Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cob, Straw and Cordwood, Oh My!

I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family where we are always looking at alternative building methods, talking about alternative medicines, and keeping an open mind concerning the world around us. My parents, Aunts and Uncles have done a lot to shape my world view, and I am highly appreciative. Not only was I exposed to spiritual/esoteric things such as energy work, Reiki, and auras, but we also talked a lot about living off grid and being self sustaining. One great memory I have is going to an open house at the Earthwood Building School, nearby in West Chazy, NY. It definitely opened my eyes to all the different building materials available to build a house, which is good, you need to dispel those expectations of "what a house should look like" early in order to keep an open mind about things. So this search for an alternative material to build a house is founded in my childhood, and these are the three options I am looking at the most.

Cob
Definitely the most malleable option. These houses look like everything from hobbit huts to adobe houses. I love the warm organic feel that they have to them, and how you can pretty much sculpt these houses to look like anything you want.
This picture just shows how creative you can be with this building material, I love how whimsical this house is. It is labor intensive, however, and you can read all about it in the blog The Year of Mud. It chronicles the author's year long adventure to build her little cabin. Though, I do love how this looks, and have read that these structures are pretty resistant to various environmental problems (i.e. cold, humidity, rain etc.) I almost feel that the time needed may make this more appropriate for a garden shed, or another out building.

Straw Bale
Super quick and made out of a waste materail, this is a wonderful option, that can literally be put up in a matter of days. This is by far the quickest of the three. I love that the thickness of the walls does an amazing job insulating the interior. Which living in the frozen north, insulation is always something in the forefront of your mind when thinking about building a house. There are a ton of pictures online.
There are also a ton of books you can find, filled with various house plans for these structures. Dancing Rabbit's Blog gives a good step-by-step to sort of outline the process involved. I think this is the option I am leaning toward, not only because I like the look of them, but also the quickness with which they can be built highly appeals to me, as there are about a million other projects that I am adding to my to-do list every day. However, I can admit that I am totally in love with the way the interiors of these houses can be designed.
I have always loved the way exposed beams look inside a house, although I have never been much for white walls, that's an easy fix. But really, how cozy does this look? I can imagine a nice little wood stove, and a comfy old couch in this room. Wood floors, are a big love of mine as well, as I am a huge fan of the old rag rugs. I am currently knitting a rug out of old t-shirts actually, and I will post results on that when I get a little further along.

Cordwood
Finally, the construction method that has a special place in my heart thanks to the folks at Earthwood Building School. I love that these houses look like they are built of stone when you view them from a distance, it's just amazing to look at. Then when you factor in the amazing R-value (insulating factor) this is really a win win. The downside is this technique is also quite time consuming.
I do love how these houses look, and you an get quite creative with them as well, by adding bottles to the walls, or getting creative in how you finish the plaster in between the log ends. These structures are a wonderful choice for cold climates, and despite consisting of exposed log ends, they are actually pretty fire-resistant according to Rob Roy (one of the teacher's of the Earthwood Building School). You could ideally construct this house out of wood cleared from the lot you build the house on! But like I said this can be time consuming, not only because you need to strip the logs, cut them, stack them and let them dry, but also because you have to build up the walls much like building a brick wall. The folks at Earthwood have open-houses, and there is actually one on October 6th that I am hoping to attend. Another great thing is that they have several structures built with different materials on their homesite. So if this interests you at all you may want to check it out. I am going for a refresher, but also to kind of relive a moment from my childhood by including my child this time.

So this is a really general introduction, and I know there are other green building techniques out there (such as packed earth, just to name one). But these are the three that appeal the most to me and my climate. I will probably get more in depth at a further date, but this is definitely to a great introduction to building with something other than wood and drywall.

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