The idea of a house made entirely from cob is very appealing. Its properties of being so workable and adaptable, one mass built by hand from the materials at your feet acting as a functional shelter and expressive tapestry or creative outlet. It became representative of everything that permaculture and natural building represented to me, from the connection to earth to the functional sustainability. However, according to Mark’s crash course on natural building, it is not all that suitable to Vancouver Island and there are many superior methods that are more appropriate for the West Coast’s climate and available resources. I was surprised that he was presenting stud framing as a natural building technique. I have generally associated stud framed homes with everything that is wrong with our current construction methods, from the high amount of toxins to the unsustainable use of resources. I imagined it to be something that a self-proclaimed natural builder would stay away from, but today I found myself standing among the bones of a house that was barely distinguishable from any other conventional home, being constructed by a natural builder. Aside from its appearance however, it is far from a conventional home. All the wood was sourced and dried on the property on which it stood. The insulation was made from wood chips covered in clay, a method called chip and slip, which was insect resistant and suitable to the island’s mild climate. The layout was meticulously planned to capture sun in winter but provide shade in winter. The only thing that was missing was a compostable toilet (darn).
While it may not have been the cob house that I was imagining, it was far more functional and practical on an island that is covered in forest.