Solar Powered Cob Houses

Bob Farnham | June 5, 2015 | Green Living

Making a decision to be more mindful of our energy consumption is usually coupled with a deep-rooted reason to do so. For some, it may be to leave less of a footprint on the planet, to protect the earth for future generations, or to take care of the resources we have to work with. For others, it could be to save money, or to use hard-earned money for things other than costly water and electric bills. No matter what your reason, solar powered cob houses create the ultimate option in green living.

What is a cob house?

Cob houses are one of the oldest and most ecologically efficient building methods we have available. Often referred to as “earth homes” or “hobbit houses”, cob houses are strong enough to withstand extreme weather conditions and earthquakes. Some of these homes have stood the test of time- up to 700 years! They are prominent in Europe, particularly Wales, Australia, New Zealand, and England, but they are also gaining popularity in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

They are among one of the most environmentally-friendly houses to build, as they are made from the ground directly under your feet- right on your own land! Cob houses are built using a straw, mud, water mixture that is molded by hand like a giant clay sculpture.

Straw acts like a natural re-bar which holds the whole structure together, creating an inexpensive termite proof, weather proof, fire proof, living option. Some may argue that because cob homes are made of dirt, they are “dirty,” but cob homes are clean and natural, without hazardous paints, chemicals, or unhealthy pollutants in the home, making it one of the cleanest, greenest living options available.

Do cob homes need heating/cooling systems?

A cob home falls under the “natural home” category, so most people who choose to build and live in this type of home prefer a more natural means of using energy, electricity, and water. Oregon is the center of the North American cob revival. Cob homes can be found in various climates, but work really well in high humidity places. They are not great insulators, so in cold climates, a more insulating wall-system (such as straw bale) would need to be used for the exterior walls. Cob is a natural “thermal mass” that absorbs sunlight, warming a building during the day, and releases heat in the night time. This is referred to as “passive solar heating” and has been used for thousands of years as a heating/cooling system. Because of this, there is little need for an additional heating/cooling system besides a fire or a rocket stove (depending on where you live). This in itself saves a lot of money and energy; in the US, about 40% of our energy consumption is used in heating our homes, and 8% is used in cooling our homes. (Note: There has been a 31% decrease in energy use between the years 1978 and 2005 according to Mint Press News.)

Why use solar energy on cob homes?

Besides heating and cooling, what else do we use solar energy for? We use an average of 20% of energy for heating water, and about 26% on lighting and powering appliances and electronics. (Note: There has been a 31% decrease in energy use between the years 1978 and 2005 according to Mint Press News.)

It is not uncommon for people who choose to live in a cob home to also choose natural gas lighting, an energy-efficient washing machine and refrigerator, and few (if any) other appliances. Clothes are hung out to dry, open windows replace fans, and power is used, not wasted. We become increasingly aware of our consumption when we choose to live close to nature- or in a cob house’s case, “in” nature!

There are other energy features to consider when building a cob home such as geothermal heating, concrete floors, triple pane windows, and of course, solar panels. Adding solar panels to your cob roof or to your property creates increased heat interception between the sun and your home, and decreased dependency on an electric company.

Installing solar panels will help cut energy costs and are becoming more and more affordable. Solar power is a renewable, dependable energy source, and by creating a solar power system, you have the choice to connect to the grid or live off the grid. They are low maintenance and can last up to 30 years. Often times, warranties cover that amount of time as well! The best part is that there are even federal and state tax credits available for those who install solar systems on their properties. You can find out more about applying for tax credits here.

We are curious – what would be your top reason to install solar panels on your home? If you are planning to build an earth/cob home, we would love to hear about your plans for a solar powered future!

This Cob House is an excellent resource on cob design, building, and living.



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