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Book Review: My House of Earth

The natural building movement aims to change the paradigm of how homes are currently built, from expensive, toxic, resource-intensive boxes to elegant, affordable, healthy homes that make sense for the planet and us.

 -  Conrad Rogue          

When I was first getting started in Natural Building there were several books that were instrumental in my pursuit of knowledge in the field: The Hand Sculpted House, Shelter, and A Pattern Language were a few of them. Each inspired me to learn and do more and transformed how I saw homes and building in general.

Cob cabin interior

Conrad Rogue’s new natural building book, My House of Earth (self-published, 172 pages) is another foundational work that is sure to inspire, inform, and propel the next generation of natural builders. It is a comprehensive work with a companion website chock full of pictures and videos from which both novice and experienced builders will benefit.

House Alive!

I’ve known Conrad since late 2009 when my family moved onto his House Alive! homestead. We initially reached out to Conrad and his wife through an online posting of theirs about their unschooling efforts with their own children but were struck by the cob wonderland that is his homestead. The main house and a dozen or so cabins and landscape walls from workshops past are sprinkled among the gardens, paths, and forest of this natural building nirvana.

We were so inspired that we moved onto his land and lived and learned there for six months. Since then, we have worked together on several builds including two in our Reno neighborhood (see the One Day Cob House video).

I am happy to recommend his book not just because of our friendship but because he is great builder, teacher, and philosopher. He is original in his thinking, skilled in his techniques, and passionate about the beauty and potential of natural building. And, above all, he has the rare ability to skillfully convey all of that in his writing and teaching. 

Conrad told me he has taught more than 1,000 students through apprenticeships and workshops since 2000.  That experience shows in every chapter of his book.   I’ve read scores  of natural building books over the years and most authors do a passable job of describing techniques:  how to build a cob wall, how to determine if you have enough clay, how to tamp an earthbag… Conrad happens to do so in the way he teaches – straightforward and easy to understand with the joy and love of the work coming through on each page.

Notable Contents

Here are some particular goodies from My House of Earth:

Earthen Floors (page 143): Conrad gets earthen floors. Over the years as I’ve observed the transfer of knowledge in the NB world I am always surprised at how slow this knowledge makes its way around the globe.  NB is still a fringe practice (although growing!) and it shows with how few people understand how to make an easy and great earthen floor.   I’ve lived with Conrad’s floors and built more of my own and they are little wonders of beauty, functionality and simplicity.  Conrad’s explanations and videos online relate this well.  (His House Alive! partner, James Thomson, recently co-authored the bible of earthen floors: Earthen Floors: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Practice)

Earthen Ovens (page 163): Cob ovens are often a gateway project for new natural builders and they have the mysterious and unusual capacity to evoke deep emotions in the people who want to build them. For whatever reason (maybe it’s the tasty and addictive gluten in the bread folks hope to bake in the ovens) people go ga-ga over them. More often than not, unfortunately, they wind up unused and neglected and slowly melt back into the earth. My opinions aside, Conrad perfectly describes how to build them in about 5 pages.

“This may be helpful” sections throughout the book: For me, these are the best nuggets in the book, where Conrad’s wisdom and experience come through in spades. It’s almost like having a conversation with him: Conrad, how do earthen buildings moderate temperature? Well, Kyle, they…(page 106)

 

Lastly, I think what I appreciate most about Conrad and this book is the underlying notion that quality of life is the end goal in our building of homes and shaping of space. The type of materials we use and how they age over time, our connection to place and people while building with earth, the simplicity of the materials and how they contribute to a pleasant, non-toxic, and regenerative life. Conrad understands and conveys in his writing why we build this way and why, for so many of us, Natural Building feels like a homecoming in our bones, our hands, our souls to an ancient human practice and to the very fabric of the Earth itself.

More Info…

Conrad has spent a lot of time developing accompanying web content for each chapter in the book.  These are full of videos and pictures that allow readers to see the techniques in action in the same clear and concise way that makes Conrad such a great workshop teacher. 

My House of Earth is available in as a digital e-pub or Kindle book for just $8 (he even offers it for free if you are strapped for cash!).  Give it and the accompanying website a try – you will be a better builder because of it.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil fuel-, car-, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity and inspired by the principles of Gandhian Integral Nonviolence. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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