From Norfolk to Nepal….how buildings differ

By Frank Davey, a consultant with Allman & Woodcock chartered building and quantity surveyors in Norwich

I left my wife this month. Well, only for 3 weeks whilst I trekked the hills of Nepal with a charitable organisation, Nepal in Need, and it was interesting to compare the quality and standards of construction there with those which I’m usually used to.

In Norfolk houses still survive made from dried mud. This clay-lump construction is largely confined to the south of the county, often disguised behind a brick face, but old farm outbuildings can readily be identified as mud structures, often with a coating of pitch tar. The benefits of coolness in the summer and insulation value in the winter are as true here as in Nepal. The material is making something of a comeback locally and training courses enabling builders or even home owners to carry out their own repairs are available. In terms of sustainability the material has a lot to offer, take a look at the website www.eartha.org.uk

Our timber frame buildings tend to be a bit more robust than those I saw in Nepal, and generally in better repair. They still use two-man saws in a saw-pit to cut wood, as we did before the industrial revolution. Just as is found in our period timber-frame properties mud is used as a building material, as the ‘daub’ element of wattle and daub. In Nepal split bamboo canes commonly make up the matrix

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onto which the clay mix is applied, in our area hazel woven into wattle panels are usual and these can last almost indefinitely if properly maintained.

There is a singular lack of chimneys in remote Nepal, which results in a hacking cough amongst much of the population, and blackened ceilings, which made me vow never to return to smoking (and the quality of the chang also goes a good way to help reduce drinking). Given the choice of tent or cabin, my choice was invariably the tent, and without the indoor fire.

In rural parts of Europe it is still common to see properties where livestock was housed beneath the living accommodation, and in times past this was a common practice in this region. Nowadays even stable lads are given better accommodation than the hayloft over the stables. The warmth given off by the animals can be useful in winter and the practice still survives in Nepal and elsewhere, I’m not sure that I’m ready to return to this form of heating.

Where the roads have reached brick and concrete have also arrived, and the quality of construction reminds me of parts of Greece and Egypt. I am, however, thankful for our planning and building regulation standards, and I’ll never again complain about health and safety requirements!

Amongst the things I was reminded of is that building methods invariably follow the use of materials readily to hand, so look around you at the different forms of construction seen locally and see if you can make out what they are. In the meantime my wife says I can go again, I think she was happy for some peace and quiet, so what about it the intrepid gang?

Frank Davey is on 01603 610243

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