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Help me figure out what to do with this old cabin!  RSS feed

 
Jane Porter
Posts: 8
Location: Boonies, AR
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Hi everyone! Long time lurker, but this is my first post. I've been dreaming of going off grid for a long time and it's finally happening.

The property I'm moving to has an old cabin on it. It's built from small 3-5" round timbers with some mud/clay/cob holding them all together. It also looks like they started adding cob to the outside, at least I'm assuming it's cob because the owner called it a "cob cabin". It has been empty and unused for a lot of years.

I am currently 13 hours away from the property, so I can't go look it over firsthand. I will be heading that way sometime in late August. I had a friend go check it out for me and send me some pictures though, so here are three for you to check out. I plan to build a cob house on the property, but it will be a few years down the road. I had originally planned to get a cheap RV to live in until then, but since the property I found has this neat old cabin, I'd really like to make it work somehow. What are your thoughts?

There is a tarp over the roof, so I will assume that it leaks. My friend said it had rained pretty good overnight last night and everything inside was nice and dry today, so the tarp must be doing it's job. The roof is really the least of my concerns. My main concern is freezing to death this winter. The walls are thin, although thicker where they've added the cob, so I don't see me being able to hold much heat in this place and the cob isn't going to do much to help that. I am also unsure about the foundation. The picture with the front door looks like there is a foundation there, but the picture of the inside looks like the logs are just on the ground, so I don't know for sure.

I'm doing this whole project on a tight budget, so please keep that in mind. If I had plenty of money, I'd just build something nice and move on with life, but I'm poor and have to figure out how to make due with what I have until I can do something better. And this is what I have LOL

Thank you for your time! I look forward to hearing from you and becoming a part of your community here
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Miles Flansburg
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Posts: 3981
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Jane, welcome to permies,

I sent you a PM.

The cabin doesn't look to bad to me. Will you have time to work on it full time when you get there in August? When does the snow fly there?
There must be a good supply of cob there close by and I think I would start by putting another layer or two on the outside.
Then a nice rocket mass heater with a cob bench/bed combo would be great.
Check out the roof, might want to make sure it will make it through the winter.
Lots of info here at permies on other threads so dig in if you haven't already.

 
Jane Porter
Posts: 8
Location: Boonies, AR
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Thank you Miles!

I'm hoping to find a part time job just so I don't burn through what money I have too fast, but I will be able to spend most of my time working on the place. I have a few people who will be available to help some also, so that should move things along a little faster. Weather is pretty unpredictable, especially in Arkansas, but usually from December to February is the worst. This past year it snowed in May though, so go figure!

I will get someone to check the roof out better so I know what I'm getting into there for sure.

 
thomas rubino
Posts: 828
Location: latitude 47 N.W. montana zone 6A
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Hi Jane; That cabin looks livable to me. You will be suprised at how warm a wood stove will keep a small place, and a good down sleeping bag can help on those extra cold nites. Cob up the walls if you can, if need be build a stud wall by your bed and insulate it, this will help with drafts. plastic & tarps can do the same just ugly to look at.Your roof will be the place most of your heat is lost. Consider a tarp inside to help hold the heat in ,just don't catch it on fire! By all meens think about a rocket mass heater. I am currently building my first one and I can't wait to get it done!!! You may find that a rocket heater is to much work to build your first summer, so collect clay & lots of sand before freeze up and use a temp stove,such as a barrel stove. dry your clay out then, crush it to a powder this is the easyest way I have found to get a good mix of sand and clay use straw cut into 2" pieces as a binder, another choice is cedar bark ,smashed with a hammer then shredded & cut to 2-3" pieces. Get as much material ready during the dark winter months as you can, you will be suprised at how fast you use it up. You say you are going offgrid here? Have you any experiance with that? Check out some of my posts, I've been offgrid 30 years, you may find some answers to questions you havent even thought of yet. Good luck with your new adventure!!! Tom
 
Jane Porter
Posts: 8
Location: Boonies, AR
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Thank you for your reply Tom! I do not have any experience with being off grid, but I have been reading and planning how to do it for at least 15 years. I will definitely be checking out your posts. Many of us would never be able to consider doing this without all the helpful people showing us the way

Good info. I definitely want to check into the rocket mass heater. I had planned to build a rocket stove for my outdoor kitchen. They built a cob stove in the cabin, but it's not much and I planned on removing it and doing something better. rocket mass heater may be just what I need. There is also another setup for a wood stove pipe, so just have to see when I get there.

There are some holes in the walls where the cob has fallen out over the years, so as soon as I get there I'm going to work up some cob to get it all sealed up. Then figure out some way to insulate the roof. Just not sure what to do from there, I guess after one winter I'll know how much more needs to be done for next year LOL

Thanks for the tip on drying the clay! I had wondered about that, I know the red clay we have is difficult to work with, but that should help.

 
Alder Burns
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Location: northern California
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I have built and lived in small cabins like this, and even an old army tent, for years in Georgia. A few hints:
----as mentioned above, a big woodstove in a small space can make up for any number of deficiencies, provided you've got plenty of wood to burn.
---yes, layer the roof. At the least, a second layer of waterproofing. I've used old mattress bags out of dumpsters and other large pieces of plastic, old tarps, etc. laid overlapping so as to shed water from any holes, etc. downhill. The heavy, rubberized fabric tarps used by truckers and large tent rental companies are the best, but hard to find. Then put something else up there to keep the sun off the tarps. Old carpets work great for this. You can tie these to each other by using a heavy "needle" made of stout wire and baler twine or some such, and if you really want to get crazy then stucco it with cement. That will stiffen in the carpet and make a solid, storm proof roof. Carpet is a poor homesteader's equivalent of buffalo hide....so versatile. The other cabin was made with "panels" of studs with a hollow space, and carpet inside and out, and the space filled with whatever for insulation.....whatever the dumpsters would provide....egg cartons, styrofoam, bubble wrap, carpet padding. This stuff won't mold as readily as organic stuff, but I guess you could use that too. I would think about adding some studs or more poles to the inside and then an inner paneling of something, even cardboard, and stuffing the space with insulation. And get something on the floor....rugs, sacks, etc....it will make the space feel a lot warmer. If it's an earth floor, you will gain even more heat by making a tunnel under the floor from the outside so as to lead outside air directly to the intake of your woodstove, using some thin metal ducting or some such to bring it up to the openings. That way your stove isn't sucking it's own warmed air from your space to feed itself....
 
Jane Porter
Posts: 8
Location: Boonies, AR
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Thanks Alder, I like how you think!

I'm getting anxious to get there, looks like it will be mid-August. Now I have some ideas how to make my little cabin more comfy this winter. Will have to see what I'm up against once I get there. Thanks everyone
 
R Scott
Posts: 3349
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Tarp over the roof is a GREAT sign. It means someone was trying to preserve the cabin best they could.

A small tight cabin will stay surprisingly comfortable with just an oil lamp next to you. Kind of like Paul's save 87% winter heating video, but off-grid.

 
Christian McMahon
Posts: 72
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It's a little cabin. I would put a new roof on it. It might take some boards, tar paper, and some kind of covering. Roll roofing or tiles. You will know what it needs when you get up on it. You should be able to fix it with a hammer some nails and maybe a scraping tool depending on how it was built the first time.

rocket mass heater - this will save wood. You basically make a rocket stove and send the heat into a large mass like a cob bench big enough to sleep on and send the exhaust outside. The bench will hold the heat for a long time. Takes some time to build.

Military surplus sleep systems can be purchased on amazon. Even if you somehow ran out of wood you would still be able to sleep.

You need to cob up the walls again.

I think you need to get there sooner then august if you can.

 
Jane Porter
Posts: 8
Location: Boonies, AR
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Thank you both for the replies!

Christian, I agree. I'm starting to get real concerned about time, especially if we have an early winter. I'm on such a tight budget, I'm afraid to quit my job too soon and run out of money, but if I wait too long I may run out of weather

 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5865
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Hi, Jane...really sweet cabin! Back when we had a pine log cabin we had a 'chinking' party to tighten it up before winter...it was a pretty straight forward project so anybody could do it even with a little home brew thrown in. I don't know if a group effort would work with cob, A 'work' day might be fun,....potluck...music....meet some neighbors
 
Jane Porter
Posts: 8
Location: Boonies, AR
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I decided on a date. I'm heading back to Arkansas August 13th.

Ok, first thing is the roof. Just need to fix that whatever it takes and be done with it. Then I'm going to cob up all the holes and thin spots on the outside to seal it up. wood stove and whatever I can scrounge for insulation. Then hope we don't have a bad winter! LOL

Can I cob this whole house inside and out and just basically turn it into a cob house? I was thinking about scrounging some 2x4's and building out studs on the inside (and maybe a better beam(s) than the one in the middle of the floor), this should sturdy it up and will allow me to put some insulation in the walls, maybe slipstraw. Then cover it with chicken wire and cob/earthen plaster. Can I build a rock foundation for the cob to sit on and put a thick layer of cob on the outside? 3-4" or maybe 6"? Is this going to be a problem having the logs inside all this?

What about the floor? I've seen people put down plastic, then rigid foam board, then build an earthen floor on top of that. Will that work or is that a bad idea?

And now y'all have me wanting a rocket mass heater! I know all of this can't be done this year, but just looking at long term options. I'm sure by the time this winter is over I'll be ready to do something better for next year hah!

Thank you all for these awesome forums! I've been reading and learning so much. Many of us would never be able to even think about doing this without so many others sharing their experience and ideas!

 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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