Frequently Asked Questions

 

1. Do you serve as a general contractor for natural building projects?

2. I have heard that you can build a 150sqft house for $500, that means I can build a 1500sqft house for $5000 right?

3. So what is the square footage cost of a naturally built home?

4. I see a lot of pictures on the internet and cob often looks, well… kind of primitive with blue tarps every where, very interesting design, but not my style. Is it possible to do something different?

5. I don't really have a project in mind, but I'm very interested in natural building, how can I get involved?

6. I am planning to build a house soon, can you teach workshops on my land to help build my house?

7. Can you make a living doing Natural Building professionally?

8. I would like to start a career in natural building, here is my resume, do you have any job openings?

 

 

Q: Do you serve as a general contractor for natural building projects?

A: Yes, especially on local, small, or those projects that will baffle/astound conventional builders.

For 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…cob, bales, 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.

Another 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.

 

Q: I have heard that you can build a 150sqft house for $500, that means I can build a 1500sqft house for $5000 right?

A: a few things to consider about the $500 house as described in the Hand Sculpted House by Evans, Smith & Smiley …

First: 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.

We 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 dreaded changes … 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 time there.

 

Q: So what is the square footage cost of a naturally built home?

A: That depends. There is a wonderful old saying that fits perfectly..

GOOD, FAST, INEXPENSIVE
……Pick any two.

So 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.

As 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 circumstance.

 

Q: I see a lot of pictures on the internet and cob often looks, well… kind of primitive with blue tarps every where, very interesting design, but not my style. Is it possible to do something different?

A: 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.

Remember 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.

It 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.

 

Q: I don't really have a project in mind, but I'm very interested in natural building, how can I get involved?

A: 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.

Workshops 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.

 

Q: I am planning to build a house soon, can you teach workshops on my land to help build my house?

A: 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.

There 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 a workshop

2. there should exist a realistic plan AND budget for the construction of the entire project

3. 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.

4. building project should be 200 sqft or less so that participants can get to as many phases of the building process as possible

5. 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.

Also, 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 get done.

A 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.

 

Q: Can you make a living doing Natural Building professionally?

A: 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.


Q: I would like to start a career in natural building, here is my resume, do you have any job openings?

A: 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.

It 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.

Its 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 place.

Natural 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 common knowledge.