VersaTerra 10-day Complete Cob & Natural Building Intensive
May 26, 2023 ∞ 8:00 am - June 3, 2023 ∞ 5:00 pm$1550
Wednesday, 5/24/2023 – Saturday, 6/3/2023 (10 days)
Number of Students: up to 12
The Building Project
During this ten day workshop we will build a beautiful garden wall and an earthen bread/pizza oven. Within the garden wall, we will incorporate all the features of a wall in an earthen house: windows, doors, electricity, plumbing, arches, niches, and artwork.
(We don’t start a whole building in a shorter workshop, as attractive as that may sound; it will have people do too much of one thing [mixing cob and wall building] while not being able to learn the other important aspects of natural building in a meaningful way, such as roof variations, natural plasters, earthen floors and design.)
This is one of the most comprehensive natural building workshops you can find. Together, VersaTerra instructors have decades of experience on four different continents. This has helped us design rich learning experiences giving students the tools they need to become confident earthen builders.
Earth is the mother of all building materials. For millennia, and all over the world, people have used earth to build beautiful, simple, efficient and inexpensive homes. It’s plentiful, ecological, and non-toxic. Plus, it can’t burn, won’t rot and is much simpler to build with than conventional construction.
We will teach you how to use clay-soil to build just about everything: from strong structural walls (cob and adobe) to beautiful floors, plasters and light-straw-clay walls. Because the materials are fireproof, they are ideally suited to sculpt ovens, fireplaces and cook stoves.
The essence of your learning experience will revolve around developing a deep understanding of how to process and combine a few simple materials: clay-soil, sand, and straw. How you apply that in your building adventures is then up to you, but you will find the possibilities endless and exciting.
What you will learn
After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can
Design and build yourself a cob cottage
Remodel or renovate an existing home, using natural materials
Build and use an earthen oven
Use cob to create garden walls and hot tubs
Teach a one-day natural building event yourself!
Specifically, you will get hands-on experience and skill development in the following areas:
Foundation systems, rubble trench, stem walls, earthbag construction (as a stem wall)
Identifying the right materials, screening, processing, testing, costs, amount calculations
Mixing cob efficiently
Making adobe bricks and using straw bales (“balecob”) and cordwood cob
Building with cob: strong sculptural walls, arches, windows and doors, niches, and sculptural artwork
Electricity and plumbing, how to install wires and pipes in the walls
Roof attachment and roof design
Light-straw-clay: this is an infill technique perfect for code-approved buildings and natural renovations of existing homes. You will learn how to make the right materials and how to install them
Natural plasters, tools, making your own plasters and paints, colors, applications, how to apply it on earthen walls, drywall, wood, concrete
Tamped floors, finish earthen floors in natural buildings, earthen floors in existing homes on plywood, oriented strand board, and concrete
Earthen ovens: from start to finish and how to use them (pizza party!)
Different design strategies, natural design essentials, passive solar, using cob to make models
Building codes, how they work, how to work with and around them
During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a careful look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.
Kyle’s book, “Build it with Earth: the Cob Pizza Oven” and Conrad’s, “House of Earth” are both included with the workshop and will be mailed before we being. They will serve as guidebooks for the workshop.
About the Site
The Be the Change Project is a Reno-based nonprofit, centered on our half-acre urban homestead where we have offered classes, tours, and workshops since 2011. That year we were able to buy what was a run down and neglected house on a half-acre through fundraising and crowdfunding. Since then we have enjoyed living an alternative and off-the-grid lifestyle while transforming the property into a verdant oasis. It has become a center for neighborhood uplift as well as a model for simpler living in the urban/suburban context. We were a Mother Earth News Magazine Homestead of the Year in 2013.
Reno is in the high desert on the western edge of the Great Basin. The weather in May and June is usually warm, clear, and sunny during the days with much cooler nights. It can get hot, and rain is unlikely.
Along with earthen cabins, landscape walls, ovens, and plasters on site, we’ve developed and use many systems for living more sustainably in town which you’ll get to know and use during the workshop:
Solar cooking and wall heaters
Small scale solar PV
Wood stove and solar thermosiphon water heating
Composting – vermicomposting and conventional aerobic piles
Alternative septic system – the Watson Wick
Basic principles and practices of Permaculture
Organic small plot intensive gardening including season extenders like hoop houses, root cellaring and solar dehydrating
ScAvenging! – upcycling and salvaging materials from the urban waste stream
Living with little electricity and fossil fuels
Wood-fired hot tub
We have a variety of lodging options including cob cabins, rooms, and tent sites, and parking for camper vans.
Registration, Payment, & Refunds
This workshop requires a $500 deposit to hold your space. When a deposit is made, Kyle will reach out to you, welcome you to the course, and get you in the email loop with all the details.
Go here to make a Venmo deposit or send a check for $500 made out to Cobitat and mailed to 2055 McCloud Avenue, Reno, NV 89512. Full payments are also gladly accepted.
Deposit is refundable (minus $50 for books and mailing cost if they’ve already been shipped to you) until 6 weeks before the start of the class. If you cancel with less than six weeks before the start of the class and your spot can be filled, we will issue a refund minus book costs. If it can’t be filled, your deposit will not be refunded.
Full payment is requested by two weeks before the start of each class.
Pickup and Dropoff
Airport pickup and dropoff is available from the Reno Airport, Amtrak and Greyhound stations. Contact Kyle to arrange a lift.
Lead instructor Kyle Isacksen has been building with earth since 2010 and teaching natural building since 2011 with House Alive and the Be the Change Project. Kyle has a background in construction, teaching, and simple living. He’s worked as a framer, carpenter, and commercial roofer and recently finished building a “green” conventional house in his neighborhood in Reno. He was a science teacher for 7 years, is a frequent speaker on sustainable living, and is a contributing writer for Mother Earth News magazine and blog. Kyle enjoys basketball, hiking, reading, and martial arts.
Kathleen O’Brien started natural building with two VersaTerra workshops several years ago and has gone on to teach with us in India, Mexico, Oregon and Reno. She has extensive carpentry experience, is a certified permaculture designer and talented grower, and has over 20 years of public school teaching experience. She is an avid reader and writer and is currently building her own off-grid home at Long Ranch in Surprise Valley, Nevada.
Katy Chandler is the co-founder of the Be the Change Project and has lived in and played with natural building materials for many years. She is a prolific gardener, certified permaculture designer, urban garlic farmer, and former math teacher and school designer. She loves to dance, laugh, and pore over seed catalogs while cozied up to the wood stove on long winter nights. Kyle and Katy also have two teenage sons.