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Rammed-earth home takes shape

An aerial view of the couple’s section. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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Sometimes simpler is better.

And that was the appeal of building a rammed earth home for Carterton couple Erin Betteridge and Timo Jaegle.

The couple, who own a section of land on Chester Rd have laid the foundations for their new build – but the fun part is yet to come – building the walls.

Rammed earth construction is a technique of ramming earth into forms to create structures.

It was first used in areas of the world with dry climates and little resources available for construction.

The technique was used to create monuments and religious buildings including the Great Wall of China.

Erin Betteridge and her partner Timo Jaegle are building a rammed earth house — the first of its kind in Wairarapa. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Erin and Timo’s build will be on a much smaller scale of course, with the foundation size being 154sqm, and the living area being 127sqm – “we’re losing a lot of space because of the width of the walls,” Timo said.

The walls are 350mm thick, to be made from a mix of mostly lime, and a small amount of cement.

Timo, originally from Germany, said he was inspired to build a rammed earth home because he was “not really used to the kind of buildings here – the wooden framed houses and stuff”.

“So, I looked around for alternative building methods and we came across Paul Geraets of Terra Firma Earth Building in Auckland – a rammed earth builder . . . he is the designer, architect and builder.”

Describing the rammed earth technique, Timo said boxing would be put up first for the walls, supported by steel, and then the lime-cement mix would be “rammed” in, and the boxing would be taken away.

“They do a few small touch-ups straight away to smooth everything, but after that, it’s just a drying process and that’s it.

“There’s no insulation going in or painting or rendering or cladding or anything else.

“The way the walls are rammed, – you don’t have any maintenance on them.”

He said the look was “very rustic” and that there was a possibility during the drying process that cracks may appear in the wall, “which is not a structural problem – it’s just a visual thing”.

It will be the first rammed earth house in Wairarapa, to the best of Timo’s knowledge.

“The council doesn’t know of any other buildings made of rammed earth, and the building inspector was pretty awesome.

“He was all thumbs-up and said, go for it.”

The cost of building a rammed earth house is not a short-term saver, costing a little more than mainstream builds, but it is a cost-saver in the long-term.

Because of the thick stone walls which are breathable and absorb heat, no insulation is needed, and heating costs go down.

And because of the natural state of the walls, no maintenance or painting is required, and there will never be moisture build-up in the house causing problems such as mould.

“The Kiwi culture here is to buy a house, resell it, buy another house, resell it,” Timo said.

“Obviously, you do make a bit of money, but we quite like the area and we want to build this house for the long term.

“I don’t want to be in my 60s and have to repaint the house again – that would be another $10,000 down the drain.

“We would rather spend the money now when we can afford it and then in the long term we don’t have to.”

Erin, who is due to give birth in August said although it was beautiful walking into a “very grand house with a grand kitchen and a massive kitchen island – is it necessary?”.

She said the couple had previously fallen in love with an existing house in Wairarapa and had committed to buying it until building reports came back unfavourable.

“Yes, it is going to be harder to build from scratch, but at least you know what is going into it”, she said.

The couple had been living onsite in a caravan until recently when they shifted back to a “normal house” for the sake of comfort during pregnancy – “I didn’t want to be in the caravan for that”.

The couple have a dog, two pigs, two goats, 11 ducks, and 30 chickens living on their block of land.

They are seeking volunteers to help with labour over a three-week period starting at the end of May.

If you are keen to be a part of this project, contact Timo on 021 199 2905 or email him on [email protected].

The couple’s building progress can be viewed on their Facebook page ‘We’re Building a Rammed Earth home’.


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