A Tiny Cob Home, Modern Hobbit House

It’s estimated that half of the world’s population lives in earth buildings, but for many countries this type of architecture was until recently fairly rare. Now materials like rammed earth, cob, compressed earth and mud brick are experiencing a comeback.

A modern cob home- Cobtun House- in England won the Royal Institute of British Architects’ sustainability award and went on to sell for well over a million dollars (750,000 pounds). And cob is just a simple mix of clay and straw (though sand or some sort of grit is often used as well).

Cob is cheap- the walls of Cobtun House cost just 20,000 pounds- and infinitely recyclable. It’s also a very green building material for plenty of other reasons.

It’s a local material: the clay and sand are most often extracted from the property where the building is built. It’s energy efficient: cool in the summer, warm in the winter and fire-resistant. It’s efficient with space since cob buildings are smaller than the average American home.

A cob home is also a perfect DIY project since the materials can be mixed with your hands and feet and molded freeform- without support structures- to create a house (See books like The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage).

In this video, Margaret Krome-Lukens of North Carolina’s Pickard’s Mountain Eco-Institute shows us the cob home- refreshingly cool on a hot summer’s day- that interns Mike and Greg are building for her on the property. They talk about the horse manure used as an additive to the walls, how the material is so easy to sculpt, the green roof and living small. Since her new home is less than 150 square feet, Margaret talks about the joy of giving up stuff to move in.

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Dayle Ann Stratton - November 3, 2010 Reply

In earthquake country (the entire west coast of the US comes to mind, as well as other places), you will want to add reinforcement to the cob, generally in the form of rebar. Adds some expense, but is not difficult to do, and worth it. Code will require in in many places, but it is simply a common-sense thing to do. Think about places like Haiti, where many people were killed by their homes collapsing on them.

mike - November 3, 2010 Reply

Very cool; it’s not a fulltime residence though is it? What about plumping, water, electric power etc. And it’s too small for full time residence… 135 sf doesn’t cut it…

alice - November 3, 2010 Reply

It all depends on what you want a house for. 135sf is fine for some, luxurious for others and totally out of the question for many. Water, heat and light are essential, electricity and running water aren’t. When you set up without plumbing and electricity you just make sure what you’re using is as easy as you can make it and a permanent setup can be quite simply accomplished. It’s usually the temporary situations that are a nuisance. It’s amazing how luxurious even a well with a bucket right in the yard can be after hauling water from a creek several hundred yards away, and that creek can seem luxurious if you haven’t any closer source. I’ve lived with all of those options and the day we set up a gravity feed tank fed occasionally with water pumped up from the well opened up a whole new world. Likewise going from kerosene lanterns to propane lights salvaged from a travel trailer. Solar wasn’t affordable then, but it would be a great option now. If you break down all your needs and desires to the most basic components and build back up with what’s possible and what fits best instead of just what’s ‘normal’ you can do amazing things. This little cob home is one of those amazing things.

Tim - November 3, 2010 Reply

Awesome! What a great tiny house!

Foy - November 4, 2010 Reply

I would like some intellegent strapping interns to come build a cob house for me please.

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