- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

Last month, Wales became the first country in the United Kingdom to set a national standard for energy-efficient “green” buildings. Starting Sept. 1, most new structures in the Celtic land of song will have to meet mandatory requirements for conserving energy, water and other resources.

In Washington, Wales is advertising its mission to save the planet as this year’s featured nation at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which runs through Sunday.

Erected near the Smithsonian Metro station are two timber-framed pavilions designed with environmentally friendly Welsh building systems to provide visitors with green ideas for their own homes.

The smaller, more rustic shed shows what is old is new again through traditional construction elements. It has been built by Ty-Mawr, a Welsh business specializing in lime-based products.

The company has helped to renovate a farmhouse owned by Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, who kicked off their annual summer tour of Wales on June 22 with a visit to Ty-Mawr’s headquarters.

On the Mall, the Celtic-style pavilion resembles a wooden structure popular during medieval times known as a cruck frame. The ends of the 13-by-8-foot gabled shed are assembled from curved oak timbers held together with thick beams.

Displayed within the posts of the structure are organic alternatives to metal and synthetic building elements, including wooden lath, lime and mud plaster and sheep’s wool insulation.

“Natural and recycled products like ours are becoming mainstream as more people realize they are healthy for the home and the occupant,” said Ned Scharer of Ty-Mawr during a tour of the pavilion.

The most unusual of these finishes is a mixture of lime and crushed recycled glass called “glaster,” which can be applied to walls like plaster or stucco. A substitute for concrete called “limecrete” is inspired by Roman flooring made from pumice stones and lime.

“The biggest advantage of lime is that it is porous and allows moisture to evaporate,” said Ty-Mawr’s Jeremy Ryall, noting its usefulness in Britain’s damp climate.

On the roof, panels made of formaldehyde-free pressed wood called sarking boards were meant to be covered with slate, but the stone may not have been shipped in time, according to Mr. Scharer.

Next door is a larger, more contemporary structure built from Welsh-grown spruce typically used for fences, pallets and packaging rather than for buildings. The streamlined, wood-and-steel-paneled shed looks more like a design from Scandinavia than the British Isles, where stone and brick are more common than timber.

Called Ty Unnos (Welsh for “house overnight”), the 14-by-20-foot shed is the result of a two-year collaboration between Coed Cymru, a Welsh woodlands conservation group, and architecture students from Cardiff University.

The structure demonstrates that the abundant but soft Welsh spruce can be used to construct houses if it is configured into structural components to boost its strength. Most Welsh builders import hardwoods for framing homes rather than use the inferior homegrown spruce, which can twist and warp.

In building the components in Wales, the firm Elements Europe combined sections of the spruce into box beams to create portals supporting the walls and roof. Smaller wood segments form ladder-shaped beams that serve as ceiling and floor joists.

Spruce boards line the interior walls; the floor is finished in Welsh-grown ash; and the ceiling is covered by strand boards made in Scotland and Ireland.

Iwan Parry of Coed Cymru said the Ty Unnos prototype is “very adaptable for affordable housing,” but admits it hasn’t yet been used in Wales. He is optimistic that the modular system will catch on as Welsh builders embrace sustainable home-grown materials to meet the nation’s new green standards.

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