David Lister, Scotland Correspondent
It looks like a cross between a badly-designed UFO and the house made of sweets found by Hansel and Gretel in the forest.
But although estate agents would struggle to write the blurb for Steve James’s cottage — “distinctive” and “idyllic location” being the more obvious selling points, along with, perhaps, “guaranteed, despite nursery rhymes, not to get blown down by wolf” — there is one thing they would not have a problem selling: the price.
It cost £4,000 to make Mr James’s cottage, less than half the amount most of us would spend on a small extension, but yesterday he said he hoped to do it for even less next time.
“It is something that anybody could easily learn to do, with help,” said the 52-year-old freelance software engineer. “The real cost of a house is fairly small. It’s always the land that makes up about 85 per cent of the cost.”
At a time when the average house price in Britain remains above £220,000, Mr James’s new home is bound to stand out — and not just because it is made of straw and has a turf roof covered in flowers.
His kitchen units come from a cedar that blew over in a Glasgow park. His sink was put together from the contents of a skip. His panelled timber ceiling is made from the changing room doors at an old Victorian public baths.
His biggest expense — £600 — was buying food for the volunteers who helped him. The next biggest, £500 each, was for floor and roof boards. The 200 straw bales cost £300 and the plumbing £200. Glass cost £150, wiring £100 and a water pump £70. Even the cooker, at £30, was a bargain.
Although it is small, there is also space for a kitchen, marbled shower room and a living area with sofas and log-burning stove.
Mr James insists that the cottage is warm and watertight. He makes do with a compost loo and rainwater filtration system, and uses a car battery to provide enough electricity to power his laptop computer, mobile phone, stereo and lights.
The house, beside a loch near Dumfries, was completed at the second attempt last November, after ten months of building time.
However, the labour of love actually began four years ago when the first foundations, a 2ft-high perimeter of rocks, were put down and a set of walls erected, only for the rain to soak them through when tarpaulins leaked.
A second set of walls was erected in 2005, when the roof was also added. After that, Mr James used what materials he could to finish the job.
For the flooring, he used wood from leftover trees from a nearby forest and polished it with linseed oil. He covered the roof with a rubber pond liner before adding turf and flower seeds.
Items salvaged from other people’s rubbish included a shower tray, front door and an oval bedroom window.
Mr James, who is deeply proud of his eco-cottage, said: “The initial buzz has grown into a sort of permanent primeval satisfaction. I sit here, it’s warm and quiet and there’s snow flying past the windows, and I think: yes, this is what it’s all about.”
He believes that straw, despite its vulnerability to the nursery-rhyme wolves, could be used to make all sorts of buildings, including office blocks.
One thing he hasn’t quite got over, however, is the look on visitors’ faces when they first glimpse his new home.
“It’s always the same,” he said. “There’s an intense stare and total mystification, as if they can’t quite believe what they are seeing.”
Building on a budget
£600 supplies for volunteers — £500 sarking — £400 floorboards — £400 pond liner — £300 straw — £200 plumbing — £150 joists — £150 plywood — £150 equipment hire — £150 glass — £100 quicklime — £100 wiring — £100 tarpaulin — £100 paint — £100 batteries — £100 fixings — £100 fuel for power tools — £70 water pump — £50 water heater — £50 stove chimney — £30 cooker
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