Home Work

August 24, 2007

Further to Ran’s discussion of roofing materials yesterday, I was indeed glad he bought the issue up, We will probably end up using a modern roofing material on the house we will build but I think we will make it steep enough so that long term some kind of thatch can be used over the top of it when it begins to fail, or else make the timbers strong enough that they can take homemade clay tiles if it comes to that. 

Ran quoted an email of mine which ended with: 

This roofing issue is hard, maybe we need to get away from attempting to go long term and look at what renewable materials are available locally so we know we can always maintain it. 

If we’re looking long term then this really is our only option but I have to admit that it wasn’t my ‘position’ on sustainability that prompted me to make this comment. It was a combination of trying to think really long term along with a quote from a book called Home Work, by Llod Kahn. This quote got the point across to me in a way that no one had previously: 

In the early 70’s I got on a charter flight to Ireland, crossed the Irish Sea and got a long ride with a salesman; when he learned I was interested in building he started pointing out buildings and showing us that each was built of materials from near the site. You see the slate roofs, there’s a slate quarry nearby…” and then, “Now the roofs are tile because there is clay in the soil here…” As we travelled through England, it was striking: the thatched roofs in Norfolk, land of marshes and reeds; the sandstone walls of the Cotswalds, where the light tan colours blend perfectly with the surroundings; cob in Devon; flint in Sussex… 

I got the book because it has a photo collection of unusual and low-tech buildings in it. It will serve as creative fuel for when I get to designing our new place but it also has more than that. It’s full of inspiration for dropping out and using non-mainstream methods of constructing homes. Plus it’s great eye-candy. Here’s some of the pictures from the front cover. Note the house on the little island.


One thing that bugged me though was the collection of people in the book who had gone off the grid. The main focus for all of them was their wind and solar power generating systems. Clearly the issue of EROEI was never discussed but somehow it seems worse that in their attempts to get ‘away from it all’ they had actually bought ‘a lot of it’ with them. They had simply altered the energy equation so that they could maintain essentially the same lifestyle – except with the addition of more trees about the place.

A minor quibble though, it’s a great book, not just for the know-how but also for the inspiration.


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