They may look straight out of a fairy tale, but cob houses are the real deal. Like Earthships, they’re capturing people’s attention with enviable interior pictures and building guides popping up online.
But get this: The cob building technique isn’t anything new. It’s actually over 10,000 years old. Here’s everything you should know about these dreamy eco-friendly homes.
What Are Cob Houses, Exactly?
“Cob” refers to the building material, which is essentially a mixture of clay, sand, and straw. As with bricks or adobe, these earthen components are mixed with water and can be used to construct natural, surprisingly durable walls—no synthetic materials required.
Since this earthen building technique is so old, its precise place of origin is difficult to pinpoint (England is a popular hypothesis). But incredibly old cob structures can be found still standing today in places like England and Wales, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and throughout Africa.
Why Cob Houses Are Sustainable
Cob houses are desirable for a number of reasons. For one, cob walls function as natural thermal regulation. The material essentially soaks in heat, which keeps the interior cooler on hot days. It’s then capable of storing and releasing that heat when temperatures drop as night falls. The result is an indoor ambient temperature that’s highly stable, and not prone to the great fluctuations that other conventional buildings are subject to.
Cob is also, despite what you may think, surprisingly durable. With a good roof, rainfall and precipitation shouldn’t pose any threat to cob walls. (There are even stories of modern cob structures outlasting destructive hurricanes.) Highly fire-resistant, it’s also a great choice for building in areas prone to wildfires or electrical storms. And, of course, the fact that there are cob houses still standing after 10,000 years of weathering the elements is also a testament to their sturdiness.
In terms of sustainability, cob almost can’t be beat. Its high thermal mass makes cob structures very energy-efficient. Its earthen components are all naturally-occurring and widespread resources, and builders can almost always source these components locally. This means a low-cost to the builder, as well as a low cost to the planet.
Plus, the lack of synthetic ingredients in cob means no toxic emissions are produced during construction or afterward. That also means that if demolished, cob structures are non-polluting.
5 Cob Houses You Can Visit
The design freedom offered by cob is another attractive feature. It’s highly pliable, giving the builder great flexibility with shapes and design. You can even embed unique aesthetic elements, like mosaics. The artistic curved walls of cob houses have garnered the admiration and imitation of many, from designers to DIYers.
If you’re sold on the concept of cob houses but can’t swing a sudden home demolition and makeover, there are loads of earth houses available for short-term stays on sites like Airbnb. Whether you’re looking to book (or just admiring aesthetics), the following list is sure to please.
This cob house has an indoor fireplace, lofted bedroom, and the cutest kitchen you ever did see.
This charming cob house is located on an organic farm. When you look out the window, you’ll see cows, sheep, fields, and forest.
This cute cob house has a cozy inside, stunning outdoor kitchen, and is a short walk away from natural hot springs.
This no-frills cob house is on 46 wooded acres, giving you all the nature you could ever want. It comes complete with a small kitchen, wood stove, and heated outdoor shower.
This cob house in Scotland wasn’t just built sustainably with locally-sourced, renewable, and recycled resources. It’s also furnished with pre-loved treasures, making it nothing short of an all-around eco-home.