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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