Life in a cob house without electricity

by ziggy on August 25, 2009 -- 12 comments -- Follow

I realized that something may not be obvious about the cob house I am currently living in. My home, GOBCOBATRON, is actually electricity-free. I have chosen to live without electricity in my home. There are a couple of reasons for this…

I live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and I share common resources with over 50 other people. One of these valuable resources is the Common House, which has shared bathrooms (with humanure systems, or composting toilets) and showers, a computer room, a library, and more. The Common House has its own solar panel array. Right now, I am typing at my computer in the common computer office. So obviously I have access to electricity, but I have chosen not to have it in my house.

I live a fairly simple life, and electricity is not crucial to many of the things that I do. Using my computer is perhaps the most important thing I do that requires electricity. Small things, like charging batteries (usually for my still and video camera), is another small necessity. Beyond that, there really isn’t that much that I do that requires access to electricity. If I ever do need it for something, I “borrow” it.

Thus is one big benefit to living in community!

But besides that, there are other reasons. It’s a goal of mine to live an increasingly simple lifestyle. Electricity just isn’t part of the equation for me. I am greatly interested in human power and alternatives to electric implements. (This is especially interesting to me in the realm of hand tools and electric-free kitchen tools.)

Ultimately, I want to live an electric-free life. Or at least be capable of doing so! (I don’t actually have strong expectations that I will be 100% electric-free in this lifetime, but I want to know that I am not dependent.)

Not only that, I don’t believe that solar and wind power is actually 100% sustainable. Sure, it’s way better than depending on fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas (the dependence on which are helping to greatly destroy the environment), but I don’t imagine solar panels will provide us energy in another 150+ years. That’s because they themselves require nonrenewable energy for their production. And anything that cannot be done forever, for all time, is not truly sustainable. (We should all know that oil is not going to last forever.)

Anyway, solar and wind power systems are also very expensive. A power system would have easily exceeded the cost of my house itself.

That’s why I’m choosing to live electricity-free in my house.

And did I mention there’s nothing like candlelight at night? It’s really quite atmospheric. Candles lend a very warm feeling to my home at night that a light bulb could never mimic.

There you have it.

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  • Grant Wagner

    I remember watching a video that was filmed at DREV, that was shown on a program called 30 days, or something to that nature, where 2 urbanites were brought to the Village, and made a transfermation to a more sustainable lifestyle. I remember being mostly impressed by a computer program/website they used to measure how many resources they used compaired to the capibiliies of the earth to produce. As devistating as the before number was (10 earths), it was the 1.5 that they ended up with that scares me. Even at the Rabbit, which is often lightyears beyond traditional living in terms of conservation, they couldn’t get to one or less.

    I believe you’re right when you say that wind and solar won’t be the final solution, but every step in the right direction counts. In the end though, I believe that only by biomatter burning plants with carbon neutral fuel harvesting will we finally be set. But at the current global population, even that won’t be enough. Makes me wonder when we’ll finally get a space elevator and orbital farms just to produce enough to satisfy the needs of the planet.

  • It’s true – every step in the right direction counts. Those are words to live by, and something I feel very strongly about. I think it’s important to have a goal to live by, and remember that how you work to get there is just as important as the goal itself.

  • due zingare (2 gypsies)

    hello ziggy
    we`ve been following your work for the past year, keeping us company and inspired, as we bought and are trying to restore a cob house in italy.
    People lived in it until the 60`s, with no electrics, water from the well, and the “humanure toilet” was a shed in the cow barn.
    So ,besides finding the right cob mix that will stick to the worn walls, we are also trying to reclaim some of that healthy, sustainable living.
    As we congratulate you for the completion of your home, we ask: do you share a fridge in the common house? we see you have a garden in front, as we do, and wonder where is the kitchen, do you use gas,etc.
    Our neighbour, born in another cob house, has a big fridge where he keeps water and watermelon (!) and 2 big freezers, for the vegies he grows.
    His parents used to have a cellar, always fresh, to store food (wine,cheese,jars) and had to pickle or dry all excess. As he still does some, we learn from him.
    Tell us more about your living and energy expenses, if you like, and you are welcome to italy anytime, for holiday and work exchange!

  • Craig

    I am wondering while reading this post if you might mean that you are not into an on the grid lifestyle. Because there are only two absolute needs for electricity in off grid operations. First is lighting then refrigeration. The latter is what truly causes great expense. There are many out door solar garden or patio lighting sets which have one small solar panel. If you put the panel in a high sunlight facing window and hang the string of lights on the walls this can provide with safe (no bumping around in the dark) and affordable ambient lighting. Still leaving opportunity for candle use. I have done this at my off grid cabin and it is a great relief while either looking for things after dark or just sitting and listening to the crank radio. Great place you have. I’ve enjoyed it’s construction and look forward to future innovations.

  • due zingare: Sounds great! Thanks for the invitation. Good luck with your project.

    I should write another post with more details, but… Right now I am cooking outdoors with four others on a small wood-fired rocket stove. We have no electricity and store food outdoors and in a filing cabinet (!). I actually store a couple of things (like kefir grains) in a friend’s fridge.

    Craig: Well, true, I have little interest in living “on the grid” – with access to fossil fuel-derived energy. I am familiar with the small lights you are referring to. There are a number of those around here. They are actually quite handy. Refrigeration is pretty damn nice, but I would love to try to get around needing a fridge with things like root cellars and ice boxes – using ice harvested in winter and stored in an Amish-style ice house.

  • Micheal

    Have you looked into the Old Tools List? The main website is

    Both my wife and I have been inspired by your project and are planning some sort of small, non-electric cob/strawbale house for the community which we will be joining in October.

  • That’s really a very simple life style. I like it too because it seems you like in the past, during the time of our ancestors. Living in a simple life.

  • Heather Formaini

    I’m very keen to be in touch with the due zingare. I’d love to know which part of Italy they’re in.

    I very much hope to do some cob building at my place in Tuscany, and also to make a sustainable permaculture food forest.

    Do I have any cob or permaculture neighbours?

    I’m in a village of the Garfagnana, called Molazzana, not far from Barga.

    Presently I’m in Sydney, Australia, learning permaculture and reading up on cob building and waste building.



  • Ben


    Bravo, my friend. I admire your dedication that you have put in to your home. My first home was not much larger than yours and it can be done easily and comfortably. I just wanted to say I really liked your place when I saw it.


  • Beth Castro

    Hi Im planning on building a cob house with my family in Oregon and am unaware about the regulations and codes of building a cob house.

  • duezingare

    as tecnology isn’t our forte(=strong, in italiano)we get lost in the blog… didn’t find the reply till now! and how can heather [a few posts up] get in touch with us? we are on facebook..
    One thing we want to share, is that the old cob houses here are all built with no foundation, simply digging a trench one or two feet down. and start building the cob walls from there.
    They are 3 feet wide at the base, and 2 at the top. this for a two storey house.
    smaller houses have thinner walls. the thickness ensures warmth in the winter and coolness in summer.
    the best part is the sinergy with the ground: as the soil is quite clayy, it becomes all foundation and the earth energy circulates,as the cob becomes one with the soil: it is extremely resistant to earthquakes.
    glad to see that the year of mud is becoming years…
    another question is:
    how did you seal the chimney pipe on the roof? ours is leaking..

  • DM

    I am doing the same thing in my parent’s foreclosed home. It’s pretty easy living if you don’t mind cold showers. I’m doing this as a particular form of unplugging. Living in the shell of suburbia and inside every crack and fault of The System

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