I am relatively new to the world of permaculture, and I'm looking for some help with a starting point for research.
I'm on about a 2 year plan to buy a decent sized piece of property with some friends in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Climate-wise, that means low to mid-80s in the summers and snow in the winters. We're currently just saving up money for land, but I'm trying to begin research how we should build our homes. There's so much information around, and it's hard to tell fads/pie-in-the-sky ideas from actual worthwhile, time-tested, durable ways of building that will actually save you some money compared to regular construction once it's all said and done.
I've read lots of surface-level stuff on shipping containers, cob, stawbale, earthbag, compressed earth brick and a few other things here and there, but I want to get more down into the details. I was hoping this forum could lend some knowledge on what's worth looking into and what's not. And if you have any good resources on those things, that would be wonderful as well.
Thanks from a newbie. I'm looking forward to being part of this community.
First off, welcome to permies and to permaculture as a whole. I love when I see questions like this one.
Building styles like cob, strawbale, earthbag and rammed earth all depend on location and local resources. If you have a local farmer cutting lots of straw for a good price, you should narrow your search to bale and cob. Does the property you find have the right soil buildup for earthen structures, if not, then material for earthbag, rammed earth, and cob will be more difficult and more expensive to source. I will say that all of these are viable building materials, all with their own unique properties perfect for particular climates. Likewise, all of these building materials can save you thousands of dollars if you are willing to put in the labor. I've seen cob and bale houses built for as low as $3,500 and upwards to $200,000 depending on how much labor the owners put into it themselves and how much time got put into finding low cost materials.
With cold winters and warm summers, don't get hung up on one building material. All of these can be mixed and matched. Look into building a house with passive solar gain, highly insulative bale walls, and large mass for heat storage. The sky is the limit!
Don't forget to check into local codes and see what is acceptable.
Look for natural homes built with similar style to what you want in your area and ask to see them. Most owner builders love to show off their work and will give you great pointers.
We don't own the property yet, but according to a friend in the area cob structures are relatively common, so I guess that's a good sign. I think one thing we will have in abundance is labor since we're all around 30 years old and willing to get our hands dirty.
One of the places I stayed in the NC mountains recently happened to have "The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling" by Daniel D. Chiras. That was my first introduction to the subject, but it all just made so much more sense than constantly pumping warm/cold air into a building like your regular old HVAC system.
Can you or anyone else recommend any great books or other resources on cob, strawbale, or rammed earth building?
Thanks so much for the information. I'm excited to have found such a seemingly great community.
My favorite book resources. Check your local library, I know mine has all of these. I especially recommend the first book "hand sculpted house". It has an amazing overview of everything cob, balecob, foundations, windows, doors. Good stuff.
So exciting. WNC is beautiful. I currently live there, renting a home but I did buy some acreage just inside the TN border and within the Cherokee National forest. I, too, am thinking, where do I start??
I have owned the land about a year now and haven't done anything with it. Still in the saving $$ stage to move up there so while I am making the money to save the money, I am doing a lot of thinking and researching.
I have heard that NC is pretty particular when it comes to building codes. Have you heard anything about that?
In my research, I haven't come across cob homes much in NC but I see there are a few yurts on AirBnB. I am probably going with a yurt to begin with- something to stay in while I play with cob.
I am currently in Europe and will continue to be through most of the rest of this year. I'm from South Carolina and plan to make WNC my permanent home eventually. I'm also open to eastern TN. Just somewhere in Appalachia relatively close to family in SC.
I have not heard anything about building codes specifically, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that they are strict in most of NC. I assume this is a county by county issue though.
Where I last lived in WNC was about 30 minutes north of Asheville. The property I lived on had a few other people living on it, and two of those people were sharing a yurt they built themselves from mostly scavenged materials. If you are near that area, I'd be willing to bet they'd show you around and tell you a bit about how they did it. It's a really cool place.
Keep me up to date on your journey. Seems like we have similar plans.
You can check out my website via my signature. My wife and I do a lot of natural building nowadays, not as much as we want, but hopefully it will morph into something that makes us money in the next few years. Definitely read as much on permies as possible, there are very experienced people here who want nothing more than other people to learn these things and spread the gospel of permaculture.
The website is great! I gave you a follow on your twitter as well.
As I mentioned before, we are still maybe 2 years from purchasing land, but I'm trying to do as much research now as possible so we can hit things full speed when we have the $$$. If natural building fits within our requirements, I think we'd definitely be looking for workshops or something similar to get some hands on experience with people who know what they're doing. It seems like a skillset worth investing in.
Some other things to consider--human factors and easier money process:
_Creating a Life Together_--worth considering even if you're not starting an intentional community per se--all the human dynamic things that go into the getting-the-land thing, and why addressing them before getting land makes a huge difference. Why 90% of intentional communities have failed, and the six manageable things the other 10% have in common.
_Mortgage Free for Life_--seems worth a read as an overall strategy for getting land and moving forward, or at least get the general concept from Paul Wheaton's podcast on that (or early retirement extreme, covers some of the same concept).
Community Building 2.0: ask me about drL, the rotational-mob-grazing format for human interactions.
ya learning how to build is only one part of living the permie dream, learning how to get along over time is much much more difficult and always changing. where as a good plaster is always a good plaster.
i am involved in a non-hierarchical all women natural building collective called The Mudgirls based in bc canada. we have over 12 years of experience working in groups and making life simpler, easier and more fun. fun is really the glue that holds us together and keeps us coming back for more despite the hard labour and sometimes monotonous tasks that are a big part of sustainable building. so keep things light and enjoy the process.
we run workshops too. www.mudgirls.ca
now back to your project. take workshops, all kinds. volunteer. make mistakes. you'll make less later then.
for any place with snow you wanna go bales or light clay, but bales are easier on the newbie builder as there can be less carpentry excellence required. earth floor, passive solar for sure. and keep your first structure as small as you can. for many reasons. money, time, labour and sanity. think cooking and sleeping and plan into your design the possibility to add on as things change.