Remember Little House on the Prairie? Social distancing and hanging out with only family members was the norm back then. Now that it’s our new norm, and we plant victory gardens and embrace the habits of our great grandparents, can building our own homes be far behind?
Maybe not. Cat Taylor is ready to show you how, with cob homes.
Cat Taylor is a master naturalist builder on a mission.
“I believe everyone should be able to provide shelter for themselves,” Cat said. “Shelter is one of the most basic human needs and I want to empower people to have confidence about building a home for themselves. You don’t have to hire professionals. Anyone can build a cob house, even if you are in a wheelchair or paralyzed. And your kids can help!”
So, what is a cob house?
It’s a structure built out of a mixture of earth, sand, and straw. Cob homes originated in Wales and the word “cob” means “a lump or rounded mass.” It’s basically like adobe but the difference is in how it’s mixed and the application abilities.
Cob’s an excellent building material for many reasons. It’s as hard as concrete when dried but much easier to form into shapes than adobe. Adobe is dried into bricks and stacked. Cob is sculpted, while still wet, into any desired shape. You can have curved walls with cob construction for instance.
It’s fireproof, environmentally friendly, does not contribute to deforestation, pollution, or depend on power tools. You can build it in any sort of climate and it’s going to get you through a 10.1 earthquake. It can even stop a 55-caliber bullet.
There isn’t a more cost-effective building material. The problem is visibility — we just don’t see enough cob construction. But Cat is on a mission to change that.
A Construction Background With Art in Her Blood
Cat grew up in the construction business but her life took a more artistic turn into sculpting and painting. When she became a single mom, it became evident the time had come to head into a more lucrative career path and construction was in her DNA.
Cat found a foreclosed property to remodel and sell. During the process, she realized the old existing pool would not return any investment in refurbishment, so she started researching alternatives. An Australian website about natural pools popped up during her research one day and provided the inspiration to begin sculpting again. She carved faux flagstone out of concrete, made six waterfalls, and learned how to create a filtration system.
“It’s what sold the property,” Cat said. She also tripled her investment.
During the remodel, a school principal had seen the natural pool and asked Cat to create a water feature on the grounds of his school.
“He wanted something where students could have a relaxing place to study,” Cat said.
She headed back to the Internet to do more research, came across cob houses and had the proverbial “Aha!” moment.
“I thought this combines my love of sculpting and my remodeling experience,” Cat said. “I realized I could sculpt a home to live in and I was hooked!”
Inspiration Out of Necessity
Then life threw her a few big curveballs with a cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy, and aspartame poisoning. But Cat is not one to let anything keep her down for long.
She soldiered through treatments, all the while researching, reading, and learning everything she could about natural building methods and cob homes. The moment she recovered she headed to Oregon to a natural building class. As soon as she returned, she and her second husband sold their home, purchased 45 acres in the East Texas piney woods, and got to work on her vision. She began building her cob house in May of 2018 and simultaneously started workshops to teach others.
A Story Worth Sharing
Fast forward and the DIY Network found out about Cat’s cob home and her workshops. They were keen to feature her efforts. She turned them down. Twice. Then her instructor from the cob building school in Oregon called and pleaded with her to do the show.
“They were concerned that people in the television world were making a mockery of cob building and viewers were seeing cob homes as hippie flophouses or mud huts,” Cat said. “I was asked to show viewers it was feasible and to represent cob building properly.”
Cat had her own agenda by then. With a disabled veteran husband, she knew about the Texas Veteran’s Land Board. Established after World War ll, the VLB allowed veterans to buy over an acre of land for a point less than the going interest rate with only five percent down. Credit was not an issue. It was a 30-year loan and a property only needed road access.
Ever the researcher, Cat found a ton of foreclosures and could not figure out why.
“Then it struck me,” Cat said. ” Veterans could afford the land, but either could not afford to build or once they built, could not afford the mortgage payments. I decided at that moment to concentrate on building cob homes for veterans and teaching them the skills necessary to create their own homes.”
The DIY Network program became the vehicle to get the word out. She wanted a way to showcase a real home, not just the shell of a building.
Making Cob Houses Look Move-in Ready
Enter stager Karen Otto of Home Star Staging. When the production company called Karen to see if she’d stage a project in East Texas for a show called “Building Off the Grid,” she was not interested.
TV shows may sound glamorous, but they are not. They are a lot of hard, unpaid work. And they take you away from your regular clients. Karen had been there, done that, before, so she turned them down.
They did not give up.
“After several conference calls, emails, and understanding who we would be working with on this project, we agreed,” Karen said.
The rest is history. Karen’s staging gave Cat’s cob house exactly what it needed — those finishing touches that show this kind of house as not only a viable home but also a beautiful one.
Cat has several workshops a year and speaks at events around the country.
“My goal is to teach as many people as possible that you can build your own home,” Cat said. “You do not need professionals. It won’t cost a fortune. Shelter is a basic human need and you can provide it for yourself.”
If you are as intrigued as I am, you can find out more at Cob Hill Natural Building. Let us know if you start your own cob house. We’d love to follow the journey!