Visiting Speckled Wood at National Trust’s Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere

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During the second phase of our renovation project in Haslemere, our clients took us out to visit the straw bale, roundwood timber-framed building used for accommodation for long term volunteers on this National Trust estate.

Speckled Wood is an inspirational building which was constructed by the National Trust in association and collaboration with the local community. The building is constructed from materials sustainably sourced from local woodlands and is designed to echo surrounding landscapes (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/swan-barn-farm/documents/swan-barn-farm—building-design-guide.pdf).

We built Speckled Wood entirely from timber grown on the National Trust’s Blackdown estate near Haslemere, Surrey. Named after a butterfly that frequents the local woods, the building is a roundwood frame of sweet chestnut, with larch wall plates and ridge pole. The chestnut shakes were constructed by volunteers on national trust working holidays. The building is used by long term volunteers/apprentices who then go on to work on other national trust land. By design, the residents should embody the essence of sustainability by living in speckled wood. Ben Law

Built by Ben Law, for pictures of the building process click here: http://ben-law.co.uk/portfolio/speckled-wood/ and with Dylan Walker (https://artizansofwood.co.uk/)

With timber shingles and the undulating straw walls this building has a strong organic feel, fitting nicely into the surround landscape. Straw bale walls can be built to straight lines and sharp corners but the curves and undulations work well here, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere inside. The thick timber window ledges, lime plaster and hand-built roundwood staircase make this a great space to live when volunteering for National Trust.

The short trip provided a strengthening break to get some fresh air during an intense phase of construction as well as the chance to see work crafted by the hands of several of our colleagues and friends.

SBUK Meeting – Birmingham

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Sunrise over the city of Birmingham
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Discussions underway between leading straw bale practitioners, new start ups and non-practitioners keen to promote the industry.

 

Whilst steadily growing in the industry, straw bale construction still makes up a relatively small part of the sector in the UK. Across many countries in Europe there is a lot of interesting and exciting activity underway, ranging from grassroots initiatives, new companies, creative and individuals and academic research. A lot of this knowledge and creativity is exchange through national and international bodies such as RFCP – Réseau Français de la Construction en Paille in France amongst several others, who are members of ESBA (European Straw Building Association).

The UK is one of the few countries that up until recently didn’t have a national body to represent the industry and to facilitate the exchange of ideas and knowledge for the pursuit of best practice and increased awareness of straw bale building.

SBUK (StrawBale Building United Kingdom) was set up by Jeffrey Hart and established with the collaboration of leading straw bale practitioners from across the UK. Still in the process of setting up and establishing itself as a fully fledge association SBUK is on it’s fourth meeting.

Hawkland managed to attend in the form of co-director David Copeland. The meetings are always a great time to catch up with friends and colleagues, whilst helping in any way we can to support this initiative.

Stay tuned for developments and updates on SBUK

Week Three & Four: Weather Proofing and Straw Bale Installation

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Bales being delivered from the farm just round the corner.
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Holes drilled for the sharpened hazel poles in the timber noggin, with foam glass insulation filling cavity and inbetween the sole plate.
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Moving up from the second course to the fourth course of bales before we then strengthen the walls with long hazel poles.
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Bales installed up to the fourth course along all the walls.
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Giving the hazel poles a sharp spiked end to help pierce through the bales.
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Rob Walker (left) of Strawbale Building UK (SBUK) giving  Darren (right) a hand.
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Moving up to the fith, sixth and seventh courses.
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Experimenting with some old methods to help guide us when lowering the roof on to the bales.
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Roof successfully lowered and now we’re using the trucker straps to compress the bales.
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Using a water level to check the level the roof.
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An ancient but very useful tool for checking levels quickly and simply on a larger scale.

 

We are back this week to continue our work in supporting Darren on his straw bale home in Oxfordshire. Having done a lot of work on straw bale houses in Australia Darren is bringing his knowledge back to the UK to build his own home.

Hawkland have been involved from the start of the carpentry to the installation of the straw bales. After the long two weeks spend building the frame and installing the roof Julie worked on for a third week. Throughout this time Julie and Darren worked long days to get the roof fully weatherproof, including the gable ends and scaffolding sheets wrapped round the walls. Further work was done in securing the timber baseplate to the Thermalite blocks in the foundation, picking up and delivering the straw bales, drilling the holes in the noggins for the hazel spikes and other preparation work that needed to be done before the bales could be installed.

Whilst away for other work Darren cracked on with installing the bales. By the time David was back on site he had got up to the fourth course of bales along the majority of the walls. The pressure was on as they had 5 days to get the walls reinforced with hazel poles and the rest of the bales installed before the rest of Hawkland turned up at the weekend to lead on lowering the roof and compressing the walls.

The fixed point of the large steel beam added a level of difficulty to the process but everything went as smoothly as expected, with a few areas needing adjusting the next day once everything had settled. A great benefit to bales is the flexibility they offer when working with them. If anything need adjusting, its usually very stright forwards and problems can be solved very quickly.

As with most self build projects, Hawkland has been involved in a specific part of the building stage and now step off site to allow Darren to continue at his own pace. We will no doubt pay a visit in the future to see how it’s all going and if needed will happy help on future elements of the build.

 

Week Two: Installing The Roof

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The first two trusses installed
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Chris and Paul fixing on the top chord
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The trusses are up and ready to be positioned
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Checking the spacing is correct between the timbers
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All in place and the sun comes out!

We worked late into the weekend, with our client Darren and his friends, to install the 17 trusses that form the roof. Working with self builders on smaller budgets can be really exciting as we often have to come up with inventive solutions that would otherwise be solved by expensive machinery.

There was a great atmosphere onsite as Darren had invited a lot of his old friends to help build the roof. The weekend was a mix of hard work, problem solving, connecting with new people and nostalgia between good friends that hadn’t seen each other for a long time.There’s a great empowerment to building your own house, a sense of pride and achievement that is worth all the stress and anxiety that is unfortunately also part of the process.

Week One: Load Bearing Straw Bale House

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First day on site
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Timbers installed for the windows
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Timber noggings in place for extra support
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First corner going up
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Moving along the wall building up the top plate
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Front wall top plate done and some temporary supports in place
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Using 24″ clamps to help fix the timber in straight
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Our new DeWalt circular saw making light work of cutting the OSB
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Fixing the OSB up into the 8×2 timber
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Almost half the top plate completed
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800mm cleats to join the lengths of 8×2 together
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Nearing the third corner by thursday
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Onto the last corner before working over the steel plate
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Checking our width to make sure we’re square before installing the last section
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Top plate completed, just the extra noggings to support the roof trusses

An important week for Hawkland as we are on site working on our first straw bale house under our new company. Being involved with these key stages of the build is important to minimise problems in the near future. Whilst individually we have worked on many straw bale projects over the last few years with Strawbuild and other companies, this marks our first build that we have been involved in from the start of the timber construction right through to the straw bale installation.

Our previous work installing straw bales helps us to understand the best way of optimising the timber frame as we know what aspects can hinder us further down the line. This knowledge and ability to bring the carpentry in house allows us to control the process right from the start ensuring a high quality build and optimal detailing.

It has been a long week for Chris and David working in Oxfordshire with our client Darren, whilst Julie was working in Wales clay plastering and helping to install a roof extension on another straw bale house (who will then join us later in the second week). Our goal was to get the top plate, permanent 4×4 timber posts in place and all the temporary supporting posts constructed by this weekend. A tight deadline (as there was a lot of head scratching and discussions over some unique design details) but with some long days and hard work we were ready for the arrival of the roofing team on Saturday morning.

The house is an appropriately sized chalet bungalow built using straw bales, timber, lime and clay in the majority of the construction. For the plinth wall the client has built with Thermalite, Foamglas blocks and lime mortar to form the cavity wall which is then infilled with recycled Geocell foam glass gravel.

Straw bale repair and installation

 

Long hours and hard work but it’s very rewarding to see the fresh golden straw. The bales once installed are compressed to create a strong solid wall, straightened by large wooden mallets and then strimmed to provide a good key for the lime plaster.

This project for COCA (Caeryhs Organic Community Agriculture) was led by Strawbuild in collaboration with the team from Hawkland Ecological Construction.