Natural building involves a range of building systems and materials, with the main emphasis on sustainability. The basis of natural building is to lessen the environmental impacts of buildings, without letting go of comfort, health or aesthetics. The focus is durability and the use of minimally processed, locally available, renewable or recycled/salvaged materials that will create healthy living environments. Most often natural building relies more on human labour than technology, and takes the permaculture approach of looking at the local climate, characteristics of the building site, and needs of the users when developing the design. Re-evaluating how much space is really needed, and building compactly is also common, as well as handling energy and water capture on site. At Little City Farm we have built structures with natural materials like cob (clay-sand-straw building material) and strawbale construction, a passive-solar greenhouse that maximizes the southern exposure on our property, and have plans for a "living roof" in the near future. We also offer classes on natural building.
Building with Cob: The Cob Oven
Cob is a material consisting of clay, sand, straw and water, and is similar to adobe. Ideally all locally sourced materials can be used. Cob lends itself well to creative builders who enjoy serious hands-on work, as it can be shaped and sculpted into virtually any artistic shape. It is most often used to make cob ovens (as it is extremely fire resistant), cob sheds or small homes, and cob garden walls, benches or outdoor "furniture". At Little City Farm we built a cob oven in 2006, using sand from our own property, straw from a nearby farm, and reclaimed clay from a local pottery store. We made a bread oven based on the design of traditional bread ovens of Quebec, with a narrow doorway and no chimney. By making the appropriate ratio of height of door to dome, the smoke vents out nicely through convection currents. We bake frequently, especially in the summer months when we do not want to heat up our house (breads, pizzas, granola, cookies, dried tomatoes, and more all taste better when made in a wood-fired oven!) See photos of a cob workshop at Little City Farm.
Building with Strawbales: The Strawbale Living Space
Strawbale buildings provide exceptionally warm, durable, affordable, beautiful, quiet and environmentally sustainable spaces. Strawbales act as super insulation for load-bearing, stud frame, or post-and-beam construction, then are plastered with a variety of options including earth, lime or cement. This building technique offers hands-on opportunities for builders of all ages and levels of experience, is cost-effective, and provides a fairly speedy construction. Strawbale building can create large spaces such as homes, or small spaces such as studios, meditation huts, saunas, or bicycle sheds. By now there are hundreds, if not thousands, of strawbale buildings across North America. In 2008 we added a 500 sq foot strawbale addition to our existing hundred-year old brick home. We wanted to learn about strawbale building, and were excited about the prospect of using mainly locally sourced materials as well as reducing our ecological "construction footprint". This new healthy living space also includes Durisol block foundation, radiant (hot water) floor heating, an earthen floor, passive solar gain from south facing windows, and natural hemp oil & milk paint finishes. Many volunteer hands helped throughout the building process and we are grateful for all the efforts!
Building Passive Solar: The Passive Solar Greenhouse
In renovating an existing century-old driveshed ("the barn") on our property we realized this building had perfect southern exposure. To work with the sun, we built a passive solar greenhouse for growing greens and sprouts all winter long, and garden seedlings in the spring. This space also includes a small studio/classroom where we hold many of our workshops.
Little City Farm 508 Duke St W, Kitchener, ON N2H 3Y8 Tel: 519-575-9174 info (at) littlecityfarm.ca