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Oct 31, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

In which we discuss refrigeration and water catchment and energy use. You should probably start at the beginning for more context. https://www.patreon.com/posts/interview-and-of-22391088


Oct 31, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

https://www.motherearthnewsfair.com/

Come see Uncle Mud in 2019 at a Mother Earth News Fair near you.
We have a whole stage dedicated to Natural Building, including Rocket Heaters, Straw Bale Buildings, Cob, Pizza Ovens, DIY Composting Toilets and more!


Oct 30, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

You can visit it in Gothenburg, Nebraska (if it is open) or check out my video tour if you are an Uncle Mud Patron https://www.patreon.com/posts/22384870


Oct 30, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

I have been a fan of this man's work for a long time. As part of his ministry to our returning veterans on the edge of homelessness he has developed a variant of the Earthship with some very exciting features including a materials cost of less than $6000. He has also helped his county write a variant of the New Mexico experimental building code that local officials are so excited about that he now has a 160 acre site in Alamogordo for building these things and a deal with the community college to help veterans use building their own home as a way to get their degree with GI bill money. This is a 5 part interview. Thank you for supporting our visit with him patreon.com/unclemud


Oct 30, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

https://www.facebook.com/motherearthnewsmag/videos/10159699490935413/

 

We explain Rocket Mass Heaters at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka Kansas in 2017. With Pyrotechnic Props.


Oct 30, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

In which we see the actual thing. You should probably start at the beginning for more context. https://www.patreon.com/posts/interview-and-of-22391088


Oct 30, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

I even tried to build one of these in my Illinois back yard when I was 10. "Little House on the Prairie" bored me to tears until On The Banks of Plum Creek when they actually lived in a house made of cut blocks of turf dug into the side of a hill. I never did forgive them for moving into a frame house, even though my "dug out" was small, dark and dirty like theirs. It felt snug. Even in the rain, though I suspect I would not have felt that way if if I had stayed in mine through any significant rain and tried to sleep with mud dripping on my head or in one room with 24 brothers and sisters. But still, the "Soddie" has a soft spot in my heart and I had just spent the weekend visiting a modern New Mexico version, an Earthship, and helping to rebuild a WOFATI at the Permies.com lab in Montana. So when I saw a rusty old sign for The Sod House Museum" just outside Gothenberg Nebraska I had to check it out. Alas the "museum" itself (a small pole barn that reviewer say is wonderful https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g45590-d123639-Reviews-or20-Sod_House_Museum-Gothenburg_Nebraska.html ) was closed and apparently for sale. Still the sod house is there in all its sagging glory, slowly returning to the earth. Check it out with me in this video. For more of its history check out this article. https://www.economist.com/moreover/2000/03/30/soddies-for-bodies Apparently this soddie was built to show tourists and isn't historical but it was good enough for me.


Oct 29, 2018
Category:Patreon 

Originally Posted on Patreon. Become a Patron to get early access and exclusive content from Uncle Mud.

https://www.motherearthnews.com/green-homes/the-no-mortgage-natural-cottage-zm0z17amz

 

There are so many ways to DIY. I wrote this article in 2017 to share some of my favorite real-life no-mortgage stories.


Sep 6, 2015

Sam asks,

Does anyone have experience or advice on converting a smallbarn/garage into a tiny house?


I'm sure this is kind of stupid but they don't have foundations right? Is it even worth trying to convert one into livable conditions?

My mother in law is moving soon and had the idea of buying a property with a barn to convert into a tiny house for us so exact specs are not known yet.

--------------------------------------------------
Sam,
Converting a barn to a house could be a can of worms--bad foundation, no foundation, rot, leaks, no square angles--all sorts of things can cause a barn conversion to cost more and take longer than just building a new building, but the right barn, one with good bones and character, can be well worth the effort. Back in the day my new bride and I escaped at the end of college with less than $1000 debt largely by converting the attic of my Aunt's garage into a primitive but cozy love nest. For the cost of some drywall and insulation we got a place to stay and she got an extra finished room. Win-win.

Keep in mind that most places in the US don't allow two dwelling structures on one lot. One of my clients converted their big, beautiful barn (at great expense) into the primary dwelling unit, arranging permission to do so by removing the bathtub from the existing farmhouse to turn it into into the office for their business. You would most likely have to get a variance or find a "grandfathered" lot to legally turn the barn into a second house. You might find it allowable as an "in-law suite" or, if the property is still being used for farming the change from accessory building to cottage might be allowed as farm-hand housing.

If you're willing to go "outlaw" however, an existing barn is an excellent place to hide an illegal dwelling "in plain sight". A little bird told me that most of the people who would raise an eyebrow at a new cottage or tiny house "spoiling the neighborhood" won't even notice a new window or two in the back of an old barn. If you play it right you can use your barn to quietly collect your materials on the cheap and build as you have time. Craigslist and ReStore and dumpster finds take more time and ingenuity but save a lot of money.

Also, the same little birdie told me it is a very good idea to insulate insulate insulate. A drafty building with a cold concrete floor is uncomfortable and expensive to heat and you could find the existing electric wiring to the barn is good for lights but not enough to heat and cool the building. While you're going illegal anyway, consider a rocket mass heater to heat the space. A few tons of dirt and some stovepipe and you have almost free heat. Our uninsulated barn conversion in the upper Midwest cost over $350 to heat with electric some months, but less than $100 to heat for the year once we installed a RMH.

When running a water line to the building be sure it is deep enough to keep from freezing. A Jenkins-style composting toilet and greywater system are low cost alternatives to a septic system (if you can even get a permit to install a septic).

If you are building without zoning permission there is always a chance you will be found out, so it is important to keep your investment within what you can stand to lose if you lose the use of the building. At least with a barn you can always go back to it being a (new and improved) barn or workshop where a new building could be ordered removed. Best of luck in your adventure.

--UM

If you want inspiration, Shelter by Lloyd Kahn is one of my favorites. I have worn out six copies.


Aug 28, 2015

Note: This article is a guest post from my friend Ed Raduazo (raduazo@cox.net). He does some pretty amazing stuff with an old rototiller and child labor. I met Ed in 2004 at the Peaceweavers community in New York where he taught my then small daughter Sarah how to make animal sculptures out of cob and paper pulp. She is out back right now building her own tiny house.

 

The Bee Wall at Maryland University Arboretum Outreach Center


It has been two weeks of hard work and a little bit of frustration but our bee wall habitat is done. Our goal was to build a meandering wall on Maryland University Campus suitable for earth nesting solitary bees and other critters, and a protected bee box with openable viewing panels and a microphone for listening to bees attracted to our bee box.
The wall has layers of materials with red, brown and even a black layer containing top soil. The contrasting colors are to simulate the cut that a tiny stream might make in passing through a meadow.
Section 1: Tools of the trade
There are many tools used in cobbing in general I show and discuss mostly the tools used for urbanite and tiller cobbing.
Figs. 1 and 2 show a small front-tine tiller with a 5 Hp Briggs and Stratton engine. I have tried rear tine tillers with power driven wheels, but they don’t work. Often you need to run the tiller up on to a pile of cob and then pull the tiller backwards against the forward motion of the tines. Also you will need to get the tiller to hover in a single spot either to dig deeper when pit mixing or to simply stir the cob into mush or break up chunks of clay. You can’t do that with power driven wheels.

I use a mason’s hammer to clean chunks of clay and straw off of the tines. Also, I should note that this is a very old tiller, and working on cement or asphalt pavement sharpens the tines to a razor point. Before I stick my hands in between the tines to remove clumps of clay and straw I give each tine a sharp rap with the blunt end of the hammer to blunt the tines and avoid inadvertently cutting my hands or arms.

Fig. 3 shows from left to right an ice chipper used to chop off splooging. This is a particular problem with tiller mixing in that the mixes are often wetter than with foot mixing and keeping the material trimmed back is a constant problem. Next to that is a 15-pound Ugly stick This can be made lighter or heavier. The handle is chainsawed for the height of the user. It has knots and other grain irregularities to prevent splitting and it is especially useful when pounding in fragile pieces of stone because the soft head surface does not break the stone and throw off chips as much as the store bought tamper does.

Next in line there is a homemade pry bar and a store-bought pry bar and tamper. (If there is anyone reading this who would like to create a cottage industry the homemade pry bar is made by welding the tip of an air hammer to a hollow pipe.) The homemade pry bar is lighter and more rigid than the store bought pry bar, and when you need to pry out rocks or pieces of urbanite from a pile it is much easier to work with.
Next in line is a 28-pound hammer for breaking pieces of urbanite. In many ways, unreinforced pieces of sidewalk are an ideal building material because they have no grain. This means that if I want to break a piece of urbanite at or about a certain point or line, I can score it with the flat bladed chisel or a diamond saw, turn the scored side down and then hit it with either the 28-pound or the 3-pound hammer, whichever is appropriate.
After the 28-pound hammer there is a dirt fork, a pitch fork, a pull fork and a flat bladed shovel. The dirt fork and pitch fork are very useful for picking up cob off of a paved surface and loading it into a wheelbarrow. I worry about using the pitch fork because the tines are so sharp.
The pull fork has tines bent at a 90⁰ angle to the handle. it was not used when mixing cob on a concrete or asphalt slab but it is very useful when pit mixing.
The flat bladed shovel is good for shoveling dry sand spots into wet spots when slab mixing. It is also good for lifting finished cob up off a slab, but it is useless when doing pit mixing.
In the front row there is a mason’s hammer, point chisel, 1” chisel, wire cutters, 3-pound hammer, Ground Hog, hacksaw and grinder.
The wire cutters, hacksaw and grinder with composite blade are all useful in dealing with the pig wire and rebar in urbanite. We had lots of that in this project. The Ground Hog with the blue handle is used for trimming off splooge and for carving.
The mason’s hammer, chisels, 3-pound hammer and grinder with a diamond blade are used to shape the urbanite. Note that when using these tools you should always wear eye-protecting glasses. Diamond blades come in wet and dry types. The dry blade has notches in it. I always use the wet blade and have someone pore a slow stream of water on my work as I am cutting. Important! I also wear a dust mask.

Section 2: Construction

Construction started by spray painting the grass to show the wall footprint and scraping off the sod. We originally planned a wall that was to be 24 feet long, around 2 feet wide, and 4 to 8 feet high, with a cob roof. That turned out to be too ambitious by half considering the working conditions and the difficulty we had obtaining materials when we needed them. We also planned to have a foundation, but the soil there was so hard and compact that a foundation was not needed even at the projected 8 foot height.
Our second step was obtaining urbanite. There are several places on the campus where construction crews had torn up piles of rubble. Unfortunately all of it was reinforced with "pig wire," a heavy wire mesh with 4" x 4" openings. Most of the urbanite was between 4" and 6" thick, and I want to especially thank the two young men and one woman who helped me pick through the rubble to find and separate out pieces that were suitable. We ended up recycling an estimated 7,000 pounds of old concrete.
Fig. 4 shows our urbanite after one day of work.

The concrete of the urbanite had been poured onto a bluestone base, giving us a finished side and a gravely side. After some discussion we decided to place the gravely side facing out. The center of the wall is also urbanite standing on edge, with small chunks bridging spaces between larger chunks to produce a base that is honeycombed with passageways for drainage, and for snakes, toads, crickets and other things that like to live in such places. We also placed a section of drainage pipe in there but just ran it into a shallow French drain.
Fig. 5 shows urbanite after three days of work

Picking and placing the concrete took three full hard days and many cut fingers since the pig wire had to be cut or broken off where it stuck out on the outer face. We cobbed it in place on the interior. We used a sandy mix to speed drying and reduce shrinking. It was slow going.
People ask me what is a “sandy mix” They usually want a recipe like one part clay and two parts sand. I can’t give them a recipe because every part of the earth differs from every other part of the earth. In one place 2 to 1 will give you a sandy mix; in another place it will give you useless material that will not hold together. The only thing I can say is that you need to develop a feeling for the material. I will say one thing, though: if you can take a blob of your material and stick it up on a tree and sculpt a face into it as in Fig. 6, that is a not a sandy mix, that is a clay rich mix.

Our ideal piece of urbanite had to weigh 25 to 75 pounds, small enough to lift and put in place but big enough to stay where we put it. Preferably we looked for a flat lower surface, but nearly perfect pieces were reshaped with a 26-pound breaking hammer, a 4-pound sledge hammer and a wide range of chisels or, as a last resort, a diamond saw.
We also made good use of an ugly stick. An ugly stick is just that, an ugly-looking 15-pound wooden club with a handle on it. If you try to make one out of a beautiful straight-grained piece of wood it will quickly split and become useless. If on the other hand you select a piece of wood with knots and lots of irregularities in the grain of the wood it should last for many jobs. We used the ugly stick for tamping down the soil in the footprint of our structure. Also, we used it to tamp down and level the various pieces of urbanite so that slight irregularities in the bottom of the urbanite would be closely meshed with the underlying soil and stand perpendicular as we built around them. Note that the weight and the soft end of the ugly stick will do a lot of compacting without breaking the rock and sending out shards of stone. The person holding the stone in place when it is being pounded should wear safety glasses anyway. Usually the piece of urbanite being pounded in place is held vertical with a stick or some other tool that does not endanger the holder’s fingers.
When some of our pieces of urbanite started to tilt out because of splooging pressure on the inner surface, we used the ugly stick to pound them back into vertical. We also used it to break up lumps of dry hard-packed clay in order to make a special plaster used for cob mixtures. At some points in the wall you can see streaks of bright red clay. This color came from lumps of red clay that we separated out from ordinary reddish brown clay and shattered on the pavement with the ugly stick. We hydrated the lumps in a bucket of water using a half inch drill and a drywall mud mixer paddle.
The foundation wall is often referred to as a knee wall because in many English dwellings it is about knee high. My goal here was to provide a 6" to 12” air space within the wall, between the bottom of my cob material and the earth surface. Water from heavy rains should be able to flow around and below the urbanite and into our drainage pipe and French drain without touching the cob. In places where foundation pieces did not provide at least 6” of clearance we placed additional pieces of urbanite on top of those contacting the earth.
Fig. 7 shows two layers of urbanite

These second-layer, additional pieces of urbanite look like they are cobbed in place but in fact they are supported in place by small stone wedges. Then sandy cob was forced into the cracks between upper and lower foundation elements to look like they are mortared in place. The faux mortar holding them in place is actually on the back side and top of the urbanite pieces.
The faux mortar was made by rototiller mixing small 4-wheelbarrow batches of mud and sand material on an asphalt road surface to make a very sandy batch with little straw. This was forced into cracks and crevices. The high sand content minimized shrinking and gave us fast drying times. When the entire first layer was finished we left our work for a weekend of undisturbed drying.
Finally we were at the point to begin our full sized cobbing runs. We had one clay supplier with reddish brown clay that was available for the remaining 7 days of cobbing, but sometimes, when there was a concrete pour going on, we were denied access to the site and had to go elsewhere for clay. Other times we had to wait for a backhoe or front end loader to become available to load us up.
At another construction site there was a dark bluish brown clay. That supply was only available for two days. This is normal. Usually, as in this case, the site manager had to remove a quantity of material, so he rented trucks and a backhoe for two days and then he was done.
Finally, the garden manager at the university gave us a batch of nearly black clay with lots of topsoil in it. This process of getting clay from multiple sites and the lack of storage space forced us to stop work many times while pickup trucks roamed the Maryland University campus looking for someone to provide us with dirt. Also, we did not have the space to stockpile materials because we had only a small bit of paved surface available to us, and in this space we had to park our cars, store sod and gravely dirt removed from our wall footprint, store our sand, tools and other materials, and do our mixing. This gave us only enough space to tiller mix one batch of clay, sand and straw at a time, and no space to stockpile the differently colored clays as they would have blocked our parking spaces. As a result of this our structure became less than half of what we originally planned, but we still mixed and moved around 20,000 pounds of cob with a crew that varied from 4 to 6 working adults and a few one-day volunteers and children.

The Mix
My experience indicates that digger bees, particularly Anthophora plumipes and Anthophora abrupta, our target species, prefer a mixture of mason’s sand or mortar sand and rock-free clay. I know for certain that they do not like rock dust. I have several cob structures on my property and no bee has ever successfully nested in cob made with rock dust, probably because of the large numbers of small pebbles in the mix. Concrete sand is just a little coarser than mason’s sand, and I have no idea if it is acceptable for bee habitat. I think it is, but have never used it.
We started with small sandy batches, and tried to keep the mix fairly dry to limit splooging and to prevent large amounts of shrinkage. These small batches were well mixed and moved to wheelbarrows using dirt forks and flat-bladed sand shovels, which can be slid along the paved surface to lift the heavy blobs of clay. Often we found that the mix in the wheelbarrow was too dry so we had bottles of water available all along the wall so that we could add water as needed to form cobs. Often the cobs were granular and would not hold together. We were able to improve their physical properties by wetting the mix, and slamming blobs of mix on the sides of the wheelbarrow and then punching out air spaces with the side of our fists.
Later, when we began using more clay, the batches got stickier and we began forming giant cob pancakes again by slamming clay on the wheelbarrow sides to improve their feel and pound out air pockets.
The largest clay-rich batches consisted of 4 wheelbarrows of sand and 4 to 5 wheelbarrows of clay. These batches, when mixed with water and straw, were about 2,000 pounds each. The blades of the rototiller only reach down 3” to 4” inches, so we tried to work thin layers by piling up the mix and then pulling down the deep spots by dragging the tiller backwards against the forward movement of the tiller blades. Assistants with sand shovels tossed dry material onto wet spots, and the tiller operator would again run the tiller up onto the toss area and again drag the clay out by pulling the tiller backwards against the movement of the tiller blades.
Fig. 8 shows running the tiller up on to a deep spot.

Fix 6A shows running the tiller in circles to incorporate straw.

We mixed only sand and clay at first, adding water till we had a mix that was just a little wet and sloppy.
We then added straw and ran the tiller around in a circular pattern just enough to mix in the straw and to dry the the cob for the perfect mix. This gave us a huge leeway to adjust the moisture just by adjusting additional amounts of straw.
One big surprise is that we did not need to use chopped straw. I have always assumed that long straw would wind itself up on the tines of the tiller, and I came prepared with a mason’s hammer thinking I would need to cut and chop straw and mud off the rotors of our tiller, but it turned out that after 7 days of cob mixing the tiller was not clogged enough to need cleaning.
Fig. 9 Our cobblestone finish

We are using a cobblestone finish in areas of the wall not protected by our roof structure. This was formed by applying a thick layer of cob, letting it dry for a few hours, and then pounding river rocks into the surface. The theory behind the cobblestone surface is that when it rains water readily soaks in and saturates the surface of the cob between the rocks and then begins to run off. The rocks however provide a choke point. Water passes deeper into the wall slowly and when moisture passes the choke point formed by the cobblestones it is wicked quickly into the larger mass of cob without ever saturating more than an inch into the surface.
We figured out very quickly that we would not be able to reach our planned 8 foot height topped with cobblestone, and so early on we attached deadman anchors to two cedar posts and embedded them in the wall. A deadman is simply a horizontal piece of wood fastened by screws or nails to the vertical to provide additional support. These posts serve as supports for our roof and the bee box.

Fig. 10 The vertical posts and Bee Box

Our Bee Box was embedded in a cob column adjacent one of our deadman roof support columns. After only 5 days of building and a weekend of drying time the deadman posts seemed strong enough to support a small corrugated roof.

Fig. 11 finished view of Bee Box and stone seat.

Fig. 12 Side view of Bee Box

Fig. 13 Bee box with opened door showing audio amplifier and passageways for several species of solitary bee. Note differently sized passageways for large and small species of bees.

Fig. 14. Back view. Note relatively undisturbed grass.

Fig. 15 End view with nearly empty stadium drive parking lot in the background.

Footnote: Mistakes made and things learned: This is the first time I have ever built a structure with non-cobbers. Normally before beginning a structure we make a model of the structure from clay.
To this end I invited Lisa to my house and I made a model and I had Lisa make a model on a wooden board. I then destroyed the models, put the modeling clay in a bucket, and put the bucket and the boards in Lisa’s car and asked her and Sarah to make a model and bring it on the first day.
On the first day I asked to see the model. They didn’t have it. I asked her to bring in the modeling clay. They threw it out in the yard. I made up another batch of modeling clay, handed it to them and asked them to make a model. They went in and put flower pots and a piece of cardboard together on a table and said “There’s the model”. I was totally disgusted and walked out. We did not discuss a model after that.
There are several reasons to build a model. The first is that the original design was difficult or impossible to construct and I think Lisa and Sarah would see this if they built a scale model. The second is that we could use the model in a builder's circle to discuss and improve the design. For example, we could place the model on the building site and ask, “Where is the sun?” Where does the prevailing wind and rain come from and how do these factors affect our design?"

Fig. 16 Page 82 of The Hand Sculpted House showing the sky view exercise used in discussing the building design.

We did not do this and ten days later after, we cobbed in the bee box and determined the shape and slope of the roof Sarah informed us that the bee box “...had to be shaded.” Unfortunately, with the bee box facing the south and the shed roof sloping up to match the slope of the bee box roof, there is no way to shade the box with out tearing apart the the wall and reorienting the box.
I suppose that the builder’s circle is meaningless to people who have no interest in learning how to design and build cob structures. It was my responsibility to discuss this and I failed. In the future I will look for a better way to communicate with non-cobbers.

--Ed

 

 


Aug 28, 2015
Category:Ask Uncle Mud Code 

I need to find out about any zoning or building issues I might have with building a 12x36 tiny house NOT on wheels in the M------ area.
--KFF

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

The more time you take to research now, the easier things will be down the line. A lot of people's tiny or natural house ideas run into trouble when they go to get permission and it is best to eliminate hostile areas from your search before you invest in property. Zoning (size, placing of house) is generally done by city or township. Building code (materials, foundation, framing) is generally enforced by city or county. Zoning generally excludes manufactured housing less than 16' wide and less than a certain number of square feet in order to exclude the perceived low end "single wide" trailers.

Most municipalities have their zoning rules on their website to save their code person so much answering the same question over and over. They will also post their code person's office hours so you can drop by and ask questions and get a feeling for how receptive the town will be to your ideas. I have had good success for cottage builds by calling during business hours and asking about rules in an area I was hypothetically looking to buy and build in--not an exact address in case I wanted to do something without undue attention, just a general area so the code person could give me the zoning for the area.

This backyard cottage in Portland, Oregon is for legal purposes a shed. I can attest that it is a very comfortable shed to camp in, with a bed and a fireplace. If it had running water it would be an illegal second dwelling.

Very few areas will allow two residences on one property, although in some older towns you can find "grandfathered" lots that someone has used for a side yard but are actually separate lots. "Grandfathering" will also help you find cheaper lots that were passed over before because the lot size or shape meant you couldn't build without a variance. I was able to argue for variances to build my house smaller and closer to the road than zoning called for by finding a "lot of record" that was too small for the setbacks required for our 3-5 acre zoning. I also checked and showed the variance committee that the house I was proposing was slightly further from the road than most of my neighbors' (old) houses.

This beautiful tiny cob house on the coast in Oregon was built for very little money. It has been lovingly inhabited for several years now without the benefit of code approval. There is always a chance that houses built without approval could be condemned, but sometimes the risk is worth it.

A tiny house will generally require either a progressive town willing to provide a variance, or an economically depressed area looking for ANY new blood, or a rural area with little code enforcement. In the first case expect the process to be expensive and in the second there is some risk. I know several people who have successfully bought a cheap house in the country and rented it out after they had quietly finished the tiny house out back. Some of them have been ordered to remove it or turn it into a shed. A few have been threatened to have their kids taken away for living in sub-standard housing. Make sure you have an exit strategy if you are going "outlaw". You can always build on skids so you can move it if you need to, but if you can find some place where you are welcome you will save a lot of hassle. --Uncle Mud

Lloyd Kahn's book Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter is full of wonderful examples of such homes.


Aug 28, 2015
Category:Ask Uncle Mud Code 

E.B. Writes:

My partner has a lot in North Seattle with a roughly 40 foot wide and 100 foot deep backyard where she hopes that we can build a 20 ft square, two story small home, and rent out the current home.
We have time and energy to do this, and cob looks great, IF it can work for us. We don't know yet about Seattle city planners opinion on this building style, or if we can use our local dirt as the main raw material.
I'd really like to connect with locals that are already building this way, and assist them to build something first.
Thanks,

---------------------------------------------------------------

E.B.,

Please do your homework. Consider saving yourself a lot of headache by hiring a consultant who knows the local laws. A cob cottage in your back yard is a wonderful thing, and before you put your love and time and money into it you need to be clear what the laws are in your community. Buildings are regulated at state, county and city levels. There are relatively few places in the US where there are no codes. A few more have lax code enforcement. Cannon County, TN for instance, has codes on the books but no code enforcement office.

Most buildings require some sort of permission. It is possible that a shed under 180 square feet will not need a building permit but it may still need a zoning permit. Everything else will likely need permits. A good place to start to look for that information is the website for your city or county. Also be aware that unless you live in a very rural or economically depressed area, an unwired, unplumbed shed that you occasionally camp or hang out in will be viewed quite differently by your code officials and neighbors than a 2 story 400 square foot house built on the same property as another (income producing) residential structure. Before you do it make sure whether or not secondary residences are allowed on such a property. If you are lucky no one will care, but find that in writing before you decide what you will do.

Many people have found that the low cost, simplicity and sheer pleasure of having such a structure even just for a little while are worth the risk of having it found out and ordered torn down, but be sure you are one of those people, and not someone who would be devastated financially or emotionally by having your dream crushed. Probably a structure you will live in made from earthen materials will require an engineering stamp to show that the load capabilities have been calculated to meet or exceed standard industrial construction. Probably you will need a zoning variance to allow a second dwelling. Probably you will need to provide energy calculations that show your alternative materials building has sufficient insulation for it to keep you comfortable with reasonable energy costs.

None of these things are impossible but they take time and money and patience with a system that has not been designed to appreciate that small and simple are often better. That low embodied energy, non toxic, minimally refined local materials can be beautiful and safe and cozy and encourage community interaction and green space and lower congestion on the roads and lower water and energy use. These points can be a hard sell to officials charged with keeping an economic status quo. Not impossible but hard. Probably worth the effort, but also probably more effort than you expect. Please keep us informed of your process. All of the goals involved here are shared by a number of us and we want to see you succeed at your chosen level and share that success around as encouragement.

--UM

If you want to see an amazing collection of hand-built homes, check out my friend Lloyd's http://www.theshelterblog.com/ or one of his fantastic books.


Aug 27, 2015
Category:Ask Uncle Mud 

Rene Suarez writes:

I'm building a cob oven in a temperate climate, and I'm trying to avoid unnecessary work. My resources suggest digging/laying the foundation below the frost line. That would be 4 feet deep here. Is this really necessary for a 4x4 oven?

Rene Suarez writes:

I'm building a cob oven in a temperate climate, and I'm trying to avoid unnecessary work. My resources suggest digging/laying the foundation below the frost line. That would be 4 feet deep here. Is this really necessary for a 4x4 oven?

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For those who are just joining us, in temperate climates the winter cold will penetrate into the ground, freezing the water in the soil. That wouldn't be such a big deal except the little oddity of water that when it freezes it expands. Its a very small amount of expansion, but "frost heave" is a very power force. It can push soil and cement pads and houses out of their place by up to a few inches. Since it does so unevenly along the length of say a 40' house, it can break your foundation or cause your house to settle out of level. To keep this from happening we can dig down below the deepest depth frost is expected to penetrate (the "frost line", which in my area of Ohio is about 48" down) and back fill with gravel or concrete so the water drains away and the house doesn't shift. That would be a lot of work to go to for a pizza oven.

Fortunately the ground around a structure as small 4'x4' tend to freeze and thaw pretty evenly, and it isn't essential that a pizza oven stay perfectly level like your kitchen counter, so it will ride out the "heaves" with little chance of damage even if your gravel footer was only a foot deep or so. This is called a "floating foundation". If your soil is reasonably well-drained and certain precautions are taken a floating foundation will even work on larger buildings like Rob Roy's two story cordwood house in upper New York State.

The best book on pizza ovens start to finish is my friend Kiko Denzer's book.


Aug 26, 2015

Does anyone else have this problem? By day I'm a mild mannered mud builder. By night I battle wild computer viruses and tangled ethernet cords. In between is stuffed with playing with my kids, going for walks in the woods with my sweetie, and visiting wonderful Natural Builder friends. When am I supposed to squeeze in a blog? Apparently right now if you ask my publicist. Being my sister she knows how to nag me, so this might work. If you have ever read An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge this will look familiar. Not the hanging bit I mean the stream of consciousness bit. Because I've been having too much fun to blog for quite some time, I'm going to FLASHBACK to some of my previous adventures. Hang on. And you can always find me at info@unclemud.com unless I'm out playing in the mud.