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Cobb Houses - Build Your Own Green Home

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Many People Create Their Houses; You Can Too!

Every day all around the world, people take acquiring the necessities of life - food, clothing, and shelter - into their own hands. In many places, it is the norm to build your own house, and this event is often a community-wide get together; after all - "Many hands make light work." Even in the United States, up until about 100 years ago, more people built their own homes rather than pay someone else to build it for them.

You may have to apply for waivers of the building code to do certain things. The building code was developed to make buildings safer and to help protect people from unscrupulous builders. Sometimes the code seems ridiculously cumbersome and outdated (and it is, really), but if you make friends with your building inspector, have your facts straight and reasonably present them; you can probably negotiate a waiver of some items.

A lot may hinge actually, more on your lending institution than on the inspector. If you are taking out a loan to build your house, the bank wants to know it can resell it if you default. Therefore they may require you to do things like installing electric baseboard heaters when all you want and plan to use is a wood stove. Things like that, of course, will add to the cost of your home. For myself, I plan to build mine a bit at a time and not take out a loan if I can help it.

Of those people that do decide to build their own home, many go for off the shelf home plans and standard building methods and materials. Others tend to think outside of the box and explore alternative, recycled materials, passive solar heating and cooling, non-standard construction methods, and floor plans.

Since I am very interested in building my own home, which will do the following things, I am definitely in the second category!

My New Home Will Have Or Do the Following:

  • A rammed earth home
  • Passive solar heating and cooling
  • Grid Tied Solar Electric System
  • Solar water heating
  • Be earth-bermed/partly underground
  • Be made of stone
  • Make use of various recycled materials such as doors, windows, cabinetry, wood, bathtub, sinks, and as many other things as I can find.
  • Have a grey water filtration and reuse system
  • Have a composting toilet
  • Supply me with some of my food
  • Have a rainwater catchment system
  • Be aesthetically pleasing
  • Be easy to clean and maintain
green home scaled
Photo by Christopher Harris on Unsplash

Cobb Houses

In other words, my new home will be as self-sufficient and use the least amount of resources in building and the day to day use as possible. I would love to have a home with no utility bills at all, but there are a couple of things I just can’t live without. I hate to cook on an electric stove, and refuse to give up my gas range and since I’ll keep that, I’ll probably use gas as a back up to the solar water heater. And I may have to keep using city water, though if at all possible I’d like to see if I can have a well drilled that would supply all of my needs.

Here are some cobb cottages in western Canada. Cobb is basically mud and lends itself very well to free flowing sculptural designs. Being fireproofed, it can even be used to build fireplaces, fire pits, and earth ovens for baking.

Lots of decisions to be made at every angle of the builder experience - from the building site and orientation, through materials and methods of building on to how the interior walls are finished, sources of energy, types of appliances, furnishings, and decorations. You do not have to make all the decisions at once, but you do need to do some research. Once you have made some decisions about the overall materials and methods of construction, you should delve more deeply into them.

  • Does the material and method you’ve chosen lend itself to the floor plan you have in mind, or do you need to make modifications? Standard wood frame construction doesn't easily lend to organic, free-flowing floor plans, the way cob (earthen) construction does. Is your chosen material easy and inexpensive to come by? Building a stone house where you will have to buy the stone will be exceedingly expensive. Building a stone house where there is stone all around you will be much less so.
  • Rocket Mass Heaters - I have determined that I will have one in my new house. The stove pipes can be run under benches, bed platforms, even the floor for radiant heat.
  • A Tour of an Earthship - The Earthship concept is that there are no utility connections, not even for water. The home generates its electricity, collects its rainwater for potable use, recycles, reuses, and cleans all of its wastewater as well as heating and cooling itself. Also, the entire home is built of recycled materials, including large numbers of used tires, glass, plastic, and aluminum cans.
  • Passive Solar Heating and Cooling - Passive solar heating works on the principle of having south-facing glass walls which let in maximum sunshine in the winter, with carefully calculated overhangs that shade the glass completely in the summertime.

    Passive solar cooling involves burying large (18-24″ diameter) pipes in the ground. These pipes need to be 50-100 feet long, emerging slightly downhill away from the house (so condensation does not collect and run into the home) with a critter-proof screening on their open ends. The other ends come up on the floor of the home.
  • You may also want to consider a photovoltaic system to turn sunlight into electricity. In the past, the costs of such a system could be prohibitive and not cost-effective, except in remote areas where the cost of bringing in power lines was more than the cost of the solar system.
  • A Living Roof - Living Roof You might decide to cap off your new home with a Green Roof. Even houses that are not underground can have a roof covered with soil and plants. Such a roof gives additional insulation from the elements and is not too difficult to build. Most living roofs seem to need only a few hours of maintenance a year and are extremely attractive.

The average person today, however, gives no thought to the possibility that they could build it themselves. Of course, some legal matters come into play, but these can usually be negotiated with a little study and some patience. These were things like obtaining building permits and sometimes other kinds of permits.

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