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7 Myths about Building with Cob Busted

No. 017 Reading Time 4 minutes


When we moved to a remote village in a forest in Rishikesh, everyone from our friends to the local villagers had one question.

Why?


We replied, " To build a Mud House."

This was not our primary goal. As Simon Sinek would say, it was not our "Why" but "What."


We are here to live a more intentional and meaningful lifestyle closer to nature. The mud house is a consequence of a lifestyle choice.


Also, since we both are architects and Raghav attended a natural building workshop, we wanted to build a structure from scratch to finish. We aspired to build how people used to build centuries ago. Something sacred. An environmental sculpture.



People in the village, built stone houses with mud mortar with a slate roof before switching to cement houses. They mud-plastered the walls and did the floors with cow dung.


But the idea of building a complete house with mud was unfamiliar. They thought it was impossible.


" You don't have pure clay here as you have in the plains," said Dadi (granny) with whom we live. The neighbors verified her claim. Everyone was skeptical.

Only when the cob walls reached human height did Dadi (Granny) say "You indeed are here to build a mud house. Everyone thought the two boys just wanted to play with mud with their white friends."


The villagers have gone from being skeptics to our biggest cheerleaders. Like the villagers, so many people who visit us have myths about building with mud.


 

Today, we want to dispel 7 myths about building with Cob:


1) Cob buildings are only suitable for dry and warm climates.They will melt in the rain.


There is an old English proverb, "Give a cob house a good hat and a good pair of boots and she'll last forever."

Good Hat = A roof that doesn't leak with wide overhangs.

Good Boots = A high and impermeable foundation with perimeter drainage.

There are 600-year-old cob cottages in Devon, England which receive torrential horizontal rain.


Cob walls can collapse as a result of prolonged soaking during flooding above the level of the stem wall/plinth. That’s why you should not build in a flood plain.


Picture credits: Kevin Mccabe



2) You need pure clay to build a mud house.


Cob is a material that consists of a mixture of clay, sand, and straw.

Pure clay alone is not recommended. It can lead to cracking and shrinkage as it dries.

You need all three. Clay is the binder. Sand gives the structural compressive strength. Straw or other fibrous materials are often added to increase tensile strength.

The ratios of these ingredients can vary depending on various factors.



3) Cob houses are 'Kucca' (weak) and not as 'Pucca' (Stong) as cement. They are not durable.


There are mud structures in Taos Pueblo in Mexico, habited for more than 900 years.


One can see the remains of cob buildings from 9500 BC in Jericho.

Cob buildings can easily last over 50 years with good design, knowledge, and craftsmanship.





4) Cob buildings should be "dirt" cheap.


Cob indeed is one of the cheapest materials you can find. But there is no fixed per-square-foot cost for such structures. One can build as per your budget.

The cost of a house can vary on various factors:

  • Availability or proximity of building materials.

  • Hiring skilled labor or building it yourself. It is a labor-intensive process.

  • The design of the project, if and who you hire to design it.

5) Cob buildings attract pests and are prone to mold.


One of the incredible properties of cob and mud is to regulate moisture.

The walls breathe and allow the vapour to permeate not allowing the mold to survive.


6) You can only build it in rural areas and not meant for modern living.


25% of the world still lives in earthen structures.

Most of them are in rural areas. However, mud building techniques can be applied in urban and suburban settings.


You can build multistorey structures. Build on rooftops, even with thinner walls. One can have all the modern luxuries installed in a mud house with good design and technical know-how.





7) Mud Buildings need more maintenance than cement buildings.


Both cement and cob buildings would need maintenance if the design and construction quality are poor.


The advantage of cob is that you can repair it with ease.

Whereas repairing concrete might need different materials and skills.

 

You might be wondering if cob is so good then why haven't you heard about it so far? Also, why isn't everyone building with Cob? It is because the cement manufacturers have marketed their products well. They have associated better words with cement.


Cement emits 2.8 million tons of CO2 worldwide per year. The cement industry alone is responsible for nearly eight percent of worldwide emissions.

Sustainability is not adding trees, planters, or installing solar panels on the roof. It is just greenwashing.


We have forgotten that the most abundant and natural material is beneath our feet. It is non-toxic and biodegradable. Another thing to observe is that you don't feel like touching a cement building. Clay is sensual. You are naturally attracted to it.


Building with clay is intuitive, soulful, ecological, and gives power back to the people.


If you have any other queries regarding building with Cob.

Please write to us. :)


Love and light,

Raghav and Ansh


PS: We’d also love to know what you thought of this newsletter, feel free to write feedback.

 

Shagun Singh, the founder of GeeliMitti farms and educational research center talks about the common myths that are associated with mud houses.





Sigi Koko is the principal designer of Down to Earth Design. She has been working with natural materials for almost a quarter of a century. She has been informing & inspiring your natural building enthusiasts like us. She often dispels the technical myths about natural building and showcases the range of beauty that is possible.


In this episode with Jeffery Hart, she talks about materials, myths, women in construction, and empowerment.







Building with Cob' is a step by step guide with lavishly illustrated with over 300 colour photos and 85 diagrams on how to apply this ancient technique.





 

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Tiny Farm Friends Newsletter. Every Sunday, we share tiny valuable lessons to help you transition to the countryside and build naturally.





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