Building My First Cob House

Cob House: GobcobatronGobcobatron was my first foray into the world of natural building, with construction beginning in 2008. I was 23 years old at the time. The experience of building the house from the ground up remains one of my formative and most memorable life experiences.

Below is a timeline of my cob house construction, from design to move-in. For more details about the original cost of the home, and a “recipe” for building a cob house, please read my You Can Build This Cob House for $3000.

I had little prior building experience when I took on this project. I have learned much more about building (and myself!) since I first started laying cob to the urbanite foundation in that rainy, muddy spring.

The Year of Mud: Cob Building Timeline

Over the winter of 2007-08, I decided I would build my own cob house.

By April 2008, I had a finalized design. The spiral-shaped home would be a single room dwelling, with a reciprocal living roof, a rocket stove connected to a heated cob bed, and earthen floor. I would install a single electrical outlet, but would forgo having a power system. The building would be constructed using materials obtained as locally and cheaply as possible. Few synthetic or manufactured materials would go into the building.

Ziggy: The Year of MudOn April 19 of 2008, I began digging a rubble trench, and then setting the urbanite foundation.

On May 19, the first batches of cob were mixed and applied to the completed urbanite foundation.

On August 31, after a long summer of stomping, building the cob walls was completed.

On September 18, the main reciprocal roof frame was built atop the walls.

Reciprocal RoofBy October 30, the cob walls met the roof (now fully decked, and with EPDM pond liner on top), the door and windows were installed, and the earthen floor was started.

2009: Wrapping Up

In March, the exterior earth plaster was put on the walls.

In April, the rocket stove was built along with a cob bed and bench.

cob-building-workshop-2014In May, the living sod roof was completed, and the finish interior earthen plaster was applied.

In June , the finish earthen floor was completed.

And on July 11, I moved into Gobcobatron.

2010: Renovations and a Mud Room

In 2010, after a rather horrific winter, I decided to remove the rocket stove and cob bed, which did not work nearly as expected. I installed a small wood stove instead, and sent the stovepipe through the living roof.

A small mud room addition was also added as an airlock, and as a space to keep muddy shoes.

2011: Yet More Changes

Laying Terracotta TileIn 2011, it was clear that excessive moisture in the space was a significant concern that needed immediate attention. Another difficult winter sent April and I into a troubleshooting frenzy. To try to help alleviate the moisture situation, I dug a curtain drain to move excess water away from the house site.

I also deconstructed the earthen floor, and replaced it with a terracotta tile floor with insulation, and more importantly — a vapor barrier underneath — an immediate improvement for indoor humidity.

Other changes included replacing the front window with an operable one, and doing a lime plaster design on the bottom half of the interior wall.

2012: Realizing a New Path

Cob House InteriorAfter a few taxing winters, April and I were faced with making some tough decisions. By this point, it was fairly obvious — cob is simply not suitable for a cold climate. We ultimately decided to build a more suitable, highly insulated home (see the Strawtron story here). Gobcobatron would not be forsaken, however — we planned to convert it into a three season rental space, taking advantage of the excellent publicity the house had garnered over a few short years. And we did just that, before ultimately moving from Dancing Rabbit to Kentucky. The house is currently for sale.

The Journey Never Ends

Though this website is called The Year of Mud, the story is far from over. That fateful year I began building Gobcobatron took me down an exciting path of new experiences and learning that continues to the present day. The Year of Mud was just the beginning. I don’t expect to stop anytime soon.

Cob House Panorama