As a young woman, I live with the assumption by others that I can’t build things, like a bench, table, or house. It is assumed that I am not strong enough or that I need help from a man. I will never be able to build my own home with this attitude. Ladies, let me tell you, that this is wrong and do not give in to this! Over the past few years, I have discovered a beautiful and environmentally ethical style of building called natural building, and anyone can do it.
Natural building has been around for thousands of years and is practiced all over the world. Presently, more than half the world’s population lives in naturally built homes and this building style is innovative, empowering, and fun.
According to U.S. Green Building Council, residential and commercial buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions (more than the transportation and industry sectors) in the United States.
Moreover, the housing market costs are unstable and rising. Building your own home from natural material is not only environmentally friendly, it is also very affordable. In addition, anyone can do it — no matter how young or old, male or female — therefore, it brings people together and builds community.
Over the summer, I decided to take an intensive course on “How to Build a Home” at Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. Cob Cottage Company is the first natural building school in the United States, founded by Lanto Evans and Linda Smiley. Before the course, I studied their book, The Hand Sculpted House, which was extremely informative and went over the philosophy behind natural building.
As I entered the property of Cob Cottage Company, the driveway was a portal into a nature hobbit land. We drove on a dirt road through old growth trees, thick shrubs, feathery ferns, and mosses and lichens that covered the rainforest floor. I took a breath of fresh air and knew I landed in an amazing place. We carried our bags in and approached a shire-like cob house, named The Myrtle. Connected to The Myrtle were wavy cob walls with small sculpted art niches that led to other small homes and gathering places. Each cob structure was unique with artistic flavor, intentionally placed windows that collect heat, and built with the features to suit the person who lived there.
Every day I woke up with the birds chirping. We gathered in the morning as a community to stretch before our work day. When I looked around, I realized that half the group were men and the other half were women. We all did the same work. We immediately got our hands and feet dirty; we gathered sand, clay, water and straw to mix into cob. Together we did the “mud dance” and tossed cob balls down the line to the bedroom we were building. Everyone learned how to use tools, like a level, and how to make tools, like a cob saw.
Rebekah Lesher, Ianto Evans, and Linda Smiley offered instruction in a unique way. They encouraged every participant to think critically and answer our own questions so we would have the confidence to problem solve when the time comes to build our own homes. I felt very engaged and learned a lot because the education style was based on inquiry and experience rather than lecture and theory
The instructors taught us that there are many ways to work and build with cob. By working with the material, I realized that cob is forgiving, shapeable, and structural. As we built the bedroom, we learned the fundamentals for building a home from the foundation, walls, windows and benches, to the roof. Ianto strongly expressed, “it is best to be roughly right than precisely wrong,” which made me feel more comfortable and confident as a new builder. My intimidation about building my own home as a woman dissipated. Additionally, working with cob made me feel relaxed, joyful, and connected with the environment.
Being at Cob Cottage Company was a transformational moment for me. Not only did I gain a natural building skill-set and feel empowered to build my own home, but I also lived in a way that had a very small impact on the environment. I used compost toilets and learned about the system. The ingredients we ate in every meal came fresh from the gorgeous and bountiful permaculture garden. I took showers with water heated by the sun and by a rocket stove. Ianto led us on a barefoot walk through the pristine rainforest, which activated all of my senses including my sense of wonder for the natural world. Sharing life stories, playing music together, and having meaningful discussions created a strong sense of community. Ianto and Linda are inspirational because they live with a small environmental footprint, yet have such rich lives.
This experience made me aware of my potential as a builder and designer. I feel confident that I will build my own home when the time is right. In the meantime, I found that many women are interested in natural building and are joining the movement. One group that I discovered is Mudgirls, which is a natural building collective that offer workshops and natural building opportunities for women. Web networks such www.thepoosh.org and www.numundo.org list many natural building schools and opportunities to learn natural building skills. The natural building community is warm, friendly, and expanding, so if you are interested, there are many opportunities.