Monday, September 13, 2010

Eco-building: Swallows and Humans

We have something to celebrate. On Friday, we went to our mairie
to pick up our permis de construire (planning permission) for our future eco-house. The plans had been finished for some time but actually putting in the application had stayed on my “list-of-things-to-do” for far too long. If you could see the five-part form, each part self-carbonated five times, with all manner of necessary items to furnish, you’d be sympathetic towards my procrastination.

As we walked into the porch of the mairie, I noticed a pile of bird shit by the door. Knowing all about Newton and falling apples, I looked upwards to discover two young swallows peering at me over the edge of their nest. With all the complication of our own application, it was ironic that Monsieur and Madame Hirondelle had simply turned up, and at the very seat of local government mind, with mouthfuls of wet clay and built their summer home with no hint of planning permission.

As you can see from the close up at top, their home is built from mud, reinforced with natural fibres, which is not a lot different from the house our friends Mélanie and Bruno are currently building.
The photos show Botmobil volunteers Cécile and Thibault squeezing a straw bale into position and then Fabrice, the professional, showing us amateurs how to apply an earth “body coat” render over straw bales that already had a coating of mud slurry as a primer.

This thick layer will dry off over a few months and receive the finishing coat next spring. It really is good fun slapping on the mud mix and massaging it into place with one’s hands. Fact one: lime and cement will dry and burn your skin; Fact 2: expensive skin products are based on clay; so spending a day mud plastering by hand left us all with very clean and very soft hands, which is not at all bad for a building site ☻