This summer I will be building a cob cottage of my own design in Toronto, Canada. It will be located in an upper-middle class residential neighbourhood in North York, on land owned by my grandmother. Currently, the house is a rental property, and there are tenants living in it, but the large lot behind the house is completely unused, just perfect for a little cob cottage.|
All of the streets in the area are named after monarchs in different languages e.g. Ameer, Sultana, Mikado, etc. Yuppies seem to have taken a liking to this nomenclature and have been buying up properties, bulldozing the old bungalows, and plopping down big ugly mansions, gentrifying the neighbourhood. I hope that our different aesthetic sensibilities won't torpedo the project.
Under the building code, landowners are permitted to erect a shed on their lots, and there are no restrictions on building materials. However, the shed can be no larger than one hundred square feet, and that's not floor space, that's footprint; meaning, including the width of the walls. But straw bale and cob walls can be about a foot and a half thick, so that's going to cut quite a bit into the living space.
Given these restrictions, and the weather conditions in Canada, this is the design I've come up with: the Kalakuta Cob Cottage. The north walls are straw bale for extra insulation, and the whole south wall is cob, to soak up as much passive solar energy as possible. There will also be a Rumford fireplace built into the inside of the cob wall, to take maximum advantage of the earthen mass.
Other features include an earthbag L-shaped bench that will face the fireplace, on an earth platform that will be slightly elevated, to create a sense of separation of space, despite the tiny dimensions of the cottage. There will also be a second level loft for sleeping and sexing, just big enough for a double bed, accessible by a ladder on one side of the cottage... and by a fire pole on the other!|
Once completed, Kalakuta will be a place that I can live in, rent-free, whenever I come to Toronto for a visit. Although located in a quiet residential neighbourhood, it is a five-minute walk from the Yorkdale shopping center, the biggest (and bougie-est) in Toronto, easily accessible by public transit at the top of the subway line, and by car at the intersection of two of the major highways that trisect the city.
Once peak oil hits and state structures begin to disintegrate, zoning laws will no longer be relevant, and longer-range plans could potentially be put into action. The property is big enough to allow the siting of a whole compound of cob cottages, a ring of houses around a central courtyard, similar to what I saw in West Africa. At that point, the original bungalow could become our community centre, just like at Emerald Earth!
I know my diagram of the cob cottage looks exactly like a baseball diamond, but that's just incidental. I've named it Kalakuta, after the compound that Afro-beat inventor Fela Kuti built in the heart of Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, and declared to be sovereign territory. I hope that this cob cottage will be worthy of that name, and mark the beginning of energy independence for us all!
I am currently gathering materials for the construction, and I need your help! I anticipate that most of the materials will not pose big problems: of course, if you have any leads on free clay, sand, or straw please let me know. More importantly, if you know of a source for glass bottles in odd colours like red, orange, blue, purple, and pink, PLEASE gimme a shout.|
But here's the kicker: for the roof of the cottage, I have decided to use recycled satellite dishes. Yeah, you heard right, SATELLITE DISHES. Why the hell not? They're made of metal, so they should be strong enough to hold up a few feet of snow. Now that smaller, pizza-pie-size satellite dishes are available, I figure that there'll be tons of people who would be happy to have me take the obsolete eight-foot clunkers off their hands.
On top of the metal roof, I plan to lay down a thin layer of recycled packing cardboard, then a six-millimeter-thick layer of waterproof plastic, and then four inches of soil and native grasses! On the inside of the dome, I intend to suspend a ceiling by one foot, insulate the space between with old rags, then plaster over it with the same mix that I use on the walls, and finish it off by painting a beautiful starfield!
I cannot claim credit for this ingenious idea of using recycled satellite dishes for the roof of a healthy house, it's the brainchild of straw bale pioneer Chris Magwood of Camel's Back Construction. He's already built a playhouse for his daughter with a 14-foot diameter satellite dish for a roof, and it's lasted through one cold Canadian winter already.
So, to summarize: I NEED NINE BIG-ASS SATELLITE DISHES! Ask anyone and everyone you know in the Greater Toronto Area, I'll be happy to save you the hassle of paying someone to remove the damn thing from your property and take it to the dump. Plus, you'll get eco-points for recycling your trash into my treasure, instead of adding to landfill.
The sooner I get these satellite dishes, the better, because I would prefer to put up the roof first, before I work on the walls. That way, I'll have protective cover to work under, so I'll be able to spend every possible day cobbing, come rain or shine. (I would rest the roof structure on big-ass round bales until the cob wall is complete). So holler back at me soon with some satellite dishes!