Chelsea Green Publishing

The Hand-Sculpted House

Pages:384 pages
Book Art:8 pages of illustrations
Size: 8 x 10 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781890132347
Pub. Date June 01, 2002

The Hand-Sculpted House

A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage

By Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith and Linda Smiley
Illustrated by Deanne Bednar

Building & Energy

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
June 01, 2002


Are you ready for the Cob Cottage? This is a building method so old and so simple that it has been all but forgotten in the rush to synthetics. A cob cottage,cobb, however, might be the ultimate expression of ecological design, a structure so attuned to its surroundings that its creators refer to it as "an ecstatic house."

The authors build a house the way others create a natural garden. They use the oldest, most available materials imaginable--earth, clay, sand, straw, and water--and blend them to redefine the future (and past) of building. Cob (the word comes from an Old English root, meaning "lump") is a mixture of non-toxic, recyclable, and often free materials. Building with cob requires no forms, no cement, and no machinery of any kind. Builders actually sculpt their structures by hand.

Building with earth is nothing new to America; the oldest structures on the continent were built with adobe bricks. Adobe, however, has been geographically limited to the Southwest. The limits of cob are defined only by the builder's imagination.
Cob offers answers regarding our role in Nature, family and society, about why we feel the ways that we do, about what's missing in our lives. Cob comes as a revelation, a key to a saner world.

Cob has been a traditional building process for millennia in Europe, even in rainy and windy climates like the British Isles, where many cob buildings still serve as family homes after hundreds of years. The technique is newly arrived to the Americas, and, as with so many social trends, the early adopters are in the Pacific Northwest.

Cob houses (or cottages, since they are always efficiently small by American construction standards) are not only compatible with their surroundings, they ARE their surroundings, literally rising up from the earth. They are full of light, energy-efficient, and cozy, with curved walls and built-in, whimsical touches. They are delightful. They are ecstatic.


Ianto Evans

Ianto Evans is an applied ecologist, landscape architect, inventor, and teacher with building experience on six continents. Cob is traditional in his homeland, Wales. In addition to teaching ecological building, Ianto has consulted with USAID, the World Bank, the Peace Corps, and several national governments.

Michael G. Smith

Michael G. Smith teaches practical workshops and consults on cob construction, natural building, and permaculture. He is the author of The Cobber's Companion: How to Build Your Own Earthen Home and co-editor of The Art of Natural Building: Design, Construction, Resources.

Linda Smiley

Linda Smiley teaches workshops on cob, sculpting sacred spaces, intuitive design, and natural plasters and finishes. With a background as a recreational therapist, she specializes in helping people use natural building as a tool for personal transformation and healing.


Building a Cob Cottage Step-by-Step excerpted from Part II: Building the Cob Cottage

EVERY COB BUILDING IS UNIQUE, but most require the same basic steps. The order of some of these steps is critical; others can be rearranged as desired. For a first-time builder, it can be very useful to map out the sequence of all construction tasks. Following is a sample sequence to help you think through your project to completion before you begin. The next ten chapters walk through each of these steps in great detail.

* Select your building site very carefully, for best exposure to winter sun and for good drainage. * Decide in advance roughly what spaces, shapes, and features you will need, both indoors and out, based on the scale of your own activities. Make many sketches and models. Keep the building as small as possible. If you need more than 400 square feet, consider phasing the project to complete the most essential sections first. * Work on a scale model of the building, including site features such as trees and slope. * Decide the wall plan in detail, especially where doors connect the indoors with outdoors. Design the roof at this point, including the roof and how it is supported. Make a full-sized mock-up of the building on the site. Spend time in it, and imagine what it would be like to live there. * Assemble on-site all building materials you will need for enclosure, including glass, lumber, rocks, hardware, pipes, wires, and so forth. Gather your tools, scaffolding, and water storage. * Check your soil, and assess by making test mixes and test blocks what needs to be added for the best cob mix. Measure your proportions and calculate the amounts of sand, clay soil, and straw you will need. Plan out and prepare mixing spaces close to the building. * Arrange delivery of sand, clay soil, and straw as needed. Store deliveries close to and uphill from the building, in locations that won't impede work. Make sure straw is stored under cover, off the ground. * Stake out your design and finished levels precisely on the site using many strong, firmly driven stakes. Adjust for the last time. * Clear and level as little as possible. Grade away from the building so that water runs away on all sides. Set aside excavated soil for gardening or making cob. * Dig drainage and foundation trenches, lay in drainpipe, insulation, plumbing, and wire connections; backfill trenches immediately with drain rock. * Build the foundation stemwall, setting in door frames or frame anchors and joists if floor will be suspended. Leave openings for utilities and water lines in and out. * Tamp the subfloor, lay several inches of drain rock, and, if you will be using an earthen or other mass floor, lay the floor base coat. * Frame the roof, either on permanent posts or on temporary posts that will be removed when the walls are complete. You may also wait until the cob is nearly finished before framing the roof. * Experiment with cob mixing techniques -- for speed, ease, enjoyment, and different numbers of workers. Concentrate on gradual improvements. Apply your mix, probably at first by fork, trodden, then using "Gaab cob" or cob loaves. Sew it all together solidly with your fingers or a "cobber's thumb." Try to raise all the cob walls at the same rate. * Make sure you build vertical or tapered walls; don't leave big bulges or hollows. * Pare each new part with a machete or handsaw before it gets too hard, leaving it ready to plaster as you build. * Set pipes, wires, outlets, junction boxes, and so on into the walls as you build. * Build in windows as you go. Bury "deadmen" in the walls, wooden anchors to which you can later attach door frames, shelving, countertops, and so on. * Sculpt built-in furniture, bookshelves, niches, and alcoves. * Let the walls dry and settle somewhat, then build loft or second-story beams, joists, and ledgers directly into the cob if the wall is loadbearing. * Locate roof deadmen one and a half to two feet down from the rafters. Complete the walls. * If the roof is on, you can now enclose and heat the building. If not, now is the time to build the roof. If the roof will be heavy, allow the cob to dry throughout first. * Do final ceiling work. * Finish interior built-in woodwork, counters, cabinets, interior door frames, and plumbing fixtures. * Apply interior plaster. * Lay a finish coat on floor. Seal an earthen floor with linseed oil and beeswax. * When interior plaster is dry, apply natural paint, lime wash, or alis. * Plaster the exterior, if desired. * Have a big party! Invite everyone who helped you build.


Snake Oil

Snake Oil

By Richard Heinberg

The rapid spread of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has temporarily boosted US natural gas and oil production . . . and sparked a massive environmental backlash in communities across the country. The fossil-fuel industry is trying to sell fracking as the biggest energy development of the century, with slick promises of American energy independence and benefits to local economies. Snake Oil casts a critical eye on the oil-industry hype that has hijacked America's energy conversation. This is the first book to look at fracking from both economic and environmental perspectives, informed by the most thorough analysis of shale gas and oil drilling data ever undertaken. Is fracking the miracle cure-all to our energy ills, or a costly distraction from the necessary work of reducing our fossil-fuel dependence?

Available in: Paperback

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Snake Oil

Richard Heinberg

Paperback $12.95

Green Light at the End of the Tunnel

Green Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Anna Edey

Heat, electricity, transportation, food, wastewater, and solid-waste management—in ways that cause near-zero harm, reduce cost of living, increase security, freedom, and quality of life.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the way we are living is not sustainable. We perceive that our high-consumption lifestyles are contributing to ever more pollution of our air, water, and soil; ever more destruction of rain forests and mountains; more devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and drought; and the depletion of soils and aquifers. Even our planet’s vast oceans are being degraded by overfishing, acidification from fossil fuels, and millions of tons of toxic trash.

Green Light at the End of the Tunnel contains some stunning information about the harm we caused by how we live, and some even more stunning information about solutions that are available today: truly sustainable, reliable solutions that can reduce harm and cost to nearly zero.

Anna Edey, author of Solviva, shows how homeowners can reduce by up to eighty percent the cost of electricity, driving, comfort, hot water and wastewater management, and produce or procure much of their food without the use of fossil fuels or pesticides—all while increasing food security and creating stronger local economies. It also contains fifty pages of unique Solviva designs drawn to scale and many more pages of conceptual drawings.

Available in: Paperback

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Green Light at the End of the Tunnel

Anna Edey

Paperback $35.00

Lean Logic

Lean Logic

By David Fleming

Lean Logic is David Fleming’s masterpiece, the product of more than thirty years’ work and a testament to the creative brilliance of one of Britain’s most important intellectuals.

A dictionary unlike any other, it leads readers through Fleming’s stimulating exploration of fields as diverse as culture, history, science, art, logic, ethics, myth, economics, and anthropology, being made up of four hundred and seventy-two engaging essay-entries covering topics such as Boredom, Community, Debt, Growth, Harmless Lunatics, Land, Lean Thinking, Nanotechnology, Play, Religion, Spirit, Trust, and Utopia.

The threads running through every entry are Fleming’s deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations—ecological, economic, and cultural— on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences. A society that provides a satisfying, culturally-rich context for lives well lived, in an economy not reliant on the impossible promise of eternal economic growth. A society worth living in. Worth fighting for. Worth contributing to.

The beauty of the dictionary format is that it allows Fleming to draw connections without detracting from his in-depth exploration of each topic. Each entry carries intriguing links to other entries, inviting the enchanted reader to break free of the imposed order of a conventional book, starting where she will and following the links in the order of her choosing. In combination with Fleming’s refreshing writing style and good-natured humor, it also creates a book perfectly suited to dipping in and out.

The decades Fleming spent honing his life's work are evident in the lightness and mastery with which Lean Logic draws on an incredible wealth of cultural and historical learning—from Whitman to Whitefield, Dickens to Daly, Kropotkin to Kafka, Keats to Kuhn, Oakeshott to Ostrom, Jung to Jensen, Machiavelli to Mumford, Mauss to Mandelbrot, Leopold to Lakatos, Polanyi to Putnam, Nietzsche to Næss, Keynes to Kumar, Scruton to Shiva, Thoreau to Toynbee, Rabelais to Rogers, Shakespeare to Schumacher, Locke to Lovelock, Homer to Homer-Dixon—in demonstrating that many of the principles it commends have a track-record of success long pre-dating our current society.

Fleming acknowledges, with honesty, the challenges ahead, but rather than inducing despair, Lean Logic is rare in its ability to inspire optimism in the creativity and intelligence of humans to nurse our ecology back to health; to rediscover the importance of place and play, of reciprocity and resilience, and of community and culture.

Lean Logic is a comfort in disorientating times. A book to keep at your side. A dictionary of empowerment.

Available in: Hardcover

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Lean Logic

Shaun Chamberlin, Jonathon Porritt, David Fleming

Hardcover $49.95

The New Net Zero

The New Net Zero

By Bill Maclay

The new threshold for green building is not just low energy, it’s net-zero energy. In The New Net Zero, sustainable architect Bill Maclay charts the path for designers and builders interested in exploring green design’s new frontier net-zero-energy structures that produce as much energy as they consume and are carbon neutral.

 In a nation where traditional buildings use roughly 40 percent of the total fossil energy, the interest in net-zero building is growing enormously–among both designers interested in addressing climate change and consumers interested in energy efficiency and long-term savings. Maclay, an award-winning net-zero designer whose buildings have achieved high-performance goals at affordable costs, makes the case for a net-zero future; explains net-zero building metrics, integrated design practices, and renewable energy options; and shares his lessons learned on net-zero teambuilding.

Designers and builders will find a wealth of state-of-the-art information on such considerations as air, water, and vapor barriers; embodied energy; residential and commercial net-zero standards; monitoring and commissioning; insulation options; costs; and more.

The comprehensive overview is accompanied by several case studies, which include institutional buildings, commercial projects, and residences.  Both new-building and renovation projects are covered in detail. 

The New Net Zero is geared toward professionals exploring net-zero design, but also suitable for nonprofessionals seeking ideas and strategies on net-zero options that are beautiful and renewably powered.

Available in: Hardcover

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The New Net Zero

Bill Maclay

Hardcover $90.00