Oh, the Things You Can Do – with Mud, Hay, and Sand!

While in Silver City for the next month or so, Tim and I have had the great pleasure of living in Skippy & Monica’s long, yellow (and painted!) school bus – decked out with plants, a kitchen, bed, and bathtub.

It was early morning – Tim and I had just rolled out of the bus – when a friend dropped by. Dominic sauntered around the corner with his jolly smile and asked if we wanted to come by later to work on his and Shivani’s cob bedroom. A year or two ago, they built a large cob main room – complete with shower, indoor plant beds, a turtle-shaped soon-to-be hot tub, and kitchen – and are expanding their space by making extra rooms as they go along.

Pleased, since all that was on our menu for the day was indoor work duties, we said we would love to come help. We arrived in the afternoon during the first “pit” and had a look around.

They had poured a cement base for the walls, left the floor as dirt, framed the doors and large windows with 2X4s, and placed tree trucks for the roof base. Some shelves, cubby holes and small windows were sculpted into the walls. Smooth pieces of wood placed in the walls served as shelves and a small heart-shaped window was molded inside one of the cubby holes. There were colorful bottles keenly placed around the walls to let bits of colorful light stream into the room. One window looked out to a perfect view of The Kneeling Nun and the porch had a straight view of Cooke’s Peak.

With Adam, Amos, Marcel, and Dominic already at work, I sat on the edge of the pit. I mushed and pushed the muddy cob with my feet. I worked up a big ball and lugged it over to a spot above a window. I worked on that area of wall surrounding the window all afternoon; I sculpted the material to flow with the curvature of the house and made sure the edge of the wall dried vertical. We laughed, shared stories, and listened to music.

Later, Shivani and baby Taven Skye joined us for a wonderful break under the shade of a tree, and the preparation of the next pit. First, the pit was filled with water. Next came shovels of dirt, then coarse sand, then hay, then more dirt. After each addition, we worked the mix with our hands and feet. Taven lifted sand into the pit with his mini-sized, though fully functional, wheelbarrow and bucket.

Rain started to fall so we covered up the pit and took a beer break. PBR and limes floated among us in bounty. When the drizzle had passed, we got back to work. We finished up the day with the room almost finished, but still in need of another round of cob and the roof. There comes an incredibly satisfying feeling with helping your friends build their home.

In the Southwest’s dry climate, using cob, papercrete, tires, and other natural or recycled materials to construct homes serves people well. We’ve seen and enjoyed this type of building all over Silver City – also Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. With the helping hands of friends, a cob home can be up in weeks; with the proper stone plaster, cob homes can last hundreds of years.

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  1. i learned about cob awhile back and LOVE the concept. i really appreciated having my eyes opened to “outside the box” of typical “american” building materials that were environmentally friendly and economically possible for the regular person. i was amazed to discover that a cob home would be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and virtually fire-safe! :) i love the community aspect generated in building them too.. no one should be without shelter! yay!
    i also just learned about rocket stove heaters *so cool*.. that would be perfect for building into a cob home, does it get cold enough there in new mexico during the winter to need one?

    loved the bus too.. :) looks like fun!

    <3 <3 <3 in love and peace

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