From The Owner Builder No. 179 October/November 2013

We wanted to be our own architects, but without any experience we knew we needed guidance. Then The Sheltermaker’s Manual appeared. This practical step-by-step guide helped us to be our own architects and design living spaces perfectly suited to our needs. All areas of building and design are covered with a definite flavour for building ‘green.




Peter Cowman introduces The Sheltermaker’s Manual

Sheltermaker’s Manual Irish Launch


Cloughjordan EcoVillage Workshop

Cloughjordan EcoVillage Workshop

An excellent way of using the wealth of information contained in the The Sheltermaker’s Manual is to organise a LIVE SHELTERMAKING WORKSHOP in your area. This would consist of working directly with Peter Cowman to structure and promote such an event. Ideally this would run over 2 days – say a Saturday+Sunday with possibly a Talk or Film Presentation on the Friday night.

Not only can participants benefit immensely from such an event but it can also inspire the formation of a local Sheltermaker’s Group that can meet regularly, offering participants mutual support and inspiration – not only in the design phase but also during construction.

Contact Peter Cowman for more details.

The Sheltermaker’s Manual

When architect Peter Cowman dreamed up his groundbreaking ‘Be Your Own Architect’ concept he quickly discovered that his university education had neglected to teach him the rudiments of house design! Realising that people had always practiced a ‘vernacular’ architecture he set out to revive this tradition.

Vernacular styles of building are characterised by their simplicity, by their use of local materials and by the ease with which they can be constructed. The knowledge required for their creation was long regarded as being common knowledge and freely available to all.

Information on how to create vernacular architecture has been forgotten due to the oral nature of the tradition! While there are many books which detail aspects of house design, instruction on how to utilise this wealth of information is virtually non-existent.

In this innovative and supremely practical Manual Peter Cowman articulates what can only be described as the secrets of vernacular architecture, or, as he calls it, ‘sheltermaking’.

With its emphasis on the positive, the practical and the affordable The Sheltermaker’s Manual articulates a proven design methodology for the creation of versatile and meaningful designs suited to the modern world, information which can be applied both to new as well as to existing buildings – in whatever part of the world one happens to live.

The Sheltermaker's Journey follows the path of life itself ....

The Sheltermaker’s Journey follows the path of life itself ….

The Sheltermaker Design Programme

Everyone has ideas about how houses should be designed, about their style, construction, layout and so on. All this knowledge will prove invaluable as a person develops their unique design. The Manual’s Sheltermaker Design Programme offers the safest path to follow on a sheltermaking journey. This has been created after much thought and effort and in consultation with those who have already followed this path. When a person does this their creative energies will be freed to tackle the real work in hand, allowing them to make the best possible use of their time and energy.

The Programme is set out as a series of Steps which facilitate the creation of a properly balanced design that takes full account of a person’s desired objectives, harmonising these with the larger world. Supporting Worksheets can be downloaded from:

The Programme not only facilitates the design and construction of sustainable shelter but also functions as a self-developmental tool allowing a person to create a paper-based design which can assist inquiry into a person’s life journey. The Programme also supports the insertion of external supporting material which can be introduced at the relevant Steps in the Programme.


  • Starting Off
  • Drawing Up A List Of Spaces
  • Assembling Design & Style Information
  • Analysing Your Chosen Spaces
  • Analysing Regular Household Activities
  • Getting Organised
  • Setting Out Your Budget
  • Assembling Furniture & Equipment Measurements
  • Drawing
  • Making Drawings
  • Making Scaled Drawings
  • Creating Furniture & Equipment Models
  • Creating Space Mock-Ups
  • Estimating Total Floor Area
  • Surveying
  • Understanding The Principles of Building Structures
  • Distinguishing Between The Types of Building Structure
  • The Role of Foundations
  • Taking On Board Compliance With The Building Regulations
  • Environment
  • Introduction To Heating & Ventilation
  • The Role Of Air & Water In Heating & Ventilation
  • Heat Losses & Heat Gains; Thermal Mass & Insulation
  • Measurements & Calculations
  • Passive Solar Design
  • Fuels & Systems
  • Reviewing Your WorkUnderstanding Timber
  • Wood – The Facts
  • Wood – Technical Facts & Figures
  • Choosing Other Materials & Products
  • Choosing A Construction SystemServices – Plumbing
  • Services – Drainage
  • Services – Electrical
  • Planning Regulations
  • Building Regulations
  • Site Analysis
  • Brief Appraisal
  • The Sun Path
  • Circulation
  • Developing A Layout
  • Costing Your Design
  • Finalising Your Sketch Design
  • Creating Planning Drawings
  • Making The Planning Application
  • Preparing Working Drawings
  • Constructing Your Design
  • Living In Your Architecture

What Sheltermakers have to say about their use of the Manual …

‘To give over control of your house design to someone else is asking for trouble’

‘It’s wonderful to have a home that has been specially designed to
meet your needs and lifestyle’

‘Living space is just that – it’s part of who you are and how you feel’

‘I can’t imagine building a house and allowing someone else to tell
you what your needs and wants must be!

‘I feel I would be fit to face almost any challenge in the future’

‘I loved the design process and found that I was good at it!’

‘I feel that quality of my life has increased’

‘Made me more aware of the space I am in’

‘I realised nobody else can live our life’

‘I believe that there is not another way’

‘I feel contentment for hours on end’

‘I love my home and coming home’

‘Lots of feelgood factor’

‘A very empowering experience’

‘A bit like giving birth’

‘A great sense of achievement’

‘Shook up lots of assumptions’

‘Very fulfilling’

‘The right thing to do’



Watch and listen to some of these comments being said!

People Living Their Architecture

There are many hidden aspects to the process of ‘sheltermaking’. Peter Cowman refers to these as the ‘invisible architecture’. Unseen yet powerful in their effect, one will ignore these at one’s peril!

We are invited to think of this invisible architecture not just in terms of physical buildings but also in terms of our dream world and the lives we have to live. When we become aware of the power of this ‘living of one’s architecture’ we are presented with a dynamic tool for practical change in our lives. With its roots in Sacred Geometry, Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra traditions this Manual will forever change how we think of architecture, houses and even ourselves!

Building on the firm foundation laid down in Volume 1 this volume deals with the selection of appropriate materials and their assembly. Also covered are plumbing, drainage and electrical services, planning and site selection, and, the all important layout when the plan is assembled. Costing and the preparation of planning and working drawings are covered also.

The Sheltermaker’s Manual has evolved from the unique Be Your Own Architect Courses which were first presented in 1989. Written in an accessible and practical style and featuring over 900 illustrations, the Manual reveals information not previously available on the subject of house design. Between those lovely covers is all the information you need to know about houses and even architecture in general!

Drawing on the experience of homes that have been designed and built utilising the Manual’s unique Design Programme, this invaluable resource facilitates the development of affordable, practical and versatile design solutions for both new as well as existing houses. Details of completed projects are included in the Manual, plus information on the EconoSpace, a unique low-cost eco-building featuring the original peter-post framing system.

With its emphasis on the positive, the practical and the affordable, the Sheltermaker’s Manual also offers people the opportunity to understand the hidden psychological aspects of ‘home’. Such ‘intangibles’ are utilised as a means of exploring ones’ inner self in an effort to uncover ‘the dream house within’. On this level, the Manual operates as a self-development tool, allowing people to resolve personal life issues, oftentimes without the need, or expense, of building at all! So, you don’t have to want to build in order to justify buying this book. You need it to inform yourself and to understand how our houses can assist us in achieving a sustainable way-of-life.

The Manual’s Design Programme clearly sets out the unique and proven design methodology – when the process of planning, investigating, costing and decision-making has been completed, only then is the plan of the building put together. This is in contrast to normal design practice where the plan is the first thing that is created which can lead to insurmountable problems, as can be witnessed in many professionally designed homes. The Manual’s unique Design Programme structure also facilitates the importation of outside information into the design equation.


1. Introduction
2. The Brief
3. Measurement
4. Drawings & Models
5. Space Mock-Ups
6. Surveying
7. Structure
8. Environment
9. Heating & Ventilation
10. Timberfile
11. Materials & Products
12. Construction
13. Building Services
14. Planning & Building Regs
15. Site Selection & Analysis
16. Layout.
17. Costing
18. Planning & Working Drawings

Plus, 64 Worksheets to assist you in formulating your design