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Construction Types

By far the two most popular methods of construction for the self builder are Traditional (brick and block) Construction and Timber Frame.

Brick

Brick and Block

In modern traditionally built houses the walls are built in two leaves. There is an internal blockwork wall and the external wall built of brick or stone.

These, together with some internal partitions which are also built of blockwork, will support the structure of the house.

 
Timber Frame

Timber Frame

In timber frame construction the internal structure is a wooden frame which has been designed to support the structure of the house. This frame is then clad by a facing material such as brick or stone, to provide an attractive finish. For more information on Timber Frame visit the Potton Homes website.

 
Steel Frame

Steel Framed Construction

Building in steel has been popular in the USA and South Africa for some time and recently has been the subject of much interest in this country. The steel framework is lightweight, strong, weather resistant and quick to erect. Exterior panels are attached to the steel frame and then rendered. Most of the materials are made to measure prior to delivery on site and thus the house can be made weatherproof very quickly.

 
Structural Insulated Panels

Structural Insulated Panels

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) provide a cost effective, environmentally friendly and labour saving alternative to traditional timber framing and masonry construction methods.

A typical panel consists of two sheets of oriented strandboard (OSB), which sandwich a thick layer of high quality foam insulation.  The core is usually made of expanded polystyrene which is injected between the sheathings under pressure to create an ‘autohesive’ bond.  As the foam sets, it bonds chemically with the OSB to create a lightweight, ultra-strong panel, without the need for any internal studwork.

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SIPs are quick to erect, strong and energy-efficient making them a fantastic option for self builders – not least because their accurate manufacture helps simplify construction on site, reducing the chance of the project falling behind schedule.  Structural insulated panels are usually used in roofs and external walls of buildings but may also be used in floors and internal walls.

The long term benefit of building using SIPs is lower energy bills and  reduced energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Their light weight and factory production reduces transport energy and onsite wastage, therefore reducing the overall carbon footprint.

 
Structural Insulated Panels

Insulating Concrete Formwork

Insulating concrete formwork or permanently insulated formwork (PIF) is an insulated in-situ concrete system of building that is quick to construct, providing a practical method of building insulated walls for houses.

ICF is based on hollow lightweight block components that lock together without intermediate bedding materials, such as mortar, to provide a formwork system into which concrete is poured. The block is formed of sheets of insulation materials normally expanded polystyrene tied together with plastic or steel ties, or an integral web of the same insulation.

Once set, it becomes a high strength concrete frame structure with the formwork remaining in place as thermal insulation, with u-values ranging from, 0.3 w/m² k as required by the standard Building Regulations down to 0.11 w/m² k – ideal for zero energy buildings.

 

Alternative Building Methods

 

Cob Construction

Making buildings with dirt is an idea that's been around almost as long as man has been on earth The traditional material for English cob was soil (clay-based) mixed with water and straw, sometimes with crushed flint or sand added.

Whilst the cob is simple, it’s incredibly durable, with the oldest standing cob built in the UK dating back to the 1200s.

Construction Method
The technique involves building up thick walls by working in layers, letting each one harden before adding the next.  The wall is then plastered with clay or lime, or can be left unfinished.
Cob is simple, cheap, requires few tools other than your hands and is extremely environmentally friendly. The end result dries almost as hard as concrete, making it ideal for structural walls. It’s durable, fire-resistant, has high levels of insulation and malleability, allowing the walls take on any shape you wish.  The downside is that the build process can be time-consuming.

 
 

Straw Bale Construction

People have built homes using straw, grass, or reed throughout history due to the low cost and ready availability. During the late 1800s on the American plains however, straw bales houses were a matter of necessity; there was no lumber for construction. Now, with the rise in interest in sustainable housing, there's been a revival in straw bale construction.
With straw often being a farm surplus product and very cheap (around 40p a bale, or £1.50 delivered), it's inexpensive, and an easily renewable medium. Properly built, straw bale houses are fire-resistant, waterproof and actually pest free, with super-insulated walls.

Construction Methods
Structural Bale Construction. When used to bear load, the bales are placed on top of each other in a stretcher or running bond with long wooden pegs driven through to connect the layers.

 
 

Non Structural / Infill Sysytem

When used as insulation, the bales infill the walls of a timber frame structure.  In both cases the walls are rendered with lime as it’s able to cope with any minor movement in the bales.

Construction Basics
You'll need about 300 standard three-wire bales of straw to make a 2,000 square-foot house (186 sq. metres).
You need to use bales that have a uniform size (about a metre long, half a metre wide), are well secured with two strings, and with very few seed heads. Make sure they're compacted properly and dense - each bale should weight between 16-30 kilos - and dry (and be sure you keep them dry when you're building, for obvious reasons). Even after you've finished the house, you need to be certain the centre of the bales doesn't become wet through either the top or bottom - however, if the outside gets wet, that's fine; it'll dry out naturally.

Maintenance
In theory, at least, a properly constructed straw house, built where there's good drainage, could last for centuries. You should probably use a different material for the roof, however (something more permanent), and build that roof at a steep angle for drainage.

 
 

Rammed Earth

Stabilised rammed earth is a modern development of one of the oldest building materials known to man, dating back to at least 7000 BC in Pakistan. Development over the past 30 years in technology and machinery have created a masonry wall material that is attractive, environmentally beneficial and meets European building regulations.  Although most rammed earth buildings today are single- or two-storeys, a five-storey hotel has recently been completed in Australia. Today the biggest innovations in the technique are made in Australia, France and Austria. In New Zealand.

Stabilised rammed earth can have the appearance of cut stone, the strength of concrete and the weather resistance of brick; yet environmentally outperform any of these.

Construction Method
Rammed Earth walls are formed from soil that is just damp enough to hold together. The earth is tamped between shutters with manual or pneumatic rammers. These shutters can be removed immediately after completion of a wall panel. The shape is limited to what can economically be built with the removable shutters. The walls are often left as they are "off the form" and reveal an appealing strata pattern from the ramming process, alternatively, the surface of the wall can be sculpted to a certain degree, while the earth is still damp.

This technique is labour intensive and requires a lot of experience. Consistent workmanship is critical for both the appearance and the strength of Rammed Earth walls, so site work has to be of high quality.

Stabilised Rammed Earth was initially developed to compete with brick for low cost housing, and is now being used

  • by governmental bodies seeking eco-friendly building methods
  • by architects seeking the latest attractive materials
  • by clients wanting overall energy efficiency
 


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