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Wool I never: Scottish farmhouse takes sheepish approach to insulation


May 14, 2013

All of the house's external walls have been insulated with wool from the farm (Photo: Mark Waghorn Architects)

All of the house's external walls have been insulated with wool from the farm (Photo: Mark Waghorn Architects)

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Say you were the third generation of a farming family in the southwest of Scotland, and you intended to build a new farmhouse that made a statement about resource consumption. Building an environmentally conscious house in this climate requires insulation up to the ears. Now let's say this was a sheep farm you were running … well, you would, wouldn't you?

And so did Mary and Neil Gourlay, who turned to Mark Waghorn Architects for help in designing Three Glens, a five-bedroom house on their working farm near Moniaive. All of the house's external walls have been insulated with help from the livestock. "The wool has come from sheep on the farm, but has been treated in a similar way to sheepswool insulation products on the market," Mark Waghorn told Gizmag. The U-value for these wool-insulated walls is calculated at 0.18 W/sq m (a squeak outside of the rigorous requirements of Passivhaus).

But man cannot insulate with wool alone, and so Three Glens is triple-glazed, with the windows achieving a Passivhaus-besting U-vale of 0.7 W/sq m. The design is so airtight that mechanical ventilation, complete with heat-recovery system, has had to be added in in order to circulate air sufficiently. (Trickle vents in the windows were avoided on grounds of thermal inefficiency.)

Much of the stone used in the building fabric was taken from the surrounding fields, exposed through ploughing over the course of many years. The building is clad with oak grown on the farm.

The house is warmed with underfloor heating fed by a ground-source heat pump, and supplemented by a wood-burning kachelofen set into a stone wall. This is a much more efficient means of deriving heat from wood than an ordinary metal stove due to its improved insulation and ability to burn wood at higher temperatures. The stone wall which acts a thermal mass which helps to regulate temperature in the living areas.

Three Glens draws upon a renewable source of energy abundant in this part of the UK: wind. A 100-kW turbine nearby generates enough power for 25 homes, and most of the energy produced is put into the grid. All the house's water needs are met by a borehole, with a solar thermal system contributing to water heating.

As well as being a working farmhouse, Three Glens will double as a guesthouse with meals made from ingredients either grown on the farm or others nearby.

Source: Mark Waghorn Architects, via Inhabitat

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

wool insulation has been available for several years

Graham HomeMaintenance

Graham - I agree, even featured as insulation on the TV (UK's Grand Designs) a while ago. Still, if it works, why not?

The Skud

Gosh, thanks for that Graham Winks HomeMaintenance, but to be fair, the article is titled '...sheepish approach...' not '..innovative approach...' and doesn't seem to claim what they've done as being unheard of or new , rather just resourceful and stylish.

Mia Holton

I wonder what costs more? Wool or Fibreglass? Obviously in this case, wool is free. One ECO house I saw, used shredded newspaper(well it was fluffed up, somehow)

David Clarke

Really quite nice!

I was worried that Prince Charles had wiped out Modern Architecture in the Isles so my fears misplaced are allayed.

Much of it is more than handsome, some of the wood details maybe could have been improved. And I'd worry about cars at a party rolling on down the countryside.

The Korean floor should make it very comfortable. Do they have soapstone in Scotland?

Overlooking the bench base, you have to give it an A+

Not goofy in any way. One of the best architectural postings in the old Giz.

Bill Dickens

Lewis Dickens

Thanks for sharing this James. This is a perfect example of sustainable living. There is another advantage to wool insulation, wool absorbs moisture!... and that releases the stored up latent heat of evaporation. It takes kilowatts to boil a kettle dry, but when that vapor phase reverts to liquid or is absorbed, the latent heat is recovered. Although the heat gain is only temporary, heat is lost again as the wool dries out, it comes when extra heat is most needed. on cold damp days, and only lost on warm dry days.

Alastair Carnegie

Comment for David Colton Clarke - Newspaper 'fluffed up' like this is generally treated with a fire or flame retardant, and generally used - blown in from a container or bagged to site - as ceiling insulation. As wall insulation, it might settle down and leave parts of the wall not insulated.

The Skud

Pretty but also pretty impractical. This Scot would cut the glazing by 90% and put the insulation on the outside so the stones act as a heat sink that benefits. And all that wood siding is a maintenance problem. I would use a reflective in hot climes and a solar collecting exterior in cold, wet climes.

The dining table looks like it was designed just for looks. How do the people in the middle get out during the meal without a bunch more having to get up also, once to let them out, and again to let back in?

Don Duncan
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