About

Me, sitting outside the first dome - a work in progress.

Me, sitting outside the first dome – a work in progress.

Slightly before my 60th birthday I realised I had made no plans for my old age, and did not have any money put aside for it either.  Thailand was my home, but no government pensions available, so what could I do that I would enjoy, which would also bring in a bit of money to live by.  I decided to buy some land with my last few pennies, and go to the UK for a few years and earn some money, and save every penny I could.  I bought a fantastic piece of land in Chiang Dao, northern Thailand, and spent several years in the UK saving like mad.
While in the UK I focused on what to do with the land, and decided a small B&B would be perfect.  But I would not be able to afford a conventional building – unless I wanted to stay in the UK for at least a decade – so I began to think about building with natural materials.  I went on several workshops and I was sold!  If I won the lottery tomorrow I would still be building with natural materials!
I left the UK November 2012 and have been in Chiang Dao ever since, and I am building the most amazing domes with colourful local workers and wonderful volunteers.  This Blog tells the story of how we built the Chiang Dao Roundhouses B&B.

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21 comments on “About

  1. Wow! I love what you are doing. We have built a small earthbag dome but it leaked this winter…. Your dome is an interesting shape, in that it only starts to go in higher up. And with rice husks must make it much lighter, ie easier!!! to build. I love it.Good luck with your wonderful project. I will share it.

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  2. Hi Veronnica – I had a look at your blog on living in Portugal. First, so sorry about your cockeral. I hope you have found another for your hens. I spent some time with some chickens here and was surprised to find out that when in large groups male and female they are monogomous! I will write about my life here, once the building is done.
    I loved the roof you have put on your dome! I have been a bit more drastic with layers of cement and a layer of plastic – at least that is the plan. So far just the straw/cement layer and then rice husk/sand/cement layer. Will get on to the rest of it in a week or so. Just trying to get the first layer on before the monsoon hits!
    I look forward to more newsfrom Portugal.

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  3. Maggi I commented on your last post, and have found the answers to my questions here! What a great story of going for what you want, esp heading back to the UK to spend years and earn the money to do it, and now you really are building (literally) your desired life. Congrats on your visions and manifesting. Jodie x

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  4. Maurice Mclaurin says:

    Maggi, Just stumbled across your site, very interesting. I live in Udon Thani. While we have a home, I think it would be interesting to do somelhing like you are doing. Would be nice to keep busier in my retirement. We haqve 34 Rai wit ha lot of teak trees and these kind of buildings would fit in nicely. Am interested in the workshops, now to convince the wife. Mac

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  5. Alex says:

    Hi Maggi,
    Greetings from the eastcoast of Taiwan! I found your blog while searching for building ideas that use natural (and better yet, local) materials, and was delighted to see that rice husks could be used (the east coast here is the rice country of the island). My husband and I are planning a very small B&B on our piece of land… and would like to build a small “sod house” type structure with natural materials and grow things on top. This way the structure blends in with the landscape. We would love to get your take on the feasibility of using rice husks for something that would be covered with earth? Any warnings or advice?

    Also… just wondering about earthquakes and typhoons… what is your experience with the rice husk round houses with regard to typical tropical area natural disasters?

    Looking forward to hearing from you! Cheers, Alex

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  6. Hi Alex,
    Welcome to the world of building your dream!
    I don’t know about typhoons or earthquakes as we don’t have them here, but looking in other countries, certainly the earthbag structures in Nepal are about the only buildings still standing in some villages. For the rice husks this is a new technology so not enough info yet. I would imagine there would be cracking in the plaster, but hopefully the light bamboo and steel frame of the rice husk bag buildings should work well in earthquakes. I have no experience of typhoons, so can’t help you with that one. With our worst storms here, we have had some leaks in the concrete roofs (I would not recommend them!) but as soon as the sun comes out they dry up easily.
    If you have looked at some of this blog you may realise that the rice bags are very light weight and therefore the structure is not load bearing, and would not be able to support a sod roof. You could make a wood frame building, and just use the rice bags as in-fill for the walls – that would work well. Or make an earthbag building. Though I have found that my earthbag building is not very successful as I covered it with cement on the outside because of our monsoon, but then the bags become damp and do not dry out well. I only use the building occasionally and would not sleep in it as too damp.
    My B&B (2 rooms so far, going up to 3 max) is going very well, by the way, because my Roundhouses are so unique, so worth thinking about having similar there in Taiwan. Have a look at my website chiangdao-roundhouses.com
    Best wishes,
    Maggi

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  7. Alex says:

    Hi Maggi,

    Thanks so much for the very helpful reply sharing your experience and suggestions so generously!

    I’ve just found your blog and am still going through the details.to see what would work here – would love to use rice husks as they are abundant in this area. Maybe for the outdoor bathroom, then since we weren’t planning for that to be a sod structure.

    Just wanted to clarify: so the rice husk roundhouses don’t get damp but the earthbag house does (due to heavy rain/humidity)? How very interesting! That would be a major consideration because it is super humid here.

    Again, thanks SO MUCH for your feedback and for the wonderfully informative blog!

    Cheers,
    Alex

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  8. Yes, that is right – inside a rice husk dome it is very dry even during the rainy season, but I find the air in the earth bag dome very damp. I have asthma so am sensitive to this.
    If you are thinking of using rice husks for an outside bathroom, remember that you will need some sort of roof to protect it. Even with lime plaster on top of the rice bags I would recommend a roof if you get a lot of heavy rain. Not sure what you mean by sod structure. Once you have covered your rice bags with earth and line etc. it is similar to any of the organic structures.
    Happy planning!
    Maggi

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  9. Alex says:

    Hi Maggi,

    Thanks so much for writing back. I have mild asthma, so this is great information!

    Just curious (and please pardon my ignorance, as I have no experience with building/working with natural building materials), why is the rice husk building able to stay feeling dry? I am guessing that the earth in the earth bags retain moisture, so it feels damp in a humid environment? If that is the case, how do the rice husk bags manage to not retain moisture… is it because they dry faster? They allow more air flow?

    Or, come to think of it, we once used rice husks for kitty litter. It worked ok, but did not seem to be very absorbent.. (at least not as much as sand or wood shavings). We didn’t use it long enough for me to get a good feel of its moisture retention ability to say for sure, though.

    Just thought I’d ask… hope I’m not bugging you too much, but I was *delighted* to find your blog and what you’ve done/are doing!

    Cheers,
    Alex

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  10. Rice husks, and even un cooked rice, are known desiccants, Definition of desiccant: ‘A desiccant is a hygroscopic substance that induces or sustains a state of dryness (desiccation) in its vicinity’. If you go swimming with your mobile phone, it is recommended to put it in a bag of un cooked rice to dry it out. And if the husks get wet they dry out very quickly – not so with earth.
    Cheers,
    Maggi

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    • Alex says:

      Ah! Thanks for the explanation! I’ve seen people here putting grains of uncooked rice in the salt shaker to keep the salt from clumping, and a friend put his machine-washed cell phone in uncooked rice to dry, but I didn’t think of making that connection with husks. Now it makes sense. What a wonderful material! I’m so happy you made it work, and now I’m going to look into how I can make use of it here as well! This is very exciting!

      Cheers,
      Alex

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Alex says:

    Greetings again Maggi,

    What are your thoughts on using waterproof paint on the rice husk bags (once the house is built), inside and outside, then cover it with cement, and water proof the cement both inside and out?

    Also, since this is our first time building with earthbags/rice husk bags, we are thinking of starting small, with an outdoor compost toilet (before we build a house to sleep in… we need to make sure our idea can “stand up” to an earthquake and heavy rain). Just curious, is your outdoor shower also made with rice husk walls? How do you protect it from the water? Did you have to prep it differently?

    Wish we had found you earlier and participated in the building project! Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience! We very much appreciate it!

    Cheers,
    Alex

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  12. Hi Alex,
    If you use any kind of sealant (waterproof paint, cement) you will loose all the natural properties of the rice husks. Putting a natural cob plaster, and a lime plaster, you will retain the ability of the walls to dry, and to breathe, and to change the temperature of the room. With a good lime plaster as a final finish, and a good overhang on your roof, you should have no trouble. You may need to re-do your final lime plaster after a few years if there has been a lot of rain on the walls.
    My bathrooms have natural walls under the overhanging roof, but cement block walls (with bottle design) for the walls that are exposed to the rain.
    There is a possibility that we will be holding a workshop early November to build a women’s community work centre in a village nearby.
    Best wishes,
    Maggi

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  13. Alex says:

    Hi Maggi,

    Thanks again for the clear and very helpful explanation and info! Much appreciated!

    Will keep checking back for updates for possible future workshops!

    Cheers,
    Alex

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Christa says:

    Hi, what an inspiration you are.
    My other half woke me up this morning with the news that somebody had contacted him via linked-in to offer him a big project in Thailand. He is a lime plasterer/conservationist in England with lots of experience over here in this climate but none abroad. He is passionate about sustainability specifically lime and will talk, demonstrate and live his lime dream wherever and whenever he can. However, he is inexperienced when it comes to other climates, their building materials – and compositions, contractual laws in other countries other than the UK and certainly does not speak Thai. He is the most homest person I know which comes with a certain gullability.
    Hence, reading your fantastic blog filled me with hope and joy as you are combining knowledge and craftsmanship with respect and love for your local surroundings and especially people.
    I will forward your blog to Peter (husband) whom you have impressed already just by telling him of your work.
    You made my morning, thanks again, Christa

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    • Hi Christa,
      Thank you for your kind words!
      Where is your husband’s project – we have local people who are expert with our lime (very different from the lime I used in workshops in the UK) and I am surprised that someone from the UK would be contacted for a job here – but very happy for Peter as this is a great place to be! If he is going to be in the country, please suggest he comes to visit me and I am happy to share what I know about our local lime. Or also happy to share by email if a visit is not possible. And anyway I would love to hear about the project…!
      Best wishes,
      Maggi

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  15. Peter Gambier says:

    Good morning Maggi,I have just seen the slanderous stuff that my wife wrote to you about me.
    All true I can assure you although just like with honey you should use the lime from your area to really benefit from it although I have heard of people in the US who imported tons of English lime putty because they liked the stuff,also unlike the NHL’s which can almost be used anywhere the putty ranges are just fabulous,especially the chalk based ones.I guess it’s down to the aggregate that you use.For example,in Germany they use a 4:1 mix,in Israel a 2:1 and here in the UK it’s normally a 3:1.A little tip if you don’t know,whatever sand you want to use,put a handful into a glass jar with a lid,fill 3/4 with water,pour in the sand,shake it up and leave to stand for 24 hours,
    you should see (for the best sand) about 5 to 6 different layers of aggregate,too many fines is
    not good as this just makes for a weak mix.
    It’s always best to do test samples anyway to see how the mortar reacts in the climate etc,but never use any blocks for your background,they absorb too much water and cause problems
    especially in colder climes at a later date..
    The job in Thailand that I was offered is some palatial palace with fibrous moulding,lots of stone,stairs,plinths,quoins and floors I guess and I’m also guessing they would be using NHL for their mortars and plasters,but the mixes I like to use are lovely and sticky because I’ll add a measure of stone dust as well as using a nice angular sharp sand.I usually avoid using NHL’s
    as I prefer the putty stuff because the slower it takes to dry the better the mortar.
    What is the normal lime mortar mix in Thailand anyway,is it a 2:1?
    Anyway,thankyou for answering my wife’s queries I shall be pouring honey onto her keyboard later.Joking.Have a nice day.Peter.

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  16. Peter Gambier says:

    Maggi,i also mean’t to say that with all the experiments in lime mortars i found that adding rice flour as well as some mollasis to the mortar makes for an excellent mix.it would be great to visit you and see what you have been up to.Also,have a look at a wonderful Ted.com talk about a lady in another part of the world who uses just bamboo in her constructions,no nails or glues either apart from the naturally occurring ones I guess.
    All the best from Somerset.

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    • Hi Peter. I hope you take the job, either a very wealthy person or a fancy hotel I should imagine! I wonder where in Thailand it will be… (no question marks on this computer…).
      I use the lime that I can buy in my nearby town as I choose to always use local whenever possible. It is very cheap and used for some construction but mostly for agriculture. It is a powder, and nowhere near as lethal as the kind I used on a workshop in the west which was horrid if it got on your hands (in fact one of my hilltribe workers uses a pinch in a mix that she chews!). This one is about as bad as getting cement on your hands – maybe that will help you identify it! The plastic it comes wrapped in has no words on it! Our mountains here are limestone by the way, so this could be very local. Anyway, I have found that adding one small bucket’s worth in a big bucket of mix (see buckets sizes on many blogs) of earth, sand and ricehusks (about 12 small buckets) helps mix to dry quicker and dry harder. Then for the final plaster we soak dry lime at least overnight and it becomes very creamy and great to use. We measure in dog food tins 20 lime with a few earth and double sand depending on colour wanted, we have some beautiful red earth here! and a dollop of wheat or tapioca paste (I haven’t tried rice flour – thanks for the tip!). I am not sure how it will hold up to the monsoon and most of my buildings have big roof overhangs. But there is one earthbag dome that I allowed myself to be persuaded into covering with cement. Huge mistake! Cracks all over and when water gets in takes forever to dry. My other buildings are all of ricehusks in bags and dry super quickly. Anyway, part of the dome has collapsed and I plan to chip off all the cement, take off the top half of the earth bags, remake with rice husks bags and then lime finish. This will be a good experiment in how the lime will work in a monsoon. We may have to re-lime every year, as they do in India and some other places, but I am hopeful as the rice husks underneath the lime are a desiccant and may help to dry out the lime after a monsoon deluge. But this is a huge job and at the moment I am trying to finish my bedroom dome (with the new split bamboo roof – last blog).
      Re sand and earth, they vary quite a lot. One just orders a truck load and hopes for the best. I now have an excellent source for red earth without stones, but had to wait about a month for last load. Sand comes in two types here, a rough one for basic cement and a smooth one for cement plaster. Our last load of rough was full of earth too – terrible! But we enjoy working around these challenges…!
      Re: ‘but never use any blocks for your background,they absorb too much water and cause problems’ What do you mean by blocks. Also I have no idea what you mean by NHL…
      Sorry not to have any technical info for you! This is all very grass roots hands on here!
      If you have the name of the Ted talk you mentioned, I would love to have a listen.
      So, not too sure how much help this will be but hey! it is great to chat to a fellow plasterer!
      Best wishes, Maggi

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