Traditional technique could inspire new generation of efficient homes

A traditional building method is being repurposed through an international research project with a view to constructing a new generation of energy efficient homes.

Cob houses have existed in the south of England and northern France for centuries, however the construction industry has been unable to create a cob material that meets new thermal and structural building regulations.

Now a cross-border research project led by the University of Plymouth aims to change that, and demonstrate that the ancient technique – which involves mixing earth and natural fibres with water – has a role to play in the future of the construction industry.

The CobBauge project (a merging of the English and French words for the technique) will run until March 2019 and has received €1,097,484.94 funding from the Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

It is the latest research undertaken by the University’s Environmental Building Group, with existing projects examining the thermal performance of buildings and ways to increase public awareness of how to enhance energy efficiency in the home.

Professor Steve Goodhew, Principal Investigator on the CobBauge project, said:

“Cob buildings are a common and attractive sight in many communities on both sides of the English Channel, but they do not meet current thermal regulations. However, with the authorities requiring new construction and renovations that are sympathetic to the historic built environment, there is definitely still a place for them. By developing new methods and training professionals in how to implement them, we can ensure this traditional technique is adapted so that it remains part of the streetscape for centuries to come.”

For CobBauge, academics in Plymouth will work alongside the Ecole Superieure D'ingenieur des Travaux de la Construction de Caen (ESITC), Syndicat Mixte du Parc naturel régional des Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin (PnrMCB), Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI) and the Université Caen-Normandie (UCn).

The partners will aim to create four new cob mixes that will be thermally and structurally tested to ensure they meet building regulations and significantly improve household energy efficiency.

The newly created cob mixes will be produced from local soils, helping to reduce CO2 emissions by around 40 per cent compared to the production of traditional masonry materials. They will also reduce construction waste by a projected 16 tonnes per property, a saving of €2115 in terms of landfill costs.

The results will be shared with professionals in the construction industry and a second phase of the project will then publish building guidelines for the new cob mixes and train over 500 builders and other professionals in cob construction methods.

It is hoped this will then lead to the construction of as many as 1,500 ‘CobBauge’ buildings on both sides of the English Channel over the next ten years.

The CobBauge Project

The University will work alongside the Ecole Superieure D'ingenieur des Travaux de la Construction de Caen, Syndicat Mixte du Parc naturel régional des Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin, Earth Building UK and Ireland and the Université Caen-Normandie

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The Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme

The Interreg France (Channel) England Programme is a European Territorial Cooperation programme that aims to fund high quality cooperation projects in the Channel border region between France and England. It focuses on a range of specific objectives including supporting innovation, improving the attractiveness of the FCE area and developing low carbon technologies. The Programme has a total of €223 million of ERDF funds to distribute by 2023 and is managed by Managing Authority Norfolk County Council.

The Environmental Building Research Group

Based within the School of Art, Design and Architecture, the group's main research concentrations are in fields of building performance analysis and construction management

Find out more about the group's research