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Natural building vindication: climate, comfort, health, budget

Until relatively recently we all built our homes from local, unprocessed materials (i.e. stone, wood, straw, earth). Then came the Industrial Revolution and we stopped using local trees, grasses and dirt in favor of highly processed materials. While it allowed us to build more houses more quickly, it also had some unintended consequences.

Not only do modern buildings impose a burden on the environment- clearcutting, mining, manufacturing runoff into the air and water, etc- but many of the manufactured materials are making us sick.

“Even the mainstream press carries frequent stories of cancers and respiratory problems linked to formaldehyde-based glues, plastics, paints, asbestos, and fiberglass, to name a few favorite culprits,” explains Michael G. Smith in the book The Art of Natural Building.

Smith has spent the past two decades working to help people re-learn how to build with natural materials: he’s written numerous books- besides the aforementioned, he’s co-written The Cobbers Companion and The Hand-sculpted house– and he helped found the Cob Cottage Company and the Natural Building Colloquia.

He was there in 1996 when the term “natural building” was coined. “We’d been calling ourselves alternative builders, but none of us really like that term because we see this kind of construction as the norm and industrial construction as the alternative, which has a lot of serious problems with it, so we wanted to come up with a term that would sort of normalize what we’re doing.”

In this video, Smith gave us a tour around his current home, the Emerald Earth Sanctuary (an intentional community in Mendocino, California), and showed us the many examples of very modern-looking earth structures (including cob, straw bale, clay wattle and slip straw).