House of the week: Lud Valley

JILL WILD
Last updated 05:00 25/09/2013

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A mud brick house in the Lud Valley topped off with an earth roof so much reminded Judy Keylock of her childhood days growing up in Africa that she snapped it up straight away.

She bought the home with husband Mike after being completely entranced by the ambiance of the build, both inside and out.

Eight years on and Judy still loves arriving home toa place she says is so cleverly designed that interior views flow through to exterior views from room to another.

Another highlight is the effective insulation and warmth created naturally from the thick mud brick walls.

The Keylock's are just the second owners of this home which was built by woodwork professional John Shaw, wife Fini and their sons along with help from friends and the community.

"We wanted something that lifted out of the ground, that grew from the surrounds, and most importantly we wanted an earth and grass roof," says John.

The initial build was two bedrooms and two living spaces with a high stud creating an overall feel of spaciousness.

The Keylocks added decking under the substantial roof overhang to create bigger outdoor living spaces.

And to accommodate Judy's mother, a Kiwi who spent much of her life in Zambia, an adjacent house was built. It was designed by Julie Usmar with the intention of replicating the African style theme of the structures.

The mud brick house was the result of collaborative work: at times visitors including a group of German architectural students assisted.

On other occasions organised weekend work bees would see numbers turn out, some keen to learn how to build with mud brick, others family friends happy to lend a helping hand.

"The structure has a lot of very large beams of locally milled Lawson's cypress, beams that were too big to put through a machine so we'd have planing parties. I'd sharpen 20 planes and everyone would work away - each beam was 300 by 125 so they were big. We'd be knee deep in shavings, but the wood is very fragrant so it was quite pleasant," says John Shaw.

The Keylocks say the roof is maintenance free. A double thickness of 42 millimetres sarking on the beams is covered with building paper and then a huge waterproof membrane of butynol. At the lower edges gravel surrounds drainage coil.

On roof construction day there were five people aloft, each with a wheelbarrow and an excavator. They tipped compost onto the roof and distributed it evenly over the entire 180 square metres of roof. It was then planted and left, and today supports plantings of tussock, succulents and other hardy plants.

The Lud Valley home could potentially be one of the longest in construction, the first mud bricks were laid in 1991 and construction finished in 2005.

But two decades after those first mud bricks were made and laid the house remains testament to the quality of construction. Historians suggest the type of build dates back to 7000 BC where the method was thought to have been used in South East Asia.

THE DETAILS

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Build Cost: under $400,000

Size: 180 sq m

Design: John & Fini Shaw, Richard Walker, Engineering Sustainable Solutions.

Materials: Mud bricks, Lawsons Cypress beams (milled locally), various timbers for flooring (macrocarpa, American oak and eucalyptus obliqua.

Energy efficiency: Mud brick walls 300mm thick, roofing 35mm wooden and 10mm earth.

Done Right: "The temperature of the building - the insulation is fantastic, when it's really cold outside the house retains its heat, so we had a fire last night and the house is still warm this morning."

Done Wrong: "Painting over the walls in the bathroom, we have to continue to wipe the water off the walls, the plaster cant breathe."

Unexpected: "The views from every vantage point - you get different views because of the way the windows are paced, they've been aligned so cleverly."

Recommend: "Mud brick construction for its insulation properties, it's just so effective. Also, a grass roof - the roof is so protective, if there's bad weather you don't hear a thing. I went into my Mothers house in a storm and wondered what was happening, the roof was so loud. And the construction is so good in an earthquake."

Next Time: We'd use mud brick but make sure none of it was painted with a gloss paint, and ensure the windows were sealed well. Plus put roof portals or roof windows in, because mud brick walls need the roof to protect the walls from the weather. The house becomes quite dark in places, that could be easily rectified with roof windows.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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