Sunday, 5 April 2015

A solution to our housing problems: Ty Unnos .................... ..... or .house in a night.

In a recent post looking at 'do-it-yourself solutions'
Futures Forum: Life after the elections >>> "Anarchy in the UK? It could be the best government we’ve had"
... reference was made to the ancient Welsh custom of 'Ty Unnos'.

This is from the Welsh Woodlands site:

Ty Unnos, or house in a night, is an old Welsh tradition which has parallels in other folk traditions in other areas of the British Isles.

Going back to the seventeenth century, it was believed by some, that if a person could build a house on common land in one night, then the land belonged to them as a freehold. Other variations on this tradition were that the test was to have a fire burning in the hearth by the following morning or that the squatter could then extend the land around by the distance they could throw an axe from the four corners of the house.

Although Ty Unnos had no status in the English Common Law of the time, there is some tradition of legal discussion about the point at which land occupied by squatters without title may be regarded as a legitimate possession. This legendary belief may bear some relation to genuine folk customs and actual practices by squatters encroaching on common or wasteland. The tradition may have provided squatters with a sense that their actions enjoyed some legitimacy conferred by an older code of laws more in tune with values of social justice.


Localities in Wales have houses which may be identified as a one night house in local folklore e.g. Ty Hyll or The Ugly House in Snowdonia.

Wales has 150,000 hectares of coniferous plantations which produce around a million tonnes of softwood in the round per annum. Over 70% of current production is Sitka spruce, a native of the Pacific coast of North America which suits Wales' mild, west climate and peaty upland soils.

At present all of the modern timber frame manufacturers in Wales (and the UK) use imported softwoods because of the greater stability and superior strength of slow grown softwood from cooler and drier climates.

In its native range, Sitka spruce grows slowly to a great age. Welsh spruce grows much faster producing timber of lower density with heavier branching and larger knots. It is processed for a number of markets including fencing, wood fuel, chipboard and pallets but the most important commodity produced is carcassing timber which is machine graded to C16, the lowest strength class in general use.

It is seldom used in modern timber frame construction which normally utilises higher grades of imported C24 or TR26 softwood. Although Welsh spruce has poorer structural properties than imported softwoods, it is its tendency to twist during drying that timber frame manufacturers cite as their reason for not using it.

Ty Unnos for 21st Century

Innovative methods of timber construction are common in Scandinavia, where there is an abundance of high quality timber. There are numerous timber prefabricated construction systems available that utilise Scandinavian and Baltic softwoods. Most use prefabricated structural panels. The panels are mechanically manoeuvred and fixed together on-site to form a structural shell with insulation, services and exterior cladding applied to the external wall surfaces.

These innovative timber systems are beginning to impact on the UK market due to increasing government drivers towards off site construction. However, all these systems use only imported softwoods rather than locally sourced timber.

CCW and Wood Knowledge Wales have sponsored Coed Cymru, The Welsh School of Architecture and University of Wales Bangor to develop a system of high performance affordable housing based on the properties of home-grown timber. Principal Contractors are Cowley Timberwork of Lincoln and Burroughs of Cardiff.

Although spruce is proposed, the system could use various grades and species of timber.


The process is an adaptable manufacturing process ideal for intermediate labour market or small enterprise.

The Ty Unnos system is a highly adaptable, additive, modular system that can create a range of house types and sizes based on four standard modules. The system is based on a simplified, standardised kit of parts based on a 600mm basic layout grid. The system uses locally sourced timber in standard, readily available lengths to create a simple housing system suitable for self or assisted build.

The Ty Unnos system is now being tested, developed and refined through a series of real design projects which consider parameters such as economic and environmental performance. Initial interest in the Ty Unnos system yielded a number of challenging projects including an Environmental Research Classroom at Ebbw Vale, a Visitor Centre at Coed Llandegla, Ty Unnos House in Ebbw Vale and a studio at The Old Sawmill, Tregynon. These projects will be realised largely by the end of 2008 offering a wide range of learning outcomes to aid the development and refinement of a commercially applicable construction system.

For further information please contact David Jenkins at Coed Cymru, 01686 650777

Coed Cymru

See also:
Elements Europe - Ty Unnos Modular - the sustainable housing solution
S4C - Y Ty Cymreig

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