Natural Building is one of our passions! Using clay-rich soils, sand, and straw we can make beautiful, durable, functional, locally-sourced & environmentally-friendly creations for any house or yard.
All of our classes and workshops are part of a holistic design and philosophy of earthen building we call VersaTerra.
To learn more about VersaTerra visit our building buddies at House Alive.
Last YEar's WOrkshop
(2022 workshops will be posted by mid October):
35-day Complete Cob Cabin
May 17th - June 18th, 2021
See details below
Workshop is now FULL. Send me an email to be put on our Wait List
Complete Cob Cabin
Dates: May 17 - June 18, 2021
Location: Rosewater Ranch, 30 minutes north of Reno, Nevada
Cost: Go here to pay a $500 deposit to reserve your space.
Participants: 6-12 (Workshop is FULL. Email me to be put on the wait list)
Instructors: Kyle Isacksen with Katy Chandler, Kathleen
O’Brien and Jonathan Vocke
About the Cabin
During this 5-week workshop we will construct a cob cabin from the ground up. The cabin will be small - 120 interior square feet as per local code for “sheds” - and used to help develop a budding community.
The foundation will be a rubble trench with an earthbag stem wall. Walls will be made of cob with sections of adobe, balecob, and cordwood cob. The roof will be metal.
Description of Workshop
This is the most comprehensive earthen construction workshop you can find. Decades of teaching on four different continents has helped us design this rich learning experience giving students the tools they need to become confident earthen builders.
Earth is the mother of all building materials. For millennia and all over the world, people have used earth to build beautiful, simple, efficient and inexpensive homes. It's plentiful, ecological and non-toxic. Plus, it can't burn, won't rot and is much simpler to build with than conventional construction materials.
We will teach you how to use clay-soil to build just about everything; from strong structural walls (cob and Adobe) to beautiful floors, plasters and light-straw-clay walls. Because the materials are fireproof, they are ideally suited to sculpt ovens, fireplaces and cook stoves.
The essence of your learning experience will revolve around developing a deep understanding of how to process and combine a few simple materials: clay-soil, sand and straw. How you apply that in your building adventures is then up to you, but you will find the possibilities endless and exciting.
During this workshop we will build a beautiful cob cabin from the ground up and an earthen bread/pizza oven. This includes interior and exterior walls, roof, foundation, windows, doors, electricity, plumbing, arches, plasters, niches, roof, and artwork.
This 35-day VersaTerra Plus workshop is designed to provide a much deeper dive into earth, natural building, and sustainable living through the construction of a complete cabin. Over the five weeks you’ll have the opportunity to get into a building rhythm where your new learning and skills can be applied and fine-tuned with the help of our instructors. Simply put, the more time you have with the mud, the more competent and confident a builder you’ll become. The extended time frame also gives us more space for discussions, exploration of design philosophy, and engagement with appropriate technologies including microsolar, composting toilets, water harvesting. This course will benefit from functioning real world examples at Rosewater Ranch and the nearby Be the Change Project urban homestead.
After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can:
Build yourself a cob cottage
Remodel or renovate an existing home, using natural materials
Build and use an earthen oven
Use cob to create garden walls, outdoor fireplaces, patios, benches, etc.
Design small cottages
Teach a one-day natural building event yourself!
Specifically, you will get hands-on experience and skill development in the following areas:
Foundation systems, rubble trench, stem walls, earthbag construction (as a stem wall)
Identifying the right materials, screening, processing, testing, costs, calculating amounts
Mixing cob efficiently, making adobe bricks
Building with cob: strong sculptural walls, arches, windows and doors, niches, artwork and mosaics
Building with balecob and cordwood cob
Electricity and plumbing, how to install wires and pipes in the walls
Roof attachment and roof design
Light-straw-clay: an infill technique perfect for code-approved buildings and natural renovations of existing homes.
Natural plasters: making your own plasters and paints, tools, colors, applications, how to apply on earthen walls, drywall, wood, concrete
Tamped floors, finish earthen floors in natural buildings, earthen floors in existing homes on plywood, oriented strand board and concrete
Earthen ovens from start to finish and how to use them (with a pizza party!)
Design strategies, natural design essentials, passive solar, using cob to make models
Building codes, how they work, how to work with them and around them
Natural building costs
During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.
This VersaTerra workshop is being offered through our nonprofit Be the Change Project
Included in the fee:
Three vegetarian meals/day Monday-Saturday prepared by a cook as well as coffee, tea, and a snack (there will be optional meat on occasion).
Campsite at Rosewater Ranch
Our course book “House of Earth” (sent to you ahead of time)
A VersaTerra certificate
The Daily Schedule
We are aware that students make a big investment in a workshop such as this so we honor your time and do the best we can to share our knowledge, experience, and passion. We’ll work in the mornings and break after lunch when it starts getting hot and we’re all ready for a swim. We’ll regroup in the late afternoon for a couple hours for discussions, exploring techniques in more detail, and visiting other local natural buildings. On some evenings we’ll share slide shows and films featuring our previous projects and those of other people and cultures. Believe it or not, we still like to make time for campfires and music. We always strive to make the workshop itself a comfortable, memorable, and fun experience.
Monday - Friday
1:15-2:30 Free time
2:30-5:30 Building or Lecture & discussion (alternate days)
5:30-6:30 Free time
Evenings Slide shows/campfires/free time
8:30 Saturdays are devoted to light work which might include art (sculpture, bas
relief, plastering), hands-on units often done in small groups on topics like
plumbing or electric, investigations into appropriate technologies (compost toilets,
solar wall heaters and showers…), and field trips.
No work on Sundays
Meals are not provided on Sundays
About the Location/Region
Rosewater Ranch sits at the north-eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, on the edge of coniferous alpine forest and sagebrush steppe. The land is a delight of transitional eco-tones on a slope that runs from tall pines down to open grassland. The sky is big and only slightly enlightened by nearby Reno at night, so the stars shine bright. It’s a sunny and dry climate in the rainshadow of the Sierras, though high enough at 5,200 feet to receive a full share of winter and snow. In May and June, anything can happen, from wintry snow storms to warm rain to very hot and dry sunshiny days, though typically at that time the days are sunny and warming - lovely working weather. Nights will certainly be cool, if not chilly.
Rosewater Ranch itself is a project 7 years in the making. The goal is to become a multi-generational little village of farming, land-loving folk who can live small and beautifully and pass on a worthwhile future for those yet to come. Through our own best efforts at good living, community events and education, and a patient dialogue with the land, we hope to shape and adapt ourselves to be welcome here and to spark others into their own forms of work for a culture of generosity, inclusion, and belonging.
At the moment, Rosewater Ranch has a small nucleus of human residents, a homestead goat dairy, a free-range flock of hens, homestead gardens and orchards, pigs, dogs, cats, and also on site are the Loping Coyote Farms plant nursery and Prema Farm, an organic vegetable market farm.
Wifi is available on site and cell coverage is good.
Before the workshop we request that people get tested and adhere to stricter safety and self-quarantine protocols at home to minimize the chance of anyone bringing the virus to the workshop. Once the workshop starts we’ll create a pretty tight “bubble” with our group as there will be limited off-site time due to the busy schedule. Furthermore, we’ll be working outside, can practice physical distancing during meals & lecture/discussions, and will be sleeping at separate campsites around the property.
The Reno airport is a 30 minute ride from the site and we offer pick-ups on Saturday and Sunday, May 15th & 16th and rides to the airport after the workshop. Specific directions and ride info will be shared after participants register.
In order to secure your spot for this program, please fill out the form below and either go here to PayPal or send a $500 deposit to:
Be the Change
2055 McCloud Avenue
Reno, NV 89512
Checks or money orders should be made out to "Be the Change Project".
Deposits are non-refundable, unless the workshop fills to capacity.
After we have received your deposit, we will send you an email with more information on the workshop, how to prepare yourself, what to bring, etc.
We welcome the participation of young ones who, in the past, have participated in the learning process at different levels, depending on their age and interest. Give Kyle a call to discuss bringing kids in more detail. Katy and Kyle’s two boys, ages 11 and 14, will be in and out of the workshop on occasion.
Costs for kids: this varies based on age but includes camping, food, and instruction as they participate. Call for details.
Lead instructor Kyle Isacksen has been been building with earth since 2010 and teaching natural building since 2011 with House Alive and the Be the Change Project.
Kyle has a background in construction, teaching, and simple living. He’s worked as a framer, carpenter, and commercial roofer and just finished building a “green” conventional home in Reno. He was a science teacher for 7 years, is a frequent speaker on sustainable living, and is a contributing writer for Mother Earth News magazine and blog. Kyle enjoys basketball, hiking, reading, and martial arts.
Katy Chandler is the co-founder of the Be the Change Project, a prolific gardener, a certified permaculture designer, a former math teacher and school designer, and a talented natural builder and plasterer. She loves to dance, laugh, bodysurf, and pore over seed catalogs in the glow of beeswax candlelight while cozied up to the wood stove on long winter nights.
Jonathan Vocke started natural building with a 10-day Versaterra workshop in Oregon a few years back and has since built and taught with us in India and Mexico. When not slinging mud he’s a professional musician and teacher in Baltimore.
Kathleen O’Brien has participated in multiple workshops and builds including last year’s 28-day in La Manzanilla, Mexico and in India before that. She has extensive general carpentry experience, is a permaculture designer and talented grower, and has over 20 years of public school teaching experience. She is an avid reader and writer and is currently building a cabin for herself in Surprise Valley, Nevada.
In 2011, Kyle & Katy started the nonprofit Be the Change Project - an urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service, simplicity, and community engagement that is rooted in Permaculture and Integral Nonviolence. In 2013 Be the Change was honored as one of Mother Earth News magazine’s “Homesteads of the Year”. They have “earthed-out” their homestead with two cabins, interior and exterior plasters, earthen floors, walls, ovens, green roofs and more.
Check out Kyle’s articles and blogs in Mother Earth News
See the One Day Cob House video
Go here to see pics from the 2020 workshop in
La Manzanilla, Mexico
Our 'Cardboard and Cob Cabin" built in 2012 with the help of two workshops.
200 Square feet, $700 total cost, all salvaged wood except one 4"x4"