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Trilby powrie
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Hello, I'm fairly new to cob, but have been researching it for a few months now. I'm in the "sketching it out" stages of designing my house, and I'm in need of advise. It will be me and my sister living together. We are both fairly young, and want to build it with enough space for growing in the future. We've come to the conclusion that a 2 story house will probably be the best way to go, as it will give us ample room to spread out, yet will still be fairly "easy" to do, rather than a duplex or two completely separate buildings. We get along well and are confident in it working out long term.

We were originally going to research cob (I've purchased the best books I could find) then buy land and go to a workshop at the next available date. We will probably buy land late this year or early next year, because the value is rising so even if we end up not building we gain profit. The only problem is that we've noticed the price of workshops (900$ per person! ) and are wondering if they would even be necessary. I'm 90% certain that cob is legal in the area, northern nevada, as the was a cob house workshop in reno in 2012, but we will go to the city hall to talk code with someone when we get closer to actually building.

Basically, we were wondering if workshops are worth the cost, how to build a second floor safely (or if we should hire someone to), should we hire someone to do the more dangerous construction (roofing/electric/etc), what does a desert climate call for with cob? Thanks for the read, we are still in the VERY early stages, we probably won't start building until next year.
 
Daniel Ray
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Hi, good questions. I recommend two books if a workshop is not within your budget: "The Cob Builders Handbook" by Becky Bee and "The Hand-Sculpted House" by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith, and Linda Smiley. Workshops are definitely useful so I would highly recommend them, especially since cob will save you so much money you can look at it as an investment for your home.

Definitely make sure you understand building laws in your area before you begin. Most of the time, these won't apply to you because of the small size and building materials used in a cob house. Can't say this enough but plan small. With two people working on a cob house it is going to take a lot of work and time. I recommend trying to find someone you know who can do electric and other technical construction on your house. Roofing is not that difficult if you do your research. I recommend a composting system and gray water rather than traditional plumping solutions. All of these things will save you a lot of money and bypass a lot of building regulations.

Beyond books I would definitely recommend reading through as many cob building blogs as possible from start to finish as there is a lot of great information out there. I highly recommend https://earthenacres.wordpress.com/
https://cobbedinthemountains.wordpress.com/
https://montanacobcottage.blogspot.com (this one is mine)
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Trilby...Welcome...

I think, boiling it all down, it depends on the individual person and there drive, when we speak of DIY architecture...

I like workshop learning...when they are good and facilitated by someone with at least 10 to 15 years of design/build experience and/or clear understanding of their own skill sets...I validate this as a teacher and workshop facilitator because...to me...to charge someone to teach them something...the teacher...should actually have some solid background in architecture well beyond just "liking something a lot" ...like cob. Which is where many of these "new teachers of workshops" come from, and often have less than 5 years of experience...Take timber framing...one of my specialties...I now have two "programs" I am following being taught and charged heavily for by folks that have only taken a few workshops themselves, have "NO" architectural background experience, or training at all...yet they feel... more than qualified to "charge and teach" others for what they "think they know." One of them actually being brought to my attention by a young (and very good) Cob facilitator himself, as these other "Cob instructors) are teaching some very questionable information...

All in all...be careful with all information, vet it well, and get second opinions...

Now on a very positive side of all this...is "self discovery" and/or learning with a group of "like minded" folks...I have seen some pretty remarkable workshops "sponsored by novice." Now this may seem paradoxical from my other statement above, however, in this situation we have a case of "experiential self discovery," and all participants are learning and teaching each other together by the "experience of the activity." I have seen some of these as "labor swaps" and others as "low cost" opportunities to help someone build their home while everyone learn and gain experience...All in all, if going to pay someone more than $300 for a workshop...I believe the facilitation should be done by an actual "expert" in the give field...in my view of it...

I have to second...strongly...understanding the "building regulations" for a given area!! Don't build without approval...it seldom ends well...

Next...plan to plan...and then...plan some more... This is kind'a like the old axiom..."measure ten times...cut once." I can't stress to folks enough..."good planning"... and modeling...even if they have to hire (or teach themselves) how to draw technical blueprints and/or CAD modeling... The structure that is going to be built needs to be built..."in the mind first"...then..."on paper or in the ether of zeros and ones..." Sculpted houses sound romantic and nifty...I haven't seen one yet that doesn't have challenges and are full of "I wish I had done that different or better" all through them...

As far as books...read them all...good, bad and ugly... Understanding the "complete picture" is vital, so reading different books (even some that may not be so good) will give you a complete spectrum of understanding a building modality...In this case Cob...

As for building a 2 story building...I recommend against it as a novice unless they have training in architecture, engineering and/or other building arts...(or the structure has been professional designed and is being guided by same in its construction.) I personally do not recommend to anyone "structural cob," straw bale or any other such building unless they are at the "exper level," and even then the will never be as strong or robust as a cob structure with a superstructure of timber. That is just my "prudent nature" as I see way more "bad to average builds" in this "natural building movement" than I see "excellent builds" when done by novice DIYers...Structural cob is not for the novice DIYer...in my view...

I will own my very subjective view on this next part (but can back it up with decades of observable and tangible experience)...cob is not easy or the easiest...natural building method when compared to other modalities...So if doing this because of a love of cob...go for it!!..However, if doing this for cost and ease of building? Well there are other choices out there just as good (I personally think better) than standard cob...Even a log cabin and/or timber frame (if the building site or areas can yield timber) is "as easy" as cob. In Nevada, this is still a possibility as is "adobe block."

Good luck,

j
 
Dillon Nichols
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Location: Victoria BC
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Hi Trilby,

My experience with cob is fairly minimal, so keep that in mind. I've attended one workshop so far, which was not using cob in a structural or traditional manner, and read a fair bit.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:

Now on a very positive side of all this...is "self discovery" and/or learning with a group of "like minded" folks...I have seen some pretty remarkable workshops "sponsored by novice." Now this may seem paradoxical from my other statement above, however, in this situation we have a case of "experiential self discovery," and all participants are learning and teaching each other together by the "experience of the activity." I have seen some of these as "labor swaps" and others as "low cost" opportunities to help someone build their home while everyone learn and gain experience...All in all, if going to pay someone more than $300 for a workshop...I believe the facilitation should be done by an actual "expert" in the give field...in my view of it...


I would really encourage you to attend a workshop of the sort Jay describes above, as a starting point/introduction, as long as the price is right. The workshop I just attended was structured this way, although the two instructors had around a decade of experience. The majority of their income comes from the landowner, and the cost to participants goes to food, the cook, and onsite childcare.

I was really struck by how forgiving the material seems. Not sticking? Try a thicker mix, or a different motion. Some fell off? Just scoop it back into the mix. The material cost is very low in most cases. The serious thermal mass is obviously a nice upside. The work is mostly quite low intensity, aside from making the cob itself. Enjoyable.

Although it is hard to tell how it will stand up over time, while applying it seemed quite straightforward after a bit of directed practice.

We made some cob by foot, and some with a rototiller in a plywood trough. The trodden cob was better quality, and I expected to prefer this method, but found the twisting cob-treading dance really didn't work for my knees/hips. It was also much slower to make cob by foot. With a bit of practice and good ear protection the rototiller method was the winner in my eyes, it let most of us continue cobbing while two people took breaks to wheelbarrow in material and trade off on the rototiller. Whether it would be good enough for structural use I am not so sure.


If I was building with cob, I would plan to hire expert help to make sure that the foundation was done just right, that the mix and method I was starting with was good, and perhaps to help with the floor.

I'd also plan to have timber supports for the roof like Jay suggests; for a small cob building that can reasonably be built by two people, this shouldn't add too much cost, and would increase safety as well as making the build more comfortable.
 
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