Natural Building with Balecob

Balecob, a hybrid of cob and straw bale building techniques, can offer unique flexibility to the natural builder.

| February/March 2019

community-building

We live in exciting times for natural building! While building with earth is ancient and global in application, its renaissance in the Western Hemisphere goes back only 30 or 40 years, and that time has been tempered by codes and regulations ill-suited to natural building. But the field is now growing like never before as people seek a greater sense of belonging in their homes and communities, sustainable alternative construction methods, and a more authentic existence. With this growth, natural builders continue to spawn innovations and creative solutions to the challenge of building beautiful, durable structures. Balecob is one such innovation.

Balecob is an infill technique that uses straw bales and cob to quickly create highly insulative, roof-supporting, and load-bearing walls without the need for wood framing for structural support. (Cob is clay, sand, and straw mixed with water.) In balecob walls, straw bales are stacked like bricks and stabilized by jamming cob into the seams. It’s a hybrid building technique that makes use of the best of both cob and straw bale construction, resulting in beautiful, natural, functional buildings.

Balecob was pioneered by Ianto Evans and the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. I (Kyle) learned from Conrad Rogue of House Alive, who uses a slightly different technique. My hope is that, as people learn about balecob, they’ll appreciate how much sense it makes and decide to give it a go on their own buildings.



 Curved-wall-balecob-house

Moving Past Wall Systems

Generally, we define a house by its wall system: timber frame, stick frame, concrete block, etc. The same is true in natural building: straw bale, cob, earthbag, and so on. Choosing one wall system can be limiting, and I believe the best houses are hybrids that utilize different materials in the right places. Do you have a lot of windows and doors on the south side? Consider cob or wood framing. What about a long, cold north wall? Go with balecob or straw bale. If you plan to stick frame your interior walls, consider filling them with light straw clay. 






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