Author Archives: natasha5kextension

About natasha5kextension

Can we build an extension at the back of my house for 5000 euro? This blog will bring you on my journey to see if this wish can be realised. We will explore ideas and designs, look at alternative building materials, and engage in conversation around a multitude of topics, all of which will be driven by our real life experiment.

Self-Build using Recycled Materials

Following our great success with our experiment in which we built a fantastic work space for €44.95 out of recycled and reused materials , I received this comment in my inbox from the Architect Andy Burdon whose brains I pick occasionally specially when  I am looking for advice on building regulations or cutting edge green technology. I thought this comment  worthy of a blog post…

The problem with self-builders using recycled materials

“A major problem with the proposal to construct an extension constructed from recycled or  re-used materials is the legal requirement to comply with statutory requirements, primarily Planning Control and the Building Regulations. Understanding or interpreting these regulations and applying them to a self build construction may be beyond the expertise of aspiring self builders. There are several sources of self-help books or even “Wiki How” web pages that can guide prospective 5Kers through this maze of requirements and regulations.

However, the fundamental problem is how can one be certain the proposed building is compliance with the regulations and is structurally safe and sound? Traditional building techniques such as concrete foundations and block or brickwork walls are sufficiently proven to allow for safe construction , but in your project these components and techniques are likely to be too expensive. Given the budget allowance, alternative construction techniques may be required.

These questions lead inevitably towards the necessity to seek relevant expert advice and guidance, before and during and sometimes even after construction. For the most part , this service can be supplied by a competent Architect or Engineer, however, it is unlikely that this service will be free of charge. With a stated budget limit of €5K, this may be a problem.

The use of second-hand, or re-used components present difficulties in terms of quality control for structural components of any extension. Without independent testing and certainty it is unlikely that a structural engineer would be satisfied with the use of reused components. It must be remembered that any professional involved with the project is taking on a “duty of care” and would be liable if anything were to go awry.

A solution to these impediments may be to employ an Architect/ Engineer/ Supplier/ Fabricator with the skill , training and relevant insurances to design and supervise the installation of a low-budget structural “frame” set onto designed foundations and made of specified components , which can then be safely infilled with floors, walls, windows and a roof formed from reused or recycled materials as required by the aspiring €5Ker. This is a similar, but more site-specific solution than the use of a cargo container cut away to allow for various uses, and it avoids the expensive cost of cranes ! Although a cost will arise for this service, the ability then to proceed re using / recycling materials becomes a viable option providing appropriate materials are used. I believe this option offers great potential and should be further investigated.

Best wishes with the project

Andy Burdon

Thank you Andy, While I recognise the importance of a strictly regulated, compliant construction sector, it does as you say put a huge financial burden on our miniscule budget in terms of affording competent professionals. Your suggestion does however allow us to be creative and experimental insofar as infill material is concerned and attempt to save costs that way.

In this excellent article from Dublin architect Tim Lavin weighs up the advantages and disadvantages of tried and tested components such as Timber Frame, SIPs(Structurally Insulated Panels), Insulated concrete Forms (ICF), Glass, Steel and Strawbale to construct the frame. The article outlines construction methods and planning permission for attaching an extension to your house as a self builder. Well worth a read!

We welcome any advice or thoughts that any of you out there might have of how we might work experimentally and creatively within the constraints of our budget and bureaucracy!

They did it in Brighton!

Cast your eyes on these images of The Brighton Waste House, the first permanent building in the UK to be constructed from waste, surplus material and discarded plastics, all under full building regulations and with planning permission! brighton waste house facade Two thousand recycled and weatherproof carpet tiles clad the exterior facade while old vinyl banners are used as internal vapor control layers. framework Foundations made from ground-granulated blast-furnace slag support a framework comprising salvaged plywood beams, columns and timber joists rescued from a nearby demolished house. denim_Jeans in‌sulation Old plastic razors, denim jeans, videocassettes, and 20,000 toothbrushes were inserted into the walls as insulation chalk wall To improve energy efficiency and thermal conductivity, the builders constructed rammed earth walls out of chalk waste and clay. Whats more exciting is that the project engages local community and serves as an open research project Find out more about this exciting project by BBM architects here


Our fabulous Shed cost €44.95 to make!

I heard a frightening statistic recently about waste generated on construction sites – for every five houses built, one house will go to landfill. This linear process of take-make-dispose is anathema to the ethos of the 5k extension project. So when we started building a shed at the back of the garden a few weeks ago we decided to make the shed a project in itself: it was to be constructed as far as possible out of reclaimed materials or stuff diverted from landfill.

Building a structure out of found objects takes time and patience – learning to wait, to pause. You have to wait until the right possible material turns up, then you have to work it into the design or adapt the design around it.

The shed is almost complete, and it is  a BEAUTIFUL structure not least due to the exquisite craftsmanship of our expert carpenter Krzysztof Piwowarczyk, but also because of the abundance of good intention around it.

Hand on Door

And we fulfilled the brief for the project – almost all of the materials were waste or surplus, reused or destined for landfill.  Much of it came via ReCreate, a reuse initiative in Dublin that takes end-of-line and surplus stock from businesses to repurpose as art materials. In fact our total outlay for materials came to the grand total of €44.95.

Here is how we did it.

Task Krystoff BuildingS 022 Inside the shedS

The framework for the building was made from timber from discarded pallets, and  MDF and pine supports, which had been part of an installation by the artist Willie Doherty in the Kerlin Gallery. The gallery had chosen to recycle the material via ReCreate rather than dumping it, and we were also able to reuse the insulation they had used to soundproof the exhibition.

mixing ends of paint tins Bartek Painting

And yes MDF is not suitable for outdoor use, so soon after it was put up, it was painted using ends of paint cans that Krzysztof had squirrelled away from previous jobs he had worked on rather than dumping.

159 New shedS

The pine board sheets used to clad the front of the shed came from a time when the Celtic Tiger roared and people did not care how much excess they ordered. Krzysztof had stashed them away and kept them dry for a couple of years. He routed a v-groove in them and we had to paint them urgently with wood preserver (which we had to buy rather than find) as time and constant downpours were against us. It pains me to say it but the black wood preserver paint cost €9.90.

Shed Corner detailTwo exterior walls were then clad with rolls of a foil-backed underlay material stapled to the MDF. The underlay material also came from the benevolent ReCreate. Unfortunately we had to shell out €5 for the duct tape which was used to cover the staples used to attach the material to the painted MDF to prevent them from rusting and to waterproof the holes – Krzsystof thinks of everything!

laminate floor insulation 043

Shed Roof Material

The foil-backed flooring underlay was also used as the roofing material.  We are however up against the weather in Ireland, which is unforgiving when it comes to damp and leaks. The felt adhesive which blew our budget was used to glue the foil-backed underlay down, and we then painted over it to further waterproof the roof. This was the cause of ructions between Krzysztof and me, because he spent €20 on a tin of felt adhesive for the roof.  Don’t get me wrong, my family was not going to go hungry on account of it, but I was convinced we could have found ends of the stuff in tins all over the sheds of Dublin, and thereby adhered to the experiment of building entirely from re-use.

Shed interior roof detail

Ken and KrzysztofLocal hero Ken Milofsky from Woodworkers and Hobbies in Terenure, who was clearing out a storage space in his premises, supplied us with a big batch of chipboard off-cuts which clad the internal walls. He also gave us some unsaleable end-of-line laminate flooring which was used to make a ceiling. We scavenged some extra pre-used rockwool insulation from a refurbishment job that I was working on to insulate the ceiling.

windows and perspex Hand on Door

ReCreate supplied us with perspex off-cuts which Krzysztof used to make the windows

sliding door tracks sliding door track

Pre-used sliding wardrobe track holders were used to seal and protect the roof.

aluminium cut-offs trims

We got off-cuts of aluminium-covered Foamex® from Recreate.  Krzysztof used them as trims and fascias for extra weather protection

Shed interior view 1

The shed is functioning now as a much-needed workshop for Krzysztof – and how he deserves it! He put his heart and soul, meticulous attention to detail and many hours into the making of it.

It is wonderful and motivating to have this lovely shed to showcase the skills and the possibilities available to us, as well as proving how collaborative efforts and the ground-up movement of freecycling and reuse networks can provide a very real alternative to unsustainable over-consumption.

In a sense we have almost fulfilled the 5k extension experiment – it would be within our €5000 budget to transform this lovely structure, with some clever interior design, into a living space with a bathroom, kitchen and sleeping area. However, because the designated purpose of the building is a shed it is exempt from regulatory issues and the crippling costs of hiring qualified certifiers. These are the issues which pose a real challenge to the 5k project.

Interior BW

The materials we got for free:

  • Pallets                                                                 ReCreate Materials
  • Pre-used MDF
  • Laminate floor underlay
  • Pre-used Sliding wardrobe Track holders
  • Pineboard
  • Perspex-offcuts
  • Aluminium covered Foamex board offcuts
  • End of line Laminate and Solid Bamboo Flooring
  • Laminated chipboard off cuts
  • Pre-used Rockwool Insulation
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Election Posters
  • Unused ends of paint
  • Pre-used lighting fixtures
  • Nails, screws and staples (from Krzysztof’s stash)

The stuff that blew the budget:

  • stuff that blew the budgetFelt adhesive.€20.00
  • Black shed paint €9.95
  • Duct tape     €5.00
  • 2 pairs of hinges for the door €5 per pair  €10.00


My favourite shopping destination

My favourite shopping destination!


Read more in the post Our Recycled Shed takes Shape

A Hive of Activity

Becoming a foster parent was one of the motivating factors behind the 5k extension project. But as my current living space is too small for the authorities to consider me eligible, I have agreed as an interim measure to foster a hive of bees for my friend and collaborator Karin Stierle.

It has been wonderful having the bees in the garden – so far they are much easier to mind than teenagers. I have invited Karin, the Bee Maven, to share her expertise about this particular hive and all things bees….

checking the frame

Bees in the Garden

 Anyone who has been reading the 5k Extension Blog will know that a number of weeks ago Krzysztof made a beautiful beehive for Natasha’s garden. We used the hive as a lure or bait hive to attract a swarm. To do this we put a few frames of wax foundation and a few drops of lemongrass oil, the wax foundation attracts the bees but it is the lemongrass oil which I am told is similar to the pheromone of the queen bee that is the real attraction.  The plan was to wait for a swarm to arrive! Well!? As with all things to do with nature things don’t always go to plan, my plan that is, nature has it’s own way of making things happen.

 I have two hives of bees in Wicklow and as the swarming season approached I began my swarm control procedures, all was well and going to plan when on one of the hottest days of the year to date a hive swarmed unexpectedly.  Luckily they alighted to a nearby tree and I was able to capture them. So this is how there are now bees in Natasha’s garden, the swarm from my hive was brought to town and is now residing in the 5k Extension garden.

 The trip to town was traumatic for these bees as it was a very hot day and a good number did not survive the trip, yet I am hoping that a sufficient number did survive to begin a new life in town. The question now arises did the queen survive the trip? As you will know a colony of bees must have a queen to continue to exist.  I will leave the bees for a few days; I will look at them during the week and try to determine what to do next.

We will keep you posted.


Tash at her beehive


A High Five from across the Globe

Tash PlantingSWhen I speak of my engagement with the universe – I do it largely tongue-in-cheek, but this project has thrown up the most extraordinary coincidences that engage me on a spiritual level, dare I say it.

I was feeling somewhat rudderless a couple of weeks ago, while waiting for the universe to provide some suitable material for our shed, which we are trying to build out of waste. I do not do waiting well and this definitely unsettled me. As a misguided response I headed to the internet to a site I find fascinating called Fiverr®. which describes itself as “The place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5.”

I have used this online service once before to edit the sound quality on a video I made for my blog. It was a simple and hassle free service for which I would happily have paid a local teenage techie €20. This time I searched for what was available by way of architectural services  and came across all manner of people from far flung places in the world, offering CAD drawings or model-making or architectural renderings for as little as €5. When I happened upon a “gig”  I thought “Yeah why not?”

I wrote to the person offering this service and asked him to read the blog and put a frame on it. I told him about my big wish to design a low cost housing solution which could have beneficial implications beyond my own project. I sent €5 into the ether…

and seven days later I received the following e-mail

Humble thoughts on the Community Extension Initiative
Dear Natasha,
Firstly, what a great collective effort. I think one of the wonderful things I am taking away from your blog and photos is the collaborative and warm community effort that has emerged from the self-imposed frugality of the initiative. I have advised recently the rebuilding efforts in Tacloban Philippines, after the devastation of Typhoon Hainan. The great takeaway for me was not so much in the technology or logistics of reproving homes and shelter; every community will find a way with its budgets, skills, and local materials. Instead I learned that every community needs first and foremost to focus on jobs and livelihoods.

It reminds me of the experience in Chile after the 2008 earthquake. Relief organizations asked the affected what they needed first. One would have assumed housing. But in fact, housing was fourth out of four things for which the communities asked. Dead last! Number one: boats. To get out there and resume fishing and earning livelihoods for their families. Two: schools. Not because of any overriding educational mission, it was to give their kids a place to stay during the day so BOTH parents could go out to make a living. Three: policy support for small/medium enterprises. So 3 out of 4 were jobs related.
So why the partial tangent? I see from your project not only passion about achieving the technology of a low-cost extension, but also passion about the community that has come together and the catalyst of their own initiatives in urban farming, recycling, art, bee tending, baking (the snacks looked lovely).
Perhaps the frame or vision lies as much in reconnecting with our village-like intertwining of skills and craft, of community and barter, of shared effort and reward. We could very simply order a prefab made in China and probably delivered and assembled for well under EUR5k. Indeed 5k can buy a whole house for some families in the Philippines or India.
But instead you have invigorated a social awakening of neighborly pursuits, of learning and making tangible these academic lessons of sustainability and resilience and less-is-more.
May I humbly suggest: that if you have the ability to do so, that your documentation include not only the lessons of the construction technique, sourcing, labour saving, etc., but also the lessons of synergies with community initiatives and skills. And these would not be hard and fast prescriptions for, say, materials chosen. Indeed, your own thoughtfulness in evaluating potential materials (whether cardboard, charred timber, or plastic) is a far more valuable model of methodology for someone else in the world, than the specific decision that is appropriate for this particular project.
In my architecture school, our ceilings and systems were all exposed, to help us learn as students of building. Perhaps the life of the project after completion, as a learning tool and storytelling aid, can also reveal the techniques, questions and passions that gave it life, and the life it gave to the community.
All the very best,
Sylvester Wong

Is the world not a wonderful place? That someone on the opposite end of the globe would take the time for such a considered response is both moving and inspiring. When I asked him for permission to quote him, he gave it with the same generosity as his time!

And maybe the universe did conspire to send him in my way? I have pulled the tongue from my cheek and have even started wondering if there is a special significance about the number 5:…5kextension, Fiverr, my house number 104 which adds up to 5…Any students of the Kaballah out there to help me out?..

In the meantime our shed is near completion – the ancestors delivered via the angel Ken Milofsky of our local DIY store  the most fantastic end-of-line materials, given with good intention, which will finish the interior of the shed! So far we have spent a grand total of €36 to build it. It has become a work of pure craft and beauty.

And we have no choice but to wait for the worker bees to choose to persuade their queen that our bee lure will make a lovely new home..

Thank you Sylvester from www.catalyscity.comYou are  welcome in my backyard anytime, and long may you continue your brave work championing communities and design, while staying unbeholden to the corporate world! IMG_0454

Bloom Fringe @ the 5kextension

Bloom Fringe – which is a spin-off of the hugely successful garden festival Bloom –  came together with the 5k extension project for a day of collaboration, creativity, sowing seeds, inspiration and connectivity. The sun shone on us too…

Decorations IIISDecorations IIS Gardennearly nearly therefinishedDecorations1S Decorations IVS Krystoff's family Model long viewMore modelModel with clipwashing line of ideas 353IMG_0420Krystoff relaxingIMG_0444Inside the shedS IMG_0440 IMG_0436 IMG_0409359


IMG_0454 Thank you Joanne Betty Conlon from Pixelated and Ned Costello for the photos. Thanks to Karin Stierle for the recycled flower garden and for sharing her passion and vast knowledge on beekeeping, Thank you to my excellent neighbours who opened their gardens and in doing that, opening  a window into their souls.

Thanks to everyone who attended and shared their thoughts and ideas..


Our Recycled Shed takes Shape

I am a scavenger! I have been one since I was broke at college, when I put my salvation in the hands of the Hare Krishnas for a couple of hours in return for one of their delicious meals, while my ancestors buried in the ghettos of eastern Europe reeled in their graves.

These days I never walk by a skip without investigating it for potential treasures. My house is almost entirely furnished with cast-offs.

My ancestors must have forgiven me by now because in the last couple of weeks we have been blessed with extraordinary bounty  delivered by wonderful coincidences…

Krzysztof's sketch of the shed

Krzysztof’s sketch of the shed

A few weeks ago Krzysztof, carpenter, scavenger-of-note and genius upcycler, had to vacate the workshop facility where he stored tools and the odds and ends of materials that he had been collecting for his various projects. I suggested he use the end of my garden to make a shed for himself. The deal was that I would provide the site, he would build the shed, and it would be used both for his storage needs and for any materials needed for the 5k extension.

We decided to make the shed a project in itself: it was to be constructed as far as possible out of reclaimed materials or stuff diverted from landfill.

So in telling the story of our shed so far, I am like a six-year-old child, excitedly prefacing each turn of events with “And then…”

And then … we got a delivery of pallet wood which would otherwise have been discarded, from a pal of Krzysztof’s at the factory where he used to work.

pallets delivered Rusty Nails Pile of Nails CompostS

And then … my neighbour Liam, an urban farmer who uses my garden for his overflow (he needs more space, I don’t have the urge to garden), emptied the compost bin to fill his vegetable beds.

wheelbarrow spud

The concrete blocks from the now-empty compost bin were used to build foundations for the shed, and the space was mapped with pallet wood.

Space for Shed text

And then… Francis drops by to chat about his wife’s 50th birthday and leaves behind some heavy-duty plastic sheeting, that he is no longer using. Essential for protecting the structure from the relentless Irish weather!

002 001

And then it all starts pouring in… and not just the rain.  Bloom Fringe showed an interest in our project and introduced me to Dara from ReCreate who run a recycling initiative that takes end of line and surplus stock from businesses to reuse as art materials. Dara mentioned that a gallery that they collaborate with was in the process of dismantling an art installation and did we want any MDF and wooden supports to which I said YES!

Dara ReCreate232 6mm MDF boards 246

And then … my neighbour Dave who happens to work at the aforementioned art gallery heard that I was taking the MDF and offered me the Rockwool insulation that was used to soundproof the installation as well. I said YES! The hero Dara from Recreate collected it for us even though they wouldn’t normally stock that type of insulation. And this, along with the pallet wood, gave us the bones of a shed.

012 023 031 036

And then.. it rained and rained but between the showers we had lots of visitors and helpers and cake!

visitors and cake 030 252243  Planting 2 pride cake

I really like the look of the shed at the moment – it makes me nostalgic for my South African childhood.

037 038

And this is how we stand…waiting for the ancestors to do their heroic work of intercepting good stuff on its way to landfill and sending materials our way to finish the walls, and floor. We are thinking about using the election posters to make the roof tiles (best use for them!). Any suggestions welcome.

Lots more to come: My pal Karin is putting a bee lure in the garden to try to coax in some local bees. Krzysztof is making it from found materials.. Work continues on the shed…

Bloom Fringe comes to the 5kextension

On the 31st May we are opening up the garden between 3pm and 5pm see  for details

  • The Project Architects will discuss their response to the project brief
  • Krzysztof will show how he will reuse discarded materials to build a structure
  • Information on bee keeping
  • Beautiful sculptural flowers and insects produced by Karin Stierle from scraps courtesy of ReCreate

Read Liam Patersons’ post about his garden efforts in the  Neighbourly Garden. Liam is an avid gardener who helps out and shares a space in my garden- You can peek at his own edible front garden Bloom Fringe day too


Please have a look at Community Reuse Network  is the all Island representative body for community based reuse, recycling and waste prevention organisations. 

A multimedia message sent from Krzysztof to me, We will forgive him the spelling, it's not many of you who can pronounce the Polish for "extension", let alone spell  "przedtuzenie domu"

A multimedia message sent from Krzysztof to me, We will forgive him the spelling, it’s not many of you who can pronounce the Polish for “extension”, let alone spell “przedtuzenie domu”


Barn Raising in Dublin City

barn raising n. A social event in which members of a community assist in the building of a new barn.

I am passionate about architecture, in particular innovative housing solutions; I am also fascinated by building techniques both cutting-edge and traditional which can help to address housing issues. Above all, I am profoundly passionate about the transformative power of people and community. The provision of shelter (metaphorically and literally) is the common thread binding these passions.

I have met the most extraordinary of ordinary people over the years. People with whom I have created a space in which I have found myself held and supported and sheltered.

That idea of shelter or the metaphorical barn – a space that holds the tools, the food, the means to explore, to collaborate, to develop and to create, is behind my intention in this project.

The neighbourhood I live in carries a long tradition of community collaboration. The houses were built by the Guinness Brewery for their workers with the enlightened realisation that  providing decent housing, and attending to the welfare of workers would result in worker satisfaction and greater productivity.

Many of the residents of my estate are former Guinness workers and their families, which identifies and binds the local community in a stronger way than other neighbourhoods. Indeed my darling neighbours Jimmy and Joan Smith, who hold an often-used spare key for me and my forgetful teenage daughters, and keep a constant eye on my house, were the original residents of the estate. Jimmy was part of the construction team which built the houses and was himself a Guinness worker.

jimmy and Joan Smith outside the communal stores

jimmy and Joan Smith outside the communal stores

Both Jimmy and Archie Kelly  – Guinness worker and community activist – have many stories testifying to the strength of the community, with tales of families looking out for one another, shared facilities, social events, and gardening competitions. They each hold a valuable personal archive of good and hard times in a fascinating period of Dublin’s social history. The legacy of which lives on in our community stores: a resource which allows the residents of our estate to borrow all manner of tools from a communal shed for a small annual fee.

Archie Kelly ,original resident , guinness worker and community activist

Archie Kelly ,original resident , Guinness worker and community activist

It is this sense of community, local and online, that I hope to tap into in our 5k extension experiment. It is inspired in part by barn raisings and other vernacular building traditions in which communities come together when one of their number requires the diverse set of skills and enormous effort needed to build a barn—skills and effort no one member of the community alone could possess. This comes with the understanding that the favour will be returned.

I am hosting this project, insofar as I am the provider of a space (my garden). I will be collaborating with people who carry different skills. It will also be a personal journey in trying to balance letting go with sharing my skills, in not determining the space, but curating it.

In documenting the process, I hope to share many voices, not only my own, and to provide a platform for our architects, our team, the local community and the wider wonderful knowledge filled virtual community.

Krzysztof Piwowarczyk, the team’s master carpenter discusses how he built his house in Poland with the help of his neighbours in this video

Echoes of the tradition can still be found in other community building projects, such as house-building and renovation carried out by Habitat for Humanity, and the strong volunteering spirit of the Irish is evident in the brilliant work done by The Niall Mellon Township Trust in South Africa. Maybe our little project might help develop a conversation around renewing a social agenda of living simply, collaborating and collectively empowering communities…

Meanwhile, there is activity in the garden – Krzysztof has started building a shed at the back of the garden entirely out of found materials, (before he put his back out!). The architects are about to publish their first blog piece, the apple trees are in blossom and I will continue to keep you updated.

Apple tree Close