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PEP1 - natural home construction, cob, straw bale

Posts: 53
Location: Cumming, GA
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Hello all you Permies out there. Here is a topic bound to draw attention. Natural home construction, ie, cob and straw bale. So much information could go here and I am sure there will be many contributors to this thread. The reason I have chosen this topic is the journey I have been on for about two years now has brought me to this place in time where I recently found myself using some of the knowledge I have picked up reading sites such as Permies. It was this site and others that I looked for outside ovens, found cob ovens then found Ernie and his chimney cob oven. That led me to cob construction and that to straw bale natural home construction. This is a large topic that could include choosing the right site and land, how to develop the land, the clearing of the land, using land features to plan out a homestead, using swales on contour to best trap the water, hugelkulture to grow on, etc.

In Feb. I purchased 7.5 acres in North Georgia and started on this oddesa. A small amount off land was cleared and leveled. Permits were acquired and small changes were made to prep for construction of a cob/straw bale home. The home/ homestead will feature and represent many of the permaculture aspects of As I learn, I apply. I noticed that Paul went with the marital art belt color idea. Not a bad idea. Now to choose 100 Permaculture topics and assign belt colors to them and what each color represents. I hope to be a beacon on permaculture for folks in the southeast. Seems like all the fun is in NM or MN or WA or areas like that. There are a few places in TN and others, but not like the North and West. Anywho, back to the topic.

PEP1, natural home construction:

Defined as using raw material from the land to construct a home. Perhaps your home is in the ground. No, not a cave, persay but may into a hill side with a earth roof. Perhaps using straw, clay, sand and a little water with some rock foundation and making a cob house works for you. Perhaps energy savings and good natural insulation is the answer to your natural home construction. Hey, that is me. So, far, have the temp power pole up...hope to have solar power one day and sell power back to power company. Also, have water main and septic system installed. Now the footer has been dug and installing the plumbing. Using a natural rock, rubble foundation which dates way back in history and was championed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Since the rock will act as a natural french drain, will add some tubing and funnel any water away from the foundation and channel it toward some useful water needs like HugelKulture or a pond.

The 7.4 acre site has a natural spring on it with the remains of a moon-shine still dating back to the 20's and 30's with Proabition I imagine. The property is in Dawson County and Dawsonville, where Nascar was invented running shine down to Atlanta. But, I digress.

Natural Home Construction can also be a method of using your resources on the home site to build your own home. Of course, the common good, government, has some rules to follow, so I must use pressure treated or kiln dried lumber for most of my construction. The outside poles for the porch can be trees from the property. The clay will be from the property, even the water in the cob could come from the spring on the site, if I liked. There are rocks, but not enough to make a large structure. There are several kinds of trees that are useful for various tasks. Hope to have a working homestead with chickens, goats, geese, rabbits and many fruit trees, bushes and polyculture food forest. There many resources on the internet, books, articles, etc. on Natural home construction. What I can offer is documented use of said information with pictures and how to's. After the house is up and the website started, hope to teach some of the aspects of Permiculture, natural home construction. Natural heating using a rocket mass stove will be in the house. Orientation of the house with length going from east to west to allow the moment of the sun during the year to heat and shade of roof to keep cooler in the summer. Working with nature and not against is also part of natural home construction. Using the RRR method is also important. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Hope to implement several factors of the RRR method in the construction of the home. For example, instead of burning straw bale, use it as insulation of the home. Did you know a straw bale home qualifies for a fire discount due to the qualities of the straw bale to not burn well once installed correctly. A straw bale with clay stucco is not able to burn, clay just gets harder if near a fire. The roof will be metal, a recycle item once worn out and placed back into some other metal item later. True, I do have to follow code, so some aspects will not be as natural as I would like. I do plan on using sand, diatomaceous earth and boron in the soil, in the walls, and other places to assist keeping the termites out. Lots of wood on property and lots of termites.

So, let this humble start be the start of the thread for natural home construction. Web sites, links, books, all are welcome to be noted here.
Steve Lansing
Posts: 53
Location: Cumming, GA
hugelkultur forest garden trees
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OK, after starting the topic of natural home construction and reading more about what Paul would like in the PEP1 process, some critera is in order.

Whether you own, rent, squat on the land you will build your natural home, the first thing to do is work out a plan...why, how, goals, etc.
Since I know me better than anyone else, why did I choose to introduce natural home construction. What gives me the choice? As stated, I am living this topic for the next two years. Lots of self construction. Sure, I get some help from time to time and even have to pay for someone to drive a dozer or bobcat or excavator. I do not have any of those toys and in some instances, the code says a licensed person. So, some things you will have to hire someone to help. That is all part of the plan. So, even before you begin your project, a plan is needed.

So, step one in natural home construction, a plan. As part of that plan,....where will you build. Why there. What resources are on the land to use. What codes are there that may or may not let you do what your goals desire. In my case, I wanted to build more than one structure. My zoning does not allow. Sadly, after purchasing the property and attempting to get a rezoning. Failed in the attempt. Seems some neighbors do not want to see green houses or goats or whatever I wanted to do. I did get some signatures from half the street, but a few neighbors showed up in person and swayed the commissioners. So, lesson learned. If you can not do what you want to do in a certain zoning, perhaps make it a condition of the purchase of the property to get the rezoning first. As part of your planning stage, doing your homework. So, part of your plan...what zone will the property be in. For natural home construction, you could build any place, provided the zoning allows that. In come cases, you may find the building code will not allow certain aspects to natural home construction. Hmm...whatever do you mean. Well, cob walls without supports, are a big deal in the building code. Ahhh, the building code. An ever changing thing that allows building departments to say no to your methods. As part of your plan, finding the site of the building, I highly suggest you meet your building department employees and especially your inspector. I did just that and found there was already a straw bale home in Dawson County GA, so yeaaa, I would not have to be the first, the guinea pig, the test subject and all that goes along with that. Oh, on an up side, if memory serves, straw bale homes will be part of the IBC or International Building Code starting in 2015. Ahh, that leads us to another aspect of your plan. The code. What year does your county inspector go by. Mine goes by the 2012 IBC. Now, you need to brush up on your code. Fun reading there folks. Now sure, you could hire a contractor to build out certain aspects of the job and if a license is required, you may have to. One of the aspects of the PEP1 is that you have to perform these skill sets. So, to a big degree, you will have to perform these tasks.

Not to jump too far ahead of myself, natural home construction is a huge topic. This is really just an overview of the topic. To generate a list of skills to master this topic, well, let's just say it would be a long list. That is surely one reason Paul has asked for some assistance. Again, since I am living this topic, why not write about it. Soon, I hope to teach some of it myself anyway. To me, teaching should be a higher level of the belt color in a topic. Sure you may be a brown belt in PEP1, but you may be an expert in xyz topic and be a double black belt with oak leaf clousters.

Some of the aspects of natural home construction would be construction skills, like choosing the best method to connect two boards...nail, screw, glue, peg, lash, etc. You may have to explain different forms of finding level with string, water tubes, bubble levels, lasers, etc. Working with construction is hard enough a topic, no need to write a book on construction. The points to take away from this thread is natural. What natural materials can I build with, especially those right from you own property. Think about it, if your construction materials are on your own transportation costs. unless you higher a dozer to dig the ground for you. Or a company to cut the trees down for you and process the wood to lumber or into timber for a log cabin. Something as simple as using an ax to take down a tree, or a chain saw or a dozer to push it over, you still need to know what to do to get that raw material....wood or clay if using cob for construction. Since not all clay is made equal, you need to know how to test the clay for qualities you want. Perhaps it is not clay but silt. Silt is not going to hold up as well as clay.

Another thought is choosing your raw material for your own natural home construction. Will it be stone? Will you stack the stone? Will you use motar? What kind of mortar. Lots of decisions to be made in natural home construction. Do you have the tools and know how to take on a huge step like this, natural home construction. Building my own home has always been on my bucket list. I have spoken to many people that have built there own home, whether natural or not. All have said they will never build another for them to live it....too hard of work. I have read articles about how it can kill a marriage or make it stronger. Building a home is a huge time and finance commitment. Now, throw in the natural aspect of it and it almost seems impossible. So, now that get the enormous aspect to this topic along, picking out measuring sticks to measure a person by? Wow, not easy. The bottom line is, even if the person did not perform each one of each of the tasks presented for ths topic, at least the individual should be able to explain and discuss said topic to another person.

I will revisit this thread as I have time and update the list of skills needed for this topic. As of now, the primary first is planning and the sub-topics under that topic that were mentioned earlier, ie, zoning, meeting the county building dept. etc.

Enjoy the outdoors.
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