Taking shape – building the tiny house walls

Pictured is a partially complete timber and hempcrete wall
Partially complete timber and hempcrete walls

In this post I’m going to describe how the walls were built. By this, I mean the timber frame and the hempcrete infill. The exterior weatherboarding (siding) and interior lime/hemp plaster will be dealt with in separate articles.

Building the timber frame

The building uses a simple stud wall system fixed on top of the previously constructed base with an OSB floor.

Pictured below are the walls in the early stages of construction.

Pictured is are the tiny house stud walls
Early stages of wall construction

If you study the picture closely, you can get a good idea of how the walls were tackled.

The image below was from a French architect’s site (Amnios) and shows the structure very clearly.

Pictured is a drawing of the stud frame system
Drawing of a stud frame wall

This page on their site no longer exists, so I can’t link to it. Nevertheless, the same architect helpfully mentioned that the studs are normally 120mm x 45mm, spaced 60cm apart. So that’s exactly what I chose for the tiny house. I addition, my walls would have 50mm of lime/hemp plaster on the inside and an exterior weatherboarding thickness of 60mm (Including an air gap). This brought the overall thickness of the walls to around 230mm.

Going back to my tiny house photo above, you can also clearly see the 3 rafter ties on top of the walls. These were added to stop the walls from spreading under the load from the tiled roof. Some leftover joist hangers were perfect for fixing them to the top plates of the walls.

As the framing progressed, horizontal noggins and diagonal braces were added, as can be seen below. Scraps of timber were also fixed to the sides of the studs to act as a mechanical key to lock the cast hempcrete in place.

Pictured is a timber frame stud wall
Timber framing – noggins and diagonal braces

I later learned that, such is the rigidity of set hempcrete, noggins and diagonal braces are unnecessary. Furthermore, they also make it much more awkward to put the hempcrete in place. If I were to construct using cast hempcrete again, I would omit the noggins entirely and try to devise a system of temporary diagonal braces that could be removed as the work progressed.

It’s probably worth pointing out that the timber used for the walls was untreated douglas fir. All the nailing was done with a Hikoki gas nailer using 65 and 95mm galvanised nails. Having a good nail gun really helped speed the work up and I’d recommend it to anyone undertaking a similar project.

I should also give credit to my ex-colleague and master carpenter Robert (aka magic Rob!) who pretty much took charge of the framing. Having his experience on site was invaluable. I could possibly have muddled through on my own, but I would have been much slower and more error prone.

Adding the hempcrete

You can read in this blog post how I cast the hempcrete around the timber frame. Basically, sheets of OSB are screwed either side of the timber frame and wet hempcrete placed into the void. The next day the shuttering is removed and reattached to form the next ‘lift’. In my case the shuttering on the inside of the wall was spaced from the frame by 5cm to allow the framework to be completely covered by the hempcrete.

It’s not a complicated process but it seemed to take forever. This was largely because I did it on my own: the shuttering, the mixing and the placing of the wet hempcrete. For prospective self-builders I would recommend trying to get a few people along at this stage of the process, otherwise it’s a real slog.

Pictured is the legionnaires sun hat I used
Looks silly, works a treat

Another thing that didn’t help was the extreme heat. Doing hard work in 35deg C is tough. Especially for someone more used to the Scottish climate. Such were the time pressures of the project, I couldn’t afford to wait until it cooled down. Indeed, I think the only time I took a day off was due to torrential rain!

Anyway, to help cope with the sun and heat I often wore a ‘legionnaires’ cap (protects the back of the neck). They can be had easily on eBay for a few pounds. I also wore an old, light cotton shirt. On the hottest days I had a routine whereby I would regularly soak myself with the garden hose. The water evaporating from the cotton shirt and cap really helped cool me down, especially if there was a breeze.

Another trick I used was setting up a makeshift shade from a plastic tarpaulin. This was used over the concrete mixer to give some respite from the sun while making the hempcrete. 4 wooden ‘poles’ (from roofing battens or similar) were used at the corners and the whole thing braced using camping guy ropes. This arrangement can been seen on the left of the photo below.

Pictured is a makeshift shade system from a tarpaulin
Getting some shade from a tarpaulin

Getting back to the building …

As the hempcrete casting progressed, I found the shuttering boards getting progressively smaller as they were cut up to do the fiddly bits around the windows and doors.

Little by little, the gaps in the framework were filled in with grey porridge, producing some very solid walls.

Pictured is a freshly cast hempcrete wall
Freshly cast hempcrete wall interior

In the picture above you can also see the boards that were used as window liners. These were wide (and unseasoned) so they inevitably cracked a little and were not very flat. In hindsight it would perhaps have been better to have made these from exterior grade plywood.

Pictured is the tiny house gable end wall from inside
Almost complete gable end hempcrete wall

The picture above shows as far as I got during the first summer of construction. In fact, I ran out of time and so had to leave the triangular area of the gable end wall until the next visit. The exterior face of the wall had been weatherboarded and the black surface which is visible is the fabric rain screen. So no water got into the building, despite the ‘hole in the wall’

On my next building visit, this triangular shape was filled in using a ‘lath and plaster’ type technique. This was done (again!) due to time constraints. I simply screwed some strips of scrap timber horizontally over the studs and pushed wet hempcrete into the gaps.

Pictured is a small area of lath and hempcrete plaster
Lath and hempcrete plaster

Admittedly, the overall hempcrete thickness was somewhat reduced by this method but it was quicker and easier than trying to cast hempcrete in this awkward space.

So, that was it as regards the main ‘body’ of the hempcrete walls. The next step was to apply the 5cm thick hemp/lime plaster. You can read about that here.

Tiny house foundations – my cheap and simple solution

Pictured is me building my tiny house foundations
Pictured is a sketch of typical pier foundations
Pier and pad foundation sketch

There are loads of ways I could have built the foundations of the tiny house. However, for a long time I have been drawn to the idea of building a house raised up on piers.

I think I got the idea from the Walter Segal building method which uses simple concrete pads (600mm square) and timber posts (piers) as foundations for timber framed houses.

The advantages of this method are as follows:

  1. Uses less concrete than strip or raft foundations (so is cheaper and has lower environmental impact).
  2. No need for earth-moving machines and extensive groundwork to level the site (again saves money).
  3. Easy for the self builder (just some holes to dig for the pads).
  4. Raises the house above the ground (so good ventilation of floor and no dampness).
  5. Space under floor can be used to route plumbing and electrical cables.

I chose to use six piers, one at each corner and one in the middle of each of the longer sides.


You’re probably ‘supposed’ to get a structural engineer or architect (or some other expert) to design foundations based on soil type.

Well, I didn’t do that but I did satisfy myself that my own design wasn’t complete madness.

I actually did have some information on the soil type from a study that was done for drainage purposes. The test hole nearest to the tiny house showed that, at a depth of 0.4m, the soil was “grave limoneuse”. As far as I understand, this literally means “gravel and silt”. Silty soils apparently have less than 10% clay. My land was certainly free draining (as I would observe during some thunderstorms) which I guess wouldn’t be the case if it did contain a lot of clay.

I found some information online which indicated the load bearing capacity of different soils. The french term for this is “taux de travail”, represented by the letter q.

The worst clay soil has a q value of 0.3 bars and the best limestone soil has a q value of 45 bars.

In between these extremes were, for example, silt (1-3 bars), sand/gravel (6-9 bars) .

So, I made the conservative assumption that my silt and gravel soil wasn’t great and had a q value of only 1 bar.

Diameter of Piers

Searching the internet, I found some guidance on calculating foundation dimensions. I can’t remember the source, or be sure it’s 100% correct, but here is how I did it anyway.

I used a reference figure of 250kg per m2 of floor are as the load placed on the foundations of a timber framed house (this may or may not be correct!).

My floor area was 17.28m2, so the total load was 4,320kg.

As there were six piers, I assumed that each carries 1/6 of the 4,320kg load i.e. 720kg.

I had read that concrete of 15cm diameter can, in theory, support 22,000kg. So if I used a similar diameter for my foundation piers, they should cope with the 720kg load easily enough.

It is possible that the load on the piers is more than 720kg due to the extra weight of the hempcrete insulation. But even if it was twice as much (1440kg), it should still be OK.

Size of concrete pads

For the concrete pads, I did the following calculation. As previously discussed, I took the q value to be 1 bar and the load on each pad to be 1440kg.

Pictured and hand written foundation calculations
Foundation pad size calculation

So I ended up with a pad size of 50cm x 50cm which is reassuringly close to the 60cm x 60cm square pads used by Walter Segal for his buildings.

Building the pads and piers

Firstly, I used a square wooden frame to mark the ground with bright pink marker spray.

Pictured is a square wooden frame for marking foundation pads
Marking foundation pads using a square wooden frame

I then dug the holes by hand to a depth of about 50cm (to get below the frost line). This was surprisingly difficult because it had been hot for some weeks and the ground was bone dry and hard. So I had to use a pick to loosen the earth and then scrape out the ‘dust’ with the spade and shovel. A few tree roots in some of holes didn’t help. Nevertheless, after a day of digging they were complete.

The pads were cast in concrete at least 20cm thick and reinforced with 10mm steel rebar.

The next question was how to make the piers?

Pictured is a concrete foundation pier
Filled concrete foundation pier

I thought about using bricks or shuttered concrete using cardboard tubes or plywood formwork. In the end I used hollow concrete blocks that were, effectively, permanent shuttering. The blocks are designed for the pillars of garden gates. Various sizes are available and I went for 20cm x 20cm (exterior dimensions). They were built up to a slightly higher level than required and the finished level marked using a laser. The tops were cut off using an angle grinder. They were then filled with concrete and some more 10mm steel rebar.

Pictured is how I fixed the house floor beam to the foundations
Fixing the floor beam to the foundations

While the concrete was still wet, the floor beams were laid on top of the piers and joined at the corners using heavy duty angle brackets. Another angle bracket was used to allow ‘spikes’ of 10mm rebar to connect the beam with the wet concrete in the piers. In effect the floor beam would be pegged to the piers and couldn’t move around laterally. There seemed to be no point in bolting the floor beam down. The weight of the building would surely be enough to keep it in place, Wizard of Oz style tornadoes notwithstanding!

I didn’t use any damp proof material between the timber and the piers as the finished cladding would overhang the concrete and shield the tops from the weather.

The total cost for the foundations was probably just over €100 euros. The blocks cost €56, the cement about €25, the rebar about €24 plus a fairly small amount of sand and gravel.

Pictured below are all six piers with the floor beam installed on top ready for the floor joists.

Pictured are concrete piers with timber floor beam
Concrete piers with floor beam in place

A tiny amount of electrics for the tiny house


From the start, I wanted the tiny house to be off-grid with regard to the electrics. Given the tiny house’s sunny location, solar electricity was the obvious choice.

My requirements were minimal: some lights and a few sockets. The biggest power consumer would be a small fridge. Apart from that I just needed enough juice for a laptop or phone.

I bought the solar panel from a specialist in France. I think it was about 200 Watts (W) output and came with cables, roof mount, sealing mastic and a charge controller (£300). To complete the system I bought a 12v leisure battery from car parts retailer in the UK (£120) and an inverter from Amazon (£110).

I chose to go with 240v ac for the sake of simplicity as I could use standard cables, sockets and switches. It also meant that all my devices could be used without needing adaptors.

As I didn’t need to be hooked up to any electrical network, I assumed I was free to install the system how I liked. Consequently, I designed the layout with the bare minimum of sockets and lights. Safety wasn’t compromised though as I would ensure that a proper earth and consumer unit with circuit breakers was fitted.


Wiring and earth

Installing the wiring, sockets, light switches, consumer unit and earth had to be done when the house was just a bare wooden frame. (All of these components would be surrounded by the hempcrete insulation at the next stage).

The photo below show the electrical ‘first-fix’ in progress.

Pictured is the electrical circuits being installed in a tiny house frame
First fix electrical installation

The socket and light switch boxes had to be screwed in place at a depth that took account of the finished level of the hempcrete. I.e. I didn’t want them to be sunk back or protruding from the interior surface of the wall. Using a flat bit on a mains powered drill (running from a generator), I drilled holes in the wooden frame to take the electrical conduit. The various cables were then pulled through as required.

I was glad I pulled the cables through at this stage as some of them were quite tight and I had to remove the conduit from the frame, and straighten it before getting the cable through. This would have been impossible had the hempcrete already been cast.

If I had to do it again I would either use a larger diameter conduit or pay extra for conduit that has the cables pre-installed.

A long earth spike was driven into the stony ground (quite a job!) and a heavy earth cable fed up to the consumer unit.

After the walls were ‘plastered’ with a finish coat of more hempcrete, I fitted the light switches and sockets into the plastic boxes. A couple of ceiling lights were strung from the roof ties and all the cable connections were made inside the consumer unit. Incidentally, the consumer unit was a small type which I think was made for garages. Perfect for my needs.

Solar Panel

My friend Rob, who helped with the house frame and roof, also gave me a hand to install the panel.

Unfortunately, the panel fixing kit was designed for use with camper vans or similar flat surfaces, not tiled roofs. Undaunted, I bought some aluminium flat bar, square tube, nuts and bolts from a hardware shop and fabricated some brackets. These screwed into the wooden battens under the roof tiles and were bolted to the solar panel frame. I doubt if I could have figured it out myself, but Rob saved the day (again!)

A hole was drilled through the hempcrete roof insulation and the wooden ceiling boards and the cables fed inside the cabin.

The end result was quite neat, as you can see from the picture below.

Pictured is a solar panel being installed on my tiny house roof
Solar panel installation

Charge controller and inverter

The wiring of the charge controller and inverter is very simple but still needs to be tidied up (to be done on next visit). The controller and inverter themselves were screwed onto a piece of MDF that was mounted to the wall. I managed to find a pair of battery terminal clamps from the local agricultural co-op that enabled me to connect the battery to both the controller and inverter.

Pictured is a Victron charge controller and inverter
Charge controller and inverter


Prior to installing the panel on the roof, I had done some testing with it propped up against the wall of the house and the cables temporarily connected (see below).

Pictured is my solar panel being tested
Solar panel being tested
Pictured is the temporary wiring of the solar panel
Temporary connection of solar components

This was during a fairly cloudy period and the system didn’t work very well. The battery seemed to get drained quickly, despite me only running the very low power LED lights and charging my laptop. I was beginning to wonder if any of the components were faulty. Thankfully, some very sunny weather gave the battery a good top up and it was OK after that.

The panel faces east and doesn’t get as much sun as it would facing south. It still works though and it’s satisfying to see the controller start to give a charge when the sun comes up in the morning!

I was disappointed that my Giandel 600W inverter stopped working after about a week (it kept tripping out). Just goes to show that, despite the great user reviews, buying a lesser brand from Amazon doesn’t always work out.

To replace the faulty inverter, I bought a Victron unit from the same company that supplied the solar panel. The model was a Phoenix 12/375 pure sine wave inverter (shown below).

Pictured is a Victron Phoenix 12/375 inverter
Victron Phoenix 12/375 Inverter

In terms of specifications, the Victron was only rated at 300W continuous power (700W peak) compared to the Giandel’s supposed 600W (1200W peak). I don’t remember what the Victron cost from the French dealer but the current price on Amazon is £118.50. This is only £10 more than the Giandel (£108.96). Obviously, the Phoenix has – on paper – only half the power. Whether the Giandel’s claimed power is exaggerated, I don’t know. I do know that the Victron unit is heavier, despite having a plastic case, so that would suggest that the internals are more heavy duty. I took a gamble on the Victron’s power being enough for my needs.

Victron also make the charge controller – the Blue Solar MPPT 75/15.

Pictured is a Victron MPPT 75/15 solar charge controller
Victron MPPT 75/15 Solar Charge Controller

The current price of this is £87.99. Again it seems very robust and confidence inspiring.

Like everything else these days, it is made in China, although Victron itself is a Dutch company and has been making power equipment since 1975.

By the way, MPPT means Multi Power Point Tracking. The other type of charge controller available uses PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). Of the two, PWM Controllers are cheaper but MPPT controllers have been proven to give 20-30% more power in partially shaded or overcast conditions. I was happy to pay extra for the MPPT controller in order to squeeze as much as I could from my small solar panel.

So, after the inverter upgrade, I had a reliable 240V output and all my sockets and lights worked without a hitch. Hooray!

Fridge Problems

Cool box blues

I was very keen to have a fridge in the tiny house. Without one, I had been buying bags of ice from the supermarkets and putting them in a cool box. This was a pain because:

  • food ends up swimming around in melted ice water
  • It cost 3 or 4 euros every day for a bag of ice
  • I had to go to the shops every day for more ice.

With a very low powered electrical system, the challenge would be to find a fridge to suit.

Which fridge to buy?

My first thought was a 12V cool box type that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket. Upon investigation I found that, not only is the performance poor, but the current draw is quite high at about 50W.

Moving on, I found that the excellent Bimble Solar sell a range of fridges and parts for off grid living. Their fridges are high efficiency with low power consumption (as low as 10W) but are also quite expensive. The smallest model costs just over £400 and the largest costs more than £1300.

Interestingly, there is another way. Bimble Solar also sell aftermarket thermostat switches to convert a normal chest freezer into a simple refrigerator. This switches cost less than £20 and could be used with a secondhand chest freezer as a real budget option.

Sitting in France, without cold beer, in the middle of a heatwave … I didn’t want to have to order a £400 fridge from England and wait for delivery.

The converted chest freezer was appealing but I felt it would be too large for the tiny house.

I thought there might be another option in the shape of a very compact normal 240V fridge. These are not all that common but I managed to find one locally. The model was a Candy CFL 050 E. It was fairly cheap (something like €150). The size is 44 litres and the indicated annual power consumption is 107 kwh.

Pictured is a Candy mini fridge
Candy mini fridge

I used an online calculator to work out that this annual consumption equates to an average of 12.2 watts. That is surprisingly low because, according to various google search results, mini fridges normally use 50-100W. Either my calculations are wrong, Candy are lying, or my fridge is indeed wonderfully energy efficient.

OK, imagine Candy are lying and the fridge does consume 50W. Will it last through the night without killing the battery? At 50W, the fridge is pulling a current of 4.16A. Over a night time period of 12 hours, that works out at around 50 amp hours (Ah). As the battery’s capacity is (from memory) 110Ah, then it’s fine, I’ll have taken less than 50% of the battery’s reserves. Hopefully a sunny day would then top the battery back up.

Of course, in the winter I won’t have 12 hours of sun. Then again, in the winter, the tiny house won’t be quite as hot, the fridge won’t have to work as hard, and I’ll be less in need of cold beer.

With a bit of luck, Candy are telling the truth, my calculations are correct and the fridge does only consume 12.2W. In which case my solar panel and battery are easily big enough to power it.

To conclude – on paper the mini fridge should be OK. Not as good as a proper solar fridge but there is a chance it will do the trick, at least during the summer when I need it most. But there is one more problem to solve before I can look forward to plentiful cool drinks…

Inrush current and inverter tripping

I knew that the high startup (inrush) current of a fridge can be a problem in a solar system as it often trips the inverter. So it proved, even with my mini fridge. It was possible to reset the inverter a couple of times and get the fridge to work for a while. But when the compressor kicked in, the inverter would trip again.

I searched for a long time online before finding a YouTube video that gave some hope of a solution. In this video the guy explained how to make a simple ‘soft start’ that would limit the high inrush current and avoid tripping the inverter. So that’s what I am going to make and I hope it will allow me to use the fridge this summer.

How I insulated the tiny house roof – more hempcrete!

Roof insulation mix

It’s estimated that about 25% of the heat lost from a house is through the roof. Clearly, effective insulation is a priority in order to minimise these losses. Of equal importance to me was the need to insulate the living space from the solar gains of the tiled roof. I.e. to prevent the roof from being a giant solar collector that could overheat the tiny house in the summer. This problem could be particularly acute in my case because the vaulted ceiling meant there was no loft space to act as a buffer.

As with the rest of the house, hempcrete was chosen as the insulation material.

St Astier, the manufacturer of the lime I bought, suggest a lightweight (less dense) hempcrete for roof insulation and gave some technical guidance on how it should be mixed and used. The recommended mix ratio is 1 sack of lime to 200L of hemp. This is half the amount of lime that is used for the wall insulation mix.


The first step was to nail wooden boards to the underside of the rafters. These boards retained the roof insulation and also became the visible ceiling face from inside the tiny house. There was no separate plasterboard layer. The boards would later be whitewashed with lime. Rustic, cheap and simple!

Pictured is the tiny house ceiling
Tiny house ceiling (also retains roof insulation)

Learning from my previous mistakes, I left generous gaps between the boards to allow for expansion due to water absorption from the hempcrete. I hoped that, once set, the hempcrete would stay in place with only a minimal amount falling through the gaps.

There were now ‘bays’ into which the hempcrete could be directly placed.

Pictured are the tiny house roof insulation bays
Roof insulation bays being filled with hempcrete

Filling the bays wasn’t complicated but it was physically challenging. The problem was that it was extremely hot and I had to mix the hempcrete, transfer it into large buckets, climb a ladder with the filled buckets, tip the buckets into the bays and then repeat the process! I think it took a couple of days to completely fill the roof (I lost a lot of weight that summer!).

After filling the bays with hempcrete, it was lightly tamped down with a large plastic float. The aim was to compact the hempcrete slightly and to leave an air gap of about 2cm between the top of the insulation and the top of the rafters. This gap was necessary for ventilation.

The rafters themselves were 15cm deep and so the insulation layer was 13cm thick.

Once the roof was completely insulated with hempcrete, a breathable fabric ‘rain screen’ was stapled to the tops of the rafters in preparation for roof tiling.


I was quite satisfied by this method of roof insulation, it’s a simple idea and easy to put in place. The wooden ceiling planks give exactly the kind of look I wanted. Unfortunately, little pieces of hemp do tend to regularly fall through the gaps, so I might have to fit cover strips at some point. I’m also very happy with the effect of the vaulted ceiling, it makes the tiny house feel bigger and more interesting on the inside than the outward appearance would suggest.

The mezzanine sleeping area shown below is very close to the underside of the ceiling. Despite this, it didn’t feel uncomfortably hot or stuffy during the night.

Pictured is a tiny house mezzanine sleeping area
Mezzanine sleeping area

How I used lime and hemp to plaster inside the tiny house

Pictured is a hempcrete wall after having been limewashed
Finished limewashed wall

In this blog post I describe how I plastered the tiny house walls with lime and hemp and then limewashed them.

Mistakes were made, as they say, and I’ll own up to mine during this phase of the build!

*Note: I use the term ‘plastering’ in this article to mean the application of a finish coat of lime and hemp. I didn’t use any gypsum plaster.*

The basic idea

The basic idea was … to coat the inside of my cast hempcrete walls with some more lime and hemp. It needed be fairly smooth as it would become the finished interior surface. When the lime and hemp had dried, it would be limewashed i.e. painted with watered down lime. The resulting wall should have a soft, matt white finish.

I didn’t want this lime/hemp layer to be too thick. In fact, the thinner the better. The reason being was that I didn’t want to surface of the wall to protrude too much from the electrical socket and light switch boxes. Luckily, I wasn’t too bothered about the flatness of the walls, so I could taper the finish coat in towards the electrical boxes if need be. I was aiming for a thickness of 1 or 2 cm.

You might wonder “why plaster with lime and hemp, instead of normal plaster?” There are various reasons for this. Firstly, I had lots of leftover lime and hemp that could be used. Secondly, I quite liked the texture of lime and hemp when smoothed out. Thirdly, normal gypsum plaster is not as breathable as lime and might compromise the performance of the wall. Lastly, limewash is not recommended for use on gypsum plaster.

I could have plastered with lime and sand but that wouldn’t have given the look that I wanted and besides, I still had a big pile of hemp that I wanted to use up! The fibrous nature of lime and hemp plaster is also said to make it more resistant to cracking. In this instance, it didn’t work out quite like that, as we will see later.

Previous experience

I had, some years previously, used lime/hemp to apply a thick insulating layer over a stone wall. I had also used it over brick both during a training course and on a real building site.

Pictured is lime/hemp plaster after application
Tradical lime/hemp

At that time, I used a lime called Tradical combined with course grade hemp. While there was certainly a knack to applying it, it was possible to get quite a nice, smooth finish (with the odd hemp fibre sticking out). It couldn’t be trowelled flat like gypsum plaster but that didn’t really matter. The image above (from the Tradical website) gives some idea what it looked like after application.

Getting it on the walls

OK, getting back up to the tiny house, I had just over a week to do all of the plastering. It was during the October school holidays and the completed hempcrete walls were completely dry (they had been done in August).

Pictured is a small area of lath and hempcrete plaster
Lath and hempcrete plaster

One complication, as I mentioned in a previous post, was that I hadn’t had time to cast hempcrete around the gable areas of the walls. So these ’triangular bits’ had to be filled in somehow before the lime/hemp plaster could be applied.

I solved this problem by using a lath and plaster method. Strips of scrap wood were fixed horizontally to the studs and hempcrete was forced in between. The finished hempcrete didn’t have the normal thickness but it was the best I could do, given the limited time I had.

With the gables filled in, it was nearly time to start applying the lime and hemp plaster. Before doing so, I dampened the walls with water from a garden sprayer. This was to avoid the dry walls sucking moisture from the new plaster too quickly.

I used the mix ratio suggested by St. Astier. This worked out as 1/2 sack of lime : 25 Litres of hemp : 15 litres of water.

The resulting mix was fairly sticky i.e. it adhered well enough to the wall with no problems of slumping or falling off.

Pictured is lime/hemp plaster being applied to a hempcrete wall
Lime/hemp plaster onto cast hempcrete

It was, however, not a great deal of fun to apply. It just didn’t flow very well and it needed a fair bit of muscle to get the walls covered. The fact that I was using course hemp for a thin coat probably didn’t help.

Not being an avid fan of cement grey, I can’t say that the walls looked great at this stage. But at least the patchwork of cast hempcrete began to disappear under something more homogenous. I’m fairly sure I only applied one coat, but it was nearly 2 years ago, so my memory may be playing tricks on me.

Pictured are the hempcrete walls coated with lime/hemp plaster
Hempcrete walls with lime/hemp plaster

In terms of tools, I used a normal plasterer’s finishing trowel (stainless steel) to apply the lime/hemp plaster. It’s also good to have a variety of plastic floats in order to help smooth the plaster as it dries. I suggest one large and one small rectangular float as well as one with a pointed shape These can be used in a circular motion on the wall with progressively more force as the plaster becomes firmer. Small amounts of lime/hemp, placed of a float, can be rubbed onto the wall to fill in holes or low spots. The pointed float is handy for getting into corners and for ‘slicing off’ high spots of material.

The photo below shows the trowel and floats that I used. They are resting on my home made ‘hop up’ which I used to reach the tops of the walls. Making one of these is highly recommended as it can be exactly the height required and is much more convenient than a stepladder. I made mine from leftover timber and OSB shuttering. A smaller hop up can be seen to the left.

Pictured are the tools I used for applying the lime/hemp plaster
Tools used for lime/hemp plastering

I got the plastering finished within the week and had to head home to Scotland. Ideally, I would have been able to leave the windows open to make sure the house was properly ventilated. Instead, I had to shut all the windows and shutters and leave the house until the following summer.

When I returned, the plaster had dried but it was obvious that the house had been quite damp inside due to the water released from the drying plaster. Some clothes that I had hung up were mouldy. I had hoped that the breathing construction of the building might have allowed enough water vapour to pass through. Clearly this had not been the case.


By this stage it had been 12 months since the walls were built and 8 months since they were plastered. My first job was to limewash the walls before I could get on with anything else.

Pictured is lime putty
Lime putty

To make the limewash I mixed lime putty with water, using a paint whisk with a cordless drill. Lime putty is made from very pure lime that sets in contact with the air. As such, it comes in a tub and is covered with water. I got my lime putty in France from a supplier of eco building materials. You can get it from specialists in the UK too, such as Mike Wye.

Limewash is mixed to a thin consistency. One French artisan on-line suggested it should be like “waffle batter”. More helpfully, he said the ratio is 1 part lime putty to 2 parts water. I just mixed it using my judgement as to what seemed ok.

Then I applied it to the hemp plaster using a wide brush. Being so thin, the limewash was quite ‘splashy’. When it goes on at first it is transparent but gradually becomes white as it dries. Several thin coats are required and it’s recommended to leave 24 hours between coats. I found an excellent guide to using limewash on this UK site.

Pictured are the tiny house whitewashed walls
Interior walls, mid-limewashing

In fact it took 4 coats to get the walls looking white (or white enough). During this time, I ran out of lime putty. The supplier was a long drive away and I didn’t want to waste precious days waiting on a delivery, so I switched to using powdered lime instead, which I could get locally.

The lime I used was called in French “chaux aérienne” (air lime). In the UK, it’s called non-hydraulic lime. The sacks are commonly marked CL90. It’s the same stuff as the putty, but a bit less convenient to use. The mix ratio is similar. One online source suggests a mix of 1 part powdered lime to 2.5 parts water.


I was happy with the finished walls. I wasn’t looking for perfection (and certainly didn’t get it!) but the result was in keeping with the rustic vibe of the place. The walls were not so wonky that I couldn’t hang a shelf or a cabinet. There were smooth bits and less smooth bits and the whitewashed finish came out just as I had hoped.

The only problem was the appearance of several cracks in the days following the application of the whitewash. Some were tiny and some were larger, perhaps 5mm wide. They went deeper than just the whitewash.

I was puzzled as to what had caused them to appear. Perhaps it was because the house was now exposed to the hot summer air flowing through it and it had caused a final drying (and shrinkage?) of the lime/hemp plaster.

The cracks were more annoying than worrying. The timber frame was doing the structural work and I’m sure the cracks did not go all the way through the cast hempcrete walls. In the end, I filled most of the cracks in with decorator’s filler, which seemed to do the trick.

Lessons learned

If had to do it again I would use different types of lime and hemp for the plaster coat.

Regarding the lime, I would tend towards a weakly hydraulic lime (NHL 2). St Astier do one called Téréchaux, which they say can be used with hemp for finish coats. This should be relatively pleasant to apply and possibly easier to smooth out. It would also look nicer and, being lighter in colour, cover better with limewash.

The lime which I did use (Batichanvre) was really more suited to cast hempcrete and thicker insulating layers. A plaster layer is more decorative and doesn’t need the same mechanical strength.

As for the hemp, I would use the fine grade for a hemp plaster top coat . I’m sure this would make it much easier to get a nice finish based on a thickness of 1-2cm.

As it was, I had loads of ‘less than ideal’ lime and hemp left over, so I used that and made it work. The final result was ok but getting there was harder than it needed to be.

Board and Batten Cladding: How I Did It, Step by Step

Pictured is the tiny house being clad in Douglas fir
Tiny house being clad in Douglas Fir

In this post, I’ll describe the steps I took to install untreated, Douglas Fir board and batten vertical cladding on my tiny house.

It seems that there are number of terms that could be used instead of cladding, such as weatherboarding or siding. For the sake of simplicity I’ll stick to cladding.

Step 1: Choose the cladding style and material

I wanted the tiny house cladding to resemble that of a typical tobacco drying barn that can still be seen dotted around the Dordogne valley.

(Although the industry is in decline, there were still nearly 500 tonnes of tobacco grown here in 2019)

Pictured is a tobacco drying barn
Tobacco drying barn

If I could achieve something similar to this, then the tiny house would be fairly discrete and look ‘at home’ among the local agricultural architecture.

Evidently, the cladding would have to be vertical. I like the slightly irregular appearance of batten on board cladding (as opposed to machined tongue in groove boards). From what I had read, this is also a pretty good system in terms of shedding rainwater.

I also wanted the wood to age and darken naturally, as these barns have done. Furthermore, I didn’t want the hassle of treating the timber with preservative every few years. I already knew that Douglas Fir was a moderately durable softwood and could be used for cladding without treatment. What’s more, it weathers to a nice (in my opinion) silvery grey. Perfect!

I had already decided to use Douglas Fir for the structural timber, so I went with it for the cladding too.

Regarding durability, I learned that completely untreated Douglas Fir has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years in outdoor use. This is good enough for me and I suspect that the more sheltered walls will last even longer than this.

Step 2: Determine the cladding dimensions

I spent quite a bit of time reading French self-build forums before arriving at what seemed to be sensible dimensions for my cladding.

The cladding is composed of 4 components

  1. Vertical battens (70mm x 40mm). These are nailed to the timber frame studs.
  2. Horizontal counter battens (70mm x 40mm). These are nailed to the vertical battens.
  3. Cladding Boards (140mm x 21mm), These are nailed vertically to the counter battens, leaving approximately 10mm gap in between.
  4. ‘Cover-joint’ Battens (70* x 21mm). These are nailed vertically to cover the joints in the boards.

*Note: This size was originally supposed to be 54mm. The sawmill boss advised me to make it larger, to reduce splitting, and I agreed. I can’t remember what they suggested but I’d guess it’s 60-70mm. I’ll check on my next visit.

The sketch below will hopefully help illustrate this system.

Pictured is a sketch showing the tiny house cladding dimensions
Cladding system and dimensions

Another explanatory sketch, from the top of the wall looking down, is shown below.

Pictured is a top view of the tiny house cladding
Top view of cladding

*Note: Cover-joint battens is probably not an industry standard term. It makes sense to me though as it is the literal translation of “couvre-joints”, which is the French term I am used to using. Also, I can’t remember why the boards are 21mm and not 20mm thick. It’s not like the sawmill is going to be that accurate anyway.

The chunky battens and counter battens combine to give an air gap of 80mm. I have read that the air gap (1) helps keep the house cool in summer (2) helps water vapour leave the wall and (3) helps the boards dry more quickly after periods of rain.

Step 3: Order the materials

The timber cladding was part of one big order placed with a local sawmill. This covered all the timber for the tiny house (except the OSB, Beech worktop and Chestnut floor). I placed the order while still in Scotland and paid a deposit. This gave the sawmill plenty of time to get it ready before I arrived in France. When I got to the site, they delivered it all and stacked it exactly where I wanted it. It was a good service for a fair price and I was happy to support a local business.

The rainscreen and anti-rodent grill were ordered from a local builder’s merchant. Again, this was part of a larger order (which included the lime, hemp and OSB for the floor and shuttering). It was great to have the stuff turn up in one big delivery and the driver was able to drop it off really close to the house (he drove the truck over the adjoining field!).

Step 4: Staple on the rainscreen

The breathable fabric rainscreen should help protect the hempcrete wall from water ingress, in the event that some gets past the timber cladding. It was stapled onto the timber studs and overlapped so that rain can’t run down inside the fabric.

Pictured is the rainscreen being stapled to the tiny house walls
Stapling on the rainscreen
Pictured is the tiny house rainscreen overlap
Rainscreen Overlap

Step 5: Nail on the battens and counter battens

This was simple enough. It was easy to find the studs by feeling through the rainscreen and then put a few nails in. However, this was the moment to remember the “anti-rodent grill”! I don’t know what the real name for this is in English. I have literally translated the French term “grille anti-rongeurs”. It is the perforated, right angled metal strip shown in the picture below. The purpose is to help prevent mice and similar creatures from getting into the cosy gap between the glassing and the wall.

The anti-rodent grill came as a coil of flat strip and is bent into the right angled shape when installing. You can see that it is fitted between the vertical and horizontal battens. It should be installed at both the top and bottom of the wall.

Pictured is the tiny house anti rodent grill
Battens and anti-rodent grill

Step 6: Nail on the boards and top battens

In the photo below you can see Rob nailing on the cladding boards. Note that he’s putting the nail roughly in line with the centre of the board. The nails should be in a single vertical line. Using 2 nails, side by side, increases the chance of the wood splitting as it expands and contracts.

The boards were spaced roughly 10mm apart. In practice it was impossible to get a consistent spacing as the boards were not dead straight. Sometime there was no gap, other times it was bigger than 10mm.

Pictured is the tiny house cladding being installed
Tiny house cladding being fitted

In the foreground you can see the temporary stop that was set up and attached to the chop saw. This allowed all the boards for this wall to be cut to the same length without measuring every time.

A jigsaw was used to cut the tops of the boards to fit around the rafter ends.

The ‘cover joint’ battens were then nailed in place. The theory is that the nail should pass through the gap in the boards underneath. In practice, this is practically impossible. So, we made our best guess, but we probably caught the edges of more than a few boards.

Unfortunately the cover joint battens would sometimes split as the nail was fired in by the gun. If you have the time, it might be worth nailing these battens on by hand. I did so on one wall and it helped a great deal. The old trick of blunting the end of the nail slightly also helps avoid splits. If you really wanted to be super neat (and you had the time) you could drill a pilot hole before nailing. This might be taking it a bit too far though…

The final result is shown below, complete with DIY zinc window sill protection.

Pictured is a close up photo of the finished tiny house cladding
The finished cladding

Further Information


The total materials cost of the timber cladding for was around 1600 Euros. This includes the rainscreen, the anti-rodent grill and all timber.

This works out as 45 Euros per square metre.

Interestingly, this website says that Douglas Fir cladding normally costs 30-45 Euros/m2 (materials only) and 60-140 Euros/m2 (including installation).

So my materials costs are seemingly within the normal range. I did, however, employ ‘magic’ Rob the carpenter for a few days. Including his labour (400 Euros) brings the total to 56 Euros/m2. Not bad.

I should note that I had enough left over cladding to build a tool chest. Waste not, want not!


It’s now about 2 years since the cladding was fitted. The photos below shows how it has weathered in that time.

Pictured is the tiny house cladding cladding 2 month after completion
Cladding after 2 months
Pictured is the tiny house cladding after 1 year
Cladding after 1 year
Pictured is the tiny house cladding after 2 years
Cladding after 2 years (and tool chest)
Pictured is the tiny house cladding after 2 years showing effects of weather on different walls
Cladding after 2 years – effect of prevailing wind

It’s interesting to note how the walls have weathered differently. The gable end receives the worst of the wind and rain (which is unfortunate, as that is where the door is!) and is much darker than the more sheltered side.

I’m sure the weathered look will not be to everyone’s taste. It’s certainly not a ‘bright and clean’ style but it is what I wanted. As it ages, I think the tiny house is already starting to look like it belongs there.

Designing the tiny house interior

Pictured is the tiny house interior
Tiny house interior (the finished bits!)

The thinking behind the tiny house was to have something simple, comfortable, possibly a bit wonky, but affordable and clever.

The term ‘interior design’ conjures up decisions involving colour charts, soft furnishings and pot plants That wasn’t exactly my priority…

My first thought was “how can I best make use of the space?”. I.e. where to cook, eat, relax, sleep and wash?

The overall size of the house was based on the size of the living room in my flat in Scotland (size in metres). As I was familiar with this space it was easy to ’visually translate’ it into the tiny house. I could then say, ok, this corner will be the kitchen, the door goes here, bathroom there, etc.

Next, I used some free software called Archifacile (translated as Easy Architect) to make a dimensioned drawing and firm up on my ideas. These would later change slightly, but I needed to start somewhere.

Pictured is the tiny house floor plan using Archifacile.fr
Planning the tiny house layout with Archifacile freeware

Archifacile is very intuitive and has a nice catalogue of standard items such as tables and chairs that can be dropped into the drawing.

The French language version is archifacile.fr but there is an English language version (archifacile.net) as well as Spanish and Portuguese language options.

When I was happy with the floor size and layout, I could move on to the next steps of the project: do more drawings, get planning permission and actually build the house.

The ‘shell’ of the house was completed during the summer of 2019 and fitting out the interior began the following summer.

Design ‘process’

I have never studied interior design but I am an artist and I know how to draw and paint. Having an instinctive understanding of space and shapes as well as some basic knowledge of how to build things has been a big help.

I’ll cover the specifics of the kitchen, bathroom etc in dedicated blog posts, here I’m just talking about my method, such as it is.

I find it very helpful to make a rough sketch of what I am trying to achieve. This doesn’t have to be fancy. Often it’s just a drawing in ball point pen done the night before a trip to get materials.

The sketch below is typical of this approach!

Pictured is a rough sketch of the tiny sleeping area and bathroomping
Rough sketch of sleeping area and bathroom
Pictured are photos of the sleeping area and bathroom
Sleeping area and bathroom

These drawings are not masterpieces, but they do help get things clear in my head. Putting ideas down on paper means that I don’t have to keep trying to remember how I was going to solve certain problems.

Recently I have been using my iPad with the Procreate App to do some design work in advance of this summer’s building.

My to do list includes fitting out the bathroom, finishing the kitchen area, installing a wood burning stove and water heater and creating some more storage space.

With Procreate I can use existing photographs as a basis for my design drawings. I simply draw a new layer of ‘stuff’ over the photos. This can be as basic or as highly rendered as I want. Some examples are shown below.

Pictured is a design sketch of the tiny house bathroom
Bathroom layout
Pictured is a design sketch showing the fridge area of the tiny house
A way to tidy up the ‘fridge corner’
Pictured is a sketch of some tiny house shelves
Storage area and improved bed guard rail

Of course, the designs I come up with are also influenced by ideas from forums, blogs, books and YouTube. I try to be sure that the designs can be completed using materials that are readily available, so I constantly consult the websites of local builders merchants and DIY stores as well as the ubiquitous eBay and Amazon.

Pictured is my 1st attempt at making kitchen units
Unsuccessful attempt at making kitchen units

Because I have an idea that I think will work, doesn’t mean it will actually work. This especially true for things that I have never tried to build before. So I accept that the designs may be liable to change at the last moment. For example, I had started to build some very ‘rustic’ kitchen units myself with a wooden frame and the doors and shelves made from OSB. Part way through the build I realised I didn’t have the skills or the tools required to make something even halfway decent. The idea was scrapped and I compromised by getting ‘normal’ kitchen units with proper doors and working drawers!

Pictured is me relaxing in bed
Testing the mezzanine sleeping area!

On the other hand, sometimes my ideas do turn into reality without much of a hitch. The mezzanine sleeping area is one such example. It went together as planned, even down to the home made ladder from scrap wood that hooked onto the wall when not in use.


From the beginning I had a fairly good idea of how I wanted the house to look and feel. As the build progressed, it was easy to judge if my work was in harmony with this or not.

The walls were going to be limewashed (healthy, cheap and nice to look at). There would be a fair amount of wood for some visual warmth. I didn’t want anything too flashy, modern or shiny. Handmade design details, simply done, clever and ‘good enough’ were to be welcomed.

Pictured is an old PVS sofa bed
Vintage sofa bed from 2nd hand shop

So far, so good. It’s gone the way I wanted.

The jury is somewhat out on my retro PVC sofa bed though! It’s not very ‘natural’ and it’s not what you’d expect in a wood cabin or country cottage. However, it was available, it was cheap and it exactly fitted the space (and I have a love for the 1970’s and all things beige or tan). So it got the nod. Time will tell whether I stick with it.

Pictured is interior wall cladding from recycled planks
Bathroom wall from recycled planks

The cladding on the bathroom wall was made from leftover wooden planks, cut to equal widths and quickly sanded. The weathered appearance is because they had been lying around outside for a year. Some had even been used for wheelbarrow ramps and other walkways! The variety of shades was perfect and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I didn’t plan it in advance, but by thriftily using what I already had I got a result 100% in keeping with the desired look.

Likewise, the small kitchen shelves were made from leftover planks, screwed together and fixed to the wall with simple corner brackets. They were painted with ‘chalk paint’ that I found at a discount store.

Pictured is photo of some DIY shelves
Simple kItchen shelves from leftover timber

This paint had a soft, natural look and the colour was an almost perfect match with that of the kitchen units. Unlike ready bought items, the shelves were made to fit the space available. Although a minor item, these little shelves were tremendously satisfying to make and install. Simple, hand made, inexpensive and ’good enough’, they sum up well the interior design of the whole house!

First things first – making a gravel driveway

Pictured is a mini digger in use
Pictured is my building plot prior to the driveway being built
Building plot before the driveway was made

This was one of the first things that had to be done and possibly the job that I was least looking forward to. Not only had I never made a driveway before, I knew that if I screwed it up it would introduce delays right at the start of the build. I didn’t have much time to spare.

However, it was part of the planning conditions that I included parking for two cars. It was also necessary for the building project that I have safe access for trucks onto the site in order to deliver materials.

So I had to make a driveway/parking area of about 50m2 and it had to be quick and cheap. At the same time, I needed to dig a trench for the water pipe (from the property boundary to somewhere a bit closer to the build).

I knew I didn’t need anything fancy and I wasn’t bothered about a few weeds springing up at a later date. Rustic was absolutely fine with me.


From information gleaned from French building forums I reckoned the driveway should be about 25cm deep. I would be using Calcaire (Limestone) graded at 0-30mm. The quantity needed worked out about 12m3 or approximately 18 tonnes (two truckloads).


The mini digger was hired for the weekend but was actually delivered on Friday afternoon, so I had en extra evening to figure out how it worked.

I took it very slowly and experimented with the various controls. One thing I didn’t know was how to change the bucket (two different sizes were supplied). Luckily a friend of mine came around on Saturday morning to show me how it was done and give me some driving tips.

Excavating the drive was a slow process. The fact that we were in the middle of a heatwave meant that the ground was hard and dusty. So it was more ‘scrape, scrape’ rather than ‘dig, dig’. It was also so hot (35 deg) that, after several hours, concentrating became difficult and it became even harder to coordinate the controls.

Nevertheless, by the end of the weekend I had shifted enough soil. This was just as well, as I had the delivery of stone arriving on Monday morning.

Rake, rake, rake

I was concerned that the stone delivery from the tipper truck would spill out onto the road, blocking it, and that I wouldn’t be able to rake it out fast enough to clear the obstruction!

As it turned out the stones did spill out slightly into the road but not enough to block it. With the help of my kids we started barrowing, shoveling and raking the stones out. The picture below shows it halfway through the process.

Pictured is my gravel driveway being built
Driveway stones, 2nd load

It took a while but eventually all the stones were spread out and it seemed like the quantity was about right. I didn’t compact the stones using a vibrating plate as I didn’t want to spend the time or money on it. Instead I would rely on vehicles and the weather to do that job. Likewise I didn’t lay a top dressing of finer gravel, the 30mm limestone looked ok and was easy enough to drive and walk on.

Pictured is the finished driveway
The finished driveway

The total cost of the driveway was €1,235 (€478 for the digger hire and €757 for the stone).

I don’t know exactly how much a contractor would have charged for the job. From various website it seems that something like €50 per square metre is a realistic price (total cost €2500).

Even if I had used geotextile membrane, a compactor and a top dressing, it is likely that I would still have saved about €1,000 by doing the work myself.

How much did my hemp tiny house cost?

Pictured is a tiny house with some text "how much?"

So far, the total cost of my tiny house is about €23,200. This is somewhat approximate as there are smaller items that I bought that I didn’t keep track of (screws, joist hangers, gloves, etc). On the other hand I overestimated the amount of hemp and lime needed, so I could have saved a few hundred Euros there.

I still have the interior of the tiny house to complete. This means a hardwood floor, bathroom/toilet, kitchen area, some plumbing, basic solar electric system, wood burning stove, sleeping area, table, chairs and some decorative work.

So we could say that the total cost when finished will be in the order of €30,000.

At current exchange rates that equates to around £26,320 or $32,745.

While still a considerable sum, it is probably half the price (or less) of a studio flat in the UK.

It’s worth noting that materials account for only around half of the finished build cost. So if you already had some land, with water onsite and the required tools, you could build a similar tiny house for €15,000. By using reclaimed timber, windows, etc. this could be reduced still further.

Here is where my money has been spent so far.


Building plot, 541 m2 = €7,000

Notaire’s (lawyers) fees = €1,459

Geometre’s fees (to establish property boundaries) = €561

Soil survey cost = €580

Total (land purchase and associated costs) = €9,600


Cost of connection to mains water = €1,556


Mini digger hire, one weekend = €478

Stone, 0-30mm, 12m3 = €757

Total driveway costs = €1,235


Douglas fir for structural frame and cladding = €3,332

OSB for floor and shuttering = €277

Total timber = €3,609

Breathable Membrane

Breathable membrane for walls and roof = €99

Roof tiles

Plain tiles + ridge tiles = €468


Double glazed windows and pine shutters = €732

Lime and hemp

Batichanvre lime = €1,381

Isocanna hemp = €1,084

Lime putty = €17

Total lime and hemp = €2,482

Sand, Gravel and Cement

Sand = €32

Gravel = €34

Cement = €30

Total sand, gravel and cement = €96


Cables, Conduit, Switches, Sockets, Consumer Unit, Earth Spike = €300


Hand tools (including buckets, garden hose, fittings, etc) = €309

Power Tools (bought in France) = €841

Power Tools (bought in UK) = £625 = €710

Total Tools = €1,860

Van hire

2 days van hire = €161


Experienced carpenter for 5 days = €1000


Total spend so far = €23,198


There has since been a second summer of building work. During this time I spent, roughly, another 3500-4500 Euros on a kitchen, chestnut floor, tools (including a petrol brushcutter), plumbing materials, solar panel and fittings , inverter, charge controller, leisure battery, bedding, furniture and other bits and pieces.

At the time of writing I am preparing for another summer building visit. So far this year I have spent another 1000 Euros. This has gone on a log burner, flue system and my home made water heater. There’s not a great deal more to be bought in order to finish the build: some more timber, plumbing stuff to finish the bathroom, a few shelves and perhaps a couple of chairs.

So, my prediction of a final cost of 30,000 Euros, including the land, is about right.

Why I built an eco tiny house in France

Pictured above are my neighbour's vines

There are two main questions: why did I build an ‘eco-friendly’ tiny house and why did I build it in France? I’ll answer them separately.

Why build an eco tiny house?

Why build my own tiny house? and why go the ‘green building’ or ‘eco’ route?

Why self build?

There are several reasons why I wanted to build my own house. Perhaps feeling the need to create shelter is a primal thing (like a primitive attraction to fire, fishing or hunting).

Beyond this, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to design and build my own place. At the end of the project I could say “I made this all happen” and it would be a satisfying adventure. Having lived in rented accommodation for many years, it would be good to do whatever I wanted with my own place.

I also thought it would be a wise insurance policy against becoming homeless. As a 46 year old single father, with a low income, two kids and a rented apartment, I wondered where I would be living in years to come. I don’t have any assets or a fat pension and I didn’t want to be at the whim of private landlords forever, especially as I got older. So I thought it would make sense to build my own house while I still could.

With little cash (and not wanting a big mortgage) the self-build route made sense. Another plus point was that I did have some building knowledge and experience, having worked for about five years in the trade. I wouldn’t say I was a great craftsman but I at least had some skills in most areas.

Why a tiny house and why go ‘green’?

I chose a tiny house for three reasons; low build cost, quick build time and low running costs.

The low build cost is obvious. I didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t build a big house (actually, I did get planning permission for a larger house too on the same site but this is on hold for the moment).

My plan was to build the house during my children’s summer holidays. This meant around five weeks on site. As I would be working mainly on my own I had to keep the project as small and as simple as possible. Otherwise there was too great a risk of not finishing it in time.

If I ever do live in the house full time, I don’t want to be crippled with big tax and utility bills. In which case “small is beautiful”. I’m quite happy to live without too much stuff, especially if I were living alone.

The main reasons for choosing a green building approach were for my own comfort and health. Some years ago I visited an eco centre and was amazed at how pleasant it felt inside the buildings. Whether made from earth blocks, straw bales, timber or lime – it was just a completely different sensation to concrete, glass fibre, plasterboard and industrial paint. On reading about eco-building I learned how natural materials create a more healthy home environment too, with less chemical pollutants and better regulation of humidity.

Furthermore, I would be using a minimum of environmentally damaging building materials. The house would also be an example to other people of what can be done and might inspire a few to do something similar.

Why build in France?

As a Scot, living in Scotland, why choose to build a house in France?


In the UK (of which Scotland is, unfortunately, still a part) the ownership of land is concentrated in the hands of relatively few people. Presumably this is the main reason for it’s relatively high price. Whether there are other factors at play, I don’t know. But the reality on the ground can be illustrated with the following example.

Pictured above is a building plot in Blairgowrie, Scotland
Building plot in Blairgowrie, Scotland

This building plot in a rural area of Scotland (about one hours drive from the nearest large town) costs £57,500 (about €66,140) for an area of 1,200m2. That equals a cost of around 55 €/m2.

Pictured above is my building plot near Bergerac
My building plot near Bergerac, France

The land which I purchased in France, in a similarly rural area, cost €7,000 for 540m2. That equals a cost of 13 €/m2. I.e.1/4 of the equivalent cost in Scotland!

(Note: The above costs do not include estate agents fees, survey costs or other legal fees for either plot)

Quality of life

Pictured is a neighbouring donkey.
One of my neighbours.

The Dordogne area of France is well known for it’s pleasant climate, nice scenery and good food. This is where I chose to build my tiny house. My piece of land is well away from the main road, about 2km from the nearest village, with the towns of Bergerac and Périgueux about 40km away. It’s peaceful and safe and the locals are friendly. As far as quality of life goes, it’s hard to beat.

French affinities

I lived and worked in France from 2003-2014, in the Haute-Vienne area. Consequently, I can speak French fairly well and have an understanding of the local culture and how the country works. My two children (now teenagers) were born in France and they have a half-brother and sister who live in Bordeaux. Having a house in France would make a ‘family reunion’ holiday quite easy to organise. The house could also come in handy if my children wanted to stay there for a while for whatever reason, such as while taking a break from studies or as a base if they did some euro travelling.

So there you go. That’s why I decided to build an eco tiny house in France!