Housing: The Kiwis exploring an earthy alternative amid timber shortage

New Zealand is bracing for a timber shortage after Carter Holt Harvey stopped supplying wood to some retailers last month, so some ingenious Kiwis are exploring a very earthy alternative. 

In the Manawatu town of Foxton, on tranquil Foxton Beach, some locals are getting back to nature by learning how to make homes out of mud, straw and clay.

Nature building guru Blue Forsyth spent 30 years restoring historic gems in the South Island. 

"In parts of the country that didn't have the timber resource like central Otago and Canterbury, they turned to other means which is the earth and stone that were there," he told The Project on Thursday.

"The Vulcan Hotel, that's made out of mud brick, I stayed in the ghosty room and had a lot of fun. Those buildings to me are special."

Now, he's holding workshops for Foxton locals who feel the same way, with his sidekick Tom Beauchamp, a former circus performer.

"I ran away from the circus to become a builder because I had a couple of kids and I was thinking about the future of the planet, what the kids are gonna inherit," he said.

He said they are undergoing an "experimental process" but with natural builds, the architectural finishes are "dead straight".

"The good thing about this is we can do this now and the building will last 100 years, 200 years. then we can put it back in the mixer and make another building out of it. It never changes its chemical state. So raw clay is always endlessly usable and recyclable."

Forsyth told Newshub mud houses have been popular over the years.

"Even in the 50s, there was a lot of interest in earth building. In fact, some of the [original] state houses were built out of rammed earth but of course, when timber resources came online, the Government pulled the plug on earth building and went to timber as the standard," he said.

"A third of the world's population lives in raw clay buildings so it's not just a fringey niche kind of thing - basically billions of people live in structures made with just raw clay." 

He says the current timber shortage isn't really a thing. 

"We're sending a lot of it offshore so our local market perhaps doesn't get the priority it deserves but whenever there's been shortages in the past, that's when earthen materials - the stone, natural materials - come into their own," he said.

Beauchamp said they hope their skills will be put to use.

"For 10,000 years people have built out of the earth and will continue to do so, perhaps not at the scale we'd like to see, but we don't like to lose skills in the meantime."