Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Building a sustainable future in housing

WILD GEESE: Paul Lynch, Natural Building Company, Finland: Business specialises in restoration of traditional log houses, some dating back 300 years

Fri, Mar 1, 2013, 10:50


Ruth O’Connor

An interest in healthy living and in sustainable building meant the decision of Limerick man Paul Lynch to establish the Natural Building Company was an organic one.

He met his Finnish wife Charlotta Åström while she was doing a course in European studies at Trinity College.

Twelve years on and three children later, Lynch has made Finland his home and is driving the demand for environmentally-sound building practices.

The couple are both entrepreneurs: Lynch runs his company with three business partners, while his wife runs the Transformational School of Homeopathy in the capital, Helsinki, 60km east of their home in the seaside town of Inkoo.

Lynch says the decision to stay and work in Finland was based on the realisation that the secure lifestyle and great standard of living were conducive to family life.

Having managed Dublin restaurants before emigrating, Lynch fell into the same line of business in Helsinki, later working in a managerial role at a golf club on the coast.

While many emigrants to Finland can, he says, be deterred by the difficulty of the language, he was undaunted.

“One of the main hurdles when I arrived was the language,” he says. “Finnish is an extremely difficult language to learn and a lot of foreigners get bogged down in it. It’s a mindset. I soon realised that people’s English is so good that I didn’t really need to learn Finnish to be successful in work – the Finns love to converse in English.”

With Swedish Finland’s official second language and his wife a Swedish-speaking Finn, he now speaks Swedish fluently and has a good working knowledge of Finnish which allows him to read documents relating to his business.

Restoration projects

While working on his own house, he realised the dearth of environmentally-friendly building materials available and set about establishing an online supply company.

It then evolved into working on restoration projects and has grown to employ four full-time partners and up to eight professional craftspeople and labourers during busy periods.

To date the majority of the Natural Building Company’s projects have been the restoration of traditional Finnish log houses, some of them dating back 300 years.

One of the company’s most ambitious projects has been the total restoration of a traditional granary dating from 1665, during which the entire building including structure, facings, roof and intricate timber detailing were restored.

This year will see the company test its mettle with two full straw-bale house builds over the coming months (including a three-storey, 250sq m build). Four other homes are in the planning stages.

The Natural Building Company’s bespoke natural homes are designed for clients by eco-architect and partner Kati Juola. They are specialists in the use of clay and lime plasters, natural insulation and are experts in straw bale building.

“People thought we were crazy hippies when we started discussing the notion of straw- bale housing but, in reality, it is a proven and fairly common way of building sustainable homes,” says Lynch.

He says that energy-efficient and healthy homes are becoming more attractive to the Finns, who are both health conscious and environmentally aware.

“The local planning officers are also happy with what we are doing. As our designs meet and surpass the Finnish building regulations they do not have to deal with the headache of redesign.”

The Natural Building Company runs monthly courses and seminars in Finland and abroad to train workers and to spread the knowledge of building natural homes and using natural materials as an alternative.

Responsible lifestyle

The company has also trained farmers to compress straw to a specific density and strength when baling in order to supply raw materials for the builds.

Lynch has found it easy to do business in Finland and has never been a day out of work in the past 12 years. He sees his business growing in step with demand for a healthy and more responsible lifestyle spreads among consumers.

“We don’t have to sell our product to our customers now – they know what they want and we can provide that for them.”

Wild Geese is a weekly interview in the Business supplement with Irish business leaders abroad. This article appears in the newspaper today, and in the Business section of the website here.