The cob floor, the roof and the sky windows…

The Mud Girls graced us with their presence one more time before winter really set in. While they were working on the earthen floor my brother in law Andreas came back to work on the roof (weather permitting) with help from various people including our son Julian.

We had decided that instead of a cement pad we wanted an earthen floor. So the Mud Girls being experts in this came back to work on the floor.

Our floor had to be to code. So we had to have rigid insulation and a vapour barrier before we put down the cob floor. The mix for the cob floor are similar, accept you have a higher percentage of sand.

Fill under the insulation and then the vapour barrier
Insulation and vapour barrier
Cob floor on top of the insulation and vapour barrier
Cob floors sprout. Who knew?

While the cob floor was being done my brother in law Andreas was working on the roof. It was hard going as the weather was not cooperating in the least.

Christian being the supervisor with Andreas’ pink hard hat
Andreas installed three “sky” windows.
Water proofing on the roof
We also installed our wood stove

So with the roof mostly finished and the wood stove in to try and dry out the cob we called it a day and waited for better weather to come. To date we still don’t have the rest of the roof completed because of the weather. We have had a very wet winter on Galiano.

The Mud Girls and us after the cob floor was installed

Now as I finish writing this instalment of my blog we are also dealing with the covid 19 pandemic. Everyone is self isolating and we can’t bring my brother in law or our plumber (Mere’s cousin Brad) over to the island to finish the plumbing. I have faith that if we all do our part to social distance etc that life as we once knew it will be mostly back to normal and we can start the work on the cob cottage in the summer. Stay well everyone.

And then came the rain….

Hey so they don’t call the south-west coast of British Columbia “the wet coast” for nothing. The weather definitely took a turn for the worst and things got very wet and muddy. For my husband and I there were some swear words used…mostly by me and some tears (also me) as the rain meant that we were behind schedule with finishing the roof. It also meant the Mud Girls would be working in the mud.

The Mud Girls came back to continue the first coat of the plaster on all the walls and to finish the highest cob wall; which they renamed “the bitch” and other parts of the cob walls that hadn’t been finished at the fourth workshop. The weather was NOT ideal.

I can’t say enough about how hard working these amazing women are, and even under the worst conditions. They are professionals through and through. The plastering and the “the bitch” got done, but there were much swearing and shaking of fists at the sky.

Mixing cob in the pouring rain
Just about finished the top of the cob walls
Outside walls all under tarps
Those beautiful blue Bombay Sapphire Gin Bottles
Working hard plastering those walls.
First coat of plaster on the outside cob wall

So after getting all the walls completed and most of the first coat of plaster done we wait….and wait for the bloody rain to stop and the cob to dry out. In the mean time we keep hoping for drier weather to complete the roof.

A picture is worth a thousand words….

As I was writing my latest blog post…which by the way was very very late, I realized I had far more pictures then I felt could be fit into the entry. So I decided that before I continued with the next blog entry of our ongoing process I would post a bunch of pictures that didn’t get posted before. So here they are….

Stomping cob is so much fun!
Christian and I inside our cob cottage
Setting the beams for the roof
Our front door
Future kitchen
Aerial view of the build so far
Another aerial shot

Surprise….we had a fourth workshop!

Just when we thought the workshops were all over for the summer we ended up agreeing to a fourth workshop in September. Due to unforeseen circumstances the MudGirls workshop on Bowen Island was unable to take place; so they asked if we wouldn’t mind hosting a fourth workshop at our place. Knowing that if the Mudgirls had to cancel it would mean a lot of disappointed participants we discussed it and agreed that “We got this”! After all we had already hosted three workshops and felt quite experienced in this area.

So on September 8th we welcomed a whole new group of lovely people to our own piece of paradise. Since we had no idea that we were going to host the fourth workshop we had already asked Christian’s brother Andreas and our son Julian to come that week to work on the roof so they were on site as well. It was busy on the worksite.

Andreas, Julian and Molly (Mud girl) spent their time high up on the beams of the roof, and the work shop participants and Mud Girl facilitators worked diligently down below. I think it worked out well.

Mud Girl Molly swinging that hammer

The fourth workshop participants worked hard learning new skills and putting what they learned into action. It never ceases to amaze me how fast everyone was in getting into the groove of mixing the cob and putting it into place. These participants also had to place our bottle bricks where they were supposed to go; which can be tricky. I was impressed by how fast the walls went up and the bottles and some of the window frames went into place.

Mud Girl Clare shows one of the participants how to place the bottles.

I’m as always so grateful for all the wonderful people who came out to learn how to build with natural materials and help us to build our cob house/cottage. Many hands make light work. We couldn’t have done it without all of you. Here are a bunch more pictures of all the participants working on this stage of the build.

The end of another successful workshop!

The Mud Girls get plastering….

So after our third workshop the Mud Girls came back and started the long and intensive process of plastering all the interior walls. Their goal for this week was to finish the plastering of the slip straw walls because they are the most vulnerable to inclement weather. The cob walls are one solid mass; so although they shouldn’t get wet, they can take more abuse. If it gets wet, the slip straw can get moldy; which you don’t want in your walls. The cob plaster will help to seal and protect the slip straw.

I was able to try my hand at doing some plastering as well. Which I discovered is harder than it looks, but oh so rewarding. Covering that slip straw with cob plaster felt sooo good. Now I know why many of the Mud Girls enjoy doing it so much. Have to give a shout out to all of them for their hard work and professionalism. They make it look so easy.

For the cob plaster we used clay, sand and horse manure from our neighbour’s horse Jack. So in essence the Mud Girls were applying Jack’s shit to the walls. 🙂

Covering the slip straw with cob plaster.
Me trying my hand at plastering the slip straw
Mud Girls signed their work

Beams, posts and walls oh my….

In between our second and third MudGirls workshop, my brother in law Andreas came over to help Christian start building the loft and heft a couple of posts and beams up.

Christian and Andreas being stubborn did manage to lift one large beam up on their own, but thankfully they came to their senses and called Bob of Galiano Freight to come place the rest. We purchased the beams locally from Sandy Moody who owns and operates the local mill.

Each of the beams had to be connected by Timberlinx which we ordered from a company out of Ontario. They have excellent customer service and were able to get this to us very quickly when we needed them within a short timeframe. Website:

Timberlinx are connection tubes, inserted equally in both members of the joint and linked by two expanding cross pins. They are easily installed using only an electric drill and jig and when complete are embedded. An example of this is below.

What the Timberlinx look like installed

Most of the posts came courtesy of our local beaches. Finding logs off the beach was quite the adventure and often took many people to heft them from the beach: over other logs, slippery sand and rocks into the back of the pickup truck. Our plans called for each of the posts to be at least 8.5 inches in diameter and over 10 feet long. Although the length was a generous estimate and the final length was less than 10 feet in some instances.

My brother in law Andreas testing out the beam

Andreas’ dog Bowie being a back seat driver on the way to the hardware store

The day of the third workshop finally arrived and again much fun was had with a little hard work thrown in. As before, Lindsay our awesome childcare person was there to watch the little ones and entertain us in the evening.

These participants worked just as hard as the other two workshops participants and the walls just kept on going up. At this point people had to climb on scaffolding and up ladders to get to the top of the slip straw and the cob walls.

We also started to put some of the glass bottles in the walls. Remember all those Bombay Sapphire gin bottles I was asking for? Well this is why.

MudGirl Clare showing how to install one of the bottle bricks into the cob

By the end of the week another two or three feet of the cob walls had gone up and several bottles had been placed in the walls as well.

The pieces of wood embedded in the wall are called dead men and will hold our kitchen cabinets in place

How else to celebrate a job well done…jazz hands of course

As always a huge thank you to the MudGirls and all the participants for helping us to build our dream cob/slip straw house. Onwards and upwards….

Workshopping it….

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life. It’s also about what you inspire others to do.” – author unknown

Part One

If you’ve been to the MudGirls website (or attended a workshop) you know all about the workshops they hold each year to teach and facilitate natural building. If not, never fear I’m going to explain it all to you.

When we hired the MudGirls to help us build our dream cob/slip straw hybrid house they asked us if we wanted to hold workshops on our property. We said yes. It was really a no brainer. Part of what drew us to the MudGirls is their philosophy of community, facilitation/teaching and activism. After all they’re building a revolution! How do you accomplish that? On the grass roots level of course. Which means workshops. It gives people who are interested in natural building an opportunity to learn in a fun supportive environment; and it provides an opportunity for the person who’s house it is to have people help build their house. It also helps the individual MudGirls to earn a living doing what they love most…building with natural materials and supporting other people to learn more about how they too can build their own home with their own hands. It’s a win/win really.

Together with MudGirls Molly and Amber we discussed and agreed upon three weeks of workshops to be held over the summer of 2019. Two weeks in June and the third in July. We were given a list of what was needed by way of infrastructure before the workshops started.

1. We needed to make sure we had sufficient sand, clay and straw for the building materials

2. We needed to provide a shelter for the children who would be coming to the workshop

3. We needed to have outhouses, an outdoor shower and a “chill out area” for everyone to eat meals and relax at the end of the day

4. We needed to create areas for the participants to camp.

5. We needed to have a space for the cook to do her thing.

Our shelter which we will use later after the workshops as a greenhouse

The outhouse thanks to Amazon.

Christian and Paul built the shower from old wood fencing and slabs of wood cut from a felled tree

We went to work. We knew we would need to source out a shelter. We could have just built one with tarps; but Paul thought it would be a good idea to find a ready made one that would serve another purpose after we finished the workshops. Hence the shelter that will be our green house grow tent. We didn’t want to build outhouses that were permanent so we sourced out these green pop up tents.

Note: These turned out to be too small for most and we understand they aren’t ideal but we did our best.

Paul and Christian are two of the most resourceful men I know. Hey they learned from the best. Both have fathers who are just as resourceful. They repurposed some old wood fencing and cut some slabs from a log we had to build the lovely outdoor shower seen above. Paul found an RV hot water on demand shower that could be powered by propane. Yay! An outdoor shower that has hot water.

Note: Feedback was positive from participants on the outdoor shower.

Just an FYI when bringing straw on a BC Ferry; over 5 bales is considered dangerous goods.

Clay from the bottom of our property

Galiano Excavating helped us bring the clay up to our build site. We also had them deliver concrete sand for our cob mix.

Part Two

The day of the first workshop arrived, and we eagerly awaited the participants. Organized chaos is how best to describe it. We showed the participants to where they could camp and where the outhouses and shower were. The MudGirls were also there to greet the participants and get a light dinner ready on the Sunday night.

Lindsay the most amazing childcare provider and all round fabulous person arrived last with her motor home

Having now hosted two workshops on our property I can say with confidence that a MudGirl workshop is like the best summer camp ever for adults. So much fun and laughter was had by all.

The way the MudGirls facilitate is by teaching by example. Their goal is to build and enhance the capacity of every single participant. As an experiential learner this worked well for me. Each morning we started by sitting in a circle on straw bales; each saying our name and how we were doing that morning. Then one of the MudGirls would discuss a natural building topic based on questions brought up by the participants.

Amber discussing something on our architectural drawings

We stomped cob each morning to have enough to start working on the walls. We also learned how to mix slip straw as well. As Steve, one of our participants described it this way:

“You start with piles of sand, clay, bales of straw and water. You put them through the black box of natural building and end up with a house.”

Amazing stuff and as I write this I have chills. It truly is a miracle.

Over the two weeks the cob and slip straw walls went from foundation to actual walls. In fact to a point where you had to use the back door to get inside the foundation. There is nothing so satisfying as building something with your own hands. Whether it be sculpting and making sure your cob walls are plum to stomping slip straw into the forms of slip straw walls.

Christian showing off our marvellous cob wall to all the adoring fans

There are always teachable moments along the way. Molly showed everyone how plaster is made and applied to walls.

Amber took everyone for a field trip down to the bottom of our property to show the participants where the clay came from.

And when the day was done we had fun. Did I forget to mention that one of Lindsay’s other jobs was hosting karaoke?

At the end of two crazy overfull weeks we have much to be proud of. I can’t wait for the third workshop in July. I want to say from myself, Christian, Paul and Meredith we are incredibly grateful for the MudGirls, Lindsay, and all the participants for helping us build our cob/slip straw hybrid house and for being just all round amazing people. We’ve made some great friends, enlarged our natural building community, shared many laughs and love.

Until next time…..

So this is how you frame it….

Before I discuss the framing I want to first explain why the north and west sides of our cob cottage are different from the east and south facing walls. If you look at the pictures below you will notice a difference between the curved walls and the straight walls. The curves stem walls will be supporting the cob. They will be 18 inches thick.

The straight walls will be constructed using another alternative natural building method called slip straw or light clay construction. Why you say? Why not make the entire house from cob? Well it would be nice, but not very energy efficient in our climate here on the Gulf Islands. Whereas our west coast climate is by no means as cold as Alberta, or eastern Canada; it’s not warm enough year round to have a house/cottage built entirely from cob.

Cob walls provide thermal mass (the walls warm up and gradually heat the house as they absorb the heat and release it). The cob walls will take advantage of the solar sun being on them for most of the day. The slip straw or light clay walls are insulating and will provide an R-value of 24.

In order to build those slip straw walls you have to build the appropriate frames to hold them. This is where the “Larsen trusses” come in. A Larsen truss is a type of wall truss used to build a thick wall – thick enough to provide room for above-average amounts of insulation. In this case slip straw. It was developed in 1981 by John Larsen, a builder in Edmonton, Alberta. It’s since been adapted by alternative natural builders to hold slip straw instead of traditional fibreglass insulation.

Now you’re probably wondering what is slip straw? Slip straw or light clay is made up of a clay slurry drizzled over straw and the straw is tossed (like a salad) to just coat the straw in the clay. It’s then pounded down between the trusses. You’ll see that done later. It’s insulating and it breathes too.

The Mudgirls are a talented bunch and as such they have members who have experience framing. Mudgirls Molly, Amber, Rose, Nina and Annalise came to get the job done. Of course Christian and Paul did their share too.

Some of the posts (like the post pictured) were sourced from trees felled on our property.
This post was sourced from one of the Galiano beaches.

The foundation is a good place to start…

I’m sure that anyone who has ever built a home of their own no matter how big or small will understand how things can very quickly go sideways. We thought we had found someone to do our foundation, but alas it was not to be and soon we were scrambling to find someone to take pity on us and help us out.

We emailed Molly (one of the MudGirls) to ask her advice. It was a tight call. The foundation needed to be done within a certain time frame to make way for the framing that the MudGirls were going to do at the end of April beginning of May.

With lots of discussion back and forth and some pleading we managed to get Molly’s husband Will to come over and Christian’s brother Andreas as well. Both are builders. Then we roped in MudGirls Amber and Molly and our son Julian. We will always be so grateful that this all came together. A big thank you to all of the above and of course to Christian, Paul and Meredith!

I’m not going to lie….there were tears.

So you saw the plans…this foundation was like no other. It had lots of curves. I had no idea what would need to go into building both the footings and then the stem walls with curves like we had; but I soon learned. Let’s just say there was a lot of measuring and measuring and for good measure more measuring. Some swearing and sweating. But they did it!!!!

The excavator cometh…..

With a roar and a rumble Fred Steven’s large excavator rolled through the forest like a huge mechanical monster. The driveway next to the existing house is too steep so he had to come through the path from the Galiano Rod and Gun Club.

It’s amazing what a machine that size can do. In no time at all he had cleared the area of trees and dug the hole that would become the foundation for our cob cottage.

So now we have a two story pile of debris.

And check out those rocks…

Here’s the hole that will become our cob house.

And while you’re at it Fred, why don’t you just make a whole new driveway.

So now the digging’s done…the excavator goes away and on to building that foundation…yep not so fast. Sometimes on the Wet Coast we do get some of the white stuff! Just after Fred finished digging our foundation and driveway it decided to snow….and snow and snow and it didn’t go away for over a month.