New and Very Practical Art Forms: Buildings on the Cheap

One of the most popular places to visit at GBE concerns buildings on the cheap, the remarkably alluring Hobbit-like house Wales residents Simon and Jasmine Dale built into a hillside using a hodgepodge of used and organic materials.  Their estimated cost for the entire project came in at less than $5,000.

hobbit house simondalehome500

This was a tremendous accomplishment for a young couple with two children and very little money, a reality that is all too familiar to a significant sample of our population.

Here is what GBE reported:

The result was their very low impact homemade house. A hand-built unique setting for a charmed life for their two young toddlers. I’ll bet they’ll remember this first home for the rest of their lives. Total expenditure? $5,000. Tools? A chisel, a chainsaw and a hammer. Building expertise? Simon Dale says:

“My experience is only having a go at one similar house 2 years before and a bit of mucking around in-between. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able-bodied, having self belief and perseverance and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.”

  • Sustainable design and construction:
  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame constructed of fallen trees from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture compared to cement
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Other items were reclaimed from “a rubbish pile somewhere”: windows, wiring, plumbing

(Maybe there should be a new LEED rating just for building so inexpensively: Sustainable Financing. This is one mortgage bill that’s not going to be haunting their mum and dad for years.) Inside there’s a wood-burner for heating – waste wood in the old-growth forest is locally plentiful. To get the most of the heat, the flue goes through a big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly releases the warmth.

There are just a couple of solar panels – just enough for lighting, music and computing. It’s a simple life. A skylight in the roof lets in enough natural feeling light, and water is fed by gravity downhill from a nearby spring. There’s a compost toilet. Roof water collects in a pond for gardening

Says Simon: “Our house is unusual but the aesthetic appeals to lots of people and perhaps touches something innate in us that evolved in forests.“

The Dale family did not stop at their Hobbit house. Visit his website, Being Somewhere, to see more remarkable magic and sustainable practicality.

oval sunshinin

He writes for many others in the world:

“Since 2003 we have been living and building on the land, working in environmental projects and community.  We have found that for a few thousand pound and a few months work it is possible to create simple shelters that are in harmony with the natural landscape, ecologically sound and are a pleasure to live in.  There is something powerfully alluring in such natural buildings.  Their simplicity and cost makes them accessible; their beauty and use of natural materials remind us of our ancestral right and ability to live well as part of the landscape/nature/earth.  We believe this dream is possible for anyone with genuine intention, will and hard work.


Sources: Green Building Elements, Being Somewhere 


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