Build with Earth

I’ve been a big fan of earthen construction for many years, and stacked a few dirt blocks in the past ten years or so, but it wasn’t until about eight weeks ago in early November when I actually got my feet muddy helping some others start building cob walls for a small accessory building in Austin. Gayle Borst and the gang of Design~Build~Live natural building fans had organized the event, and it continues one cob of clay, sand, and straw at a time. The mud was cold and it must be even more cold now for those still working away, but there’s something very basic about feeling mud between the toes and sculpting a building by hand. Who among us hasn’t played in the mud or sand as a child. I was five when my dad decided his worm farm project wasn’t quite working out as well as he thought it would and turned the farm into a fantastic sand box. Thank goodness the worms preferred the yard outside the farm more than the farm itself. If you hear of any workshop event in cob construction, compressed earth block, or adobe near you. I highly recommend you sign up and participate in it. It will make you feel young again. Keep in touch with me or with Design~Build~Live for events and workshops in 2011.

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  1. We’re trying to do a small mutli family project with CEBs….just starting to try an dwork our way through planning and zoning to get permission to do it! Any local support resources would be valuable assistance!


  2. Hello David,
    Where is your project located, within the city limits of SA or Austin? What is the scope of your project (number and size of the units)? Thanks for your comment.

  3. The biggest roadblocks are the building permit officials and the financial institutions. For the former, get all your ducks in a row. Make sure you have a structural engineer who is familiar with the loads and soil conditions at the site. He or she must also become familiar (if not already experienced) with the engineering behind the building codes where earthen construction is more common, such as New Mexico. Sometimes, just by showing one jurisdiction that another jurisdiction is approving CEB structures, it’s enough to convince them to give you the green light. Engineers’ seals often provide the confidence permit officials look for. As for the planning officials, they are more concerned with the aesthetics. Provide plenty of nicely done renderings (not just architectural elevations which can look stark). The financial people are a whole other problem, and around here, they’ve been the greatest roadblock. One horror story I heard just this week was that one bank refused a loan for construction of a CEB residence even when the owner was able to show she had enough cash and was able to put up the value of her adjacent land that would have paid for 80% of the construction cost, the bank still refused to loan her for the remaining 20%. Their reason? There were no comparable structures like that in the area! If you can find a friendly bank, I’d sure like to hear about it. Best wishes, David, and keep me posted.

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