New Cob Cottage

This house will be a cob hybrid with 2 walls which are conventionally framed, but superinsulated. The cob walls will not be load bearing, but should contribute to the wind bracing. The pictures below show my progress from the start of the project in May 2016. As you can see I have not started on the stone or cob portions of the house, but will in the spring.

Dec 3. Radiant heat in the basement:



August 24th: Working on eyebrow arch over front door area.



Upper rafters are 2×8’s. Rafter tails which will be exposed are ash.

Cathedral ceiling will be superinsulated to R73 with cellulose. The lower rafters are roughsawn ash and will be exposed to the inside.

Framing for the front door eyebrow arch.

Shiplapped ash ceiling which also acts as a subfloor for the loft areas.



July: standing seam metal is now installed on the roof over the upper level bedroom. The rest of the roof will be slate.



May 31st. We got some rafters on today. The curved wall which faces south is conventionally framed and will be covered completely by a flat plate solar collector which will heat water for for hot water and space heating. The part of the house to the right in the picture above will be field stone and cob.




January 10th. I worked on the house for the first time in a month as we had unseasonably warm weather. The first framing section went up in December.




A truss made from log and roughsawn ash 5×5’s. Steel insert is to strengthen truss. The butt end of the log is around 13″ diameter. Mom finishing logs.

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We tarped off the house for the winter so I can still work when it is wet or snowy. After 40 mph gusts in late November, less than a month after the tarp went up I will have to retarp it with a heavier tarp due to grommets getting ripped out and tears starting.


Foundation arches: The post and beam frame will bear on the piers. The arches will hold up the inner leaf of the cob cavity wall. This all turned out to be time consuming and expense: Just because I am doing it does not mean I recommend it as a way to go for others.


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Sept. 30th concrete pour. If you are thinking that this all looks like lots of concrete and pink foam board, you are correct. The foundation uses conventional materials. There will be a 2 car garage in the basement under the main floor of the house.

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June 1st. Working with dad stacking blocks. The foundation is conventional.


May 27: Poured the footer with help from Dad and Bob.

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Big D stripping bark off of a log.


Started excavation with Bobcat


Broke ground May 16.


Trees cut to clear the site will be used as posts the house.









About the house:

Form: The house is designed to be an archetypal cottage of northern European form. It will be a three-aisled hall house, a form used for millennia, with four bays. The side bays form niches–the benefit and use of which are described in Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language,” pattern 179 “Alcoves”. The alcoves define the space while not separating it completely into different rooms. Furniture is in the niches, not primarily in the center of a room like a dining room table would typically be. This leaves the central hall clear of obstructions which helps a small house feel bigger. (This is the same form as the straw bale and cob duplex featured on my website.)
Frame: The frame will be a post and beam frame of rough sawn ash, with some round posts of oak and cherry. The frame of my first house incorporated round tree trunks as posts. The original reason for this was simply to save money and not have to buy milled beams. The round tree trunks turned out to be a primary aesthetic element of the house and received many positive comments by visitors. The large posts about which my structural engineer commented: “You realize these posts are grossly over sized…” lend a feel of solidity to the house. The organic form of the posts is a delight to run one’s hand over–unlike the feel of a rough sawn square post. The new house will have its main posts sourced from on site, several are trees cut down to clear the building site. Due to there being a 2 car garage under the main room, the main log posts do not bear directly on the foundation, but form part of a truss that bears on the concrete wall–this keeps the garage open and free of posts.
Walls: The walls will be cavity wall cob. Solid cob walls have a very low insulation value which is inappropriate for the cold, grey winters we have in northern Indiana. Using straw bale walls was my first inclination, however bales are square, bulky, and have an irregular surface which requires much labor to plaster. Straw bales also harbor dust mites which are an allergen which is a consideration for my wife. The cavity will be filled with mineral wool. One of the largest manufacturers of mineral wool is in Wabash, Indiana only 60 miles away. Mineral wool is 70% recycled content made from steel slag. It is fireproof to over 2000 degrees, is vapor permeable, does not rot or take on water, and pests do not like to live it in. A double layer of 3.5″ mineral wool batts will give R30 with the bulk of the cob sections raising the total wall R value to around R 36, as good as straw bale and more than twice that of a 2×6 framed wall. Building with cob allows for gently curved, sculptural spaces. The exterior render will be a lime-sand plaster and interior finish will be gypsum plaster painted with a traditional milk paint.
Roof: The roof structure is framed up with rough sawn native lumber visible to the inside coupled with stock 2x construction lumber above it to create a space for insulation. The roof will be superinsulated with dense pack cellulose to R 72. It will be roofed with Vermont gray slate. The pitch of the roof is 15.25:12 or 51.8 degrees. This proportion makes a triangle in which the base is in a Golden Section ratio with the hypotenuse. The high pitch will allow winter snow and ice to slide off the south facing roof solar collector.
Foundation:  The footers are conventional with poured concrete and rebar. Below grade is concrete block. Above grade the foundation will be natural stone up to the base of the cob walls. The floor slab will have insulation under it and will have radiant heat. There are concrete columns connected by arches on which the wood frame and inner leaf of the cob wall bears on.
Size/Proportions: The size of the house is determined by the size of a three-aisled hall house with 4 bays which optimizes the bay size for various uses. Each side bay or niche will be 6.5×4′ which can be a bathroom, couch niche, office niche, dining booth, niche for a bed, or main entry area. The house’s proportions will be based on the Golden Section which has been historically considered to be aesthetically pleasing. While the Golden Section is not a magic number, the repetition of any proportion in the composition of a space gives a feeling of continuity. There will be an upstairs level on half of the floor area, while the other half will have a cathedral ceiling.
Energy: The house will be insulated at twice the level of a conventional house and will be quite small with a footprint of 750 square feet. Total finished square footage with the loft will be around 1100 square feet. In addition to south facing windows, the south face of the roof will be covered with solar heat collection panels which will heat water which will circulate to the floors of the house for radiant heat. Back up heat and cooling will be supplied by one or two mini split air source heat pumps.
Where is the house located? Look at the Goshen Ecovillage part of this website. The house will be in the lower area of the site with the driveway off of Steury Ave. The front door and porch will be facing north into the future ecovillage commons.



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