During the fall of 2020 we will be finishing a 900 square foot straw bale home with a loft, in Paradise CA. We will be working on the straw bale infill, the heavy clay infill, window installation, living roof, rough electrical, rough plumbing, leveling coat, scratch coat plaster, finish plaster, and installation of light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and finish plasters.
After the Paradise project we will start construction on the combo garage / greenhouse with an apartment above the garage. All these projects will be built to code and will use conventional building techniques along with natural building techniques.
The 1500 sq. ft. greenhouse, 900 sq. ft. garage, and the 900 sq. ft. apartment above the garage will be built using natural materials such as sustainably cut cedar, local rice straw bales, local clay, sand, and other natural materials. In this project participants will have the opportunity to learn about natural geothermal ventilation systems that can be used to heat and cool the greenhouse using minimal solar power. They will learn how build roof trusses to support snow and wind loads. The greenhouse will be plastered with lime on the inside and out to protect the straw bales and the cob.
Participants joining us on these projects will have the opportunity to see the whole construction process, from foundation to finishes, depending on when you join us. Other learning opportunities include volunteer days and monthly workshops. We will also be offering an online course that details the entire construction process, a great option if you can’t join one of our onsite programs. The online courses can also be paired with our monthly workshops to create a cohesive learning experience.
We are excited to offer many opportunities for learning natural building, for those with or without building experience. To find a program that fits your experience level and availability visit our programs page. Join us to learn everything you need to know about building a natural structure to code.
We are so excited to announce this years project: The construction of a 1400 sq. ft. natural home for a local family here in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. This structure will be built using round wood timber framing, milled lumber from the land, straw bales and cob (bale-cob), and light clay. The goal for this year is to build the foundation, get the straw bale walls up, timber frame the main structure, roof the home with the milled lumber, install all the windows and doors, and plaster the outside of the structure. We will also be creating a permaculture garden and orchard for the homeowners.
Having one large project for the next two building season will allow the school to offer very unique programs based on the construction of a natural building. This structure will be built following California’s building codes, which will give all aspiring builders a chance to learn how to build to code, using a majority of natural materials. In our design, in collaboration with the home owners, we will use; round wood timbers from the land, milled lumber from the land, clay from the land, sand and stone from the local quarry, and rice straw from the valley. We will also use as much reclaimed building materials as possible.
We are honored to have this opportunity and equally as excited to share this project with all who wish to learn how to build a natural structure to code as well as deepening our practices of yoga, meditation, and self discovery. We are looking to share this project with individuals whom have high energy, looking to work and learn in a spiritual environment. Participants can join us for all aspects of the construction, or specific stages of the building process depending on when and how long they join us in the 2015 building season.
If you are interested in finding out more about our programs please visit ourapprentice page, karma yoga program, or workshop page.If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-268-5255.
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.
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.
The idea of this year’s natural building project hatched many, many months ago. Since then we have been working tirelessly as a group to finalize the design, so we can start building this season.
We first started with the idea of building a cluster of detached bedrooms with a shared bathhouse and a separate common building with a kitchen, dinning room, and lounge.
The idea was to build in phases, first starting out with the bathhouse. as shown below.
We went to the county planning office to see if we could do this, and they said, “no.” The main building has to be attached to the bathrooms and the bedrooms, otherwise they would each be considered separate dwellings, which we couldn’t do on this particular parcel of land.
So we all went back to the drawing board and came up with a design for an organic shaped community building that could be built in phases, but then there were some concerns about the roundness. The reason argued against a rounded building was that cabinets and furniture would be harder to fit, and would need to be custom made. Also squaring off the corners increases the square footage and makes it more affordable to pour a concrete stem wall, which will be required when building to code.
These are all valid reasons, but from our experience a well designed organic shaped building feels bigger and is more functional. Especially if the custom cabinets, built in’s, and furniture are designed to optimize the available space. It was also suggested that we use prefabricated conventional building materials, like trusses, plywood, and sheetrock, to speed up the construction and make it easier to budget the costs.
In the end, we had to pick our battles and decided to focus on using as much natural materials as possible and compromise on a more conventional shaped building. After all, who would want to come and learn how to build a standard conventional building with some straw and cob here and there. Not us!
After many discussions and drawings we were able to collaborate on a design for the community living space that works for everyone.
Hopefully in future building projects we can find opportunities to demonstrate the practicality, beauty, and benefits of building with more organic shapes. For now, we are excited to be creating a beautiful building with roundwood timbers from the land, strawbales from the valley, and clay from the building site.
The next step was to find an engineer that works with natural materials. I contacted SunRay Kelly, one of the most renowned natural builders on the west coast, and asked him who he uses? Bonny his partner, gave us a name, Jennifer Anthony, with Fearless Engineers. She specializes in working with natural builders, and has been great to work with.
She has been helping us with the structural aspects of the building, as required by our building department. Here are some of the newest drawings, sketched by Alex Forrester, the master planner for the Ananda Village, and our number one supporter.
The above drawing is an illustration of a schematic plan view from the top. Most of us can’t do a drawing like this, so if you want to build to code, I highly suggest that you work with an architect, or an engineer that can also do drawings. The Natural Living School will show you how to illustrate your ideas so a professional can covert them into data that the county will accept.
For me, one of the many things that will make this building exciting to work on is the timber framing. We will be using beautiful oak trees to create the curved crooks that will be holding up the ridge beam. All of the timber framing will be exposed either to the inside or the outside, and will include red cedar, doug fir, and black oak trees.
We will also be using milled lumber for the purlins, sheathing, and tung and grove ceiling. The above drawing shows the high roof framing for the great room. This room will be the main dinning area and also be used for yoga, music, and educational talks.
The above drawing shows the framing for the west side, which is similar to the east side. They are the two lower roof sections on the plan drawing. The kitchen will be on the east side, and the lounge will be on the west side. The north will have the bathrooms, storage areas, and possibly bedrooms.
The sketchup drawing above is an example of the high roof section with the two lower roofs on the wings. The high roof will actually be lower than in the image.
We are now in the process of redesigning the interior of the building to make accommodations for a communal kitchen, dining room, lounge, and bathrooms. The building is called Hyranyaloka, which comes from the“Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramhansa Yogananda.
Stay tuned, we will update you as the approval process continues.
To us building with spirit means working selflessly with joy, love, and intention. The spirit in all of us, is co-creating with the spirit in nature, and working in cooperation with each other and those that will use the building.
If you have been lucky enough to be a part of working on something joyful, meaningful, and uplifting, you likely know what we are talking about. I have spoken with artists that create from their heart and describe the experience like being in a deep meditation.
During the creative process, one of the most important things to consider is our state of consciousness. Just like when we are cooking, if we are in a bad mood, angry, or just not enjoying the process, our food can absorb that energy, and can affect the taste, or even pass that negative energy to those eating it. Similarly, when we are building with natural materials, our state of consciousness can be absorbed by the materials like clay, wood, and straw. These vibration can stay in these natural materials and affect the energy or feeling of the building.
Have you ever been in a building that just felt cold, not in the literal sense, but in the energetic realm? It’s not that it doesn’t look beautiful, or that it’s physical presence is intrusive. These buildings at some level just don’t feel right.
In contrast, if you have ever been in a natural building or a building where the homeowner, builder, or architect put a lot of their joy, love, and intention into the building, you can feel the positive energy in the dwelling.
At the Natural Living School, we help the participants understand how important their consciousness is during the building process. Not just during building, but during the whole process, including site location, design, and sourcing materials. One of the ways that we help the participants, is by practicing meditation, yoga, sharing nature activities, and other uplifting activities to instill the principles of building with spirit.
You too, can join us this summer, and participate in a joyful, meaningful, and uplifting workshop. Take a look at our programs page.
I remember I arrived to school after a warm three-month summer off. Not expecting anything extraordinary, I met Pablo and three students at the door of the cob building ready for a day of easy work.
I mean what should I have expected. I have never worked with mud and straw. And here were a bunch of people building something with it.
I wasn’t very enthusiastic to work with a part of the earth that makes you look like a child playing in the mud, but I had an urge to see what the buzz was going around about natural building. So I put on my dirtiest clothes and jumped in with rocks in one hand and mud in the other.
After a couple hours, the buzz of natural building got me a little intoxicated—I was finally understanding the benefits of building with the earth. Yes, at first I was hesitant of even putting my hands on a cob house, but that was because I was afraid of getting my feet wet—literally and metaphorically.
As I gained the courage to dive in, a fascination and curiosity arose in my mind— I had as many questions as there are stars in the sky—and the people I worked with left an answer for every one. As my relationship with the cob building deepened, so did my friendships with fellow students. While working we laughed, learned and made mistakes as a team; there was not a moment where I thought I had too much responsibility or not enough. We started as a team of students and ended as a team of students.
I didn’t think I would value any of the moments I had playing with cob, but I will say I was completely wrong. I learned more than I imagined. I learned about nature and the way to be a part of it rather than fight with it. I learned sustainable living.
I am glad that I was part of such a project. I am certain that future students will laugh and learn from natural living too.
My introduction to cob, and natural building came in the winter of 2010, when my wife brought home the “The Hand Sculpted House” book, written by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith and Linda Smiley. She had been interested in finding an alternative to our busy city life. I worked for myself 50 to 60 hours per week, and we had very little quality time together.
The book talks about building homes out of mud, straw, and sand, which admittedly sounded very foreign to me. I had experience in construction, restoring old portland homes, but at that time I was running a non-profit business helping the Hispanic community out of foreclosure. I was too busy to give the book a second look, but my wife was convinced that natural building might help us bring more balance to our lives.
So she went online, and found out that the Cob Cottage Company was in Oregon, not too far from Portland, where we lived. She also saw that they were going to have a work party. She called and spoke with Linda Smiley, and we were invited to join the work party. I was hesitant, but I agreed to go.
When we showed up, we found the location to be in the middle of the Oregon rain forest. We arrived in the evening, so we couldn’t really experience the beauty, but the energy was surely felt. As we walked up the trail, we saw a sign on the ground between two paths. The sign read, “There are two ways to get rich, you can make more money, or you can require less.”
We had already tried making more money, but what did it mean to require less? We continued up the path to a beautiful building that had a living roof. It looked like a hobbit house. As we got closer, I realized how beautiful the building looked. We walked in, and there were at least 15 people comfortably squeezed in the 10×20 ft space. They all looked so happy, talking, eating, and laughing.
At that moment I knew that this place was special, and yes the buildings were foreign to me, but at the same time there was something very familiar. That weekend we spent time adding moss to the natural roofs, making a cat cob bench, playing with natural plasters, and enjoying the beautiful Oregon rainforest.
After that weekend, my wife and I knew that this could be the answer we had been looking for. Affordable housing, living closer to nature, and having quality time doing work that feeds our spirit.
We went back home, energized to find a way to leave the rat race, and move out into the country and build our own cob cottage. Of course this was just a dream at the time, but little did we know how our life would change in the next couple years, all because of this one weekend.Come and join us during our work parties, and see if your life will change for the better.
Thank you Adam Komosinski for some of these pictures. My hard drive crashed and I lost many of my cob cottage pictures. You can see Adams blog post here.
In a way, one of the mostbasic understandings in eastern philosophies has been lost in the “Age of Energy.” As a result of all our technology, we spend more time on cell phones, the internet, watching TV, and in cars running around like high tech chickens with our heads cut off. The art of slowing down, taking time to enjoy the moment, and being present is pushed aside in the name of efficiency. Why? One answer is; because we think this will lead to our happiness.
Some of us think that if we are more efficient with our time, then we will have more time to do the things we enjoy. But at the end of the day, with all the time that was saved, how many of us actually did something joyful, or self-fulfilling? Yes, there are some exceptions, but over all many of us think that our joy will come from outside ourselves. I used to think that I would find joy once I had a little more money, which would give me a little more time. Not so.
Our experiences these past couple years have truly shown us what it means to have quality time. For months at a time we were without cell phone, internet, television, or any basic communication with the outside world. Our time was spent in nature, sourcing natural materials from the land, the forest, and neighbors in order to build natural buildings that would be enjoyed by all.
When we were not building, or sourcing materials, we spent our time in community taking turns cooking for each other, having great conversations, and playing with our children. It wasn’t that we weren’t busy, or that we had surplus time. In fact we were easily as busy as when we lived in the city, working all the time, driving the kids around, and doing endless errands. The difference was that we were busy doing something that was fulfilling to our spirits.
The idea of simple living doesn’t mean to give up all your possessions and move to the country, or to the wilderness, it simply means to evaluate your time and expenses so that you’re doing something that feeds your soul. It helps to lower your expenses, to grow some of your own food, and to have a low housing cost, but it’s not a requirement to be poor. Some of the happiest people I know in South America are looked upon as poor, but in my eyes, they are rich in spirit, love, and joy. They were always willing to share what little they had, with joyful abundance.
Thank you Betty, Tatacho, Levi and all the friends we made at Spirit Pine Sanctuary. It was wonderful working, living, and playing with you all.