Quitting the city and going to live in a Hobbit house in the woods sounds like the kind of idea you might just share with friends after a few too many down the pub. Not for Kris Harbour who has done exactly that, trading his busy life in London for a much slower pace in Welsh woodland. Kris took the dream of building his own home one step further, creating an off grid haven with a self build house surrounded by nothing but trees.
He gave up his flat, a job and hectic social life when he bought a plot of land on eBay. With no clear intention of what his new home would look like, he has let nature and the resources available to him – be it natural materials or things he has recycled – design his new abode. The home is built from cob, a mix of clay, sand and straw. This holds logs together to form a cute, but sturdy little cottage, fit for a Hobbit. He mixed the cob with his own feet and as the materials were readily available nearby, it cost him next to nothing to build. He even sourced the window's from his parent's neighbours who were replacing their own double glazing. He estimates the total cost to be under £4,000 – just over $3,000.
But he hasn't had to sacrifice amenities for this low-cost life. He has running water filtered from a local spring, plug sockets powered by a hydroelectric system and solar panels. With next to no bills, he feels like he is living for himself rather than to pay for things – a much richer existence than he had before.
Kris doesn't intend for this to be his forever home. Instead, this is the prototype for the house he will eventually build when he has worked out how the land reacts and changes through the seasons. Either way, we can definitely see ourselves wanting somewhere like this for a weekend away from it all.
Building with cob
Cob is one of the oldest building materials and is very similar to mudbrick or adobe both of which are still used for building around the world. Unlike mudbrick, cob is not shaped into blocks first – it is simply built up in layers, or used to hold stick or log structures together.
The beauty of cob is that it is widely available. A builder simply needs soil (clay soil is great for the job), water and a fibrous organic material such as straw or even animal hair to hold it all together. Repair work is easy too as holes and damage can be patched up with a simple mix of cob as and when it is needed.
While cob buildings have fairly low levels of insulation they have great thermal mass which means that the sun or internal heat – such as a woodburner – warms the whole building. The cob will then retain and slowly release the heat back into the rooms, leaving the space warm and cosy. In the summer it does the opposite, keeping the interiors nice and cool. Think of it as a big heat battery and you will understand how energy efficient these buildings can be.