Young couple self-builds dream natural home, learning by doing

When Nil and Olivia found an affordable plot in picturesque , Catalonia, they quickly bought it and began to build themselves a home to fit the .

With no building experience and wanting something light on the land, they installed screw piles and an insulated for a foundation and subfloor. For the walls they mixed hemp, lime and water to create a hempcrete mortar. With the help of and friends, they finished building and drying the walls in three months.

Hempcrete serves as a good insulator, so even though temperatures often drop below freezing during winters here in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the couple don't need any heating . The home takes advantage of the sun's heat by being oriented toward the south for maximum solar gain during the day and the floors trap that heat to be released throughout the evening. If there is ever a particularly cold night or days without sun, the couple installed a wood-burning to bring up the indoor temperature by a few degrees, but not much is needed, even in those circumstances.

Given the chronic drought in the region, Olivia and Nil installed a worm toilet. Other than the urine-separating element, it looks like a standard toilet, and only needs to be emptied of finished compost every two years.

An avid cyclist, for Nil this area is a dream come true. Olivia relishes the space for a huge vegetable garden, including a that the couple erected from a kit.

On *faircompanes


  1. It is a passive solar house. There were some misconceptions about “passive house” stated. A passive house is air tight but allows moisture to pass through the walls. Passive solar just means it’s oriented toward the sun to capture heat. Passive house is a concept that minimizes heat loss/gain and has active ventilation for fresh air, since it’s air tight. A house can be both a passive house and a passive solar house.

    • A passive house doent need to allow moisture to pass through the walls. They do need an air exchanger to keep fresh air inside since they are air sealed. Heat recovery ventilators are the norm.

    • Controlling the moisture is done many different ways depending on how the building was built, what materials used, heat source, normal climate etc.

  2. Super interesting about the hemp being breathable and how it can regulate the temperature as well as the airflow. And I like the house and what they did. Very minimal and comfortable. Would’ve liked to have known what it would cost to build.

  3. I think they were clever to build their own house which is both economical and energy-efficient. I would have some of those long piles under the house checked by a structural engineer, though, to make sure they have enough cross-bracing to resist lateral forces.

  4. If the hempcrete has the high R value that google says it has it is a good thermal insulator but if it is on the low end then it really is not a great thermal insulator, there is the factor that you can grow and manufacture it yourself so that might be a big consideration too, thanks Kirsten.

  5. You can achieve high tightness performance. Hempcrete alone is not great as it is ~25 AC/H
    @ 50Pa. Tightness is achieved once the lime render has been applied. You can find a video of a European builder getting
    in the 0.6 AC/H @ 50Pa Passive House range.

  6. Interesting couple. Sounds like he’s a Spaniard and she’s Aussi/Kiwi? Blending ideas from different cultures.
    I did not realize laws about ruins were getting so restrictive. Looks like they found a happy median.

  7. Hempcrete is a lovely medium. What is their floor made of? Is it heated in any way besides being a thermal mass releasing back into the living space?

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