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Idea generation for a house...  RSS feed

 
Randy Lee
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Hello!

New member here, long time fan of natural buildings. Me and my wife have been dreaming up and boiling down ideas for an eventual house build we want to do. We are still really early in the idea phase so we're playing the crazy idea game. I found a circular floor plan on a dome house website and proposed the idea to my wife to do a circular house, with the inside as an open air courtyard. Like the attached picture, only the center is open, with a bit of roof extending inward for the walls. Would build a porch/outdoor kitchen inside there, as well as a nice outdoor hangout spot.  That's the dream anyway!



Now, for reality. Is this something that can be done in cob or balecob? We live in the PNW here in Washington state, westside of the mountains... Hence I haven't decide on pure cob or going for more insulation. Is this plan ridiculous large and unnecessary for first time builders? Have our dreams outpaced reality? People who have built them, what would you say?

Thank you very much, I look forward to digging into and reading a lot more on this site.

Randy
 
Daniel Schmidt
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Doing the math, it appears to yield a house of roughly over 2100 sq. ft. which includes a 'living area', a 'family area', and a 'game room' which all appear to serve the same purpose. If you have enough bodies needing beds then maybe something that size with one or two of those redundant rooms becoming bedrooms would be an option.

Two other things come to mind. Firstly, are you rather proficient at making custom cabinets and furniture? Round houses can be really cool, but they require a ton of custom work. You can't just buy a cheap stock unit or repurpose something from a cookie cutter house and have it fit up against the wall. I guess if you were really good with cob that you could do a lot of built in seating and shelves along the walls, but then you probably wouldn't be here asking questions about it. If you have other skills to make it work then go for it! Just be aware that everything will have a curve, and the radius will be different for the inner and outer walls given the different diameters.

The other thing that comes to mind is the roof. I have no experience with domes if that is what you were planning on using. I guess you could do a single angle roof shedding all water away from the house. This would make the wall of the inner circle substantially taller. I can hardly imagine doing a gable roof that curves around back into itself. It would probably need to be made of steel, or hand selected curved logs. I can't see it being easy or practical to take straight wood and bend it into the proper radius needed for a roof ridge.

I remember being very young and having a friend with a house that had a little area in the center and it was pretty awesome. It was substantially smaller (maybe 12' square) and had a tree in the center for shade. If you don't want to go for square or rectangular, then maybe making something more oval could have some benefits. Think circle chopped in half with some straight sections added in the middle. This would give you some areas with straight walls. I would first plan the kitchen to go there so everything fits in without going too crazy on custom work, and that goes double if you aren't doing everything yourself. I can easily see a rounded kitchen on that large of a house costing over $100k to pay other people to build, which is why I bring up the idea of alternative shapes besides perfect circles.

If it is at all possible, you might want to try to hunt down a bunch of cardboard and try mocking up some things to see how they feel before committing them to plans set in motion. 3D modeling like SketchUp can help a great deal too, but it is easy to make a mistake, adjust something that pushes everything else around, and end up with a logistical nightmare. Cardboard is cheap or even free and can help put some human scale 3d perspective on things.
 
Mark Tudor
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Cob Cottage is in Coquille Oregon and they have many examples of cob in wet areas. As long as you have a good roof and foot foundation to keep the cob from getting soaked, it will work fine. The first thing they might tell you though, is making something to the scale as that design shows would be an immense cob project, and probably isn't permitted depending on the county you're in. But you could instead make multiple small buildings near each other but detached, and have them facing each other across a courtyard, and have standalone arbor/pergola doodads to shelter you from rain as you walk between them. You could build them one at a time and expand as needed. A wall between the buildings could help you enclose the courtyard too.

I visited a house near Kanab Utah where it's very much desert so not as wet as your area but they had 3 cargo containers attached in a "U" shape, with a gate attached at the open end to make a courtyard, with greenhouse windows attached at the top, and then the 3 containers were buried and bermed. The walls facing the center courtyard were mostly glass and it was very cool, both literally and figuratively.

I think if you plan to build officially and with permits/blessings, you might start with a wood framed structure with earthen infill, either cob or earth bag and cob coating. If you wanted you could go with a geodesic dome too, they sell kits for them. I visited Oregon Dome in Eugene years ago and saw 3 different places that were very nice. But I don't think that would work for a courtyard that is exposed to the sky.
 
Sebastian Köln
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A few notes:

Straw-cob walls do have a thickness. so the thin walls area really the thickness of a chair.

Insulation: The current layout is slightly inefficient from heat-loss vs. space.
If you put a (partially) transparent roof on the inner circle, the wall towards the center don't require insulation anymore.
So they could be simple brick walls instead. Plus the inner part now gets a lot of heat from the sun and becomes a greenhouse.
I would also remove the corridor on the inside as the center now serves that purpose as well.

The inner circle needs some sort of n-gon approximation (octagon or hexagon), otherwise building the doors will be very difficult and you will have to buy curved glass for the windows.

About the kitchen: I much prefer working in an open one (no central table).

Living area: All places to sit are usually located against a wall (with the exception of single chairs that can be moved wherever needed).
 
Randy Lee
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Thanks guys! You have definitely hit upon issues we've been thinking about as well.We both just really like the idea of nice curves to the walls, which is one of the reasons we want to use cob. The roof has definitely been a perplexing part of the equation though.  And the plan is for a house much larger than we need, especially at the start. I would scale it down, and remove unnecessary spaces from it. We can always build on additions if we find we need more rooms or such. We have one kid and some cats so we don't need so many bedrooms. Though a spare room for visitors would be nice.

I guess I can keep searching around for floor plan ideas, while I do more research on the whole building a house thing. Do you guys have a favorite site/sites for plans? Or for planning your own?

Thanks,
Randy
 
Miles Flansburg
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Howdy Randy, I have always been fascinated with Hogan's and their octagon shape. One day I hope to build several connected octagons that form a "circle" sort of like a honeycomb. I am wondering if this might also be used in your design to help with flat walls etc that others have mentioned.

Have you seen some of Miguel Cobalot's work? He is building something that he calls palletable cobins that are pretty neat .





 
Thyri Gullinvargr
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You might want to group the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry into one or two groups, especially if you're going to use a water heater with a tank. This will save on running pipes and heat loss as the water travels, although running pipes is probably the main thing.
 
Mark Tudor
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The book The Hand Sculpted House goes into the details of cob building, and suggests that you work out how much space you really need in a kitchen or living room, and consider how much you can build into the walls for seating for example, rather than needing standalone furniture that takes more space. You can draw out the functional spaces you want, rather than sticking to official "living room" "family room" types ideas.

You'd have a cooking area, a socializing area (which tends to be near the kitchen for many) that could also be the eating area, a reading nook/nap area, etc. You figure out how much space you need for each and make paper templates that you can shift around to find a good flow and match your other design ideas like a courtyard. If you build furniture into the walls, you can position items like bookshelves above them, at standing height, without that interfering with sitting underneath. An image search of "cob house interior" can give a ton of ideas on integrating storage and the like, to maximize the space you create.
 
Randy Lee
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The hand sculpted house is on my must purchase list indeed! I've shared the points y'all have made with my wife and she definitely sees the issues with that design now. She did bring up circular homes though. Ive seen some designs that are circular with cob and like the flow of it for sure. My thinking was to start with a smaller circular building with the living room, dining and kitchen, and bedroom and expanding from there with additional small circular buildings, kind of like interconnected pods. Those could be shaped in the larger circle providing the courtyard... Does this seem more doable? Do pure circular houses still have issues on roof design?
 
Randy Lee
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So kind of staring with something like this:



Scaled down since we definitely don't need 4 bedrooms and such.
And expanding like this:



My wife and I are a big fan of that first design's central living room setup, as it would be a nice place to build a RMH and large bench.
Does this make sense?

Thanks again!
 
Randy Lee
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So still thinking on designs and collecting information and books and running into even more questions...

Can slipform walls be used with cob?

Has anyone attempted to use post and beam framing for the roof of a circular/octagonal shaped cob house?

Anyone have suggestions for a software package thats useful for planning a cob house?

Thanks again!
 
Mike Jay
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Randy Lee wrote:Has anyone attempted to use post and beam framing for the roof of a circular/octagonal shaped cob house?


You bet, check out Tony Wrench.  I think it's just what you may be looking for:
 
Randy Lee
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I've been looking at the reciprocal roof idea. Though I did come across some threads here that painted them in a less than spectacular light.
 
Randy Lee
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Alrighty, much discussion between me and my wife continues on the house idea. So far I've gotten her to agree to a ~700sqft octagon, with a half loft. Still unsure on roofing and such. Wraparound porch, 2 bed, either 1 or 1.5 baths. Materials are still up for debate. She loves cob now, but given where we live I'm not set on it. I've been leaning more towards light straw clay with a timber frame, but drying time out here would have to be carefully planned as our seasons are wonky. I also looked at possibly doing the exterior walls with faswall for speed/ease and the interior walls with timber/cob and or wattle/cob. Still searching for a nice chunk of land which would dictate a lot.

For y'all that have self built, does a 700sqft octagon, (12 foot wall sections) sound like to large of a build for someone new? Any opinions on Faswall as an exterior wall other than it being costly?
Any plugins y'all favor for housing design in Sketchup?

Thanks!
 
Sadie Smithy
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I love the idea of an internal courtyard.  I try to include one in all my day-dream house plans.   Don't forget, you can use 'outbuildings' like a barn, summer kitchen, or greenhouse as some of the buildings enclosing your courtyard. 

The plans you've shown seem like single-story plans, and I think there is a benefit to building a 2nd story area overlooking the courtyard.  There is a lot of potential for directing breezes and drafts with one slightly taller section of house, and there is the potential to reflect sunlight as well! 
 
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