Do you serve as a general contractor for natural building
Yes, especially on local, small, or those projects that will
baffle/astound conventional builders.
large projects more than an hour from Austin, TX , especially
straw-bale, we generally recommend choosing a more local general
contractor and then recommending us as subcontractors for
all natural building portions of the building
earthen plasters, timberframe, round-wood framing etc. We
are happy to spend time talking with general contractors,
electricians and plumbers to answer their concerns and questions
about interfacing with alternative construction methods.
favorite way to work is in assisting owner-builders: we do
the heavy repetitive stuff
like lifting cob onto the
walls, or plastering bale walls
clients finish out their
own interior plasters, tile work etc. Often enough in roofs,
foundations and plumbing if our clients are looking for a
particular technique (such as greywater re-use) that is not
within what is "normal" for conventional trades
people, we do those as well. We can do plumbing, electrical,
gutters etc. but we are not licensed in these areas.
I have heard that you can build a 150sqft house for $500,
that means I can build a 1500sqft house for $5000 right?
a few things to consider about the $500 house as described
in the Hand Sculpted House by Evans, Smith & Smiley
it assumes that your time and everybody's time who is working
on the house is entirely free, it also assumes that you all
eat for free, have no bills, pay no rent anywhere else while
you are working on your house and someone else takes care
of your kids so that you can work uninterrupted. The $500
is materials cost only and assumes that you have no indoor
bathroom, no appliances, no indoor plumbing and no electricity.
It also assumes a lot of shoveling, hauling, scrounging, calling
in of favors, sweat and an extended construction time. So,
if you started this paragraph knowing everything I just said,
and you have infinite amounts of free time and no living expenses,
yes! YOU can build a bigger house for very little cash.
Now the rest of you who pictured "house" with hot
running water, switches that flip on lights, refrigeration,
indoor bathroom, insulation in the roof, etc. should seriously
consider consulting a local builder about what it costs to
build in your area. Natural building only affects the cost
of the materials in your walls, which represents a fairly
small portion of the cost of a "house". Electrical
wire, plumbing pipes, kitchen cabinets, skilled labor, solar
systems, washing machines etc. cost the same as in conventional
construction. I would highly recommend talking with someone
local to your area to help you prepare a realistic budget
for your expectations, then read a book on radical simplicity
and spend some serious time weighing your options with everyone
in your household.
have found that I expect certain things out of a "house"
because we have always lived that way. As we were getting
started in natural building we had the opportunity to live
and work on sites with very little infrastructure. In the
beginning we were mentally able to try this lifestyle because
they were "temporary circumstances". Months later
we would look back and realize we *loved* many of the initially
composting toilets, outdoor showers,
outdoor kitchens, food fresh from the garden and incredible,
ambitious, positive, mud happy people all around. If you think
about it, people have lived happily, loved with abandon and
died in due time for 10,000 years without 99% of what we all
now consider "standard convenience" in our homes.
Experience has shown me that wether you live in a big house
with lots of fluff or simple uncluttered space, the essence
of a happy home is the good attitude of the people who spend
So what is the square footage cost of a naturally built home?
That depends. There is a wonderful old saying that fits perfectly..
Pick any two.
in other words, if you want an extravagent custom house with
lots of artistic touches and you want to move in in eight
months, be prepared to spend $200-$300/sqr ft. If you are
an owner builder looking for a solid shelter, made of salvaged
and natural materials, hopefully finished anywhere in the
next eight years, think $45-$80/sqrft.
an owner builder: prepare a full budget: appliances, tiles,
kitchen sinks, and all. Its easy to think the walls and roof
are the main parts of your project, but once your roof is
on there is still a lot more money to spend before its "done".
Talk with your partners/family about at what point in construction
you will move in. What compromises will you make if things
take longer than expected? Do you have funds to hire a crew
to help move things along? What are the one or two places
in the house that you will splurge for something really beautiful?
Be sure you are fully budgeted for the one or two aspects
of the house that you do not want to compromise under any
I see a lot of pictures on the internet and cob often looks,
kind of primitive with blue tarps every where,
very interesting design, but not my style. Is it possible
to do something different?
Cob, bales and mud can do just about ANYTHING you want between
a good foundation and a roof with generous overhangs: straight
walls, round walls, whatever you like. People who have lived
in boxes all their lives discover that cob removes all limits
on their creativity and it ends up something like the first
semester of college after living with strict parents for 18
years: sometimes just a touch overboard. Additionally people
get so excited by the act of simply putting on a roof that
sheds rain, they share their project with the whole world
before its even close to the magically transformative step
of finish plaster.
when you see the unfinished, the eccentrically sculpted or
the just plain experimental that what you are looking at is
the place and process of a person discovering and exploring
their artistic abilities while simultaneously satisfying a
basic need with the labor of their own hands. Its quite thrilling
and empowering really. Its art and fundamental human stuff:
shelter. Suburban rules do not apply and that's ok. Its just
a different way of a person approaching their place. Every
person approaches their project in a unique way and that is
quite a beautiful thing.
also does not imply that you *must* have a curvy crazy house.
Traditional cob homes in England are simple rectangular cottages
with four lime washed walls and a thatched gable roof. Additionally
many people are drawn to the modern architectural look that
eschews visual and spatial clutter to focus on controlled
clean lines, texture and structural contrast. Whatever your
preference, artistic, traditional or modern, Natural building
can do it all.
I don't really have a project in mind, but I'm very interested
in natural building, how can I get involved?
You don't have to have a personal project in mind to get involved.
Many people come just for the community: the contagious momentum
of a group of people creating something together, the good
people with similar interests, or the scrumptious dining with
a conscious angle.
are about hands on but also about experiencing a retreat into
a sustainably focused lifestyle and also meeting other folks
with similar interests. When you attend an event, get to know
the people in the mud beside you. Visit other people's sites,
ask to stay for a few days and volunteer, or just have lunch.
Show up three days early for a workshop and help the instructors
prepare, make time to stick around afterwards and help finish
up. Join listserves and keep your eyes out for volunteer activities.
Attend gatherings and/or colloquiums. Do a month long apprenticeship/internship
at an established teaching center. Go to meetings and stay
late J Hands down, natural building people are some of if
not THE BEST people you will ever meet.
I am planning to build a house soon, can you teach workshops
on my land to help build my house?
A workshop is exclusively an educational opportunity and retreat
into a sustainable lifestyle. They take significant time to
organize, publicize, host and teach, and you can't count on
much getting done. AND as a site host you are so busy making
the thing happen you don't get time to participate in the
actual workshop itself. In past experience we have hit some
hard spots in hosting situations and we intend to learn from
those lessons, therefore we are quite selective about choosing
a location. Workshops serve as pivotal points in many peoples'
pathways, therefore we are dedicated to making them an incredible
experience for instructors, hosts and participants.
The process of hosting a workshop extends for months before
and after the actual event. The criteria below are based on
our learning curve. We are tough because we have high standards
for the quality of our workshops.
are several criteria for workshop hosts:
1. you must have fully participated in at least one full length
workshop (6-10days) and also preferably assisted in staffing
there should exist a realistic plan AND budget for the construction
of the entire project
the host is responsible for construction of foundation and
travel expenses for one instructor to make a pre-workshop
site visit. If foundation is not complete 1 month before workshop,
either the workshop will be cancelled, or site hosts will
pay a foundation deposit. If foundation is still not complete
one week before workshop begins the instructors will keep
foundation deposit in order to pay themselves for building
the foundation in the week before the workshop.
building project should be 200 sqft or less so that participants
can get to as many phases of the building process as possible
site hosts are responsible for setting up materials, kitchen
facilities, toilets, showers, camping areas, insurance etc.
for the workshop. Instructors handle registration, hiring
of cook, groceries, instruction materials and guest speakers.
in building there is a learning curve, it takes time for a
person to gain speed and efficiency. A workshop holds space
for people to ask questions, take their time, and learn at
their own pace. Efficiency and speed come later. You just
cannot place expectation on how much will get done, especially
if it decides to rain all week. Honestly, its fairly expensive
and not very efficient "free labor". If what you
really want is a finished building, all the time spent organizing
and preparing you could spend building and probably more will
workshop is exclusively an educational opportunity and retreat
into a sustainable lifestyle. If you are looking to hold space
for these things to happen and meet all of the criteria above,
please contact us for further discussions.
Can you make a living doing Natural Building professionally?
Yes. But you have to wear many hats: builder, teacher, problem
solver, researcher, presenter, web designer and organizer
to really make it happen. And you should love sleeping outside,
function well in small groups, impress everyone with your
ability to behave as a considerate guest and be able to cook
breakfast for yourself or at least make smoothies.
would like to start a career in natural building, here is
my resume, do you have any job openings?
We rarely hire based on skills or a resume alone. Skills can
be acquired, but good attitude, dedication, trustworthiness
and physical strength are essential and harder to see on a
resume. We have developed a pattern of inviting individuals
to volunteer on the crew, they are invited to stay based on
their positive energy, pay depends on experience. Entertaining
storytellers, exceptional cooks and musicians are particularly
welcomed. Our crew is composed of people who showed up and
made themselves indispensable on the building site, as project
budgets allowed we moved them into full time paid positions.
is always highly beneficial for prospective natural builders
to take part in an apprenticeship program of at least six
weeks with an established builder. These programs vary widely,
ask for alumni references before choosing your apprenticeship.
Additionally, Natural Building is only one trade among many.
Many successful natural builders have found that conventional
framing, remodeling, electrical and plumbing experience serve
as crucial parts of their ability to serve clients.
important when you get started on a professional track to
work with several different natural builders and other trades.
Allow yourself 1-2 years of apprenticeship period where you
can travel freely and take advantage of learning opportunities
without financial stress. Then expect to work another 5-10
years at the journeyman level: traveling long distances for
work and often living away from your home base for months
at a time. Only the most experienced and published builders
are able to maintain constant work within 50 miles of a single
building as a movement is in the phase of needing people who
create their own jobs by building public awareness of the
movement. Teaching workshops, setting up a web page, speaking
at gatherings and communicating with potential clients are
all vital to expanding natural building into the realm of