Though there has been a recent revival in constructing houses, art, and other structures with cob, the material has been used for centuries. The evidence can be seen throughout England in Wales, Ulster, and Devon. Some of the homes in Ireland are purported to have been built during the 15th century – and are still used today. Structures built with cob material can also be found throughout Africa and the Middle East. In fact, many sustainable living experts suggest that “cobbing” has existed for thousands of years.
Sustainability enthusiasts have returned to cobbing because it offers an ecologically sound approach to construction. In this article, we’ll explain the basics of the material, including the ingredients that are used to make it. We’ll also describe the advantages and potential drawbacks of cobbing.
Cob Construction Explained
Cob material looks similar to adobe (before adobe hardens). It contains wet clay and sand as well as earth and straw. The ingredients are placed onto a tarp and mixed together with your feet. The challenge is to achieve the proper consistency. If you use too much clay, the mixture will be too wet. If you use too much sand, it will be too dry. Once the right consistency has been achieved (the mixture should feel like mud), the material is separated into small, individual loaves.
Traditionally, the loaves are given to a “cobber” who weaves the straw between them. To maintain the structural integrity of whatever construction is being built, the cobber must wait until the loaves dry before he or she puts additional layers on top.
If this sounds like slow work, it is; it’s far slower than conventional construction. That said, the structures that are built from the mixture are durable. They will last.
Advantages Of Constructing With Cob
Cobbing obviously carries environmental advantages. Because the material is natural, using it reduces the level of pollution generated by a traditional construction process. So too, does using it reduce the amount of energy consumed in the process of erecting buildings, homes, and other structures.
Another advantage is that nearly anyone can begin building with it; special training isn’t required. And because the material is pliable, those who work with it enjoy a high level of flexibility with regard to design. They can improvise in ways that are not possible otherwise. The material is also inexpensive, resistant to fire, and durable enough to withstand tremors and other manifestations of seismic energy.
As many reasons as there are for working with cob, there are also a few significant drawbacks. As implied, the work can be very tedious. When the mixture has reached the proper consistency, it is heavy, even when it is separated into individual loaves. Not only does it require time to dry sufficiently, but the loaves can also be physically exhausting to work with.
Another potential disadvantage is that the soil that is used within the mixture will vary depending upon location, climate, and other factors. That means there is no way to standardize the building procedure.
A Growing Revival
As we continue to consume our planet’s finite resources and produce more pollution than any generation in history, sustainability takes on a new level of priority. It has never been more important to pursue alternative approaches to construction. Cobbing enthusiasts offer a timeworn solution: building homes and other structures with materials that are natural to the ecology.
Their voice is gaining an audience; a growing segment of our society has grown weary of using our planet’s resources without regard for our long-term sustainability. For many people, using cob to build naturally is an ideal solution.