Between Sod And Stone And Sheep, It’s All Green

Maybe its my Scottish roots revealing themselves, but the Cairn Valley House floors me by melding green technology with a superlative sense of place and a wholehearted embrace of traditional, no, of ancient local technology and materials.

Get this: the primary wall insulation in this farm house is wool shorn from the farm’s sheep. (No, I’m not writing this for April Fools Day.) The roofs are covered with sod transplanted from the farm. Cladding and deck wood feature oak from the farm and locally reclaimed wood. An existing dry-stack wall of local stone was extended into the house interior.

Cairn Valley Farm

The house in its setting. Image via Mark Waghorn Architects.

Though sealed and insulated well enough to need little active heating, the house will be heated by a kachelofen, a kind of massive fireplace that stores the heat from just a few logs (grown on the premises, of course) burned each morning, releasing it over the entire day and evening. (Okay, yes, the word kachelofen is German; similar stoves were found in several countries.)

Cairn Valley house with stone walls

Model showing integration of house with trees and existing field-dividing walls called dykes. Image via Mark Waghorn Architects.

There are still more “novel” energy-saving solutions that trace back hundreds of years: a sort of sunroom, glazed and well ventilated next to the laundry, for drying clothes. An updated version of the old root cellar, for cool storage of foods. Division of the floor plan into one wing that will be heated every day and one wing that will need heating only intermittently.

Even in misty Scotland, the sun is good for heat gain through the windows, for drying clothes, and for heating water. Wind is more abundant, and is expected to supply enough electricity to export a substantial surplus over the course of the year.

Cairn Valley House

Close-up of oak exterior and dry-stacked stone. Image via Mark Waghorn Architects.

Cairn Valley is near Dumfries in southwest Scotland. The young architect Mark Waghorn, who works out of southwest Wales, designed the Cairn Valley House to meet the Active House standard.

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.