Project Notes: Dog Run Wall & Bench

Artistic example of a cob bench

We’re adapting the plan as we go along. Originally, we thought to create a wall (about 3-4 feet tall and about 25-30 feet long) to section off the designated dog run area with a flower bed (about 1.5 feet tall) that would curve and double as a seating area in front of the fire pit. However, now that we’re looking at the cob building techniques instead of the earth bag construction, we like the idea of incorporating the artistic and sculpting features of cob, so we’re expanding the concept.

We anticipate the dog run will be about 4 feet wide and stretch all along the fence on the north-side of the yard. The wall will be simple – just straight and we’ll top it with the same bull-nose red brick we have at the front of the house on the retaining wall and flower bed. We’ll also stucco the sides and paint it the butter-yellow the rest of the house is in (which is now starting to look white). So that hasn’t really changed. Continue reading

Getting Started: Creating a Clean Slate

We’re starting the project of landscaping the backyard. The first thing we need to do is clear it of the weeds and junk that has piled up over the last several years. Thankfully, I am not short of energy and also have a willing next door neighbor who is eager to assist. The strange thing I’ve noticed about the backyard is the dirt seems to have been brought in from a land fill. We did not do this, but we’re assuming this was done by one of the previous owners of the house. Why am I making this assumption? Almost on a daily basis, I have found several pieces of glass, a bungie cord, a rusted ratchet wrench, an electrical plug, an pipe elbow, pieces of children’s toys (i.e., small tires, tiny plastic balls, tiny doll arms, marbles, etc.)…and the list goes on. It’s amazing what I pull up out of the dirt here.

Since we need dirt to do cob building, I have decided to kill two birds with one stone by digging and loosening up the first 3-4 inches of soil in the back, skimming that off to the side (while picking out the garbage) and reserving it for the cob mixture. Continue reading

First Project: Dog Run Wall & Flower Bed

Not the exact design we want, but this is an example of making a bench out of cob.

Our backyard is a mess and needs to be landscaped. We want to learn how to use natural building techniques AND we want to make efforts to increase the value of this house while spending as little money as possible to do it. Natural building techniques just may be the answer to accomplishing all the above.

We took in a stray dog – we’re assuming he was about 1.5 years when we got him, possibly a black labrador/border collie/rottweiler mix, about 80 lbs., and named him Zeddicus Drool Zorander, “Zedd” for short – and he is full of more energy than we anticipated. He LOVES to play ball and run around. However, I don’t have much time to spend taking him for walks or to dog parks. We are blessed to have a very large backyard (about 40 feet deep), so I can throw a ball 4-5 times per day to help him expend some of that energy. However, such activity has cause the yard to become a permanent dirt patch, creating tons of dust. Not only do we need to landscape, we also need to make it dog-friendly.

Pooping and peeing around the yard is not an option for him. We want to use the yard for recreation and entertainment and not have to worry about stepping in surprises. When I was in high school, my mom and step-father built a dog run along the side of the backyard for the dogs to do their business. Kept the rest of the yard clean of such “land mines”. I want to do the same in our yard and I am successfully training Zedd to do his business in only one part of the yard. He’s a smart lad!

Zedd's got a lot of balls!

Yes, he is holding three tennis balls in his mouth at once and he did that all by himself!

Instead of spending the money for a chain-link fence, which isn’t very attractive in my opinion, we’re going to incorporate the cob building techniques to create a wall to border the dog run. To add to the aesthetics and functionality of the yard, we’re also going to include a flower bed and bench with gas-powered fire pit. We had a Halloween party in our backyard this past year (2011) – which was a great success – and we had borrowed a portable fire pit from DeWayne’s parents. We positioned benches around the pit and it was a great focal point and source of light, warmth and ambience for the festivity. We’re looking to incorporate that into a more permanent fixture for future backyard events.

We can carry the flower bed construction along the garage, too. Woo hoo! We have a plan. Now to finish designing and implementing.

Taking That Leap…Into Mud!

Taking advantage of today’s technology and its convenience, I’ve decided to start an online journal about our experience into the world of Natural Building.

What Is Natural Building?

Put simply, it’s using natural building materials to create structures…from a flower bed and dog run wall (which aims to be our first project) to a fully operational cottage we hope to make our home one day. In other words, using the earth and natural, local materials, one can construct permanent and artistic formations for various uses.

Why Are We Doing This?

My husband DeWayne and I caught the bug from his Uncle Brian and his wife Sue. They told us about an amazing project called Cal Earth which uses sandbags, earth, a little concrete and barbed wire to create shelters. The concept, created or developed by Nader Khalili, was to utilize materials from war (sandbags and barbed wire) for needed shelter and homes in war-torn countries. This developed to a more sophisticated application of the building into earth bag homes and eco-villages. I recommend visiting the links to read more about this wonderful project.

This idea that we could build a sturdy, energy-efficient home from the very earth at a fraction of the cost of a commercially constructed home was very exciting to us. Ultimately, DeWayne and I would love to live in a home that leaves a very small carbon footprint and is in harmony with it’s surroundings. Admittedly, this requires a lot of time and effort, but it’s a dream we’ve had for a few years that won’t give up on. Continue reading