Building with mud

People have commented on our mud walls at times, the most recent being a comment from clarepooley33 – author of A Suffolk Lane. Coincidentally, it was close to her, just over the border from Norfolk, that I first found out about mud building. As a child we used to visit a friend of my father in Norfolk, and he first pointed out the duckponds in the gardens of old houses. The normal procedure in bygone days had been to build the walls from mud that was dug close to the property – creating a house and a pond simultaneously.

Cob, as it is often known has a long history as a building material in the UK and it is still relevant today. Much of it is confined to the south-west and the east of the the country, but as wattle and daub it is much more widespread.

Our walls are actually rammed earth. In truth, I’m not clear about the difference between cob and rammed earth but it seems to be that cob incorporates animal dung and straw to help bind it, whereas rammed earth is just soil.

Our wall is used as an internal wall and acts as a storage heater. Sunlight enters the windows at the front of the building and heats the wall, which then slowly discharges that heat. We have four solar panels on the front to heat water for the underfloor heating and with the earth wall, and the straw bale walls in the rest of the building, we manage to keep warm. Even in the middle of winter we don’t have much trouble keeping the  temperature up to 18-21 degrees centigrade. Yesterday, with an outside temperature of 8 degrees, we were 23 degrees inside. The main problem is that people leave doors open when entering or leaving the building and once heat is lost it can be slow to build up again.

The other problem is that the surface breaks up. We didn’t start using the building until after the walls were up (we first visited when the plaster was being applied to the straw bales) but I have been told that the problem is that they incorporated large pieces of gravel in the mix, and this has caused the crumbling.

This picture shows (if you look at the top edge of the unit) the crumbling that occurred overnight.

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You can see the large bits in the wall. When the thin pieces around the stones dries it seems to crumble away. We dust the units and sweep the floors regularly.

The white pipe is where the bolts securing the shuttering went through the wall during the building process.

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Close up of the wall showing large pieces, crumbling, a patch and some random organic material that got into the mix.

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You can see how the wall is built up from layers in this photo, and you can also see out awards for sustainability, education and land use – not that I’m showing off or anything…

Incidentally, the flooring is recycled from a fire damaged building and the cupboards are second-hand units donated by Belvoir Interiors of Newark, who also gave us all our kitchen fittings.

If you want a look at an earth wall try this link. It should take you to the Google picture of an earth wall, with thatched roof, on the A605 in Whittlesey – but I’ve never tried to link to a Google Map before.

7 thoughts on “Building with mud

  1. clarepooley33

    Very interesting – and thank-you for the mention. I know about cob as a former house of ours (built 1790) had cob walls with horse-hair. The people who bought it from us objected to this and had all the cob removed and re-built all the internal walls. Philistines!

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    1. quercuscommunity Post author

      Sorry, that’s me not explaining properly.
      The three back walls are made from straw bales secured by hazel pegs. They are covered in lime render which allows some ability to breathe and flex.
      The front wall is wood and glass.
      Inside, dividing the building lengthwise is a wall made from rammed earth, which is just soil rammed down in layers and allowed to dry. Though you can build external walls like this we have built it as an internal divider which also acts as a large storage heater. We have a video somewhere which shows the build – I will see if I can post it.

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