Raederle's Dream House | Eco Cob Construction Blueprint

At twenty-two I learned about the magical properties of building with cob – a mixture of clay, sand, and straw. Cob allows for better passive heating while being insect-proof and fire-proof. It’s better for insulating against inclement weather, sound, and unwanted electromagnetic waves. It is fully-moldable, allowing for creative, curved structures. Shelves can be inset directly into cob walls, and heated cob couches can be a natural offshoot of having a wood stove (or rocket stove) flu running through the cob couch.
My dreams of cob construction readily added onto my dreams of a community which had been born when I was sixteen. But my vision of a raw foodist* community living in a giant cob home began to fall apart in my late twenties as I pieced together the real, major challenges in founding a community. The dream seemed to fade into a pale background idea as I moved into an eco village to be with my new love at the age of twenty-six. (*Today if I founded a community it would not be a raw foodist community, although conscious eating would be a major aspect.)
Yet my visions of a dream house have not died. In fact, they’ve been expanding and morphing through every phase of my life. As a young child I drew floorplans of giant houses with rooms for all my friends. In my twenties I explored different communities and homes with an eye to the architecture, memorizing the features that interested me.
In 2019 I began thinking that perhaps I would build my dream house here in the community I’m currently living in. I figured Greg would keep his home and I would build a new one for Lytenian and I. Of course, I didn’t (and still don’t) have the capital required to make this happen, but I decided to work on designing it anyway.
I didn’t start the actual design until 2020 and I didn’t finish it until February 2021 when it became clear that I would never build it. This community has more applicants than available lots, so there is no reason to assume that I’ll be able to raise the money required to build and move forward with this particular design. Furthermore, the limitations of the lot sizes available here actually limit the plan in many ways. However, limits are great for making good designs.
Because of the limitations of building on a lot here, I was able to shift my ideas around within a particular set of confines. That helped me refine my ideas in many important ways. When one has infinite space to work with (and an imaginary, infinite budget), one can just “make it bigger” if one is struggling to make everything fit. Working with tight constraints forces one to prioritize and carefully arrange.
Here is the design I came up with for the limited size and square footage allotment available here. I hope you find these drawings interesting and that they inspire your own ideas.

Features

  • The ground floor starts out with exterior cob walls three feet wide at the base. These slowly taper so that they are a little less than two feet wide by the time we've reached the bottom of the second story. The rooms are carefully placed so that the walls from each story align with the walls of the next story. Cob walls are too heavy to place on a regular floor on the second story, so they must stretch from one story up to the next.
  • North wall is straight and flat to allow for straw bales within the cob to create even more winter insulation. (The north wall gets no direct sun if you live in the northern hemisphere.)
  • A wrap-around two-story arbor for fruting vines would block excess solar gain during the hottest months of the year (late June through October), and then the leaves would fall to allow for excellent solar gain in the winter.
  • The arbor would block the external view of the corrugated plastic (which is pretty ugly) during the summer, but the eastern solarium would be made of glass, so that the obviously revealed part would be highly attractive.
  • The eastern, glass solarium would provide an ideal place for morning sunbathing (10am to 11am would be ideal) on a comfortable, six-foot long bamboo bench.
  • The balcony on the second story would be within the western corrugated plastic solarium, making it warm and comfortable even in very early spring and very late autumn for sunlit yoga among tropical plants.
  • The corrugated plastic solarium would only get about 70% of the solar gain as the glass one, but it would make up for that through its insulating effect, making it more cost effective to heat. Minimal heat would be added to this area to keep it above 40ºF (a little above freezing) to allow it to function as a tropical enviornment. This would allow the potential growth of mangos (shown), southern-style persimmons, passion fruit vines (shown), avocados, and figs (shown). We currently grow two fig trees in our small solarium and they do marvelously, but our solarium is only eight feet tall and the figs are rather crowded. The area shown in these drawings would be very ideal for figs, but crowded for many typical fruit trees.
  • The catwalks and interior balcony would aid in accessing the second-story fruit without needing to use a ladder. The catwalks lead from the interior balacony, through the corruogated plastic (with the use of doors), and to the backside of the arbor, all the way to a far western balcony past the end of the solarium. In these drawings, these elevated pathways show access to kiwis, grapes, passionfruits, mangos, and figs.
  • Heat-recovery-ventilators are an important aspect of this design. Also, lots of rooms with doors. With sufficient vents and doors, air flow can be carefully controled to take advantage of the best air quality possible at all times of year. Oxygen generated by the plants in the winter would be brought inside to living spaces. Fumes from cooking would be vented to the north side of the house where little to no air would be brought in from, particularly in the winter.
Below I've included Version 1 of my Half Moon concept. In this older design I had the solarium only going up one story, but the arbor coming up two stories.
First Floor of Raederle's Dream Home Project Version 1
Second Floor of Raederle's Dream Home Project Version 1
Problems with Version 1: I didn't show window placement and didn't actually account well enough for all the funiture expected in each room. For example, the office space I gave myself would be sufficient for my computer work, but wouldn't account for sewing projects. The staircase is a bit short and would need slightly steeper stairs than ideal. While the solarium space would be sufficient for herbs and lettuce, it wouldn't allow a wide enough path, or a shower within the solarium (something I really want). It's great that this design has an apartment and two small guest rooms for other people to help monitize the space, but the actual space itself is really limited. Where would all our books go? What about all our shoes and garden supplies? There isn't really a dining room or a living room. The open-floor kitchen upstairs is supposed to allow for that space to be available for dancing and yoga, but I can easily imagine it quickly filling up with all the things we wouldn't be able to fit elsewhere (like a large table for gaming and crafting). The separate room for cooking to allow maximum cooking ventilation is good, but the space itself would feel really confined and probably get really hot. While windows would help with that, I think it's just too small to feel comfortable. Most of these issues were addressed sufficiently in Version 2.
You may share these images if you wish, but be sure to include a link back to this page. Thank you. — Raederle Phoenix
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