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Advice on Where to Start with Earthen Construction

 
Posts: 10
Location: Vermont
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Hello,

My wife and I have been looking at natural homes for several years. At this point that's pretty much all we've done, looked at pictures online of cob, straw bale, and cordwood style homes. But I really don't know what to do or even which direction to go at this point. I've been struggling with deciding what to learn and how for several years. I don't know of anyone in my area who has used these building methods.

Let me say up front that I do have a fair amount of construction experience, but I feel like I'm way out of my element at this point. I'm 48 years-old and I'll be retiring from the military in about 5 years. So, I have some time to research and learn, take classes between now and then.

I'm not sure which building method I want to use. Right now (while I know next to nothing about it) I'm leaning toward a timber frame type of support structure with cob and/or straw bale and/or cordwood. I feel a little overwhelmed just writing this post, ha.

How do people start learning to build with these methods? How do you go about getting help?

Concerns/Unknowns:
1. Not sure what to do about a foundation. I'm leery about a stone foundation. It just seems to flimsy or something, or maybe I could never pull it off. Maybe hard to incorporate the walls and floors.
2. Heating system.
3. How to get started - classes, volunteer builds, etc


This is probably one of those pain in the butt questions from a noob, I get it. Any advice would be great.
 
Posts: 825
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Big first question.
What area are you in?
Do you have frozen ground?
Do you have suitable material on site?
Post and beam is a great system, whereby the walls are infill panels between poles holding e roof up.
I use steel poles because they are good value, easier to carry and work with and dont rot.Concrete is the most versatile foundation possible.
Look for books on Earth building, cob builds, mudbricks etc.
Heating is another big question;
Think about mss thermal capacity, Rocket heating, Russian stoves, passive solar design and double glazing.
Think small not huge size of home, think taller ceilings.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 4393
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It seems you have a lack of confidence, and that is understandable.

I think the best method is t...just start. I call over-research, Paralysis by Analysis

A way to do that perhaps, is to start small. Think of it like a writer who has writer's block! It really is not a lack of ideas, it is that they FEEL their writings are not good enough, so they do nothing. It can be the same way with building, so I suggest combating that like a writer handles writer's block. They just write without concern about if it is good or bad. With a building a great way to do this, is build a shed....

A shed is useful, a person can store tools and stuff in it while they are starting their main home. If you screw up on some details...who cares...it is a shed. See what I mean. A confidence builder. As you learn, you will see what works and does not.

I have lived what I said. I started with a 2 car garage when I was 18, and it was horrible. The main building was okay, but the cabinets...oh my. But over the years I kept building, got better tools, and now carpentry is something I like.

As for confidence...you can do it, a home has so much redundant strength it is crazy, it will not collapse. And by the way, I have cut my own timber frame beams for my own home by hand, and it went faster, and better than I thought. You will be fine.
 
Travis Johnson
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By the way, a great place to stay is right on this forum. You will never find a forum that is as forgiving, understanding, and encouraging as this forum.

I would never tell someone to do something and fear they might fail or get hurt, I try to promote encouragement because I KNOW people can do this. I built my own house, of course others can too. People have been doing it for the last 8950 years, only in the last 50 yeas have we gotten away from that.

No one will ever put as much passion into your home as you. Why pay someone else for substandard work?
 
Mark Huntington
Posts: 10
Location: Vermont
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John C Daley wrote:Big first question.
What area are you in?
Do you have frozen ground?
Do you have suitable material on site?



Good question. Actually we haven't chosen an area yet. We live in VT now but winters are becoming more of a thing than they were 20 years ago. Like most people I'm not sure we will move too far away if at all due to family.

The ground in VT is only frozen about 8 months out of 12. lol

 
pollinator
Posts: 451
Location: Penticton, Canada
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Hi John,  The first thing I would suggest is to go a step beyond pictures and watch as someone else builds their own home from scratch. There are many documented builds here at Permies at the natural-building forum. One that stands out is Daniel Rays house: balecob-home-earthbag-foundation-building. On the right side of the Natural Building forum is a list of the most common types of buildings. I'm sure you'll spend much time here. Be sure to ask questions to those who are having or have had the experience of building their own home.  
There is also lots of reading material to not only dream on but to see how its done and whats involved before you start.
A great book that I've always loved is  The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith and Linda Smiley. Another is the Cob Builders Handbook by Becky Bee.
Kelly Hart at Earthbag has a lot of Q&A and info to learn from.
The great thing about all these systems is that you don't have to choose just one. You can mix and match to suit your climate, taste and needs. Cob walls on the south side, strawbale on the north, earthbags as a foundation etc.
It has been recommended to choose something that you like and practice the techniques by building a small hut, shed, doghouse whatever and see how it goes before you tackle a home project spanning years. If you do have a workshop that you can attend that would also be a great place to start.
Happy dreaming!
 
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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You could take advantage of being in Vermont, and attend a couple of short courses at Yestermorrow, a great design-build organization. They have courses on all kinds of cool natural building techniques.
 
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