Natural Building Basics – Part I: Wall Systems

Look to the past to inform sustainable design and building for the future. This video workshop will guide you through step-by-step instructions to renovate an existing structure with natural cob and light clay insulation.

2.25 CEUs/PDAs

Length: 2.25 hours

Instructor: Bryce Ehrecke


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Who is this course for?
Course length (start & watch when you want)
2.25 hours of video content
Course credits
2.25 CEUs / PDAs

*Please note that many of the associations listed under ‘CEUs/PDAs’ do not formally pre-approve online courses for credits, and thus require the student to track their own online course hours to submit for approval for their annual CEU/PDA requirements.

Lifetime access · Certificate of completion

Meet your course instructor

Bryce Ehrecke

Bryce Ehrecke comes from a line of weavers, builders, and explorers. His ancestors created textiles in Ireland, farmed in Normandie, and constructed in Germany, before coming to Canada to lead a different life. From his mother's side he has gained creativity and ingenuity, and from his father's side, he has gained craftsmanship and skill. He now weaves his heritage with place, and natural buildings with natural landscapes, honouring the relationship between human beings and all other beings. His education in natural building began by connecting and paying attention to the world around him and expanded while apprenticing with Pat Hennebery of CobWorks. He has spent the past decade working, living, learning, teaching and exploring with many different natural builders and natural structures. He now runs a Natural Building and renovation company based out of Victoria through Dreamweavers Collective. He specializes in rock work, earthen and lime plasters, roundwood, and using whatever design and materials best suit the environment and whom the structure is for. Bryce is a faculty member of the School of Permaculture Design at Pacific Rim College.

Course description

Learn the building techniques of our ancestors.

In this online course you will learn how to:

  • Renovate the walls of a home, workshop, or any other pre-existing structure with environmentally-friendly materials and your own hands
  • Prepare your site for safety and flow during building
  • Mix light clay and cob
  • Apply light clay with straw and wood chips to a pre-existing wall
  • Identify and learn about common natural building materials
  • Create arches and niches

This natural approach uses sustainable, long-lasting, breathable, and non-toxic materials that can be easily and affordably obtained. Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, and straw (similar to Adobe), but instead of making bricks, you hand sculpt the walls. Light Clay is a mixture of clay and straw or wood chips, which is then packed into a wall. It can be covered in many different natural finishes (see Natural Building Basics Part II: Natural Finishes) and works well in the renovation of existing buildings.

Natural builder Bryce Ehrecke leads this video-based workshop through step-by-step visual instruction. With a decade of building and design experience, Bryce and his partner are behind CRÉ Natural Building, a natural renovation, landscaping, gardening, and design firm.

After completing your cobb and light clay installation, you can learn to apply natural finishes to it by taking the second part of this series: Natural Building Basics Part II: Natural Finishes.

Lesson plan


Meet Bryce and learn about all of the materials and processes that will be covered in this course.

Course Guidebook 
Download and print your course guidebook so that you can write notes and have it with you when you’re building.

Section I: Materials

Before Choosing Materials 
Learn the pros and cons of different natural building approaches and how to select the appropriate materials for your project.

Common Natural Building Materials 
Learn about building materials. You will find out where to source them and how much of each material you will need based on your project size.

Cutting Baling Twine 
Learn how to cut baling twine, an important skill to learn and will save you lots of time.

Sifting Clay Through a Screen 
Learn how to correctly sift clay to refine your product.

The Jar Test 
This test helps you to determine the sand, silt, and clay content of the soil you’re using—whether it’s outsourced, or from your own backyard.

Section II: Mixing

Mixing Light Clay
Start getting dirty. Learn a low-tech way of mixing clay slip, and fibre and how to use a tumbler mixer for bigger projects.

Mixing Cob
See how fun it is to mix cob—especially among friends. Learn different mixing techniques including barefoot and Canadian-style foot mixing.

Mixing Review

Section III: Wall Systems

Wall Systems
Learn about cob, light clay, and straw bale wall systems.

Safety Precautions
Learn about important safety precautions to take while preparing materials and building.

The type of foundation selected depends on the circumstance of your project.

Foundations: Mortared Stone Wall 
One of the foundations Bryce covers is the mortared stone wall. Here, he compares the mortared stone wall to the dry stack stone wall; both of which are used for natural foundations.

Learn the different ways in which you can roof a natural building. This includes post and beam, timber frame, or standard framing. While cob and straw bale can be load-bearing, they require careful consideration.

Cobb Overview

Light Clay Walls 
Light clay is a versatile insulator and can also be used in a renovation setting, by being integrated with standard stud walls, Larsen Truss walls, or between a post and beam frame.

Preparing Light Clay Walls 
Make thicker, more insulated walls with this technique while working with a standard stud wall, and learn how to block and strap the studs.

Larsen Truss Walls 
Learn about Larsen Truss walls, how to achieve wider walls with more insulation or support, and how to determine what types are best for different situations.

Straw Bale Introduction 
Straw bale is an excellent insulator that lends itself to many different types of frameworks. Learn how it can be combined with cob to make bale cob.

Difference Between Straw and Hay
Essential knowledge for natural builders.

Using and Making a Baling Needle 
Learn the methods used to create a baling needle for making straw bales of different sizes.

How to Make Straw Bales Different Sizes 
Learn the technique to make different-sized straw bales for straw bale walls.

Full Wall Systems Review 

Section IV: Application

Forming and Filling a Light Clay Wall 
Know what to look for as you form and fill a light clay wall.

Cob Application 
Making a cob wall is no easy feat. Learn techniques including shouldering, slumping, trimming, sculpting, and more.

Making Corbels 
Learn how and when to use corbels.

Making Arches and Niches 
Learn the general technique for working with corbels.

Section V: Final Words

Review some key things to remember before you start naturally insulating your first wall.

Full Course Review 

Lesson preview

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