A Great Wood-Fired Earthen Hot Tub


We just completed an amazing hot tub project that is already drastically improving the quality of our lives. It’s a wonderful combination of fire, earth, water, and metal.

There are few pleasures in life, I think, as luxurious as bathing in large quantities of hot water. Like naps, hot water makes me a better person. I relax, I breathe, I smile, I think good thoughts when I am in a hot tub. Christopher Alexander in his masterpiece, “A Pattern Language” under the “Bathing Room” pattern says there is evidence that cultures with widespread use of hot water soaks are more peaceful. I am happy to take that as fact! I absolutely love to immerse myself completely in a tub that’s large enough for my 6’ frame to fit and to float blissfully while I blow bubbles or just enjoy the quiet of submersion. It’s a shame, but for years I have avoided baths because the standard crummy bathroom tubs are small, uncomfortable, and shallow and lead to bent knees and exposed skin that becomes chilled to annoyance. In short they are abominations! With so many decades of this as the norm is it any wonder that the USA is such a war-mongering state? Thankfully, there is hope…


In June I traveled to Taos, New Mexico, with two friends to learn more natural building with Carole Crews. Carole is an amazing builder and person and our week with her was fantastic. In addition to learning about Aliz (clay paints), finish plasters, adobe, and casein washes, we got to soak in her great hot tub. I had been very skeptical of wood-fired hot tubs previously because I assumed they took a lot of wood to get up to heat and were generally burdensome in use. Was I ever wrong!

Carole’s tub was built by Dafyd Rawlings and other friends a couple years back and is both very efficient and easy to use (the first natural building workshop I ever took at Cob Betty’s in Ojai, CA was led by Dafyd. Both he and his wife, Yolanda, are wonderful people and great builders). The first time we fired it up we didn’t listen too well to Carole and used four logs instead of three. We wound up with water too hot to enjoy that night but covered it with two yoga mats and it was a delightful 100 degrees the next morning thanks to all the cob serving as thermal mass! After two more soaks that week I was a convert and determined to build our own once I returned to Reno.


Once home I went looking for used stock tanks. I searched and posted on Craigslist and spread word to friends but had no luck. So, last month I splurged and bought a new 6-foot x 2-foot x 2-foot stock tank from one of our local feed stores for $170. Buying new things, especially a luxury item, is a bit unusual for us as we pride ourselves on simplicity, the use of salvaged materials, wise water use, frugality, and an all-around low carbon footprint. So, here’s how I justified it: the used water goes to our plants, we normally take one to two-gallon showers with the use of a watering can with water heated over our multipurpose mini-masonry heater (or cold water in the summer), baths are restorative (as mentioned above), our family of four fits in all at once, this should last a long time, and I am hooking up a solar assist thermosiphon system to limit the wood-burning further.

12/23/2015 6:23:09 PM

I didn't really understand the instructions. Where does the fire go? How do you heat the water. How do you drain it? What is Cob?

12/23/2015 6:21:45 PM

I didn't really understand the instructions. Where does the fire go? How do you heat the water. How do you drain it? What is Cob?

12/23/2015 9:02:22 AM

Any worries that the lead might leach from the galvanized tank and be absorbed into the skin? Could you explain a little further on how the wood fire heats the water?

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