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 build a cob structure from natural materials.
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Meet your course instructor
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.
Have you ever wondered how our ancestors created their homes? Or, how to build an environmentally-friendly home or structure, with your own hands? Light Clay and Cob are not only sustainable, long-lasting, breathable, and non-toxic; these natural building materials also provide you with insulation. They can also be made with entirely local materials and are virtually waste-free. With the toxic materials conventional buildings are being built with today, many people are looking towards natural building materials.
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. Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, and straw (similar to Adobe), but instead of making bricks, you sculpt the walls.
Bryce Ehrecke leads this video-based workshop through step-by-step visual instruction. Bryce has been building naturally for over 10 years and is an instructor at the School of Permaculture Design at Pacific Rim College. These videos will guide students through a comprehensive creation of natural building materials and applications.
Once you build your first structure, you will most certainly want to put a natural finish on it! We highly recommend joining part II of this series: Natural Building Basics – Part II:Natural Finishes
You will learn about:
- Wall preparation
- Site safety, flow, and preparation
- Mixing of light clay and cob
- The application of light clay with straw and wood chips
- Common natural building materials
- Creating arches and niches
Section I: Introduction
Welcome to your course! Here you’ll learn how to create and build walls made of natural building materials. This course has a second part to the series called Part II: Natural Finishes in which you learn how to finish the walls you’ve made in this course. We highly recommend it!
- Course Guidebook
Please be sure to download your guidebook so that you can bring it with you when you are building your first structures. We are sure that it will be worn out in no time!
Section I: Materials
- Before Choosing Materials
Before we get started, Bryce goes over the pros and cons of different natural building types, and how to choose which materials are right for your project.
- Common Natural Building Materials
Here, Bryce discusses basic materials that are commonly used for natural building projects, as well as how to identify them, and where to source them. He also covers how much of each material you will need.
- Cutting Baling Twine
This is an important skill to learn and will save you lots of time!
- Sifting Clay Through a Screen
Another important step in the process of creating these materials, Bryce shows you how to correctly sift clay to refine your product.
- The Jar Test
This handy 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 back yard. Knowing the soil content will help in the creation of your materials.
Section II: Mixing
- Mixing Light Clay
This is where we get to the bulk of the content and start getting dirty. In this section, Bryce demonstrates a low-tech way of mixing clay slip, and fiber (either woodchips or straw, typically). He also covers using a tumbler mixer for bigger projects. See the guide book for more details.
- Mixing Cob
Bryce demonstrates how fun it is to mix cob—especially in a big group! He discusses the many ways of mixing cobs and shows how to do barefoot mixing, as well as Canadian-style foot mixing.
- Mixing Review
Bryce goes through a quick recap of what you have learned already before moving on!
Section III: Wall Systems
- Wall Systems
In this section, Bryce will talk about how to use, combine, and integrate common wall systems used in natural building into different structures. Here he covers Cob, Light Clay, and Straw bale.
- Safety Precautions
Even while working in a fun and messy site with natural materials, safety is always important. Here, Bryce goes over important safety precautions to take.
Depending on your circumstances, there are many different foundations that can be beneficial in different ways. Bryce gives an overview of a few of these to think about.
- 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.
Bryce discusses all 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. Many styles of roof including metal, or even a living room can be used over a natural wall system!
- Cobb Overview
- Light Clay Walls
This is the section where Bryce covers how Light Clay is a good insulator and can also be used in a renovation setting. Light Clay is versatile, so it can be integrated with standard stud walls, as well as Larsen Truss walls or between a post and beam frame.
- Preparing Light Clay Walls
In this video, Bryce shows you a technique for making thicker, more insulated walls while working with a standard stud wall. He covers techniques such as blocking and strapping the studs.
- Larsen Truss Walls
A Larsen Truss wall is used when you want to achieve a wider wall with more insulation, or if you want more roof support. Bryce gives an overview of the circumstances you’d want to use this under.
- Straw Bale Introduction
This video will touch on the how straw bale is an excellent insulator that lends itself to many different types of frameworks. Bryce will also discuss how it can be combined with Cob to make Bale Cob.
- Difference Between Straw and Hay
This is an extra important one to know when creating a natural building!
- Using and Making a Baling Needle
This detailed video will show you the methods used to create a baling needle for making straw bales of different sizes.
- How to Make Straw Bales Different Sizes
Bryce shows you the important skill which allows you to make different sized straw bales for straw bale walls.
- Full Wall Systems Review
Ready to apply some cob? Bryce goes through one more overview of what you have learned already before you get started!
Section IV: Application
- Forming and Filling a Light Clay Wall
Bryce shows you what to look for as he forms and fills a light clay wall.
- Cob Application
Making a cob wall is no easy feat. In this thorough video, Bryce will show you many techniques including shouldering, slumping, trimming, and sculpting. This video will also cover how to prep a dry wall, how to help a wall dry faster, and more!
- Making Corbels
What’s a corbel, you say? Corbels are used for making arches, and when extra tensile strength is needed. Here, Bryce shows you how and when to make them.
- Making Arches and Niches
In this video, Bryce shows the general technique for working with corbels. They can be used to create free-form shapes, or they can be applied over a removal form for bigger shapes.
Section V: Final Words
Just a few words before the end of your course. Bryce reviews some key things to remember before you start building your first natural structure.
- Full Course Review
We know that you will enjoy this course and that you feel confident to start getting your feet dirty. Cob structures are such a beautiful way to be a part of the natural environment and enjoy your space.
Students are saying…
“As a newcomer to natural building, I came away feeling energized and confident, and ready to keep learning! The course gave a thorough, focused hands-on introduction to different natural building materials and approaches. Bryce is a skilled, patient teacher with an intuitive sense of how to explain concepts and demonstrate techniques plainly and clearly.”
“I felt that Bryce was extremely knowledgeable and portrayed the information in a way that was very easy to absorb. This is an excellent course. Very well thought out and very informative. The course was well put together and went very in depth. I definitely have been inspired.”
“Excellent introduction to natural building materials with informed step-by-step instructions and consistent visual aid. Enjoyed not having to click through videos on YouTube. I like to see one consistent project so that I’m not getting varying information. I like the flow of having one person instructing.”
“It was the seed to start my adventures! It helped me learn about basic terminology and concepts. I thought taking an online course was a waste of time and money; but now I’ll be ready to dive into more complex questions to build my own natural home sooner! I really loved the moment of appreciation for first nations and understanding the respect to the land and their knowledge for years.”
“The quality of teaching was exceptional. We purchased a piece of property and want to experiment with natural building. Bryce broke things down into bite size bits of learning that lends to the course really well.”
Please note, this elective course is for PRC Campus students only.