Building a Natural House at The Center of Alternative Technology

When my Mim did the 'Build A Tiny House' course offered at C.A.T, she came home with one piece of advice - 'you need to go, you neeeeeeeed to go, it doesn't matter that course, any course! You just NEED to go to C.A.T'. So I signed up to the 'Build a Natural House' course as unfortunately the one I originally wanted to do 'Sustainable Building Techniques' was fully booked for the full year, so instead I waited 8 months for my second choice...

What Do You Learn on The Build a Natural House Course at C.A.T?

Taught by Carwyn, CAT’s Master Carpenter and star of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, & Dita, Ex-Silversmith and Master Tinkerer, who share their expert knowledge and experiences teaching the best practice in construction, state of the art materials/ techniques and just pure enthusiasm for sustainable living.  

CAT building sustainable lifestyles centre

Over the course of a week, the main focus is on timber frames, straw bale building and hempcrete building but you will also learn everything else that goes along with building a natural house from laying foundations to plastering the walls to putting a roof on, meeting building standards and more. It is a super speed very comprehensive dive into the world of natural building, they assume you have no construction skills so even a total novice will feel comfortable and respected - Carwyn will literally answer any question you have and is an excellent teacher. I would describe this course as a smorgasbord of techniques and information, unlike the Tiny House course where you could with some confidence build a garden room at the end of it, this one I feel opens the door to even more ideas. This course is a perfect starting place to highlight the skills you need to learn in-depth to be able to build an actual building that will stand the test of time. 

building an eco home
blogger all these interiors learning plastering

I went in with no real expectations as they don't tend to give out course itineraries or organise themselves in a strict structure, rather the timings seem fluid mostly lead by the skills of the group. Not being overly organised meant we each walk around the site to look at natural builds on-site was eye-opening as we realized the interesting things we'd been walking past each day without considering - whereas if things had been in a strict itinerary I feel like things wouldn't have had such a natural flow. 
steps to build a natural home

You are thrown into the deep end with building with Strawbales and Hempcrete, and you learn so much about insulation and waterproofing by the end of the week your brain will be undressing every building you see. The reading list at the end is a monster because you'll just want to get on and build! I went in expecting to be totally drawn to Bale building as that was what I was particularly interested in but discovered I'm utterly in love with Hempcrete, it is seriously magical stuff! I'll do another post about explaining the wonders of it but just know this - its the future!

all these interiors blogger hempcrete

What is it like staying at The Centre of Alternative Technology?

Arriving at C.A.T is like entering another world. Hidden away in the hills of Wales up a slate track you find a menagerie of eco-builds, surrounded by interesting smells of moss and fresh untreated wood this higgledy piggeldy fairy tale kingdom has some seriously techy credentials and real design aspirations. The accommodation is minimal - white and natural wood with big windows and interesting views, though the dark dated bathrooms could have benefited from the same level of care as the bedrooms cheap mass-produced dark blue tiles and red lino is a bit jarring compared to the beautiful natural rooms. While overall comfortable some aspects of the design could have been better thought out, such as having the windows on the other side of the building to view the woodlands and slate rather than the roof of the centre and face the other bedroom windows. For a place that has won architecture awards and teaches architecture, you would have thought having unfrosted windows to the guest toilets at head height on the only walkway to the bedrooms would have been reconsidered... If you're exhibitionist you'll love it! A common trend you'll find is that there is a history of can-do have a go eco builds around the site which flies in the face of their measure, measure and measures again ethos they teach on their courses, though I suspect this is a relatively recent ethos as when you get shown the now falling down experimental builds they often begin their descriptions with 'That was a student build experimenting with ...'

centre of alternative tech room review

The main hall which houses the cafe, dining space, rammed earth theatre has such a peaceful atmosphere and has the most beautiful changing light from the hidden skylights and curved walls, all of this spread around a quiet courtyard that could almost be in a monastery. The gardens and exhibits are endless, filled with insects and birdsong - an eco hippy haven. The food is delicious, good for the soul honest food - all-vegetarian fair but even the most carnivorous of us don't need to worry as you don't miss having meat as the flavours are so varied and after a hard day of dragging straw bales about you will be ready for your dinners!

vegan food at the centre of alternative tech wales
If you're an early riser there are many beautiful secluded walks around the site overlooking the old mining quarry, the main site has beautiful gardens, including a beautifully laid out polytunnel and even has its own water treatment works, which Dita gave the group a full tour of. Which while touring toilets doesn't exactly sound a fun way to spend an afternoon and you might get a few odd looks as a group of you spill out of the composting toilet. I would 100% recommend taking them up on the offer of a poke around the facilities. The process is fascinating and as water becomes an ever scarce resource is important information.

places to learn sustainable building
welsh sunset

Would I recommend The Build a Natural House Course?

Yes. In all seriousness, if you're interested in sustainable living you need to go to C.A.T. If you think you're not interested in sustainable living you're wrong and you need to go to C.A.T. This place is pure magic, and the people are just great. Go just for the interesting conversation and interesting information you'll take in if nothing else. The location is a real gem and if you sneak off to the pub or beach while you're there you won't ever want to leave!

Sustainable building course

It is no surprise that you have to book well in advance for the courses as they are just brilliant, I would recommend you do a natural house building course, or a tiny house course, or any other course that takes your fancy. You won't be disappointed. Though they should definitely make evening excursion of tinkering with wood stains and learning Wood Burning a permanent part of the course as standard rather than a one-off suggestion, as it was for our group because it was so much fun and a really beautiful thing to create stunning blackened wood.  

wood burning preserving

 oiling wood to preserve it

freshly stained wood for sustainable preservation

If you would like to find out more about Building A Natural House you can find out more about C.A.T Here or check out this post on books I would recommend.



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Interior Design blogging from a Country girl in the city. Trying to learn all I can about interior design, social media and making the best of this life.
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