What is Natural Building?

Natural building is a set of principles, values and ethics that have been developed, formally or not throughout the last century, under the shape of innovations, researches, books, leaders, building codes to bring up feasible solutions to global crises and reconnect houses to people and people with nature. 

As much as Natural building is a fairly new concept it finds its roots and inspiration from tradition, we now look for ways to mimic how mankind was doing when we had no other options but to use natural materials, on the other side it includes low & high technology in the less harmful and most passive way.

Principles and values 

There is no official set of principles within Natural building as much as there is not one way to proceed while constructing. Various publications mention principles but there is a variety of them. Here are the most common ones: 


Non toxic is preferred to natural materials for the reason that it is very complicated nowadays to make a completely natural house, electrical systems, glass windows.. are materials that simply cannot be avoided. It is about limiting the amount of toxic materials as much as possible…..

  • LOW IMPACT (embodied energy, available materials, waste reduction) 

Low  impact is house refers to the construction process but also to the finished product: not only the foreseen construction should be made with specific materials it should also, during its lifespan….. 

      • Available 

    An available material means that it should be plentiful within the location of the future building. There is no sense in making a straw-bale house if the bales have to be transported  

        • Embodied energy 

      The embodied energy of a material/building is the amount of energy (kj, CO2, H2O…) required to get the material/building from raw to a final product, in other words from extraction, to transformation and then transportation/installation.
      For example portland cement is sediments (rock/clay) that is extracted, then cooked at very high temperature to create a chemical transformation, and then after crushed so it becomes a powder. It then has a very high embodied energy.

          • Waste reduction 

        Further than plastic packaging waste reduction in Natural building is also all possible leftovers from construction and the way it can be used. Wood scraps from a roof can be used for furniture making or burned to heat up the house. 

        • EFFICIENT

          • Low tech 

        Low tech is logical, simple, practical and easy systems that are accessible to all. It is in line with Do It Yourself (DIY) practices. 

            • Passive energy

          Passive energy is energy from variable natural sources that are directly used to achieve an intended purpose. For example putting a heavy earthen floor in a house to maximize thermal mass and get thermal inertia.  

              • Accumulation vs Insulation

            Accumulation or thermal mass results in the use of heavy dense materials in a construction to get passive heat storing capacity whether insulation can be seen as light materials, full of air with very low conductivity to slow down temperature exchanges between outside and inside a house. Both of those concepts are very ancient and are the base of any energy efficient construction. Depending on the climate one, the other or both can be used to keep convenient temperatures inside the house and reduce energy consumption.

            • LONG LASTING 

            In a society where consumption overran preservation, the building sector also has been affected and conventional houses are being built for added value and not for their strength, so that future generations can benefit from houses already built… and then less materials are to be used as there (should be) is existing houses! 

            • BEAUTIFUL  

            That principle does have unanimity among the Natural Building community. Every natural building  ( speaking mainly about individual housing), as they are made usually with closer contact with homeowners, if not by them or friends, are beautiful. I am not here speaking about aesthetic tastes only but also feelings.
            There are memories in and on the walls, roofs, floors of those houses: from details of the process to shades of autumn lights. 

            Art has a big place in Natural buildings, careful attention is given to those spaces so they fit and suit the tastes of people living inside. And this brings us to what values are carried by eco-construction. 

            Values that Natural Building carry

            Values are an abstract concept in this case. As many different initiatives and movements emerged from Natural building, here will speak about individual and collective aspects. Not about factories and companies working in that field. Even though there is common traits to those two “branches”

            • House as a living being/ shelter not a go to after work 

            Houses are nowadays seen as products of consumption, a place to go to afterwork. In contradiction with this way of thinking Natural building sees houses as living, breathing beings where warmth and comfort are being met. People escape homes to go to far away vacations, as they would escape their homes and cities, why not see home as a safe place for resourcing ourselves and building resiliency ? 

            • Complexity of choices 

            There is no one way to build a natural house. A big panel of choices come into place; materials, techniques, orientation… The movement is getting bigger and new concepts are emerging, new materials… There is no good or bad way, what matters is the mindset of the builders, from very Do It Yourself to conventional looking houses there are a variety of possibilities and it is sometimes hard to find ourselves in this.
            A good tip would be to look at old houses around. They gather local materials that are suitable to the climate and crafts that preserve houses for a long time.

            • The idea is not to reduce comfort 

            A stereotype that is often to be seen is that living in a house represents a symbol of poorness. Concrete overruled earth in the last centuries and mainstream thinking does not see this material as valuable.
            Of course the idea is not to reduce comfort, our habitat criteria and lifestyle evolved and housing yet needs to adapt to that. The intention of preserving our environment should prevail and our needs should be adjusted but it for sure does not mean that we should go back to a peasant way of life…