What are we going to live in?
This question has been one of the foremost topics on my mind when Victoria and I first decided that we wanted shift into a more sustainable and possibly even a regenerative living model on raw land. Although the concept of natural building was not new to me, I was painfully ignorant about the details.
We knew that we wanted freedom from the current system, we wanted to live lightly on the land by having a small environmental footprint, we wanted stability and security, and of course we wanted comfort. As such, any option that we considered had to have the potential to meet all of the requirements.
The following is a list of criteria that needed to be met:
FREEDOM/INDEPENDENCE: Our housing needs to be capable of integrating off grid living technologies such as alternative power, water, and sanitation. Freedom also means that the structure needs to be constructed with materials that are easily accessible without specialized tools or skills.
ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT: The idea is to live in harmony with the land so any structure that we use should be minimally impacting and possibly even regenerating for the surrounding environment.
ADAPTABILITY: We are constantly changing and our living space must reflect this ability as well to fit the needs that we have at any given time.
SECURITY: Shelter is a basic human need and a house’s primary function is to provide a secure space when called for.
STABILITY: This is an aspect of security in that our living space also needs to provide a sense being rooted and steadfast.
COMFORT: Home is the quintessence of comfort as comforting things oftentimes remind us of home. Whichever building type we choose must have an inherent ability to offer creature comforts.
The following, is a study of the five major options we considered, their pros and cons and which seems to fit our EarthSKy People paradigm best. We will start with Cob Houses.
Cob: Cob is essentially a mixture of sand, clay, and chopped straw formed into oblong loafs or “cobs”. I really like the idea of “sculpting” a house out of natural materials sourced at the construction site itself. The “organic” feel of cob houses is also something that Victoria and I both found aesthetically pleasing.
FREEDOM/INDEPENDENCE: Under the right conditions, Cob houses are an example of freedom materialized into a building. The materials are simple and abundant and do not require special tools to work with. The skills needed to build a cob house are minimal compared to modern buildings. The thermal mass provided by the dense earthen walls and floors help keep the temperature cool in the heat and warm in the cold making this an energy efficient home and a great choice for off grid living.
ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT: If the materials can be found onsite, cob houses have a very small environmental footprint. Should the house be abandoned, the structure would quickly re-integrate into the landscape without leaving persistent waste and toxic byproducts as a conventional building would.
ADAPTABILITY: The flexibility of design is another strong plus for this natural building style as it can literally be carved and hand shaped. Cob houses can be created in any size or shape that we might want and can always be expanded when desired.
SECURITY: Earthen buildings are inherently secure and may also be adapted to remain secure in most living conditions
STABILITY: This form of building is incredibly robust and the technology has withstood the test of time as centuries old buildings made with cob can still be seen standing.
COMFORT: More so than any of the other criteria, comfort is so subjective to the individual. Even so, cob has the potential to meet even the comfort level of a modern house
Cob passed all the criteria that we had set forth however, ultimately, we decided that a cob house did not make it to the top of our EarthSky list / standards. The materials necessary, although abundant, may not be accessible on location as clay must first be located then tested for quality. Despite these potential challenges with cob buildings, it remains a good option.
The hunt for the perfect EarthSky People dwelling continues…