Posts Tagged ‘urbanite’

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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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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Every spare second of my time over the last week has been spent moving around pieces of concrete.  I wore holes through the fingers of my gloves, and then wore my fingertips raw.  When I laid the last chunk of urbanite today I almost didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day.  I just hung around the house site for a while, walking some on the foundation to test the stones, and make sure they didn’t move.  Now that the foundation is finished, the wall is ready for some cob!  I can’t wait to get some mud on my feet.

south wall

west wall & entrance

north & west walls

So, today I did use a little cement to mortar the bricks in the threshold.  The guy at a local building supply store gave me a free bag of concrete that had busted open. Here’s some mortar action:

And the threshold:


And here I am gloating over my beautiful, beautiful stemwall:

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The south wall of the foundation has grown to stand 18″ above ground level, which means that part is finished.  Once the wall was up to ground level, I started stacking the urbanite on it’s side, instead of laying it flat.  I feel like this method allows for more creativity, and I’ve been having so much fun dry stacking lately.  The wall is also going up much faster, partly because stacking them on their sides means I get more height with each placement, but also because I’m using much smaller pieces, which I can pick up and use quickly, instead of struggling to slowly drag some massive chunks of concrete onto the wall.  The different shapes and sizes of the pieces make a more interesting wall, too…

south wall

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Today I finished the third course of urbanite, which finally brought me into some above ground territory.  The eastern part of the stem wall is now a couple inches above the grass!

I haven’t been able to stack urbanite as often as I’d like lately, but, when I can work a full day, I seem to be able to lay a course in a day.  The hardest part of the dry stacking so far has been trying to move around pieces of concrete that weigh more than me.  I can’t lift the larger pieces on my own, so I’ve had to roll them across the field,  slowly inch them closer to the wall, and slide them into place.  And then sometimes slide them back off…

Here’s some pictures from earlier today:

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The first course of urbanite is complete, and so begins the start of the foundation stem wall.  On Friday I picked up a yard of sand, and after tamping the rubble and then laying old grain bags on top, I put a layer of sand over the grain bags, to create a more stable surface on which to lay the concrete pieces.  Then it was time to start laying the urbanite.

Gray and I spent hours hauling urbanite over to the site and fitting them together like puzzle pieces.  We had a lot of fun, mostly working in silence, except for the sounds of hammer, chisel, and breaking concrete.  It went a lot faster than I expected, and we had the first course done before dinner…

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So much of my time over the last month or so has been spent digging deeper and deeper into the earth, I had forgotten that there would one day be an end to it.  I’ve really come to enjoy and appreciate digging, and have found the mattock to be one of my favorite tools.  But I won’t get to spend as much time with it for a while.  After lots of lonely digging and shoveling, I had a bunch of friends show up and do in one day what would have taken me a week.  I turned around and when I looked back over my shoulder the rest of the trench had been dug and graded.  I blinked and drain pipe was laid and cradled with urbanite rubble.  The trench is filled and almost ready for the stem wall.  I’ve just got to cover the rubble with some old grain bags we’ve got in the shed, and then put some sand on top of that before I can start dry stacking the urbanite.

I love how this picture makes the site look so teeny:

All the time we’ve spent scavenging concrete rubble has paid off, and we were able to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on gravel.  I fell asleep last night feeling so satisfied.  Satisfied not only with the completion of one phase of the project, but satisfied with a life full of hard work, good food, beautiful weather, and great friends.

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