A Home from the Earth – Building with Cob

Building a Natural and Ecological home with Cob

I recently went to visit some friends who have built a beautiful cob house in the hills of their Caribbean island home. Cob, which refers to a mixture consisting of earth, clay, sand, straw, and water, is an unusual choice for building materials in the Caribbean. Nevertheless Cob should definitely be considered by anyone looking to build a natural and ecological home.

The major benefits of using cob as a building material, is that it is very inexpensive and relatively easy to work with. Infact this family made their dwelling place themselves and all the children were involved in the process. The mixture can be mixed by hand although in larger projects some people opt to use more mechanical mixing tools.

The beauty of cob is that it is so organic and it can be shaped and developed with curves and bumps that result in a highly unique building. Extra parts can easily be added on to the original building when needed, so it can be a building that grows with the needs of a family. The finished cob building can be left as it is or finished with a range of natural plasters for a smoother and more sophisticated effect.
Cob homes are naturally insulated and as such remain cool in hot weather and warm when it’s cold outside. In the Caribbean this is particularly useful to avoid the costs of air-conditioning. In addition, cob is fireproof, resistant to seismic activity and my friends’ home, which has a large overhang roof, has stood the test of rainy seasons and hurricanes with no damage.

Cob is also a highly ecological choice. Rather than using timber which is becoming a scarce resource or concrete which is a material with high embodied energy, most of the earth for a cob building can be obtained simply through the excavation of topsoil from the chosen building site. Thus a Cob building seems to naturally arise from the land rather than being imposed upon it.

Cob is enjoying a renaissance around the world as a natural building method. There are many books and online resources on the process and through sites like You Tube, home builders are sharing their cob building experiences. At present I am thinking of building my own home and I am definitely considering Cob as an option. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience in this building method in the Caribbean.

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