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.

Rina Swentzell’s Adobe House

Judy introduced me to Rina Swentzell’s house and I am really impressed. This house does not fit in the tiny house size but fits more in the small size but I find the simplicity and the beauty of the home well worth sharing for inspiration and ideas.

The house is based in Northern New Mexico and was designed for the grandmother of Bill Steen’s children and Athena’s mother. The grandchildren were involved in the construction and were able to show and develop there construction talents.

Benito worked on the building from start to finish, being there from the foundations through the walls andfinish plasters. Anything that was done with wood, from the roof to the finish carpentry and furniture. Continue reading

Cob Workshop and Class

The Natural Building Network is offering a Cob Workshop this summer at the Mariposa Ecovillage in Amarillo, Texas.

This is a practical hands-on cob workshop designed to give you building skills through first hand experience and practice. Be prepared to get dirty! We will be spending most of each day doing enjoyable but physical work.

This workshop is a 10-day intensive designed to prepare you to build a cob home.

Here is what you will learn:

  • Get hands on experience in each stage of construction so you can go home with the confidence and skills to build your own house.
  • Alternating work and class lecture will cover safety, financing, building siting, planning, permitting, foundations, walls, windows, doors, roofs, plasters, floors, sculptural work, electricity and plumbing.
  • Use a range of cob construction techniques from hand and foot mixing to tractor-cob.
  • Bring your building plans, designs and ideas to discuss with experienced builders with an eye toward framing a do-able project and realistic expectations.

Lodging and meals are available and this is a family friendly workshop. To get the full scoop go the Natural Building Network website.

Underground Micro Homes Part 2

Guest post by Walt Barrett

We have already established in a previous article for the tiny house blog that by building a home underground there are huge advantages when it comes to heating, and cooling. Starting from an average underground base temperature of 55° F it’s an easy jump to hold a small underground home to a temperature range of 65° to 75° Fahrenheit.

Now an underground home can be as simple as a pure survival model such as burying an old van, school bus, truck body or shipping container in the side of a hill or a hole in the ground with a combination stair well – light well, or it can be a well designed, and insulated modern home complete with all the necessary systems as a totally modern above ground home. One of the main differences is that the underground home design will certainly use far less energy, and it will be far less expensive to build if designed properly. If you miss the view of an above ground home, assuming there is a view to begin with, I suggest a TV wired to a web cam with a 360 degree sweep. Plus, you can always step outside to enjoy the view and contemplate the thousands of dollars that you are saving. Continue reading

Underground Micro Home

Guest Post by Walt Barrett part 1.

Here in New England it gets pretty cold in the winter, and the temperature hovers around the freezing mark. We have already built a 128 square foot micro home to use as a test bed for our energy saving products, and now we are giving serious thought to building an underground micro home test bed so that we can better deal with the cold and windy winters. Our test model, due to space restrictions, will most likely be 100 square feet with only a solar passive heating light wall, but for a full size home design I am thinking about using four shipping containers arranged in a rectangle with a large tempered glass ceiling light well in the center.

Each container would have a door, or doors opening into a central light well patio area with a year round garden. We could cover the exterior walls with waterproof foundation sealer, and then glue on foam to the exterior the same way we cover our concrete foundations now as per our local building codes. The entire project could be set on a suitable concrete slab. The location can be either on a flat lot, or dug into the side of a hill where an additional solar wall could be added. An important note is that you must have at least two escape routes to the outside in case of fire. One can be in a corner of the light well.

Many people already realize that by going mostly underground the first 55°F in the home temperature is a 100% free ride. When you add to that the heat gain from people, refrigerators, cooking, lighting, washers and dryers etc. you pick up a considerable heat gain. However there is also going to be heat lost through ventilation because no one wants to live in a swamp filled with stale air either. Light wells and solar walls can be an asset in the day time for solar heat gain, but must be insulated at night. There are several ways to accomplish this. Some methods are insulated curtains, sliding walls, Zome walls, or sliding covers. Solar light walls and light wells must also be shaded in the warm weather or you will find yourself living in a large solar oven.

If you design your underground container home properly it will cost far less money than a conventional above ground home, and the heating and cooling will be a virtual free ride if you engineer the home properly. This is not a new idea by the way. I had several neighbors that lived in poured foundations during the depression of the nineteen thirties, and some others joined them right after world war two when we had a bad slump in the economy. This was a common practice here in New England during the thirties and forties. You do not need a large central heating system, or air conditioning system either. I also know several people that own large above the ground homes that they can no longer afford to heat. They have made apartments in their cellars to live in in the winter. They drained the above ground plumbing for the winter. They are saving a fortune in heating bills, and they move back upstairs in the warm weather.

People have been living under ground for thousands of years because in most cases they had no choice. With the ever rising prices of fuel we now have to take a long hard look back into the past, because the past may be our future again. I advise you to give it some thought, and play with some designs of your own to make the idea more palatable. Personally, I’m going to work on it, and my design will be totally off the power grid.
A little imagination goes a long way.

© 2010 Walt Barrett President A to Z Global Marketing Inc.
Contact Walt Barrett for permission to reprint.