I realized that I need to stop taking it personal or getting sensitive when people make fun of me or call me a hippy because I feel like its only gonna happen more and more so I better get used to it… ha! Let’s just say that for me, wishing for a good life in a healthy environment for all next generations and all living life on earth is not being a hippy ; its just what everyone should be working towards really. I just like thinking outside of the box and I admire people who aren’t scared to get out of the standard path to come up with creative ideas that can make a difference towards a more sustainable future. Not to be a downer but lets just be realistic here for a second ; If we don’t change anything and keep going at this rate, I can’t help to think that its gonna get real ugly real soon. So this is part of the reason why I got interested in Natural building.
Three summers ago, a friend of mine suggested I attend one of the Mudgirls Workshops on Salt Spring Island. She told me they were a group of women who work as a collective to teach and build all kinds of natural building projects. I thought : “Cool ! Im gonna check it out and Im sure I will love it.” The participants come to camp for the week, they only pay for their food and get free teaching in exchange of their labor. The Mudgirls also always provide childcare which is great for parents and a cook who makes delicious vegan meals and snacks. After that one week, I was already convinced to make my own little project which I started last year. You can get an idea of what me and my brother with a couple of friends accomplished last summer from The Cob House post I made last year.
So this year, I decided to hire the Mudgirls to come to my house to host one of their workshops like the one I took. I’m not in a rush to get it done but since I’m gone all winter and I work on it mostly alone with my brother, its not going very fast… So I figured that a workshop would be a great way to get more people into the movement and get a lot done in a short amount of time. I had 8 participants (men are welcome too) signed up for the week and about 5 Mudgirls staff came out. Everyone camped all over the yard, some came all the way from Nelson, Victoria, Vancouver and it was an awesome time to have all these interested and motivated people around to help me and learn. Im so thankful for everyone who came out to work so hard and it was really fun to get to know each other a bit more throughout the week :) Im hoping that they got inspired to create their own little set-uo one day.
My house isnt made of 100 % natural materials but you have to start somewhere right ? I chose to use a tin roof for durability since the house sits in one of the rainiest areas on earth. The cedar posts and rafters were bought from a logging company operating here on the island and I bought new materials like conduit and wiring for electricity. But whenever I can, I try to go as natural and local as possible. The foundation was built with “urbanite” (recycled broken concrete) that I got for free from the local cement company. The walls of the lower level are made with cob, which is pretty much like natural cement. It’s a mix of clay, sand, straw and water that you mix on a tarp by stepping on it and flipping it over a few times until its properly blended. The clay is dug up literally right beside the house site so it doesn’t get much more local than that. The sand aslo comes from the quarry located 2 kms from my house and the straw comes from farms on the island.
Once the mixture is right, you apply it by hand onto one foot thick walls that become really strong once they dry up. The straw is the fiber that gives the wall strength. The clay is what keeps the sand, water and straw together and you can create all kinds of shapes that you wouldn’t be able to get in conventional buildings.
I try to use as much recycled windows and materials as I can from places like Habitat for Humanity or Craigslist. The second floor’s walls siding is local red cedar collected from dead fall (wood left on the ground to waste by loggers) which was milled by a friend in town. The insulation of the roof is foam reused from an older building and still good for many years. I am also collecting all kinds of stuff like a used bathtub, an old sink and broken up tiles to make a mosaic cob floor later.
Once the Mudgirls showed up, we quickly started cobbing and the walls went up so much faster than if I was working alone. Natural building requires a lot of man power and a lot of time. It was nice to get that many people to help and the Mudgirls were there to answer all of my questions.
Even the kids got to get dirty and play in the mud. Lena and John seemed happy to help and they even had their own little project in the backyard building a cob oven. Here they are getting some clay for the construction.
I found 100 used glass blocks for cheap on Craigslist in Vancouver last winter. I didnt really know how exactly I would use them but I totally loved it once with put them in the wall. Since we’re building with cob, we’re able to have them set in the wall like a diamond shape instead of the conventional horizontal designs. Diamond is also my birthstone so it just makes sense! We wrapped the outside of each block with aluminum foil so the light reflects even more and they create such a radiant beautiful light.
You can do the same with all kinds of glass bottles and creative artifacts. The sky’s the limit. Its amazing how much creativity comes out in those kinds of buildings. I feel like you can get a lot more personality and coziness when you can customize the home you live in this much.
Of course this kind of structure isn’t for everyone but it’s just really fun and rewarding to build your own home. It is so much work but it makes you appreciate it that much more. It allows you to downsize and live more simply too. You can also make it super pimp too depending on how much time and budget you have but it usually is a lot cheaper than a conventional house. It often is the only way they can afford to build in so many countries which brings out the most creativity. They build with whats available there and then. Cob is nothing new either, its a method that has been used for hundreds of years all over the world and the buildings can last forever if well maintained like this one below I found on the web is 150 years old!
If you want to learn more about it, just Google “cob house” and you’ll see tons of different houses that were build all over the world and they’re all so unique and beautiful. Here are some photos that I keep looking at for inspirations.
Cob is definitely not the only option either. There are so many different types of natural buidlings out there and even just cool little cabins or campers ideas. A great book who just came out that I highly recommend having a look at is “Tiny Homes” by Lloyd Kahn. He has written several books about all kinds of incredible homes and projects that are all so inspiring. The book also features Mike Basich’s home in Tahoe which really looks like a piece of art.
My project is far from done. I have to finish the cob walls, apply a plaster over it all so it looks smooth and nice and you can sculpt all kinds of drawings and shapes or even add color during that stage. I have to do a floor, install the plumbing, make an outhouse with some kind of composting toilet and a shower. It will take a while but its so worth it for me. I also want to experiment with solar power and see how it will do in this climate. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have advice or want to share ideas as I love this stuff! Ill keep posting updates of the progress and I hope you enjoyed the read :)