why rising earth?

The title of this blog draws from my time as an apprentice at the Cob Cottage Company in costal Oregon. If you spend time with natural building folk, you'll eventually find yourself around a fire, sing silly songs about cob and natural building. Folks usually refer to these oftentimes improvised tunes as "cobsongs". I often sang..."There is a house in old coquille, they call the rising earth, it's been the work of many hands, and you know what that's worth..."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Interior plaster

Natural plasters are great for creating hand made finishes on conventionally built walls. Plaster has more soul and fewer toxins than paint and doesn't require highly finished drywall.

This purple plaster is made from dried pottery clay, lime, sand, wheat paste, and a small amount of chopped straw. It will dry to a less saturated, lighter purple gray in a few days. Below is the opposite corner of the room, and mud room.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Earthen Acres Addition

This week Greg and I worked on the addition to Danielle's cottage at Circle Acres. She built a unique two-story cob cottage two years ago after taking our first workshop. Her building was truly tiny, with an interior space of 8'x8' on each level.

Here is a photo of Greg laying the earthen sub-floor at the back door threshold. They've added a substantial but modest living room, and a cozy little kitchen. The addition is built with a hefty pine frame and strawbale and light straw clay infill. You can read all about the construction of the cottage at Earthen Acres.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Outdoor Kitchen

Here are a couple photos of the outdoor kitchen I built at the Food Literacy Project in Louisville, KY last year. I asked them to send me a couple recent photos because I wanted to see how it's looking these days now that it's no longer a beat up work site. It looks pretty good!

The Food Literacy Project is a non-profit partner to a sustainable vegetable farm on historic acreage in Louisville, KY. They run a variety of programs for Louisville youth that center on the field-to-fork experience of harvesting fresh vegetables and cooking...now in their beautiful outdoor kitchen!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Durham Addition

We've been moving right along on the addition at Carlton Ave in the past few weeks. Here's Greg staining the board siding, and battens on sawhorses. Board and batten is a classic, practical, and inexpensive siding option very common in the country, less so in downtown Durham. The rustic aesthetic is catching on in cities these days though, it seems to be following the local food/urban chicken movement, in line with a growing appreciation for all things rural.

Also, the boards didn't come from Home Depot, but from a charming sawmill about 40 miles from town. So we're supporting a local family run mill as well as getting a beautiful product.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paul's Cabin

Here is the little cabin we worked on during my straw bale workshop last week in Schoharie County, NY. The building is perched near the edge of a ravine in the woods behind my friend Paul's house. He will use it as a retreat cabin, for writing/painting, and a guest cottage.

The building is not completely finished in this photo, and it likely still isn't. We did this in one week and Paul will spend time this fall on the finishing details.

The walls are framed entirely with salvaged lumber and timbers. The north wall is a post and beam frame made from old barn timbers and the other walls stud framed or something in between. We worked with what we had and improvised the layout to fit the materials on hand. We did buy new lumber to frame the floor and roof though.

The north, east, and west walls are strawbale and plaster and the south wall is a straw-clay infill. The floor and roof are not insulated but can easily be finished in the future.

I managed to not get any pictures of the south/porch side, (probably due to the steep drop-off) but there is a glass door to the porch and two big windows, which admit a lot of light.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Straw Bale

We have room for a couple more folks to participate in the straw bale workshop August 10-12 in Summit, NY. Check out the link and get in touch if you're interested!

Preparing for the upcoming workshop has me reflecting on previous bale projects, so here's a photo from a build I worked on a few years ago. The bales have been installed and we were trimming the walls and filling gaps with straw. The orange helmet is mostly for ear protection because we were using a chainsaw to cut, shape, and trim bales.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sod Roofed Cellar

I'm pleased that this 9x12 root cellar turned out to exhibit such a harmonious blend of building convention and natural materials. The 8" thick poured concrete foundation walls and slab floor are set against clay plaster and a sod roof. The sharp and shiny flashing contrasts with the urbanite and little funky door.

We will complete the building by lime plastering the gable walls, for durability and interior brightness. The floor of the cellar rests about 30" below grade and sits above an extensive drainage system. It rained last night, just perfect timing to get growth on the roof started after this little drought we've had in central NC.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Root Cellar

We framed the roof of the root cellar today, and had an outstanding day building. The roof is made of oak and pine we bought from a beautiful country sawmill near Jordan Lake, NC.

The heavy frame will be supporting a 12" thick green roof that will be continous with the ground, it should turn out to be a charming little building and our best green roof yet!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Catskill Strawbale Workshop

Today I'm doing final preparation for our one-week cob building workshop in Durham. It starts tonight with a campfire at 6pm!

I'm happy to announce that I'm teaching another workshop this summer, a three day weekender focusing on strawbale construction. Hosted by my good old friend Paul Voightland on his beautiful land in Summit, NY, it's sure to be a fun and enriching weekend.

From August 10-12 we'll be doing strawbale infill, earth and lime plaster, and some carpentry/general building stuff on a cabin in the woods. On site camping and all meals are provided. Get in touch with Mike at mpmcdono@yahoo.com or (502) 381 5004 for more info and registration.

The Planet Roo Arbor

I'm just starting to go through photos from the build at Bonnaroo this year. We did a lot of great work and there will be plenty to post as I have the time.

Here are three shots of the arbor pyramid going up. The poles are great big sticks of tropical bamboo that we found in a barn going unused this year. The purlins and "thatch" are locally harvested Tennessee 'Roo 'boo.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Greg's blog

Here are two recent shots from builder Greg Allen's blog, Cob & On. Greg has been a frequent building partner of mine since we met at the Cob Cottage Company, and he does inspired work. His blog contains a wealth of detailed information on natural building, and covers a few years of work. Check it out.

Lime Bench

Lime plastered cob bench in the cottage we built in Chapel Hill this spring.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bonnaroo 2012

I found this great photo today while working on plans for Bonnaroo 2012 - it's coming right up in June!  Here is a photo of last year's build showing Ben, Thomas, and Scott setting a big oak post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring at the site

The little cob cottage is really coming together just in time for spring. Next up is the exterior plaster, check back soon!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pretty black for a green roof...

Green roofs are somewhat deceptive. The plants may be green, but under all that lush growth often lies a dead black petroleum based waterproof membrane. Some green roofs even have multiple layers of perforated polyethylene drainage mats, rigid foam sheets, root-barrier membrane...We didn't go so far, but we did get ourselves a nice fat EPDM sheet.

EPDM pond liners are commonly used as the water proof membrane in green roofs. They're pretty tough, but should be isolated from the roof deck and soil layer, to make sure they don't get punctured. We separated ours with layers of rigid foam insulation. The pond liner wraps up and over the 2x10 fascia to create an enclosed pan for the soil, which drains in the low spots via PVC shower pan drains.

The soil on the roof is the topsoil that used to live where the building is. In creating the pad and footing, we made sure to separate topsoil for the roof, and subsoil for cob. Check back this summer to see how things are growing up there.

Anatoly's cottage

Here is the entrance to Anatoly's cottage, currently under construction. The walls are built of cob and strawbale, and will be finished with clay and lime plasters. The building sits on a foundation of discarded rubble. We gathered concrete, stone, and brick from within a couple miles of the site for free. I was amazed at how easy it was. Maybe we got lucky, but Greg and I, each with a small truck, found all the rubble we needed in about one full  day of work.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rocket Stove

Watch this video of a super-efficient rocket stove we just built in our new cob cottage. Rocket stoves contain an internal heat riser that creates a very strong draft. Burning very hot and efficiently, they are capable of pushing hot exhaust through ducts in built in massive furniture and warming buildings directly.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Electronic cottage

I snapped this photo of Greg and Anatoly testing the internet and phone connection at Anatoly's cottage in Chapel Hill the other day. I felt I had to capture the juxtaposition of ancient cob and the very modern mac laptop and internet. Anatoly does computer programing and will use the cottage as an office as well as family get-away. A place of natural energy and magic in their suburban backyard, complete with rocket stove and internet connection!

Cob Workshop June 2012

Greg and I are hosting a 7-day cob workshop in Durham, NC this June. We will be leading participants in the construction of a cob building and garden wall in the backyard of the house we're currently building. We will build with cob, strawbales, earthen and lime plasters, and do some carpentry as well. The workshop is aimed at folks who want to build their own small cottage or outbuilding with cob and/or strawbales. No previous building experience is necessary, building with cob is a very intuitive process and you will be confident using the materials after spending week building with us.

you can find a full description of the workshop at cob workshops and on the Natural Building Network's event calendar. While you're at it, check out Danielle's blog, earthen acres. She took our cob workshop in 2009 and went on to build her own home the next year!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Allen's house

Here are a few photos of the Allen's house so far, and It's looking really good. The kitchen is especially bright, sunny, and cheerful. They're spending a few weeks trying it out this winter, before we begin the addition. There are a few details missing yet, like the finish floor for example, and the mirror above the bathroom sink.