Tony covers the process of visualising and designing a house through to the practical side of lifting the living roof, infilling the walls. laying out rooms and adding renewable, autonomous technology. He offers advice on roofs, floors, walls, compost toilets, wood stoves, kitchens, windows and on planning permissions. There are photographs of the dwelling and illustrations from the construction plans for this, one of the UK's most unique homes. Includes updates which bring the building and planning stories up to date.
Book Review: Building a Low Impact Roundhouse (4th ed) by Tony Wrench, Permanent Publications (2014)
I give this book 7 out of 10 acorns
Despite the setbacks, my planning for my forest garden life adventure continues. Plan A (now a mess) involved finding an existing building to renovate, and I still regard this as an option, but I think there is a case for broadening those options. I read this book as a means of scoping out one of the ways for creating a long-term shelter. I've concluded this is probably not the route I'd ideally want to be going down, except in circumstances I don't expect, and this book showed me why. It's not that it doesn't work, but that I think that there are ways I'd prefer to do it.
Tony Wrench and Jane Faith constructed their timber-frame roundhouse at the Brithdir Mawr community in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It was built without planning permission, and you can learn more about the ongoing saga and more about the roundhouse itself here: http://www.thatroundhouse.info/
I like the emphasis on sustainability embodied by the timber frame roundhouse, and I like its simplicity, and the way of living it encourages. Here in Scotland the roundhouse tradition goes back to the early Iron Age, although most traces have now been lost which, to me, is not necessarily a bad thing – the opposite, if anything. The exceptions are where they had to build in stone, such as Orkney. Today, building like this is riddled with impracticalities, not least the planning process, which has resulted in a decade-long battle with forces with bulldozers.
This is not the how-to guide I was partially hoping for, but I did get a lot out of it. It is worth reading, and there are some great ideas in here. There is a list of “buts”, of which the planning authorities are just one. I'm a worrier, and worrying that my home might be demolished would be enough to give me endless sleepless nights.
The first thing that Tony and Jane have that I don't expect to is 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Their roundhouse needed around 250 of these. While Scotland is infested with trash conifer plantations (mainly Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)), and the area I still hope to end up in in northern Spain is riddled with Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) this is a hell of a lot of timber. In either case, these would constitute a fire risk, and I'd be considering removal rather than thinning. In this case, it might be something I'd be willing to consider, but I'd probably want to call it a shed, not a home. Planners.
The strongest point of the book is that it does tell you how Tony and Jane did their construction, probably well enough to follow provided you can keep the book dry, even giving some useful tips on the subject of obtaining recycled and upcycled materials. One of the biggest problems I think I'd face is the need for substantial free labour, which is fine in a community like Brithdir Mawr, but a possibly insurmountable obstacle in a relatively quiet area that I would hope to move to.
The other problem would be the sheer amount of time required just at the time when I'd be wanting to get my forest garden started. I'd still need to be living in some other form of structure, even if just a caravan, for at least a couple of years while we got everything done. The same would apply to most other forms of self build, but if we were going down that route, I have preferred options (cob, straw bale and tires/rammed earth being the top three, but there is still a strong case for a conventional or semi-conventional renovation job).
The book covers everything from uprights and the construction of a reciprocal frame roof to water, electrics and toilet facilities. A final chapter describes what could have been done better. There is also a useful description of how to build a small straw bale den, which might be good for visitors, WWOOFers or just as a quiet place to escape and meditate.
Nevertheless, I think if I was going to tackle a project like this I'd want books besides this one. There is a list of further reading, and I think I'd probably want it but, as I say, I don't think this would be top of my list of routes to be going down.