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Archive for the Cob Category

Paul’s Wofati: the 2nd winter

On November 2, 2013 we first talked about Paul’s Wofati and its permaculture design and building standards. But who is Paul?

Paul Wheaton is a contemporary permaculture theorist, master gardener, software engineer, and disciple of natural agriculturist Sepp Holzer. Geoff Lawton has called Paul Wheaton “The Duke of Permaculture” for being known as the founder of websites forums, articles,videos and podcasts such as Permies.com which is believed to be the largest website devoted to permaculture. And that is where the Wofati was found.

So is this house a log cabin? Is it a turf shed? Is it a earth berm? And why all the trees scattered about? Just imagine living in something that looks like a log cabin from the inside, but:

  • it has more light
  • it doesn’t need heat or A/C
  • it is three times faster to build
  • it costs about five times less

In the fall of 1970, Mike Oehler lived in a run down shack and constantly struggled to stay warm. During the winter he spent an enormous amount of time crafting better designs and calculating heat efficiency. He also had a goal of keeping material costs low. That next spring he did just that and built a home in 1971 for just $50. The initial home was just 120 sq.ft.  (one of the only existing photos of that first build is shown below, taken with natural light)


Mike’s design – which heavily influences Paul Wheaton – eliminates many of the complexities of conventional, sticks ‘n bricks construction. Basically, Mike’s design is a pole structure with a green roof. A green roof is usally more expensive than a conventional roof, but, if you can follow one simple design principle, you can dramatically cut the costs of the whole structure! The one simple design principle is:

Every drop of rain must always have a complete downhill soil path. Encountering the edge of the roof is not okay.

Last we left the Wofati at Wheaton Laboratories it was being framed out using just natural logs.



Since then quite a bit of work has been done including bringing up dirt to the top of the house, cobbing up gaps in the logs, building out a kitchen and main living space, and adding the green roof.

Wofati Top

Wofati Cobbing

Wofati kitchen

At the current time the owners/builders of the home are living in it in Missoula, Montana and documenting interior (and some exterior) temps over the winter. They are living without a centralized heat source but rather a localized heater combined with the body heat of three adults and heat “storage” from the actual home. The dialogue around this method is intense and can be found over at permies.com.  The build will continue after winter and more photos will be added. Stay tuned for a third update as information becomes available.

Your Turn!

  • Have you experienced permaculture first hand?
  • Would you live in a berm-style home?



Converted Street Car and Cob Hut

I found this video that shows a family that lives in an old converted street car.  Over a decade, Claudine raise three boys in this tiny 400ish square foot house that was originally a 1920’s street car from Santa Cruz.  Originally only having one bedroom, as the family grew, so did the house.  They built a tree house and then a cob hut to allow their children to have a bit more space.  It is interesting because the owner is working with the city to get her home legal.  Lots of great commentary on this topic.


Cob Houses

Even though I am busy building my own tiny house, I still find myself thinking about building other houses (is that cheating on my tiny house? lol).  From time to time I have been coming back to cob houses.  I have thought about building a cob house if in the future I decide I need more space (get married or just want more space etc).

Cob is basically clay, sand and usually straw mixed together to be used as a building material, kinda like bricks, but the advantage is that most of the materials can be sourced on site or purchased cheaply.   The houses are very strong, good at regulating temperature, are about the lightest impact home I know.  They have their own aesthetic to them which I am beginning to warm up to.  Here is a great video on them