World weather patterns are becoming extreme and certainly more unpredictable. So living in a cob house, which regulates its own temperature, is very appealing. Add to that a home which is relatively cheap to build and one that endures over time, and you have a home-building recipe for long-standing success.
Making a comeback in the western world, up to half of the world’s population already lives in earthen dwellings. Of the numerous natural and sustainable building methods available, the wattle and daub approach uses cob as a cover over a wooden framework, and the straw baling technique involves stacking the bales on a stone foundation. Cobbing itself consists of a sand, straw, clay and water mixture, transformed into wet bricks or lumps for flexibility, while adobe is the dried version, formed into rectangular bricks before use.
Cob describes the old Devon name used for a loaf of bread. It’s also here that you’ll find 500 year old cob houses. But the building method, dating to prehistoric times, is not exclusive to the region, as its durability (they are fireproof and resistant to seismic activity) is evident around the world, including the Far East, Middle East, India, Eastern Europe and Africa. For centuries, traditional South African Zulu village rondavels (round huts with thatched roofs) have been built using a similar method.
Economically Viable; Labour Intensive
Cob materials are, literally, dirt cheap. Many who choose to build in this way rely on their immediate environment for their requirements, often obtaining them gratis. While cobbing uses no form, wooden structures or bricks, the walls – usually a major building expense – are much more economical than their brick and mortar cousins.
Watching the process of people foot-stomping the muddy mixture until it’s a smooth paste, then rolling and cutting for the cob brick creation can be quite comical. It’s also labour-intensive, which is exactly why you need a village not only to raise a child, but to build a house. With community involvement, the initial process of dancing on the earth becomes a fun event in the literal hands-on (and feet-on) practical cob-building workshops that are held globally by many who choose this building method. In days passed, animals used to do the treading, and likely still do in many a land.
Considering the cement industry is a huge contributor to global greenhouse gas, and conventional building processes and their requisite maintenance translates to masses of CO2 emissions, using your environment’s earthen offerings and natural resources means helping to maintain Mother Earth’s balance. Ditto your recycled doors and flooring. Moreover, many builders create their windows from recycled glass, from trashed cars for example.
Cob’s thick walls produces a home that ‘breathes’, which is arguably the greatest natural benefit of living in and with cob, as it can seriously reduce your electricity bill. This ensures homes remain cool in the summer months and warm up for your winter needs, unlike a brick and mortar structure.
Cob homes have an enchanting presence, which is perhaps because you’ve been able to organically sculpt your very own creativity through the walls, floors and roof of your house. An earthen home has no limits and means your originality can shine.
These old-fashioned mud houses are becoming fashionable for all the right reasons. A growing, living and evolving structure to which you’ve given life is going to give yours back. And for life, if you want it.
Written by Shellee-Kim Gold
Image credit: Brian (or Ziggy) Liloia, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr