The Five Hundred Dollar House - Leaf'd

The Five Hundred Dollar House

by Johanna Parry Cougar
The lowest income truly sustainable housing available today is constructed primarily by earth building – better understood as monolithic adobe. It is what those many old temples, domes and mosks, and even still occupied five hundred year old 10 story apartment buildings are made of in the Middle East… and for some reason – the earth under our feet is still free to use. In the USA it is known widely as “Cob Construction” because it was made popular for wet climates in Wales and a “cobber” was a friend who knows you well enough to come over and help build you a house using “cobs” ie; lumps of earth/clay/sand and straw. Residents of southern Oregon enjoy quite a cluster of them – many having been built for as little as $500. Many of the old English cottage pictures with old-time flower gardens are built this way… “monolithic,” meaning the clay/earth mix is squished into the shape of a wall a foot thick and a foot wide… sustainable housing at its best. Very simple to build! Much like kneading flour into dough – an earth wall is kneaded traditionally by the feet, stomped and squished into lumps feeling much like dough – and when they dry – they are just as rock-hard. Popular All Around The World This method was used the world over for centuries until the brick layers industry and the lumber industries decided they didn’t want “people building their own,” and laws were passed to make the building method illegal all around the world where corporations would loose out from home-grown houses. Today the method came close to being lost … but groups of earth lovers have been working to reignite the hand-built sustainable housing movement… A well built earthen home can last as long as a thousand years. Walls in the Welsh landscape have been deconstructed and evidence that even 500 year old walls left in the countryside weather still had dry straw in-tact inside….building “shake tests” were performed and instead of the miniature house breaking apart – the machine doing the testing broke – and the average house builders did not have the money to bring the method back to re-test – rendering this process unreasonable for the ordinary person, and was flagged as a “failed test”. Our group began to show people how to get this truly sustainable housing permitted through local building departments by giving building code workers the right information to make informed decisions about their safety. Local laws can be rewritten and brought to vote by any local group of people to amend the current building laws. Reintroduction Of an Ancient Method The method today is being reintroduced to India by a project that is both visible to the big city dwellers as well as the villagers near Panchagon, India- so that we can re-introduce this virtually almost free housing (albeit labor intensive) method to those who need it most. Motivation is a real issue. Natural Villages is on Facebook for more information. You can learn from friends giving workshops in various places in the USA and India, and they are emerging once again in Mexico and Brazil as well. Those who have written the best how-to books on the subject include; “The Hand Sculpted House” by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley and Michael Smith and “The Cob House Builder’s Handbook.”
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