Funny Solutions to Sustainability – ‘Hobbit Houses, Cob and Eco Living’

by Freddie Bruhin-Price

Michael Buck outside the marvellous eco-home he built for just £150
Michael Buck outside his finished eco-home, which cost him just £150 to build

When one thinks of skips and domesticity, one thinks of discarded, unusable, unwanted, outdated and frankly useless tat destined for a long cold lonely afterlife among the landfill that blots our landscape. I have to admit that once or twice, when neighbours decided to fly the nest and find a new place to dwell, I have spied a gem lurking amongst the detritus in an old basural; an antique clock, a rocking horse, perhaps a pair of curtains. But even in my atypical enthusiasm for the spoils of the lowly skip, I have never entertained the thought of plundering these mines in any depth. Through fear, perhaps, or just lack of necessity.

It is this very reticence in the area of skip searching which would surely be scoffed at by Oxfordshire farmer Michael Buck. A former art teacher, Buck, 59, has recently completed a spectacular project which has seen him construct an eco-friendly house on his smallholding for a cost of £150. With the help of some skip-found fancies, and his steadfast dedication to the ancient building technique known as “cob,” he is the proud owner of a creation that is made exclusively from biodegradable materials… Apart from the windows, which spent their previous life as a car windscreen.

The materials used to build the house are fascinating in their diversity. The house’s walls are made from cob; combining earth, clay and straw. The latter was responsible for the house’s cost; if not for a miscalculation of the amount of straw required for the walls and the house’s thatch roof, Michael maintains that the house would have been built for free. The cob walls are coated with plaster made from the dung of cows from Michael’s farm. Three of these cows have been immortalised in the very plaster they helped to create – Marigold, Crystal and Mist’s names are carved in to the walls.

Simon Dale built his own Hobbit House, for around £3000
Simon Dale built his own Hobbit House in Wales, at a cost of around £3000

So can we all do the same? What are the skills required for such an undertaking? For Michael, it took eight months, and he had his own land. But the project, which fits unobtrusively into the landscape, is comparable to that undertaken by Simon Dale, aged 32, who relocated his family to Wales and built a similar home for the slightly inflated sum of £3,000. Dale’s motivation was reportedly to avoid mortgage payments. Now he and his family live sustainably in an idyllic setting, bypassing the asphyxiating effects of modern society. 

Michael Buck professed that his project aimed to highlight and explode the sad truth that many people work all their lives at something they don’t like doing to pay off their mortgage, incurring a hefty carbon footprint in the process. Having achieved what he set out to, Michael now lets the property to a tenant who works on a nearby farm. She reportedly pays her rent in milk and cream. The exchange of goods, the use of renewable materials and the house’s lack of any eco-impacting energy use make this dwelling a perfect example of sustainable living.


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