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«The Cob Builders Handbook You Can Hand-Sculpt Your Own Home Table Of Contents:  Acknowledgements and Warning INTRODUCTION What is cob? Why build ...»

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Stairs or ladders can be hazardous and difficult for the old and young. It is • trickier to get a multi-story house to look like it belongs in its environment. It's more awkward and dangerous to work further off the ground. The walls will have to be thicker at the bottom to support a second story. This means you'll need more cob and a more heavy duty foundation.

Noise   Cob walls do an excellent job cutting noise, windows less so. Hopefully the noisy side is not the sunny side. Design accordingly.

Plan for Future Additions Now   If you plan to add onto your home in the future, it's important to design the different stages so they complement each other well. Keep future addition(s) in mind as you design. Make sure the water will run straight off every roof into a gutter, and not onto another roof. (See page 38 for more about future additions.) You may want to consider a C, L, S, or U shape for modular building.

Designing the Entrance   The entrance to a home is a big part of its personality. It creates an impression for everyone as they come and go. It's worth investing thought and imagination into this important aspect of designing your home. (See the section on designing the door area, page 36.)

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Here's a list of some things to consider when looking for land:   Getting land to build on is the first and probably the biggest step towards your • dream of "home sweet home". Reading this book will give you some good ideas about what to look for. Take your time, use your intuition and be brave!

If you choose to lease or rent land, make sure you have a very clear, written legal agreement with the landowner that ensures your right to live on the land.

Who will you live with? Are you sure you want to live with this person(s)?

• Make clear agreements regarding the use of the land with your land partners.

Your feelings: do you love the place? Are you ready and willing to make a • commitment to this piece of land?

Restrictions: building codes, covenants, zoning, minerals, water, and access • rights Future plans for the surrounding areas: clear cut? a non-organic farm?

• noisy factory?

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Economics: price of the land, payment plan • Climate: solar access, rainfall, wind, potential disasters: earth-quake, • hurricane, flood, etc.

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Dependable year round water source for drinking and irrigation • Erosion: flood plains? clear cuts uphill of the land?

• Neighbors: privacy, noise, property lines • Surrounding community: diversity, culture, schools •

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Finding your home site Once you get land, you can start deciding where your home will be situated on it. It's a good idea to allow lots of time for this important step. Observing the land in all the seasons can be extremely helpful! Spend as much time as possible on the land. To make it easy for you to hang out there, set up a little camp kitchen, shelter, hammock, etc.

Read the design section of this handbook while you're considering your site options.

Also read the section on drainage to help you choose a spot that will minimize your drainage work. It may be helpful to read up on permaculture, which is a design system that considers the multi-facets of life in the planning process.

Choosing the house site includes:   Choosing the water source and planning how to get it to the house. Will you • be using water from the county system, a well, a spring or a stream? Will it get to your house by gravity feed or will it be pumped? Will it flow all year?

Designing the septic or waste system. Generally the simpler the system, the • better. There are lots of books about these subjects, everything from outhouses to by-the-code plumbing. (see The Humanure Handbook) Visualizing the access and parking. Building roads is one of the most • destructive things people do to Mother Earth. Roads are often the cause of erosion and landslides, so plan them very carefully. Designing a road is complicated and can be expensive. Take the time to learn as much as you can about it. Do not assume that the guys you hire to do the road know what they are doing. Keep an eye on the road during heavy rains. Take your shovel out and adjust the road where necessary to protect it from erosion.

Do you want to see approaching cars? Do you want them to see you? Cars are noisy, stinky and usually pretty ugly. I suggest keeping the parking lot out of your view as much as possible. The approach and entrance to your home will influence your home's character.

It's very convenient to be able to drive a load of sand or rocks right up to the homesite during construction, so you may want to at least make a temporary road for that purpose.

Laying out the walking path(s) to and from the house, garden, outhouse, etc.

• These need to be practical and direct. Design them with surface water runoff in mind. Use the same strategies as for making a road. Walking paths can easily become creek beds!

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Finding a place for your garden and orchard. Do you like your garden to be • close to the house? If you can see it from indoors through a window, it invites you to spend time in it. If there's critters to keep out, you'll need to build a fence. If you think fences are ugly, you may decide to put the garden where you can't see its fence from the house. Or make a pretty fence that you'll enjoy seeing from indoors.

Placing the homesite near a fertile garden spot on your land will save you a lot of soil improvement work.

Unless you live in Eden, you'll probably need to water your garden. Think about the water system when you choose the garden spot. Will you be using the runoff from your roof for the garden and/or orchard?

You may want a road to the garden. If you can drive truckloads of composting materials right to the spot, you will save yourself many wheelbarrow trips.

Put the house where it belongs   A home that suits its environment is a joy to the heart. Choosing a site and designing your home are intricately interwoven. Becoming familiar with the land will inspire your design. Forget what conventional houses look like and let your creative imagination run free. Let the design grow out of the place as much as possible.

Pick a site that is naturally comfortable   Pretend you're an animal living outdoors. Find the coziest spots on your land. Where does the sun shine? Notice the winds. Cold sinks to the lowest places and flows over the ground much like water. Where will the cold air sit? Where will it flow? Observe the land carefully in all the seasons. Go there in the biggest storms and on the hottest days. Consider any natural disaster potential like fire or flood and avoid high risk places. Remember that if you put your house on your favorite spot, your favorite spot will be gone.

A dry place is good for the health of your home.   It is important to keep any home as dry as possible. Choose an already naturally dry spot such as a rocky outcrop, or a little rise or ridge. Avoid low areas that will hold the damp. Avoid places where water-loving plants grow, eg. ferns or horsetails.

Observe the land carefully during heavy rains. Talk to the former owners and/or neighbors about what happens during high water or flooding. In the wet season, dig some two foot deep test holes on your proposed sites to see how well those areas drain. If the holes fill with water, you'll either want to choose a drier site or create a dry island for your home. (Read the Drainage chapter for how to do this.)

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That's roughly it! The area you're looking at between your hands is where the strongest sunshine will be coming from. Does anything obstruct the useful sun? If there are substantial things in the way like hills or mountains you will probably want to move the home site.

The sun travels high in the sky in the summer and lower in the sky in the winter. The further from the equator you live, the lower the path of the sun will be in the winter.

You can find out the exact angle of the sun in different seasons from charts in passive solar books.

You may want to position your home so that deciduous trees can shade it in the summer, or plant some so they'll grow as soon as possible to keep you cool in the hot season. When they lose their leaves in the winter, sunlight can pass through them to light and heat your house. It's wonderful to see the fruit forming and ripening right outside your window.

17 Where the land is protected from grazing animals, the forest will grow back. Think ahead. What used to be a clearing can turn into a dark, damp site. If this is the case where you live, you may need to cut down the baby trees and the undergrowth to keep your site drier and more open, and to keep roots from weakening your foundations.

Think ahead about any evergreens on the sunny side of your home site. They will grow and block your precious sunshine. Either move the home site or consider cutting down the trees. Are these the trees that will provide your lumber/firewood needs?

Harvesting your own wood     Trees can be used for beautiful, round rafters, poles or posts. If you want poles for building, thin the forest intentionally or clear trees from the site. Skin them as soon as they are cut. The fresher the tree, the easier it is to peel the bark off.. You can get a special tool for this job called a draw knife, but a hatchet and/or sharpened shovel work fine. Dry the wood in the shade up on blocks to keep it off the ground. The bigger trees can be sawed into boards for roof sheathing, ceiling, and whatever else you want milled timber for. If you don't have a mill, you can get someone with a portable one to come out to your land and do the job. If you want to have the wood cut up at the mill, they will be able to advise you on how to transport and dry the boards. When choosing a site, consider the trees in the area carefully. Tree roots will grow and can weaken or even destroy a foundation. Any roots below the foundation will have to be removed.


Do you want the wind blowing on your house? Find a spot that suits you. If it's a cold place, you'll probably want a wind-protected spot behind trees or natural terrain. If you want to plant a windbreak, the sooner you do it, the sooner it will grow. If you live where it gets hot, breezes are an asset for ventilation. (See the section on ventilation, page 118.) Noise   When choosing your site consider the noise levels in different areas of your land.

Night is the best time to really hear noise.

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Before you look for a home site it is very important to find out how close to the neighbors' boundaries you are legally allowed to build. In some places it can be as far as 200 feet!


Now that you've put all these factors into the amazing computer on top of your shoulders and have come up with the place, it's time to prepare the site for action.


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If there isn't a house on the land, set up a temporary shelter and a fire, a • cooking set-up, a hammock, and a tent site. Make it inviting to hang out on the land.

Gather the tools you'll need and make a dry, safe spot to store them.

• Set up a tarp over the construction site for shade and rain protection. This • sounds easier than it is. The tarp roof needs to be designed with care. Make sure the water will not run onto the walls or puddle in the middle and pull down the tarp with its weight. If you decide to build the roof of your house first, obviously you won't need the tarp covering.

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Gather materials and get them to the site. Put everything in the most • convenient place so you won't have to move anything more times than necessary. Keep the wood and straw dry. Store glass carefully. (See pages 23for a list of materials to collect.)

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Start the drainage and foundation. Yippee!


Remember, for thousands of years people have used what they had and what they could find to build their homes. What follows is a fancy list of all the things you could

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Essential stuff   a reasonably healthy body or the power of persuasion and friends with • reasonably healthy bodies a fairly determined, flexible brain •

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stones for foundation or whatever you're using for a foundation (like tires, • broken concrete pieces, mortar, forms if you're pouring your foundation, etc.) gravel and perforated pipe or tile for the drainage ditches • sand, clay and straw (See how to make cob, starting on page 78, to estimate • how much you'll need of each.) a vehicle, ideally a pickup truck, or at least a friend with one • little tarps, approximately 7x9 feet or bigger, for mixing cob • cobbing tools: squirt bottles, sticks and/or stones to massage the cob together, • machete, meat cleaver, and burlap bags or tarps to cover the cob (See pages 51 and 77 for more specific tool lists.) big bits of wood to span door and window openings if you are not arching the • cob over the openings (See the section on lintels page 107.) roofing stuff: wood, rafters, sheathing and insulating stuff (See roof chapter • beginning on page 123.)

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carpentry tools: hammer, nails, saw, square, pencil, tape measure • leveling tools: level, taper wedge for the level, long straight 2x4, clear plastic • tube for the water level (See page 60.), string earth moving tools: wheel barrow, shovels, pick, hoe • plumbing and electrical stuff if you plan to have them, and pipe to run through • the walls or foundation

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scrap wood for bracing and scaffold supports, planks and extra straw bales for • scaffolds sill materials: flat stones, brick, tile • Piles of lovely things on site while you build will inspire the artist in you.

• pretty things to bury in walls: hooks, rocks, tiles, seashells, magic things, colored glass, and colored bottles.

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