to Book for the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, 4th - 12th July

15th June 2015

We are just recovering from an amazing week teaching and giving talks at Clayfest 2015 in Scotland. Over 5 days, a few hundred earth building experts and enthusiasts from 18 different countries passed through the festival. With many participants camping on site, there was as much discussion and craic after hours as there was during the official programme. I will write more about it soon. But for now, we need you to let us know if you want to attend our 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course.

We are sorry to say that bookings for the course are currently low. If we do not get more numbers confirming by the end of this week (19/06/2015), we will have no choice but to cancel. After such an energetic and inspiring week in Scotland, this is the last thing we want to do.

So please contact us at and let us know if you want to attend. At this late stage, we will require full payment to confirm your booking. If the course will not run, we will refund your booking in full within a few days of cancellation. We will be making our final decision this weekend (20th June), as there is a lot of preparation required for the course.

If you want to find out more about the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, take a look at some of the subjects we will cover:

soil sampling   foot mixing   hand building with cob

Day 1 is all about soil testing...



foot mixing cob...



and hand building


setting out   making formwork   digger mixing cob

Set out a building on Day 2 ...



and learn to make formwork.



Day 3 covers digger mixing....


cobbing with formwork   plinth wall   more theory

foundations, ground floors & more cobbing.



Build a plinth wall on Day 4 ...



and learn how to insulate cob.


timber frame wall   model making   more cobbing

Day 5 is all about timber frame.



Make a design model on Day 6..



... tackle some more cobbing....


mud sculpting   beams and joists   theory in the classroom

and learn to sculpt with mud.



Make beams and joists on Day 7



and each day there will be theory classes too.


roofs   earth plastering   natural edge wood shelves

Build a pitched roof on Day 8.


Day 9 will cover plastering ...


.. and natural edge woodwork.

There will plenty of laughs, good food and the odd social night too. At the end of it all, you will probably be exhausted but satisfied (it's not called "intensive" for nothing) and you will have a really good grounding in what is involved in building a regulation-compliant natural home .... This is the real deal.

So, if you think that this is the course for you ... please get in touch at or book your place through the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course Page.

We hope to hear from you (before the end of the end of this week, remember) ... and to get building with you on 4th July.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Runners Up in RTE's Home of the Year 2015

27th May 2015

It's almost two weeks since the grand final of Home of the Year first aired on RTE. I have been meaning to write about it for a while, but we have been really busy. So I am finally getting around to it now.


The final took place in Carton House, Co. Kildare; an imposing and impressive historic house. The seven finalists were to meet for the first time as the judges deliberated over who should win the title (and the trophy) of Home of the Year.

arriving at the final  

As we arrived, the kids were asking if this "house" was in the competition too. Thankfully not; somehow I think Carton House is in a slightly different league.

While we were settling in and getting to know the other homeowners, the three judges were holed up in another room, running through the seven houses and summing up what was special about each one.

There were a lot of really great comments about our home during this segment. The house had a big impact on Declan, "That feeling you got from the connection between the homeowner and this house was actually very, very powerful when you were walking around." Helen was captivated by it. And Hugh, the lovely Hugh, wanted to get squashing cob with his toes! As well as being a really functional family home, he loved the detail in it, particularly our sculpted wall lights. He was inspired by our home.

What great feedback!


After a while, all of the competitors were brought into a room where photo-boards of each house had been set up on individual stands. This was our first time seeing most of the houses, as it was still quite early in the season and only a handful of programmes had aired.

There was a nice connection for me. I found architecture school quite difficult and stressful (as I think many students do). I didn't really enjoy it that much. However, along the way there was the odd tutor who "got" me and made college all the more bearable. One of my favourites was Ger Carty ... and lo and behold, he was in the final too with his striking open plan mews. It was good to catch up ... and to thank him for keeping me sane during those long, hard years.

There was a real mix ... some of it was stunning architectural design, but some of it was just about home-making and place-making ... and they all had their place in the final. I suppose that's what was interesting about Home of the Year, rather than House of the Year ... it was not always about a grand statement, but rather something more elusive and intangible. It's about a feeling.

We were interviewed at one point and Colin talked about how our home is curvy and soulful and that living in it is like being in a hug.


Meanwhile in the judging room, Hugh, Declan and Helen were getting on with the business of trimming the numbers. The first house for elimination had been selected. Then Helen reached across to propose the next house to go. She picked ours! The shock!!!

Oh Helen .... You obviously weren't captivated enough!


But Declan came to the rescue immediately. As quickly as Helen put the photo down, Declan picked it back up. Elimination was out of the question and he was not going to compromise over it.

The lads staunchly defended our corner. Hugh said, "This house had amazing design detail, yet it was free form."

Declan said, "Things like we would specify like how to light a staircase properly, howto negotiate between rooms, all these details that we would be using, this (house) actually had it but it was in a very free flowing form."

So they got on with the business of choosing their winner, with a lot of dicussion about how difficult it was and how emotionally attached they had become to the homes. Helen had her favourite and was not going to let it go ... but I think the boys were quite taken with ours.

After a long wait (and we have to say, the kids were so good throughout the day), the door to our room opened and in came the judges. It was our first time all being face to face.


They announced that they had chosen three homes that stood out for them. The winner would be chosen from one of these three.

The first house they announced was .... The Cob Home. Hugh expounded, "(it) was full of passion and design creativity. It was charming and magical. There was an energy that came out of this home and it oozed out of every single corner". High praise indeed (overlooking the fact that our house does not actually have any corners)!






The next house into the top three was the Eaton's 1970s inspired semi-detached home.

This was Helen's home of choice and she lauded the attention to detail and the commitment to the design ethos throughout the house.


The last house into the top three was the Split Level Home in Cork. The judges agreed that this house embodied elegant simplicity.

And so it was time to reveal the winner .... and for a split second I felt a bit panciky when I realised that we might actually win this thing .... But it was not meant to be. Helen made the announcment. The Split Level Home was Home of the Year.

Andrew was delighted and Ita was genuinely shocked and quite moved to have won. It meant a lot to her, as her son designed the house and did a lot of the building work too.





Personally, I loved their home. The house has a large concrete spine wall, which had been cast with leaves, bamboo and grasses in the formwork. The resulting patterns made something which could have been quite stark and brutal into something very delicately beautiful. The grand statement of the cathedral-like volumes was balanced by a very pure, simple plan. The shelving running the entire length of the building brought texture and colour into otherwise relatively bare space. And, of course, the amazing windows on to those amazing views meant that nature provided all the artwork needed. A worthy winner and a lovely couple. We hope to go down and see it in the flesh some time soon.




So there we have it - runners up in Home of the Year.

We settled down in the bar in Carton House that evening to watch the next episode of Home of the Year with some of the other finalists. And while we may not have won the official trophy, we were presented with a pretty fabulous cup from Fia's playschool. Don't tell anyone, but we actually think it's better than the "real" trophy.


All in all it was a great experience. We have been getting great feedback since. One thing that is coming across quite strongly is how helpful the programme has been in explaining the possibilities of cob construction to the uninitiated. We regularly hear from people who want to build with cob and are having trouble convincing their friends and family that it is a genuine option and that they have not lost the plot completely. Now, they can point the doubters to the programme and it has opened up a lot of peoples' minds to its potential.

We are delighted that our naturally-built home could stand proudly alongside all the more conventionally built homes. It's another step towards putting natural building materials on the map, which has to be a step in the right direction.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Morocco - Built of Earth

12th May 2015

atlas mountains

oasis riverbed


Over the May bank holiday, a group of friends and neighbours (17 women, to be precise!) travelled to Marrakech in Morocco. While we were only there for three full days, we managed to see a lot and get a great taster of what this amazing city and country has to offer.

One of the Earth Building UK project officers, Rowland (a rammed earth expert who works a lot in Africa), advised that I should go to Ait Benhaddou, an earthen village and UNSECO World Heritage Site about three hours outside Marrakech. How could I resist? So practically fresh off the plane, my sister and I headed off to the desert.

First we had to cross the Atlas Mountains via the Tizi n' Tichka Pass. This is the highest pass in North Africa at 2,260m. The scenery was amazing, so barren except for a ribbon of green following the river bed.

There are over 1,000 Berber villages scattered throughout the Atlas Range. Initially, you may not actually notice them. Built from the earth underfoot, the buildings blend in perfectly with their surroundings. But as your eyes scan the landscape, you begin to notice more and more of them perched on hillsides and nestled in valleys.

berber village

In my research on the UNESCO site, I had stumbled across another location worthy of a visit. By leaving the main Marrakech-Ouarzazate road and taking the winding Salt Road, we could stop in to the kasbah at Telouet on our way to Ait Benhaddou. Kasbahs were fortified dwellings, homes for the wealthy. Often, the kasbah was also the seat of power for the local ruler; a palace fortress. This was the case at Telouet.

There are a string of kasbahs along the Salt Road. This was the route from the Sahara Desert to the souks of Marrakech (historically and still the largest market in Morocco - a warren of covered streets boasting almost 3,000 separate stalls). Caravans of camels plied the trail, transporting spices, gold and slaves. I had believed that the Salt Road had been so named because salt itself was an incredibly valuable commodity (Roman soldiers were paid in salt, hence the word "salary") and I had presumed that this was one of the goods being transported. But as we travelled alongside the Oued Mellah (Salt River), we began to notice all these white deposits in the landscape. Sure enough, it was salt ... and there were lucrative salt mines nearby.

The kasbahs sprung up along the Salt Road because the traders needed a place to rest on their journey, and a place to keep their wares safe and secure. Telouet was founded relatively recently, not much more than 100 years old. Although our guide at the kasbah said that some of the more ruined parts date back to the 1700s. Indeed, a lot of the structure is in very poor condition and in danger of disappearing altogher. I didn't care though. I was just happy to be among so many earthen walls.

telouet kasbah ruins

One of the reasons that Telouet has been allowed to degrade so much is because the Pasha (local ruler) had been very unpopular and eventually turned traitor. Glaoui was violent and brutal and much of his vast fortune was amassed through the exploitation and oppression of his people. Just before Morocco gained independence in 1956, Glaoui was involved in a conspiracy with the French to overthrow the sultan. He had chosen the wrong side and was cast out by the new Moroccan government. A broken man, he died the same year. The goverment made a point of allowing the Telouet Kasbah, a symbol of Galoui's former ill-gotten wealth and power, fall into disrepair.

telouet arches   telouet herring bone wall

My first impression was of a former great palace now falling apart. There were the odd hints that this had been a place of great beauty, such as the arches in the photo above left, still standing almost perfectly among the decayed walls. Much of the detail was still intact in the plasterwork of these arches.

One thing I love about weathered walls is that they reveal themselves. I could see that this building had been built with a mixture of adobe (sun-dried mud bricks) and rammed earth. There were also a lot of stone walls with mud mortars. I came across this wall (photo above right) where the adobe bricks had been laid in an interesting herring bone pattern.

kasbah courtyard

Kasbahs were traditionally laid out around a courtyard. As we entered into this part of the palace it was clear that, while dilapidated, this part of the structure was much more intact. Our guide told us that this courtyard doubled up as the village square. This was where the market was held, where musicians came to play and where court proceedings took place. It was also where the villagers, who were slaves of the Pasha, took refuge when under attack. On the left of the photo above, you can just make out the beginning of a balcony (timber extending from the first floor of the tower). The Pasha and his family viewed events from here. Glaoui had four wives, seventy-five concubines and a thousand people living within the walls of the kasbah. A further ten thousand lived in the village beyond the kasbah walls.

wooden door  

The main door into the building off the courtyard had an almost mediaeval feel to it. Decorated, but quite simple, defence was clearly a design consideration. Other similarly robust doors led to numerous corridors but it was not possible to see them; much of the building is in too dangerous a condition. Apparently the kasbah corridors were labyrinthine and it was common to get completely lost. There were also massive dungeons which had many unfortunates incarcerated under the cruel reign of the Glaoui Clan. These have now been filled in to prevent the ground floor from collapsing.


moroccan door

Passing through the doorway, we entered into a series of wide, bright corridors. They were plastered white. Having come in from the ruins, I was impressed enough. Then we came to a carved, painted door and our guide led us through.

kasbah corridor   carved painted wooden door

I was not expecting the opulence waiting for us beyond that door; mosaics and intricate plasterwork, moulded ceilings and carved timber. Out in the middle of the desert, within the walls of an apparently ramshackle ruin, was this palace on a par with the best that Morocco has to offer.

telouet kasbah

Every inch of the space was covered in decorative detail.

concealed fireplace   wall mosaics   carved double door   mosaic ceiling

Concealed Fireplace


Wall Mosaics


Carved Double Doors


Mosaic Ceiling

Below are just some of the examples of door and window arches. This intricate work was all carried out in lime plaster.


In the main lounge, the walls were decorated with a series of individual, silk panels. Our guide told us that this was where Glaoui was entertained by his wives and concubines. Legend has it that the women were rotated every ten minutes ..... I suppose the plus-side for them was that they only had to endure his company for a few moments every week.

silk panels

The women were forbidden to go outside the kasbah. They could look out on the beautiful gardens, but the delicate metal grilles ensured that they could not be seen by outsiders looking in. The window below right looks out on to the village, where Glaoui's slaves lived. The slaves' descendants still live there today, eking out a living from the village's communal garden, goats and sheep, and tourists.

window grille   window and village

Back outside, we wandered around the perimeter of the building. It really was quite awe-inspiring in its remote desert setting; a testimony to one family's lust for power and wealth, their fall from grace and ultimate demise.

telouet kasbah   sisters at telouet

I was very excited to discover that the earth mortars displayed almost identical characteristics to those I find in old Irish stone buildings. There was evidence of popped lime kernals, a phenomenon found in earth mortars which have had a tiny amount of quicklime added to them. Two cultures, a few centuries and almost 4,000km apart, understanding the same fundamentals of building with the materials that nature has provided.

After Telouet, it was time to get back on the winding road, passing more villages and even some cave dwellings in the sheer cliffs that bordered the river, until we came to the oasis town of Ait Benhaddou (photo below).

ait benhaddou

Since 1987, Ait Benhaddou has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built of earth and wood, construction styles and techniques dating from the mid-8th century are represented, although the oldest buildings do not appear to pre-date the 17th Century.

The site was a trading post on the commercial route between Sudan and Marrakech. The defensive character of the town is clear, built on a hill with the agadir (community barn) at the very top. The agadir was protected by a system of fortications as well as manpower. Traders could store their valuables here. It was also the last bastion of resistance if the town came under siege. With their harvest stored here, the townsfolk had supplies to last them some time.

ait benhaddou

There are six kasbahs and fifty ksars in Ait Benhaddou, a ksar being a typical family home. The houses are all crowded together, forming narrow streets. The shaded thoroughfares are cool in the blazing desert sun; it was 40°C the day we were there. They were also laid out like a maze, which ensured that any aspiring invaders could not mount a coordinated attack. The town lies within walls and is entered via one of two gates. As well as ksars, there are community buildings, sheep pens, stables, barns, silos, market places, a meeting room for the chiefs, a mosque and a madrasa (school of Islam).

doorway   ait benhaddou street

The entrances to the buildings are narrow and there are no windows in these locations. This has the effect of disorienting you on entry. You are blinded until you either move deeper into the building or your eyes get used to the light. If unwelcome intruders entered a home, this clever design allowed the occupants to disable the trespassers before they got their bearings.


The walls of the buildings are about 500mm thick, built of rammed earth and adobe. The stone walls are laid with mud mortars. Many of the walls are finished with earth plasters, often with chopped straw throughout. The earth and stone regulates the temperature, keeping the interiors of the buildings deliciously cool in the searing heat.

I loved the way earth was used for everything in the town. The streets had in-built benches, made of stone and earth. The houses had beds, moulded from the floor and into the walls, made from rammed earth. Stairs were built by laying formwork of timber poles and reed matting on a slope. Then earth steps were formed on top ... genius. Even the cookers were made of earth; simple ovens which are still used to bake traditional bread, while boiling water or stews on top.

At Telouet, we saw a hammam (Moroccan steam room) built from earth ... a bit like an oversized cob oven to be honest, except that it is a person rather than a pizza getting cooked! We're toying with the idea of building one on our 4-Day Cob Playhouses, Sheds and Garden Walls Course, which kicks of this Thursday (14th May). There are still places available, if you care to join us.

earth oven   earth stairs

The trip to Morocco was really amazing. It was wonderful to be transported into a completely different culture; one that was so rich and varied. As someone who is practically anaphylactically allergic to shopping, I could not get enough of the souks with all of their colour, smells, hustle, bustle and haggling. We visted a few other key buildings and enjoyed getting lost in the tiny winding streets (bring a small compass if you want to go off-piste ... best tip that I got). But I know that I have only scratched the surface .... and in a place where the majority of its architecture is built from earth! I will be back.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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We're through to the Final of Home of the Year

28th April 2015

If you were following us on twitter or facebook, you will know that we won our heat of Home of the Year. And the reaction we have been getting since has been wonderful! We really appreciate all the lovely comments and good wishes.

home of the year    

We had a big gang of friends and neighbours in to watch the programme and were very excited to hear what the judges would have to say and what score they would give us. There was a big a cheer when we appeared on the telly.

We were delighted with the footage of the cobbing process and thought the programme explained the material and its potential really well in such a short time.

    filming colin placing cob

There were some brilliant moments, many of them instigated by Hugh Wallace ... he's a bit of a hero of ours now! First, there was that scene where he ate some of our (earth) floor to figure out what it was made of! The look on Helen's face was priceless. But we are a bit concerned for Hugh's health. Does he know we have two dogs snuffling around that floor?

But my favourite scene was Hugh coming up the stairs chuckling away to himself, just really enjoying the experience of moving through our home. What a great reaction to get from anybody!


Here are some of our favourite quotes from the show:

"A self-build project takes a huge amount of commitment, never mind a project like this where you're actually building it with your bare hands. So much creativity. So much personality." - Declan

"It's just fanastic to see how they understood the materials; the knots and the colour and the textures." - Hugh, talking about the wooden kitchen units.

"This house is really clever top to bottom." - Declan

"The shape of this house is really specical." - Hugh

"It just feels magical." - Helen

"This house wasn't built; it was sculpted, carved and moulded into quite an extraordinary family home. It's been a privilege just to come and visit." - Declan

"A great family home with really good design detailing and the whole house is just seamless when you walk through it. I loved every nook and cranny of this house." - Hugh

"I was absolutely enchanted." - Helen

"It was a joyous place to be, totally magic on the inside." - Declan

All of the judges were impressed by the ingenuity of our wind-cooled fridge. The one in the kitchen is for the small items we use overy day. However, there is also a bigger one in the utility room for our weekly supply of refrigerated groceries. If you would like to find out more about our non-electric fridge, click here.


There was a great discussion in the upstairs sunset lounge, which we had chosen as our favourite spot indicated by the red dot. This is where the whole family retreats at the end of the day. The chaos of the kitchen and family room can be left behind. We have the Ox Mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other ... and if the weather is good you can even see Slieve League in Co. Donegal across the bay. We love how this room embraces us. And we love the sunsets.

Declan hit the nail on the head saying, "It's an amazing kind of sensual experience to be up here and see all of these shapes coming together", as Hugh looked out over "cob-world".

The previous house had scored two nines, a really good score. Then Helen and Declan both gave us nines. We were neck and neck. Game on! Who knew a property show could be so exciting?

    waiting for the result

So, then it was time for the judges to reveal their final scores and we waited with baited breath to hear the result. Declan awarded our rivals a nine! Could we beat three nines? Then it was Hugh's turn to reveal his score.

"The house had personality and warmth and you just got the passion and love of the people who built this house. And because of that .... I just gave it a 10."

Woohoo!!!!!!!! Nice one, Hugh!


And so the fifth home through to the final is the Cob House in Sligo!

the finalists


Hugh has said he would love to find out more about cobbing having visited our home. After giving us a 10, you're welcome anytime Hugh. Just bring your wellies! Check out all of our courses and see which one you would like to do.

For anyone else that is interested in finding out more about cob, here are some dates for your diary:

1-Day Introduction to Cob, 14th May, €75

4-Day Cob Playhouses, Sheds and Garden Walls,
14 - 17 May, €295

1-Day Introduction to Cob, 4th July, €75

9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood, 04 - 12 July, €770
How to build a natural home from start to finish

If you would like to learn how design your home so that it is "clever top to bottom", come on my Design Course, 09 - 10 May, €165.

And if you appreciated Colin's mastery of woodwork and want to learn how to do that for yourself, come on the Natural Edge Wood, 23 - 24 May, €150.

We are also available for consultations and commissions, so get in touch.

Roll on the final, to be aired at 8:30pm on 14th May - the first day of our 4-Day Cob Playhouses, Sheds and Garden Walls Course. Maybe you can watch it here with us!

You can watch the full show on the RTE player here until 15th May.


Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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The Mud and Wood House in Home of the Year - RTE1, 8:30pm, Thursday, 23/04.

20th April 2015

mud and wood family room

Thanks to Steve Rogers - Steve Rogers Photography - for the great photos of our home looking its best.

If you follow us on facebook, you will have seen a few clues that something was up at the Mud and Wood House in recent weeks. We were doing a lot of tidying and cleaning and finishing off all those jobs that got put on the long finger for the past four years.

view of mud and wood house garden   colin working hard

Colin was working really hard in the garden (in spite of the awful weather), completing the stone walls for the raised beds. A few new outdoor benches began to appear. Then he lost the run of himself altogether and built a back porch and a new treehouse for the kids.

rear porch of mud and wood house   tree house

Inside, the bedroom wardrobes finally got their sliding doors. The glass treads for the stairs were ordered and fitted. The circle of mirror, which had been stored under the basin for at least three years, was stuck on to the broken mirror in the shower room at last. The artwork, that had been lying on shelves since we returned from our travels in 2004, was framed and hung. The house was cleaned to within an inch of its life. And the children were put in straight-jackets.

kids' bedroom   family in family room

There is nothing like letting a camera crew, and therefore the eyes of the nation, into your home to force you to tackle all those overdue projects. And not only were we letting a camera crew in, but also three judges who would assess our home and score it out of ten.

Home of the Year is a competition where 21 houses compete for the title. Over seven weeks architect Declan O'Donnell, architect and interior designer Hugh Wallace and homewares designer Helen James visit three homes per episode. The winning home from each heat is put forward to the final. In the final programme, the judges discuss the merits of each week's winner and the ultimate Home of the Year is crowned.

piano at mud and wood house   master bedroom in mud and wood house

So ... our big moment is coming up this Thursday, 23rd April at 8:30pm on RTE1. We have no idea what the judges will say about our home. So it is exciting and a little bit nerve wracking, but hopefully we will get some positive comments. Follow us on twitter on the night. And hopefully all that hard work over the past few weeks will have paid off. Even if they hate it, at least we now have a finished house.

The moral of the story? If you are tired of looking at all those unfinished jobs, invite three complete strangers and a camera crew into your home to judge it. I guarantee you'll get all those jobs and more done in no time.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Mud and Wood Workshops for April and May 2015

8th April 2015

There are lots of courses coming up over the next few weeks. We will be building a cob oven in the Mud and Wood garden this weekend (11th - 12th April) and there are still places if you would like to join us. Or how about earth plasters ... suitable for all all house types and made from the soil beneath your feet. We have added two new courses in May - Design and Natural Edge Wood. Or if you would like to take your cob building skills to the next level, why not try our 4-Day Cob Playhouses, Sheds and Garden Walls Workshop.

cob oven course   earth plasters and natural paints course

Cob Oven Course

11th - 12th April
10:00am - 5:30pm, lunch included
€135 full price / €121.50 concession

Click here to book or for more info


Earth Plasters and Natural Paints Course

25th - 26th April
10:00am - 5:30pm, lunch included
€135 full price / €121.50 concession

Click here to book or for more info

design course   natural edge wood course

Design Course

9th - 10th May
10:00am - 5:30pm, lunch included
€165 full price / €148.50 concession

Click here to book or for more info


Natural Edge Wood Course

23rd - 24th May
10:00am - 5:30pm, lunch included
€150 full price / €135 concession

Click here to book or for more info

4 day course   4 day course

4-Day Cob Playhouses, Sheds and Garden Walls Course

14th - 17th May (inclusive)
10:00am - 5:30pm, lunch included
€295 full price / €270 concession

Click here to book or for more info

There is no experience necessary for any of the courses, but we take care to adapt our training to the skill levels of our participants. So, hopefully we will see you here over the next few weeks.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Clayfest 2015 - Errol, Scotland: 08 - 13 June

22nd March 2015


Last year, a group of Earth Building UK directors headed to the Festival Grains d'Isère in France - an annual gathering of national and international earth builders who spend a week playing and experimenting with earth as a building material. The festival has been going for 12 years now and what they achieve is truly inspiring. Take a look here, here and here. In fact, the directors were so inspired, they decided to try to bring some of the ideas back to the UK. And so the seed for Clayfest 2015 was planted.

Every year EBUK (Earth Building UK) organises a conference and tour. This year, as well as hosting the conference and tour (Friday and Saturday), there will be 4 days of workshops beforehand (Monday - Thursday). So you can really get to grips with earth building, which, as far as I'm concerned, can only be truly understood by handling and working with the material itself.

There are lots of different workshops to choose from and lots of different earth construction techniques to explore - from cob to rammed earth, from plasters to turf building, from conservation repairs to mass stove construction and the very funky clay and fibre workshop.


This year's special guest speakers and workshop leaders are Bill and Athena Steen, world renowned straw bale and earth building experts.

Between them, they have authored six books and have been running natural building workshops in Arizona and around the world since 1989.

They will teach Beginners and Advanced Earth Plastering at Clayfest, a rare chance to learn from true masters of the technique.

Book here.

    cob workshop  

Mud and Wood (that's us!)will be teaching a 1-day Intro to Cob, 2-day Scaling Up Cob (using formwork and diggers) and 1-day Advanced Cob Workshop (openings, connections with other building elements ...) Book here.


Cob Workshop Info

  rammed earth workshop  

Rowland Keable, who built the rammed earth walls at the Eden Project and at CAT's lecture theatre, will teach three 1-day workshops. Each group will build a new rammed earth column. How tall they get is up to you.
Book here.


Plasters Workshop Info


Rammed Earth Info


Becky Little and Tom Morton will run two 1-day workshops on the technical challenges associated with conservation repairs to old mudwall buildings. The morning presentation will be followed by a tour of live projects in the area. Book here.


With a different leader every day, you can take a 1-day workshop or stick around for all 4 days for this innovative and exciting way of creating funky sculptures using natural fabrics, fibres and clay. Where will your imagination take you? Book here.


Mudwall Repairs Info


Clay and Fibres Info


Johannes Riesterer is an expert mass oven builder from Sweden. Over 3 days, he will take you step by step through the design and construction of an earthen mass oven in the very real setting of one of the homes in the village of Errol.
Book here.


You may be familiar with the turf houses of Iceland. In the past, this building method was common in the UK too and the skills are being revived. Learn how to "fillet" the ground, cut sods to a variety of shapes and create a building.
Book here.


Mass Oven Workshop Info


Turf Workshop Info


Thanks to Icelandic knowledge sharing, turf building is enjoying a revival. On this 1-day symposium, speakers from home and aboard share their experiences and envision the future for both old and new turf-built projects.
Book here.


The annual EBUK Conference will take place on Friday 12th June. The theme is "The Culture of Earth Building", with speakers hailing from as far afield as the U.S. and Malawi .. and someone you may know from Co. Sligo.
Book here.


Turf Symposium Info


EBUK Conference Info


If you make it Scotland for the full week of workshops, or even just for the conference itself, you know that at the end of it all earth builders like to let their hair down. After a bit of cob stomping or earth ramming, why not join us on Friday evening for a meal and a few jigs and reels at the Clayleidh.
Book here.

self-guided tour

As with all of the EBUK conferences, the self-guided tour of earth buildings in the area will take place the following day (Saturday 13th June). Maps will be distributed with directions and approximate times for visiting a number of interesting properties.

This year, there is also the option to hang on in Errol, where there will be a free community day from 11am - 4pm. There will be a tour of the village (which has many, many earth buildings), story telling, the local school's earth project, an exhibition and an opportunity to see the results of all the earth building workshops.

So ... there really is something for everyone. Camping is available at the Clayfest site, Errol's village hall. Click here to book your pitch. That's where we'll be!

Click on this link and scroll down to the bottom for other local accommodation options.

A huge thanks goes out to our Scottish EBUK director, Tom Morton, who is very much the driving force behind this epic undertaking. His staff at Arc Architects have been doing great work too, along with Becky Little. And also a shout out to the team at Historic Scotland and the Tay Landscape Partnership.

It's shaping up to be a great event. Hope to see you there ... for a day, for a week or even just for a dance!

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood

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Last Chance to Book for Our Design Course: 7-8 March

23rd February 2015

design course

It's just under two weeks to our Design Course, so if you haven't booked yet - now is the time.

This course is suitable for all house types - not just natural building projects. For just €165, you will gain far more than €1,000's worth of professional architectural advice.

What do we cover over the weekend? Well, I will guide you step by step through the design process, using slide shows, worksheets, questionnaires, a tour of the Mud and Wood House looking at relevant design issues and, of course, model making. The design issues we will cover are outlined below.

What should you look for when choosing a site? If you already have a site, what are the challenges (because no site is perfect) and what are the features (because your design should make the most of them)?

If you are extending/renovating your existing home, what does not work for you at the moment and why? What are the best ways to resolve those issues?

Where is the light? Where is the wind? Where are the sun traps? Where are the views?

If you have an existing site, you are very welcome to submit information about your site prior to the course and we will use it during some of our workshops as a real-life example. I will let you know what information I need and I will need it by the Tuesday before the course starts to be able to incorporate it into the workshop. As a class, we can look at the site as an anonymous site (no-one else needs to know it is yours) or you can "own it". Just let me know before the course starts.

You should always be at the heart of your design. That is one thing that I love about designing homes. Once a particular site has been chosen, that set of parameters is fixed. But everyone will will have a different response to that site ... and that is all to do with personality and lifestyle.

Are you an early bird or an night owl? Are you an avid reader? Do you like to lock yourself away for a box-set marathon? Would you like a vegetable garden? Do you own much sports gear? Do you like peace and quiet or are you happiest in amongst the mix. Does all of the above apply?

Lifetime Adaptibility
Will you grow old in this home? Will you have (more) growing kids in this home? Will you get sick in this home? Will you have ageing parents? We cannot predcit the future but some things, such as growing older, are inevitable. It is possible to plan for the future so that your home remains a comfortable and safe place to be.

Most people vastly underestimate how much it costs to build a house or extension. An unrealistic budget is probably the single biggest source of stress in domestic construction projects. I will help you to plan a realistic budget ... and it is not just the cost of the build itself that needs to considered - there are local authority contribution costs, building control costs, health and safety costs and professional fees to be considered too.

Just as important as setting a realistic budget is sticking to it. We will look some of the ways you can keep your budget on track and at some of the most common budget-blowing mistakes.

The Planning Process and Building Control
As well as looking at very practical issues such as money, we look at how to deal with planning. Come on the course to find out all about "The Story". It is probably the best secret weapon in obtaining planning permission, particularly for unsual projects. We also look at what is and is not allowed under the (relatively new) building control system.

Building under the radar is not an option anymore. In the past, an unauthorised structure could be regularised by obtaining retrospective planning permission (retention permission). However, under the building control system, there is no way to retrospectively gain a completion certificate. No-one is allowed to use, open or occupy a building without this completion certificate. Even if you intend building a hardcore, 100% natural and salvaged home, you should build an asset, not a burden (on the landscape or your children). There is nothing sustainable about building a structure that will be unusuable in only a matter of years or decades.

Disclaimer: Planning permission is never guaranteed as the final decision rests solely with the planning authority.

Other Design Considerations
We will also take a quick look at items such as choice of materials and how they might affect the aesthetic of your home, heating options for your home and how that can affect design, and issues such as water supply and wastewater treatment - again purely from a design (rather than technical) point of view.

Note: This is a design course, not a construction course. So we do not get into any construction details, etc.


Book you place here -



We also accept cheques made out to Mud and Wood or you can pay via direct transfer. Contact for bank account details.


You will also need to fill out a booking form to complete your booking. Choose from one of the options below:


Online Booking Form


Printable Booking Form


On Sunday afternoon, we finish up by making a model of your dream home or extension, tying together many of the concepts you will have learned over the weekend. So if you still need some inspiration, scroll through for a look at the designs some of our past course participants have created.

  design course model    

Sometimes people do not want to design a whole house. Sometimes they want to look at one room only in a lot of detail, or even just one element of that room. We have had people design living rooms, kitchens and even a Japanese bath house.

    Sometimes, they go the opposite way and come up with a design that looks at the whole site, not just the house itself; the relationship between buildings or other structures and elements in the garden. It's up to you which way way you want to explore your ideas.  

At the end of our model-making session, each person gets to talk about his/her work and we examine how the design addresses issues such as light, views and the lifestyle of the owner. When I first started running this course back in 2012, I was nervous that the students might not get it ... that their designs would not address the important issues. I have been very humbled and amazed by the thoughtful designs that have been produced. I love hearing everyone talk about their models and that everyone on the course can learn from each others' insights. And I always say, it's not about making the prettiest model, it's about using the materials in 3-D to play with space and generate ideas.


While we will cover a lot of quite serious information, the weekend is relaxed. By the end, hopefully you might have made some new friends. At the very least, you will get an insight into how they like to live their lives. And the lunches are great too! But don't just take my word for it. Here is what some of our previous course pariticpants have said:


"If I had come on this course earlier I could have saved a lot of time and money which I wasted. I now have a greater understanding of options - what to look out for regarding sites and buildings and I have a better feel of what I want and how to be more flexible with my ideas of building, design and considerations for my future."
Simon, Galway


"Excellent. Real mind and eye opener. Great to see that through hard work, determination and vision you can live the dream. Inspirational."
Declan Gilroy, Sligo


"This was much more than a design course. It made you seriously think about how you live your life. You are given time to reflect and plan how your life may change in the future, adapting your living requirements to meet future needs. Colin and Féile not only teach low impact living but lead by example. Wonderful course, well done!"
Éamonn Price, Sligo


"Great course, full of information to start you on your building journey."
Ollie Smyth, Enfield, Co. Meath


"This course really opened my eyes as to the process of designing and building a house. The information is precise, detailed and very well presented. Féile and Colin are very welcoming and warm. The setting is just perfect to inspire!!"
Niamh, Dromahair, Co. Leitrim

"I really enjoyed this course. It was very relevant to the phase I'm in my own process. I feel much better informed to move forward and that my project will be improved as a result. Féile gave great information and input from others attending added a very dynamic and all-encompassing overview of design."
Karena Stannett, Co. Roscommon

"I absolutely loved this course - every detail. My fiancé and I are at the beginning of the complicated business of building a house, and were at a complete loss. After taking this course we feel immensely more prepared to face the process. It was also so refreshing and inspiring to see such an ideal manifestation of eco responsible living. Our main priority is to leave the lightest footprint possible when we build and this course gave us a lot of guidance in that direction. We'll definitely be looking into next years courses! Oh - I should mention how AMAZING the lunches were."
Ruth Rooney, Co. Kildare

"Mud and Wood courses are fantastic in allowing one to be creative when designing your shelter and dream space. Informative and realistic, I would recommend this course to anyone thinking of building for the first time. Thanks to Féile and Colin for allowing us into their beautiful home."
Joanna Sweeney, Sligo


"If you are thinking of building this is an excellent course to put you in the right direction. Fantastic food for thought - Inspiring."
Claire Samways, Raholp, Co. Down


"I would highly recommend this course for anyone intending to self-build. Loads of relevant information regarding planning, design, budget, administration fees, professional fees, etc. necessary to know in order to avoid surprises. The teaching environment was relaxed and homely, while being highly informative."
Juliana Clarke, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim


"It was the right course to push me into the practical considerations of designing our own home."
Roisin, Sligo


"All of my initial ideas before the course went out the window and were replaced with more practical and functional ideas. Filled with a wealth of knowledge, you will be able to face the planners."
Jai Pierce, Swinford, Co. Mayo


"Very informative. Féile is a great speaker. She is always giving positive vibes and keeping all the class in tune. Colin's meals were beautiful. Really pleased with questions raised in relation to the pros and cons of different building materials in houses"
Damien Daly, Mallow, Co. Cork


"Totally enjoyable experience - I thought my partner was more suited to come - so nice to get such precise information. Delivered by Féile, it couldn't have been better - a very informative weekend. I got so much out of it, especially the model making. Colin's food was delicious. They definitely run a fab course."
Kathy Dunn, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal


"Very good course. Loved it. Will be back."
Angelique Rohan, Sligo


"The course was a really good way of opening my eyes to simple things that I may not have considered when designing our home. I found it very informative and Féile was very knowledgeable. The house is a home and a fabulous example of natural building. The food was amazing too - thanks Colin!!"
Sandra, Sligo









So why not release your creative inner child and explore house design in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. This step by step course could help you take your first step towards your dream home.




We also accept cheques made out to Mud and Wood or you can pay via direct transfer. Contact for bank account details.




Online Booking Form

Printable Booking Form
Fill out a form to complete your booking. A confirmation/information pack (directions, accommodation, what to bring, etc.) wiil be sent on receipt of payment and a completed booking form.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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Thanks to Everyone Who Came to the Annual Open Day

16th February 2015

  sunset lounge with projector and screen   stairs  
  tidy family room    

Above left - the Sunset Lounge, with the projector and screen all set up, ready for our talk about how we built the Mud and Wood House.

Above - the stairs.

Left, the Family Room looking unnaturally clean and tidy. The benches on either side of the stove double up as wood storage.


Thanks to everyone who turned up for the Open Day on the 8th February. This year, we were actually ready in time for the 10:00am kick-off but, typically, the universe would not let us rest on our laurels. The car broke down as I was dropping the kids off to be minded for the day. A big, big thank you to Nick, fresh off a flight from Australia, for getting me home in time. So ... a flustered start as usual....

We had intended taking photos of the house full of people, to capture the buzz of the day. But we never actually had the time. Somewhere between 130 and 150 people passed through our doors on the day. The talks and tours ran pretty much non-stop, back-to-back and Colin and I made it to the end on a diet of chocolate biscuits.

It was great to meet so many people. About half of our visitors had heard about us through word of mouth, rather than simply stumbling across us over the internet. So that was really great for us to hear. We were also amazed by the effort people put in to come to see us, from all over the country - Down, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Dublin, Kilkenny, Clare, Tipperary, Cork ... as well as plenty from more local counties - Roscommon, Leitrim, Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Sligo. We really appreciate that you made the journey and hope that it was worth your while.

So, while we don't have lots of photos of the house packed with enthusiastic natural builders, we have lots of photos of the house looking tidier than it has in months (the kids were kept in straight jackets for the last few days). So we might as well post them up and revel in the orderliness of it all.

  sunset lounge   sunset lounge reading bench  

The Sunset Lounge, above and right. The glass blocks allow the light, particularly the light from the sunset window, to filter into the stairwell. At the right time of day, it is really beautiful. Additional storage is concealed in the reading bench.

Below, is the Master Bedroom and the Walk-In Wardrobe. There is a better chance of keeping the bedroom tidy and a bit more of a peaceful sanctuary when there is decent storage right next door.

  master bedroom   master bedroom 9
  master bedroom    
    walk in wardrobe  
  master bedroom    
  guest room   kids room   kids bed  
Above, the Guest Room and right, the Children's Room. Both rooms have a mud floor. The shelves in the Guest Room have been carved into a straw bale wall.
  outdoor fireplace   formwork at open day  

As well as giving tours around the inside of the Mud and Wood House, Colin also showed our visitors around the outside of the house, looking at how you can develop some of the external areas to have as much character as the interior, such as the outdoor fire place above. There was also an opportunity to check out plenty of partially built cob walls in their raw state, below and right.

Information posters, illustrating how we built the house, looking at historic cob (mud-wall) houses from around the country, etc. were dotted around the house and garden. We also had plenty of examples of the tools and equipment we use to build with cob, such as the formwork (right) and the "whackers", "persuaders" and "cobbers' arms" (below).

If the day inspired anyone to take the first step towards building their own natural home, the Weekend Design Course will take place on 7-8 March and is a pretty good place to start. Contact if you need more information.

    open day formwork and house  
  open day tools    

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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The Mud and Wood FREE Open Day
10:00am - 5:30pm Sunday 8th February

31st January 2015

cob house under construction

The Mud and Wood House doors will be open to everyone on Sunday 8th February, between 10:00am and 5:30pm. There is a timetable of sorts:

10:00 - 11:00am      Tour of the House

11:30 - 12:00am      Talk - How We Built the House

12:00 -   1:00pm      Tour of the House

  2:00 -  2:30pm      Talk - How We Built the House

  2:30 -  3:30pm      Tour of the House

  4:00 -  4:30pm      Talk - How We Built the House

  4:30 -  5:30pm      Tour of the House

cob house under construction

But experience has taught us that we will not stick rigidly to it. Basically, a tour will be followed by a talk and vice versa - so if you plan on coming for about 2 - 2½ hours, you will get the whole package. There is no need to book, just turn up whenever suits you. The quietest times are usually first thing in the morning and it tapers off again towards the end of the day. Although now that I have written this, we may get lots of you first thing.

cob house under construction

Please do not arrive before 10:00am.

At 9:55am, we will probably still be desperately trying to clean the toilets, hoover the floor, set up the projector and have a shower. We always say we will be brilliantly organised this time; we never are! So, I repeat - please do not arrive before 10:00am.

There will be tea, coffee and biscuits .... usually some kind volunteer ends up on tea-making duty for a while. We have had people in that past who have practically moved in for the day - and that's fine with us as long as you make yourself useful.

We are very happy to answer general questions - but if you start getting into lots of specifics and are basically trying to get lots of detailed and expert information for free .... that pisses us off. Come on one of our courses or book a consulation; it's how we make our living.

Also, please appreciate that if there are 30 people wanting to ask questions (and there have been in the past), we can only spend a short time on each question/person.

The directions have been removed from this page.

cob house under construction

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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How It All Began

26th January 2015

There are green shoots starting to appear all around the Mud and Wood House and you might be starting to focus on the approaching building season. You might even intend to start a project this year. One piece of advice we always give is: preparation, preparation, preparation. Even if it means postponing your build for a year (or two), you should never rush into a project without doing plenty of research, acquiring some skills and experience, and maybe even some materials. Between stumbling on the idea of building with cob (I found a book on cob on a shelf at work back in 2004) to excavating the ground for the actual build, there was a gap of four years .... Good things come to those who wait.

colin ritchie in the mud   feile butler at the hollies 2005

The photo on the left was taken of Colin "walking" on the Dusky Sound Trail in New Zealand, back in 2003. He obviously already had a penchant for mud.

That's me above, in front of the yurt at the Hollies, Co. Cork, back in 2005. Cob Cottage Company taught a 10-day cob workshop. We had our theory sessions in the yurt and helped build a tool shed and an outdoor social area for our practical experience.

linda smiley teaching at the hollies 2005   ianto evans teaching at the hollies 2005

Linda Smiley of Cob Cottage Company checks that our construction is plumb with one of our fellow students (left).

Anyone who has ever met Ianto Evans will recognise his rainbow braces. You can see our traditional cob wall in the background. We were working on a bale-cob wall in the foreground. After completing the course, we were absolutely convinced that we had to build our home this way.

yosemite   yosemite

It was only a matter of days after finishing the cob course when Colin finally proposed ... after 5 years. Mud has some pretty powerful properties......

A year later we were married and headed off to to the wilderness of Yosemite, en route to Oregon where we wanted to do more research into cob building. You know you have the bug pretty bad when you want to go looking at mud houses for your honeymoon.

colin ritchie in the heart house   feile butler in the heart house

First, we stopped off in Linda and Ianto's very beautiful and very tiny (120 sq. ft/11m²) Heart House. Linda and Ianto are very big on building just big enough.

If you have ever met them, you will know that they themselves are rather tiny, and they have built this little house around them - it fits them like a glove. If you have ever met us, you will know that we are rather tall. I love this photo of Colin in the Heart House kitchen.

feile and colin at the laughing house

Then we headed on to the School of Natural Building in Coquille to spend a wonderful time with Linda. She was right in the middle of building the Laughing House and it was great to be involved in the project and to meet some of the other natural builders passing through the site.

We got to stay in the Laughing House, a very special place and a little bit of our hearts will always be there.


We got back to Ireland, inspired and convinced that building a cob house was the way to go .... and confident that we really could do it.

By this stage, we were already living in a mobile home on our site. We took plenty of time to design the house ... this is something that should never be rushed. If you intend to live somewhere for the next 40 or 50 years, if you can ... try spending all 4 seasons exploring what your site has to offer before you finalise your design.

Planning permission was granted in February 2007. But it wasn't until one bright morning in September 2007, 3 weeks after our first baby was born, that we began to excavate the ground.

You can see a lot of our raw materials stockpiled in the photos: rocks, tree trunks, stone, timber, plywood, a bath .... and of course, earth. If you intend using salvaged materials on a build, make sure you have as many of them as possible before you start. For tips on salvaging building materials, click on this article.

  beginning on site
  excavating the ground for the mud and wood house

If you can see yourself starting off on a similar journey and are looking for some inspiration, come along to our free Open Day on Sunday, 8th February between 10:00am and 5:30pm. We will be giving tours and will also show footage of how we built the house and will be happy to answer any general questions you may have. So maybe see you here.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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The Mud and Wood House in the Snow

19th January 2015

snow in sligo

Looking Out to the Atlantic from the Foothills of the Ox Mountains

snow at the Mud and Wood House   snowman at the mud and wood house
snow at the Mud and Wood House  
    snowman at the mud and wood house
front of the mud and wood house in snow
mud and wood house in snow

As I write this, I am looking out at the Ox Mountains blanketed in white and, given the temperatures, there is a good chance that more snow will be on the way soon. Last week, we had enough snow to make decent snowmen (natural building of a different kind) and to take the slegdes out.

Is the house still toasty? Yes .... very.

Copyright 2015, Féile Butler - Mud and Wood


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New Natural Edge Wood Furniture by Colin Ritchie

12th January 2015

mantlepiece and shelves

shelf   shelf
Natural Edge Wood Elm Mantlepiece and Shelves
natural edge wood mantlepiece and shelves  

Before Christmas, Colin Ritchie was commissioned to create two separate natural edge wood installations for two separate clients. Both were for their living rooms.

The first (above and left) provided a mantlepiece and decorative shelving for the chimney breast. The second, (below) was the installation of a television unit with shelving above. As you can see, both houses are typical ... not "hobbity" or curvy at all ... but the warm, sculptural quality of the natural edge wood can add a beautiful and unique feature to the room.

Elm was used for both installations. Although this species of timber has been dying off for many years now as a result of Dutch elm disease, there are still many old, dead elm trees surviving in the area. Naturally, after a storm (and we get plenty of storms on the northwest coast) some of these trees are blown down. Colin has been collecting them for over a decade.

Elm is not that suitable for firewood. Its grain is very wavy and, therefore, very difficult to split into logs. It also does not burn as efficiently as some other species of wood. However, it is just that wavy grain that makes it ideal for the type of furniture that Colin makes.

shelves and television unit   shelves
Shelves and Television Unit
Detail of Shelves
television unit
Television Unit with Custom Designed Doors

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Happy New Year from Mud and Wood

Here's to mud in your eye for 2015!

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Building Limes Forum Ireland Hot Lime and Mud Mortar Workshop

5th January 2015

Last November, the Building Limes Forum Ireland organised a workshop exploring the characteristics and benefits of working with hot lime mixes. The course was taught by Pat McAfee, one of Ireland’s leading stonemasons and lime experts, and Nigel Copsey, one of England’s leading stonemasons and lime/earth mortar experts. While a lot of the day obviously focused on lime mortars, a session was devoted to mud mortars and plasters. Through their combined decades of experience both Pat and Nigel were aware that quicklime, rather than fat lime or lime putty, was a key ingredient in historic mortar mixes.

Hot lime mixes use lime when it is still in its quicklime state. It is highly reactive with water at this stage, so health and safety is always something to be aware of, particularly with regard to storage (obviously, it must be kept dry). When quicklime and water come in contact with each other, boiling point is reached very quickly. Before Nigel and Pat started experimenting with hot lime mixes, most conservation-style repairs were carried out with fat lime, also known as lime putty. With lime putty the quicklime has already been 'slaked', i.e. had water added to it and allowed to 'sour' over a period of months. The longer the lime putty is left to age, the better its quality.

Having surveyed old stone and mud mortar buildings myself, I have come across plenty of earth mortars peppered with small white malteser-like kernels. This was evidence that quicklime had been added to the mix. I had always wanted to find out more about this method of mixing, as one of the basic tenets of conservation work is to repair like with like. So I was delighted to hear about the workshop.

stone building with earth mortars
Stone Building with Earth Mortars
Quicklime Kernals in Earth Mortar

For the hot lime/mud mortar demonstration, Nigel and Pat first prepared the earth mortar by mixing the correct quantities of soil and sand together. Every soil sample will be different and the amount of sand you need to add will depend on the clay content of your soil.

Then they made a hot lime paste by mixing quicklime and water together. They added 5% quicklime by yield volume (the volume of mortar after the sand, clay and water had been mixed together). In their experience, anything much above that does not have any positive impact on the mix and can actually start to compromise it. The water was bubbling and the mix was steaming within seconds.

hot lime demo 1 hot lime demo 2 hot lime demo 3
Mixing Sand and Sub-Soil
Hot Lime Paste Being Added to the Mix
Note the Steam Rising from the Mix

After mixing it into a paste, it was added to the earth and sand mixture. Using a shovel, they beat it into the mortar. It was lukewarm to the touch after only a minute or so of mixing.

One of the major benefits of adding quicklime to an earth mortar or plaster is its effect on the ‘wetness’ of the mix. Earth mortars/plasters are mixed and applied close to their plastic limit. This helps to fully activate all of the clay within the mix; the clay is the binder, i.e. the sticky ingredient. It also helps with the ease of application. Your arm gets very tired trying to apply a stiff plaster mix.

As a rule of thumb, I am happy with my plaster mixes when they are ever-so-slightly jelly-ish on the hawk (mortar board) and I can see the thinnest line of a meniscus on the surface. Stronger people than me could probably get away with a slightly drier mix. So I was really interested to see that the addition of a quicklime paste to the earth mortar removed a lot of that wetness, without removing any of the workability. It was a lovely mix to work with.

hot lime demo 4 hot lime demo 5 hot lime demo 6
Starting to Mix in the Hot Lime
Beating the Earth-Hot Lime Mix
Mix is Less Watery but Still as Workable

From Nigel’s observations of historic buildings which have repaired using hot lime mixes, the anecdotal evidence is that these buildings dry out faster and remain drier than their counterparts which have been repaired with NHLs (natural hydraulic limes - which can be bought bagged from many builders' providers). There was also no leaching out of the lime, which can happen when lime putty is used. Drier walls equal improved thermal performance.

Nigel showed an interesting slide comparing the microscopic structure of a hot lime mix sample with that of a lime putty. The pores in the lime putty were wavy, sometimes compressed, sometimes more open. The pores in the hot lime mix were straight, with each pore being generally continuously open (not increasing and decreasing in width). This is obviously a clue as to why the buildings repaired with hot lime mixes appear to be drier. Whether this is the case for mud mortar was not discussed, but it is something we should keep in the back of our minds when we are surveying, specifying and carrying out repairs to such buildings.

Whatever about solid mud-wall buildings being invisible to most people in Ireland, stone buildings constructed using earth mortars seem to be even less acknowledged or understood. However, this form of construction is so common it is amazing to think that it has been largely forgotten and ignored for the past century or so. In fact, the last 4 cottages that I have surveyed all contained at least some earth mortars. Two of them were built using only earth mortars.


Both Nigel Copsey and Pat McAfee were in absolute agreement about one thing, the builders of yore did not choose earth as a construction material because of poverty or lack of alternatives. Earth was specifically chosen because of its many excellent construction properties. In an industry that is striving to find to ways to be more sustainable, maybe sometimes we should try looking to the past to embrace the wisdom of our predecessors, rather than always looking beyond the horizon for the next big thing.


























































































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2015 Workshop Timetable is Here!

8th December 2014

It's up! Our timetable for 2015 is now live and we are taking bookings for next year's courses.

First up, our annual FREE Open Day will take place on Sunday, 8th February. All throughout the day there will be tours of the house, looking at how we designed and built it, and also talks with video footage of the construction of the house. So stop in for a cup of tea and some bickies and find out how you can turn the Grand Designs dream into a reality.

and our new course in garden landscaping using earth, stone and timber ......

There is something for everyone. If you just want to get the feel for working with mud, consider the 1-Day Introduction to Cob Course, the Cob Oven Course or the Mud Sculpting Course.

If you want to concentrate on refreshing the interior of your home, the Natural Edge Wood Course or the Earth Plasters and Natural Paints Course might be the course for you.

If you really want to get to grips with building with cob and other natural materials on a large scale, then the 4-Day Payhouses, Sheds and Garden Walls or the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course will fit the bill.

And if you want to consider the design of your home or your garden, check out the Design Course and the Natural Landscaping Course.

2015 Mud and Wood Timetable

design course
cob oven course
natural edge wood course
earth plastering
cob playhouse
1-day cob course
9-day cob course
mud sculpting course
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Vote for Us in the Save Our Planet Awards

20th November 2014

We have been very quiet recently - we had a great design course, a workshop with the Letterkenny Architectural Technology students, a trip to Scotland and the joy of doing our tax returns. We have been visiting some sites with the potential to turn into some great design projects, as well as starting on a lovely design project involving a clay mortar building. So lots has been going on and we do intend to tell you all about it. But for now, we are asking for your votes.

Click Here to Vote

workshop at mud and wood

Click Here to Vote

We are in the Raising Awareness, Education and Campaigning Category of the Save Our Planet Awards. This is what we have been up to since the last awards:

1 Free Open Day - providing lots of information on environmentally responsible sustainable building

8 Workshops at the Mud and Wood House - teaching people how to design and build using environmentally-friendly materials

6 Private Workshops - collaborating with a wide diversity of groups to edcuate about sustainable construction. Sligo Grammar School, Ballina Community Garden - Mayo, Donnybrook Heritage Garden - Dublin, Carraig Dulra Permaculture Edcuation Centre -Wicklow, Doras Bui Lone Parent Group - Dublin, Letterkenny IT Architectural Technology Students. 

1 Mentoring Service - to Scottish Earth Builder, Becky Little 

5 Conferences/Trade Shows - running workshops, disseminating information and giving talks - The Big Upcycle - Dublin, Selfbuild - Dublin (x2), Earth Building UK Conference - Norfolk, UK, Improve Your Home - Belfast.

1 Directorship - of Earth Building UK - helping to develop national standards for earth building and assisting in developing training programmes for accredited national qualifications

2 Submissions to Public Consultations on National Energy Efficiency Policy

What do you reckon? Are we worth a vote?



































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Patrick's Cob Playhouse

9th October 2014

We had a really brilliant bunch on our 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course during the summer. They were all pretty eager to put what they learned into practice. So we were really delighted when one of our participants, Patrick, sent us photos of the cob playhouse he and his three children built in the back garden. This project highlights three of my favourite aspects about working with cob:

  1. The material is free. With a bit of hard work, Patrick was able to build a wonderful playhouse for his kids for a fraction of the cost of a shop-bought plastic version.
  2. The playhouse is unique and full of personality.
  3. His kids were able to help. Cob is suitable for all strengths and abilities.
cob playhouse   cob playhouse

Jim's Restoration Project

9th October 2014

We ran a 1-Day Introduction to Cob Course in August. One of the people who attended the course was Jim, who owns a family farm with an original mud-wall (cob) cottage and outbuildings. One of the buildings had a collapsed cob wall and the planners in Limerick County Council had asked Jim to investigate whether or not the wall could be repaired. In doing so, he came across Mud and Wood and came on a one day training course.

The Heritage Council provide grants for the conservation and repair of traditional farm buildings. Click here for more information on the grants. Jim was able to avail of this help. Having spoke to the Heritage Council officer, she was delighted to hear that Jim had undergone some training with us. When owners understand the materials used in the construction of their own buildings and when they know how to carry out the repairs themselves, the buildings have a much better chance of surviving into the future.

Here is a picture of the wall re-built. We are really impressed with Jim's work. We have talked to him since to advise him to get gutters on to the building as soon as possible, as sheets of water pouring off the roof will not do fresh cob any favours. He is already on the case.


Mud and Wood in The Irish Property Guides

9th October 2014

There is lovely article on Mud and Wood in the Autumn edition of The Irish Property Guides. Check us out on page 27.

irish property guide   irish property guide

Natural Edge Wood Course Last Weekend

9th October 2014

Colin Ritchie ran his Natural Edge Wood Course last weekend. Click here to read some of the testimonials from the course. It was the first all-male course that we have run at Mud and Wood. Everyone got stuck in, making stools (which teaches you the skills you need to make a table) and shelves, as well as getting loads of insider tips for making projects run smoothly.

natural edge wood course   natural edge wood course



natural edge wood course   natural edge wood course

Last Chance to Book for Weekend Design Course 18-19 October

9th October 2014

This is the last chance to book for the Weekend Design Course which will be running on the 18 - 19 October. This will be the last public workshop of the year (although we are currently lining up some interesting private workshops for the next few weeks/months - contact us if you have any ideas for your group).


Improve Your Home Show in Belfast this Weekend

9th October 2014

Come and see us at Stand A4 in the Kings Halls, Belfast this weeked (11-12 October) at the Improve Your Home Show.





























































































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Come and Visit Us at the Improve Your Home Show, Belfast: 11-12 October

29th September 2014

If you missed us at the Self-Build Show in Dublin earlier this month, there will be another chance to meet us at the Improve Your Home Show at the King's Hall Pavilions, Belfast on the 11th and 12th October.

We will be running informal mud-sculpting workshops throughout the weekend, so drop by and unleash your creative side! We will have plenty of information on using earth as a building material - for carrying out repairs to historic mud-wall buildings and for use in contemporary construction. You might like to consider earth-based plasters and paints for your home, as they are ideal finishes for all types of construction and can improve your comfort levels, indoor air quality and acoustics. Come and talk to us if you would like to find out more.

We will also have a range of natural edge wood furniture with us, including beds, fireplace surrounds, shelves, tables and chairs. All of the pieces have made from hand-selected timber from our collection of native trees. All of the timber has been sourced locally and started out as windfall trees (trees blown over in storms). We have been collecting the trunks for 10 years, getting them milled into different thicknesses and allowing them to season naturally on our site. What timber we have in stock depends on what timber is at the right stage of this natural process. Because of Dutch elm disease, we tend to have a lot of elm which is a beautiful, grainy timber with a rich, warm hue. Over the years, we have also had supplies of oak, beech, ash, sweet chestnut and cedar.

If you would like to learn more about the process of sourcing and working with natural edge wood, Colin Ritchie is running a course next weekend (4-5 October). There are still places available. Click here to find out more or to book your place.

stand at self-build dublin   stand at selfbuild dublin   stand at self-build dublin

Thanks to Everyone Who Came to Say Hello at the Self-Build Show, Dublin

29th September 2014

We want to say a big thank you to all of you who came to say hello to us at our stand at the Self-Build Show in Citywest, Dublin. The stand was busy from the very start and we were delighted that there were so many kids who wanted to get stuck in and try some mud-sculpting for themselves. They did a great job.

As always, after attending these events, we get a very strong sense that there are plenty of people out there looking for an alternative to the conventional concept of building. They might be driven by an environmental consciousness, or a wish to be as involved as possible in the provision of shelter for themselves and their families, or for health or community reasons ... but there is no doubt that the desire to build using low-impact, locally sourced, environmentally-friendly, healthy, natural building materials is growing in this country.

If we can be of any assistance to help you to achieve that dream, don't forget that you can always contact us to run your ideas past us. We would love to help.

natural edge wood course   natural edge wood course   natural edge wood course   natural edge wood course

Natural Edge Wood Course: 4 - 5 October

29th September 2014

This is your last chance to book for the Natural Edge Wood Course which will be running this weekend at the Mud and Wood House. Colin Ritchie, apprenticed as a carpenter by his father, will take you step-by-step through finding suitable tree trunks, how to remove the trunks from forests or fields, how to decide what thicknesses to get them milled, where to get them milled and tricks of the trade to turn your seasoned slabs into stunning, unique furniture. On the course, you will make your own natural edge wood shelf and stool.

Click here for more information and to book your place on the Weekend Natural Edge Wood Course.

design course model   design course model   design course model

Design Course: 18 - 19 October

29th September 2014

It's the last course of the year, aawwww ...... but it's been a great year. So, if you want to come along to the Mud and Wood House and get to grips with the subject of designing your new extension, renovation or home, this is the course for you. This course does not focus on natural building, but on all house types.

Féile Butler, registered architect, will lead you through all of the issues that have a real impact on design: sites, light, climate, budget, materials, services .... and most importantly ...... YOU! She will also look at the planning process in Ireland (and how to talk to planners) and the new building control system. On the second day, you will get to make a model of your dream home, exploring some of the new concepts you will have absorbed over the weekend. We are always blown away by our practicpants' creations.

Click here for more information and to book your place on the Weekend Design Course.























































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Visit Us at the Dublin Self-Build Show this Weekend: 12th-14th September

8th September 2014

We're getting ready for the Self-Build Show at Citywest, Dublin this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday is limited to building professionals only. The show is open to the general public on Saturday and Sunday. We will have a large stand (W14) close to the café. To get your free tickets, click on this link and use the promotional code MUD.

On the 'Mud' side of things, you can try your hand at mud-sculpting as we will have an ongoing workshop throughout the weekend. We will also have lots of information about contemporary natural building and the historic cob buildings of Ireland. On the 'Wood' side of things, we will have lots of new natural edge wood furniture on display including a dining table, a coffee table, shelving, a fireplace mantlepiece and surround, and an elevated child's bed with desk and chair.

We will also be taking bookings for our final 3 courses for 2014: Natural Edge Wood, Earth Plastering and Natural Paints, and Design. If you visit us at our stand at the Self-Build Show and get our selfbuild promotional code, you will be eligible for a 10% discount off any 2014 course.

Ts and Cs apply:
1. Name and contact details must be supplied to Colin or Féile at the Mud and Wood stand.
2. Course must be booked and paid for by 12 midnight on Tuesday 16th September.
3. Selfbuild promotional code must be used in booking.
4. If multiple courses are being booked by one participant, discount applies to cheapest course only.

Time to Book for our October Courses

8th September 2014

We have a packed programme for October, starting with .........

fixing natural edge wood shelf   colin heling fix shelves   natural edge wood shelf

Natural Edge Wood Course: 4th and 5th October
This is the 4th time Colin Ritchie will be running this woodworking course. He will take participants step by step through all the practicalities of accessing raw timber, milling it, seasoning it and finally turning it into bespoke and unique furniture. Some basic experience with hand tools (saws, screwdrivers, hammers) is helpful, but not absolutely necessary. For more information on this course or to book your place, please click here.

base plaster   finish plaster   natural paint

Earth Plastering and Natural Paints Course: 11th and 12th October
There is no feeling better than making your own building materials out of natural, free or cheap ingredients from your garden and kitchen. Earth plasters are a natural, healthy, home-made alternative to gypsum plasters. They can be applied to any wall surface, including plasterboard and concrete block. Being fully breathable, they are ideal for stone walls. As well as looking at plasters, we will also look at some recipes for clay- and milk-based paints. No previous building experience is necessary. For more information or to book your place, please click here.

design model   design course   design model

Weekend Design Course: 18th and 19th October
This is still our most popular course, running for the 7th time. This course is ideal for anyone at the start of the design process, whether you are planning to renovate an existing property, extend your home or embark on a new-build project. This course is not just for would-be natural builders, but anyone interested in playing a central, active role in the design (or re-design) of their own home. Architect Féile Butler will look at topics such as site and light, materials, heating options, budget, how to talk to planners, how to navigate the new building control regulations, how to prepare for the future (as much as it is possible) and how to put yourself at the heart of your design. And after all that ... there will be time to make a model incorporating some of these new concepts. For more information or to book your place, please click here.

So hopefully we will get to meet you in Dublin or at the Mud and Wood House over the next few weeks.
















































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What is the Right Plaster for Cob?

20th August 2014

We were contacted recently by someone who was concerned about an article he had read on about the incompatibility of combining earth and lime plasters on external straw bale walls and how they were likely to fail. He wondered if we had any thoughts on the article. Click here to read the article.

To begin with, here are some basics about plasterwork. Internal plaster is simply known as plaster. External plaster is known as render (or stucco in the U.S.). Plasters and renders are built up in a number of layers or coats. With straw bale, an optional stipple coat can be applied initially - this is not a full coat of plaster/render and its purpose is to provide "key" or grip for subsequent coats. The next layer or coat is the base coat, also known as the scratch coat. Following that is the straightening coat (not always required - it will depend on how even the wall is and what the desired finish is) and finally the finish coat.

Initially the article deals with the incompatibility of earth and lime plasters used together. A common mistake that the author, Andrew Morison, comes across is people using an earth render for their base coat (scratch coat) and their straightening coat, and then using lime for the final coat because they perceive that it is more durable than earth. They think that this will provide increased protection for their building.

The problem is that lime renders are stronger than earth renders. Whenever there is a build-up of materials in construction, the rule is that each subsequent layer should be weaker than the previous. Natural materials micro-move - they settle, they expand and contract, they can react to changes in their environment. This is one of their assets. However, the weaker the material, the more it will move. As Morison states, "If the weaker plaster beneath a strong lime finish coat can move more than the finish coat, you will ultimately get delamination between the two coats which will lead to eventual plaster failure."

  cement render delaminating from cob wall

This cob wall had a cement render applied to it, a material that cannot micro-move and that is much stronger than the cob behind it. The cob would have experienced micro movements over the decades since the cement was applied in the fifties. The cement render was rigid and so delamination occured. The exposure of the cob, rigidly bound by impermeable cement means that all of the problems in this section of cob are now being exacerbated. This wall could deteriorate very quickly if the problem is not addressed effectively.

So what is the answer in this situation? The answer is to use compatible plasters and renders that are progressively weaker (or, at the very least, not stronger) for each subsequent coat. Earth plasters should be finished with an earth plaster. If you feel that earth is not suitable for the job (and in Ireland it is far too wet to ever recommend external earth renders), then lime render should be used. However, bearing in mind the maxim that materials should bet progressively weaker as they are added layer upon layer, the choice of the correct render for soft substrates such as straw bales and cob is critical. More on that below.

The second issue around plaster failures is that of moisture getting trapped within the structural wall itself. No matter what the construction, build-up of moisture in the structure only leads to problems. At the very least, a wet wall will lead to deterioration of the decoration (e.g. bubbling paintwork). At the other end of the scale, the problems can be much more significant. For materials like concrete, toxic mould can form. For materials such as straw bale and timber, rot can result. For earthen materials, an excessive build up of moisture can lead to collapse. Looking at a damp straw bale structure versus a damp cob structure, my feeling is that the straw bale wall will succumb to rot quicker than the cob wall will suffer collapse. However, the timing is not really the issue here, the final outcome is.

  bubbling plasterwork

Paintwork bubbling and flaking off a permanently damp wall.

Just as each subsequent layer should be weaker than the material that is supporting it, there is also a rule about increasing permeability in construction. What is permeability or vapour permeability to be precise? When water is in its gas-state it is known as vapour. We create a lot of water vapour within our homes on a daily basis: bathing, cooking, boiling the kettle, even exhaling. Some of this vapour will enter the walls and roofs of our homes. Different materials have different abilities to transfer water vapour through their bodies. The easier it is for water vapour to move through a material, the more permeable that material is.

Generally, outside is colder than inside and so our vapour-laden warm air travels through the construction materials from the inside to the outside. We want to encourage that movement (this is not to be confused with issues of air-tightness and ventilation, where we are trying to control the loss of heat via convection). Warm, moisture-laden air that is slowed down or retained within a structure can cool down, leading to condensation and leading to problems such as mould, damp and rot. So, good building practice dictates that where multilpe layers of construction materials are concerned, each layer/material should be more vapour-permeable the closer it is to the exterior (or to a well ventilated space).

In general, lime renders tend to be less vapour-permeable than earth plasters. Therefore, a situation can arise where more moisture can get into the wall from inside the house (breathing, showering, cooking, etc.), but less moisture is able to make its way out at the external surface.

In his article, Morison states the simple solution. Use a more permeable render on the external face of your wall. I also like his idea that you can use the same material for the plaster and the render, but you simply have a greater thickness internally so that this slows down the passage of vapour into the wall.

Of course, Morison is talking about straw bale walls. The situation is slightly different with cob walls. For starters, cob (and particularly the clay component of cob) has a pretty special and complex relationship with water vapour. Cob is brilliant at absorbing and releasing this vapour and it can move it back and forth within its massive width (usually 600mm wide) depending on what is happening in the external environment (is it raining, is it windy, is it dry?) relative to the internal enviroment (are the potatoes on the boil, is someone in the shower, is the house full of people?). 600mm wide cob walls provide a huge reservoir for vapour.

However, the principles of applying weaker plasters and renders to the cob and of having more vapour-permeable external finishes is an important one. In my conservation work with old cottages and outbuildings, one of the most common causes for the deterioration and structural failure of old cob walls is leaking roofs combined with the application of cement renders - often carried out under the well-meaning but misguided belief that the strength of the cement is beneficial for the building. Cement is too rigid, it cannot move, it is too strong and it is impermeable. If a roof is not maintained and water can freely enter the cob wall, the cement render means that that water can never get out. When the moisture build-up in a cob wall reaches a critical level, collapse is inevitable. In contrast, I have surveyed Irish cob houses between 200 and 300 years old where the walls were in near-perfect condition because soft, permeable renders were applied and maintained over the centuries.   collapsed wall
A huge section of this cob gable wall has collapsed. As well as incompatible repair materials such as concrete blocks, the light grey-brown material on the right hand upper two thirds of the wall is actually the inside face of the cement render. The cob literally fell away from the render, which is now holding up the roof - i.e. acting structurally - a good indication of how this material is far too strong to be used on cob.

We have adressed the idea of compatibility from a strength and a vapour-premeability point of view. Obvioiusly earth plasters are absolutely compatible with cob walls; they are essentially the same the material. What about lime? At the moment, many conservation practitioners say that NHL 2.0, the softest natural hydraulic lime, is suitable for cob walls. I do not agree.

There are 3 types of NHL and the numbers refer to the compressive strength they reach after 28 days. So NHL 2.0 reaches a strength of 2N/mm² after 28 days. NHL 3.5 reaches a strength of 3.5N/mm² after 28 days. NHL 5.0 reaches a strength of 5N/mm² after 28 days. But actually, this isn't the case. The official classification of NHL 2.0 covers a range of strengths varying from 2N/mm² to somewhere between 5 and 7N/mm² after 28 days. What happens after 28 days?

Research by Nigel Copsey, a lime and mud mortar expert in the UK, has shown that after 2 months, an NHL can double its strength. After 1 year, it can have doubled again and this process can continue up to 2 years, doubling in strength again. So, after careful research, you may decide to apply NHL 2.0 to your earth wall, the softest natural hydraulic lime available. But you could have a batch that will reach 7N/mm² after 28 days. There is no way of knowing. After another month it could be 14N/mm². By the end of the year it could be 28N/mm² and after another year if could be 56N/mm². Does this actually matter? Well - what is the compressive strength of a cob wall?

0.6 - 1.4N/mm² (source: Earth Building by Laurence Keefe).

The reality could be that within a year or two, the NHL "2.0" render has become much too strong and has reduced its vapour permeability to such a degree that it is no longer compatible with the wall beneath. In fact, it probably could be causing damage to the earthen wall.

Is any lime compatible with earth walls?

We believe that fat lime or lime putty is compatible. For centuries, Irish people limewashed their mud walls, adding layer upon layer year after year. This photo was taken at a cob cottage in Co. Kildare dating from the early 1800s. Lime putty has a compressive strength somewhere between 0.58 and 1.32N/mm² (source: An Assessment of Lime Mortars for Masonry Repair by S. Pavia, B. Fitzgerald and E. Treacy).

We use a lime-putty based product by Hempire, which also has hemp fibres distributed through it. We believe that these fibres help to wick moisture out of the render (just as the straw does in cob) and also help to improve the permeability and flexibility of the render coats.

On the Mud and Wood House the hemp-lime render is now over 4 years old and has been performing beautifully so far. We could do with adding a few more coats of our pigmented limewash though! We only ever got one full coat on, so it would be good to add another few coats some time soon. The rule of the thumb is that every coat of limewash will buy you another year maintenance-free.

  build up of layers of limewash

Years and years of layers of limewash on cob wall.

If you would like to find out more about the subject of earthen plasters, we will be running a course on the 6th and 7th September. Click here to book your place or to find out more. You will learn how to make your own plasters from scratch, what the different components are, how to improve the performance of your plaster and what to do if it seems to be going wrong. We will also look at making natural clay- and milk-based paints.

Because earthen plasters are the weakest, most permeable material, they are suitable for all types of construction, whether you live in a concrete box or are surrounded by plasterboard. They can soften the appearance of a room, improve acoustics and can help to regulate humidity spikes and improve indoor air quality. Who knew a layer of mud could be so transformative?

Click here for more information on the Weekend Earth Plasters and Natural Paints Course.





































































































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NEW 1-Day Introduction to Cob Course: 01 August 2014

18th July 2014

We're delighted to announce that we have added a new 1-Day Introduction to Cob Course to our list of courses. Come and join us for the first day of the Cob Garden Structures Course and learn how to identify suitable soil for building, how to modifiy the soil if it is not quite right and foot-mix and hand-build the traditional way. The day will also include a tour of the Mud and Wood House. Please note that this 1-day course takes place on a Friday.

Click here for more information or to book your place.

Who knows, you may decide to stay on for the 4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course?


4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course: 01 - 04 August (inclusive)

We are taking bookings for the 4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course which will run over the August Bank Holiday Weekend, starting on the Friday. Some of skills we will be covering include soil testing, foot mixing and hand-building with cob; building stone walls; sculpting with cob and learning how to roof small buildings (playhouses, sheds, etc.) and individual walls.

Click here for more information or to book your place.













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Some of Our Recent Workshops

17th July 2014

We finished our 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course last Sunday. We had a really brilliant group this year - loads of energy and enthusiasm and loads of great ideas for future projects. We have definitely not heard the last of that lot. We will be writing about it in more detail soon. If you can't wait that long, you can follow their progress day by day on

Besides that, we have been really busy (which is why the website has been a bit quiet of late) running courses among other things. So take a look at what we have been up to:


Cob Oven Course - Dublin: 24-25 May

We teamed up with the Heritage Walled Garden in Donnybrook to run a cob oven course at the end of May. We think this was the first open-to-the-public cob course in the capital city. There was a team of seven to take on the task, including Mud and Wood's Colin Ritchie. For this course, he made a pre-cut, ready-to-assemble wooden base rather than building the oven on the typical stone base. Beginning with soil sampling and foot mixing, the crew mixed batches of cob, prepared the base with sand and insulation, formed the sand mould and cobbed the oven in layers. Although they didn't quite manage to complete the oven over the weekend (building the base added time to the project), some of the course participants got together a few weekends later to put the finishing touches to their handiwork. Thanks to Seamo for his photos!

cob oven dublin   cob oven dublin   cob oven dublin
Finishing off the Wooden Base
Testing a Batch of Cob for Strength
Adding Insulation
cob oven dublin   cob oven dublin   cob oven dublin
Building Up the Oven
Forming the Shape with Sand
The Second Layer of Cob is Complete

Mud Sculpting: 14 - 15 June

We had a small group for our mud sculpting course, but that didn't stop us getting plenty of work done. On this course, we looked at working with mud on a small scale with bas-relief style work on wall and also on a larger scale, learning how to form arches and openings to allow for lots of creative possibilities. We made good progress with our garden snake sculpture, which will eventually be covered in mosaic. The protection of outdoor cob sculptures with the right type of lime plaster was also a key component. As you can see, working with mud is suitable for all ages - with our three year old daughter lending a hand (or a foot).

mud sculpting course   mud sculpting course   mud sculpting course
Testing Soil Samples
Sieving Soil for Fine Cob Work
Mixing Sculpting-Cob
mud sculpting course   mud sculpting course   mud sculpting course
Getting Creative with Mud
The Garden Snake Sculpture
Mixing Lime Plaster

Cob Oven with Ballina Community Garden Group: 18 and 27 June

Over 2 weeks, Mud and Wood was involved with a really interesting group in Co. Mayo, consisting of retirees and members of Ballina's Burmese community. Looking at our three year old daughter above and our senior participants below, it is great to see that mud is a material that really is suitable for all ages and all skill levels. There are not too many building materials that can span the generations so effectively. This group made great progress, taking their cob oven to the next level by providing a timber-roofed shelter.

ballina cob oven   ballina cob oven   ballina cob oven
Doing the Cob Mixing Dance
Building Up the Sand Mould
Finshing Off the Base Layer of Cob
ballina cob oven   ballina cob oven   ballina cob oven
Finishing Off the Second Layer of Cob
Putting the Roof Together
The Roof Crew
ballina cob oven
The Full Team


What's Coming Up Next? ..... 4-Day Garden Structures and Weekend Mud Sculpting

We have 2 courses lined up for August:

4-Day Cob Garden Structure Course, 01-04 August (inclusive):
Learn to build stone wall bases and large cob walls. Learn how to roof them too. Click here to book your place.

Dublin Weekend Mud Sculpting Course, 23-24 August:
Learn to sculpt with mud and help to create a tree sculpture on the car park wall of the Heritage Walled Garden, Donnybrook, D4. Click here to book your place.

Maybe we'll see you on one of those dates!



























































































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What Will We Be Teaching on the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, 5th - 13th July?

19th June 2014

We have recently run our Cob Oven Course in Dublin and our Mud-Sculpting Course at the Mud and Wood House. We are also currently running a cob oven workshop for a community garden group in Ballina, Co. Mayo, with another one in the pipeline for Coolock in August. We will be writing about them in the very near future, but for now we need to focus on the BIG ONE.

It's just over two weeks until the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course. There are still places available. If you are not sure if this is the course for you, take a look at what we will teaching over 9 very jam-packed days:

soil sampling   foot mixing   hand building with cob

Day 1 is all about soil testing...



foot mixing cob...



and hand building


setting out   making formwork   digger mixing cob

Set out a building on Day 2 ...



and learn to make formwork.



Day 3 covers digger mixing....


cobbing with formwork   plinth wall   more theory

foundations, ground floors & more cobbing.



Build a plinth wall on Day 4 ...



and learn how to insulate cob.


timber frame wall   model making   more cobbing

Day 5 is all about timber frame.



Make a design model on Day 6..



... tackle some more cobbing....


mud sculpting   beams and joists   theory in the classroom

and learn to sculpt with mud.



Make beams and joists on Day 7



and each day there will be theory classes too.


roofs   earth plastering   natural edge wood shelves

Build a pitched roof on Day 8.


Day 9 will cover plastering ...


.. and natural edge woodwork.

There will plenty of laughs, good food and the odd social night too. At the end of it all, you will probably be exhausted but satisfied (it's not called "intensive" for nothing) and you will have a really good grounding in what is involved in building a natural home in 2014.

Maybe we will see you here on the 5th!

To book your place click here.


Join us for the First Day Only of the 9-Day Course: An Introduction to Cob - 5th July 2014

19th June 2014

The first day of the 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course is all about cob. What is it? How do you know you have the right mix? How do you mix it? How do you build with it?

If you would like a taster of building with cob without committing to a long course, then this may be right up your street.

Click here to book your place on the Introduction to Cob Course on the 5th July.








































































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Hard Landscaping and Outdoor Spaces by Mud and Wood

28th May 2014

At Mud and Wood not only do we like to take on natural building at a big scale (e.g. The Mud and Wood House) or at a small scale (e.g. natural edge wood furniture, cob ovens and the like), we also love those projects that fit somewhere in between.

There is a principle in design known as the "outdoor room". As humans, we are not fully comfortable in wide open spaces. For an outdoor area to be successful, we like to have something solid at our backs, we like to have some sense of enclosure and we like to have to something to focus on in front of us - this could be a distant view, a nearby tree or a manmade feature, such as a fireplace. Courtyards and town squares are most successful when they achieve this sense of containment. You can scale down this concept and adapt it for your home.

The outdoor room is also a great way to expand your sense of space from within your house. If you live in a small home with small rooms and you do not have the money or inclination to gut the whole building to "open it up", you can help those rooms feel larger by creating a defined space outside the window or patio doors. Your eye will be drawn beyond the limit of the glass and will focus on the edge of the outdoor room. Hey presto - a sense of more space without demolishing a single brick!

A great way to breathe new life into any garden is to define areas which are conducive to hanging out. In Ireland, building an outdoor fireplace into one of these areas is an even better way to encourage you out of your house and into the fresh air. It is amazing how the addition of a fireplace to a patio area will give you a great feature and focal point in your garden - who doesn't love to gaze in to a fire; if properly positioned it can act as a shelter from the wind and naturally, the heat from the fire means you can spend more time outdoors in comfort.

Colin Ritchie, of Mud and Wood, recently completed this outdoor entertainment area for musician and producer, Nick Seymour of Crowded House. Colin had been involved in the conversion of a little stone building in the garden into a hangout den. Nick wanted to expand the space and, being Aussie, wanted to be able to spend plenty of time outdoors without freezing his butt off. Part of the brief was that the area should look ancient, as if it had grown naturally from the site. Using seating, the fireplace and raised flower beds, Colin was able to define a "room" without actually closing it off from the rest of the garden. The family are delighted with the result.

outdoor space outdoor space detail of outdoor space

The Outdoor Room

Nick Seymour of Crowded House enjoying his Outdoor Entertainment Area

Detail of Stonework

Last year, Colin headed up to the Happy Glamping campsite in Co. Donegal. Again, recognising that we do not live in the driest and sunniest of climates, the owner wanted a sheltered area where her campers could gather. There is a fire pit in the gazebo, so the glamorous campers can enjoy a sing-song around the fire and still enjoy being outdoors without getting saturated and miserable. You wouldn't want to ruin those Yves St. Laurent thermals or Louboutin wellies, now would you!

Thinking about the concept of having something solid at your back, the split-level garden is a great opportunity to create a hang-out area at the lower level (provided it is facing into the sun). The stone retaining walls, log bench and stone steps give great character and definition to this outdoor space.

glamping communal area stone steps

Communal Sheltered Fire-Pit at Happy Glamping

Split-Level Garden: Stone Retaining Wall and Stone & Gravel Steps

The Mud and Wood House sits on half an acre. It is not a huge site, but it was still far too "open-plan" for our liking. The whole garden has been divided up into a series of outdoor rooms, with different themes going on in different areas - to be enjoyed at different times of the day, depending on where the sun (or shelter) is. Much of it is still a work in progress. However, here are two areas which are well on the way to completion.

The little lawn is directly across from the front door of the house. The raised beds provide great protection from the wind, so it is an ideal spot for impromptu picnics and sheltered sun bathing. The stone fireplace and patio tie together the larger entertainment area. The timber structure on the left houses the kids' sandpit and will soon be covered with a grass roof. A pizza oven will also be added to this area. As with most materials in the Mud and Wood House, most of what was used to build this area was salvaged or picked up locally. The flagstones came from a pub across the mountain. All of the timber was milled from local windfall trees. The large "ent", to the right of the stonework, came from a nearby field. An elm, it had died a long time ago and the core was completely rotten. With its sinewy trunk and crazy burls, it provides a perfect end-piece to the design.

lawn area fireplace area

Raised Beds and Lawn Area at the Mud and Wood House

Outdoor Fireplace and Patio at the Mud and Wood House

outdoor fireplace outdoor fireplace

A Combination of Stone, Flagstones, Natural Edge Wood, Tree Trunks and Even Some Cob!

If you would like to create an outdoor room for your home, contact Colin at or on (806) 809 4241. And if you are at Bloom this bank holiday weekend, keep an eye for him. He will be handing out flyers and checking out all that is going on in the world of gardens.









































































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Cob Oven Course in Dublin: 24 - 25 May

12th May 2014

Just a reminder that we will be running a cob oven workshop in the Heritage Walled Garden in Dublin on the 24 - 25 May. Places are still available.

If you would like to help us spread the word, please click here or on the image below for a printable version of the poster and stick it up in your local shop, cafe or pub.

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Consultancy on Repairs to Pre-1838 Cob Cottage

25th April 2014

Last year, received a call from Sergiy Ksenych who had planning permission to extend his cottage near Athy. It was subsequently discovered that most of the cottage was built with cob. The earliest maps for the area date from 1838 and the cottage appears on those maps. However, there is no way of knowing how old the building actually is. The roof of the cottage had burned down in a recent fire, but the walls still remained largely intact.

Colin and I headed down to the site to have a look at the existing situation and to advise Sergiy on how to carry out the repairs properly. We were delighted that he wanted to be very hands on and that he wanted to learn a lot about the material and how to work with it correctly. Seeing the state of the pictures below, many people would have thought that the only solution was to knock the cottage. On the contrary, using the original material which had crumbled from the walls, Sergiy and his father are rebuilding the cottage using conservation techniques, preserving ancient skills and building in a truly sustainable way. We hope that more of you out there will be inspired by Sergiy's achievement.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cob cottage   foxhill cottage

The condition of the cob cottage when Mud and Wood arrived on site.


The cottage had gone on fire and the roof was lost. Sergiy had removed the render.


The view at the rear of the cottage, with only the cob walls remaining standing.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

The internal cross walls were made of cob too.


Common issues with historic cob walls - pitting, cracks and erosion.

Cement render spalling off gable external corner

Base of wall internal corner undermined.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

Despite the fact that the walls date from pre-1838, the straw in the cob is still intact, bright and golden. This phenomenon is repeated in historic cob throughout the world


The walls were limewashed year after year. The build up layers of lime is clearly discernable.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

Existing 180+ year old timber window can be refurbished - not an option with PVC!


Formwork used to rebuild large sections of cob. The original material was re-used.


Dead men are buried in the cob to hold down the wall plate.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

The fresh cob is packed up to the top of the formwork. Note the deadmen ties.


The formwork is removed. The cob wall is complete up to wall plate height.


Fresh cob shrinks. Later, the wall will be pared back plumb with the original face.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

This corner had been seriously compromised with concrete 'repairs'.


The offending concrete was chipped off, revealing a large vertical corner crack.

The crack is opened out to prepare for stitching.
foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

Cob blocks are made to repair the corner crack.


The cob blocks stich the two walls together.


All of the cob walls have been repaired at this point with mass cob or cob blocks.


The gable wall following repairs.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

The wall plate is tied on to the cob wall. Note that no dpc is used.


The front elevation of the cottage with wall plates in situ.


The roof trusses are supported off the wall plates.

foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage   foxhill cottage

Purlins (the horizontal timbers) are added to the roof.


Breather paper and support battens are added. The building is now water-tight.


Corrugated metal sheeting is fixed to the roof.

On site, we were able to carry out soil tests. Because Sergiy was using the orginal material to rebuild the cottage, the mix was spot on. This may not always be the case however. On a very exposed site or (in the case of a fire) the fire-fighters have been very enthusiastic, the clay content may sometimes get washed out of the cob mix.

Sergiy had presumed there was no straw in the mix. Often, the original straw will have rotted away up to a depth of 18 - 25mm, the area of historic cob that is frequently wetted. However, breaking away external cob will usually reveal plenty of straw in the material and it is almost always in perfect condition. This has been noted by many earth building experts from all parts of the world and through time.

The cottage displayed many typical signs of cob dereliction - from small pits in the surface of the cob to large cracks. Different issues require different solutions, but all can be repaired using cob. The worst thing that anyone can do in an attempt to repair a cob building is introduce concrete or cement to the equation. Cement and concrete are rigid, extremely strong and impermeable. Cob micro-moves, is soft (although extremely durable) and premeable. On Sergiy's cottage, the worst damage was to the gable corner, which had to be completely dismantled and rebuilt again (with interlocking cob blocks), thanks to a series of well-meaning but incredibly destructive concrete repairs.

Sergiy is now turning his attention to the out-buildings, some of which are also built with cob. To follow his blog, you can log on to

We were able to provide consultation to Sergiy over the phone and via email, which proved a cost effective way for him to get sound advice without blowing his budget.If you would like any advice on the repair of any cob walls under your care, contact Colin or myself to arrange for a site visit and we can take it from there.

Remember, inappropriate repairs will only cause far more damage to a historic cob building in the long run (and even in the short term). Please seek professional advice before embarking on any kind of cob restoration project.



























































































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Féile on the Ray D'Arcy Show on Today FM

23rd April 2014

I was interviewed on the Ray D'Arcy Show today as part of a panel of extreme DIY enthusiasts. Ray was on holidays, so Anton Savage was standing in and is, apparently, a bit of a DIY aficionado himself. I shared the panel with Emma, who was heavily pregnant with her second and took nesting to the extreme with her first, when she decided to upholster a couch at 41 weeks. Feidhlim was also on the panel, who has basically ripped his own home apart and rebuilt it in the same manner that Steve Austin was tranformed into the 6 Million Dollar Man or perhaps as Miles Monroe (aka Woody Allen) attempted to clone the blown-up national leader from his only surviving body part - his nose - in Sleeper.

To hear the interview - click here.

Anton seemed particularly fascinated by the fact that the Mud and Wood House was "smeared in dung on the inside" to use his own words. Now, of course, that is a bit of an exaggeration, as dung is only ONE ingredient in an earth plaster. But it is effective ... and it is not that smelly when applied fresh - it actually smells quite grassy (unsurprisingly). And once it has dried out, there is no smell at all.

today fm diy panel

I was keen to point out the sculptural qualities of cob, and also how it can be continuously reworked. I gave the example of our piano. We had a curvy house and we had no place to put the piano I inherited. So we measured the piano and, with a saw, cut out an alcove to fit the piano. I took the photo below when I got home this afternoon (you will see the house in its normal messy state - not in its lovely-for-the-professional-photos state). You can also see the sculpted wall lights in this photo.

piano in alcove

We've had a great response to the interview. Thanks to all of you who texted or posted on facebook so far.

Over the next few days we hope to blog about some of things we have been up to recently:

  • advising on the restoration of a pre-1830s cottage in Co. Kildare,
  • our mud-sculpting project with the transition year students in Sligo Grammar School,
  • a summary of the talks at the Earth Building UK Conference this year and
  • hopefully an announcement about a live workshop over the summer to build a community garden cob shed in Co. Clare.
  • Watch this space!














































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    New Cob Oven Course and Mud Sculpting Course in Dublin (May and August)

    3rd April 2014

    We have often heard from our followers that they would love to come on our courses, but we are pretty far away from certain corners of the country. When you factor in travel and accommodation, it can start to add up to make the trek to Sligo. We have taken what you have told us on board and we are delighted to announce that we have teamed up with the Heritage Walled Garden Community Group in Donnybrook and we will be running 2 weekend courses through the summer.

    The Heritage Walled Garden in located in Donnybrook, off Bloomfield Avenue - just a 25 minute walk from Stephen's Green and close to numerous bus routes. The closest stop is on Morehampton Road and is served by Nos. 7b, 7d, 39a, 46a, 46e, 116, 118 and 145. Sanford Road is also just a short walk away, about 1km via Marlborough Road. The buses that serve Sanford Road are Nos. 11, 44 and 61. There is also a limited amount of free parking at the garden.

    The first Workshop will be a Weekend Cob Oven Course on 24 - 25 May. Over 2 days, you will learn how to analyse soil, find out what to do with it to make it into the perfect building material, learn how to mix it in the traditional way and build a pizza oven.

    The second Workshop will be a Weekend Mud Sculpting Course on 23 - 24 August. Over 2 days, you will learn how to analyse soil and find out how to turn it into a wonderful sculpting material. You will learn how to make finish plasters using earth and some regular ingredients from your kitchen (and maybe the odd other odd ingredient too - you will have to come along to find out what!).

    The cob oven and the wall sculpture will be incorporated into an overall scheme at the community garden, which includes a cafe and a farmers market. If all goes well, we hope our collaboration will continue on for a number of years and we will manage to create an entire sculptural seating/eating/entertainment area.

    heritage walled garden         heritage walled garden         heritage walled garden
                      View of Garden                                               Area Proposed for Cob Oven                     Wall to be Beautified with Tree Sculpture

    If you would like more information or to book a place on the Weekend Cob Oven Course, 24 - 25 May, click here.

    If you would like more information or to book a place on the Weekend Mud-Sculpting Course, 23 - 24 August, click here.

    We hope we see you there!

























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    Sign Up for Our Cob Oven Course: 5-6 April

    27th March 2014

    Our cob oven course will be running at the Mud and Wood House on the 5th and 6th April. Learn how to build a sculptural pizza oven out of humble, lowly mud. If you want to bring samples of your garden soil for testing, we would be delighted to take a look at it for you. To book your place, click here.

    We will be busy building the stone base for the oven this weekend. We have decided that it will look perfect opposite our outdoor fireplace (on the left hand side of the photo below) and we will be looking out at it through the dining area windows.

    We love the fact that mud can moulded to any shape. We want to make a real feature of the Mud and Wood Oven, so we have been coming with some design ideas. Which one do you like best?

    basic cob oven               cob oven flowers                  cob oven octopus                  Basic Cob Oven                                                               Flowers                                                                       Octopus

     cob oven swirls              cob oven dragon            cob oven bubbles                                Swirls                                                                      Dragon                                                                   Bubbles

    cob oven anemoneFish and Anemone

    Photos from Natural Edge Wood Course

    27th March 2014

    Last weekend we ran the Natural Edge Wood Course, where participants learned how to source, select, mill and dry timber and turn it into handmade furniture. Over the weekend, they tried their hands at making stools (which also teaches the skills needed to make a table) and made their own sculptural shelves. Have a look at how they got on below.

    natural edge wood course         natural edge wood         natural edge wood course          natural edge wood

            natural edge wood        natural edge wood        natural edge wood

    Don't forget to check out our Courses Page for a list of all workshops coming up over the next few months.































































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    Mud and Wood in Irish Times

    20th March 2014

    A few weeks ago, jounalist Rose Doyle rang us to ask if we would be interested in having a chat for a new Irish Times series called "Living Here", articles about interesting people living in interesting places. I don't know if we are that interesting, but she seemed to think we fit the bill. It's pretty hard to condense an hour long conversation into 600 words, but Rose has managed to capture the gist of our chat impeccably. Thanks to Brian Farrell and Steve Rogers for the photographs.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Click here to read the article.

    Energy Efficiency Directive Consultation takes Mud and Wood Comments on Board

    20th March 2014

    Last year, the government called for submissions in a public consultation on the Energy Efficiency Directive, i.e. how are we going to achieve reductions in our energy use to meet with European guidelines and what are the issues that need consideration? Last week, I got an email from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to say that a summary of all the submissions was about to be published. Click here for a link to the Consultation on Implementation of the Energy Efficiency Directive in Ireland - Summary of Consultation Responses.

    Being in the business we are in, I often feel that natural building and natural building materials are often marginalised or ignored in the debate on sustainable architecture and construction. This was an opportunity to make a case for natural building materials, because they are so low in embodied energy (i.e. it does not take a lot of ENERGY to access them, process them and transport them to the building site) and because they often possess other qualities which could contribute to reduced energy use in a building (e.g. humidity buffering/balancing, thermal inertia, thermal mass, toxin binding, etc.). These materials are not just for the "hippies". And for the record, I think the hippies do actually have a better holistic view of the health of the planet than many of the key decision makers.

    The executive summary of this document states, "The responses received provided a wide ranging variety of opinions that are serving to inform the Department as officials progress the drafting of transposition regulations and implementation plans. This document serves as a useful starting point....". So, this is a small victory for the cause of natural building and materials of low-embodied energy, such a cob, straw bale, rammed earth, hemcrete, hemp-lime, lime, light straw clay, etc. etc. Here are the Mud and Wood points that were specifically highlighted in the document.

    • Mud and Wood submitted that negative health effects could arise from the operation of air-tight, mechanically ventilated homes and that dwellings constructed from "low-embodied energy materials do not possess the same risks as certain other conventional building materials to the health of the occupants."

    To qualify this point, I would like to point out that any badly detailed house with inadequate ventilation can contribute to health risks. Even in a naturally built house, toxic mould and spores can flourish if the right conditions exist. However, if the materials in the walls or floor of a house can breathe, bind toxins, regulate humidity levels and do not off-gas any nasty toxins of their own, then this would seem to be a more healthy environment in which to live. There are materials which have been banned in Germany, over concerns about the toxins they release into the indoor environment, and are still happily used in this country every day.

    • The BER (Building Energy Rating) system "does little to reflect the performance of building fabric and that some materials suffer more than others in this regard ...... and ...... that it is the low-embodied energy, low impact materials that suffer the most".

    This refers to the fact that U-Values ignore so many of the criteria which affect the thermal performance of a material in the real world. One of the most simple to understand is density. A lightweight rigid foam insulation and a dense wood fibre insulation can have the same U-value. However, the wood fibre could be as much as three times as dense as the lightweight foam insulation. In reality, the (non-toxic and low-embodied energy) wood fibre insulation will outperform the foam insulation because of its ability to slow down the rate of heat transfer through its body. Yet the BER does not recognise any difference between the two.

    • Regarding gaps within the existing auditing framework (i.e. getting your home BER assessed) - Insufficient competence levels (of the assessors) with respect to energy assessment of protected structures "and common vernacular buildings, e.g. stone and lime".

    This is where I have come across BER recommendations to fill walls with cavity insulation for 600mm solid stone walls or recommendations to insulate old buildings to unhealthy levels with no regard for compatibility of materials. It is clear that the assessor has no idea about vernacular construction or how these buildings "work".

    • Mud and Wood proposed that the BER system be expanded to explicitly address embodied energy via a separate rating.
    • Scope of Energy Efficiency
      Embodied energy of building materials ... "is becoming increasingly significant as operational energy reduces" and ... should there be "a requirement to build using a certain percentage of renewable materials and/or low-embodied energy materials, just as there is a requirement to use a minimum amount of renewable technologies (to meet operational energy needs)".

    So there we have it. We may, in the future, see the construction industry being forced to take stock of the ingredients in their building components and maybe the public will start to pay attention to the many health benefits of using locally sourced, natural building materials - health benefits for the occupants and for the planet.

    Our Most Recent Design Course

    20th March 2014

    The Design Course ran just about 2 weeks ago. Take a look at what our talented, budding designers created this time.

    claire's model                     claire's design

    roisin's model         roisin's model        juliana's model

    niamh's model                     niamh's model

    If you are at a loose end this weekend, there are still places available on our Natural Edge Wood Course. What better way to spend a few days than working with wood. You might even go home with a stool or a shelf .... you'll never know unless you try. Click here to book your place.


















































































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    Book for our Natural Edge Wood Course: 22 - 23 March

    12th March 2014

    The Natural Edge Wood Course is running from the 22nd to 23rd March. The "Wood Whisperer", Colin Ritchie, will take you through every stage of creating this sculptural, natural style from storm blown trees and factory off-cuts. How do you actually get a tree out of a forest? How long does the timber take to dry? What is the best way to cut up the timber? For the answers to these questions and lots of insider tips on how to make professional looking shelves, window boards, etc. - click here for more information and to book your place.

    natural edge wood            natural edge wood            natural edge wood

                                                                                                                                                                                              Book your place now.

    A Great Weekend Design Course

    12th March 2014

    We had an all female group for our Weekend Design Course last weekend, appropriate for National Women's Day. This lot were all very committed to building a home for themselves and their families, so there were lots of nuts and bolts questions about the planning process in Ireland and the new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations. I will do another blog on these soon, but I will quickly repeat here - it is still possible to self-build in Ireland, depsite what some circulating emails are saying....

    I don't have any photos to show right now, because my camera broke. Some of the course participants very kindly took photos, so I will put them up online as soon as I have them. Here is some of the lovely feedback we got: -

    "This course really opened my eyes as to the process of designing and building a house. The information is precise, detailed and very well presented. Féile and Colin are very welcoming and warm. The setting is just perfect to inspire." - Niamh from Dromahair.

    "I would highly recommend this course for anyone intending to self-build. Loads of relevant information re: planning, design, budget, administration fees, professional fees, etc. Necessary to know in order to avoid unexpected surprises. The teaching environment was relaxed and homely, while being highly informative." - Juliana Clarke from Carrick on Shannon.

    The next design course will be running in October. We also cover a little bit of design during our 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course.

    We are always available at the end of the phone for any queries you may have. Call us on (071) 930 0488 or (086) 806 8382.































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    Places Available on the Weekend Design Course: 8th and 9th March

    5th March 2014

    We are running our ever popular Design Course this weekend and there are still places available. As well as all of the usual topics: site, lifestyle, budget, planning, materials, heating, etc. - we will also take a look at the new Building Control Regulations and the impact they will have on construction projects. For €165 you will be privy to about €1,000 worth of professional advice. Sounds like a bargain to me! Click here to find out more and book your place.

    Open Day a Huge Success

    5th March 2014

    We have to say a huge thank you to everyone who came to see us last Sunday for the Open Day. Upwards of 80 people turned up, coming from as far afield as Antrim, Kildare, Dublin and even Edinburgh! We were busy from the very start, doing tours and talks back to back. Thanks to everyone who signed our visitors book; the most common comment was "inspirational". Maybe we can convince some of you to turn that inspiration into the real deal. Check out out Courses Page and see which one inspires you.











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    Free Open Day - 2nd March    •    Upcoming Design Course - 8th & 9th March    •    EBUK's New Director

    19th February 2014

    There has been a lot happening at the House; preparing for our free Open Day on the 2nd March and our first weekend course of 2014 (Weekend Design on 08-09 March) and assimilating all of the infomation from our recent trip to the annual Earth Building UK Conference in Norwich. We will be writing about all of the presentations from the conference and the post-conference tour shortly. In the meantime, maybe we will see you here soon at the House, on a course or for the open day. Read on to find out more.

    Free Open Day - 2nd March 2014

    It's less than two weeks now until our FREE open day. Come along to the House on Sunday 2nd March, any time between 10:00am and 5:30pm. We will have tours of the house and talks about how we built our unique earth and straw-bale/timber- frame home. Depending on the weather, we also hope to run a few live demonstrations of how to build with cob.

    mud and wood house

         Click here to find out what time our tours and talks will be happening. See you on the 2nd!

    Weekend Design Course - 8th & 9th March 2014

    It's back! This is the 6th time we will be running the Weekend Design Course. It is suitable for anyone considering a new-build, extension or renovation project. While we do look at materials and how you might decide to choose them, we do not focus specifically on natural building. So this course is suitable for every type of house design.

    We love to use our students' real life situations as examples in the workshop. So if you would like to get about €1,000 worth of personally tailored professional advice for the amazing price of €165, then sign up today.

    This is what our last group of students produced after their weekend with us.

    design course     design course

    design course         design course

    design course design course design course

    Féile Butler appointed New Director of Earth Building UK

    We had a really inspiring time at the Earth Building UK Conference in Norwich last weekend. We will be writing about it in a lot more detail in the next few days. While we were there, Féile was appointed as one of the seven directors of EBUK. Having experience as an architect, builder and trainer in earth construction, she hopes to be able to contribute a lot to the group. She also is looking forward to having all the support that comes from an association like EBUK.

    Many of the issues facing earth builders in the UK are similar to those we experience in Ireland. We would love to have more representation from this country and have more active networking taking place. If you are interested in becoming a member of Earth Building UK, you can check out their website here (







































































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    Changes to Building Control in Ireland

    31st January 2014

    On the 1st March there will be a massive overhaul to the way construction projects are officially documented and monitored in Ireland. Up until now, for a new house or an extension of over 40m², only planning permission was required. When you were ready to build, you sent a commencement notice into the local authority; but after that, you essentially headed off into the sunset with the council's blessing and your paths never crossed again.

    Well - all that is about to change.

    Building Regulations
    The changes are happening because of the many disasters which were built during (and before) the boom, with little or no regard for the requirements of the building regulations. Building regulations, while sometimes seeming burdensome and/or onerous, were introduced with the health and safety of building occupants in mind and they are constantly being updated as new research/information/building methods emerge. It is a good thing that buildings should be constructed so that they will not blow over in a storm, that the occupants will enjoy good comfort levels, that the potential for the spread of fire should be minimised, that people with disabilities should be able to use the buildings on an equal par, that the indoor environment will be healthy, etc.

    When Building Goes Wrong
    Unfortunately in the past, certain stakeholders in the construction industry neglected to adhere to regulation requirements, either through ignorance, lack of understanding or to drive up profit margins at the expense of the building occupants. Complexes such as Priory Hall were thrown up with none of the mandatory fire safety details installed between apartments. Unsuitable material was used below floor slabs and foundations in the case of pyrite, where the ferrous component in the stones expanded and destabilised a large number of houses. People found themselves living in homes that were unsafe, unhealthy, unsound, under-insulated or with very low standards of workmanship. These were buildings that had been signed off, i.e. someone had inspected the works and declared them to be satisfactory and to comply with the building regulations.

    Cowboy Builders and Professionals
    The problem of cowboy builders is rife in this country. Often, even perfectly good builders are not up to speed on the current regulation requirements. I know of a few current building projects in the area near where we live and they would not pass the 2005 energy building regulations, let alone the current 2011 requirements. Considering that your home will probably be the biggest financial investment of your life, wouldn't you want to be sure that when it comes to selling it or to passing it on to your children, that it is regulation compliant? Having a non-compliant house on your hands is an expensive liability.

    In the past, having a building professional oversee the construction phase of a one-off house was largely optional. The mortgage company may have required a signed certificate to release stage payments during the build - and to be honest, I always wondered who were these professionals who signed these certificates, when there were clearly very obvious aspects to the houses that were non-compliant? Yes, I know that unfortunately there are cowboy architects and engineers out there too.

    The aim of these new building control regulations is to address all of these issues - to force everybody involved to take more responsibility in building to acceptable and safe standards.

    Responsibilities of Building Owners
    Building owners will be required to take on more responsibility in appointing the appropriate, competent professionals and builders to undertake the work.

    Bear in mind that the building professional you engage to oversee the construction of your home should possess sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work to be undertaken. If you intend self-building a naturally-built home, use an architect or engineer familiar with natural building. Not all architects/engineers are the same!

    Responsibilities of Building Professionals (Architects, Surveyors, Engineers)
    Building professionals will have to submit drawings, specifications and details of the project to the Building Control Authority before works start on site, proving that each of the building regulations is satisfied. The Building Control Authority will have to assess this information and agree that the regulations are indeed being met. If not, a new set of drawings/details/specifications will have to be submitted before construction can start on site.

    The building professionals will also have to provide a schedule of inspections to the Building Control Authority, e.g. check that the foundations have been correctly built, ensure the proper level of insulation has been correctly installed, check that the correct size/amount of floor joists are used, check that appropriate materials are being used in the correct locations, etc., etc. They will then have to follow through and physically inspect the progress at each of these milestones and keep a record of each inspection. The Building Control Authority will also have powers of inspection and it is anticipated that in the first year, the level of site inspections by Building Control Officers will be very high.

    Only three types of building professional can take on the role of Assigned Certifier, the person who confirms that all the works to date are built in accordance with the drawings and specifications, and that the construction meets the building regulation standards. This can be a regsitered architect, a registered building surveyor or a chartered engineer. All of these professionals have insurance and have to carry out intensive professional training every year (for architects, we have to log 40 hours of continuous professional development per year).

    For many architect-designed house-building projects, on-site inspections and signing certificates of compliance have always been par for the course. During construction, the architect signs off on the progress of works and signs a final certificate when everything is finished. This is an important legal document when it comes to the sale of the house in years to come. However, as outlined above, many people have built their homes and drawn down their mortgages and lived happily ever after with little or no involvement from any architect, engineer or surveyor.

    Completion Certificate Required to Move into Your Home
    From the 1st March, this will no longer be possible because of a new rule governing the occupancy or use of a building. No-one will be allowed to occupy a newly-built house until a completion certificate has been entered on to the national register of the Building Control Authority. This will be filled out by the Assigned Certifier (architect, building surveyor or engineer), who will have inspected all of the building works as they progressed.

    Responsibilities of Builders
    The issue of who will build your home will also be under the spotlight and this will be of particular interest to self-builders. Currently there are two separate references to the type of builder in the legislation. There are registered builders and there are competent builders. This distinction is signficant, particularly for self-builders.

    Not only does the building professional (Assigned Certifier - architect, surveyor or engineer) have to sign off on the work (which has always been the case for architect-run jobs), the builder will have to sign off too. This is a new situation and it will be a legally binding document. If something goes wrong in 10 years' time due to bad worksmanship, etc., this document clearly names who was responsible for that construction and, therefore, who is at fault.

    What does this mean for a self-builder? If you never intend selling your home and you have to live with the consequences of your own dodgy building skills, so be it. But, if you sell your home and something goes wrong for the new owner, you will be held legally responsible.

    The role of the Assigned Certifier does not include for any responsibility for the supervision of the builder. The builder must be competent to carry out the work to the required standard on his/her own. How is this standard of competency defined?

    Definition of Competence
    A person is deemed to be a competent person when, " having regard to the task he or she is required to perform and taking account of the size and complexity of the building or works, the person possesses sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work to be undertaken."

    From my personal experience, while self-builders may be slower than conventional builders, their attention to detail and their level of quality control is extremely high. Generally speaking, if you are going to build your own home with your own hands and intend living out the rest of your days there, you will do the best job possible. However, it is important to be aware that from now on you will be signing a legal document to say that you are up to the job.

    If you know you have shortcomings in any aspects of building your own home, please ensure that you acquire those skills, or know your limits and know when it is time to call in a professional builder. For example, I would have no issue with anyone building a cob wall. I would have no issue with most people putting on a simple roof or installing a floor, as long as they understand drawings and follow the details and specifications exactly. However, if your roof is particularly complicated and you are not that confident with a saw, then maybe it is time to call in the carpenter - and that is fine.

    A project can have a number of builder certifiers and you only need to sign off against the work that you yourself have carried out. So be sure that you are confident that you have carried out that work adequately.

    Don't forget that at Mud and Wood, we offer a service where we can come to your site and train up your work crew for each stage of your build. Also, if you get stuck during your building project, we can come to site to help you get over that particular hurdle.

    Registered Builder versus Competent Builder
    As mentioned above, the legislation currently recognises that there are registered builders and competent builders. At the moment, there is a voluntary register of builders being set up by the Construction Industry Federation which will be launched in March. To be included on the register, a builder must have a minimum of 3 years experience with a description of the building types and locations (one-off high spec houses, estate houses, warehouses, office buildings, etc.), up-to-date insurance and tax clearance, annual continuing professional development/training, a code of conduct and a procedure for complaints. It is anticipated that this will become a statutory register by 2015.

    As long as there is also room for competent builders, there is room for true self-builders. There is a concern that the definition of competency may start to be tightened up in the future and that measurable criteria, such as attendance on courses, hours logged on sites, etc. might be required. We will cross that bridge if we come to it.

    I will be speaking at the Earth Building UK Conference in Norwich in two weeks time and the Conference Topic is education and training. There will be a number of representatives from European Training Schools who have succeeded in getting their courses accredited. At Mud and Wood, we hope to start some conversations about getting our courses accredited and internationally recognised too.

    Driving More Natural Builders Underground?
    The new building control regulations are an attempt to make everyone in the building game step up to the plate and accept their individual responsibility for building well and building safely. However, there are obviously additional costs associated with providing all of these drawings/details/specifications to the Building Control Authority and also paying for an Assigned Certifier to regularly inspect the works.

    People choose to build using natural materials for many reasons, and even though many claim they are doing it for environmental or aesthetic reasons, my experience is that the real rationale is cost. Not wanting a mortgage, not being indebted for 30 years of your life - that is an excellent thing to aspire to. However, the stark reality is that if you build by the book, you will end up paying more.

    If you pay a professional to design your home and/or submit your planning application, pay the council development charges, bring water and electricity to your site, carry out percolation tests and install a proprietary waste water treatment system - you could have already spent anywhere between €15,000 and €20,000 and you haven't even turned a sod for the foundations yet. And this is before the new building control regulations kick in on the 1st March.

    Building is an expensive game. Because natural builders rely on their own skills and materials that are largely free, they expect the entire process to be cheap. If you want to build a legally compliant home with full planning permission, you can still do it very cost effectively by self-building, but you will not do it for buttons. That is sadly unrealistic.

    I understand why people build under the radar. I know of a number of families who literally could not have afforded to have a roof over their head if they had gone the authorised route. They live in very beautiful, cheaply-built homes, but they also live with a certain degree of paranoia. And even though they may not have spent €100,000 or €250,000, they still have invested €10,000 or €30,000 in a home that is illegal.

    Rising to the Challenge
    I am passionate about building with natural materials and I am passionate about doing it for environmental and health reasons. That is why I hope that there will still be plenty of natural builders who rise to the challenge, get planning permission for their homes and put them through the full rigours of the new building control process.

    If we all build under the radar, natural building will always remain in the shadowy margins, a way of building for "the crazies and the hippies". Natural building projects need to be visible, they need to be legal, they need to meet the building regulations and they need to be built to very high standards. They need to be able to stand up to scrutiny, so that they can be recognised in the mainstream as an acceptable, valid, truly sustainable way to build.



































































































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    Elm Wedding Thrones

    9th January 2014

    Happy New Year to all of our followers.

    We had great Christmas and New Year celebrations at the Mud and Wood House, with plenty of family around us. But it wasn't all play over the holidays. Just before Christmas, Colin got a call from a groom-to-be, wondering if he could commission a pair of wooden wedding thrones. The wedding was taking place on New Year's Eve, a big day for weddings in Ireland. There wasn't much time, so Colin got straight to work.

    wedding throne                                           wedding throne

    Colin started with a rough prototype, using elm for the main body and seat of the chairs and larch for the legs and arm rests. At this stage he sent photos to the clients for their feedback.

    The clients wanted simpler legs and after a bit of discussion, they all agreed that the arm rests probably would not work either. The thrones are pretty heavy and when pushed in for the meal, the bride and groom may have found themselves "trapped" at the table.

    wedding throne             wedding throne             wedding throne

    The finished wedding thrones were of matching height with the bride and groom's initials carved into the backrest. The natural grain and spalding in the timber gives the thrones their inimitable, unique beauty.

    wedding throne        Colin Ritche and the Wedding Thrones

    You can contact Colin via email,, or via phone on (086) 809 4241, if you would like commission your own bespoke piece of furniture.


































































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    The Timetable for 2014 Mud and Wood Courses is Live!

    2nd December 2014

    It's December and our eagerly awaited 2014 timetable is here! Click here for the listings so far (we hope to add a few courses during the year).

    Plenty of our old favourites are back, such as the Weekend Design Course, the Weekend Earth Plastering and Natural Paints Course and the Weekend Natural Edge Wood Course. The 4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course and Weekend Cob Oven Course also feature on the 2014 timetable.

    courses     courses     courses     courses

    We have a few new takes on courses, such as a Weekend Mud Sculpting Course, over two days instead of one. Those of you with beady eyes will notice that our 8-Day Intensive Course has been extended to a 9-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course. Following feedback from previous students, we wanted to give you even more of an opportunity to gain practical experience, particularly with skills such as building the stem wall (plinth) for the cob and straw bale walls.

    courses     courses     courses

    You may also notice that there has been a price reduction on many of our courses, especially the earth-based courses. We now also offer a limited number of places at a further reduced rate for students and unwaged (terms and conditions apply). We haven't been able to drop all of our prices across the board, but we think that the courses which require a lot of preparation and/or have lots of hand-outs and professional tips/advice still remain excellent value for money. Past participants have thought so as well - we hope that you will too.


    Don't forget, there are Mud and Wood Gift Vouchers available - the perfect Christmas present for the DIYer, artist or natural builder in your life! Vouchers are available from as little as €10.00 or you may prefer to get a voucher for a specific course. You can contact us directly if you would like a voucher for an amount not shown on our Gift Voucher Page.

    Hope to see you here sometime in 2014.

    Colin and Féile








































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    More About the Benefits of Using Cob (and why the regulations can [but not always] make it difficult)

    28th November 2013

    A few weeks ago, Kevin McCabe's massive cob "castle" featured on Grand Designs. Although he had run out of money and the project had come to a standstill, he should eventually be on track for meeting the highest possible standard for a "sustainable" home in England. Personally, I question what the hell is "sustainable" about building a 6,000 sq. ft. home for a small family, no matter what material it is built from. However, I am still incredibly grateful to Kevin McCabe for doing so much to place cob in the public eye, show how far it can be pushed as a material and how sophisticated it can be.

    For anyone who has been nervous about cob, building regulations and U-values, the McCabe house seemed to hint at a breakthrough regarding this thorny issue. However, when the solution was to wrap the 600 - 900mm (2 - 3 ft) thick cob walls in polystyrene, even presenter Kevin McCloud appeared to baulk. He commented that it just seemed at odds with the fundamental ethos of cob. Kevin McCabe explained that to meet the regulations without adding this insulation, his walls would have to be about 5m thick - point made....

                                         Kevin McCabe's 6,000 sq. ft. Cob Castle as featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs

    But is that it? Is this the end of the line for pure cob walls and must all cob buildings from hereonin be wrapped in insulation? Let me say for the record that I am not against insulation on cob walls per se. In some cases I think that using an insulation such as hemp-lime or wood fibre could be extremely effective in improving the thermal performance of a cob wall. However, I do question the level of insulation that current calculations decree is necessary.

    I question this because the main way that we measure thermal comfort is hopelessly inadequate for reflecting the actual experience; it misrepresents the thermal properties of many materials. Unfortunately the calculations seem to favour synthetic, often toxic materials and ignore the many additional benefits (and thermal properties) associated with natural materials.

    In Ireland, in the past few months there have been two public consultations regarding energy efficiency in buildings; I have made submissions to both. The first was regarding DEAP (Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure), the software which calculates whether or not your home is compliant with Part L of the Building Regulations (Conservation of Fuel and Energy - Dwellings). As it currently stands, for a typical stand-alone cob wall, 600mm thick, the computer most definitely says "no".

                  David Walliams as Little Britain's Carol Beer, "Computer says no."

    Building with earth is not some crazy, off-the-wall idea beloved by hippies and survivalists. I contend that it is a valid, contemporary construction material which could contribute significantly to the quest for long-term, sustainable solutions for expanding populations with increasing standards of living. However, if regulation continually favours more conventional building materials and sidelines unconventional, misunderstood, unfashionable materials, such as cob, the exciting and beneficial properties of such materials may never be fully harnessed.

    In my submissions, I tried to highlight the many studies that have already been carried out on the properties of earth as a building material, as well as the questions which require further investigation. I did not want the "establishment" to think I was some nutty lady who wants us all to live like hobbits, but rather that there is some very good science out there which bolsters the case for natural building and not just energy efficient building.

                             Who wants to live in earthen buildings?                                         ....... Hippies? ........... Hobbits?                         

    If you would like to read the full text of my submission on DEAP, click here. The rest of this article provides background and an overview of the submission. The titles refer to different sections in the DEAP Manual.

    Accredited or Certified Data for Materials
    More and more, there is a requirement for building materials to be laboratory tested and certified. Obviously when building with materials such as cob, where the base ingredient is unique to the site, or straw bales, where the base ingredient depends on the crop type, baling process, etc., this requirement poses a problem. Yet surviving earth buildings, which are centuries (even millenia) old, prove that earth construction has already been tried and tested far more effectively than any lab could accomplish. Countries such as Austria and the U.S. have well-established codes for straw bale buildings. In my submission I suggested that for such types of "home-made" materials, as long as best practice is followed, they should be accepted as being up to scratch.

                          Chan Chan in Peru - 15th Century                        Shibam in Yemen - 16th Century                             Rayen in Iran - 224-652 AD                       

    U-Values are Fundamentally Flawed
    Ahh ... the dreaded U-value. This is a very crude way of assessing how much heat will pass through a material. If this material forms the walls or floor or roof of your house and allows a lot of heat to pass through it quickly, your house will get cold very quickly. Insulation is great at preventing heat from passing through it quickly. That all seems logical enough.

    U-values for all the different materials (concrete block, brick, timber, plasterboard, cement render, mineral wool insulation, foam insulation, hemp insulation, wood fibre insulation, etc., etc., even cob) are established under laboratory conditions. The internal and external temperatures (meant to represent the temperature in your house and the temperature outside) remain constant and the flow of heat through the material is measured. Because the temperatures are constant, the transfer of heat is steady and uniform. Therein lies the problem.

    The fact of the matter is that in the real world, internal and external temperatures fluctuate constantly. The heating comes on, the back door is left open, the dinner is in the oven, more people arrive in the house, the sun comes out, it rains, the wind picks up, night falls, etc.

    Materials such as cob possess a characteristic called thermal mass. This means they have the ability to store heat and release it back into a room when the temperature drops. It is known that only the first 75-100mm (3-4") of the material can store any useful heat and DEAP does actually take this fact into account.

    However, cob also possesses a characteristic called thermal inertia. Not only can cob store heat, it also physically slows down the flow of heat through its body. This ability is also known as capacitive insulation. In a steady state environment (i.e. in the lab with constant, unfluctuating temperatures) the effect of capacitive insulation is negligible. However, in the real world, the effect in monolithic, massive materials such as cob and hempcrete is significant and the wider the wall (i.e. the more material there is for the heat to pass through), the greater the effect.

    Tests carried out on hempcrete proved that the material transferred almost 3 times less heat than the steady state model estimated. In fact, the hempcrete, with its worse U-value, outperformed mineral wool insulation, despite the mineral wool having a much better U-value on paper. Tests carried out by Historic Scotland on an 18th Century cob building found that the uninsulated walls transferred only 50% of the heat that the software calculations predicted.

    It should be noted that while concrete does have high thermal mass, it has no thermal inertia and so does not have the benefit of capacitive insulation.

    The Performance Gap
    U-values are supposed to predict how well or how badly a material will be able to prevent heat from passing through it. I have already illustrated that they are a poor way to measure this characteristic. Recent research has also highlighted the fact that for the majority of standard-built buildings, the actual energy performance has turned out to be much, much worse than the calculated expectation; 75 - 100% worse is not uncommon (refer to my submission for examples). This is known as the "performance gap". So although these buildings may tick all the boxes on paper, they rarely get anywhere close to that in reality. This is mainly due to poor detailing and bad workmanship.

    This is one area where the Passivehaus movement (extremely highly insulated, air-tight, mechanically venitlated, low energy buildings) has led the way, as the buildings must be tested during construction. There is now a recommendation (but not a requirement) included in the Irish building regulations to carry out air-tightness tests during construction for all new-builds.


    These infra-red camera photos highlight typical areas where cold is escaping the building due to bad detailing or poor workmanship. Yellow is warm, meaning the heat is being retained. Purple to black is colder, indicating an area where there is heat loss.

    In the first photo, you can make out the timber studs in the wall (vertical orange lines) with insulation between (yellow). At the top of the wall, the insulation has either slumped or was never installed in the first place.

    In the second photo, the cold patch on the ceiling could indicate that no insulation was installed in the tricky-to-reach eaves. The very dark corner indicates significant heat loss, where no insulation was installed between the last timber stud and the corner. The home-owner would experience high heating bills, even though the calculations on paper would indicate that this is an energy-saving house with good levels of insulation.

    The Performance Gap still remains a problem. Air-tightness tests reveal the presence of air leaks, but they do not uncover missing insulation or thermal bridges. Yet, as experiments carried out by Historic Scotland and Lime Technology proved, monolithic materials (with high thermal mass and high thermal inertia) outperform expectations. A major advantage of monolithic construction is that there is very little detailing involved. There are no awkward junctions where one material meets another, or multiple layers of materials that could be poorly installed, damaged during installation or omitted altogether. This means, from a workmanship point of view, there is a lot less that can go wrong.

    Ventilation Requirements
    Drafty buildings lose a lot of heat. That is why there is a drive to get buildings more air-tight. However, it is still important that stale air can get out of a building and that fresh air can get in. The idea with ventilation is to control the movement of air into and out of a building, rather than leave it to chance with gaps around windows, gaps between floorboards, gaps in the roof, etc. Ventilation can be achieved passively (e.g. hole-in-the-wall vents) or mechanically (e.g. extract fans, heat recovery systems).

                           Some of the many paths for unwanted air leakage

    Stale air contains moisture (from our breathing, showers, cooking, boiling the kettle, etc.) and toxins (CO2 from our breathing, VOCs - volatile organic compounds - from construction materials, from cleaning products, cigarette smoke, radon gas, carbon monoxide, etc.). It is important that excessive moisture does not build up in a home as this can create an ideal environment for mites, fungal growth, mould, bacteria, allergens, etc. to flourish. It's self-evident why it is a good idea to get rid of the toxins.

    Ventilation rates are calculated based on the amount of fresh air needed to replace the stale air, i.e. to flush out all the nasty excessive moisture and toxins. During the colder months, the internal stale air is warmer than the external fresh air. The stale air exiting the building carries heat with it. Even when controlled, there is still an associated heat loss. In the case of mechanical heat recovery systems, the heat from the stale air is extracted as the air exits the building and this is then used to pre-heat the fresh air as it enters the building. This aims to minimise the heat loss, although it does rely on electricity to achieve this.

    Imagine a construction material which could actively remove excess moisture from a room and safely transfer it through its body to the outside. Imagine a material which could actively bind odours and toxins. Earth can do both. The phenomenon of moisture balancing through earthen materials has been examined in the past few years and there is a growing understanding of how exactly this works and how this could be harnessed for our benefit (Fionn McGregor will be giving a talk about this at the Earth Building UK Conference 2014). Research on the toxin-binding properties of earth is still relatively nascent, but the scope of possibilities is exciting.

    There will always be a need for some physical removal of stale air to be replaced with fresh air. However, if the actual fabric of the building itself is removing a reasonable portion of excess moisture and toxins, then the ventilation requirements could potentially be reduced; perhaps even signficantly reduced. The less air that needs to move into and out of a building, the less heat that gets lost too.

    Heating Calculations
    When dealing with earth construction, the issue of how levels of thermal comfort are perceived ties in with the above point about cob's ability to physically remove excess moisture from a room.

    The calculations in DEAP are based on the air temperature being 21°C for living rooms and 18°C for the rest of the house. Yet it is the relative humidity in the room, not the temperature, which has a bigger effect on our perception of comfort. Think about a really dry, crisp, cold day; maybe -1 or -2°C. Then think about about a really dank, damp day; maybe 4 or 5°C - the type of day where a chill gets into your bones. You will feel colder on the damp day, even if the air temperature is 5 or 6°C warmer.

                                                   Crisp, Cold Day                                                                                     Damp, Cold Day

    Relative humidity refers to the amount of water vapour in a volume of air at a given temperature compared to the amount of water vapour which that air could carry at saturation point at that temperature. It sounds complicated. The main thing to note is that the healthiest and most comfortable zone for humans is in the 40 - 60% RH (Relative Humidity) range. The other point to note is that nasties like viruses, bacteria, mites, fungi, etc. prefer to live in 0 - 40% and 60 - 100% RH.

    Tests carried out on earth-constructed buildings have shown that the RH remains remarkably constant, around 50 - 55% RH. Spikes and dips in the RH are evened out by the earth's ability to absorb and release water vapour in response to the levels in the room. With this in mind, it should be possible to design for lower temperatures without diminishing the perception of thermal comfort.

    The surface temperatures of the walls, floor and ceiling in a room also have more of an effect on perceptions of comfort than air temperature alone. Materials with high thermal mass, slow-releasing stored heat back into a room, also have an advantage here over lightweight materials such as plasterboard.

    Not all insulations are the same and yet DEAP ignores this fact. Because of thermal mass and thermal inertia, denser insulations perform better than their lightweight counterparts, even if they have the same U-value. Lightweight insulations are mostly synthetic, made from non-renewable resources.

       Polyisocyanurate (PIR) Rigid Foam Board                                    Wood Fibre Batt                                                    Mineral Wool Roll

    Another issue important to the performance of insulation is capillarity, i.e. should an insulation get wet, how quickly can it dry out? Why is this important? Because wet insulation can perform as much as 5 times worse than the calculations predict. Man-made insulations, such as mineral wool and rock wool, have simple fibres and low capillarity. Natural insulations such as wood fibre, hemp-fibre and sheeps wool, are "naturally" much more complex and have higher capillarity. They can still get wet, but they will dry out much more quickly and return to their intended performance in a shorter time frame.

    Embodied Energy
    DEAP is concerned with the operational energy of a home. This is the energy it takes to run your home, i.e. heating, lighting, ventilation, pumping. Because of government legislation (e.g. Part L of the Building Regulations, Building Energy Rating [BER] Certificates) and policy (e.g. Warmer Homes Scheme operated by SEAI), homes are becoming much more energy efficient. This is a good thing.

    However, as the operational energy of a home decreases, the embodied energy locked within the construction materials becomes increasingly important. What exactly is embodied energy? This is the energy that goes into the manufacture and eventual disposal of a particular building material.

    First the raw material must be accessed. It may be mined or quarried or extracted or felled. Then the raw material must be transported to the factory for processing. Refining the raw material may require large amounts of heat or other resources, such as water, or may involve the release or addition of toxic chemicals. The finished product must then be packaged and transported to the builder's yard. This can happen on a global scale. Energy will be required to build the material into your home (e.g. power floating a concrete floor slab). The material may perform well when it is in your wall or roof or floor, but will it require ongoing maintenance and how low-energy will that be? And what happens when it is no longer needed? Is more energy required to bring it to landfill or to reprocess it to make a new material?

        Life Cycle Assessment - Embodied Energy of Materials

    Many studies have been done on the amount of embodied energy associated with typical dwellings. Depending on the type (apartment, semi-d, detached), the embodied energy in an energy-efficient home can account for 23 - 34% of the total energy. For extreme low-energy houses, it can be as high as 40%.

    It does not make sense to concentrate on operational energy alone, when embodied energy is now making a signficant contribution to the problem of global warming. Materials such as cob have no embodied energy at all. Materials such as straw bale and hemp can sequester (absorb and lock away) carbon, to the point that they can be carbon negative. The energy-saving regulations can make it more difficult to build with these materials, while promoting concrete (manufactured by heating the raw materials to 1480-1650°C) and petrochemical-based materials, both of which are also non-biodegradable, by the way.

    Accredited or Certified Data for Room Heaters
    As with home-made materials, there is a similar problem in providing laboratory test results for home-made heating appliances. Many people who want to build with cob or other natural materials want to incorporate either mass masonry stoves (kachelofen) or rocket stoves. The closest description to a kachelofen under DEAP is identified as only being 60% efficient. However, many Austrian and German kachelofen builders claim to be able to achieve up to 85% efficiency. At the time of writing, I am not clear what data is available on rocket stoves (whoever "borrowed" our signed copy of the Rocket Stove book - could we have it back please!). As with home-made materials, if best practice is followed for the construction of these heaters, then a higher efficiency should be allowed.

                           Kachelofen (Mass Masonry Stove)                                                                           Rocket Stove

    Conclusion for DEAP Submission
    The parameters in the DEAP software are narrow and do not represent the true thermal properities of certain building materials. The drive towards accredited certification for materials and appliances also impedes the age-old tradition of making your own.

    Building in a very ancient way (i.e. low-energy), using locally sourced, renewable, carbon-neutral or carbon negative materials, must be seen as a positive contribution to the field of sustainable construction. While only a small precentage of the general population may want to build this way, it is still important to protect the natural building movement and not inhibit it by inappropriate regulation.

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

    The second submission I made was for the public consultation on the Energy Efficiency Directive in Ireland. You can read a copy of that submission here.

    While the DEAP submission is only concerned with the software which calculates compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations and produces Building Energy Rating Certificates, the Energy Efficiency Directive document looks at Ireland's overall policy to reduce energy use (of which Part L and DEAP are a part).

    Much of my submission refers to the same points made for the DEAP submission. However, there was one extra point that I made with regard to the Energy Efficiency Directive in Ireland. The document states, "Achievement of ... energy savings targets will bring with it a broad range of benefits. These include the value of energy savings, greenhouse gas emission reductions, alleviation of energy poverty, improved comfort and health ...."

    Energy Poverty
    Regarding energy poverty, I agree that more energy efficient homes will result in lower fuel bills. However, there is a drive in this country to have the Passivehaus standard as the national energy standard. There are a number of reasons why I would be very wary of going down this route - and that is a full blog for another day.

    While the fuel bills for an extremely low-energy house might be low, the initial building costs for this type of house and its bells-and-whistles equipment can be high. With an energy efficient home, the owner may not have large monthly fuel bills, but they can still have large monthly mortgage repayments. They are still enslaved to additional debt (although, granted, at least they will be warm). It is possible to keep the costs down by using cheap, mass-produced building products - non-renewable, laden with high embodied energy and/or toxic ingredients and difficult to dispose of (concrete, foam insulations, uPVC windows, etc.). But what is sustainable about that? How does that help tackle the problem of global warming?

    Improved Health
    Regarding health, again I worry about the desire to be the first country in the world to have Passivehaus as our national energy standard. Passivehaus works because the buildings are highly insulated and extremely well sealed. Because of this they must rely on delicately balanced mechanical heat recovery ventilation systems to remove excess moisture and toxins from the air. In Germany or Austria I would not be so concerned about this. However, in Ireland, we are not known as the best nation for servicing equipment or changing filters when we ought to. I have heard stories of people running their MHRV units on the wrong setting or turning them off altogether, as you would with a conventional heating system. People argue that you can always open a window in a Passivhaus house. Of course you can; but if you are relying on open windows to purge your home of unhealthy air, then why go to the trouble of building a Passivehaus house in the first place?

    There are also queries being raised about the types of bacteria/viruses that can live in the intake pipework of mechanical ventilation systems. More and more research is being carried out across Europe on poor, potentially harmful, indoor air quality in air-tight homes. This is a real issue. The materials that are used to build these air-tight homes should also be scrutinised. Germany is far ahead of Ireland regarding the use of safe materials in our indoor environments and has already banned a number of materials that we continue to use here. Natural (low-embodied energy) materials do not pose the same risks to occupants' health as certain synthetic materials.

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

    Meeting the Energy Efficiency Regulations and Building with Cob
    It is worth noting that it is technically possible to have an area of pure cob wall under the existing regulations.

    The 2011 Regulations stipulate that the overall maximum U-Value of the walls in a house must be 0.21 W/m²K. However, an individual section or element of that wall can have a U-Value as high as 0.6 W/m²K. U-values of 0.4 W/m²K have been measured in standard cob walls by Historic Scotland - one of the few in-situ tests to have been carried out on cob walls. We could take a conservative estimate of 0.55 W/m²K for our cob wall. This would be allowed under the regulations as it is less than 0.6 W/m²K.

    To be allowed to build a section of wall with a U-value of 0.55 W/m²K, the rest of the wall must balance it out, so that the maximum overall U-value average is 0.21 W/m²K. This could be achieved if 25% of the wall was pure cob and the other 75% of wall achieved a U-Value of 0.1 W/m²K. A super-insulated plinth and wall-sections of straw bale could technically achieve these targets.

    However, even though the regulations stipulate that the maximum average U-value for a wall is 0.21 W/m²K, the reality is that in order to meet the overall regulation, U-values much lower than 0.21 W/m²K need to be achieved (the exception to this is when building extensions to existing houses - then the average target of 0.21 W/m²K is fine).

    One can build up credits by relying heavily on gadgets such as ground/air/water source heat pumps, windmills, and photovoltaics. But it is far more sustainable to minimise the use of gadgets (manufactured from extremely high-embodied energy materials, may contain toxic components and need electricity to operate or unenvironmentally-friendly batteries to store electricity) in favour of building walls, roofs and floors that are thermally efficient.

    As I said at the outset, I am not against insulating cob walls per se. However, I am against using unnecessary materials just because the software calculations cannot actually assess the thermal properties of a material properly. This may mean, hypothetically, that 30mm or 50mm or 100mm of hemp-lime could make a great contribution to the thermal comfort of a cob wall, but the computer wants 350mm. What is sustainable about applying all that superfluous insulation? It costs money and it costs the planet.

    Hopefully, as research advances and software takes note of these advances, the regulations will move closer to reflecting the reality of achieving sustainability in construction. Natural building, and specifically earth building, must not become obsolete just because the "computer say no."

    Is this the smiling face for the future of truly sustainable building?

    Click here for my submission for the public consultation on Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure

    Click here for my submission for the public consultation on the Energy Efficiency Directive in Ireland

                                                                                                                                           Copyright Text 2013 - Féile Butler, Mud and Wood


























































































































































































































































































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    Two Upcoming Events for your Diary

    12th November 2013

    When we haven't posted for a while, you can be sure we've been busy in the background. There has been lots going on and we'll catch up on that very soon, including a great trip to Scotland. In the meantime, there are 2 events coming up that may be of interest.

    Tom Woolley at Sligo IT - Monday 18th November at 7:30pm

    Low Energy Building Using Natural Materials

    Talk topics include:

    * What’s wrong with Passiv Haus and extreme low energy buildings?

    * Health and environmental impacts of synthetic insulations and conventional materials

    * Building physics and how eco buildings perform differently from conventional ones

    Click here or on the title above to book your ticket.


    The next date for your diary is the romantic 14th February 2014.

    The annual Earth Building UK Conference 2014 will take place in Norwich Cathedral, England.

    The central theme of the conference will be education and training in earth building including a presentation by yours truly. Click here to book your ticket.

    Hope to see you there!




















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    Colin's Burly Designs

    20th October 2013

    Many of you will already be aware that Colin makes furniture out of windfall trees (trees that have blown over after a storm). As a result of Dutch elm disease, the majority of our native elm trees are compromised and therefore particularly prone to the effects to strong winds. To many people, dead elm is not considered to be of much use. Because the trees have a tendancy to develop multiple burls (tumour-like growths), the grain criss-crosses in kaleidoscopic patterns. This makes it very difficult to split for firewood. It is also a very slow burner, not giving off a huge amount of heat. However, to someone like Colin Ritchie, the fluid grain and the rich, warm tones of the wood are exactly what makes it so desirable.

    If you have been follwing us on facebook, you will have seen some of these photos before. We also thought we'd take the opportunity to showcase some more of his "burliest" work. Each piece is original, bespoke and unique, as no two branches or slabs of wood will ever be the same.

    natural edge wood bed        natural edge wood bed
                           Colin Ritchie with his Elevated Bed, Shelves and Desk                                                   Detail of Climbing Steps with Finger Holds 

                                         natural edge wood bed               natural edge wood bed                                                                 Detail of End of Bed - Note Circular Grain Patterns from Burls                     Elevated Bed, Shelves and Desk             

                                                                     natural edge wood bed                                                               Burl Door Post Entering into Kids' Bedroom                               Elm Bunk Beds at the Mud and Wood House                   

                            natural edge wood chair          natural edge wood chair           burl                                                                Elm Child's Chair                                    Elm Child's Chair                                                Detail of Elm Burl                                           

                            natural edge wood table        natural edge wood table                                                                         Elm Burl Table                                                                                 Elm Burl Table                             

    Colin is known for being a "big and burly" Scotsman who makes "big and burly" furniture. So we have decided that's what we're going to call his furniture range. If you would like to commission your very own big and burly piece, you can contact Colin at or on (086) 809 4241.













































































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    Weekend Design Course

    7th October 2013

    We ran our last official course of 2013 over the weekend, our design course. We had a great mix in the bunch - Irish, English, Polish, American and Aussie. As usual, their designs were really thoughtful and beautiful. A picture tells a thousand words, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

    design course         design course

    design course    design course

    design course           design course           design course

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    design course     design course

    Here's what some of the course participants said:

    "If I had come on this course earlier I could have saved a lot of time and money which I wasted. I now have a greater understanding of my options - what to look out for regarding sites and buildings, and I have a better feel of what I want, how to be more flexible with my ideas of building and design and considerations for my future." - Simon, Galway.

    "Very informative. Féile is a great speaker. She is always giving postives vibes and keeps the class in tune. Colin's meals were beautiful. Really pleased with questions raised in relation to buiding materials in houses - the pros and cons." - Damien, Mallow, Co. Cork.

    So to our last class of 2013 - thanks for ending the season on a high! And here's to 2014! The timetable will be ready by December - so keep an eye out for that.

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    Upcoming Weekend Design Course: 5th - 6th October

    25th September 2013

    It's just over a week until our 5th Weekend Design Course. There are still places available if you would be interested in coming along.

    We will cover topics such as what to look out for when choosing a site, how to harness the features on your site and how to deal with the challenges (because no site is perfect), how to design for you own lifestyle, what should you consider for the future, how to set a budget and stick to it, how does the planning process work in Ireland, why might you choose certain materials, and more. On Sunday afternoon, you will get to build a model of your dream home, tying everything you have learned together. Have a look at some previous creations.

    design model   design model   design model   design model   design model   design model   design model

    design model     design model     design model     design model     design model

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    Conservation and Heritage - Part 3:
    Survey of 200 - 300 Year Old Cob Cottage

    25th September 2013

    300 year old cob cottage

    A few months ago, I was asked to survey the mud walls of this cob cottage in Co. Meath. The first time the cottage appeared on an official map was 1812. However, from construction details and styles there are indicators that the cottage may actually date from the early to mid 1700s. At 201 or potentially up to 300 years old, this is the oldest mud-walled house that I have had the pleasure to visit. It is also the grandest.

    It seems that it may originally have been built by the second son of a wealthy Catholic farmer. Not being the direct heir to his father's wealth, it could be that his personal estate was measured in assets (land, outbuildings and a corn mill) rather than in hard cash. Therefore, rather than buying expensive building materials, we could speculate that he built his home from freely available earth but in a style and to a scale grander than the typcial peasant mud-walled cottage of the time.

    The house was passed down through the same family from generation to generation until recently, when their line ended, it was bought by my clients. Thanks to the continuous maintenance of the thatch roof and a lack of inappropriate cement- and concrete-based repairs, the cottage has survived in remarkable condition, given its age.

           300 year old cob cottage            300 year old cob cottage
                     East Elevation - Extensions Added Over the Years                                                          North West Corner

    The expansion of the house over the years gives a fascinating insight into the increasing standards of living and expectations of the occupants. Most of the extensions are built with stone and lime walls, roofed with natural slate. However, the most recent extension, a concrete-block bathroom extension to the north behind the garden wall pictured above, has caused the most significant damage to the cob walls. It is clear that there have been ongoing problems with the junctions of the roofs and the original cob walls and the attempt to repair these issues with cement has only exacerbated the situation. Cob is a soft, breathable material capable of micro-movements. Cement renders, plasters and mortars are hard, impermeable (non-breathable) and rigid. The two materials are incomptable and cob is the one to suffer.

                          300 year old cob cottage                     300 year old cob cottage
                  External Cement Repairs to Cob Walls are Causing Problems Internally             Significant Erosion at Corner Due                                                                                                                                                                       to Vegetation, Junctions with Rigid Stone                                                                                                                                                                 and Concrete Walls and Roof Junctions

    Internally, construction details typical of the time can be found. Most vernacular houses do not have any foundations to speak of. The 2ft (600mm) wide walls extend into the ground by only a few inches or so. This house may have originally started out with an earth or stone-flagged floor. At some point, timber floors were laid, but the joists lie directly on the compacted earth below and so a significant portion of them suffer from rot, particularly around the perimeter.

                          300 year old cob cottage                     300 year old cob cottage
                             Taking Up Floorboards Reveals                                      Stone Plinth at Base, Vertical Wooden Studs,
                          Joists Resting on Compacted Earth
                                                 Horizontal Laths and Lime Plaster

    Typically, the internal walls of peasant cob cottages would have been simply plastered directly on to the cob with earth, possibly dung or limewash. This cottage was a peg or two above the average peasant cottage and so the walls were lined with timber studs. Laths and lime plaster were used to achieve a fine, smooth finish. The lime plaster "grips" the laths by squashing through the gaps in between each lath. Lining the walls in this way would also have the added benefit of improving the thermal comfort of the building.

    At the base of the wall you can see the stone plinth. All cob houses, both ancient and contemporary, are built on a plinth to raise the earth material up above the splash back zone. This may not always be apparent externally, as the render will often reach down to the ground. In modern cob house, the plinths are usually highly insulated. Historically, they were solid stone walls.

    One of the most common questions we get asked about earth building is, "Won't it wash away?". With such wonderful enduring examples, such as this particular cottage, dotted all over the country, the answer is a confident and emphatic "No!".

    If you need maintenance or repair advice for any type of mud walled building, please get in touch at I love visiting the old cottages with all of their character and history.


























































































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    Inspiration from the Big Upcycle Market

    3rd September 2013

    From 23 - 25 August, we had a stand at the Big Upcycle Market in Dublin. It was a really inspiring event with loads of really great ideas. Have a look at some of the photos and links below....

    On Friday evening, I gave a talk about using "pre-loved" materials for building. Not only can it help to keep your costs down, it is also an excellent way to build from an environmentally-friendly point of view. When talking about carbon emissions, greenhouse gases and global warming, nobody is really surprised to hear that the transport sector is the biggest offender in Ireland. However, what does surprise a lot of people is that the residential sector is the next biggest contributer to carbon emissions in this country, accounting for 25% of our national carbon footprint. That number is coming down, partly as a result of the collapse of the construction industry and also due to tightening regulations which aim to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. But what has this got to do with using salvaged and scavenged materials?

    At the moment the regulations are concerned with the operational energy of our homes. What exactly is operational energy? This means turning on a lightbulb or firing up a boiler. It is the energy you use to light and heat your home, the energy you use to run your appliances and heat your water. However there is other energy locked in the actual materials of your house and this is known as embodied energy. This takes stock of at the energy it took to access the raw materials (in a mine or a quarry or on an oil rig or even felling trees in a forest). Next many of these raw materials needed to be processed, often requiring huge amounts of heat; bricks are fired between 900°C and 1,300°C; cement is produced at temperatures ranging from 1,480°C to 1,650°C. From an environmental point of view, ignoring carbon emissions, processing can also use up huge amounts of resources, e.g. water, and may require the addition or release of unpleasant toxins and chemicals. Getting back to carbon emissions, the raw materials had to be transported from the access site to the factory and then on to the builders' providers, often on a global scale. And when the materials have reached the end of their useful life, many of them end up in landfill.

    Studies have shown that for highly insulated, airtight buildings, the embodied energy of the building materials can account for up to 40% of the total carbon footprint of that building over its lifetime. When you use salvaged or scavenged materials, the embodied energy can be reset to zero. These materials have already had one tour of duty - they do not need to be accessed, processed and transported again. You bypass the need to get more building materials manufactured from scratch and you prevent something ending up in landfill. This is a big deal!

    Have a look at how many upcycled components we managed to include in the House.....

    upcycled house

    Here are some of our favourite upcycled items from the market. Check them out and follow the links .....

    Mud and Wood Upcycle Stand        upcycle market       motorgate  Féile having a chat at the Mud and Wood Stand           "Oh Deer" by Joanne Condon                "Motorgate" by Christine Cavanaugh

    elephant basket        bosca bosca        upcycle
    Elephant Basket by Eszter Hatala    Repurposed Radios & Docking Stations by BoscaBosca    Trolley Chair by Gildas O'Laoire

    "Oh Deer" by Joanne Condon - Kyle Lane                                            Upcycled furniture and handmade items.

    Elephant Basket by Ezster Hatala - Hatala Mosiacs.                          This gorgeous basket is woven from tightly bound newspaper.                                                                                                                    The workmanship in the basket is astounding. It was so beautiful                                                                                                                    that I had to buy it.

    Repurposed Internet Radios & Docking Stations - BoscaBosca.          I loved the quality of these gorgeous 50s, 60s and 70s radios,                                                                                                                    wired for bluetooth with sneaky ipod docking stations too.

    Trolley Chair - Gildas O' Laoire.                                                          This chair started life as a shopping trolley, cut in half, reassembled                                                                                                                    and "upholstered" with rope.

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

    We didn't get photos of everything that we liked. Some other websites worth checking out are:-

    The Rediscovery Centre - Leading change from waste to resource through re-use, re-design, research and education. Mind-blowingly                                                 brilliant collective based in Ballymun, Dublin.

    Little Scrap - Upcycled clothing, quilts and accessories.

    Off the Wall - Really good quality upcycled furniture. Your children's own artwork can be incorporated into the designs.

    Belfast Rain - Funky cycling rain gear made from abandoned festival tents.

    Conkr Creative Co. - Bottle openers, cuff-links and old-fashioned pegs made from whiskey barrels and pallets.

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

    Hope you get some great ideas or can support some up and coming Irish businesses.

    Cheers, Féile..















































































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    The Big Upcycle Market

    21st August 2013

    The Big Upcycle Market is happening this weekend in the Stillorgan Park Hotel and will be there. Féile will be giving a talk about 'Building from Junk' around 7:40pm at the launch on Friday evening. We will also have a stall all through Saturday and Sunday.

    Upcycling is all about finding abandoned, broken or worn-out items and giving them a new lease of life. Maybe you could turn an old tyre into a flower pot. Maybe you could dismantle two or three threadbare dresses and create one fabulous new outfit. Or maybe you could even spend 3 or 4 years scouring recycling yards, skips, fly-tipping sites, demolitions, etc. and end up building a house out of your hoard (sound familiar - have a read of our article - Wombling Free: The Art of Salvaging and Re-Using Materials).

    Upcycling is a really thrifty way to be creative. It also makes a lot of environmental sense. Rather than follow the path of the consumer, throwing things out at the first sign of wear and tear, use your imagination, breathe new life into it and prevent one more thing from ending up in landfill.

    Everything on offer at the Big Upcycle Market started life as something different. Everything is on its second tour of duty. At the very least, you might get some great ideas. At best, you might go home with some funky, new(ish) gear.

    Stop by and say hello!


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    1st Prize for Ecological Building - Save Our Planet Awards

    12th August 2013

    Yesterday Colin and I attended the Save Our Planet Award Ceremony at the Clarion Hotel in Sligo. The awards were the brain child of Aidan Gillen to give recognition to the work being carried out to promote environmental awareness across a variety of disciplines. The categories were Organic Agriculture, Ecological Building, Environmentally Aware Business, Community Initiatives, and Education and Awareness Raising. We came first in our category - Ecological Building.

    When you are plodding along, trying to get a message out there about using natural, locally sourced and salvaged materials to build, you don't always know that your message is being heard. So it is wonderful to be acknowledged for our efforts. Thanks to all of you who voted for us.

    save our planet awards                    save our planet awards


    Mud and Wood at the Secret Village Festival, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon

    12th August 2013

    On Saturday, we set up shop at the magical Secret Village Festival in Ballaghaderreen. Organised by two local lads, Barra O Flannaigh and Mick Reilly, they transformed the wasteland at the back of town into an amazing pixieland outdoor venue. The feeling of community spirit and goodwill in the air was palpable. With everything from blacksmithing to drumming, art exhibitions, felting, tibetan bowl sound workshops, live music, massage, face painting, tasty food and, of course, mud sculpting - there was loads of weird and wonderful stuff to be getting up to.

    Our mud-sculpting wall was busy from the outset. The kids took to it like a duck to water. As usual, loads of parents were reminded how much fun can be had with a hammer, some nails and a pile of mud - Who needs video games?! We got plenty of comments about how good it was to see the kids getting mucky. And it wasn't just for the kids - it was great to see some grown-ups rolling up their sleeves and getting creative too.

    mud sculpting at the secret village       mud sculpting at the secret village      mud sculpting at the secret village


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    Mud and Wood: Conservation and Heritage - Part 2

    31st July 2013

    Russborough House - Lime Kiln Restoration Project

    At the end of June, I spent four days vounteering on the restoration of the lime kiln at Russborough House, co-ordinated by Building Limes Forum Ireland.

    Russborough House was designed by Richard Cassels and is an excellent example of Palladian Architecture. Located close to the Blessington Lakes in Co. Wicklow, it was built between 1741 and 1755. It is reputed to be the longest house in Ireland.

    The lime kiln at Russborough had two purposes; one - to provide lime for the construction of the house and its servant buildings and two - to provide lime for farming purposes. Lime helps to improve drainage in heavy clay-based soils or to raise the PH of acid soils.

    So, what is lime?

    Limestone is heated to approximately 900°C in a lime kiln. Traditionally, fist-sized lumps of limestone were used. The heat causes the carbon dioxide in the limestone to burn off. CO2 accounts for about 45% of the total weight of the limestone. The material that is left after the CO2 has been burnt off is known as quicklime. The lumps will still be the same size as they were before they were burnt in the kiln; however, they weigh just 55% of their original weight.

    If a small amount to water is added to this quicklime (a very light spray is enough), the lumps will literally break apart by themselves and transform into a powder. This is known as a hydrate. Historically, on a dry day on the farm, lump-lime may have been distributed around fields that needed improving. Rain showers would then transform the lumps into a fine powder which would penetrate down into the soil.

    lump lime hydrated                                      lump lime hydrated                                      lump lime hydrated
    A tiny amount of water sprayed on to this fist-sized quicklime cobble caused it to break apart and turn into powder in under ten minutes. This demonstration was carried out by Stafford Holmes, a leading expert on lime, at the Russborough Lime Kiln.

    If the lumps of quicklime are added to a container of water, this causes a violent reaction, heating the water to boiling point. This is known as slaking the lime. The lumps of quicklime break down until they reach a cottage cheese consistency, producing fat lime or lime putty. Traditionally, fat lime was used for fine plasterwork.

    slaking lime                       boiling water - slaking lime
                     Stafford adding quicklime to cold water                                                                  Water starts to boil in 2 - 3 minutes

    Fat lime needs access to air in order to set or to harden. It absorbs the CO2 out of the air, a process known as carbonation. Essentially, it is chemically becoming limestone again. This process can take years to complete. Fat lime or lime putty that has no access to air, such as underwater, underground or even in a permanently damp location, will never set. It is a non-hydraulic lime (hydraulic means that it can set in water). The longer fat lime is allowed to mature, the better the quality. In Italy, it was the custom of stuccadores (plaster workers) to lay down a pit of lime putty on the birth of a son; he would be presented with this fat lime when he came of age.

    Quicklime can also be added directly to sand and water, known as hot lime. This was the tradtional way of using lime as a mortar for stone wall construction. Hot lime mixes improve the workability of the lime mortar, are more frost resistant, "grip" the stones better as the mortar expands slightly after application, are stiffer - allowing work to progress faster and avoiding "swimming" when laying stones. Another advantage is that is does not matter if the sand is too wet - a good advantage considering the Irish climate. Hot lime mixes also tend to be more porous compared with other lime mortars, resulting in drier buildings in the long run.

    What is NHL?

    You may be familiar with NHL 2, NHL 3.5 and NHL 5. The NHL stands for natural hydraulic lime. "Hydraulic" indicates that these limes are able to set in water. The numbers 2, 3.5 and 5 refer to the strength that these limes achieve after 28 days, measured in N/mm² (newtons per millimetre squared).

    The limestone that is burnt to produce NHLs contains impurities of clay or silica. This clay or silica content produces reactive aluminates or silicates when burnt and this is what allows the lime to set under wet conditions. NHL 2 has a low clay or silica content. NHL 5 has a higher clay or silica content.

    While the NHLs are used extensively and successfully for conservation projects, I would be very careful about using them with cob or other earth-based construction. Fat lime is by far the most appropriate finish for cob walls.

    How did the lime kilns operate?

    The kilns were built to burn limestone to produce quicklime. Heat in excess of 900°C was required; so how was this achieved?

    The kilns were built of stone, often limestone. They were frequently set into a hillside. The hill allowed easy access to the "pot" above. The thermal mass of the earth also may have helped to retain the heat building up inside the kiln. The pot was basically a large cylindrical opening, like a very large chimney flue. The fuel (turf, coal, wood, etc.) and limestone lumps filled the pot. There was an opening at the bottom of the kiln, into the bottom of the pot and the kiln was fired up from here. If the kiln was built from limestone and the limestone was constantly being exposed to high temperatures, then the structure itself would turn into quicklime. Therefore, the pot was usually lined with clay. The pot at Russborough is built from granite bedded in an almost pure clay mortar.

           lime kiln at russborough               lime kiln at russborough
           The Lime Kiln at Russborough - the fuel was added through                                   The hole in the centre of this wall is the pot
           the hole underneath the arch. This was also where the
           quicklime was removed when it was ready.

    For a "running kiln", the fuel and limestone were laid in alternate layers. As each layer of fuel burned, its accompanying layer of limestone was converted into quicklime. The quicklime could then be removed through the opening at the bottom. All of the layers would drop down and another layer of fuel and quicklime could be added into the pot from above. This allowed the kiln to operate 24/7, possibly over months. The residual heat which built up over time meant that less fuel was needed to burn the limestone.

                                           Running Kiln                                                                                           Standing Kiln

    For a "standing kiln", the fuel was laid at the bottom of the pot. An arch of limestone was built above the fuel, which supported the rest of the limestone, added to the pot from the top. The kiln was then fired. By the time all of the limestone had converted to quicklime, the arch too had also turned into quicklime. At only 55% of its original weight, the arch would collapse and the quicklime could be removed through the opening at the bottom. This method was for one-off burnings. It was not as fuel-efficient but it did allow for larger lumps of lime to be burnt.

    The Lime Kiln at Russborough

    The lime kiln at Russborough had suffered extensive damage over time. A team of masons, lime-workers, stone conservators, structural engineers and architects have been vounteering throughout the year to bring the kiln back to its former glory. The intention is to get it in full working order and to be able to produce quicklime once more in the grounds of Russborough.

    During the four days I spent with them, the rate of progress was impressive. The wealth and depth of expertise among the group was pretty impressive too, from Stafford Holmes (already mentioned - author of Building with Lime) to Pat McAfee (master stonemason and author of Lime Works) to Lisa Edden (co-ordinator of the project and conservation consulting structural engineer). As well as getting stuck into the work, they were also a sound bunch to hang out with. The days flew.

    During my time, I learned to mix batches of lime (using NHL 5, sand, limestone dust and quicklime powder). I laid stones, helping to finish off the parapet wall around the top of the pot. I raked out joints, pointed with lime, inserted pinning stones where the joints were too wide and beat back the mortar. I found the work to be highly absorbing. It was also very satisfying to complete a section of wall.

                           stone wall                             lime kiln pointing
                                                 Section of Parapet Wall - built by me!                                             Fresh Pointing at Base of Lime Kiln

    As well as working with lime, there was also the issue of lining the kiln with clay. While I have a lot of experience when it comes to raw earth, once you start to add heat to it, I'm at a loss. Stafford Holmes had carried out some research on the works of Alfred B. Searle (1877 - 1967) who wrote such books as The Clayworkers Handbook and the very excitingly-titled Refractories for furnaces, kilns, retorts, etc.,. Luckily, there is a ceramics workshop at Russborough, along with some other artisan craft workers. Ceramacist, Eleanor Swan very kindly allowed us to fire our clay samples in her kiln.

    For natural earth plasters, at we try to limit the clay content as clay is a very active ingredient and we want to create a stable product. We don't want the plaster on our walls to swell and shrink as it absorbs and releases water vapour. We also want plenty of sand in our plasters for strength. However, once clay is fired, it becomes stable and strong - so therefore a much higher clay content should theoretically be acceptable. We had some special fire clay, locally sourced, to play with. However, we also came across the most wonderful cliffs and "solid lakes" of pure, grey clay on site. So naturally, we had to experiment with that too. I spent the day making multiple samples, varying the amounts and types of clay and sand.

    This was the only rainy day of the week and it was very wet. Between harvesting raw clay from the site and pounding and mixing samples, by the end of day I looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. All in the name of research!

                    lime kiln pot                          clay samples
                                        Looking Down into the Lime Kiln Pot                                                 Samples of Clay Mixes for Firing
                              (Note: Temporary platform to carry out plastering -
                                         Pot is about 4 times deeper than this!)

    The samples have since been fired and the specification for the clay lining to the pot is well on the way to being confirmed.

    RTE's Nationwide has done some filming at the kiln. Hopefully the programme will be aired some time in the Autumn. So keep an eye out for that.




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    Mud and Wood: Conservation and Heritage - Part 1

    24th July 2013

    At we are not only concerned with promoting natural building for new-build projects, we are also very much involved in conservation and heritage work. In fact, much of what we can learn about natural building materials, such as stone, lime and earth, is informed by the buildings of the past. Builders from "olden times" used locally available materials for their projects and if we are to be truly sustainable in our future approach to construction, then this concept must be incorporated into our designs.

    It is recognised that old buildings "work" differently to their contemporary counterparts. Whereas as modern construction attempts to create an impermeable barrier against nature, old buildings work with it. Old buildings accept that the rain will drive into the wall, but they can dry out. Whereas with a conventional, contemporary building, if a certain component fails or reaches the end of its design-life, then the building will fail. If rain breaches that "impermeable" barrier, then the structure will become wet, stay wet and a host of problems can arise. I believe that it is much better to work with nature rather than try to "keep nature out", because eventually nature will always win.

                                                                                  Tree Growing Out of Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor, Camobodia

    Mud and Wood at Heritage Day, Ballina

    24th July 2013

    On the 10th July, we had a stand at the Heritage Day in Ballina. The Heritage Day is part of the week long Salmon Festival and promotes traditional skills and crafts. We were very busy on the stand and hope to have inspired a few future natural builders.

    heritage day stand     Colin at the Mud and Wood Stand on Heritage Day, Ballina

    As the focus of the day was on heritage, as well as promoting new work, we had a poster display illustrating the traditional methods of mixing and building cob.

    heritage day poster

    The illustrations of the horse-driven cob mixers are taken from Gernot Minke's "Earth Construction Hanbook", WIT Press. The illustration of traditional cob wall building is taken from Laurence Keefe's "Earth Building", Taylor and Francis.

    We also displayed examples of historic cob buildings from around the country. They are everywhere. One of the buildings included on the poster (from Co. Roscommon) does not actually have solid earth walls. Rather, it is a stone building with mud mortars. Again, this is more common than you may think and was a highly structurally effective and cost effective way of building with stone.

    heritage day

    The Heritage Council was involved in the restoration of the cob house in Mayglass, Co. Wexford. For more information on this project click on Architect Cáit Ní Cheallacháin was responsible for the restoration of the cob house in Co. Limerick.

    Plannning Granted for 1830s and 1890s Listed Buildings

    24th July 2013

    Any of you who live in Sligo will be familiar with the Sligo Family Resource Centre on the Mall. The centre is expanding to take over its sister building next door. The proposed expansion meant that there were issues to address with regards to fire regulations and disability access. As you can imagine in buildings almost 200 years old, this proved to be somewhat complicated, particularly when conservation principles dictate that as much of the original fabric of the building as possible is to remain intact. I had meetings with the heritage officer, fire safety officer, disability access officer and chief architect (who specialises in disability access) and of course, all had differing priorities. It took some time and skill to resolve the conflicting requirements to everyone's satisfaction. However, once the planning application was validated, it sailed through the planning process and I am delighted to announce that permission was granted for the scheme on the 12th July.

    The buildings have an interesting past, appearing on old maps of Sligo as early as 1837. They were orignally occupied by the master brewer and the assistant brewer to Lough Gill Brewery (now the Velvet Rooms nightclub). As the brewery was built in 1834, it may be that the houses were built specifically for this purpose. Indeed, there was a laneway connecting the back of the two houses directly to the brewery. In the mid 20th century, at least one of the houses was occupied by one of the Bellew Brothers, well-to-do merchants whose shop survived on Grattan Street until the 1980s (Cordoners Shoes is there now). In 1980, the North Western Health Board bought the buildings to be used as accommodation for the student nurses at Sligo General Hospital. In 1998, the buildings were returned to private ownership and the Family Resource Centre took up tenancy in 2001.

    sligo frc         sligo frc          sligo frc detail
                                Sligo Family Resource Centre - c.1890                                    Rear of Resource Centre                Revealed Construction dates from 1830s

    The Ordinance Survey Map of 1837 shows buildings on this plot with an identical footprint to that which exists today. This was a bit of a conundrum because the style of the architecture of the buildings dates from the 1890s. To add more mystery to the riddle, when some damage at the rear of the building was examined, the construction beneath dated from the 1830s. The clue to the answer was in the Ordinance Survey Map of 1875, which showed that the return at the rear of the buildings had survived intact, but some calamity had reduced the street frontage of both buildings to ruin. So bizarrely, the rear of the buildings actually pre-dates the main buildings by approximately 55 to 60 years.

    If you need advice on a conservation project or listed building, you can contact me at or on (086) 806 8382.

    Coming Soon: Conservation and Heritage - Parts 2 and 3

    24th July 2013

    I volunteered on the restoration of the lime kiln at Russborough House recently and will post about that soon.

    I also was lucky enough to survey a cob building in Co. Meath last week. It was by far the grandest and oldest example of a cob building that I have personally encountered. More on that to follow too.

    Cheers for now.



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    Callout to Anyone Interested in the 4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course

    18th July 2013

    The 4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course is due to run over the August Bank Holiday Weekend (2 - 5 August inclusive). A number of people have expressed an interest, but firm bookings are low to date. If you would like to do this course, could you let us know as soon as possible? We would hate to cancel the course and then find out we probably had the numbers to run it after all.

    You will learn how to build structures such as summer houses and garden walls. As well as building the cob walls themselves, you will learn how to roof them and also we will take a look at how to make decorative windows for them. To book, please use our paypal facility or contact

    cob play house              cob garden wall
                                                               Children's Cob Play House                                              Cob Garden Wall

    inside cob play house           cob garden wall
                                                        Inside the Children's Cob Play House                                     Cob Garden Wall


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    surfline logo Article

    2nd July 2013

    Surfline is an online global surf magazine with an audience of literally hundreds of thousands. Their press blurb says they have up to 2,000,000 visits per month. Recently Surfline started running a monthly feature called the DIY Series and put out a call for "surfers who make hand-made, non-traditional art which results in some kind of rad, functional, usable product." It was surfing that brought Colin to the northwest of Ireland in the first place - so we thought we should get in touch.

    Well, they loved the House and one evening in late May, the editor chatted to Colin on the phone for over an hour about the process of building the house .... and surfing, of course! The story was published online on the 23rd June and in just 10 days has had over 29,000 views. We even had Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers tweeting "this is badass i wanna build one!" We did tweet back to offer him our services, but combining our twitter incompetence with his 882,315 followers, somehow I think our proposal was lost in the ether. The article turned out really well, beautifully put together. And Flea, if you really want help to build one, please do get in touch!

                                                                                                                                                                                   Click here to read the article.

    Recent Radio Interview

    2nd July 2013

    Back in May we were interviewed by Therese Madden on Ocean Fm.                                                    Click here to hear the interview.


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    New Online Booking Form and PayPal Buttons

    21st June 2013

    It's taken us a while, but we have finally gotten around to adding an online booking form to It also now possible to pay for all courses through PayPal, which should make booking much more convenient for you.

    Our gift vouchers are also now available to buy through PayPal.

    For those who do not wish to use PayPal, you can still send a cheque to us or we can also provide our bank details if you would rather pay by electronic transfer.

    Take a look at some of our upcoming courses and decide what aspect of natural building you would like to learn about this summer.


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    New Cob Oven Course: 7 - 8 September

    16th June 2013

    We're delighted to announce that we have added a Weekend Cob Oven Course to our schedule of courses. It will be built in the garden of the House. Click here for more details.

    2013 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course

    16th June 2013

    We are finally getting back to normal after our 8-Day Course, which finshed on the 8th June. After all the buzz and energy and purpose of the 8 days, it seems very quiet around the House.

    Day 1
    We only had a small (but very enthusiastic) group this year, so we decided to bring in a few extra students on the first day, which is essentially the same as the Introduction to Cob Course. We like to get mucky right from the get-go. So the group got to play with lots of different soil samples, getting a (literally) hands-on sense of what type of soil makes a good building material. Then it was time to foot-mix and hand-make cob. We began adding some cob to our stone wall and finished off the day with a bit of mud-sculpting.

    Day 1 - 8 Day Course          Day 1 - 8 Day Course        Day 1 - 8 Day Course         Day 1 - 8 Day Course
           Making Cobs by Hand              Hand-Cobbing on the Stem Wall             Scultping with Mud                          The First Layer of Cob

    Day 2
    If you are building a real building, you need to know how to get the plan off the sheet of paper and on to the ground. After a little bit of theory in the morning about levels and set squares, the students made their own BIG set squares out of timber. Then off to the field to set out a building. At , we like to make our students think. So not only did they learn how to set out a rectangular building, they also learned how to set out circles, ellipses, in fact any kind of curve or angle that takes their fancy.

    In the afternoon it was time to learn to make formwork. We find this speeds up the cobbing process and makes it much more practical to get a large building up in a short space of time. The formwork was left to set overnight, so that we could build with it the next day.

              Day 2 - 8 Day Course          Day 2 - 8 Day Course        Day 2 - 8 Day Course         Day 2 - 8 Day Course
                       Making Set Squares                     Setting Out the Building                    Marking Out an Ellipse             Making Formwork

    Day 3
    The morning was spent in the classroom, getting our heads around foundations, stem walls and ground floors. We looked at a broad spectrum of options from conventional to natural. There were loads of questions, a sign that this group were pretty serious about building natural homes in the future.

    In the afternoon we headed outside into the glorious sunshine to start cobbing using the formwork that had been made the day before. It's always exciting to see how quickly work can progress when you have a machine to mix your cob and formwork to guide you.

    Day 3 was also Colin's birthday. So we headed down to the Beach Bar, a great local thatched pub with views of the Sligo mountains and Donegal across the bay. It was lovely to hang out with some of our students "off-campus" and get to know them a little bit better.

              Day 3 - 8 Day Course          Day 3 - 8 Day Course          Day 3 - 8 Day Course          Day 3 - 8 Day Course
                Whacking Cob              Stamping in the Formwork                  Removing the Formwork                    Happy Birthday Colin!

    Day 4
    Day 4 was probably the toughest morning in the classroom. We dealt with insulation and breathability and the properties of heat transfer. We also looked at all of the layers in timber frame walls, why they exist and what exactly do they do. It was a lot for the students to absorb (but no bother to them). So we broke up the morning theory session with some practical work - learning how to build the stem wall.

    The House is a hybrid house. Not all of our walls our built from cob - we also have timber frame walls with straw bale infill on the north and east sides of the house. So in the afternoon the students built a section of this type timber frame wall.

    It wasn't always all work and no play though. Colin discovered one of the group likes to surf and a small swell had just arrived to our shores. So they took off for a bit of a sea session before and after the course.

              Day 4 - 8 Day Course          Day 4 - 8 Day Course          Day 4 - 8 Day Course          Day 4 - 8 Day Course
               Range of Natural Insulations                 Stem Wall                  Building the Timber Frame            Using Straw Bales as Insulation

    Day 5
    After a heavy day in the classroom on Day 4, the students got to relax on Day 5. The morning was spent on the design workshop. The weather was so glorious that we made our models outside, with our 2 year old joining in. It's a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

    In the afternoon it was time to get back to cobbing, both using formwork and looking at how to incorporate details such as arches and lintels. Colin also gave a demonstration of how to digger-mix cob.

    Day 5 - 8 Day Course         Day 5 - 8 Day Course        Day 5 - 8 Day Course          Day 5 - 8 Day Course
             Design Workshop                             Model of Cob House                     Forming a Cob Arch                               Digger-Mixing Cob

    Day 6
    We started Day 6 by removing the formwork from the previous day's cobbing. After that, beams and joists were on the agenda for the day. In the theory class, the students learned how to size their timbers correctly and looked at details of how to attach them to a cob and a timber frame wall. Then they got to build a beam from scratch, attach joists to it, set up the wall plates on the cob wall and fix the joists to them. We also looked at making temporary windows.

     Day 6 - 8 Day Course          Day 6 - 8 Day Course          Day 6 - 8 Day Course          Day 6 - 8 Day Course          Day 6 - 8 Day Course
     Removing Forms           Making a Beam                 Attaching Joist Hangers                     Fixing Joists to the Beam          Temporary Windows

    Day 7
    Our second last day and the weather just kept getting better and better. In the morning we got on with another lift of cob - incorporating window openings into this lift. The students were getting much quicker at assembling the formwork and tamping the cob. Theory that day was all about roofs - the different types, when to ventilate, when not to ventilate, how to insulate them, etc. That afternoon, the students learned how to set out a simple pitched roof on the ground.

    That evening, we invited all of our group and their partners (if they were around) to come for a barbeque. Not only did the partners come, but the dogs too! So we had almost as many dogs as people running around the house. Our kids were mad about the two dinky little yorkies - I'm convinced they thought they were living toys. It was brilliant to hang out, chat and have the craic and nobody was in any rush to leave. But with a busy last day ahead of us, we bid farewell to the posse shortly after midnight.

             Day 7 - 8 Day Course         Day 7 - 8 Day Course          Day 7 - 8 Day Course          Day 7 - 8 Day Course
                   The Second Lift of Cob                     Openings for Windows               Setting Out the Roof          Enjoying an Evening BBQ

    Day 8
    The last day is always a littel bit bitter-sweet. We had had a great week with a great bunch of people, lots of laughs, lots of energy, lots of building. So it's always a bit sad to know that it is coming to an end. On the other hand, we were all getting pretty tired. When we decided to call the course "intensive", we weren't messing!

    The previous day, the students had set out a roof on the ground. Now it was time for them to build that roof. They learned how to assemble the wall plates, rafters and ridge plate and how to stabilise the whole structure.

    There wasn't much theory for the final day. We had a quick look at earth plasters - what are the components and what job each component does. If you know that, then you are well equipped to troubleshoot if your plaster cracks or is too dusty, etc. We headed outside to the playhouse, where the students had a go at applying base and finish earth plasters.

    In the afternoon, we looked at natural edge wood. Colin showed them some "sneaky wee tips", as he calls them. They learned how to make templates rather than cut up the good wood. And they got to make their own natural edge wood shelves.

    And then that was it! Done and dusted for another year....

                  Day 8 - 8 Day Course         y 8 - 8 Day Course         Day 8 - 8 Day Course         Day 8 - 8 Day Course        Day 8 - 8 Day Course
                 Fixing the Rafters        Fixing the Rafters         Applying Plaster          Making Shelves                  The Class of 2013

    We got some lovely testimonials about the course. Take a look on the 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course Page to read them. We have to say a huge thank you to Colin's parents, Dan and Ena. Dan pottered away in the garden all week, planting out all of the veg that we didn't have time to. Ena baked up a storm and helped with meals, cleaning and the kids. Everyone agreed that when times are more flush again, we should charge a premium for having an in-house Scottish granny on the course.

    Thanks to our kids too. It's not easy having lots of mucky folk taking over your home and your parents for a week. They were great!

    And of course, thanks to Aimee, Jayce, Helene and Darran for making the course so enjoyable to teach.

    Thankfully we were eased gently back into the quiet life. A load of mates were camping down at Easkey Common. It looked like a mini festival when we pulled up on Saturday evening. Colin was so tired, he fell asleep before 11:00pm. Usually the last man standing at a party, this was a first! The rest us of sat around the campfire, watching yet another amazing sunset (Sky TV at its best!), singing very badly, accompanied by guitars and ... a trumpet!

                          Camping at Easkey                           Camping at Easkey                           Camping at Easkey

    The next morning, as I watched a pod of dolphins swim past, I couldn't think of a better way to wind down after our intensive week.




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    Courses at Mud and Wood

    31st May 2013

    Natural Edge Wood Course

    Last weekend, Colin ran his Natural Edge Wood Course. Participants were brought on a tour of a local saw mill and were shown where to find trees and, more importantly, how to convince their owners to part with them. The students were also brought on a very different tour of the House, where tables were turned upside down, doors were unscrewed from their frames and beds were dismantled. It allowed everyone to see exactly how each item was made and get practical insight into the tricks of the trade. They got to try their hand at making their own natural edge shelves and the results were great. See for yourselves.

    natural edge wood course              natural edge wood              natural edge wood course

    natural edge wood course           natural edge wood course           natural edge wood course


    8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course

    We are now all set for our 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, which starts tomorrow.....

    8-Day Course Handbook           8-Day Course rising wall           8-Day Course Playhouse
    The handbook is printed.       The stem wall for the cob project is built.         The playhouse is ready for its roof.

    And the weather is forecast to be good. Here's to a great week of natural building ahead of us!


    Open Day was a Great Success

    31st May 2013

    Thanks to all of you who turned up for the open day at the House on the 18th May. We had somewhere between 80 and 90 visitors to the house. There was a choice on the day of 2 talks, 'Cob as a Building Material' and 'How We Built the House', the latter proving the most popular by a long shot. Once we add a voice-over to the presentation, we will be adding it to our YouTube channel. So keep an eye out for that.

    It was great to meet so many of you, especially a lot of you we had previously talked to on the phone or via email. It was also lovely to see so many of you making yourselves at home, with the kettle on boil round the clock. Cheers everybody!


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    Spot the Difference
    between the 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course and other Cob Building Courses

    7th May 2013

    It's less than a month to our 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course (June 1st - 8th inclusive) and there are still places available. If you are trying to decide if this is the cob building course for you, here are our top ten reasons to choose .

    1. Experienced Teachers
    Cob is a very democratic material. Anybody can build with it. That's what we love about it. However, cob alone does not make a whole house. Colin Ritchie is a carpenter apprenticed by his father (it's in his blood) and has been working in the building game for over 25 years. Féile Butler is a registered architect with 15 years of professional practice under her belt. So between them, they have decades of combined experience regarding the practicalities of getting a real house built. They have both been researching and working with cob since 2005.

    2. Working Knowledge of Planning Regulations
    One of the questions we get asked most is how we got planning permission for the House. The answer is that it went very smoothly, but we put in a good deal of work beforehand. There is a lot of misinformation out there about the planning process in Ireland. We have plenty of tips to help you get the most positive outcome possible for your plans.

    3. Working Knowledge of Building Regulations
    Many cob building courses have little or no regard for building regulations. Even if you manage to build your home very cheaply, it will still probably be one of the major financial investments of your life. At we believe it is important that you are taught to build a house that is legally compliant. Otherwise, you will have problems if you need to apply for a mortgage or if you want to sell your home. Regulations cover everything from how much insulation needs to be in your roof/floor/walls to the size and location of your toilet, from what type of hot water/heating system you can install to the dimensions of your stairs. We also discuss the current challenges of building a legally compliant cob house and how you might go about dealing with them.

    4. Working with Cob on a Big Scale
    On the 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, we start by teaching the traditional method of foot-mixing and hand-building cob. We believe that it is really important to get a good feel for the material. However, for anything bigger than a tiny cottage, this method is not practical. It is painfully slow. At we developed our own way to mix and build with cob on a much bigger scale. This system, using digger-mixing and plywood formwork, allowed us to build the walls of a 1,400 sq. ft. house in less than one building season. On the course, we spend a lot of time teaching you how to make the forms, how to make your own specialised tools of the trade and how to get large cob walls up quickly.

    5. Theory to Back Up the Practical
    At , we believe it is as important to understand why you do something a certain way as well as simply learning how to do it. So while you will spend a lot of time building and practising on our course, you will also spend plenty of time in the classroom. When you understand how certain materials work together, it will empower you to make good choices about your own building project. When can you substitue one material for something else a little cheaper or when could that decision actually be harmful to your building? Why do certain details work the way they do and what happens if you get rid of some of the layers/components? The theory will really stand to you when you begin your own project.

    6. It's Not Only About Mud - There is Wood too (and Straw Bales)!
    The House is not only built with solid cob walls. We also invented our own detail for a timber-frame wall insulated with straw bales. Learn how you can modify cheap and easy-to-find/salvage materials to build this type of wall. For anyone who is not a master lime-plasterer, this is a great way to use straw bales in our rainy climate.

    7. Tips on How to Use Salvaged Materials
    A lot of this comes back to the theory (See No. 5 above). It's all very well salvaging lots of free building materials. However, if you do not use them correctly in your building, they can end up causing damage to your structure. Get some really practical tips on how you can use all of this free stuff safely in your home.

    8. A Course Developed by Mud and Wood specially for Our Part of the World
    The 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course (and accompanying handbook) was developed as a direct consequence of Colin and Féile's experiences working and building in Ireland and the UK. The guidance from international cob building books and experts has been adapted to suit the local climate and local legal requirements. This has been possible because of Colin and Féile's wealth of knowledge and experience in practical house building.

    9. It's Not Only About the Walls
    From personal experience, Colin and Féile encountered gaps in cob building courses. Some important stages of house-building were left out. students have the opportunity to set out a building on the ground, to physically build a simple roof, to make timber beams, etc. Colin and Féile are always available to answer students' particular queries if a topic has not been covered adequately during the course.

    10. It's in a Beautiful Part of the World
    Sligo is home to Yeats' Isle of Inish Free and to the Warrior Queen Maeve's tomb on Knocknarea. World renowned surf breaks are on our doorstep, as are miles of glorious beaches. There are more megalithic sites per acre in Sligo than anywhere else in the country. If all that seems too active, chill out in the local seaweed baths or pass the time of day fishing some of our great local rivers. And the sunsets on this northwest coast have to be seen to be believed!


    If you would like to be part of the 2013 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, download your booking form here. Please contact us directly for 's bank details if it is more convenient for you to pay by electronic transfer. We hope to see you on the 1st June for a great course.


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    Free Open Day at Mud and Wood House

    3rd May 2013

    mud and wood open day

    We are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting a FREE open day at the House on Saturday, 18th May 2013.

    If you would like a guided tour of the house including details of why we designed it the way we did, what materials (home-made and salvaged) we used where, and how we got that big tree into the centre of the stairwell, then this is the day for you.

    Between tours, we will be presenting step-by-step slides showing how we built the house and slides about the history and future of mud-walled buildings in Ireland.

    Either Colin or I will be available throughout the day for one-to-one questions if the tour and talk times don't suit you.

    So hope to see you here on the 18th!



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    Mud and Wood at the Good Life Festival

    1st May 2013

    We spent last weekend (27th and 28th April) at the Good Life Festival at the Oxford Island Nature Reserve close to Craigavon, Co. Armagh. It was really enjoyable event and there was a lot of interest in the stand.

    good life festival                   us at the good life festival
            Good Build at the Good Life Festival                                                                       The Mud and Wood Posse

    It turns out that there is a very strong tradition of mud-walled houses in the region, with many of our stall visitors telling us that they, their parents or their friends had lived in a mud-walled building at some point. Some still do. During the weekend the deputy mayor of Craigavon dropped by. Interestingly, he also started life out in a mud-walled house.

    colin and the deputy mayor
    Colin and the Deputy Mayor of Craigavon (photo courtesy of Tom Woolley)

    One reason for this proliferation of historic earth-building is thanks to the geological conditions around Lough Neagh (Ireland's biggest lake). There was not much stone available but plenty of good building soil. So the local community made the most of what nature offered them. One of our previous cob oven students had supplied us with some photos of surviving cob buildings from the area. One of these buildings has a really interesting detail where the house was raised from one-storey to two. The gable wall was built up with turf! We also got a tip off about a cob cottage very close to the festival site and went to visit it for ourselves. We would love to see some of these buildings being appropriately restored before they are lost to us forever.

    armagh cob house     armagh cob house     armagh cob house
                           Cob Houses, Co. Armagh (photos courtesy of Oliver O'Hare)                                        Cob House near Festival, Co. Armagh

    detail of turf wall
    Turf Wall Built on Top of Cob Wall - Gable Raised
    (photo courtesy of Oliver O'Hare)

    We had a few students from the class of 2012 (8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course) stop in to say hello, which was a lovely surprise. It was great to hear that they have begun digging foundations for their little cob studio. For any of you interested in this course for 2013, there are still places available - with just one month to go! It was also brilliant to meet some of you face-to-face who had previously been in touch with us through email.

    former mud and wood students             lough neagh flies
                           Catching up with the Class of 2012                                                                    The Lough Neagh Flies              

    We didn't actually get to sculpt on the Bronze Age structure (pictured in the blog below). It was fenced off in a marshy garden where the infamous Lough Neagh flies were out in swarms of biblical proportions. It wasn't just an old woman who swallowed a fly, most of the festival-goers did too (including us). In fact, we didn't get to do much mud-sculpting at all, we were so busy answering questions at the stand. So thanks to Co. Armagh for all your interest and enthusiasm about natural building.


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    Recent Mud and Wood Courses

    25th April 2013

    The swallows have finally arrived to our neck of the woods - a sure sign that the season for natural building is officially open. And already we have a few courses under our belt. Some we ran at the House and some were for private groups.

    Cob Information Session
    Last year we became involved in the Natural-Energy Efficiency-Sustainable project. Hopefully this will eventually lead to some funding for much needed research into earth as a building material and to help us create courses in natural building which could be used across Europe. Within each country participating in NEES there are multiple partners, combining many universities, housing groups, etc. A cross-section of these partners came to the House for an information session, finding out about what exactly is cob and what is its potential.

    nees presentation                  nees presentation

    The session was a great succeess. We will be giving a similar talk at the Good Life Festival at Oxford Island Nature Reserve on Lough Neagh this Sunday (28th April) at 1:30. So if you are in the area, pop in and see us.

    Private Cob Oven Workshop
    Many of the people who attended the talk were part of the Claremorris Irish Centre for Housing, a voluntary housig association which develops social housing projects for people in the community who may be experiencing difficult circumstances. They were keen to explore cob in much more detail. To get them familiar with the material, Colin ran a two-day workshop in Claremorris with them.

    There were 14 enthusiastic participants and progress was excellent. Unfortunately, the project got rained off on the second afternoon. But the crew have been coming up with some great ideas to turn their simple cob oven into a sculptural masterpiece. We'll have to check back with them in the summer to see what they come up with. Have a look at how they got on below.

    claremorris ich cob oven 1        claremorris ich cob oven 2       claremorris ich cob oven 3
                        Preparing the Oven Base                                            Mixing Batches of Cob                                            Adding the Fire Bricks

    claremorris ich cob oven 4       claremorris ich cob oven 5       claremorris ich cob oven 6
                         Levelling the Fire Bricks                                                 The Sand Mould                                                    Building Up the Cob

    claremorris ich cob oven 7       claremorris ich cob oven 8       claremorris ich cob oven 9
                   Finishing Off the Internal Layer                                        A Well-Earned Break                                                Next Stop - Plastering

    Mud and Wood Design Course
    Last weekend we ran our fourth design course at the House. We had a great bunch - there was a lot of laughter over the weekend - a really eclectic mix from language teachers to opera singers, from acupuncturists and future lama farmers to organic farmers. I love meeting the people who come on our courses. It is always so interesting how each individual's experience will bring something new or unexpected to our workshops. And as always, I was blown away by the models they made putting everything together that they had learned over the weekend. Even though our design course relates to building with any type of material, conventional or otherwise, this group were pretty sold on mud. Check out the gorgeous sculptural curves they incorporated into their designs - expressing cob's potential to the max. I would love to see these designs built in the future!

    design course 1       design course 2           design course 3       design course 4
                                         House for an Opera Singer                                                                             Tiny 'Me-Time' Retreat

    design course 5                   design course 6           design course 7
                         A Social Cave                                                                                         Animals Welcome!    

    I hope you find some of their ideas as inspirational as I do. There will be another design course running in October - so maybe see you on it.


    Bronze Age Structure at Oxford Island Nature Reserve

    Oxford Island Good Life Festival, Craigavon - 27th and 28th April
    If you are near Craigavon this weekend, come and see us at the Good Life Festival at Oxford Island Nature Reserve. We'll be based at the Bronze Age Structure (see above), running free mud-scultping workshops all day long. So, if you fancy getting creative and mucky at the same time - be sure to stop by. Suitable for kids and for kids-at-heart.




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    The Mud and Wood House Fridge or Thoughts on Granny Wisdom

    13th April 2013

    When visitors come to the House, one of the features which never fails to impress is our fridge. Actually, we have two fridges, but neither of them run on electricity. This is where Granny Wisdom comes in.

    Granny Wisdom looks back to a time when people had very little, but understood their immediate environment very well. They were able to harness that environment to work for them. Granny Wisdom is not about nostlagia for the past. Nor is it about lowering your standards of comfort or ease of use. It is about finding simple solutions to problems by working with what you have, rather than presuming that you need advanced technology to do it for you.


    When you look at this photo of the kitchen, can you find the fridge? It is actually the small wooden door above the counter, to the left of the kitchen door.

    small fridge               small fridge               big fridge               big fridge
                                   Every-Day-Use Fridge                                                                                    Large Storage Fridge

    The fridges or cold-stores are lined with salvaged slate flagstones. They are excellent for holding the cold. Both fridges are buried in north facing cob walls. There are vents at the back to encourage air-flow within the fridge space. The tops, bottoms and sides are lined with wood-fibre insulation. The doors look so deep because they are also insulated with salvaged rigid foam. The insulation prevents the cold from the fridges seeping into the house. To improve air-flow within the fridge, a simple system to capture the smallest breeze is mounted externally - 90 degree pipe sockets, which can be manually rotated as necessary.

    shelf detail in fridge                         vents at back of fridge                         vents at back of fridge
                   Close-Up of Shelf with Vent at Back              Pipe Sockets Rotated Alternately                 Pipe Sockets Rotated the Same Way

    fridge diagram                                      fridge section
                                                  Diagram of Cold Store                                                                 Section through Fridge

    Electric fridges are the worst offender among all of the household appliance with regards to the use of electricity. While some other appliances may use more kilowatts per hour, such as dishwashers, tumble dryers and ovens, they are only used occasionally. An electric fridge runs constantly. However, we have found a way to keep our food fresh by harnessing our immediate environment and using no electricity at all. It might not work in California. But that is what I love about Granny Wisdom. It is site specific. One size does not fit all.

    Sometimes the best solutions do not need the most advanced technology.

                                                                                                                  Click Here to read more about the fridges and Granny Wisdom


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    Ireland's First National Gathering of Natural Builders

    28th March 2013

    Happy Easter everyone!

    Last Saturday, about 20 of us gathered in the Uisneach Inn pub in the heart of Ireland. Straw bale and cob was represented. We would love to have seen some other natural builders there too, such as hemp-lime or round pole. Hopefully they will make it to the next event. There was a broad range of topics discussed and no shortage of ideas.

    One of the issues highlighted was the need for support. Natural builders can sometimes be seen as a little odd by their neighbours. Quite often the materials and advice they are looking for isn't readily available at the local builders' yard. So we are hoping to put a resource together - where people who are tackling projects for the first time can ask the advice of those who have already been through it. Don't forget, we have quite a few links to good information and supplier websites on our own links page. So that could be a start for some of you. And you can always send us an email or pick up the phone (071 930 0488).

    Another hot topic was the authorised/unauthorised debate. People follow the natural building route for many different reasons. Some love it for its low impact on the environment. Some love the fact that they are empowered by doing it themselves. And many love the fact that it can be an incredibly cheap way to build. However, once one decides to go the authorised route, automatically the cost increases. As was pointed out on the day, with development charges, architect's fees, ESB connections, percolation tests, etc. €15,000 can be spent before a single hole has been dug in the ground.

    As an architect, I cannot recommend the unathourised route. Percolation tests protect the quality of our ground water. Planning is supposed to control development within an area. Building regulations are supposed to protect the home-owner by ensuring they end up with a safe and comfortable home. However, in this recession, I can understand why families are driven to choose this option.

    Of those who attended on the day and who had built or were considering building unauthorised homes, there was a common theme - a certain degree of paranoia, about who could know about their home or who could come to visit. Many of them had felt forced into this corner. There are many things wrong in this country at present. And one of them is that if one is to be a "law-abiding" citizen, one has to pay a lot more.

    It was recognised that there is real need for more visible, authorised projects out there. If too many natural builders choose to operate under the radar, then natural building has no chance of entering the mainstream. I, for one, love the environmental sense of building with natural materials and I think it is vitally important that the general public is exposed to lots of great examples of these buildings.

    There seemed to be a collective fear of the planning process in Ireland. However, any of us who actually dealt with the planners had found it to be a generally positive experience. This doesn't go to say that you will get everything you hope for in your planning, but I think the process is not nearly as negative as people fear it will be.

    Talk of planning led on to the issue of building regulations, best-practice and the need to ensure shoddy workmanship is avoided. The building regulations are getting tighter and tighter. Their scope is getting more narrow. And often the benefits associated with natural building materials and methods of construction fall outside the narrow parameters set by the regulations. The original intention was good - to force the lowest common denominator to build to a reasonable standard. However, I feel that now, some innovation is being stifled because it doesn't fit neatly inside the pre-set box.

    In a number of countries, such as New Zealand, they have a separate set of building codes for natural buildings. There is a recognition that these types of buildings are put together in a different way to conventional building and therefore, the regulations do not fit properly. Just because is it a different way to build does not mean it is any less valid. And in this resource-gobbling industry, I personally feel it is a far more valid way to build. So we discussed policy change and how to achieve that, how to write our own set of codes relevant to Ireland. Big ambitions - but really important ones.

    We discussed training opportunities. Again this comes back to the money issue - people want advice and want to learn but don't have much money to pay. First of all, I think skill and experience must be valued. How it is valued will depend on the person who is offering the expertise. One idea is that a self-builder could have a mentor and an apprentice working on their project. A number of volunteers would work for free, learning from the mentor and the apprentice. The home-owner would have a partially free work-force, which would speed up progress while keeping costs down and the knowledge would be passed on. This is a model used in France.

    Ideas about getting natural building projects into schools and primary and secondary level were discussed. Some of these could even be tied in with recent changes to the national curriculum. As with any attempt to shift the public's perception, education of the young is critical.

    There was so much more to the day. And lots of great catch-ups. There was bit of rivalry between the Hollies class of 2005 (mine and Colin's) and the class of 2007. For Thomas Riedmuller of the Hollies, it was wonderful for him to see so many people who had passed through his doors and who are still involved in natural building.

    From around the table, there were two truths that seemed to prevail. One - if you are building a cob house, it will take you three years. Two - you will also have a number of small children during that time! At least, that seemed to be the trend for our rabble. So be careful if you are planning to build a cob house - you might get more than you bargained for!



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    Natural Building Beacon Ireland - 23rd March 2013

    18th March 2013

    Next Saturday we will be heading to the centre of Ireland, to the Uisneach Inn in Killare near Mullingar. From 10:00am to 4:00pm, natural builders, practitioners, designers, researchers, inventors, idealists, realists, people looking for alternative answers, will all be gathering together. Click here for more info.

    What will we be doing? We're not exactly sure.

    For the first time, those championing cob or earth bags or rammed earth or straw bale or round pole or post-and-beam or hemp lime or natural plasters or natural insulations, can all meet and exchange ideas and experience. What works in our specific climate and what doesn't? Where can materials be sourced? Who has had positive experiences dealing with local authorities? How can natural building raise its profile compared with conventional construction techniques? What are the barriers? And how can we overcome them? These are some of our ideas - but who is to say what topics will be discussed on the day.



    The invitation is open to anyone and everyone. Bring food for a shared lunch. There is a large car park. And food is served at the vanue from 3:00pm.

    Hope to see you there! This could be the beginning of something big!

    Colin and Féile


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    Mud and Wood to Participate in Simon Open Door

    1st March 2013

    For the 9th year in a row, the RIAI (the professional body for architects in Ireland) is running the Simon Open Door Initiative on Saturday 11th May and Sunday 12th May. And this year, will be involved. For a donation of €50, you can book a one-hour consultation with me on either of these days. The full €50 will be donated to our local Simon Community, Simon North West. Bookings will be taken from 10:00am on Monday, 4th March.

    simon open door

    So what does Simon do? In their own words:

    "The Simon Communities of Ireland is an affiliation of local Communities in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, the Midlands, the Mid West, the North West and the South East. The Simon Communities throughout Ireland provide the best possible care, accommodation and support for people experiencing homelessness and those at risk. Together, with people who are homeless, they tackle the root causes, promote innovative responses and urge the government to fulfill its commitments. Simon delivers support and service to between 4,500 and 5,000 people who experience homelessness or the risk of homelessness on an annual basis.

    Homelessness has always been a serious issue in Ireland; however the current economic crisis is exacerbating this situation. This is impacting most on those on the margins of our society; people who are homeless, people who are at risk of homelessness and people with many related needs. It is inevitable that more people will become homeless and more people will turn to services like Simon for support. It is critical that we don’t turn back the clock on the real progress that we have made together in recent years in tackling homelessness.

    Simon Community is about believing in people; believing in the people who turn to the eight local Simon communities around the country every day, believing in the thousands of volunteers and Simon supporters, and believing that with the appropriate housing, care and support people can and do leave homelessness behind.  Now, more than ever, we need the support of the public to ensure that we can continue to advocate on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in our society."

    Do have ideas about extending your home? Do you have your eye on a site and wonder whether it is suitable for your needs? Would you like advice about thermally upgrading your home? Do you need planning advice? Or would you like to find out about building with natural materials?

    Although our speciality at is natural building, with 15 years architectural experience under my belt, I would be delighted to discuss all manner of projects. It's for a great cause. So go ahead and book your appointment for Simon Open Door 2013.



    New Video On Mud and Wood YouTube Channel

    1st March 2013

    We have a new video clip on YouTube, about salvaging materials for building. For more thoughts on this topic, take a look at our article Wombling Free - The Art of Salvaging and Re-Using Materials in 2012.

    In the video we also discuss the logic of using local, natural materials to build your home. If your surrounding environment is earth, wood and stone, then it makes sense that these materials can provide you with shelter compatible with the climate of that environment.

    We hope you enjoy it!


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    Article in the Sunday Times

    5th February 2013

    got the front page of the Home Section of the Sunday Times (Irish edition) last Sunday. It's a great article with some great photos (thanks to Colin's brother, Andy Ritchie, Steve Rogers and Brian Farrell for those). Have a read here and see what you think of it. Although Colin would like to point out that he is a mere 45, and not 50 (as the article says).

                                                                                                                                                       Click here to read the Sunday Times Article                                                                                                                                      (It's quite a big file - so please be patient while it downloads)

    Earth Building UK Annual Conference

    5th February 2013

    Last Friday (1st Feb), I attended the EBUK conference near Totnes in Devon, England. There was an excellent turnout - about 200 people at it, representing all varieties of mud enthusiasts - from academics researching the science behind earth construction, to designers, practitioners, artists and home-owners about to start building. All types of earth construction were also represented - cob, unfired earth brick, rammed earth, earth bags ..... and mud and stud (which was new to me - like wattle and daub but on a bigger scale).

    We will be writing more about the conference in the very near future, with some photos to show you too. So check back with us soon. As expected, it was really inspirational and I left with a bagful of new contact details and a lot of excitement about the future of contemporary earth building.


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    Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest

    25th January 2013

    We have changed the look of our Home Page, Our Cob House Page and the News and Articles Page, just to remind you to browse through some of our other media platforms from time to time.

    We blog quite regularly on facebook. Generally we post images of houses and buildings from around the world which are built from natural materials, have organic designs or anything else which takes our fancy. Have a look at a few examples from recent posts below.     

    At the moment there are 5 video clips up on our YouTube channel, covering topics such as What is Cob?, Courses at Mud and Wood, Natural Light in Buildings, Our Cob House and Natural Edge Wood. We hope to have a clip about building with salvaged materials soon.

    We are not the greatest tweeters. Having ancient mobile phones probably doesn't help! Still - we do manage to tweet occassionally, so check in with us from time to time.

    Pinterest is a great way to source ideas. You can get lost for hours among all the pinboards. We pin up images of buildings made from mud and wood .... and stone.


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    Happy New Year!

    18th January 2013

    We hope you all had a great holiday. We had such a lovely Christmas and New Year with lots of friends and family around us. We knew that Santa would love visiting the House because his reindeer wouldn't have to worry about balancing on a wet, pitched, slate roof. We thoughtfully designed a nice, flat grass roof that could easily accommodate Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. As well as tasty grass, we left out some carrots and special magic reindeer food on Christmas Eve. The reindeer left an awful mess, but we didn't mind.

     reindeer food            christmas music            christmas swim           Carrots and Magic Reindeer Food on                   Music Session in the Family Room                           Colin at the Christmas Swim                    the Grass Roof on Christmas Eve                                                                                                  (I did it too, but I'm not posting up a photo                                                                                                                                                                 of me in my togs after Christmas dinner!)

    We had two weeks of great music, great company, great food and great laughs. And now we are gearing up for a new year of courses and collaborations. In these first few weeks, we have had a lot of enquiries and bookings for our 2013 courses, so already it's shaping up to be a good year.



    18th January 2013

    In two weeks time I will be heading to the annual Earth Building UK Conference, which is being held near Totnes in Devon. I hope to meet up with some old friends and make loads of new contacts too. And learn a lot, of course. Totnes is also an interesting town in its own right, as it is where the Transition Town Movement began, founded by Rob Hopkins (who lived in the Hollies prior to moving there).

    Last November, I attended a day-long workshop in Bath, entitled Earth Conservation Approaches in Practice. It was a really stimulating day. The speakers were all incredibly knowledgeable and their presentations sparked off some very interesting debates and ideas. It has taken me a while, but I have finally written a detailed review of the event - Click here to read it.

                                                                                                                                    Review of Earth Conservation Approaches in Practice


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    Our 2013 Timetable is Here!

    17th December 2012

    At last our timetable for our 2013 courses is available. Click here to see the full range of courses on offer. There will be plenty of old favourites running again next year, including the very popular 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course, our Weekend Design Course and Weekend Earth Plastering and Natural Paints Course.

    cob course             design             earth plastering       earth plastering

               8-Day Intensive Mud                            Weekend Design Course                     Weekend Earth Plastering and Natural Paints Course
                  and Wood Course

    There are also a few new twists on old themes. Our Natural Edge Wood Course had now been expanded and will take place over two days. As well as learning about sourcing, milling and drying out trees to make furniture, you will also have time to make shelves, doors, window boards, etc. For the first time, we will run our 1-Day Introduction to Cob Course in the Dublin region, at a venue still to be confirmed. We hope this will encourage many of you to discover this amazing material without having to make the trek to wilds of the northwest.

    shelves                    intro to cob       intro to cob

                               Natural Edge Wood Course                                                        Introduction to Cob Course

    We have some brand new courses too. Due to popular demand, we will run a 1-Day Mud-Sculpting Course in March. Plenty of our followers have tried out mud-sculpting with us at a number of festivals last summer. It is a highly absorbing and enjoyable pastime, with surprisingly sophisticated results from such basic materials. If you come along, you will get to take your creation home with you. The new 4-Day Timber Frame Cabin Course will give you the skills to build a home office, den or shed in your garden. Not only will you learn basic carpentry, but we also have plenty of tips about where to source cheap or free timber (and other materials).

    mud-sculpting                         timber cabin

                       Mud-Sculpting Course                                  Timber Frame Cabin Course

    Our 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course covers all aspects of building a real house, from planning to building regulations, from thermal comfort to weathering. If you think that all sounds too much, you might like to try our new 4-Day Cob Garden Structures Course. You will learn all of the skills needed to build cob structures, from walls to benches to cob shelters, but without all of the theory about insulation, heating systems, services, timber floors, etc.

    As always, we can put together a special course just for you. All you have to do is ask.

    Very soon, we hope to have an online booking form set up, to make the booking process simpler for you. In the meantime, please continue to use our booking form.

    We also have gift vouchers available. You can buy vouchers for a set amount of money, from as little as €10 all the way up to €675, or you may prefer to buy a voucher for a particular course; it's up to you. We will have an online payment facility for vouchers in the very near future. Until then, please contact us if you would like to purchase a gift voucher.

    gift voucher

    Enjoy browsing all of the courses on offer in 2013 and we hope to see you here during the New Year.

    Colin and Féile


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    We Need Some Help

    8th December 2012

    We've had a bit of a disastrous week at . Our hard-drive died and we thought that all of our emails, including all of our contacts and mailing lists were backing up on to our web-hosting server. Turns out that they weren't being backed up at all, but were sitting on our decrepid hard-drive. Eeeeeek!

    We have quite a few of your emails on various sign-in sheets, booking forms, etc. - but it will take days of manual data entry to get the list compiled again. And we know that we have lost many of you into the ether.

    If you would like to be re-instated on our mailing list, or would like to join us for the first time, please email - and help us re-establish our connections with you.

    Thanks a million

    Féile and Colin.


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    Mud and Wood at the Sustainable Building Show

    20th November 2012

    On the 10th and 11th November, we exhibited at the Sustainable Building Show in the RDS in Dublin. We had plenty of posters of the and of all the different workshops we have run, along with a slideshow of hundreds of photos of progress during construction. We had model sections through various parts of the house, doors, tables, tools (such as the ever-so-sophisitcated whacker), our large sculptural panel and a great, big wall for earth plastering and mud-sculpting demonstrations.

    sustainable building show              sustainable building show

    The response we got was great. Many people had no idea that humble materials such as mud and straw could be used to create sophisticated, contemporary buildings. Both Colin and I were constantly busy, constantly chatting to the public (to the extent that I completely lost my voice!). It was also great to meet up with some familiar faces, such as Henry Thompson of the Old Builders Company, who was doing some hemp-lime demonstrations and with new connections, such as Zeno Winkens - another architect who regularly builds with natural materials, based in the south east of the country.

    We also talked to a number of builders and plasterers who were involved in the repair of some historic cob buildings in Co. Wexford. Recognised as a hot spot for old mud-walled buildings, they told me that almost 600 have been logged in the region, with around 150 making it onto the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in recent months. Hopefully other county councils will follow this excellent example.

    Speaking of the conservation of old earthen buildings, I'm off to Bath Museum in England next Monday to attend a practical workshop for earth conservation - so looking forward to that.

    Back to the Sustainable Building Exhibition, and I think our stand sparked a lot of interest because we were offering something so different to most of the other exhibitors. It can be difficult to get excited about solar water panels or air-tight membranes, but everyone has a visceral reaction to mud and natural edge wood. There is an important point to be highlighted here. While it is imperative to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, we must also take a look at how we are achieving that. If our insulations are made from toxic or non-renewable substances, if our energy-saving gadgets are pre-loaded with embodied energy, then is that a truly sustainable solution? Natural, renewable materials with minimum embodied energy can and should be used in our quest to reduce our impact on this earth. For more on this topic, read our article From the Cradle to the Grave.


    Another Great Design Workshop

    20th November 2012

    We had another great group of budding designers last weekend on our Design Course. By the end of weekend, they were making models of everything from a family home to a hay-barn studio (with plenty of room for dancing), from a martial arts practice space to a fantasy woodland getaway. Our students impressed us with their range of ideas, their thoughtfulness about materials and textures, their understanding of the path of the sun and their ability to put themselves at the centre of their designs. Take a look at some of their creations.

    design model       design model       design model

    design model           design model

    That's our last scheduled workshop of the year. Give us a call if you want to organise something for your own group. Otherwise, keep an eye on our Courses Page, as our timetable for 2013 will be posted very soon.


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    Weekend Design Course, 17-18 November

    5th November 2012

    There are still some places left on the Weekend Design Course, coming up on the 17th and 18th of November. For €169, we will look at a whole range of topics which influence design.

    What you should look out for if you are on the hunt for a site. If you already have a site, or are looking to extend or renovate your existing home, we will look at how you can enhance the existing features and how to deal with the challenges. We will examine your own lifestyle - how you like to spend your day and how the layout of your home can compliment that. Can you design for the future? What changes are likely to take place over the course of your life?

    We look at materials and how they have a major effect on the aesthetic of your home. What about heating options - some of these will require a certain amount of space (which needs to be considered early on in the design). What about the planning process in Ireland? How did we get the through planning - debunking the myth that planners only accept traditional boxes.

    What are all of the steps to getting a house built, from design to planning to construction? How do you set a budget? How do you stick to it? What are some of the common (expensive) mistakes that people make.

    The weekend consists of slide-shows, worksheets and exercises, a tour of our own house (pulling all the different strands together) and model-making. It is a busy weekend, but very satisfying. Have a look at some of the testimonials for previous Design Courses.

    If you want to book a place, download the booking form, send us an email or give us a call on (071) 930 0488 or (086) 806 8382.

    Hopefully we'll see you here on the 17th!


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    Private Workshops

    16th October 2012

    At , we love it when groups contact us with ideas for their own private workshop. Sometimes the goal is to learn a new skill. Sometimes it is to broaden horizons and look at problem-solving in a new way. Sometimes it is simply to strengthen the bonds between the members. Whatever the reason, it is always really interesting for us to take that group's needs on board and structure a workshop around it. In the past week we have run two such workshops.

    Women's Craft Group - Mud-Sculpting
    For the first, we were contacted by a member of a local women's craft group. She had seen our Panel at the Leitrim Sculpture Centre and thought the group would be interested in learning the process. To tie in with their usual programme, we ran a night class for them on a Wednesday evening at the House. Each person wanted to be able to take their own piece of work home, so we prepared boards in advance and, as time would be limited, Colin worked up a sweat that afternoon foot-mixing batches of cob. We alter the mix a little bit when we use it for mud-sculpting, adding a little bit of cow manure. The recipe is half-way between building-cob and earth plaster.

    The women arrived, laden with biscuits and baking. However, because of the cow manure ingredient, the nibbles survived until the end of the night (and then were promptly demolished). Some were a bit hesitant about starting, not being quite sure where to begin. But the best advice is just to get stuck into it. If you don't like a shape, you can just pull it off and start afresh. Mud is very forgiving that way. Once they began to get their hands dirty, there was no stopping them. Mud-sculpting is highly compulsive. The group got completely absorbed in the task at hand. It was fascinating to see the different sculptures they produced, with very different themes and different forms. I thought it would have been so interesting to have a psychologist analyse their work, as much of it seemed to spring from their subconscious and each piece was so individual.

    mud and wood panel       craft group mud sculpting         craft group mud sculpting

    The response the next day was unanimously positive. Who would have thought that mud-sculpting could be so engaging? Although at , we've always known that..... We have had queries from a few people now wondering if we will run a public workshop. We will - so watch this space for dates and keep an eye on our courses page.

    Community Garden Group - Cob Oven Workshop
    Last weekend, Colin travelled to Dundalk in Co. Louth to run a cob oven workshop. The weekend course was intiated by a community garden group who wanted to experiment with building with cob, get a feel for the material, build a feature in their garden and have a project which would allow their members to all pitch in.

    cob oven workshop         cob oven workshop

    On Day 1, a core group of volunteers learned how to test soil and prepare it for cob building. They then set straight to work, adding cob to their pre-built stone base. Colin had plenty of tips and techniques to show them and progress was good. Word got around that something was afoot in the community garden and by Day 2, dozens of eager participants came to lend a hand and find out what it was all about. The kids mucked in as well as any grown up, with some of them working for up to six hours. There's that compulsive, satisfying enjoyment of working with mud again!

    cob oven workshop         cob oven workshop

    The cob oven was not fully complete by the end of the weekend, but the group were more than confident that they had acquired the skills to add the finishing touches. We look forward to seeing photos of the finished oven, ... and of the first pizza party! They now intend to experiment with building scultpural cob walls and other features in their community garden. For a group with a limited budget, it is great to think that they will now be able to add sculptural elements to their garden using the free soil under their feet. All it takes is a little know-how and imagination.

    Tailor-Made Workshops for You
    If you are interested in organising a workshop for your group, get in touch and we will see what we can work out. Maybe you want to add something sculptural to your place of work, your school or your community centre. Maybe you want to learn how to conserve an old building. Maybe you want to learn how to build with free, natural materials. Maybe you just want to see your friends get mucky. Don't forget the "Wood" part of Mud and Wood too .....

    Whatever the reason, we can tailor a workshop to your needs. All you need to do is contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.


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    Eco-Build on a Shoestring - Article in Self-Build Magazine

    4th October 2012

    Writer Xavier Dubuisson recently wrote an article entitled "Eco-build on a shoestring" for Self-Build Magazine. The House featured prominently. Click here to access the magazine and go to page 74 to read the article.


    Cob and Thermal Comfort

    4th October 2012

    The issue of cob's inadequate u-value is raised in the Self-Build Magazine Article (above), although there is a typo. Cob's u-value is about 3 times worse than the current u-value requirements, not 8 times, as the article states. This is cob's biggest stumbling block as a viable contemporary building material. Although its u-value is not good, cob has many other qualities in its favour, none of which are recognised by the current set of calculations for compliance with the building regulations.

    Click here to find out more.


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    Green Door Events

    17th September 2012

    We had a busy day yesterday with about 30 people showing up for a look around our house for the Green Door Open House. We were really flattered that so many people made the effort to come and see us, considering we were so far off the beaten track compared to the other houses on the trail (all the rest were in North County Leitrim). As usual, we got as much from our guests as I hope they got from us.

    It's always so interesting when people from different backgrounds, with different expertise and experiences, share their perspective on our work with us. Over the last few months and days we have been collecting lots of information, ideas and inspiration from course participants and visitors to the house. From a potter, we have an idea of how to make our finishing plaster purer in colour - now we need to start experimenting. From another visitor we got a lead on where to source cheaper china clay - good enough for our plasters, but not good enough for ceramics. We have been given a recipe for home-made Swedish external wood paint. We have been getting some great ideas for Colin to promote his fantastical woodwork. And of course, it is always extremely nice to get compliments about our home.

    mud and wood panel                      colin and mud and wood panel

    We had a few pieces in the Inspirational Homes Green Door Exhibition in Leitrim Sculpture Centre over the weekend too. Above is the Mud and Wood Panel. The panel itself is sculpted from cob, with a little extra cow manure added for adhesion and workability. The sculptural forms are plastered with quite a grainy, home-made china clay plaster. The frame is elm, which was seasoning (air-drying) in our garden for the past couple of years. We want to display the versatility, elegance and beauty which can be achieved with a humble pile of muck. The frames, left with their natural edges, prove that nature is the ultimate artist and sculptor.

    Continuing the natural edge theme, Colin made an abstract composition, consisting of two hand-picked elm panels. If you would like to see more of Colin's natural edge woodwork, click here.

    elm panels                     fia and elm panels

    Don't forget that Colin is running a 1-Day Course in Natural Edge Woodwork on the 29th September. Places are still available, so download a booking form and get in touch with us if you would like to learn how to work in this style for yourself.




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    Our Cob House Page Updated

    11th September 2012

    The information on Our Cob House had become a little jumbled, so we have updated it and hope you will find it a little easier to navigate. The new slideshow consists of 78 photos, many of them not seen on this website previously (although if you have been following us on facebook - you will recognise them).

    Open House this Sunday, 16th September

    11th September 2012

    As part of the Inspirational Homes Green Door Weekend, the Mud and Wood House will be open to the public between 11:00am and 4:00pm. So if you are in the area, stop in and have a tour, a chat and a cup of tea. We love showing the place off and it would be lovely to meet you.

    Congratulations to the Goodwins

    11th September 2012

    A year ago, a documentary film crew and their subjects, Aamion, Daize, Given and True Goodwin came to stay with us. The Goodwins, a surfing family from Hawaii, had just started their epic year-long voyage around the globe. It's amazing to think that a year has past and the Goodwins are finally settling back into their home on Kauai. For the film crew, the unenviable task of editing hours and hours of footage begins. I'll be lost without my favourite blog, but looking forward to the movie - although we will have to wait another year. And looking forward to when we can all meet up again. To find out more about their story, take a look at The Goodwin Project and don't forget to check out our 15 minutes of fame under the Ireland blogs.


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    Mud and Wood Teams Up with Inspirational Homes

    17th August 2012

    Inspirational Homes is a great website which aims to inspire all you potential builders out there to consider incorporating something innovative or environmentally-friendly into your building project. This is a sentiment close to our hearts at .

    Between 14 - 16 September they are running a series of Green Door Events. Home-owners of houses featured on the Inspirational Homes website will open their doors and let the public have a look inside and be inspired, and all for free. We are throwing our doors open on the 16th September and will be running cob demonstrations throughout the day. There will also be debates, exhibitions and much more throughout the weekend, so keep an eye and an ear open for everything going on. Some of our work may pop up in unexpected places.

    In a lead-up to the Green Door Weekend, there is a great range of "At Home" courses. These will allow you to explore some of the ideas behind the Green Door homes in more detail. We are thrilled to announce that we are hosting 2 separate courses at the House.

    The first is on Saturday, 25th August and is a 1-Day Introduction to Cob. The second is on Saturday, 8th September and is a 1-Day Earth Plastering Course. The good news is that Leitrim Development Company has very kindly sponsored the full "At Home" series, so each course only costs €15 including lunch. Bargain! These courses are being administered through Inspirational Homes, so we have no control over the bookings. Please click on the course to book your place. Don't forget to check some of the other great courses running in the "At Home" series on


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    Mud and Wood YouTube Channel

    17th August 2012

    Some of you beady-eyed browsers may have noticed the new YouTube button that has popped up on our website.

    We have launched our new Mud and Wood YouTube channel and will be releasing short videos about design issues, using natural materials, self-building and anything else that strikes us as relevant to natural building.

    To start with, we have 2 videos up. One discusses the importance of getting natural light into your building. Click here for a look at Building with Light. The other looks at the benefits of building your home slowly. Click here to view Self-Build Slow-Build.

    We hope you enjoy them. Be sure to subscribe if you don't want to miss out on any new material.


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    News to Follow Soon

    17th August 2012

    We have been up to so much recently that we haven't had time to update our news page. Some of the stories we will be telling you about in the coming weeks are:

    • is listed on the Irish Georgian Society's Traditional Building Skills Register. If you know of any old earth buildings requiring repair, please contact us.

    • Colin ran mud-sculpting and plastering workshops at the National Permaculture Gathering earlier this month.

    • Féile gave a talk at Galway's Green Drinks last week. In spite of the fabulous weather, there was an impressive turn-out. Nice one, Galway!

    • Tom Woolley gave an inspiring, informative and concerning talk at the House last weeekend. We had a full house.

    • The Design Workshop ran last weekend. Our students continue to inspire, surprise and amaze us. Brilliant!

    • We're off to Féile na bPobal this weekend, which is hosting the National Transition Towns Gathering. So looking forward to seeing you all there.

    • was featured in the Sligo Champion and the Sligo Weekender last week.

    • feaures in the current edition of Selfbuild Magazine, in a discussion on Eco-Builds on a Shoestring.


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    tom wooley talk and design course

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    Places Still Available on Weekend Design Course - 11th and 12th August

    4th August 2012

    Places are still available on the Weekend Design Course. €169 for about €1,000 of advice from registered architect Féile Butler and special guest tutor Tom Woolley.
    Weekend Design Course
    Booking Form

    Free tickets are still available for Tom Woolley's talk on using natural building materials.
    Book Free Tickets for Tom Woolley Talk

    Take a look at the gallery below of models made by past students. The idea is for students to really explore their ideas. Sometimes the messiest-looking models have produced the most amazing design ideas.




    design course model design course model design course model
    design course model design course model design course model
    design course model design course model design course model
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    Courses at Mud and Wood

    27th July 2012

    First off, apologies for not updating the website for such a long time. We have been really busy with courses at , which is a good thing.

    The 8-Day Intensive Mud and Wood Course

    We ran the "big one" between 7th and 14th July - how to learn to build a house like ours. Eight trusting souls signed up for the inaugral intensive course. All were eager and willing, especially Vinny, who arrived over an hour early on the first day. Colin roped him into action straight away. They came from all across the country, Limerick, Roscommon, Dublin, Derry and Belfast, and even from across the water, in England. We had Canadian and Mexican representatives too. We're looking forward to hanging out at Marcelo and Vicky's cob hostel in Mexico in a year or two. If they manage to build anything as impressive as their models in the design workshop, then it will be a pretty special place to stay.

    mixing sculpting cob      making cob loaves      making cob loaves     building cob by hand

    The weather wasn't kind to us for the first few days. It was cold and wet and windy - typical Irish mid-summer weather. But that didn't phase our intrepid natural builders. First, they had to get to "know" cob. So they got mucky, very mucky. Foot-mixing and hand-building cob is physical work. Learn to build and get fit at the same time! Result! After their first hard day's work, they had built about ......... 3 inches of cob. It may not seem much, but Colin and I were thrilled to see lovely hairy cob walls appearing on our site again. I realised I had missed them. There is something oddly cuddly and friendly about a cob wall.

    The next day, the students learned how to set out a building on the ground. The neighbouring farmer very kindly let us use his field. Thanks Josie. The sheep were pretty wary of this motley crew and decided to keep their distance. Progressing from setting out simple straight lines to creating circles and complicated ellipses, the students took it all in their stride. Then we got on to making our formwork shapes.

    setting out      making formwork      assembling formwork      the girls

    It was great to watch the progression of confidence over the week. In the beginning, we had to gently nudge folk (with an electric cattle prod) to pick up a saw or hammer or screwdriver. After a few days, they were slinging their tools around like Clint in a spaghetti western. There was an amazing work ethic and great team spirit. Everyone settled into a really comfortable fit with each other. The slagging was merciless!

    By Day 3 we were machine mixing and building cob with formwork. We got our first lift of cob up, 500mm in one go. Those first 3 inches paled into insignificance. Cob is a very basic material and as Richie observed, if it's not doing what you want it to do, the answer is generally to give it a whack. I think everyone enjoyed using our extremely sophisticated tools - tampers, whackers and cobbers arms (basically just different forms of hunks of wood). It's good to release the neanderthal in us every now and then.

    machine mixing cob      tamping cob      model making      sculpting

    Over the next few days we built up another lift of cob, built a section of timber-frame wall, built a simple roof, tackled a bit of stone work, made models, sculpted with earth, plastered with earth and learned a few tricks for making timber shelves. Everyone got really into the scultping and the model making, even cutting their tea breaks short to get back to it.

    plastering with earth            outside tea break             lunch

    Speaking of tea breaks, it's not every course that can boast an in-house genuine Scottish granny. Ena, Colin's mum, churned out shortbread and scones and all kinds of baking delights. I ate more biscuits in one week than I ate in the previous year! There was something very special about running the course from our house and seeing a real family home in action. We had grandparents and we had kids and it added to the whole experience. We also had 2 and a half year old Luca, whose parents were on the course, and his granny come to visit us daily. Fia, our 2 year old, still talks about him.

    We feel it's really important that our Mud and Wood graduates have a thorough understanding of the building materials and methods they are getting to grips with during the practical sessions. We cover quite a bit of theory, which can seem daunting at first. But a lot of it is repetitive (e.g. many of the same principles apply to a timber frame wall as to a timber roof). There were a lot of intelligent questions ..... a LOT of intelligent questions - so much so that certain students were given a limit (not looking at anyone in particular - Richie). Although by the end, John, Vinny and Karena were giving him a run for his money! If Colin's mantra was, "Whack it!"; according to Nicole, my mantra was, "Breathability!". We hope now that our Mud and Wooders will be able to make great choices, whether trying to adapt some skip-rescued material to some new use or if trying decide which "green" products to spend money on and which ones to be pragmatic about (realistically, money tends to run out on real builds and we can't all pay for absolutely everything we would like).

    class of 2012

    As the week progressed, the cob walls rose, the temperature rose and spirits rose. We shared great meals, great laughs, great ideas and great hopes for the future. It was a pleasure and privilege to meet and get to know such a good bunch of people. Colin and I were like proud parents, sending our fledglings off into the world. Thanks to Vicky, Marcelo, Vinny, Karena, John, Nicole, Richie and Jack for making our first Intensive Course such a success.


    Design, Natural Edge Wood and Earth Plastering Courses

    We have a few other courses under our belt now too.

    In our first Weekend Design Course, our budding designers engaged with the design process very enthusiastically and explored some great ideas with their models. Don't forget that Professor Tom Woolley will be a guest tutor at the Saturday session of our next Weekend Design Course on the 11th and 12th August. Places are still available.

    design workshop model           design workshop model           design workshop model

    Students produced beautiful wooden shelves on our 1-Day Natural Edge Wood Course. This will run again on the 15th September.

    natural edge wood course         earth plastering         earth plastering         earth plastering

    Last weekend, we had our Weekend Earth Plastering Course. There was plenty of experimentation with earth, clay, sand, flour, milk products and, yes, even cow-sh**e, to produce some gorgeous plasters and paints. The weather, thankfully, was kind to us. With two surfers on the course, both they and Colin were delighted to see a great swell roll into Sligo, the first decent waves in months.

    We are enjoying meeting all of you natural building enthusiasts. You bring so much of your own experiences to the courses that we are learning a lot from you too. Long may it last!

















































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    Tom Woolley to Give Free Talk at the Mud and Wood House

    2nd July 2012

    We are delighted to announce that Professor Tom Woolley will be giving a free talk at the House on the evening of Friday, 10th August 2012.

    The talk is entitled "Demystifying Sustainable Building Materials" and will cover such topics as -

    Why should we consider alternatives to conventional building materials?

    Are some "eco-friendly" materials really as green as they claim to be?

    What building materials could be harmful?

    What are the alternatives?

    Tom will discuss a range of healthy, environmentally-friendly, natural building materials with a particular emphasis on hemp-lime construction.

    Tom Woolley was Professor of Architecture at Queens University, Belfast between 1991 and 2007. He is Professor of Sustainable Rural Architecture at the Countryside and Communities Research Institute, University of Gloucester; Visiting Professor of Architecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales; and Visiting Professor of Architecture at the University of Central Lankashire.

    He is a Member of the Ministerial Advisory Group for Architecture, Northern Ireland and an Associate Member of the Energy Institute.

    Editor of the Green Building Digest and the Green Building Handbook, he has also written Natural Building and is co-author of Hemp and Lime Construction.


    Currently, he works as a freelance educator and environmental consultant for Rachel Bevan Architects.

    The event is free, but as places are limited, tickets must be booked through Eventbrite. Please click here to book your free ticket.


    Tom Woolley to Participate in Mud and Wood Weekend Design Course

    We are thrilled to be able to hang on to Tom for the Saturday session of our Weekend Design Course on the 11th August.

    As an architectural professor to not one but four schools of architecure, you would be hard-pressed to find a more highly regarded and experienced tutor. Besides helping you work through your design ideas, he will give insight into the practicalities and realities of using natural materials for your projects.

    This is an amazing opportunity not to be missed and all for the price of €169.

                                                                                                                                                 Click here for Weekend Design Course details.
                                                                                                                                                         Click here to download the booking form.



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    Professional Photos of the Mud and Wood House on Facebook

    26th June 2012

    Check out our facebook page for some great new photos of the house. Our good friend, professional photographer Steve Rogers, has worked his magic, making the house look stunning. We will be re-organising the Our Cob House page in the very near future, so that you can get a really good look at all angles of the house.

    For more of Steve's work, take a look at

    Well done to all you money-savvy crew who availed of our special offers. We're looking forward to meeting you here very soon.


    Colin and Féile


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    Mud and Wood in the Irish Examiner

    (Costings for the Mud and Wood House)

    13th June 2012

    Louise Roseingrave wrote an article about the Hollies and in today's Irish Examiner. She has captured the special, comforting, peaceful ambience that people tap into when working with cob or spending time in a cob home. It is a tangible quality about an intangible sensation, which is difficult to describe or explain. Louise writes that she feels that Thomas and Ulrike's house is "living and breathing like its human inhabitants." We feel that way about our home too. The way we interact with the house, it really feels like another family member.

    She describes building with cob; "incredibly, the process is so basic and easy, quiet and calming that it feels quite awesome." I love the fact that cob is such a democratic material. Old or young, male or female, rich or poor, skilled or unskilled can build with it. In my experience, it really is the only building material which is accessible to all. Neither cost, nor the weight of the material (the cob loaves can be sized to suit your own strength), nor the use of scary tools or equipment (no hammers, drills, screwdrivers, cement mixers, etc.) form a barrier against building.

    The article states that our house cost €114,000. I am quoted, "Because a lot of the materials we used were free, for the materials we did have to buy, we were able to invest in really high-spec stuff." The windows and heating system came to €45,000.

    We had designed unusual and very specifically shaped windows for the house - we were not going to find them in a skip. Also for us, it was important to have very high quality windows. The windows on the north and north-west sides of the house are triple-glazed, as are all of our roof-lights. We could not guarantee that level of specification using second-hand windows. However, if we designed the house with more commonly available window shapes and sizes and had gone on to use salvaged windows, you could probably knock between €15,000 and €20,000 off the cost straight away.

    Regarding the heating system, that was probably our largest single expense at over €20,000. We worked closely with services engineer, Joe Greene of Varmings, to design the heating scheme for our house. As an architect, I felt the house would come under scrutiny in the future, with various interested parties wanting to examine how environmentally-friendly cob REALLY is and whether or not it lives up to its reputation as an eco building material. Joe "built" our house, with all of its u-values, good and bad (contrary to common belief, cob has a terrible u-value - the unit by which the insulative properties of any building material is measured) in a software programme which allowed him to run our house through a year in our climate and on the exact latitude and longitude of our site.

    We ended up putting in a 10kW stove, in which we burn the off-cuts from Colin's woodwork. In winter, the stove heats our 10 radiators and our hot water. We have a 300 litre buffer tank, which stores our "heating" hot water. This allows us to time our heating to come on in the morning from heat built up by the fire on the previous day. We have no gas or oil back up. In the coldest weather, we programme the radiators to come on around four or five times in a day, for about half an hour at a time. These "blasts" of heat are enough to keep the whole house comfortable. Because of the reservoir nature of the cob, the heat is even and stable throughout the house. Many visitors have commented on that fact and how pleasant it is.

    We also have solar hot water collectors, feeding into our 300 litre domestic hot water tank (for baths, showers, sinks and basins). These are working even better than we hoped. For the past 2 years, we have begun heating our water solely by solar by mid-March. Last year, it lasted until late September. Even when we need to supplement with heat from the fire, the water is usually pre-heated to about 17 degrees celcius on the coldest days (0 degrees and lower).

    If you wanted to put in a much more basic heating system, you might be looking at €5,000 - €8,000. So you could knock another €14,000 - €17,000 off our build costs.

    Some of our other high-specification spends included Gutex wood-fibre insulation board, Intello intelligent vapour control membranes, hand-made natural primers and paints to order from Dana at Biochrome, some of our tiling (you've got to have at least one splurge), Grohe low-flow showers and our Hempire lime render. All of these costs could be paired back. However, we wanted the best of the best, to try to achieve the best environmentally-friendly performance possible with our particular build.

    As it is, we built our house for around €81 per square foot (€877 per square metre). Currently, the Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland estimate that a very standard build in the north west of Ireland would cost in the region of €112 per square foot (€1,201 per square metre). This is the cheapest part of the country to build in. In Dublin, you could expect to pay around €165 per square foot (€1,778 per square metre) for a very average house. Also bear in mind that house building costs have been spiralling downwards over the past four years. We began this build in 2008.

    By putting in second-hand windows, installing a basic heating system and using lower specification products, we could have knocked around €50,000 off our building costs, meaning we could have built the house for around €53 per square foot (€569 per square metre). We spent a few years salvaging materials (check out our article - Wombling Free, the Art of Salvaging and Re-Using Materials in 2012) and we logged long hours building our home. But it goes to show what is possible.

    Louise writes in her article, "the Riedmullers’ advice for a mortgage-free home is to re-evaluate your living requirements, start small and build on as necessary". This is certainly excellent advice and a sentiment that we echo at . Both from a financial and an environmental point of view, building small and expanding later makes a lot of sense.

    Hopefully this may inspire some of you to take on your own project. Don't forget to check out our courses. We would love to help you start on your journey.



                                                                                                                                                        To read Louise Roseingrave's article, click here.


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    Are You Starting Your Own Natural Building/Cob Project Soon?

    30th May 2012

    At , we regularly get requests from eager volunteers looking for natural building or cob projects. Generally they have already completed some level of natural building training and are looking to gain experience and confidence before they embark on their own projects. We have begun to keep a bit of a database. So if you are in the middle of a building project and would like some help, get in touch with us and we may be able to link you up. E-mail or It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

    Do You Live In or Near a Cob/Earthen Structure?

    30th May 2012

    Speaking of databases, we would love to compile a map of earthen structures in Ireland. Already we are aware of pockets of ancient earthen buildings in Leitrim and Wexford. We are hearing about structures new and old in Kilkenny, Limerick and even Easkey (where our local is). And of course, there are a few springing up in Tipperary. If you have a photo or a story about your local cob building, that would be even better. Please contact us with your contribution at or



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    pinterest Mud and Wood is on Pinterest

    22nd May 2012

    We have joined the world of electronic thumb-tacking. You can find us

    Our first board is called "Mud and Wood" - if it is made from mud and/or wood and we think it is particularly beautiful, inspiring, or just plain crazy, you will find it here over the coming months.

    Soon we will also be pinning to our board, "And Stone", as we would love to introduce you to some of our favourite rock-based constructions.

    Pinterest a great visual medium, perfect for sharing inspiring architecture. We hope you enjoy our selection and would love to hear some of your suggestions.

    Many of these buildings will also appear on - where you can check them out in a bit more detail (and we love getting your comments and feedback) - so don't forget to pay us a visit there from time to time.


    Colin and Féile




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    Click on Photos to See Enlarged Images



    Ecological Building Project in Nakuru, Kenya

    16th May 2012

    A few months ago, Samuel Muiruri got in touch with us at . Samuel is a social worker based in Nakuru, Kenya's 4th largest city. He works with vulnerable people in his community, most often with street children.

    Nakuru is a rapidly expanding urban centre with accelerating population growth, particularly among the young. According to the Nakuru District Strategic Plan 2005 - 2010, 54.8% of Nakuru's inhabitants are under 20 years of age. 74.4% are under 30. HIV and AIDS has had a significant negative impact on families in the area. Nakuru Town has 15 children's homes, with the majority of those children being HIV/AIDS orphans.

    Development and provision of urban services has not kept pace with the increasing population. In order to provide themselves with homes, there is a high incidence of deforestation. Lack of planning has lead to environmental degradation and poor waste disposal is common. Outbreaks of disease regularly and understandably occur under such conditions. It is estimated that 41% of the urban population of the Nakuru district live in absolute poverty.

    It is against this background that Samuel carries out his work. His aim is to improve the living conditions of the street children, by teaching them to construct homes cheaply and using very little resources. He learned about the plastic-bottle-brick building technique after a trip to Nigeria.

           Experimental Bottle-Brick Housing Project in Nigeria

    Bottle-brick technology was pioneered in 2002 in India, South America and Central America. Costing one third the amount of a similar block or brick-built house, it was developed as a low-cost, environmentally-friendly alternative. Bottles are filled with sand and built into walls and floors using mud as a binder. The bottle-bricks are extremely robust, being as much as 20 times stronger than bricks. Being filled with sand, they are also well-suited to the hot climate, keeping the occupants cool inside. Click here for an excellent video clip from the Samarpan Foundation, based in India, explaining the technique in more detail.

    Samuel Muiruri embarked on building a hygienic toilet for his community using this technique. See his photos above. There was a lot of interest in his project and it featured on a local television station. His ambition is to build a community centre as a place of empowerment for the locals. He wants to build it in an ecologically sound way. Funds are virtually non-existent. He is keen to learn more about cob, as it is a free, sustainable, ecologically-friendly, healthy way to build.

    We sent Samuel a copy of the Hand-Sculpted House, by Evans, Smiley and Smith (Cob Cottage Company), to help him get a good grounding in cob. Unfortunately, the book still has not arrived after a month. If there is no sign of it in the next few days, we will try again with a new copy.

    Samuel has invited us over to Kenya, to teach our cobbing techniques. It is an invitation we are taking very seriously - so watch this space. We may be asking you to help with some fund-raising in future.

    For now, Samuel is trying to raise funds to buy dustbins to collect plastic bottles to allow him to make more bottle-brick structures. He really is working with no resources at all. If you are interested in donating, please let me know on and we will see if we can set something up to help.




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    Mud and Wood on the Radio

    23rd April 2012 - Part 3

    Click on the radio show title to hear the audio clip.

    The John Murray Show, RTE Radio 1 - 17.04.2012

    It's been a busy week for us. We had a great interview with Kathryn Thomas on the John Murray Show, RTE Radio 1, last Tuesday 17th April. Colin and I arrived in the RTE studios with plenty of time to spare, chatting with the researchers about Grand Designs and parenthood. Even though they made every effort to make us comfortable, it was quite nerve-wracking waiting to go on. For some reason, we got called late to go into the studio, so it was a mad rush to get into our seats in time. It was probably better that way - no time to think and once we were live, it was actually a really enjoyable experience. I think the ice was definitely broken when Colin whacked the cob sample down on Kathryn's desk. Little flakes of mud flew off everywhere. Exactly how sensitive is radio broadcasting equipment?

    I was tongue-tied at first. The item before had been about double-entendres. Every sentence that popped into my head seemed to be loaded with inuendo. But we soon settled into talking about a subject that we are passionate about. That, and Kathryn's easy manner, made it plain sailing.

    We had some great questions by text - one was about grants for cob buildings and about building regulation compliance. For a new-build project, as far as I am aware, grants are not available. Perhaps there is some EU funding for the revival of traditional building techniques. If it exists, please let me know about it.

    It is a different matter if you wanted to restore an old cob building. In that case there would definitely be an opportunity to apply for grant aid. The funds are so limited these days, however, there is no automatic guarantee of a grant.

    The question regarding compliance with building regulations has a more convoluted answer. As I mentioned on the radio, the building regulations dealing with the conservation of energy (Part L) changed in December 2011. Now there is a particular calculation which must be proven to show compliance with this regulation. The calculation does not account for some of cob's properties, such as its thermal mass and its abililty to reduce the moisture content of the air in a room. Cob does not have a low u-value (a basic way to measure the insulation value of a material - the lower the u-value, the better the insulation). The calculation penalises cob for this. This is one of the reasons that cob-builders in England now build their walls 3 ft. (900mm) wide instead of the usual 2 ft. (600mm); it is not to meet structural requirements, but to meet insulation requirements. This is an area that I am keen to research more - looking at materials we can combine with the cob to improve its insulation value, but also looking at ways we might measure its other beneficial properties so that these may be offset against its perceived "negatives". It would be important to have your local building control officer on board if you are embarking on a new-build cob project, as meeting Part L would not be as straightforward as with a "regular" house.

    If you are dealing with the restoration of an old cob building, the same standard of regulations do not apply. In fact, even if you are building a cob extension on to an existing block house, the same standard does not apply.

    Another text question on the show was about building in a flood plain. Colin took this question. His first answer was that no building should be built in a flood plain. This is so true, whether concrete or brick or timber or cob. Contrary to expectation, cob does not wash away with the first rainfall. It is an extremely durable material. All over the world, there are a multitude of earthen buildings which are centuries old. Cob buildings need a good hat (large overhanging eaves or clever design to shield walls from the worst of the weather) and a good pair of boots (stone or block up to approximately knee-height above ground level).

    There was an item on the same show about the new cardboard cathedral to be built in earthquake stricken Christchurch, New Zealand. Kathryn showed us pictures of the proposals and they were really beautiful and very innovative. Using unexpected materials in a clever way is something very close to our hearts at . Our article on Salvaging and Re-Using Materials has plenty examples of it. I have put a new link up on our Links Page to the "paper" architecture of Japanese architect, Shigeru.

    We were thrilled with the way the interview went and left the studio in great form. Kathryn was left to pick the crumbs of dried mud from her computer and her desk.

    The Shaun Doherty Show, Highland Radio - 17.04.2012 - no audio available - sorry!

    Later that day, I was interviewed on Donegal's local radio station. Again, I enjoyed the conversation and the opportunity to tell the listeners about our story so far and our desire to pass this knowledge on to people interested in doing-it-yourself, naturally (I wonder is the double-entendre guy reading this?).

    Up and Running, Ocean FM - 17.03.2012

    A month ago, I was interviewed on Ocean FM's business show - getting the chance to talk about how we discovered cob in the first place and how we are turning our passion into a business.


    We have been so grateful for the exposure so far. If you got to hear any of the shows, you know we love to talk. Hopefully, we'll get to chat some more in the near future.



















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    Night View
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    New Photographs up on Our Cob House (do not view through Internet Explore)

    23rd April 2012 - Part 2

    At the start of this month, Colin's brother and his family came to stay. Last time they had been with us, we lived in the caravan. So it was really special to put them up in our house and show them around. Andy is a keen amateur photographer and he went well beyond the call of family duty, taking fabulous photos of the house for us. We are so grateful to Andy for all his effort (and sorry that he got a sore back form having to crouch into so many weird positions).

    Thank You Andy.

    love Colin and Féile                                                                                                                                                      Click here to see photos


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    Correction in the Sunday Times

    23rd April 2012 - Part 1

    Last week Mud and Wood featured in an article about the revival of cob building in Ireland. The newspaper printed a very large photo of the "Butler-Ritchie House", except that is was not the "Butler-Ritchie House". We're happy to say that this week they printed a photo of the acutal house. Apparently, this is the first time the Sunday Times has ever printed a visual correction. Thank you Sunday Times.

                                                                                                                                                                                   Click here to see correction

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    Mud and Wood features in the Sunday Times

    15th April 2012

    Gabrielle Monaghan has written an article about the revival of cob building in Ireland, and features well. However, the Sunday Times have printed a photo of us in front of Thomas and Ulricke's House at the Hollies in Cork, saying that it is ours. Silly Sunday Times! They also have given the article a terrible headline - "Future is a House Made of Straw", when clearly the article is about mud! Most of that is the layout people's fault - the article itself is pretty good. Take a look here and see what you think. Feel free to leave comments on our Facebook Page,




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    slavaged slates salvaged insulation salvaged bath salvaged floorboards

    Salvaged Slates Going on Our Roof

    Salvaged Insulation in Our Ceiling

    Salvaged Bath

    Salvaged Floorboards Full of Character



    Wombling Free - The Art of Salvaging and Re-Using Materials in 2012

    7th April 2012

    Our slates came from a pub 24km away. We got the tip-off from our plumber's cousin's friend. Our roof insulation was about to be illegally buried on the banks of a woodland river. Our bath was pulled from the skip outside an upmarket Dublin house. Our floorboards belonged to a local school which was demolished while we were buildng the House.

    There are so many opportunities out there to use reclaimed materials in a building project. It makes so much sense environmentally. All you need are time, networking skills, storage space and some lateral thinking. This article explores the reasons to salvage and how to salvage successfully. We hope it will inspire some of you to get out there and "make good use of the things that you find", as the Wombles did. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Click to read more


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    Sustainable Futures Conference Sustainable Futures Conference Sustainable Futures Conference

    Duncan Stewart (environmental campaigner, architect and t.v. presenter) gives Mud and Wood the thumbs up.

    Mud and Wood's stand at the Sustainable Futures Conference.

    Duncan Stewart, Féile Butler and Dr. Liam Leonard, event organsier.



    The Sustainable Futures Conference, Sligo

    8th March 2012

    exhibited at the Sligo Sustainable Futures Conference on Tuesday, 6th March. The speakers were diverse, discussing everything from eco-tourism to an Taisce's Green Schools Scheme; from the destruction of our landscape thanks to incomprehensible planning decisions during the boom to the chilling statistics for our over-heating climate (now estimated as a 6 degree celsius rise in mean temperature by 2050); from the signs that we complacent Irish may finally be preparing to revolt against austerity (anti-septic tank demonstrations, anti-household charge rallies, marches for the protection of our small rural and deis schools) to the grim fact that we are too deep in debt, much deeper than we can grasp and much deeper than can be resolved with our current policies.

    There were some conflicting points of view, but unfortunately all, both those on the left and those on the right, were in agreement about the level of distress we are in, environmentally and economically. There were few solutions offered. There were vague ideas about local communties "doing-it-for-themselves", not in isolation and disconnected, but as interlinked groups, sharing their knowledge, passing on their skills. The Transition Town Movement was cited as an example of this.

    The institutions have failed. Change needs to come from the grass roots. But such a huge shift is required to our way of thinking, that it is difficult to see how this can gain momentum. We Irish love "getting away with it". We're not too bothered about the rules, especially the ones that come from far away. We don't really see what it has to do with us. It is worrying to think how far we need to be pushed before we actually react.

    I do think there is future for communities working together. However, we need to bring the models for this into the mainstream. Green Schools, and now Green Homes, is a step in the right direction. Educating our children is key - but we cannot afford to wait for these children to grow up and lead the way. How can we bring about mass change in a few short years? I don't have the answers. And unfortunately, I felt that no-one at the conference did either. The debate has started. Let's hope we can move from talk to action.

    On a more positive note, we had a great response to the stand. We were busy the whole time with a huge level of interest in the house and in our effort to pass these skills and knowledge on to others. As they say, every great journey starts with one small step. If we can help people to use local materials, to even make their own building materials, to respect their sites, to harness the natural environment without damaging it (like facing your home to the sun, not to the road) and to do as much of it as possible without support from the banks, then maybe this is the way of starting our own small revolution.


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    How We Generated the Plans for Mud and Wood House

    Féile Butler

    1st March 2012                                                                          

    The layout of our Mud and Wood House depends very much on the how we like to live our lives and on the path of the sun. This article discusses how we decided on the final locations for our rooms, maximising light in our home throughout the day in tune with our activities.
                                                                                                            Click to read more

    west elevation
    east elevation
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    7th February 2012

    We have added & to facebook, so check us out and spread the word.

    We've also had a few queries about our website address. We had a few technical glitches getting the website live. Both and will bring you into the exact same website. Soon, will become the main site - but both addresses will always work. So don't forget to add us to your favourites.

    Our first course this year will be Design - How to design for your site, your lifestyle and your budget. Whether you are thinking of designing a whole house or wanting to get the best out of a new extension, this is the course for you. For those bigger projects, it will give you the skills to work closely and productively with your architect. For smaller projects, it will help you to avoid some common mistakes. Mark the 24th and 25th March in your calendar and download the booking form today.

    Next up is our Renovate Your Stone Cottage Course. You bought your idyllic home, full of character and charm. But maybe you are now discovering it is a little pokier or colder or damper than you bargained for. We can help you bring light, space and cosiness into your home without losing any of its unique personality. We will help you to understand how to choose materials which are compatible with old buildings and show you some techniques for dealing with all of those odd-shaped doorways and bumpy walls. If this sounds like the course for you, download the booking form and we will see you on the 31st March/1st April.


    Colin and Féile


         Design Course

    Design Course
    Design for you site, your lifestyle and your budget

    24th & 25th March

    Renovate Your Cottage Course

    Renovate Your Stone Cottage

    31st March/1st April


    Which materials are suitable and which are not? Do need planning permission? What are your insulation options? Can you save the roof? And more ......



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    30th January 2012

    Our New Website Goes Live

    We are thrilled to announce the launch of our & website ().

    2012 is set to be an exciting year with 18 separate courses (10 different course titles) running between March and September. If you want to learn how to build using natural materials, but also get realistic advice about what is possible with regard to building regulations and planning, then these are the courses for you. Check them out and hopefully we'll see you during the year.

    We also offer consultancy and private workshops.

    If you want to build a cob shelter or timber frame cabin in your garden, but are afraid of getting stuck, we are here to help you through the tricky parts. We can advise you over the phone or in person. And if you need a little more help than that, we will come and get you over that hurdle. Yes, we will build it for you!

    If you are about to start on a bigger project, we can run workshops at your site to train up all of your work team. We are happy to come to your site at the beginning of each of the various stages of your project. For example, before you start on your cob walls, we will train you and your team for a few days on how to cob. Later we can come back to train you on how to make timber frame walls. Later still we can train you on building your roof, or fitting your windows. All you need to do is ask us and we will try to accommodate you.

    We can help you finish off your buildings as well. Earth plastering and natural edge wood work beautifully in any type of house. They can bring wonderful character and warmth to everything from a scultpural cob cottage to a suburban semi-d.

    We also offer team building workshops for corporate clients, schools, colleges, youth clubs and summer camps. It is amazing how a bit of mud can help to break down barriers. We can come to you - please contact us for details.

    We can give you planning and building regulation advice (Féile is a registered architect).

    And if your old earthen building needs to be repaired, we can do that too.

    We hope you will find something to excite or inspire you on this website. See you some time soon.

    Colin and Féile



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    Hanging with the Goodwins                                                                                           August 2011

    In August last year (2011), Aamion, Daize, Given and Baby True Goodwin came to stay with us at our cob house. The Goodwins hail from Hawaii and surfing is in their blood. Aamion is a pro-surfer. He recently competed in the infamous pipe masters, on Ohau's legendary North Shore. Daize is a long board world champion. And although Given is only three, he's pretty handy on a board already.

    The Goodwins are currently on an amazing trip around the world, stopping off at 18 countries over 13 months. But they're not doing it alone. Director, Jess Bianchi, is following them, making a documentary about their experiences. They are interested in surfing in as many spots as possible (naturally). But they are also interested in meeting people who live gently on this planet.

    That's how we came into the story. We live about 13km (8 miles) from Easkey's world renowned surf breaks. Colin is a surfer himself. Through a mutual friend, they heard about what we've done with our house, liked the sound of it and came to check us out. We had a ball while they were here. With four Goodwins, four of us, five film crew and two dogs, the house was jam-packed. For six days we lived in a whirlwind of mayhem and fun. It was a really inspiring experience.

    Hopefully the house will feature in the film, but we'll have to wait a few years to find out. Regardless, we have made wonderful new friends and keep in touch regularly. One day, maybe we'll be able to afford the ticket to Hawaii. But for now, we'll just have to be content following their adventures on the Goodwin Project.