Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alternative Building Method: Cob Construction

By Michelle Harris

Gasoline is a limited energy resource. Further consideration of alternative building means is necessary in a industry, specifically construction, fueled by gasoline. Relying on gasoline as an energy source is also part of a vicious cycle that pollutes water. If you are interested in learning more about the issue of fracking for gasoline, Gasland by Josh Fox is an informative documentary. There are many alternative building options to consider. Cob is one of them.

Cob is an ancient building method. It is a natural construction material made from sand, clay, water, and straw. There are often other materials available to add to the cob mixture such as animal dung or fur. The placidity of the material allows sculptural possibilities. Another great thing about cob construction is that is fireproof and inexpensive. An example of a home made of cob is one by Michael Buck.

Michael Buck's current home is traditional construction. He built another home by his garden in his spare time that is used for a woofer, a working tenant. The cob structure is framed from lumber hewn from the trees on Buck's property. The house is 300 square feet and cost 300 dollars to build. Most everything was salvaged and only one power tool was used in the construction. Cob makes financial sense but has some comfort drawbacks.
The comfort issues are tied to the material composition. In technical documents cob is considered an "organic aggregate," where the cob is an insulating. Cob insulates in the winter and cools the residence in the summer. However, cob as a perpetual wet mixture is always drying out. This leaves the structure damp. Without proper lighting there is also an issue of a gloomy interior. In some ways even with the practicality of the environmental economics, a cob house is not much different than a cave interior.
Even though cob construction may not be practical for the Midwest climate or rainy areas there is potential in warmer arid climates. Driving through the southeastern portion of the United States, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona I saw quite a few examples of cob construction. It makes sense that Paul Serilio, the founder of Earthships, which often utilizes cob, is in Taos , New Mexico. For now in the Midwest it’s about making the best of what you have with where you are.


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