Building Foundation and Stairs – “Cob Cottage Company” Natural Building Apprenticeship at Spirit Pine Sanctuary

The house we are building will be a home to a family of four: Mom, Dad and two young boys. The task at hand is to build a solid cob wall around an existing yurt structure and to build an additional room on the side to serve as the parent’s bedroom.

When building with cob, it is best to build along the whole perimeter of the building at once. When cob walls dry, they become a monolith, like one giant house-shaped rock, really! I’ve read about this in “The Hand Sculpted House” book, but I didn’t really comprehend this until I mixed my first batch of cob and made a test brick. Once it dried, neither smashing it nor throwing it affected its brick-ness. No words to describe this phenomenon, only a personal experience of dried cob.

But let’s start at the beginning, and any self-respecting house begins with a solid foundation.

F O U N D A T I O N

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Dry-stone foundation with the first layer of cob – the base of the wall

Step 1 - digging the trench; not an easy task in this super-rocky soil!
Step 1 – digging the foundation trench; not an easy task in this super-rocky soil!
Foundation drainage trench goes all around the future room
Foundation drainage trench goes all around beneath the future room wall
The stony soil dug out of the trench is sifted, and the remaining gravel returned to the trench
The rocky soil dug from the trench is sifted, and the remaining grave isl returned to the trench
Step 2 - filling the trench with gravel
Step 2 – filling the trench with gravel
Step 3 - placing large base stones, the foundation of foundation
Step 3 – placing large base stones on the gravel: the foundation of foundation :)
Step 4 - dry stacking serpentine stone, collected from surrounding hills, to create the base for the walls
Step 4 – dry stacking serpentine stone, collected from surrounding hills, to create the base for the walls
Levelling the floor (see the strings and ribbon?) and filling it with gravel
Levelling the floor (see the string and ribbon?) and filling it with gravel
Putting first batch of cob on the foundation rock based
Woo hoo, first batch of cob goes on the foundation wall

S T A I R S

Starting the stairs - to be constructed like a puzzle from rocks found on-site
Starting the stairs, which will be constructed from rocks found on-site
Some creative puzzle-making on the stairs
Some creative puzzle-making on the stairs, checking the level to make them flat
Stairs rising out of the ground like mushrooms after the rain :)
Stairs rising out of the ground like mushrooms after the rain :)
Work-in-progress on the stairs
Inside space beneath the steps is filled with gravel (once again, gravel is sifted from the soil dug on-site)
Finished stairs with cob wall base (the plan is to build the walls up to create a protected porch-like space)
Finished stairs with cob wall base (the plan is to build up the walls to create a protected porch-like space)

5 thoughts on “Building Foundation and Stairs – “Cob Cottage Company” Natural Building Apprenticeship at Spirit Pine Sanctuary”

  1. We need cob homes for humanity. Use social networking to make connections and get building/training where we can.

  2. Thanks, Tatyana! I’m thinking about lime mortar actually, all these books i’ve read on cob building made me not liking cement :) but since it’s not very easy to find it here – i’m from Ukraine – there is a chance i will use a cement after all.
    Do you recommend to put something in between the stem wall and cob? Something to stop moisture come up into cob?

  3. Yeah, dry-stacking the stones in a way that locks them in (keyed in) works well (from our experience). The stones have to be place so that when you walk on top of the wall, none of the stones move or wiggle. Then cob walls on top of the stones will press them in even further. Start with largest stones and place smaller ones in-between to lock them in, like puzzle pieces. Best of success to you!

    If you are not fully confident with dry-stacking, you can use cement mortar to secure the stones further.

  4. hello! i’m going to build a cob house myself this summer and i was very much worried about how to make a foundation and stem wall – we don’t want to use urbanite, and the stone we can get is not that of the right geometric form, so i thought i won’t be able to stack them right ans something will go wrong. but as i can see you are not troubled with that and it goes just fine, is it?
    thank you for this post, it gave me the thought that it will be fine with the stone we are going to get! :)

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