Ecolodge Progress: May 2019 Updates

Some kind words about the project from some of our readers

Fascinating. And very exciting. Thank you for sending me this information, I’ve enjoyed looking through your photographs and reading your explanations. I can’t wait to see how it all works out and to see the real thing. As a builder myself it is fascinating to see how differently things are done in Morocco. 

Wonderful works! They seem indeed very good builders … this said by an architect ;-)! The site is clean and ordered! Great project!

It looks remarkable, wonderful, exciting but beyond what you are creating for us, what you have brought to local builders, crafts people and the community is immeasurable.

The simplicity behind the science is brilliant and I can’t wait to see it in action.

The diagrams explain very well how you intend to keep an optimum temperature and ventilation throughout the year.

I like the way that you can efficiently utilize solar energy to provide hot water, and the south facing windows, together with the sensors to cut down on the use of electricity.

Early May: Electricity arrived at the end of April- it will be very useful, especially in Ramadan.

Abobe Bricks & Ramadan

It has been a pleasure to witness the manufacture and use of the earth and straw bricks.They are very useful when we need to build in small spaces or to build arches. During Ramadan the builders work from 6 am until about 2 am and then rest until they break their fast at sunset.  Thanks to the electricity supply, they made bricks after dark using floodlights; by this time they had renewed energy from breaking their fast and  the cool of the evening.

Roof Terrace The builder is keen to do the roof of the dining room & activity room soon. Due to the 8 metre the roof has to be a concrete structure. The wooden scaffolding prepared to support this is amazing – shown in the photo below. The view (obscured by timber!)is  from door of activity room onto courtyard.

Plans for IT Our IT expert, Mehdi, came to survey site and we have prepared a plan for cabling, wifi and security cameras (required by the police here these days and at least useful to us to see who is knocking at the door!)

Position of furniture Now that all the windows and internal walls are in place, we have been planning the position of pieces of furniture in rooms (such as the library and the reception) in order to give the best views and most practical positions – this alows us to plan electrics and plumbing.

I love this ladder!

The Contribution of Volunteers

On 3 successive weeks help has been offered by former guests and the husband of one of our leaders

Artistic touches The arrival of my artistic circle dance friend Jill Ashby on the 30th April  allowed us to work on the position and shape of niches in the earth walls, the layout, colour schemes and furniture in bedrooms as well as visiting local craftsmen and the souk to source lovely rugs and furniture.

Plastering continues and we learn the recipes for  indoors and outdoors and for first and second coats, as well as tadelakt, the polished plaster that is used in bathrooms and hammams. We focussed on this more closely when Ffion Blench came for a week on the 7th May. Ffion is a professional plasterer from Scotland, a specialist in traditional design and techniques. She was eager to learn about how it’s done in Morocco. We were really grateful for her artistic and practical contributions to a variety of other .

Niches We have designed and positioned usuallly 3 niches in each bedroom, one above the beds and 2 opposite the door above the sitting area. In addition we have created some in the courtyard which will look lovely with candles in the evenings. Abdelnasser our master earth builder (below left) has now excavated most of these and put the first plaster coat on them (below right).



















Naming and Labelling of Rooms   In order to make it simple to locate rooms, we have arranged them alphabetically, mostly in pairs with the same initials, using the name of plants (almost all trees) that produce important products in the region: almond & argan; caper & carob; fig & frankincense; henna & hibiscus; loquat; olive & orange; papaya & pomegranate; quince.

In addition we will have 4 tents which are again in alphabetical pairs near to the plants they are named after: daffodil & date; saffron & sugar cane. The name daffodil sounds a bit out of place; I liked the suggestion that we should have something from Wales, but there are lovely wild narcissi locally in the High Atlas, so it’s not as foreign as you might think!

A longstanding friend, John Couch, was our third volunteer who, having amongst other projects, has restored a chapel in Wales. He made a lovely job of making name plates for in cypress wood using the pokerwork method (burning the letters into the wood) . These will be set below a niche protected by a cap of  baked earth bricks  and housing a low energy PIR light.

Bedrooms to suit all budgets and needs In order to cater for a wide range of clients, we have decided to have the option of using 2 pairs of rooms as family suites and to include one room with disabled facilities, as well as offering a low budget option to sleep in traditional woollen tents

Families have 2 choices: 


A pair of interconnecting bedrooms, sleeping up to 6 – 3rd person possible in both rooms, either in a cot or on a bed settee.  Each pair has 2 en suite bathrooms, with a connecting door between the bathrooms. Each bedroom is about 20 square metres with a 6 square metre bathroom which has 3 zones: a small room with a separate toilet, a private walk-in shower with adjacent dressing area and a washbasin with a counter, shaving point and mirror.

The “O” Suite (Olive & Orange) One pair is near to the dining and activity room and the roof terrace: Room Olive has a king size bed and has a charming view through the gardens towards a small olive grove; it interconnects with Orange which twin beds and has a beautifully scented Seville orange tree planted outside.

The “C” Suite (Caper & Carob) The second pair is near to the pool, the hammam and the massage room. Room Carob has a king size bed, a curved rear wall and a Carob tree planted behind it (if it were in front it would obscure the sun) and interconnects with Caper which twin beds.

Or, if on a budget 

A bedroom with extra beds sleeping up to 4: a double/king size bed or twin beds with a bed settee and/or cot with an en suite bathroom. Bedrooms are about 20 square metres with a 6 square metre bathroom which has 3 zones: a small room with a separate toilet, a private walk-in shower with adjacent dressing area and a washbasin with a counter, shaving point and mirror). 

or a comfortable woollen tent without en suite bathroom. The 4 tents are served by 2 bathrooms: each with a small room with a separate toilet, a private walk-in shower with adjacent dressing area and a washbasin with a counter, shaving point and mirror

Textiles, Furniture Our task is to work out colour schemes with the help at a distance of interior designer friend Belinda Ray in Wales, to work out which existing and new fabrics and pieces of furniture will fit in our various new rooms, and which we will need to make new items for.

Work during Ramadan

Ramadan lasts for a month, 7th May. The builders had their breakfast before sunrise and work until early afternoon and then rest until break of fast at sunset. They did lots of work on the roofs and ceilings,  plastering a north-facing wall in the shade. 

It took a team of 3 men and much time cutting and laying eucalyptus branches to make these attractive traditional “Tataoui”  ceilings. Sometimes such ceilings are painted but we think the natural colours are beautiful. The wooden blocks fixed on the wall show the position of electric sockets and lights by the bed(s), including one 2 way switch ( V et V in French).  In the right hand photo, it looked so beautiful with the sunlight streaming through that we were tempted not to add the roof!


Below in the foreground is the first layer of the roof, earth and straw laid on top of a thin membrane. This was followed (unusually for Morocco) by 4 cm  Kingspan insulation boards, which has double the insulation value of most insulation. Next the builders used adobe bricks to create a container for us to fit the EPDM (synthetic rubber) membrane. The EPDM was fitted by an irrigation engineer who has created many irrigation ponds but had never done a roof before. Given the thickness of the membrane he welded it into the correct shape. Finally we will cover this with some pebbles which we will spray white (using whitewash (because it’s environmentally friendly, traditional & cheap) to reflect the heat.

Jane and Mohamed the builder inspect the roof


Some roof structures need to be in concrete, mainly the ones with a huge span over the dining room, kitchen and activity room, which will also bear the roof terrace.  We have also made concrete roofs for the bathrooms because they will bear the weight of the solar panels and water storage.

Wood that has been prepared for the chapeaux which will protect the walls from rain and provide shade when the sun is high in the sky

We have chosen floor tiles which are being made in town. Our builder Mohamed is here seen sealing them with olive oil soap
Demonstrating plaster finishes
Jane makes the plan for the electrics in the bedrooms and prepares wooden signs to nail onto the walls to indicate exact locations
Mud plaster being shovel from the pit where it is left to mature before being used

Completed Roofs – of the dining and activity room which will be the roof terrace; already there are walls around this roof area held firm by the metal bars you see on the photo.

And completed roof of the huge kitchen & store and the dining room

Jane recording prices and colours of floor tiles.

13th June Today I’ve been working on diagrams with explanations about how we will use clever building design to keep rooms at a comfortable temperature and well ventilated all year round without using electricity. The purpose of these diagrams is to explain to the authorities who normally require reversible air conditioning to be fitted in new hotels as well as explaining to our clients how it all works so beautifully.

The designs also allow us to tap solar energy very efficiently for plentiful hot water.

In addition the designs will minimise use of electricity for lighting by:

  1. Using highly efficient LED bulbs
  2. Using sensors to turn outside lights on as required, rather than clients switching them on (and maybe not off!)
  3. Having mostly south facing windows and fully glazed doors, many with wide reveals, providing good illumination

Here are the diagrams – I’ve tried to minimise technical details. I’d value your comments!

Summer solstice bedroom cooling

Winter solstice bedroom heating

Solar Chimneys and Solar Hot Water

18th June. Toilet Talk! We failed to source Air Admission Valves in Morocco, so I’ve just sourced 9 (one for each pair of adjacent toilets) in the UK which I will take with me when I travel to Morocco on Saturday.  What are they? They are ingenious devices that allow a soil stack to terminate inside a building. The one-way valve opens to allow air in to the soil system when required to balance negative pressure, but without allowing any foul air to escape. The valve must be fitted at least 200 mm above the highest wet point in the soil stack, ie. the highest point in the system that water can reach.  They obviate the need to puncture the roof with a soil pipe – we’d rather do that for solar chimneys which serve 2 other purposes!

Also in my suitcase will be 9 new Ecocamel shower heads to save water. I’ll be wearing as a “shawl” a vintage yellow honeycomb Welsh blanket which will be used on the beds. Here is the story of how it came about:

The Welsh Connection (or do I mean Collection?)

One of our guests suggested that we include something Welsh at our new ecolodge. We loved the idea so to honour the fact that since 1997 the Holidays with Heart/La Maison Anglaise bookings office has been based in Wales, we have (so far) 

Welsh Blankets Just as cottage industry producing woollen goods is important in the mountains in Morocco, so it was in Wales, especially in the region where our office is located.

The type of blanket is known as a Honeycomb or Waffle blanket is a special weave with little ‘pockets’ designed to trap the air and keep you toasty warm. These blankets date from the 1940s and 1950s; they were extremely popular in the years of austerity just after World War Two.

The two vintage blankets, one in daffodil yellow and one in soft green which reverses to pink, were produced at Derw Mill at Pentrecwrt in the Teifi Valley, a few miles upstream from the Holidays with Heart Welsh office which lies close to the estuary of the Teifi (hence the office address “Estuary View”)  which closed in the 1980s. The mill was water powered.

The Daffodil is the national symbol of Wales. We have named one of the tents Daffodil in its honour.

Did you know?
1) Possibly  the reason why the daffodil is used as an emblem is that the word for daffodil and for leek are almost the same in Welsh (cenhinen means leek, cenhinen pedr means daffodil). This confusion means that both have been adopted as national emblems.  
2) Daffodils contain galantamine, a compound known to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms? Daffodils produce more galantamine when grown at high altitude, so there are farms producing daffodils for pharmaceutical companies at 1,000 feet above sea level in the Black Mountains in Wales.
3) Wild narcissi grow in the High Atlas Mountains not far from Taroudant. We are experimenting with Tenby Daffodil N. obvallaris a dwarf daffodil from the county of Pembrokeshire where our office in Wales is located.

I’d like to produce similar stories relating to crafts and plants associated with all the bedrooms, in line with our belief that plants and traditional crafts are important, something which our project will reflect admirably, we hope.

Shutters Although we originally considered using louvred shutters because they are commonplace in Morocco, we have reconsidered today and decided that solid shutters will be better because they will have a higher insulating value (and as a bonus they will be cheaper). The only disadvantage is that air will not flow through them at night but we can use insect screens for this purpose if needed though one of the things I love about Taroudant is that insects are rarely a problem. Plenty of swifts and swallows eating insects at the site will help!

Cork Yoga Mats We have ordered some extra mats in cork because they are good to the environment, good for the environment. Here are a few facts about them:
Hypo-allergenic and Anti-Microbial (kills bacteria organically)

100% Recyclable and sustainably made from recycled rubber (TPE) which forms the underside, and a top layer of 100% Natural and Organic Cork. Latex and Phthalate free

6 mm thick. The cork gives a good grip, even when wet. Underneath the rubber is dense, and supportive for cushioning bones and joints.

Lightweight 1.3kg. and easy to roll ( but must be rolled with cork on outside)

Keeping Milk and Other Drinks Cool. At a couple of places away from the kitchen dining area we will have stations for cool drinks. We shall use Zeer Pots.

What is a Zeer Pot? It is a fairly new invention, created in 1995 by Nigerian pot-maker Mohammed Bah Abba who wanted to help Sudanese families to preserve their food. His invention won him the World Shell Award for Sustainable Development in 2001.

How to make and use one You will need two unglazed terracotta pots that will nest together and leave a space between the pots, wet sand to fill that space, and a wet cloth. Place the smaller pot inside the larger pot, fill the space between the pots with the sand (underneath & down the sides), so that the rims are level and cover your pot-in-pot with the wet cloth. Place whatever you want to keep cool in the inner pot. Dampen the sand and cloth as needed.

How does it work? It works through evaporative cooling. As the water evaporates, it pulls the warm air outward, causing the inside of the pot to be cooler than the outside air.


Drains & Recycled Water

June 25th.  The builder & plumber approved our somewhat unusual plans today! They took some convincing but now it has been explained are happy.

All rainwater and water from showers & washbasins (grey water) will be directed into an 80 cm deep trench filled with gravel running west to east then southward along the internal access road.

The same trench can be used for electrical cables and water pipes so that all are easily accessible should the need arise.

Using a gravel bed is a highly efficient way of processing grey water because only 0.5 square metres of gravel is required per person, compared with 1 square metre per person for a vertical reed bed or 2 square metres per person for a horizontal reed bed.

The bacteria that process the water operate in an anoxic (rather than anaerobic) environment, that is in an environment which is short of oxygen but not short of air. The bacteria break down nitrates removing oxygen thus releasing nitrogen and as a result the gravel bed does not smell. Hence there is no need to put a trap under the shower to prevent smells.

Design of drains
Swept bends beneath the shower, toilet and washbasin so that it is easy to rod the drains if needed. A balloon of metal mesh is needed at the end of each pipe as it enters the gravel so that the gravel does not into the end of the pipe

Where the water ends up
The cleaned water will pass into a large (about 7 cubic metres 1.5 m x 1.5 m x 3 m deep) storage tank (made with a block wall lined by EPDM). This will lie beneath the communal courtyard and will feed a fountain above it and of course the efficient drip irrigation system for the trees in the grounds.

This pond will contain water-cleaning plants such as Egyptian Papyrus, yellow water lilies and maybe water hyacinth. There will be small Mexican fish which thrive on the larvae of mosquitoes to keep the water clean too.

There will be a submersible pump which will pump the water into the irrigation pipes overnight which results in minimum evaporative loss. If water rises above a certain level a switch will activate pumping in the day, but in case of heavy rainfall the tank may become overfull in which case a pipe near the top of the tank will allow overflow into the town sewer deep under the main road nearby.

Products to use in laundry and bathrooms
We will avoid use of products such as Ecover laundry products which contain zeolites- these minerals which clog up irrigation systems. By contrast those containing phosphates are acceptable and will feed the plants.

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