About Our Workshops
Why choose a "House Alive" workshop?
House Alive is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable organizations in North America for teaching natural building, earthen construction and appropriate technology. Here’s what makes us different:
For more than 15 years we’ve lived year-round with our families surrounded by earthen walls, straw-bale insulation, earth bags and other forms of natural building. We believe in what we do and know the magic of living with earth first hand.
We have built both rural as well as in the urban/city environment.
We have built and worked within the code, as well as smaller non-permitted structures.
We have built beautiful, real earthen houses from the tropical climates of southern Mexico to the harsh winters of South Dakota.
We have extensive experience in successfully using earthen materials in the remodel of existing homes.
We have provided leadership for 6 national Natural Building Colloquiums (“conferences”) in the spirit of cooperation among natural building practitioners and teachers.
House Alive is internationally known for simplifying design techniques, making it possible for people to design and build their own house.
During our workshops and apprenticeships, students build real buildings from start to finish and are taught to adapt the learned techniques to their individual circumstances.
Natural houses are often enhanced by appropriate technologies such as composting toilets, solar technologies, and water systems. House Alive uses a number of appropriate technologies that are demonstrated during the workshops and has a reputation for teaching these technologies in a no-nonsense, practical way.
When useful and beneficial, we invite guest teachers to our workshops. This provides participants with new perspectives and skills, as well as additional experience in both building and teaching.
Many of our students have successfully chosen to continue on as natural building practitioners and teachers.
Once you have taken a workshop, we offer free phone and email consultation services for your future projects. We want you to succeed!
We want to be honest in how we communicate with you about what you will learn and do during the workshops. No one can become a "house builder" after a one-week workshop. We look at learning as an ongoing process and taking a workshop is often the most important step you can take.
"House of Earth" is used as a textbook for every workshop and is included with every workshop.
General workshop information
All of our workshops are hands-on, with about six hours a day devoted to building. The days are filled with learning as well as hard work. We feel that the best way to learn is by doing! Having said that, everyone does what they can, and there is no pressure to do more than you feel comfortable with. No previous building experience is necessary for any of our workshops. What we do is completely different from conventional construction. We accept all ages.
We value your time and we want to do everything we can to give you the best learning experience possible. Please bring all your questions! We like to answer individual questions and like to tailor the workshop to the needs and interests of the students. All the projects we work on are real buildings; they will be used and may out last all of us! We plan projects to suit the needs of the students, and tend to keep them small so that many stages of the building process can be experienced in a short amount of time.
The workshops are about more than just learning how to build. We strive to provide a retreat experience, with good food (mostly vegetarian and organically grown whenever possible), laughter, some relaxation, community spirit and singing. We hope that you leave the workshop feeling better and more hopeful about the world.
Our classes are small. We usually have no more than 14 students and generally have at least one instructor for every 10 students. Tuition includes all the meals and a place to camp. Our workshops almost always fill up to capacity. Don’t wait too long with sending in your registration.
We welcome kids and teens to most of our shorter workshops and often have experienced them as a beautiful addition to the group. When they are very young, it does mean that a parent might not always be able to participate fully in the lectures or building sessions. Children 3 and under can come for free; for other children and teenagers we usually offer greatly reduced fees.
What people have said about House Alive workshops:
“Hands-on training, lots of instruction, yummy food, good confidence builder because Coenraad explains and has us build in a simple, easy to understand way.” –Holly, Costa Rica.
“The pace, the way the workday was broken up, the humor and simplicity of knowledge shared in the lectures. Dips in the pond at noon, magic mingled with solidity of work. The Food.” –Rosy, Portland OR
“So many things. House Alive just has such a wonderful dynamic. I was able to gain a tremendous amount of skills in 3 weeks. I can truly say that after this I am fully capable of dealing with all aspects of building a cob or straw bale house. There was so much warmth and love here. This has truly been one of the best life- and learning experiences I have ever had.” –Estaban, Austin TX
“The philosophical conversations regarding building, other ways of living, etc. Using humor as a teaching tool and for encouragement. Coenraad’s thoughtfulness. The food was amazing and nourishing. The setting is beautiful and peaceful. The people I have met here have enriched my life. Oh yeah – And the skills I learned!! So much information. This was an amazing life-changing experience. I feel more hopeful about living in a way that makes more sense to me.” –Shannon, Seattle WA
“Experiencing first hand how to build a shelter and getting to practice all aspects of it. This was a life changing incredible experience. After feeling for so long I don’t belong anywhere, I am now empowered to create a home that belongs. Food was incredible.” –Mel, Canada
“Community building and community building a building. The simplicity of the construction process. Learning how much can be built in 3 weeks. Design as you go is a new concept for me. Being accepted for who I am. Coenraad, I believe you did a masterful job of juggling work, play, fun, teaching and drawing us into the living process of construction. We all felt ownership.” –Dan, Amelia VA
“Conrad, you are an excellent and intuitive instructor. I loved how you could “read” your audience and made sure that we came to the same level of understanding before moving on to the next part. The attention paid to “appropriate technologies” was the main reason I selected your workshop and I was NOT disappointed. I learned more than I thought I would, with practical ideas I can use at home.” –Liz, Canada
“Hands-on training, great food and entertainment, informative lectures, great team of people to work with, many helpful tricks of the trade.” –Wanja, Kenya
“Great instructions on all aspects of cob building. The best food of any workshop I have ever attended. This course gave me every tool and skill to actually build a house. Fantastic instructor and a wonderful family.” –Lenard, Canada
“It was very worthwhile to see the building through from start to ﬁnish”. –Patrick, Greensboro NC
“I appreciated having the opportunity to get in on all aspects of the building process, from gathering materials, learning what tools are used, to the philosophy of natural building. Thank you, I learned so much more than I anticipated. I loved your teaching style.” –Heather, St. Helen OR
“Incredibly comprehensive and very thoughtfully put together – every aspect, from the actual building to accommodations, to food, to community. Thank you Conrad, we feel you are part of a big transformation in people.” –Ralph and Jen, San Diego CA
“I loved the light-hearted humor, the open-hearted love, and the deep-hearted wisdom. Also, being involved in every aspect of designing and building. Getting to peel the trees was way cool!” –Elena, Edmonton, Canada
“I appreciated Conrad’s gentle teaching style. I now feel sufﬁciently educated and encouraged to begin planning and building immediately. The location, accommodations and food make it feel like a vacation” –Emma and Don, Kalama WA
“I loved the community feel, working together, learning a lot of natural building techniques, meeting new friends.” –Tom, Kerrville, TX
Hosting a workshop
We enjoy teaching workshops on sites other than our own in Jacksonville, OR. We have taught House Alive workshop in Washington, California, South Dakota, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Panama and other places. We are keenly aware that there is a lack of workshops in the mid-west, the east-coast and across the globe, and, rather everyone having to fly to the west coast of the USA, it seems wiser for teachers to visit other places.
Hosting a workshop can be very beneficial and enjoyable. You can get a good start on a project, such as a small cottage, while spreading the knowledge of natural building in your area. You also benefit from the design and construction experience of our team so that your project has a greater chance of being successful. And last but not least, you enjoy the uplifting energy of forming a temporary community on your land, usually filled with hope and enthusiasm.
However, many people underestimate the work and preparation it takes to host a workshop and hence, this information to explain how you can qualify for hosting a workshop and how to go about the preparations.
A good workshop site needs to have the space and infrastructure to function as a workshop site. It requires:
Comfortable, level camping spots for about 12 tents
Hot showers, toilets, washing and cooking facilities, and enough water for building (cob takes a lot of water)
Electricity for tools and slide presentations
A kitchen, big enough to feed 20 people (including pots, pans, plates, etc.)
An outdoor meeting and dining area
An indoor meeting and dining area for when it gets cold or wet
Not every project is suitable for a workshop. Here are some things to consider:
The project has to be small enough so that many aspects of the building of a house can be taught during the workshop.
The location has to be suitable for a building, so no swamps, river beds or mountain tops.
A good portion of the materials need to come from the site itself or nearby.
We tend to prefer building places that are very public, or places that people will actually live in, rather than things such as private yoga studios.
We can’t stress enough that the purpose of the workshop is not to finish the building. We can not tell beforehand how far we will get as there are too many variables, such as number of participants, their working ability, weather, size of the project, quality of materials, etc. All we can promise is that we give your project a decent lift!
The food is an important part of the workshop experience and requires a lot of care and attention. The host is responsible for hiring a full time cook with credentials in cooking for larger groups. The cook will have no time to participate in the workshop and needs to be fully dedicated to the work of providing excellent meals. The job can be split up between different people and cooks may volunteer their time, rather than getting paid.
The food needs to be fresh, plentiful, tasty, well presented and mostly vegetarian (with options for vegans).
The following things need to be in place before the workshop starts:
The site needs to be level and prepared for the project, according to our specifications.
All the materials need to be on site, including sand, straw, clay, windows, doors, wood, electrical wire, roofing material, etc., all in appropriate amounts for the size of the project.
In most cases, the rubble trench foundation and the stemwall need to be finished according to our specifications. This is usually a serious project and the host should plan on at least two weeks of labor to get this done. For workshops longer than 2 weeks thistask may become part of the learning process during the workshop
All the infrastructure as described earlier needs to be in place, such as shower(s), toilet, kitchen, etc.
There needs to be an adequate number of simple tools on site: We usually need about 6 shovels, 2 wheelbarrows, 25(!) buckets, 3 hoses and some simple carpentry tools (saws, hammers, nails, etc). We will provide additional tools unless we have determined otherwise.
The host, or the person preparing the workshop must have taken a cob or natural building workshop from us or any other comparable school.
The workshop needs to have one person participating full time, at no cost, who will be responsible for finishing the project. This does not need to be the host.
The host is responsible for recruitment of local participants. We may also post the workshop on our website. However, there is a great benefit in training local people as the forming of a natural building community takes place, plus there is a greater chance that people will volunteer after the workshop to get more experience and to help you finish the building!
Financial arrangements can vary a lot. Sometimes we may come to an agreement where we compansate the host for food and a cook. Other times, we may just "hire ourselves out" as workshop leaders at a daily rate. Some of this depends on who is responsible for recruitment of students, as well as the country or location and wether we are working with an institution or a private person.
Applying to become a workshop host
If you interested in hosting a workshop, please let us know through email. Feel free to comment on any of the issues addressed above.