What is Natural Building?

Simply put natural building is the process of using natural materials to build. Here are some common materials and processes that are considered under this umbrella:

  • Straw Bale – for highly efficient, healthy, affordable homes
  • Exterior Plasters used in conjunction with straw bales, often made with sub soil from the building site
  • Clay Plasters & Paints for interior spaces – used in natural homes as well as conventional homes over drywall
  • Earthen Floors – a great alternative to concrete for passive solar designs & in floor heating
  • Rocket Mass Heaters – a DIY friendly, super efficient hybrid masonry heater
  • Cob – a simple mixture of clay, sand & straw
  • Light Clay Fibre – a tossed mixture of fibre, often straw, sometimes hemp or even wood chops, and clay slip

But natural building is not just about the materials.

Straw Bale Comprehensive Day 7-001For us, natural building is the process of using locally available materials, that have low environmental impact, that are healthy for people and communities. Natural building is also about smart, holistic design, recognizing that a home does not exist in isolation but is constantly interacting with its surroundings.

Natural materials are not just for new construction. They can be applied to reto-fits (the process of taking existing buildings and renovating them to be more energy efficient, or even re-purposed), new builds, and even the smallest of projects like garden sheds, play houses, or a backyard yoga sanctuary.

There are so many opportunities for you to integrate earth into your life by installing an earthen floor in your south facing living room, or by building a cob oven in your backyard, and inviting friends, neighbours, and family over to enjoy fresh wood-fired food.

But why choose natural building?

clay paint with natural apple wood shelf

  • You want materials that are ‘environmentally friendly’ – materials that have low embodied energy, that are safe to work with, and do not leave behind a toxic legacy
  • You want to build or renovate a space or home to be as efficient as possible
  • You want to use materials that are safe and healthy – if your children want to help by stomping in the mud, let them join!

Want to get started right away? Here is a free recipe, that is simple to follow, for clay paint which can easily be applied over drywall, for an easy way to bring a bit of nature into your home.

Green Building vs. Natural Building:

applying base coat of earthen plasterThis is a hot topic. Most people have some idea about green building, but are unsure about what makes natural building different. First, both methods are concerned with energy efficiency. When a building’s environmental impact is assessed, the energy that is required during the operational lifetime of the building gets most of the blame for negative impact, while material input for construction, and end of life deconstruction don’t tend to account for much. Consider this: as we continue to push the envelope on increasing operational efficiencies, reducing the amount of energy when the building is in use, the materials used during construction (including all the waste produced during a build) start to have a greater impact on the buildings overall environmental footprint. Natural buildings and green buildings can be compared for energy use, but when it comes to choice of materials, using toxic foams, lots of sealants and mould resistant paints, transportation of materials, the list could go on, green building has a bigger impact on the planet.

Natural building is much more than just the materials used, it is a building philosophy, one that engages your hands, and your mind. See below for some videos will introduce you to some of this thinking.

If you’re really interested what ‘natural building’ means, have a listen to this presentation given by respected building scientist John Straube at the 2012 International Straw Bale Conference.

Many people that are here, on our website, looking for support and information to fulfill their dreams, are looking for more than just the how-to’s. They are looking for ways to live their values of sustainability, and take pleasure in involvement in providing for their needs, be it by growing more of their own food, or taking part in building their own shelter.

How We Can Help:

Learn the skills you need to work on your own project at one of our hands-on workshops. Check out our upcoming workshop schedule here.

We also offer consulting and a unique set of building services to help you with your specific needs, on your specific project.

For a light-hearted perspective on the Top 10 Reasons Natural Building is for you..

Other than humans, what other animal needs an architect, engineer, general contractor, and building inspector to put a roof over its head? Yet what has been so elegantly done for millennia, guided by our hands and intuition, has been co-opted by ‘specialists’. Standardization and manufactured building materials have left many of us living in stuffy, uninspiring boxes that diminish our health and spirit. Natural building offers an alternative.
Earthen Plasters for Natural Buildings July 20 2013-001

People have built their own homes for tens of thousands of years with materials naturally close at hand. These homes, built of earth, stone, wood and bamboo, were constructed by ordinary people that inherited such skills from previous generations. Artistic, modest, and sensible, they fulfilled the daily needs of their builders and their beauty often went beyond pure function. These homes were built with the human hand and many have stood the test of time, outwitting many modern techniques that have transformed the home into houses, stretching endlessly, and obnoxiously, across our planet.

IMG_6291Traditional buildings remind us that beauty and function can come from simple things – a notion that alludes many in our consumer culture. But this has not gone unnoticed by everyone and luckily, due to some hard work and persistence by those who came before us, natural building has seen a revival in recent decades, inspiring a new generation of owner builders, not the least the two of us.

Recommended Videos

Off the Treadmill – a great talk with Cob Cottage Company founder Ianto Evans.

Max Jensen talks about the benefits of big bale straw bale construction and the limitations of the passive house design.

Dan Phillips on creative houses from reclaimed stuff.

Pun Pun founder, Jon Jandai, “Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?