Build It Live: Getting Muddy with Self-Builders in Kent, 22nd & 23rd Feb

This weekend CAT is travelling to Kent and we are planning to get muddy. Like west Wales, Kent has had more then its fair share of mud recently, but our purpose is not related to the storms; we will be demonstrating some simple techniques for using earth in construction – making a cob wall and a pizza oven at the Build It Live Exhibition at GLOW, Bluewater.

Putting the final touches to a pizza oven

Build It Live is the ideal event for anyone who dreams of building or renovating their own home. With free seminars, access to invaluable expertise and live, interactive demonstrations such as ours, we are looking forward to a lively weekend. Visitors can talk to us about all our short courses for self-builders or any of the other services offered by CAT.

Clay rendering demonstration

One of main reasons people decide to build their own home is that they want to create something that is truly individual. Using natural building techniques, and building with earth in particular, can be an excellent way to create unique architectural forms because by its very nature, every element of earth construction will be unique in terms of colour, texture and finish. Unfired clay and sand require little energy to produce and can be sourced locally in many parts of the UK. When earth is mixed with clay, straw and water it creates cob – a lovely material to work with because it sets slowly, allowing time for experimentation, trial and error, remixing and reuse.

So that is what we will be doing. Anyone who hasn’t had enough of mud in Kent is very welcome to come along and get involved. In fact, if you are reading this blog you can have two free tickets worth £24 by following this link.

New Skills in 2014: Build a Compost Toilet

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off!  From the 4th to the 6th of July discover the power of poo during our ‘Build a Compost Toilet’ short course.

Although the vast majority of the UK’s houses are connected to the mains, there are some that must find alternatives to local sewage treatment works. Compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace.

During this three day course the essentials for building your own compost toilet will be covered. With Grace Grabb, CAT’s water and natural resources specialist, course participants will learn about the changes human waste undergoes during the composting process. CAT’s resident carpenter Carwyn Jones will then demonstrate some of the techniques needed to build your own compost toilet.

Students sorting the nutrient rich compost
Grace sorting the nutrient rich compost

Composting your waste is a relatively easy and cheap way to reduce your waste and constructing your own toilet can be great fun. The soil produced after a year or two is pleasant to remove, and can be put straight on the garden (although preferably on non-food plants). Compost toilets are increasingly being built in allotments, back gardens and even indoors. Addition of the right amount of ‘soak’ gives good decomposition. A ‘soak’ is a source of carbon – typical materials include sawdust, straw and earth. The four main components to make your compost a nutrient-rich success are: heat, moisture, oxygen and a little dedication!

Carwyn constructing a timber frame compost toilet at Grand Designs Live in 2012.

From DIY to ‘off the shelf’ designs, this course can help you decide whether or not a composting toilet is right for you. The course invites anyone and everyone to join in, from urban gardeners to off-grid enthusiasts. Pupils will learn more about construction and cladding methods, as well as the biological processes that happen deep within the soil on a molecular level.

To discover a more holistic approach to waste management, sign up for the course now.

For those more interested in the theory behind compost toilets, rather than the construction methods, we offer a one day course: Introduction to Compost Toilets. This forms the first day of the Build a Compost Toilet course, and can be taken independently.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

New Skills in 2014: Timber Frame Building

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off! One of our most popular courses is Timber Frame Building, a five day course from 31st March to the the 4th April 2014. 

This course is for anyone interested in sustainable construction, timber buildings and building your own home. This course particularly welcomes participants from NGOs working in development, self-builders, construction teachers, individuals looking to re-skill and architects. Over the five days students will gain unique hands-on experience, underpinned by talks on the process of planning and building timber structures.

The tutors on the Timber Frame Building course  are all experts in the field: Pat Borer is an architect with over 35 years experience in designing and constructing green buildings; Duncan Roberts is Programme Leader of CAT’s Part II in Architecture and Geoff Stow built his own home in Lewisham and is part of the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB).

Timber Framers in 2013

The course attracts a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds such as Yotin, who came on the course with his neighbour last year to learn how to live off-grid. The two explained that “the lecturers are kick-ass, down to earth and informative” sharing their expertise with a “hands-on approach”.

At the end of the course participants understand timber frame design and are able initiate their own timber frame self-build projects.

For more information about the Timber Frame Building course visit our website.

On the 16th August there will be a new course closely linked to this one: Traditional Timber Frame Joints. The course will cover an overview of the tools and techniques used in marking and cutting joints in a series of hands-on workshop session.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

New Skills in 2014: Grow your own Food

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year – if you fancy learning something new in 2014, then how about techniques for growing your own food? This is a day course that starts in the morning of the 5th of April.  So why is it important to grow your own vegetables and what can we learn?

Freshly picked lettuce

This course is suitable for both beginners and experienced gardeners, to learn about organic gardening techniques. You will visit the various gardens and polytunnels on site, with orchards boasting over 30 types of apples. Students learn how to sow seeds and prepare the land for cultivation on diverse plots, such as in the forest garden and Myfanwy’s garden, an example of urban farming. You will learn from one of our longest running staff members, head gardener and ‘gardening guru’ Roger, who has worked for CAT for 35 years. He teaches about when and how to sow many different vegetables, as well as herbs and flowers. Some wise words he’s shared with us: ‘If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for life, get a garden.’

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Unusual urban planters

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

If you would like to support the on-going research done here at CAT donate to our Gardens campaign.

New Skills in 2014: Build a Green Roof

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year – if you fancy learning something new in 2014 then how about building your own green roof? This course will run from the 28th till the 30th of March.  What’s to learn from green roofs and why are they important? 

Sedum plants grown on one of the many Green roofs at CAT
Sedum plants grown on one of the many Green roofs at CAT

This in-depth, practical course which will take you through the process of designing and building an ‘extensive’ green roof (which, unlike ‘intensive’ roofs, require minimum maintenance). Students will learn how to plan and build their own green roof with consideration of wildlife, planting methods, architecture and engineering. The course will also look at how to build a green roof on an existing building, such as on a shed or an apartment roof.

Tutor Carwyn Jones working on the newest green roof at CAT

Building a green roof essentially puts the carbon footprint from the ground, on the roof reducing its footprint in construction. A green roof attracts birds and insects such as bees and butterflies, which can encourage pollination in your garden. It helps prevent surface runoff that could cause flooding or a strain on your drain pipes. As well as improving the view, there is strong evidence that green roofs promote occupant well-being, due to our innate ‘biophilia’ (having a close connection with nature! ). The tutor, Carwyn Jones, explains that ‘its not just a case of putting grass on a roof’, and that he will cover the important topics of choosing the right growing medium and allowing for adequate drainage.

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

New Skills in 2014 – Hedgelaying and Restoration

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year, so if you fancy learning something new in 2014 then what about the traditional art of hedgelaying? Our weekend course on Hedgelaying and Restoration will run between the 31st January and the 2nd of February 2014. Why is this skill so important?

The course involves both theoretical and practical learning onsite at CAT with Rob Goodsell. Students will learn about different types of hedges, the ecosystems found in them and the traditional tools used to create them. Rob is an experienced woodsman with a hands-on approach to learning. He is been a long-time member of the CAT staff, working in water resources and woodland management. His teachings emphasise the importance of sustaining vibrant landscapes by using sustainable methods and techniques.

Tutor Rob Goodsell

Nowadays, hedges are often ‘flailed’; the tops are cut off using large automated machinery. This technique is not very sustainable. Rob explains that “flailing breaks down the hedgerows and will not promote new growth of the plants and will negatively impact on species, such as bats, that use these corridors to navigate. Flailing looks neat but it is not good for the countryside.”

Most hedges in the UK have been maltreated for over 30 years, so bringing them back to life is vital. Learning how to construct hedges in a more traditional way promotes habitat corridors, while allowing the local flora and fauna to flourish.

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

 

A week learning about sustainable living services

Last week I arrived at CAT for my six month volunteer placement. I immediately went along to the Sustainable Building Services module, part of  the AEES Masters at CAT, but it is also offered as a Short Course. The course offers a theoretical look at how we can save energy, use it wisely and build/retrofit buildings by appropriately managing their ventilation and water systems.

~Day 1 ~

Frances Hill, the module leader, started with ventilation techniques showing innovative ways to control aeration such as indoor fountains. Following this, Tom Baker’s lecture showed the degrading impacts of chemicals used in industry that create contaminated land. After lunch the in-depth solar water heating lecture by Arthur Butler presented the idea that, in some cases, being more efficient can be a waste of time and energy as the pay-backs are incredibly lengthy and often work best in hotter environments.

~Day 2~

We started the day again with a lecture by Frances Hill. This time, on cooling buildings by understanding climatic variations such as humidity. Tom Baker’s lecture on precipitation and flooding solutions such as SUDS (Sustainable Urban Design Strategies) shed light on the flooding problems the UK will be facing in years to come due to climate change. There was much laughter during Louise Halestrap’s lecture on sewage treatment, as we learnt that composting is the solution in more rural areas to our stinky problems, yet finding viable solutions in an urban context is much more challenging.

CAT students before the practical

~Day 3~

All students began the wet morning with a choice of practicals: some in Machynlleth, but most onsite. My choice of ‘compost toilets and clean water systems’ with Louise Halestrap began with a walk to the top reservoir at CAT. We tested the water’s turbidity – its clarity – to determine how many particulates are floating around. We examined all the different types of systems used at CAT, such as UV filters, ceramic filters and more natural systems including vertical and horizontal reed-beds. Some techniques were better than others: the dual-chamber compost toilets came out as being the least energy intensive. In the evening, a tour of sedum roofs and other ‘living roofs’ on site showed us their simplicity and it has inspired me to one day make my own.

Compost toilet onsite using worms to breakdown organic matter.

~Day 4~

The last day of lectures started with Ben Abel talking about clean air architecture in the context of tall buildings (e.g. the ‘Gherkin’ in London). Mentioned was the use of ‘green-washing’ by businesses, occasions when ‘green’ designs are used as a marketing tool rather than being truly sustainable. After lunch it was up to the WISE roof with Tobi to follow the sun’s path to determine the best position for solar panels (information here on data so you can plan your own).

In the evening there was a truly inspiring lecture by Jonathan Essex from Bioregional examining sustainable approaches to construction waste by looking at the behavioural changes possible in the production chain. Personally this was the most stimulating lecture, urging students to start with re-using rather than recycling, to deconstruct old buildings and reconstruct with them same materials to create vibrant and beautiful places.

Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine
Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine

To finish the week a fairytale pantomime was held in the evening to celebrate and give thanks to all the lectures, speakers, staff and students. Titles for the plays included ‘Snowdonia and the Seven Dorks’ (the CAT lecturers) and ‘The Princess and Her Pee’.

All in all the week was riveting. The combination of lectures, seminars, practicals and social tea-breaks allowed us to mingle and exchange ideas. Last week, being the first week of my six month stay here in CAT, has been the warmest welcome I could imagine.