Complete cob and natural building intensive
This includes all meals, coffee and tea, a nice place to pitch your tent, our book "House of Earth" (we'll send you a copy before the workshop in the Spring).
Instructors: Kyle Isacksen, with Kathleen O'Brien, Johnathan Vocke and Katy Chandler
May 23 - June 2, 2022
in an urban setting
Number of Students: 12
September 7 - 17, 2022
Long Ranch, Surprise Valley, NV
Number of Students: 15
This is the most comprehensive workshop you can find. Decades of teaching on four different continents has helped us design this rich learning experience, giving students the tools they need to become confident earthen builders.
Earth is the mother of all building materials. For millennia, and all over the world, people have used earth to build beautiful, simple, efficient and inexpensive homes. It's plentiful, ecological and non-toxic. Plus, it can't burn, won't rot and is much simpler to build with than conventional construction.
We will teach you how to use clay-soil to build just about everything. From strong structural walls (cob and Adobe) to beautiful floors, plasters and light-straw-clay walls. Because the materials are fireproof, they are ideally suited to sculpt ovens, fireplaces and cook stoves.
The essence of your learning experience will revolve around developing a deep understanding of how to process and combine a few simple materials: clay-soil, sand and straw. How you apply that in your building adventures is then up to you, but you will find the possibilities endless and exciting.
(We don't think it's a good idea to start a whole building in a shorter workshop (as attractive as that may sound); it will have people do too much of one thing (mixing cob and wall building) and will not able to learn the other important aspects of natural building in a meaningful way, such as roof variations, natural plasters, earthen floors and design.)
What will you learn
After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can
build yourself a cob cottage
remodel, renovate an existing home, using natural materials
build and use an earthen oven
use cob to create garden walls, outdoor fireplaces and hot tubs
design small cottages
teach a one-day natural building event yourself!
Specifically, you will get hands-on experience and skill development in the following areas:
Foundation systems, rubble trench, stem walls, earthbag construction (as a stem wall)
Identifying the right materials, screening, processing, testing, costs, amount calculations
Mixing cob efficiently, making adobe bricks
Building with cob: strong sculptural walls, arches, windows and doors, niches, artwork and mosaics
electricity and plumbing, how to install wires and pipes in the walls
roof attachment and roof design
Light-straw-clay: this is an infill techniques perfect for code approved buildings and natural renovations of existing homes. You will learn how to make the right materials and how to install them
Natural plasters, tools, making your own plasters and paints, colors, applications, how to apply it on earthen walls, drywall, wood, concrete
Tamped floors, finish earthen floors in natural buildings, earthen floors in existing homes on plywood, oriented strand board and concrete
Earthen ovens: from start to finish and how to use them (pizza party!)
Different design strategies, natural design essentials, passive solar, using cob to make models
Building codes, how they work, how to work around them
During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a careful look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.
Our book “House of Earth” will be used as a textbook for the workshop.
The daily schedule
We are aware that students make a big investment in a workshop such as this. We honor your time and do the best we can to share our knowledge and experience. Expect long days with lots of building and learning. In the evenings we will show slides and films, featuring our previous projects and that of other people and cultures. Believe it or not, we also still like to make time for a campfire and some music. We always strive to make the workshop itself a comfortable, memorable and fun experience.
9:00 building with cob
3:00 other techniques, lectures and oven building
8:00 free time/slide shows/campfire
About the sites and projects
The Be the Change Project...
is a Reno-based nonprofit, centered on our half-acre urban homestead where we have offered classes, tours, and workshops since 2011. That year we were able to buy what was a run down and neglected house on a half-acre through fundraising and crowdfunding. Since then we have enjoyed living an alternative and off-the-grid lifestyle while transforming the property into a verdant oasis. It has become a center for neighborhood uplift as well as a model for simpler living in the urban/suburban context. We were a Mother Earth News Magazine Homestead of the Year in 2013.
Reno is in the high desert on the western edge of the Great Basin. The weather in May and June is usually warm, clear, and sunny during the days with much cooler nights. It can get hot, and rain is unlikely.
Along with earthen cabins, landscape walls, ovens, and plasters on site, we’ve developed and use many systems for living more sustainably in town which you’ll get to know and use during the workshop:
Solar cooking and wall heaters
Small scale solar PV
Wood stove and solar thermosiphon water heating
Composting - vermicomposting and conventional aerobic piles
Alternative septic system - the Watson Wick
Basic principles and practices of Permaculture
Organic small plot intensive gardening including season extenders like hoop houses, root cellaring and solar dehydrating
Scavenging! - upcycling and salvaging materials from the urban waste stream
Living with little electricity and fossil fuels
Wood-fired hot tub
During this ten day workshop we will build a beautiful earthen wall that will be part of a 200 square foot cabin and an earthen bread/pizza oven. We’ll also do interior plaster work on a conventional building. The cabin will be a future off-grid affordable rental unit.
is an oasis in the desert. Fed by a productive warm-water spring, the ranch is home to magnificent cottonwoods, fruit trees, an extensive garden, pastures, and grass! There are several charming buildings, some of them historic, sprinkled across the ranch as well as a large, spring-fed swimming pool kept naturally comfy at 80° year-round. It’s both a working ranch and a small community.
Situated 17 miles by road across the playa from quaint Cedarville, CA, Long Ranch is a lush patch amidst the iconic high desert steppe of northwestern Nevada. Its human denizens share the area with wild horses, free-range cattle, deer, coyote, mountain lion, and an abundance of birds. The vistas during the day are dramatic with the rugged Warner Mountains spanning the western edge of the valley and the Hays Canyon Range starting just behind the ranch. At night the big skies are filled with stars and a horizon-stretching Milky Way (the Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary, one of only a handful in the US, is a short drive north).
The small town of Cedarville offers restaurants, eclectic shops, and a cafe along its historic main street. Hiking and biking opportunities abound including within several designated wilderness areas. In the middle of the playa is the Surprise Valley Hot Springs Resort where some of you may want to relax and rejuvenate with a soak after a few days of cobbing.
Long Ranch has solar and micro-hydro energy systems, radiant floor heating in most buildings, solar cookers, a hydronically-heated earthen floor in a conventional home, and other appropriate technologies that we’ll investigate during our time there.
During this ten day workshop we will build a beautiful garden wall, an earthen bread/pizza oven and a wood-fired hot tub. Within the garden wall, we will incorporate all the features of a wall in an earthen house: windows, doors, electricity, plumbing, arches, niches, and artwork.
After full participation, every student will receive a VersaTerra certificate. We believe that after taking this workshop, participants are qualified to teach at least a one-day event in their neighborhood. By providing a certificate, we want to empower our students to become facilitators of community revitalization through building with earth!
*VersaTerra is a holistic design, building and living philosophy, celebrating clay-soil as its primary building material. Clay-soil is:
plentiful, inexpensive or free, durable, easy to maintain and modify, and endlessly reusable
non-toxic, breathable, soft, beautiful, and displays superior performance in a wide variety of climates
sculptural by nature, inviting to work with needing only simple tools and methods, and easily combines with other natural and human made materials.
By focusing on these specific qualities of clay-soil, we can make the design, building and living process a conduit for community revitalization and personal transformation, while creating housing with dignity for the people of this world.
How to register?
All these workshops are taught by the "be the Change project". Please click here to visit their website