Ask Uncle Mud: Can I build with Cob in Nebraska?

Amanda writes:  

I live in the sandhills of Nebraska. Are our extreme high and low temps are going to be conducive to building a cob cottage here. What are your thoughts on this? We max at 130 degrees and bottom at -30 all before wind factor. Oh and its fairly open prairie but there are some trees and hills.


Your area has a few interesting tie-ins to Natural Building you should be aware of. East of you in Gotherberg Nebraska I came across recreation of the "Soddies" our pioneer ancestors lived in because (A) there wasn't any timber, and (B) it was too cold and windy to live in a timber house comfortably if you could afford to build one. Here's a link to a short clip about my visit to one a couple years ago the takeaways for me were: Build with what you have, and building low to the earth with thick walls takes the bite out of the wind in  your climate.  (NOTE: Amanda later told me her great, great, great grandmother lived in a sod hut her first winter in Nebraska. What a wonderful connection to the land).

The second bit I want to share with you is from the grasslands of Eastern Oklahoma where the natives built wattle and daub houses with thick tallgrass thatch for the roofs and insulation. Click here for the post.

The last one that should strike you closer to home is this article from Lloyd Kahn's 1973 classic book Shelter (I highly recommend it and all its sequels ( detailing the bale houses built in your Sandhills when the settlers found there was no timber and sod was too crumbly to build with and the durable tallgrass and the newfangled baling machines made perfect insulating blocks to build with. These bale houses are the spiritual ancestors of today's straw bale houses.

You may discover that clay is hard to come by in your area and cob doesn't have the insulative value you need to weather the temperature swings and just plain long uninterrupted spells of extreme weather that would make your cob house a huge block of ice or a hotbox. My friends Jim Schalles and Nad are building near you successfully with the local soil so if you are on Facebook drop me a line and I will introduce you.

--Uncle Mud

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