Earth Veneer

The evolution of an idea


BY: The Director of ecoPod, Greg Slingsby

The fire: Black Saturday 7/02/2009

Our company headquarters in the North East of Melbourne narrowly escaped the devastation of the Black Saturday fires. I learnt the family home I grew up in had been lost and many family and personal friends in St Andrews and Kinglake were directly impacted by the fierce fire storm of that day. I myself was called to help family in the Yarra Valley and watched as the blaze drove its way through Steels Creek. I ended up in Dixons creek fighting alongside my brother in-law in a battle we won to save his family home.

As a person, a father and a builder I was deeply moved by the loss of life and property and set about to do something to help re-build my local community.


Rebuild in what:

In the aftermath of this fire there wasn’t much left. This had really been huge. As the teams of surveyors and clearance experts sifted through the remains of the regions homes one amazing observation was repeatedly made. Nearly every mud brick wall had survived. The number of mudbrick homes lost and the great amount of walls still standing reminded the entire local community and particularly the mud brick building specialists of the amazing power of earth wall fabric to survive such heat.

One of our local mudbrick makers went through some of the region only two days later. He was commissioned by the Premier to make a submission to the royal commission. The report contains many images of mud walls still standing. It is available for viewing and downloading at Stories abound of people sheltering in the most intense of environments within their mudbrick home and surviving the storm. Houses that did burn were all left with the tell tale legacy of earth walls still standing. This was despite virtually every other wall fabric failing. When molten glass lies at the base of mudbrick walls that once held the window you realise that the conditions of that day were a test way beyond those demanded to comply with any fire standard or any other previous building standard.


Mud brick walls: A very high fire rating

Mudbrick (Earth Brick) provides un-paralleled defence against fire and a standard 250mm wide brick has a tested fire rating of 4 hours. (CSIRO Bulletin 5. Earth Wall Construction. FOURTH EDITION. G.F. Middleton. Revised by L.M. Schneider 1987) After four hours they turn the gas off in a laboratory, but that Saturday no material had that luxury and most were punished badly where mud brick still remained. A four hour fire rating puts earth brick walls at the top of the fire rated wall fabric chart. In contrast to the few other materials that share this lofty position, earth brick is a natural product, low in embodied energy and has a unique organic form that enhances any built environment. It is clear therefore that building a mudbrick home is not only a sensible approach to building in fire zones but an aesthetic and eco-friendly one as well.


Mud Brick homes: Are they the answer?

It became obvious then that when re-building in these bush fire affected regions people should consider using mud brick. It quickly became apparent to me however that there were difficulties with this. Although beautiful and often exquisitely built, traditional mudbrick homes are not to everyone’s taste or budget.

Mudbrick buildings are synonymous with hand crafted workmanship and special design.  There is no doubt that the level of structural detail resolution is much higher than in other forms of building. I have spent most of my career bringing these buildings to life. There are however some realities that surround the commercial production of these buildings. They require specialist building and carpentry skills, they are labour intensive and they are costly.

These time, cost and skill constraints with this traditional building form are now way beyond the majority of many seeking to build new homes in the bush fire region. Further the style of home that mudbrick makers build is not to every ones taste and it is currently treated unfairly by the Victorian energy rating program.

It became clear that there were several impediments to its wide re-use in these areas.


The dilemma:

So here we have a fantastic fire rated wall fabric that is a natural, low embodied energy product that should be used widely in rebuilding in the bushfire affected areas, but is in danger of being underused.

My question then became a very big one, it was how do we?


  • Build the best and safest buildings we possibly can using earth brick.

  • Build affordably and cost effectively.

  • Build quickly to get people back onto their land as fast as possible.

  • Present buildings with a contemporary image and widest possible appeal.

  • Make them modern and comfortable.

  • Deal with the energy rating constraints placed on classic mud brick homes.

  • Make these buildings affordably conform with new bushfire codes.

  • To build homes that blend as beautifully with the bush as mud brick homes do.

  • To build relaxing and simple homes.


I was due to give a talk at a local building conference with a focus on the bushfires and contemporary mudbrick homes and all I had was this massive question. How could these homes really be the answer. Something had to change. I still remember the moment with a cup of tea in hand on my back veranda that the solution came to me, it was so simple. I have named it, EARTH VENEER.

OVERVIEW: Earth Veneer


Earth Veneer construction combines the latest high tech prefabricated technology with the ancient medium of mudbrick to provide a truly revolutionary building concept. A natural four hour fire rated, low embodied energy  wall fabric is wrapped around a prefabricated frame providing beautiful organic exterior finishes in conjunction with the latest contemporary interior fit outs.

It is basically a conventional plantation pine, light timber frame structural shell with full 250mm wide earth bricks tied to the outside as a veneer cladding.

It requires no deviation from conventional building techniques and just several detail changes to achieve. (These details will be available in Auto Cad format from this web site very soon)

There are so many advantages I will present them here in point form, more information can be found in the FAQ section;


Standard Details:

All structural details, cavity depths, flashings, weep holes, brick tie spacing’s, etc as per the BCA 2009.


Much safer in a fire:

The external fabric becomes a full 4hr fire rated wall with no added fire entry points such as posts. They will have at least twice the fire rating of a conventional brick veneer.


Fast Construction:

With the use of prefabricated walls and trusses these homes will be up and roof on very quickly. In the colder, wetter areas this is a great advantage. All windows and doors can be standard prefabricated items and installed very quickly. Mud bricks are large and fast to lay. The walls will need to be finished to the outside only and external profiles will not be needed to the lay the wall.


Cost effective:

Time is money in building, so these homes will be great value for money. All trades will carry out work as in any other conventional home. They will be far cheaper than a traditional mudbrick home and just slightly more expensive than a conventional brick veneer.


Appeal to a much wider audience:

Many people do not like the style of traditional mudbrick homes. This technique will allow them to have a home they are more comfortable in and give them the chance to use more conventional internal finishes.


External appearance:

People who chose Earth Veneer homes will probably agree that the look of a mud brick house from the outside is one of the best there is for the Australian landscape and certainly far more aesthetically pleasing than many of the other fire rated wall fabrics available. Native gardens and planting will be shown off at their best alongside these beautiful walls of earth.


Contemporary interiors:

The fit out of these homes can be as modern and sophisticated as any modern home built today. Again all fit out work is standard and therefore attracts no premium to fit or install.


High energy ratings:

All ecoPod Earth Veneer homes will come standard with a 6 star energy rating. We will easily achieve higher ratings if required.

Architectural continuity is maintained using free standing or veneered internal walls. This put earth brick where they work best as internal thermal mass and as something beautiful and natural to augment the latest in sleek contemporary fit outs. Walls could also be easily curved or run in organic fashion since the structural work needed to support the roof is done by the roof trusses.

External walls can be shaded and protected from weather and sun as required using shades or covers not connected to the buildings frame. These shades and verandas can have pitching plates attached to the mudwall and thus offering complete separation from the frame. This is a great advantage in stopping a fire entering the building.

Frame is conventional can be built by standard trades quickly and cheaply. Our existing skilled mudbrick builder base could not cope with the volume of houses needed for the rebuilding of our communities in earth. If I generously said I knew of 10 crews that could build mud brick homes and I generously said they could build 2 homes per year, then at best we could build 20 per year. This technique could increase this outcome many times over.

Frame is made entirely from locally sourced plantation pine. No old Growth forest or Tropical rainforest timber will be used in any ecoPod Earth Veneer home.

All other trades are standard Plumbers, Electricians, Plasterers, etc that work on the building will be fast and at standard trade rates.

The external wall could turn in on itself and provide additional protective shelter inside the building in case of being caught in a fire. All ecopod Earth Veneer homes will have a solid Pantry or laundry that can be used as a fire refuge should such an emergency be unavoidable.


Monolithic exterior finish:

Many people are using rendered brickwork, foam or cement sheet to create walls of a single colour and texture. Mudbrick walls have always offered this and do so in a much more organic and pleasing way. These walls can still be rendered in hard plaster like fashion for those seeking harder lines to suit their prefered style of building.

Cooling and Heating systems can all be fitted throughout the roof as required and as cheaply as any other standard home.

Sprinkler systems fitted easily into the roof space. ecoPod has developed a fully protected no moving part sprinkler system that is designed to wet the walls of the building down during ember attack and fire front passing. We are currently trying to copyright protect this system for use exclusively in ecoPod Earth Veneer homes.