Turf at the Top; Building with Natural Materials Is Easier on the Eye and Can Be Very Economic, as NAN ENSOR Discovers

By Ensor, Nan | Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), June 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

Turf at the Top; Building with Natural Materials Is Easier on the Eye and Can Be Very Economic, as NAN ENSOR Discovers


Ensor, Nan, Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)


The Green, Green Grass of Home is one old song that is taking on a new meaning in Deeside.

No, this isn't a comment on the local gardens, though no doubt they're all blooming lovely.

What brought Home Record to the area is the sudden sprouting of turfed roofs.

And, says designer Howard Owens, who has already planted up three properties in the area, the idea of grass roofs is really taking root in Scotland.

"It's not just a question of keeping up appearances - although turfed roofs definitely soften the impact of man-made structures on the environment," said Howard.

"But a meadow roof is also marvellous insulation and it needs very little maintenance."

Dr Natasha Mauthner and her botanist husband, Dr Dave Burslem, are one couple who think that Howard's growing roofs are sure to be a growth business.

"Our old cottage is lovely, but the rooms are quite small and dark," said Natasha, of Maryculter, near Aberdeen.

"There was an old, ruined piggery beside the house and when we decided to build an extension, we wanted to use that space to create a bright and airy living area with a kitchen. But it had to blend in with the existing building and the surrounding countryside.

"Thanks to Howard and his partner, Ruth Hyde, we don't have just an ordinary house extension - we've got a garden extension as well.

"Dave and I have already planted daffodils and tulips in our grass roof, plus there were hare-bells and wood anemones already growing in the turf.

"Now, we're adding alpine plants to our roof meadow. With all the wild flowers, we've definitely got a roof with a view."

THE grass definitely looks lush and lovely on the outside, we agreed. But what's it like living under all this earth?

Absolutely fabulous, says Natasha.

"It's so warm and comfortable, we now practically live in the extension. The turf not only keeps all the heat in, it also keeps the noise out. As soon as you step into the extension, it has a wonderful, peaceful feeling.

"Howard not only specialises in grass roofs, he also made the flooring out of great slabs of Caithness slate, which he quarries himself. The underfloor heating is laid below the stones and is incredibly effective.

"Despite our high, beamed ceilings and all the big windows, it's more economical to heat the extension than the cottage.

"And the insulation from the turf is so good that, for the past few weeks, we've been able to turn the heating off in the big extension, while the smaller rooms in the original cottage are still freezing."

But, says the ever-suspicious Home Record, being environmentally-friendly is usually expensive.

So, like organic vegetables, does it cost more to construct an organic house? Natasha admits: "I don't know the price difference between roof turf and tiles. …

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Turf at the Top; Building with Natural Materials Is Easier on the Eye and Can Be Very Economic, as NAN ENSOR Discovers
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