Chair of the Earth Building Association of New Zealand (EBANZ) Pat Mawson is an earth and strawbale builder and plasterer based in Hawkes Bay. He tells us more about his journey as a natural builder and why he has joined the BLF.
How did you hear about the Building Limes Forum and what attracted you to join?
I spent a short time in Wales working on a heritage building in the early 2000’s which was where I first became fascinated with lime. I started researching and experimenting with lime plasters once back at home in NZ. A friend in Wanaka who shares an interest in lime plasters is a member and made me aware of the organisation.
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, Straw Home and the Earth Building Association?
After my trip to Wales I left a career in the forest industry and began a building apprenticeship. Around the same time, I visited a rammed earth house and became very interested in alternative natural building techniques. I live in rural Hawkes Bay, with my partner and 2 boys and in 2009 my partners parents returned to NZ from living in Australia. I had recently finished my apprenticeship and set about building a straw bale house for them. This was successful and through word of mouth has led to gainful employment on interesting projects ever since. Along the way I teamed up with a German Master carpenter Nils Rock and we set up our company Straw Home Hawkes Bay.
Early on in this process I became aware of the Earth Building Association of NZ, started attending conferences, and became increasingly involved until becoming chair in 2018. EBANZ was established in the 1980’s to ‘promote the art and science of earth building’. The first major achievement of EBANZ was the writing an internationally respected set of Earth Building Standards that were adopted under the NZ building code. These standards provided a simple path to compliance for earth buildings and have recently been updated. The value of these standards was demonstrated in the massive Christchurch and Kiakoura earthquakes where no earth buildings built to the standard were significantly damaged. In recent years EBANZ has developed a wider focus including lighter construction techniques including straw bale, ‘light earth’ and to some extent hempcrete.
What are the biggest challenges in NZ with using natural building techniques and earth building?
I think the biggest challenge is lack of awareness. We have Building Code Standards that make it relatively simple to build consented dwellings with Earth and Lime so code compliance is not really an issue. Despite the many benefits of building with natural materials most people are simply not aware it is an option and have never experienced the difference. This is changing as more houses are built and also with the popularity of TV programs like Grand Designs. Ten years ago the first Straw bale house we built was quite a novelty but now it’s much less so.
Is the use of building limes embraced in NZ?
The use of building limes in NZ is very limited. There is small conservation use around historic masonry and earth buildings but most areas of NZ have very few old buildings.
What do you hope to gain through your BLF membership?
My main interest is to gain technical knowledge and learn about historical techniques. There is a newly formed NZ chapter of the BLF so this will help with meeting and sharing resources locally.
Members of the Building Limes Forum form a community of lime enthusiasts and practitioners, most of whom are producers, suppliers, specifiers or users of lime.