Join us this summer, and learn how you can build your own natural building, practice yoga, meditation, and feed your spirit. Workshop participants will get hands on experience with rock-bag foundations, making cob, building a cob bond beam, building bale cob walls, timber framing, installing an earthen roof, and working with earth plasters. We will learn through discussion about rubble trench foundations, concrete tie beams, earthen floors, and give a quick overview on electrical, plumbing, solar water heating, and grey water harvesting. You will also learn how to use some essential permaculture design principles to create your own food garden. Our workshop participants will gain an in depth understanding of the natural building process, and experience the benefits of daily yoga and meditation.
The workshop participants will be working on the cottage pictured above in small segments, in a way that allows them to experience all aspects of the building process. Since our workshops are condensed into 6 days, our schedule will be very full.
Each day will begin with yoga and meditation, followed by an informative discussion of the day’s topic, and will end with an evening question and answer session. We will end our week with a pizza party in downtown Ananda Village, at Masters Market.
By signing up for our workshop, you will be named on our website as part of the 2013 Natural Building Team and receive an electronic copy of The Natural Living Journal, covering in detail every step of the natural building process. Your support will help make this year’s building a reality.
June 2nd-8th -A 6 day intensive natural building experience .
Aug. 11th-17th- A 6 day intensive natural building experience.
Sep 22nd- Sep 28th- A 6 day intensive natural building experience .
The cottage will be built affordably, and to code. We believe that everyone has a right to affordable housing, and to be able to build in a sustainable way, limiting the destruction of our natural resources, and limiting the large amount of waste that is often produced in conventional building.
In most counties around the country you are allowed to build a timber-framed house with straw bale walls and use earthen plasters, as long as the building has been engineered. We have found an amazing engineer that works with natural materials and can help us engineer a structure that can be built simply and affordably using materials from the land.
The cottage will be built using round wood timbers to frame the entire structure, including the roof. Then we will infill the walls using cob and straw bales to create a natural, non-toxic, breathable, highly insulated wall system. There will be natural plasters, an earthen floor, and it will have sustainable heating and cooling methods to work with nature, rather than against it. This structure can be built with a basic understanding of natural building, and yes even you can do it.
The Goal for the 2013 building season is to timber frame the entire structure, roof it completely, and then only enclose the walls in the red section, as illustrated on the above floor plan. Phase two will be to infill the rest of the walls in the blue section during the 2014 summer building season.
Anyone interested in duplicating the original structure, could construct the red section only, which is about 500 sq ft. This structure could stand alone as a cozy cottage, or could be added on to later. The main room could be used for the living room and kitchen, with a sleeping loft above the bathroom and closet. Later, if more space is needed, one could add on the blue section from the original floor plan.
If you are interested in being a part of the 2013 building team please contact us.
My name is Wesley Jobe, and I spent the summer of 2012 at Ananda Village to learn about natural building, and much more. This is a summary of my experience.
When I applied for the Natural Living School apprenticeship I knew very little of Ananda. Only the sheer drive to get some hands on experience with natural building fueled my decision. Before arriving in California, I had already been practicing yoga and meditation, and was keen to find out more, so this was a perfect fit for me. Turns out it was more than I imagined.
Never before had I been away from home that long, or alone, yet I did not feel nervous or uncomfortable. Since my pickup at the Sacremento airport I had begun an adventure I will never forget. Everyone I met at The Expanding Light where I camped was so welcoming and helpful, some even interested in what I was to be doing there. The following morning I met with Pablo and Miguel (the other apprentice) to go over some design plans for the project. We met like that for the first week or so, and I even got to help finalize the plan by making some architectural drawings and elevations. This was a perfect initiation time for me to get comfortable with the new surroundings, establish a solid yoga and meditation practice (daily classes made that easy), and settle into the peaceful feeling all around. Observing how the people there live, work, and interact with eachother was a heartwarming inspiration alone. Like one big family, not just selfish individuals. I felt for the first time in a while that there was hope for this world, and that I had found a place that is a shining example of how we can all work together to improve current issues in society.
Turned out the original plan we were discussing and fine tuning had more time consuming restraints due to obtaining the counties approval for building permits. Though the set back did not hinder our spirits and was a good learning experience. Because first of all, modern building codes are one of the major blocks holding back natural builders from full creative freedom, and thus, influence on a larger scale. Secondly, it was a good reminder that no matter how much planning has been done, sometimes things just don’t work the way you’d hoped, and that is where the creative changes are made. So it turned out to be a blessing for us. We scaled down the size of the building just enough to not require a permit. This was more appropriate for the time we had, then we were able to learn and practice all the techniques and problem solving from foundation to roof. Problem solving and being open to change are two of the most important skills I developed for natural building, coupled with the confidence to take ideas and turn them into reality.
After those kinks with design were massaged out, we got right to work. Starting with sustainably harvesting trees for the round-pole timber frame. As we went through each phase of the building, I see now that an analogy was taking place within me. I learned more about myself than I did about building, and I learned a lot about building! We searched the forest for just the right trees to fell, with the right size, shape, and location, so as not to harm the forest ecosystem but enhance the old growth already there. Simultaneously I was searching within myself to find strengths and positive qualities I had almost forgotten.
Then we went on to begin the foundation. This begins with a whole lot of digging, but lucky for us, and with the magic of community, a wonderfully helpful man dug the hard part for us with a tractor. Stacking rocks for the stem-wall proved to be quite labor intensive as well, and very fun, like three-dimensional tetris. So I was learning the importance of making a solid foundation by taking the time to do it presicely and accurately, which was very gratifying later on, and at the same time looking inward once more. I wanted to change myself and the way I was living, so it was good to relate my physical task with a mental one. Looking for the right rock to fit with the others made me ask myself, “what is my foundation?” I needed to find what made me strong, and who I was at the core, which all of my identifications were built off of. I must give thanks here also to Pablo, for inviting me there and encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do. Positive reinforcement is the basis of his teaching style, and it is completely sincere, and extremely effective.
Next we started the walls and the frame, at the same time, because with natural building you are free to do such things. Around this time a large group of campers came to experience Ananda for a three week program called, “Living With Spirit,” and stay up at the building site where some of the villagers set up an awesome outdoor kitchen and living space. Miguel and I got our first chance to teach a little, I prefer the term guide, because natural building techniques are very simple, and achievable by anyone. There help made a great impact on the progress of the structure, and it became very clear that working together is really what makes natural building practical and successful, and far more fun, too. If playing with mud and experimenting with friends can eventually turn into a beautiful home for perhaps some of those friends to live in, then modern construction has it all wrong. I have worked in construction in the city where I live, so I have seen both sides, and of this I am convinced.
We also spent some time each week helping out at the Ananda Permaculture Gardens. This is a whole other part of the apprenticeship that focuses on growing food, flowers, and herbs, where we learned a lot just by being there, and asking questions. It gave us a bit of a break from building, no break from the sun though, haha, and really piqued my growing interest for sustainable living.
Staying at the Expanding Light was a phenomenal contrast to the daily work. The food there was amazing, it was very nice to get well balanced, healthy meals whilst doing so much physical labor. Another of my favourite points of my stay there was the amount of wildlife I saw everyday. The gardens around The Expanding Light are very well kept, with many bright flowers surrounding the main temple and dining hall. Gorgeous mountain scenery with a symphony of birds to wake me each morning (far more peaceful than an alarm), and crickets and frogs to sing me to sleep at night. That really made me feel more connected to earth, and everything I was doing made perfect sense.
While the work was physically challenging, occasionaly puzzling mentally, we never pushed too hard. Pablo definitely helped us make the most of our downtime also with stops to the market for ice-cream after a hot days work. One day that was especially hot we stopped work early to go for a swim in a nearby pond. It was more like being at summer camp, where you can just be yourself, and better yourself if you so desire. The lasting relationships I made there, with people from all over the world, was a remarkable enough experience to make it worth more than just money. Added on to that the massive amounts of knowledge I have gained and the confidence to make my dreams a reality have made that summer more than I could have hoped for. As my memory allows, it was the best summer of my life.
This is not a natural building apprenticeship, it’s a natural living school, true to every word, complete with laboratory and playground combined, and I hope that one day I too will inspire people to live in such a way.
Its been a long time since we posted on the site. Sorry about that. Between the Holidays and moving, we have been also trying to work on our new house. Lots of work , we needed a loft for sleeping, a bathroom, a kitchen, hot water heater, and some storage. So far we have 3 out of 5, more to do. We also don’t have internet, so we have been using our cell phone as our internet. Makes it a bit hard to post. But we are all happy, exited for the new possibilities at our new location, and we have overcome many obstacles to bring you the next step on your way to building your Natural Building.
So lets recap; you have laid out your building lines and you have removed the top soil, now you are ready to start digging out your swale and building up your berm around your building site.
The first thing you will need to do is look at the lay of the land. Where are the high spots? When it rains, which way does the water go? Will it want to go through your building site?
What we do is look at the contour of the site. If the land is sloped towards the building then we want to make sure that the rain water will not flow into the building. The way we do this is by creating a swale for the water to flow in and around the building.
The other way to help water flow into the swale instead of towards your building is to create a berm. In most cases your swale will be next to your berm, as illustrated in the picture below.
The other part to consider when creating your swale and berm is the roof line. You will want to make sure that any rain water that comes off your roof will have a place to go, and flow out and away from your building.
Taking all of these things into consideration you will want to make sure that your swale slopes from the high side of your building site down and away from your building. Depending on how much rainfall you get per year, you may want to dig the swale at least 18 inches wide and three inches deep at the lowest point of your swale. You will also want your berm to be at least three to six inches higher then the ground level/finished grade depending on your site.
As you begin to dig out your swale, you will start at the high side of your site, and will want to make sure you are sloping at least 1 inch every 4 feet towards your low side, or 1/4 inch per foot. In some cases your site may have a natural slope so you could just follow it, and just check every once in a while to make sure it’s sloping at least 1/4 inch per foot.
Once your swale and berm are dug out you will want to protect it so it doesn’t get re-filled or trampled during the building process. We usually put a few boards over the swale so people can walk over them to the building site.
In almost all cases, we make sure that the swale and berm go all the way around the building, making a circle around the site. This way we protect the building on all sides in case rain water finds a way towards the building.
Stay tune, next is the Ruble Trench Foundation, favored by Frank Lloyd Wright.
After you select your site, and have a plan and design for your building, then you are ready for site preparation. The first thing to do is make sure you clear the site where the building will be located. This means removal of trees, shrubs, large rocks, stumps, or anything that may be in the way of the construction. If there is a lot of plant life, you may choose to transplant it, or if it’s just grasses you may just mow it down or weed whack it. If you are planning on having a living roof, you could use the top soil and the plants on your roof, as long as they don’t require lots of space for deep roots.
Laying Out The Building Lines
For the purpose of keeping things simple, lets look at two options. A round structure and and rectangular structure.
For a round structure; First, pound a stake deep in the ground where you want the center of your building to be. Make suer it’s deep enough that it won’t move easily if it gets hit on accident. Then, nail or screw a string on the stake that is the length of the radius of your building. Pull the string tight and walk around the building marking the circumference of the building with sticks or marking paint.
Then remove the top soil and set aside for future use. At this point repeat the above process to get the circumference of your inside wall. Make sure to use the same central stake. Try not to remove the stake until the foundation has been completed. You may want to leave it until the roof is done, so that you know where the center of the roof should be. If you are leaving your stake in for the duration of the building construction, make sure to build a cover for it, so it doesn’t get knocked around.
For the thickness of your inside wall, measure the size of your straw bales first. Next, add the thickness of your cob, scratch coat plastering, and finish plastering. For the cob class room, we made the foundation 18 inches wide, because we used 12″ bales (half bales), and added 2 inches of cob on the inside and outside walls, plus 1 inch for plastering.
For a Rectangular Buildings; First you need to make sure that your building lines are squared. The best way to do this is to start out by setting up some Batter Boards. These are usually made from 2×4 stakes and 1×6 ledgers that get screwed between the stakes. Locate the batter boards 4 feet or more away from the building lines. In most cases you want to make sure your batter boards have enough room for you to move your lines while you try to square the building. So, place your stakes at least 4 feet apart from each other and use batter boards that are at least 5 feet long.
The other important thing to remember is that you can also use the batter boards to help you level the tops of your stem wall. So build all the batter boards at the same height as you want your stem wall to be. Since we don’t have a transit or a laser level we used a water level to make sure all of our batter boards where at the same height.
Water levels are easy to use and inexpensive to buy. All you need is a clear tube at any diameter that is long enough to reach all your batter boards. The reason water levels work is because water always finds its own level. You can test it yourself, fill the tube with water making sure there is at least 6 inches of space at each end. Set the two ends next to each other and move one of them up then watch the water level clime on the other end. It works like magic.
Squaring Your Building Lines; Locate the four corners of your building, using a measuring tape or line, to make sure the corners are spaced out exactly the distance specified in the drawings. Use temporary stakes and don’t hammer them too deep. Start with one corner as your permanent stake. We usually start with the northeast corner, but you can start with any corner that makes sense to your site. The other three corners can be moved or adjusted to help make the building square. Using your permanent stake as your bench mark, pick the next stake to make permanent. In our case we choose the northwest corner, to make sure we have a true south facing building. If the site allows, use a compass to help you locate the northwest corner. Now that you have a straight line, the next step is to make sure the 3rd stake is at 90 degrees from your permanent stake. To do this we use the pythagorean theorem.
The pythagorean theorem is something we learned in school, you may remember it.
If you don’t have a calculator handy, and the distances are not easy to square, then you can use the “3″ “4″ “5″ rule. First you need to find a common unit. For example say your building was 12 feet long on side A, and 24 feet on side B, the common denominator is 6, because 3×6 =12 and 4×6=24, which mean that 5×6=30 which should be the distance of side C. Check it, see if I’m right.
For our building we wanted side A to be 12 feet, and our side B to be 17 feet. No common denominator there, so we used the pythagorean theorem.
Once you know what the distance of line “C” is (or your diagonal line), then you can move your third stake to make sure both distance “A” and distance “B” are still right, and that your diagonal line (line “C”) is also right. In our case we knew that the north line (which was our B line), was correct and all we needed to do was find our C line and make sure that the distance was 12 feet.
Then you repeat the process on the other side and get your building lines squared. check your diagonal lines to make sure they are both the same.
Once I have my corners set on the ground, then I build my batter boards. Others use the batter board to find their corner stakes. Try it both ways, and see what works best for you.
Now that you have your building lines, mark it with marking paint or sticks and remove the top soil from your building site and set it aside for later use. At this point you can mark your inside walls using the same processed mentioned above, or use the batter boards to mark them. Again make sure your wall thickness is correct before you move on to the next step. You don’t want to dig out your foundation trench the wrong size, and have to do it again.
In our case, we knew that we where going to use 12″ straw bales, (half bales) and 1″ cob plaster on the inside and out side. Plus we wanted to have some extra room in case we wanted to make a thicker plaster coat. So we went 16″ wide for our wall thickness.
Now on to the next step, the rubble trench foundation…..
In all the construction projects I have ever been involved with, there are always changes. In most cases they are minor changes, and always for the better. The 3rd week of natural building brought us a not so minor change.
Because we were constructing the main building to code, there were several things we needed to have done before we could submit the plans to the county building department. We needed final calculations from the engineer, we needed energy calculations, and we needed a site plan with specifications for a septic tank.
If all the stars aligned, and the engineer, architect, and site plan developer only worked on our project, it would take us at least four weeks to get the drawings and calculations to the county. Then our county building department needs 6 to 8 weeks to approve the building plans. And in most cases they always have some changes that we would need to be made before we could re-submit our plan. The re-submittal process usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to be approved.
With all this said, we wouldn’t have been able to start building for 12-16 weeks. Considering the apprentices are only here for 16 weeks, we realized that waiting for this permitting process would take the majority of the time.
So we came up with a new plan. We decided to built a semi-replica of the larger building as a 200 square foot shop that won’t need to be permitted. Our county allows us to build an un-permitted shed or shop as long as it’s under 200 square feet and its a non-habitable structure. This allowed us to practice the timber framing joinery on a much smaller scale, and to fine tune the building process before we start on the larger dwelling.
As a teaching tool, we feel that a 200 square foot building is a perfect size structure to start with. We will use much less material and time, making it a very manageable project.
This was a fun shop to work on. The apprentices where on board, and exited to be able to see the construction to it’s finality, rather then leaving in the middle of it.
Above are the drawings that Miguel, one of our apprentices, did of the shop on sketchup. He is very talented and does great work. If you need some help with your drawing, I would recommend using him to help you out. Jut email me and I’ll pass on the information to Miguel.
Stay tuned, and see this drawing come to life……
In natural building there are several things to consider when preparing for a new structure. The most important is the location of the building. In an ideal world, you would find a site that is south facing, with an amazing view, close to tall deciduous trees for shade in the summer but allow plenty of light in the winter, when they lose their leaves. The site would have access to water, electricity, and plenty of raw material like clay, rock, trees, and sand if your lucky.
Since we don’t live in an ideal world, its alway good to be willing to compromise. In our case, we were lucky enough to have a south facing site. There are deciduous trees on the site, but none near the actual building site to provide any shade during the hottest times of the day. We were lucky enough, to have water and electrical access, not too far away. The main water line was about 100 yards away, and the electrical was brought in several years ago, when the site hosted a mobile home, a TP, and a trailer. Since then the trailer, TP, and mobile home have been removed.
The land has plenty of raw material, like clay, rocks, and trees. There was also sand left over from another project that we are able to use. The clay actually has a good amount of sand in it, so we don’t have to use very much sand. We did have to purchase straw, since we don’t yet grow it on the land.
The first thing we did, was locate the actual site for the main building that will be constructed in the future. Once we all agreed on that site, we looked for the site for this year’s building project. We were lucky enough to have a relatively flat spot in direct connection to the driveway for next year’s building project. After several meetings, with all the people that would use the structure, we finally decided on a site. Then we got together and blessed it.
Now that the site was located for this year’s project, we needed to prepare the site for building. Stay tuned for this……..
After we cut the timbers, the next task was to debark them. We had a small window to accomplish this. Most conifers have lots of moisture under their bark at the end of spring. After the last rain, your clock starts ticking. In most parts of the northwest, you will be able to debark relatively easy until mid June and if your lucky mid July at the latest.
The other thing to remember is that once you cut down your timber, its best to debark the tree right away. The longer you wait, the more the sap will dry, and the harder it will be to debark. We had a chance to debark a tree that we cut down a week before, and one that we cut down the same day. I will never wait more than a few days again. It was 10 times faster to debark the same day, and in most cases, we were able to pull the bark off in one long piece from top to bottom. In fact we made a slide out of them. When debarking cedars and madrones don’t wait more than a week after cutting them down. Debarking an oak, is best done within a few days of cutting it down. In the order of easiest to hardest, madrones are the easiest, then cedars, pine, doug-firs, and the hardest are the oaks. Even when the oaks are freshly cut, it takes a lot of energy. But it’s well worth it.
Oaks are different, you will need the flat bar to be a bit sharper, and you will just shave small pieces at a time. The under coat of the oak is stringy, so be prepared to use your gloves to pull the strings off once you are done. The oak will need to be sanded once it dries, so do the best you can while it is still wet to save time once it dries.
A flat bar, a small hammer, and gloves are the best tools to use when debarking a tree. You will need to use the hammer and the flat bar at the end points to get the bark started, but then your hands and gloves will do the rest. After you get used to it, you will be able to pull a long piece of bark from one end to the other.
The next step after you debark is to use vinegar water, in a 1 to 5 ratio, (one part vinegar to five parts water.) Spray on the vinegar solution once the tree has been debarked. This will clean off most of the sugars found in the sap, and will protect it from dry rot and mildew. Another way to avoid dry rot and mildew is to get the trees off the ground. You can sticker them with other logs.
Words of caution, don’t use a sharp chisel to debark, or a draw knife unless you are being very careful. When using a flat bar, don’t press too hard on the tree, it will scar it. Let the end of the bar and your hands do the work. If you do scar it, it’s okay, you can sand it out later. But the less sanding the better. The wood is beautiful as is, the less you need to sand, the more it’s natural beauty can shine. Other natural builders use wooden knifes to debark. I’ve heard that wooden knifes scar less, but I haven’t found that to be true. Anything sharp, will scar it. It’s all about being careful. I prefer the metal bar because I don’t have to take time to make a wooden knife and the thin handle of the flat bar makes it easy to use.
Till next time……..