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VersaTerra 10-day Complete Cob & Natural Building Intensive
May 23, 2022 ∞ 12:00 pm - June 2, 2022 ∞ 12:00 pm$1350
VersaTerra 10 @ Be the Change Project
Natural Building in the Urban/Suburban Setting
- Dates: Monday, 5/23/2022- Thursday, 6/2/2022 (10 days)
- Number of Students: up to 12
- Cost: $1350
The Building Project
During this ten day workshop we will build a beautiful earthen wall that will be part of a 200 square foot cabin and an earthen bread/pizza oven. We’ll also do interior plaster work on a conventional building. The cabin will be a future off-grid affordable rental unit.
(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.)
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 sites for campers.
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.
Our book “House of Earth” will be used as a textbook for the workshop.
The Daily Schedule
We are aware that students make a big investment in a workshop such as this. We honor your time and do the best we can to share our knowledge and experience. Expect long days with lots of building and learning. On some evenings we will show slides and films featuring our previous projects and that of other people and cultures. Believe it or not, we also still like to make time for a campfire and some music. We always strive to make the workshop itself a comfortable, memorable and fun experience.
- 8:00 breakfast
- 9:00 building with cob
- 1:00 lunch
- 3:00 other techniques, lectures, and oven building
- 7:00 Dinner
- 8:00 lectures/slideshows/campfire/free time
Delicious home-cooked meals are provided and will be vegetarian with occasional meat options.
After full participation, every student will receive a VersaTerra certificate. We believe that after taking this workshop, participants are qualified to teach a one-day event in their community. By providing a certificate, we want to empower our students to become facilitators of community revitalization through building with earth!
*VersaTerra is a holistic design, building, and living philosophy, celebrating clay-soil as its primary building material. Clay-soil is:
Plentiful, inexpensive or free, durable, easy to maintain and modify, and endlessly reusable
Non-toxic, breathable, soft, beautiful, and displays superior performance in a wide variety of climates
Sculptural by nature, inviting to work with needing only simple tools and methods, and easily combinable with other natural and human made materials.
By focusing on these specific qualities of clay-soil, we can make the design, building, and living process a conduit for community revitalization and personal transformation, while creating housing with dignity for the people of this world.
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.
Jonathan Vocke started natural building three years ago and has since built and taught with us in India, Mexico, and Reno. When not slinging mud he’s a professional musician and music teacher in Baltimore. He brings his love of music and his skill as a teacher to every workshop. He is a talented builder and is particularly passionate about dry-stack stone work.
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.
Go here to register