Posts Tagged ‘cob’

This is why I haven’t posted lately:

So, last year I built a house.

And this year my body built…another body!  And now I’m just waiting for my body to release this baby.  But there has been a little bit of work on the house.  After Greg poured the finish layer of the earthen floor, it took a week or two to dry.  And I was very, very excited to see that it dried without a single crack!  Success!

I sealed the floor with four coats of a linseed oil blend I bought from landarknw.com.  It was a bit of a splurge, but I wanted something completely non toxic.  I didn’t want to be breathing in fumes from the boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits from our local hardware store, especially not while pregnant.  Someone on a cob list serve had recommended LandArk’s Earth Finish for earthen floors, so I decided to give it a try.  I ended up using just about one gallon, and even had a little extra to use on some of the wooden parts of the house, mainly the door frame and ladder.  The floor turned out great!  With each coat the color darkened until it reached a deep purplish red, and it seems to be  very hard and durable.  I’ve accidentally knocked my box fan into the ladder opening more than a few times.  Each time that its fallen from the second story onto the earthen floor, it hasn’t even left a mark.  And I’ve mopped it a few times, and it remains unchanged.  I plan on waxing the floor soon, too, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the floor as well.

first coat of oil

the first floor..finally lived in!

I’ll post some more pictures soon…

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Last Friday Greg came over to pour the final layer of the earthen floor.  Almost 2 years ago, Greg had removed a layer of the earthen floor from a nearby cob cottage he was building, and I brought it over here in buckets, to use in my future cob home (which at that time existed only on graph paper).  After waiting patiently through 2 summers, those buckets of clay, sand, and horse manure were finally re-hydrated, and at last were able to fulfill their destiny as my earthen floor.

We added some more sand to the mix, as well as some freshly chopped and sifted straw, and then Greg got to work with the trowel.

The color of the finish floor is an amazing red!  Beautiful against the yellow clay plaster on the walls…

I did some lime plastering last week as well, giving the interior cob bench one more coat of lime.  And since I was in a plastering mood, I put some lime on the exterior bench, too, and added some more lime around the exterior steps, where there had been some trouble areas that needed a little more rain protection.

Here’s the freshly limed bench, and the new curtains:

And the bench by the front door.  Perfect for sitting on while removing your shoes, or just for resting a moment on a hot day, letting your back lean against the cool cob wall.

The lime around the stairs:

Once the floor is dry, it’ll be oiled and waxed, and the room will be complete…

except for a ladder…

and a door…


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What’s new with the cob house this month?  Lots of things!


As my belly grows larger each week, physical labor becomes more difficult and complicated for me.  I’ve been very lucky lately to have a lot of help from my friends, who’ve done most of the work on the house, in exchange for a meal, and my company….


Greg and Jeremy worked on dry stacking some urbanite steps, so I no longer had to use a five gallon bucket as the first step up to the second floor.  I’ve had some really big pieces of urbanite left in the pile that were way too large to use in the foundation, as well as just much too heavy for me to ever move.  Here’s Greg and Jeremy transforming those chunks of urbanite into my new set of stairs…

Mike and Greg came out on another weekend to help pour the subfloor in the first story.  The mix was 3 buckets of sand, 3 buckets of screenings, and 1/2 bucket of soaked clay.  Its amazing that such a small amount of clay can bind all that aggregate!


The work on the subfloor went pretty fast, so Greg and Mike decided to make an urbanite patio outside the entrance.  Greg started digging while Mike collected rubble for drainage.

Greg found access to my rubble trench, and some perforated drainpipe was laid in the drainage layer of the patio so that it empties directly into the trench.

found the rubble trench!

filling with rubble


and then a layer of screenings...

laying "stones"

the finished patio!


You may have noticed the freshly plastered interior walls in some of the above  pictures.  One weekend we had a work party to plaster the first story interior walls.  Greg and I, as well as our friends Ash, Giovanna, and Kristy, worked together plastering all the oddly shaped surfaces.  Between the bookshelves, niches, window reveals, floor joists, etc, there were a lot of awkward spaces to plaster.  But it was a lot of fun, and so satisfying to see the room transformed by the smooth, smooth plaster.  We used a beautiful yellow-brown clay that we found here on our land, and I really love the color.  I must have been too excited about plastering, because I forgot to take any pictures that day!  But here’s some before pictures:


some niches I carved...



And the room post-plaster:

Yesterday Greg and Dan came out, and they worked on decking the roof for the outdoor bed.  The poor tulip poplar rafters have been naked and exposed to the elements since last summer.  But not anymore!  Greg and Dan used the rest of the pile of decking I had left over from the main roof, and there ended up being just enough to finish the job.

I’m thinking of trying an experimental “earthen roof”, involving  my pond liner scraps and a final layer of lime and tiles, but I’ll write more about that later.  And, as soon as the subfloor dries, we’ll be pouring the finish floor layer, sealing that with linseed oil and beeswax, and then I’ll finally be able to  inhabit the entire cob house!



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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on making the second story room livable.  After finishing all the cob above the windows and around the rafters, I was really, really excited to get some plaster on the walls.  Watching the cob walls get dressed in a smooth plaster was one of the most satisfying moments of this project for me… to have one room of the house start to feel complete is the realization of a lot of hard work and planing, and it feels great!

Last week we started off by testing our mix on the bench in the first story.  Our mix was one part soaked lime to three parts sand, a little bit of light yellow ocher pigment, and a small amount of alpaca fiber and deer fur.  I’ve been lucky enough to inherit some lime that’s been soaking for five years!   And the alpaca fiber was given to me by a nearby farm, while the deer fur has been laying around from some hide tanning projects.  (The pigment and the sand were purchased).  After plastering the bench, we decided to leave the fiber out of the rest of the mix, as it was clumping up into some hairballs…

Here’s a picture of the plastered bench:

We started plastering the upstairs last week, and got half of it finished the first day, with the rest of the room finished within the week.  In the end it took about three batches of plaster, with each batch being 4 full five gallon buckets of material.

As a side note… always wear gloves when working with lime!  The first day plastering I could only find one of my gloves, and was too eager to plaster to waste any time looking around.  The lime dried out my skin, and ate some holes in my fingertips that were pretty painful.  I’ve been vigilant about wearing gloves during the days since then…

I need to take some better photos soon, but here’s a couple from the first plaster session:

After finishing most of the plaster, I couldn’t wait to remove the tarps from the floor.  Those tarps have been hiding the beautiful wood floor since last summer, and I’ve been eager to get rid of them.  They were actually cobbed into the wall about 1/4 inch, so I had to cut them to remove them.  Once I got the tarps out of there, my friend Steve came over, and spent hours and hours sanding the floor boards.  Now instead of a clay/straw/tarp floor, our floor looks like this:

Greg came out a couple times lately, and in addition to helping me plaster, he worked on building a small door for the second story, completely out of scrap wood.  With a small window at the top and a cat door at the bottom, it’s looking pretty adorable.  This door is 3’3″ tall, and around 23″ wide…

Greg started working on some shelving, too, and once the shelves are done and the floor is finished, that room will be complete!


And because my cats are so cute…

here’s a picture of Bastet sitting in the round window:

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As the season progresses, our home here is coming back to life, as the focus switches from keeping warm to any number of projects and activities.  Now when the weather is nice, everyone is outside, working on building projects, gardening, etc.  It feels good to know winter is coming to a close, with the rest of the year waiting for us behind it.  I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at the dairy where I work, but on my days off I’ve been focusing on finishing the second story of the cob house, cobbing in the rafters and getting the room ready to plaster.  All the cob is almost finished, and I hope to be able to plaster within the next week!

The weather on Friday was still a bit chilly, so Noel volunteered to do all the foot mixing, while I sat on the balcony and watched, my feet warm and safe inside my boots…

Since Noel mixed the cob, I built with it, closing the gaps around the rafters.  Its been months since my hands have got to experience the sensation of working with cob, and I had almost forgotten just how much I love it…the deep satisfaction that comes from working with my hands.

Here you can see how much nicer the roundwood rafters look once they’re surrounded by the cob wall.  All the darker brown cob above the window is the fresh stuff.

We finally finished cobbing in the wood stove on Friday as well, and I’m excited to fire it up for the first time at some point this week!  Here’s some pictures:

crazy stovepipe...

So, now there is a new object in view from the balcony of the cob house.  Can you see something in the background, between the stump and the cob house?

Our friends Julia and Ben are building a tiny cabin, mainly out of salvaged materials and roundwood harvested from the woods here.  Its looking so cute that I can’t resist posting some pictures of it!  Designed to be low-cost and quickly built, most of the work has been over the last month, with hardly any money spent on materials.



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It’s been a year now since this project began, and it’s fun for me to think about this time last January – digging into frozen ground, with the cob house still just an idea, sketches on graph paper.  My mind switches back and forth, and sometimes I feel like we’ve been working for a lifetime, and on such a small building.  But most of the time I look at the cob house and see this huge earthen structure, looking massive as it rises out of a plot of land that was an empty field just a year ago.  For a building that has the potential to exist for hundreds of years, sometimes it seems to have grown so fast.

I have to admit I haven’t really done any work on the house this month.  The temperatures are freezing, we’ve had lots of snow and ice, and I’ve been a bit under the weather these last few weeks.  But to make myself feel as if I’ve done some work lately, I wanted to post some pictures from the end of December.

Here you can kind of see the layer of carpet underlay we put over the pond liner.  It was all salvaged from a carpet store dumpster, and then meticulously checked over for staples before it ended up on the roof, where it serves as a protective cushioning layer, keeping that pricey pond liner safe.  There is a little bit of soil on the roof right now, mainly around the edges of the underlay, to hold it down.  Working up so high always adds some extra steps, like creating a pulley system to raise rolls of underlay and buckets of soil…

layer of carpet underlay

We finally got the drainage layer ready in anticipation of pouring the earthen floor.  To save money on gravel, we filled the first floor with chunks of urbanite, and then leveled it with purchased gravel.  If we had used only gravel, I can’t imagine how much it would have cost!  Although it looks like I just tossed a bunch of concrete in the house, each piece was placed on the chunks below it so that it didn’t rock, to keep any settling to a minimum.  And once we had raked in all the gravel, there was A LOT of tamping.



Noel and I also finally installed all the stovepipe, more than eighteen feet of it!  I originally had planned to have the stovepipe go up through the floor and then out the east wall of the second story, where I had thoughtfully left a hole in the wall for the stovepipe.  But, because I ended up with a wood stove where the pipe exits from the rear, I decided it would be a better use of space if I put the stove in a different spot, and had the pipe go straight though the north wall of the first floor.  Which meant we had to make a new hole in the wall.  Greg and I took turns pounding the wall with a heavy steel dig bar until it finally broke through.  Trying to deconstruct cob isn’t easy!  It’s incredible how tough this mix of materials is.

Here’s a picture of the stove pipe exiting through the north wall of the house:

exiting through the north wall

And here’s how it attaches to the roof.  I didn’t want to go through the living roof, so we got one section of insulated pipe and kept it a short distance from the fascia:

As this month comes to a close, I’m getting excited about the days slowly getting longer, the weather slowly getting warmer, my energy returning, and the house getting closer to completion!

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Today was a good day.  Not only was it my final day of jury duty, but we also managed to get the EPDM rubber liner up onto the roof.  It took six of us to hoist it up onto the scaffolding, and move it up, step by step, onto the roof.

Since I’m neurotic, before we unfolded the liner we spent a while clearing all the ice from the roof, and then towel drying everything.  Then we finally rolled the liner off it’s paper tube, unfolded it, and then spent a while adjusting the position.

pre-pond liner

The liner was a little bit bigger than the roof, and a rectangle, so there are some areas that need to be trimmed.  I decided to leave the liner overhanging the roof edge for now.  I’m kind of enjoying the look.

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About a month into the construction of the roof, it’s still not complete… but it’s coming along, and looking awesome.  I’ve been frustrated lately with how little time I’ve been able to spend working on the house.  I’ve been out of town a lot, first for Thanksgiving, and then to attend a cheesemaking course at a nearby university.  While out of town my laptop (among other things) was stolen, which means I’ve lost thousands of photos, including the vast majority of the photos from this building project.  And then I came down with strep throat…and jury duty.  Day after day of jury duty, which still isn’t over…and as I sit in deliberation with eleven other people in an overheated room, my EPDM pond liner sits patiently on a pallet by the cob house. 

All my complaints aside, a lot of work on the roof has happened, mostly due to my friends Greg and Steve.  I’m forever indebted to them both, because they’ve each spent a lot of time here lately, working on giving my house a sexy, sexy hat. 

The first step, after raising the ridge beam, was placing all the roundwood rafters.  They’re all tulip poplar, harvested from our woods, and each one was notched by Greg where it attached to the ridge beam.  They’re long enough for a 2.5 to 3 foot overhang, except on the west side of the house where there’s a 4 1/2 foot overhang! 

Once all the rafters were in place, we started with the decking.  The sawmill cut some 3/8″ by 10″ boards for us, which are thin enough to bend a little with the curves of the roofline.  The decking is attached directly to the rafters, and will be exposed in the interior of the house, as the ceiling in the second story.  Each piece of decking had to be custom cut, and we spent a lot of time making trapezoids.

The next job was attaching all the fascia, which are the boards that’ll hold in all the soil for the living roof.  We used pine and cedar milling scraps that were flat on one side and rounded on the other.  The boards varied a lot in shape, width, and thickness, which made it really fun for Greg as he custom cut each piece.   

fascia and 4.5' overhang

After all the decking and fascia were up, Steve put a layer of rigid blue foam insulation over the decking.  They’re scrap pieces from the Habitat work site dumpster, all odd shapes and sizes, pieced together with duct tape into a strangely beautiful blue board quilt.  I’m totally bummed that I lost all my pictures of this part of the project…  But I do have some pictures of the way Steve got the blue board up onto the roof, which was by throwing each piece as if it were a frisbee…

I had an old pool liner that I got for free, but it came with its fair share of teeny pinholes.  So I broke down and bought a new EPDM pond liner, which cost me $400!  Eeek!  We put the used pool liner over the blue board layer, mainly to keep the insulation from blowing away until we can get the EPDM up onto the roof.  The pond liner weighs between 250 and 300 pounds, so it’ll take the effort of a few people to get it up the scaffolding and onto the roof.  Hopefully that’ll happen sometime in the next few days!

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After cobbing day after day without a break, in addition to working full time, I’ve let the pace slow the last couple of weeks, spending more time hanging out with friends, reading, taking walks through the woods, and finally returning some phone calls and emails.  As the sun sets earlier each evening, just to wake up later each morning, I’ve been hearing the pending winter weather whispering to me, telling me to take it slow, and catch up on some sleep…

We have still been working a lot on the cob house, cobbing some random spots, trimming and shaping walls and window reveals, and doing some much needed site clean-up.  I built a hearth for our tiny wood stove, out of urbanite and cob (I’ll post some pictures of it soon).  And Noel and Gray spent a lot of time in the woods, harvesting and de-barking tulip poplar to use as rafters.

For the ridge beam I found a nice sourwood tree with a gentle curve, and Noel and I spent hours last weekend shaving all the bark off.  We only have one drawshave, so Noel and Gray made an improvised drawshave by taking a large knife we had dumpstered from behind the thrift store, and pounding it into a piece of wood, creating a double handled blade.  It actually does a great job getting the bark off all the roundwood!

On Sunday we managed to carry the ridge beam out of the woods and place it on top of this two story building.  It took at least eight of us to haul it from the forest, and even with that many people it was still really, really heavy.  My shoulder is still sore…  But its worth all the pain, because I’m really looking forward to not having to see this anymore:

On Monday my friends Greg and Steve worked on placing rafters and securing them to the ridge beam.  Each rafter is notched where it rests on the beam, and also secured with screws.  The ends of the rafters that rest on the wall will also be attached to “deadmen,” which will further anchor them to the walls.

Noel rounds the edges

About half the rafters are in place, and we’ll be working later this week on the rest of them.  Soon enough I’ll be able to fold up all these tarps, and sleep peacefully through rainy nights…




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Throughout this project I’ve had many, many people share their time and energy with me, helping to slowly build this home.  At this point more than fifty people have spent time here working on the house!  There are two people in particular who have given a lot of themselves.  Joelle and Alexor signed up for the week long cob workshop we taught here back in July.  But a week of building wasn’t enough for them, and they ended up staying here for over a month, working through the hundred degree summer heat to help build our home.

Since Joelle and Alexor were here to watch the house begin to grow from a few inches of cob into an actual building, it’s fitting that they came back to visit and help cob as the walls reached their final height.  We worked all day long for 3 days, and as the sun was about to set on their last day here, we were cobbing over the final course of straw bales in the north wall.  And now the house is ready for a roof!


Alexor foot mixing

north wall ready for the third course of bales

Kristin cobs in a lintel (and more cat stairs...)

Alexor cobs in the last window

last course of bales for the balecob wall

Noel drives split bamboo through the bales

bales and cat steps

ridiculously tall...

As we worked on the second story these last few weeks, I just couldn’t help myself, and I decided to add more cat stairs, and another catwalk, and then more steps…

So, in theory, the cats should be able to walk up the steps to the balcony, and then onto the south catwalk, then up more stairs to the east catwalk, and from there take some more steps around the north side of the house back to the balcony, making a complete circle.  All this is going to make the house pretty awkward to plaster.  But I really love my cats…

cat stairs!

Last week we finally used the last of the clay subsoil we had piled near the site when clearing the land and digging the rubble trench.  I’m actually surprised the pile lasted as long as it did, and we got through most of the second story before we had to start using some clay we had from digging a biochar pit last spring.  The new clay soil is really, really high in clay.  A beautiful deep red clay that will be perfect for plaster.

red, red clay

There are still a lot of random areas that I need to go back and cob, but the walls are at their final height, and the next step is the living roof.  I am eager for the house to have some serious rain protection, so that I can enjoy thunderstorms once again, instead of worrying about my cob baby, moving tarps around in a somewhat hopeless attempt to keep the walls dry.  Lucky for me our whole region has been in a serious drought…

The look of the house has been transformed again this last week, and I find myself walking over there often, climbing up the ladder to the second story, and then just sitting in silence, reflecting and daydreaming.  As I sit there and look at the earthen walls, I’m filled with so many emotions, and I feel so much love for this house, not only for providing us with shelter, but for bringing so many amazing people into my life.

To everyone that has helped us build, thank you so much!

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