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Archive for the ‘cob’ Category
You can now read Becky Bee’s book on Cob building on the internet at: The Cob Builders Handbook
I have loved this book for years….
This cob shed, complete with a green living roof, was built as part of a demonstration project at the City Farmer Demonstration Garden in Vancouver, B.C.. Cob is an ancient building technique that uses clay, sand, and straw mixed with water to create an adobe-like material. It doesn’t refer to “corn cobs”, but rather “cobs” of moist earth or clay. Cob building is considered a sustainable building technique that while made from inexpensive materials, is labor intensive.
SUSTAINABLE HOUSING: CHEAP AS DIRT
A dream home made of mud
Cob building is as old as the hills. Now, fuelled by high lumber costs and enviro trends, it’s on the comeback in the Pacific Northwest
August 3, 2007
VICTORIA — Ann and Gord Baird’s dream house has in-floor heating, solar and wind power to run appliances, a plug-in for an electric car and a wall of windows to capture the sun’s heat from the south.
It’s all very contemporary – except the house is made of mud.
Ann, a former financial manager, and Gord, an auto body shop owner, both quit their jobs to construct their 2,150-square-foot home of cob, a centuries-old construction technique using dirt, clay and straw.
They started building this spring on their 7.5-acre property near Victoria and hope to move into the house with four other family members by this October.
Print Edition – Section Front
“We’ve got new tech meeting old tech,” says Mr. Baird, 37.
When completed, it will be the first code-approved, load-bearing, high-occupancy two-storey cob house in North America.
“We look at ourselves as being very mainstream,” says Ms. Baird, 40. “We’re just building a house out of dirt.”
Cob building is as old as the hills in places such as Devon and Cornwall in England, Wales, and Brittany in France, where a number of 500-year-old homes are still inhabited.
The ancient technique has been making a comeback in Britain and the Pacific Northwest since the early nineties, fuelled by rising lumber costs and the sustainable building trend.
Last year in Worcestershire, England, a modern architect-designed cob house with sleek, contemporary decor sold for the equivalent of $1.6-million.
The Oregon-based Cob Cottage Co. started North America’s cob revival, which has spread to British Columbia and points farther east.
Cob is ideally suited to the Wet Coast, provided the building has deep overhangs and gutters to protect the earthen walls as well as a high, impervious foundation, according to Cob Cottage.
Like a ceramic flower pot, cob absorbs moisture in the air without weakening and releases it again when it bakes in the sun.
“Cob” is an old English word meaning lump or rounded mass. Building with cob is as easy as making mud pies. Traditionally, cobbers use their hands and feet to form lumps of earth mixed with sand and straw for strength.
Cob building makes environmental sense, according to Cob Cottage, because it uses minimal wood and no synthetic materials such as vinyl siding, fibreglass insulation or paint, making it a wise chose for people with chemical sensitivities.
The materials are dirt cheap. The Bairds estimate construction costs at about $210,000 – roughly $97 a square foot – including renewable energy systems, materials, engineer’s drawings and their own labour factored in at $20 an hour.
Most of the cob houses that have sprouted up in British Columbia resemble hobbit homes, with curved doorways and bulbous walls embellished with hand-sculpted sun rays, waves and goddess figures.
Increasingly, however, cob builders such as the Bairds are emphasizing function over form. On Saltspring Island, Becky and Paul Niedziela combined cob and wood-framing techniques in their 1,700-square-foot house to meet building code.
Other builders are working closely with various levels of government to gain acceptance for traditional cob buildings. O.U.R. Ecovillage – a 25-acre sustainable community on Vancouver Island – is the first site in Canada to obtain a permit to build a cluster of cob homes, a project to be completed by 2010.
Established in 1999 by a small group of sustainability advocates, the community of 40 residents is a demonstration village that offers tours and workshops on natural building, permaculture and low-impact living.
“We have a 100 people contacting us a week here,” co-founder Brandy Gallagher says.
The village’s 10 cob homes will feature renewable energy sources, alternative wastewater treatment and the use of recycled materials. O.U.R. Ecovillage hopes to make cob mainstream, Ms. Gallagher says. “We’re creating a Canadian showcase,” she adds.
Traditional cobbing is laborious and time-consuming, but the technique is evolving. By using a Rototiller, the Bairds are mixing cob five times faster than the hand and foot method while using only about 20 litres of gas for the entire house.
Another innovation is the Bairds’ use of B.C.-mined pumice in the cob mixture, which will provide better insulation than many conventional homes do, according to independent testing.
As well, the Bairds worked with engineering professor Kris Dick at the University of Manitoba to devise a system for seismic stability using diagonal tethers made of aircraft cable in the cob walls.
The engineer’s involvement was the Bairds’ key to obtaining a building permit, according to the project’s building inspector, Chris Leek. “We’re hanging our hat on the professional engineer,” he says.
There’s room for more cob buildings in semi-rural areas, Mr. Leek says, but dirt houses may not fit in everywhere. Because the people who build them tend to be “a little earthy,” he says, most cob houses end up looking “a bit like a mushroom.”
But the same isn’t true of historic cob buildings erected in Canada by early immigrants from the British Isles. In Ontario, both the 1839 St. Thomas Anglican Church in Shanty Bay and a private home in Weston, built in 1827, are still in use. Neither looks out of place in their surroundings.
Building cob to code is more challenging in municipalities with no recent history of dirt buildings. In Toronto, local cobber Georgie Donais has spent months dealing with the legalities of constructing a public cob bathroom in Dufferin Grove Park – inspired by the cob popcorn stand in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. She is working with other community members as well as architect Martin Liefhebber.
“The problem, of course, is that no one has done it before in Ontario, officially,” says Mr. Liefhebber, who specializes in alternative building. Nevertheless, a building permit is expected within the month.
With climate change in the news, constructing with materials at hand makes increasing sense, according to the Bairds on Vancouver Island.
“House construction can be much simpler and more sustainable than today’s green building standards suggest,” Mr. Baird says. The beauty of cob, he adds, is “anyone can do it.”
The Green Adventures of an Urban Ladybug is a blog by a woman in Austin, Texas. She has some great content! Her recent post on Cob building lured me in, but I also was fascinated by the post on electric vehicles.
I have heard someone has done some Cob building here on Dominica. I would love to see it! If you know the person who built with Cob, would you please have them contact me? I think earth is the most amazing building material. When we lived up North I was keen on straw bale construction, but I have since been converted to earth.
I wonder if any of the electric cars could manage the steep mountain roads here and carry a large cargo load (me plus shopping)? I have been telling Mr. Wizard he could build us one, but he says he cannot build a house and build a car at the same time. (the man does seem to be developing some resistance to my constant stream of “things we could do”.)
Here is a beautiful wind turbine:
For years I have been fascinated with alternative green building techniques. I’ll bet I own the only set of video tapes on straw bale construction on my island! When we lived in the states I had really wanted to build with straw bales, but alas, no straw is baled on this tropical island. So what is a woman craving green building to do? Stone and Earth.
I have been reading a series of interesting books about stone work and earth architecture. According to the various authors, even someone with limited building skills like Mr. Wizard and I should be able to manage some sort of rudimentary structure. It helps a great deal that this climate does not require the complex attributes of a North American building. No insulation, no heat or central A/C. It is a simple place and buildings can be simple here also.
Stone, cob, earth bag. I learned today that over 1/3 of the earth’s population live in earthen homes. Some very old multistory earth houses are still in use after centuries in Britain. Why, then, do we more commonly build soulless houses of plastic and toxic materials? Home building has been taken away from the owners of homes and given to professionals who tell us what we should want: an enormous house on land stripped of trees, quickly erected of material designed for making a series of boxes. Not lovely to my eyes.
I love the curves and hollows of organic material. Nothing pleases me more than the curve of a finely wrought stone wall. This is a sharp contrast to the concrete box houses more commonly built. I wonder why people build with concrete blocks when there is so much available stone. And people can build amazing houses with earth, like the cob house above. Within reach of the poorest land owner is a home which should last centuries and be beautiful as well.
There is a green architectural movement afoot empowering the poor to build sturdy, sustainable homes of low or no cost materials. I dream that perhaps my poor island may pick up the banner of sustainable architecture and lead the way in the green building revolution. I can imagine the people here all living in charming houses built of earth, at very little cost, instead of waiting until they can buy a few more blocks and bags of cement.
“I needed to do something I’d never done, and I needed a real change from what I was doing…I went to the workshop, never dreaming what it would lead to! ”
Read the interview with Lois, the very spunky builder, here