I love Jordana’s lifestyle because it shows that you can enjoy the benefits of alternative lifestyles without necessarily owning anything — not even a van! She and her fiance rent two fun off-grid structures: A straw bale cabin and a little cob cabin, each of which are about 220 square feet, in Southern Oregon.
While the couple wanted to escape the city and jump into cob-building their own home right away, they decided to take it slow and learn to live in these structures and develop “land skills” before taking the plunge — which is so wise!
Jordana (@jordana_moon_home on Instagram) explains in our Q&A with her (read it all at the end of the post!) that they are more or less “glamping” with nothing more than 12V batteries to power a couple light bulbs and charge their phones, plus no internet access and no hot water in the cabins, which is a huge shift from city life. But in the process, they are getting closer to nature and learning more about how little they can live with and still love life.
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Off-Grid Life in Strawbale and Cob!
First up, here’s the cob house (covered in snow!)
And this is the inside.
There’s even a cob oven in the wall!
Sink/kitchen area here.
Love the roof and then the cob detailing on the walls.
Now here’s the straw home! The couple moved their bed over here after a few months of going back and forth between the cottages.
Look at the light. Such a warm glow.
Here’s the dining space.
I love how smooth and yet rustic the plaster is.
And another view of it here.
There’s a large skylight over the couch in the living area.
Here’s the view from the kitchen (before they moved the bed over).
Love all the trinkets and little details here.
Just baking some cookies in the evening during quarantine!
Now does this look like a place to relax?
Cob & Strawbale Living: Q&A with Jordana
How many people (and animals) are living in your home?
There are two people (myself and my fiance) living in our 2 small cabins. One cabin is cob and curvy, and one is strawbale and rectangular.
What inspired you to build a straw bale home? Why live off-grid?
I actually didn’t build either of these cabins, we just rent from the owner/builder. But I came here with my partner to learn and practice more natural building techniques after spending years and years in cities, yearning for a more quiet, natural, and home-centered life. We were planning on buying a piece of land and building from scratch, but we instinctively felt we were biting off more than we could chew. So we decided to take a middle ground step where we could better understand our needs and develop our land skills in a more low stakes setting, where we wouldn’t have to be entirely responsible for any failures or mess-ups we might encounter. We had taken a cob workshop and made some good friends and found a way to learn from a skilled builder on his off-grid property.
How is your home powered? Do you have electricity? How does your water and heating system work?
Our two cabins are powered with 2 small 12V batteries connected to a solar panel each, so it’s not very robust. We mostly run 12V/USB lightbulbs and a portable DVD player off of them, and of course, charge our phones. Where we live we have no cell service and no wifi, so we are pretty isolated and have a pretty big DVD and book collection! We also download shows on our phones to watch later. Our heat and our oven are propane, they are pretty efficient and work well for heat in the small cabins. We have a combination of well water and a big complicated captured water system that the owner built himself. We do not have hot water in our cabins, so we have to boil water to wash dishes or wash our faces- we have some insulated thermoses that we can keep hot water in for later use.
Was the process of shifting to off-grid life difficult?
The process of moving from city living to off-grid rural living has involved a long learning curve and been more challenging than we imagined. Our mettle has been tested! We were your typical city-dwellers idealizing the country life. While it’s wonderful, and while we knew there would be a lot of work and adjusting, we were not prepared for how ill-equipped we were, haha! But a lot of our off-grid friends say our particular situation is more like glamping than anything else since we don’t have even some of the basic amenities like hot water or a shower (there’s a communal shower on another part of the property that we use). But we’re getting pretty creative and learning so much about life and ourselves in the process! I’ve learned that I can live pretty simply and still feel like I have a full life! (it helps that I have an office in town that I rent where I can go do typical modern person things)
The process of building can be difficult depending on your overall design and materials choices- but it can be extremely simple if you focus on basics in the design process. It is manual labor so it’s by no means easy, but it can be done at a more relaxed pace if you have the time to do so.
Have you ever built with other materials? If so, how did straw bale compare?
Yes, I’ve built with cob, adobe, light straw clay, and bale cob. Cob is the most forgiving and FUN and sculptural, but it is the most labor-intensive since you are physically making the material that makes the walls (adobe as well). Strawbale and bale cob walls go up FAST since the wall material is already assembled and large scale. I find it less fun since it is built in a very specific way, but straight walls make it easier to fit straight furniture, like beds and dressers, that aren’t built-in, and of course, if you’re in a hurry the get up your walls you might prefer to go the strawbale route!.
Are you comfortable sharing how much your tiny home cost?
I don’t know how much it cost but I know most of the wood and the clay used in the plasters are from the land. The windows were bought used from our local Restore. Strawbales are not terribly expensive, and depending on what time of year you’re collecting them, you could get lucky and clean up from local grocery stores or pumpkin patches when they’re done with their fall outdoor displays.
What’s your favorite part of your new home?
I love the light and the quiet. I love the way my bare feet feel on the cool earthen floor on a hot day. I love the richness of the color of the plaster and how it makes everything look so luminous. Sometimes I just reach out and touch the walls for no reason. There is a grounding quality of being surrounded by earth. And there is a loving energetic frequency embedded in the walls by nature of a communal build. You enter the spaces and know there is a spirit to them unlike conventional construction, because there is an inherent loving connection between human hands and earth, especially when hands and earth can work together to form a space where one can be held.
How do people react when they find out you have a straw home?
People like to learn about it! They always have questions on the logistics of building and what the labor of building is like.
Are there any unique challenges to building with straw or living in a straw house? How about to living off-grid?
In our cob cabin, there is no ventilation, and propane heaters create moist heat, so condensation on the windows has been a problem in the winter when we don’t want to open our windows at all because its way too cold! But the cob cabin stays really cool without any help in the hotter months. The strawbale heats up really easily and gets nice and toasty, and has ventilation, but in the hotter months, it is not as cool. These things are mostly due to the specific ways in which our cabins were built, how much sun they get, and where the windows are placed. The strawbale has a skylight that gives a lot of warmth, whereas the cob cabin’s windows are more shaded. Our particular challenges, like not having hot water and being outside of cell service range, are specific to place. It has been interesting learning to live with only 12V batteries for power; no hairdryer, refrigerator, or blender usage in our homes. We’ve had to rethink how we use electricity and what kinds of modern amenities we have access to, down to the simplest of terms. Our wifi is satellite and not very good, and is shared by other tenants on the land, so calling people and doing online activities is slow and can be frustrating, so we generally use internet away from our home, which has been a strange adjustment, especially since both my partner and I run our own businesses. I actually rent an office in town so that I have better access to grid electricity and internet (I need to be able to use a sewing machine, clothing steamer, and computer). One of the best things about living off-grid is the ability to be completely self-sufficient and independent from having to rely on societal systems for water and power. Particularly during this current pandemic we have not had to worry at all about how to pay utility bills, and where our veggies are coming from, or social distancing since we are so rural. But on the flip side, not having regular internet has been a challenge too! But I read a fair amount so I get to feel smart 🙂
What helpful advice would you give to others interested in building with straw? Those wanting to go off-grid?
If you want to build with natural materials, my advice would be to take a workshop to get familiar with what you like. Some people are sure they will love building and then, they just don’t. So give yourself some time for exploration before committing to a big personal project. There are lots of volunteer opportunities too, where you can learn for free. And try learning from as many different builders as possible because they all have their own ways of building and the more ways you have visibility to, the more you understand the functionality of the materials, and the more readily your imagination can be brought to reality.
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