by Barbara Jones
Barbara Jones is the founder of Amazonails, the pioneering straw bale building company based in West Yorkshire. Amazonails embody many things in their work. Firstly, there's their passion for low impact, beautiful, warm buildings that don't cost the earth. Then there's a desire to put the building process back into the hands of the people who live in them. They talk about "liberating people's imagination" and working to everybody's individual strengths so that their building sites are "happy places" where each individual talent is recognised and put to best use.
Straw bales were first used for building in the US in the 1800s but only regained popularity over here in the 1990s. Straw bales are wind and rain-proof, non-flammable, load-bearing, warm, good smelling and non-toxic. They have a negative carbon footprint and are easy to work with. Having been on a short workshop to get to grips with the principles of straw bale building, I can vouch for its accessabiltiy. Quite literally, anyone can do it with the right guidance, tools and attitude.
Barbara's winning formula is to take a sound principle – that straw bale buildings provide a healthy, affordable and structually sound dwelling places – and then empower people to build them. Her book offers an inspiring and practical guide to the whole process, from getting planning permission to laying the foundations, fitting your roof and rendering the building. She is passionate about the intuitive element to straw bale building and talks of "innovation" and "opening up the boundaries of possibility." Hers is not a building site as you know it! The company is currently building social housing in Lincolnshire.
Her valuable experience really comes across in this book. Amazonails have pioneered various natural building materials for the UK climate, including traditional lime and clay plasters. The company has also pioneered the use of cement-free foundations in various builds – not just straw bale ones – and won numerous awards for their achievements over the years.
With an annual surplus of straw in this country that could build over 250,000 superinsulated, 3-bedroomed homes in just one year, this is a movement with a real future which offers exciting possibility. For potential self-builders, architects, designers and professional builders, this is an enlightening read and an excellent practical guide.
Published by Green Books, Devon, £14.95
Vicki West, February 2010