Fun with mud!

This entry is copy/psted from my personal journal, apologies for the roughness.

And yeah...gardening is definately out of the question here, as it is snowing rather heavily atm. Ah well, at least it's pretty.

Note to self: blooming onion knock-offs at Grocery Outlet taste *nothing* like the terribley unhealthy-but-oh-so-scrumptious appetizer that I've been known to make a meal out of at the Outback...

But yes, cob houses. Cob is a mixture of clay, straw and sand that is what those old houses that you'd picture dotting the olde English countryside are made out of. Corn cobs are not involved (although, you could throw them in the mixture if you really *wanted* I suppose). The method that I am mostly interested in involves digging a foundation and filling it with rock and gravel to provide drainage. I would likely have a poured adobe floor. The materials are mixed in a pit or on a tarp with the feet (Yes, finally a good use for my Italian grape-stomper feet!) and then formed into loaves which are tossed or handed to the people working on the walls. Unlike adobe, where the clay is dried into bricks, then built with, cob is sculpted into place and then dries. This allows for great flexibilty when building, you can put in niches and built in benches (one cool idea I've seen is where the firplace vent is routed under a bench before going outside for toasty seating) and all sorts of things. You have to plan ahead for wiring, one common method is to put in pipes to run the wires through, since you can't just punch a hole in the wall and if you want wall art, you have to plan that out to for the same reason. As much as I love the idea of a traditional thatched roof, I don't think it is very feasable throughout most of the US, so I'll have to look into roofing some more.

This method of building is *much* cheaper than a traditional stick built home and longer lasting than a manufactured home. It is also healthier. Modern lumber is treated with formaldahyde and other nasties and so is insulation. Another appealing thing is that it takes less skill to learn how to do and it's something that, given the time, people can do for themselves. Codes and permits can be problamatic in some areas, but really, many of those probably aren't places I'd want to live anyhow...

Added for poor_skills: One thing I like really like about alternative building methods is that they can help put owning a new home (or any home for that matter) back into the reach of people that might not otherwise be able to do so. Getting the land is still an issue, but generally it's cheaper to buy land without a house on it. Permits are still an issue too unfortunately, but this does at least cut out the bulk of contracting and labour costs (you may still need help on the wiring and plumbing, although, you can make the wiring much more simplified and likewise with the plumbing. Also, for people with chemical sensitivities or those who just like to live in a cleaner environment, traditional houses can be built with natural materials, however, it tends to be *very* expensive. I am currently taking an introduction to natural building materials class and several companies offer really good workshops, but the internet and local libraries are great sources of info as well. Just some food for thought, since I know this stuff isn't always common knowledge!
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That's wicked cool. Thanks for sharing. Where are the pictured houses located, if I might ask? I would expect that such a house could only be built these days in a rural/unincorporated area with lax or no building codes, no? And...if the material dries in place, then I would expect you can only do the work in the heat of a dry summer?

I'm no architect, but I've been thinking a lot about using insulated shipping containers as the basis of a modular home system. They're pretty ubiquitous, and with our massive trade deficits, they're piling up in the ports and can be obtained relatively cheaply, so I've heard. I think they could have a lot of potential.
These are in the Pacific Northwest. The cob building movement is gaining momentum here, especially in the Willamette Valley. The pictured houses were in WA, OR and BC. Dry weather is best for building, although there is a lady around here who is building her own home (at age 87!) and it's taken her seven years. She had a roof put up first so she can work under it.

Building codes vary widely by place. Some places allow them if they are under a certain size, because then they fall under the same code as a shed, which are less strict. In CA, it is pretty easy to get permission to build with cob, as a direct result of banning field burning (gotta have something to do with all that straw "waste").

People have done a lot with shipping containers and other materials, only big problem I personally would have with that would be how to get such a thing home without having to pay through the nose. Straw for cob and rubble for the foundation can just be transported in the back of a truck or even in a van and most of the rest can be done on-site, making it friendly to people without cars or with little-bitty cars. But, if you have access to it, then go for it!
This type of building is also known as wattle and daub, if anyone is interested. Wattle refers to the studs (that's sort of a misnomer) that hold the structure up, while daub is the mud mix used for the walls.
Ah yes, thank you, I forgot to mention that. Ought to help people who are interested in googling a bit. :-)
These are sculped just with cob. The cob walls are slightly tapered as they go up and are very strong.
Yep, there are all kinds of cool alternative building styles! I like the cob a bit better because some earthships have had problems with off gassing, although that could be builder-error. It's amazing what human ingenuity can come up with!
One of the hard things about ABMs, though, is resale value. I seriously looked into doing one but ended up buying my current house instead. I'm considering building a cob barn (anyone want to come to a building party in MO? :) I'll supply drinks and food for the weekend- I'm not sure when this will be- probably August?- but I figure with enough people, we can get the whole thing up and still have enough time for everyone to just hang out and have fun. I've got a pond to swim in, horses to play with and stuff. :P
Yeah, this post is meant more for people who just plain wnat to own their own home, not for making money, because yeah, the resale on anything other than a stick-build house (and sometime log cabins) is pretty horrendous. I have seen some very nice cob tool sheds and other outbuilding though!

Myself, I want to find my nice bit of land, build my home and stay there, improving the soil over the years and slowly building up my homestead. Tis not for everyone mind you, but I like being more self-reliant!
*nods* Self reliance is important to me- BUT- I've got 20 acres and it's hilly and quite wooded. Not enough pasture to support me and critters, so plans are to mvoe to a different property in the future. (Probably 10-15 years away, unless we get a propery value spike next year, in which case I'll sell this place and buy in TX to help family out w/ taking care of grandparents.)

We need a more active self-reliance community. :)

Where are you planning to homestead? I'm in the Ozarks and it's quite lovely. I'm not doing a big garden this eyar (helping with friends and neighbors for a share veggie-wise and doing cut flowers instead that I can sell + the normal herbs) but am composting and planning for next year. My horses are actually well-broke to work and I've used them to pull some logs out of the woods already- I don't have any of the equipment to till the garden spot though.

Should the world end tomarrow, I suspect I would be eating dog-kabobs. :P
I'm aiming for the Pacific Northwest myself. I love it here (well, not much *here* being as I'm currently living in the deserty side of it) and it's a good climate for homesteading. I can't have a garden where I'm at now (I miss my gardens), but I'm volunteering with the community garden and will be able to get my hands (and feet!) dirty helping them build a cob oven. I do have a cute lil window garden going with a few herbs at least, but it's not quite the same.
I'm over here in southern Thurston County, and you're right, it's an excellent climate. My parents have a huge garden (around an acre total, there's the front garden, the corn patch and the side garden) and heat with a woodstove.
Re: *waves*
Oooh, you're on the nice half of the state! :-)


I can't wait to move back to western OR!
This is so cool! I've always loved the idea of living more naturally, more from the earth so I'd love to do this. I'm curious as to how you'd actually make the structure stable and strong and resistant to most natural elements such as rain and wind especially if they're strong.
I'll keep watching for updates via poor skills.
Also, just out of curiosity, where do you live that it's snowing right now? I live in MN and it's warrm as heck here!
I live in eastern Oregon, the technological backwater of the state of Oregon, I might add lol.

Cob structures have been standing in England for over three hundred years, so I'd say they are pretty strong! In the Southwest, people leave them as is on the outside, or use a thinner kind of clay wash without the straw as a final coat. In rainy climes, especially those with lots of wind, a lime wash is often applied. The roof also generally has a large overhang as shelter here in the Northwest, since in the western half of the northwest where they are becoming more common, it's mostly just rain and not so much wind.

In this picture you can see the traditional thatched roof and the lime coat (it's what makes it look white)

Mostly, yes, but I'd hate to have my living room wall slump to the ground because of the "rare" protracted windy conditions.

In my locality (southern Thurston County, if you want to know), we have routine windy periods in spring & fall, which often coincide with rain. Does the lime really seal it well against windblown rain, or should you plan a windbreak a little way out from your walls?
You'd definately want to do a lime coat, and windbreaks are always a good thing IMHO. Some of those cob houses I was just mentioning above that are over 300 years old are in very windy, unsheltered nasty spots. The real killer of a cob house is neglect. Many of the old cottages that are in bad shape are that way because no one has been living in them for 50-100 and the roof started leaking. (If you think about it though, stick built and manufactured homes get pretty sever water damage from leaky roofs too, so that doesn't seem unreasonable.) Thatched roof are very pretty and substainable, but they need maintenance and patching. The lime coat also needs to be reapplied every couple years in windy places since the rain slowly wears it down and eats at it. If you live in an area of acid rain, you might have to recoat yearly. The lime is pretty darn cheap though, generally cheaper than paint or siding. You can also combine cob with other building materials, and do one wall of stone and the others of cob for example.

The one thing you *don't* want to do is apply stucco. Some counties required owners of cob and adobe homes in the Southwest to put stucco over them "for integrity". Right. Anyhow, the result of this was mildew problems and that's where you can get slumping walls. What happens is that the walls can't breathe, and condensation forms between the wall and the stucco and starts "melting" the cob or adobe. This is Bad.

HTH! There are websites with a ton more information about weatherproofing for different places too.
Thanks for the post. I might consider doing this either as my only house on the lot or as something temporary before I add a house with heating/cooling, a water heater, and such. Unfortunately, the a lot I really like that is for sale is $80K.

Still, this post does make owning a home soon seem reasonable to me. I could hire a plumber for less than a day to do all that I needed and do the wiring myself. I'll have to check on getting the approval, but I might be able to do this next year. It would be cool to have a house so soon and not use a car.
They are pretty permanent structures. Because of the thickness of the walls, I'd imagine they'd be a pain to knock down later. You could perhaps turn it into a shed afterwards though.

Personally, I would just make it my permanent home. You can put ac and heating in and hot water heaters and all that good stuff in, or depending on where you live, you might not need the ac in this kind of dwelling. The thick walls are great at insulating, so cob and other earth houses maintain a fairly constant temp, although people in cold climate will still need to heat in the winter (but not nearly as much as a conventional home). You would need to make sure and plan out your plumbing and wiring and such, but the nice thing is that because the building style is so flexible, you can custom build so that say, the bathroom and kitchen share one wall and your plumbing is then drastically reduced. The approval is the biggy in most areas.
By no means am really into the idea of completely independent living. I like the city and stuff like that, but man oh man these things are awesome!

even just as a cottage or something, if you are like me and wouldn't want to pay an arm and a leg for land in the city. (you could pay a chunck of money and buy a piece of land, hopefully waterfront and put some structures on it and put in an outhouse etc... and it would be enough to be 'roughing it' but not too much, you know waht I mean? Actually that is an awesome idea (it's kinda a dream of mine to have a really fun cottage when I'm older, because I like the country, but I can't live there full time, I tried :( I'm not a commuter)

Anyway, this is a great 'poor skill' I could even see myself living in one full time too... with electrical and pluming (and heating because I'm in canada)

does it work for highly humid climates like in valleys and the like? What bout snowy places that get a few feet of snow a year and have a truly winter climate?
Yep, sorry if I sounded like I was meaning the post/ building method just for us folks that like living close to the land and such! I fear that it might be harder to get approval to build anything "nonstandard" in a city lot, but it *has* been done. PLus, the more of you that do it, the easier it will be for the next folks to ;-)

Cob has been used in Thailand successfully, although I do notice that they leave space between the roof and the walls:

I'm not sure if this is needed for the walls to breathe, or if it is just a style/cultural thing, but I'd bet the people that run the website I lifted that pic from would be happy to tell you.

As for snow, it depends on just how much snow from what I've read. Here's some sad results of too much snow:

From what I've read and seen, places like where I live now that get snow and ice and all, but not huge drifts of the stuff on a regular basis are are fine for cob buildings. When the drifts are are big enough that they pile against the walls, then you get mousture problems. In that case, if you still were interested in cheap/alternative building, I'd look into other methods. One step up from the previous link: has *lots* of pics of different building methods. I know underground homes were used in the midwest very successfully.