Getting Ready For Spring: The Building Project

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It's been a while since I have posted anything about my Micro-Farming project that I want to have in my back yard. Well, that's because the project has been placed on hold due to cold weather. But don't think that is going to stop me from planning! In fact, this summer I have a couple of building projects that will be put into place once the ground begins to thaw. Here is what i have planned:

The Patio
Currently, I have a covered patio that has made a terrible storage area. Why terrible? Because I want it as an addition to the house, but can't do so until it's enclosed. It's fairly large, being 20 feet along the back of the house, and 16 feet out, and would make a perfect family gathering/tv/dining room. I also plan to have the laundry out there, to open up more space in the basement for a kitchen. That being said, the room needs to be well insulated, manage heat well, and needs to have a feel that is completely relaxed.

I have been racking my brains out on how to best do so, while running plumbing and electrical wires without needing a lot of additional materials. While I was looking into it, I followed a train of thought that began with my reading of The Celts: A History. Why not try a low-cost building material that is abundant in the area while also keeping a versatile medium? I started thinking about cob.

What is cob, you may ask? Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, water, and straw that is built into a single monolithic structure. The walls are thick (between 24 in. and 9 in.), are load bearing, almost as tough as concrete, and because of their mass have excellent insulating properties. The key to cob is that it is very cost effective, so the cost of finishing the back patio will be reduced drastically. And, because I am only building three walls, the project shouldn't take very long to complete. It also doesn't require drywalling, insulation, or special holes for running electrical wires. It does need to be waterproofed with a lime wash, which can be picked up at any local hardware store.

Why cob? I have to admit, it was an interesting proposition. My wife still thinks I'm a little nuts with this decision, because it's so radical in today's design structure. But all that aside, it's really cheap, and really easy to build. It's also fun to do, since it doesn't require a lot of skill to put up. There is also an added benefit of the environmental factor.

But there is also a huge stigma to building with cob, namely a "hippie culture" that revolves around this building medium. Why? Because you are basically sculpting your living space, instead of buliding your living space. Because it is truly sculpture, the creative side flows, and some pretty radical bulidings have been built through this medium. Now, I'm not saying that the buildings are not livable, because they look quite nice. As I'm more of a traditionalist, I prefer straight walls to curved, sloping walls. When you start talking about the "zen" of cob building, then I may just roll my eyes. But when you talk about the historical significance to cob building, namely that it was the building material of choice for the Greeks, Egyptians (the common folk, at any rate), and many of the Celtic tribes, then you get my attention.

For more information on building with cob, you may want to check out the Cob Cottage Company, or the Earthed World website. Both have come traditional and more artistic buliding examples, and Earthed World actually has pictures of building a site from the ground up.

The Garden
Now, as I previously said, my wife seems to think I'm a little crazy with this idea of the cob room, and will need some convincing. So, I thought the easiest way to do so would be to start with a small cob project that isn't going to be too terrible to tear down, but still have some functionality. So, I'm going to begin with a cob fence around the garden area. This will both keep me busy and off the computer games for a while, and it will also give me some practical experience in building with the material. If I can build a very functional raised garden out of cob (and I should be able to, since it's pretty much self-draining), then I should be able to make a decent-looking patio as well.

So, this means a cob raised garden. I was thinking this would be a good opportunity to see how well cob can survive, as well as give me some opportunity to try dry-laying stone foundations. The cob will just be the top part of the garden, with most of the soil being set between the stone. That way it will not erode the cob too much, and I don't have to worry about whitewashing the inside of the garden.

The Greenhouse
Yes, the greenhouse will be built out of cob as well, if this goes well. In fact, it will merely be an extension of the existing patio, and separated from the new room by a wattle and daub wall. This uses cob on a wood frame, so the wall can be thinner. But again, it all depends on how the garden wall goes. But I will include a foundation to the greenhouse in the garden wall, since they will be connected. I may even put a door through, which I didn't intend to do initially. This new medium gives me a lot of options I didn't think I had before.

So, that's my update on the micro-farming project. Everything else will come together as I get these done, starting with the first real thaw.