(while I build my Hempcrete House)
Back to the North
I am an artist, returning to the North East, following 40 years away in other places. I am amicably divorced with both grown up sons at university. I wanted a life change so, in January 2021 I bought a field with planning permission, in Co Durham, online, by modern method of auction ( like Ebay except for houses).
The outline planning was for two separate buildings: a double garage and a two-story stone clad house. The local vernacular is stone.
The field is 1100ft above sea level in the Durham Dales, it is an exposed site and susceptible to strong winds. I wanted to use the garage space as a studio so advertised for an architect, via the RIBA ‘Find an architect’ portal, to help visualise this.
Hexam based, Elliott Architects, proposed combining the mass of the two buildings, with the addition of a hall/art gallery maintaining a feeling of division, but meaning I won’t get wet on the way to work. They proposed nestling the building in to its surroundings by keeping it single story, making it less obtrusive in the landscape and helping shelter it from inclement weather.
Our drawings were sent to Durham County Council, who gave their permission for the project… eight and a half months later.
It was due to this length of time in planning that gave me the opportunity to really consider how I wanted to build the house. I knew that I wanted my new home to generate as much of its own power as possible but it wasn’t until a visit to Swindon’s National Self Build Centre that I first came across Hempcrete. I left the centre with a hemp block and batt, that was my introduction to the world of natural building.
Hempcrete is made from the chopped up woody core of the Cannabis plant, a lime binder and water. When mixed together, these combined elements enables the casting of very thermally efficient monolithic walls. The Hempcrete is naturally breathable, and hygroscopic ( moisture absorbing) It also has superb acoustic qualities and being 100% natural makes a very healthy environment to live in. With a small team, it is possible to physically build your own walls. I fell in love with Hemp.
The Arrival of the Caravan
Our proposed use of natural materials has slowed the technical drawing stage while we check the Hempcrete details with natural material supplier and builder ‘Kind Supply’. Once we have this report , the structural engineer and the architects can finalise drawings .The builder needs these working drawings before he can price. Building Control need to agree the drawings before any work starts and on we go. I now understand why it can take so long to build a house.
I couldn’t wait any longer, I wanted to enjoy living in my field and begin being part of my new community, so, I bought a 2005 Burstner Caravan from friend, and local Tea shop owner, had a decorator tow it to site and have now set up home in ‘Mole’ Caravan. I have high panoramic views, can watch the sun rising in the morning and setting out to the west in the evening. I listen to my neighbours,a herd of Belgium Blue cattle, mooing, and crows cawing in the bleaker days of autumn. It is going to be chilly but have stocked up on thermals, good knit wear and wool socks.
I share my field with a few small mammals who, I suspect I shall never meet, but who regularly make their presence felt through their soil excavations, multiplying brown dabs in a field of a green, more on moles as we go.
This blog will share my experiences of living in a caravan in the field through winter and beyond in the Durham Dales, it will serve also as a record of the journey of a rookie self-builder as I negotiate my way through building control and budgets to a future naturally built home. The primary reason for doing all this is to have my own studio right there at home, from which to work whenever I need to, day or night.
It would be lovely if you, the reader, will join me on this journey of creative building. Please do subscribe and let me know you are out there.
I would love to hear from anyone who has overwintered in a caravan/ has built with hempcrete/ anyone who loves to draw or paint or is forging a new life for them selves after the children have fledged.
Bye for now from Mole