The Walter Segal self build approach to construction is uniquely organised so that anyone who can use basic tools such as a saw, hammer, drill/driver, tape measure, etc. can build a house. There are even one or two cases of single parent mothers, who have had only basic training in woodworking skills, building their own houses. It’s not quite Lego, but probably as close as you can get using standard building materials. This can create large savings in construction costs.
No wet trades are used (like bricklaying and plastering) – skills which are difficult to acquire. It is a stripped down system of construction with a highly minimalist and rationalist approach. It has proved very adaptable in terms of upgrading to high insulation values and handled properly could probably achieve PassivhausSee more on the Passivhaus standard. The PassivHaus Institute has pioneered a standard for low energy buildings. It includes very low energy usage and ways of achieving this. The word is derived from the idea of buildings which are fundamentally low energy and passive solar heated rather than using extra gadgets to heat them. See Passivhaus for the UK branch of the organisation. or Zero carbon standard. However, this can be seen as quite a challenge, as is the case with many types of construction which involve sealing multiple sets of construction joints to achieve air tightness.
It is a bolt-together, post and beamSubstantial, usually horizontal structural member. form of timber frame construction which relies on using all the materials in their standard sizes, as they are delivered, so there is almost no cutting or waste. The foundations are point blocks of concrete, usually 600 x 600 wide, (depth depending on soil conditions) so less concrete is used than in strip foundations. There is no oversite concrete used so this cuts down on embodied energythe total amount of energy it takes to make a material (or a building). See more on embodied energy. Originally intended to be single storey[for the purposes of part B (fire) of the Approved Documents to the Building Regulations] this means a. any gallery[for the purposes of part B of the Approved Documents] - A raised area or platform around the sides or at the back of a room which provides extra space. Habitable room A room used, or intended to be used, for dwellinghouse[for the purposes of part B of the Approved Documents] - A unit of residential accommodation occupied (whether or not as a sole or main residence): a. by a single person or by people living together as a family b. by not more than six residents living together as a single household, including a household where care is provided for residents. (See also paragraphs 0.22 and 0.23.) Dwellinghouse does not include a flat or a building containing a flat. purposes (including; for the purposes of Part B, a kitchen, but not a bathroom). if its area is more than half that of the space into which it projects; and b. a roof, unless it is accessible only for maintenance and repair. construction, it has proved to work well up to three storeys – see Allerton Park.
Although there are many excellent examples of Segal houses in the UK, the development of the system has recently become somewhat moribund because the people involved with it, mainly architects working with the more radical aspects of the green building movement, are busy with other things. This seems to go hand in hand with the recent demise of grass roots collective housing initiatives in the UK (unlike eg. the co-housing movement in much of northern Europe, North America etc). In the UK there is also a very low cultural level of understanding of timber (not only for building but about timber as a fuel and the planting of timber for the future. see Timber)
A frequent request on this web site is for construction details of the Segal system and we hope to publish these shortly. Requests on the contacts form below will speed this up.
There are now quite a lot of examples of Segal buildings being taken down, moved and built elsewhere which show the re-usability of the system.
There are also many individual houses which have been built to the same principles. A good example is Ken and Sylvia’s house at Lampeter Velfrey near Whitland in Pembrokshire. Ken runs Water Margins, an aquatic plant nursery and next to the business they have built a single storey house.
The form is almost square in plan and the South elevation has a long glazed sun room which helps with heating the house. The structural timber posts are all 100mm square rather than the 200 x 50 which is more common with the Segal system. You can just make out the 600 x 600 concrete pads which the posts stand on. The outside wall cladding is Minerit and the inside lining is Fermacell. There is 200 mm insulation all round using wood wool and polystyrene. The level of insulation, along with the open plan layout of the rooms, has meant that the central wood burning stove has proved sufficient to heat the whole house without a central heating system.The roof membrane is neoprene.
Some recent improvement work on the house has included a 180 litre thermal store at the rear of the stove to capture spare heat and they are planning to install a thermal solar collector on the roof which will also feed into the store.
The Building Regulations part A covers the structure of a building. The Approved DocumentsThese are a part of the Building RegulationsThese are the legal regulations which govern how a house is constructed. (not to be confused with Planning Permission which is about whether you are allowed to build the house at all or what it might look like) see Building Regulations) which ensure, if you follow them, that your plans will be automatically approved. The full set of the documents is available here part Apart A of the Building Regulations Approved Documents relates to Structure. See an abridged version which covers house building go into a lot of detail for traditional masonry buildings but almost none for timber frame, steel frame, earth building SIPsStructural Insulated Panels - prefabricated (usually in a factory) timber panels often forming part of an integrated building system and aimed at fast site erection. see more on SIPs etc. For these you will need to consult a structural engineer (while SIPs structures are usually handled by the manufacturer)
With most forms of construction there will be implications concerning fire safety. These are covered in the Building Regulations and you can see examples of how to conform with these in the Approved Documents Part B (Fire Safety)
The Architect and Self Build Housing a study by Adam Roberts, which covers some interesting examples of Segal stuff (starting page 23)
Superhomes hosts a video of recent eco improvements to one of the Segal houses at Walters Way, Lewisham
Walter Segal Trust (web site needing some TLC)
Architype architects were the designers of the Brighton Hedgehog project and are a ground breaking ecological design company! See their ’Pioneering self build schemes‘ page for lots more photos of it being built.
Project sheet – various examples
The Self-build Book: How to Enjoy Designing and Building Your Own Home by Jon Broome, and Brian Richardson. It documents the building of a Segal method timber frame house and also goes into some community self build initiatives. There is very little written about self build timber frame in the UK (unlike say the US where it is usually the starting point).