Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Natural Building at Earthaven Ecovillage

As part of a Permaculture Certification Course I'm taking this year, my class spent the day at Earthaven Ecovillage this past Saturday learning about natural building techniques. This was only my second trip to the ecovillage, having recently toured the village and briefly attended my instructor's birthday celebration at her home in the Medicine Wheel neighborhood. If you live near or will be visiting the Asheville, NC area, I recommend visiting if you have the chance. They have tours every Saturday morning (RSVP) and other special events and classes throughout the year.

My class is taught by an incredible group of teachers and guest instructors, but the 'head' instructor is Patricia Allison. She is a fantastic teacher, full of energy, spirit, and a deep understanding of the essence of permaculture and its principles. Each teacher brings a different set of skills, knowledge, and ideas to the class, and because of this the learning environment is always dynamic and exciting. If you haven't heard of permaculture yet, ATTRA has an excellent permaculture resource page. If you're really interested in learning more about it, check out the book Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway. Almost everyone I talk to who is practicing permaculture says that this book is what inspired them and enhanced their understanding of ecology and the symbiosis that occurs in the natural world. I can definitely vouch for this!

But the subject of this post is Natural Building, so I'll get back to the point now (Anna, get down from the soap box). The main building technique we explored on Saturday utilized cob and clay-straw. The construction site was a small dwelling in the woods just off of the Medicine Wheel main house (Patricia's future 'hut'). We split up into small groups, and made 3 different substances out of the same base materials: water, clay, sand, and straw.

1. Clay-Straw:
As the name suggests, Clay-Straw is simply straw mixed with a bit of watered down clay (to the consistency that if you dip your hand in it, it won't be dripping wet but it also won't be clumpy) Notice in the picture the difference in color between the clay-straw and the regular straw. Each piece should be lightly coated but not saturated. The coating of clay helps to make the material fireproof, since its role is insulation in the building. It must be allowed to dry before you add the cob layer!!

2. Cob: This is a mostly clay concoction, with minimal amounts of straw. See the diagram for a pictorial description on how to make it. Cob is the actual wall cover, which is smoothed out like stucco, in several layers.

3. Plaster: This is the final layer, and helps to create a smoothed, finished look to the walls of the structure. There are many methods for making plaster, but the one we used involved flour, water, glue, clay, sand, and water.

This is as ongoing project, and seems to be progressing in bursts just depending on who is available. I will try and get some pictures of the final product once it's complete!

In Case you were wondering...How to Make Cob

1 comment:

  1. Excellent resource on natural insulation!

    There's also a natural alternative to siding, Bark Siding - www.partonbarksiding.com

    Post more about natural building materials!