Natural Building

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

Upcoming WOrkshop:

The One Day Cob House 

A Unique Natural Building Experience


45 participants

Just north of Reno, NV

Scroll down for all the info



One-Day Cob House Build

See video from 2014's event here

When: June 12-14, 2020

Where: Rosewater Ranch, Long Valley, 30 minutes northwest of Reno, Nevada. 

Cost: $150 includes meals, instruction, camping spot

Instructors: Kyle Isacksen, Kathleen O’Brien and Katy Chandler

Host: Nathan Rosenbloom, Loping Coyote Farms, Rosewater Ranch

Registration:  PayPal (registration button at right) or checks accepted. 

After you register we'll send you a follow-up email with more details.

Please email Kyle if you have any questions. 

40 participant limit.


Checks to "Be the Change Project" 2055 McCloud Avenue, Reno, NV 89512


About the Workshop

The “One Day Cob House” event is an amazing, uplifting, and unique natural

building experience. It’s a focused and jam-packed workshop that combines

elements of a community barn raising with tried and true natural building

techniques taught by talented instructors. 


Cordwood cob is a technique that uses cordwood like bricks and cob like mortar and allows one to build much higher in a day compared to using just cob. A layer of cob by itself can be built about a foot high per day before needing to set and dry some; by using cordwood-cob and with enough hands we can make a full-height building. The wood, clay, and sand for this build are all locally sourced.


Rosewater Ranch is a budding community on 140 acres backing up to National Forest in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside of Reno, NV.  On the ranch Permaculture practices abound, goats, chickens, & turkeys roam, and there’s lots to absorb while there. The cabin we build will be round-ish, measure ~120 interior square feet, have a loft and green roof. It will be used as a studio and guest quarters.


Paricipants will learn:

  • Basics of a rubble trench foundation (the trench and earthbags will be done ahead of the workshop)

  • How to mix cob

  • How to set doors and window frames

  • How to plumb and trim walls

  • How to build with cordwood and cob

  • How to attach a roof and make a simple green roof

  • How to make and apply a light straw-clay plaster base coat


If you’ve been interested in learning about natural building, have some experience and want to improve, or maybe don’t have the time and money to dedicate to a full, longer workshop, this might be a great option for you. You’ll leave with a basic understanding of what it takes to put a complete cabin together and can expect to enjoy your time in a beautiful setting with lots of great people and food.  


Daily Flow:


  • 12:00 - arrival and camping set up, light lunch 

  • Hands-on instruction in cordwood cob basics including mixing cob.  We’ll also discuss how to build a rubble trench and earthbag stemwall and a tamped earth floor

  • 7:00 - Dinner and fun


  • 6:00 - breakfast

  • 6:45 - begin building

  • 12:00 - lunch

  • 5:00 - raise the roof!

  • 7:00 - dinner and celebration


  • 8:00 - breakfast

  • 9:00 - debrief and Q and A

  • 10:00 - light straw clay plaster

  • 1:00 - lunch

  • Afternoon departure


One Day, Part 2

Plastering and Earthen Floor Workshop

July 17-19, we’ll plaster the cabin’s walls and put in a finished earthen floor during a two-day workshop.  More info here.  Participants in the “One Day” are invited back for that weekend at a discounted rate of $40 (includes camping and meals). 

Contact Kyle for more details.


The first "One Day Cob House" Build in 2014

Complete Cob &

Natural Building Intensive 

VersaTerra PRO, MEXICO 

Go here to see pics from

this 2020 workshop

VersaTerra Pro

Complete cob and natural building intensive

(includes building an earthen oven)

January 13 - February 9, 2020 (28 days)

La Manzanilla, Mexico


(The workshop starts with dinner on the first day and ends with lunch on the last day)

Fee: $2200

Maximum class size: 12 students (workshop is now FULL)

our waiting list

This VersaTerra workshop is being offered through our nonprofit Be the Change Project 


Included in the fee:

  • Instruction

  • Three vegetarian meals/day Monday-Friday prepared by a local chef as well as coffee, tea, and a snack (there will be optional meat on occasion).  

  • Campsite on the beach

  • Our course book “House of Earth” (sent to you ahead of time)

  • A VersaTerra certificate



Kyle Isacksen, Kathleen Chandler, Kathleen O’Brien



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 28-day VersaTerra Pro Intensive is designed to provide a much deeper dive into earth, natural building, and sustainable living through the construction of a complete cabin.  Over the four 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 three instructors.  Simply put, the more time you have with the mud, the more competent and confident 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.

What You Will Learn


After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can

  • build yourself a cob cottage

  • remodel, 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:

  • Site assessment

  • 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

  • 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 careful 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.

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.



7;15 breakfast

8:15 ride to site

8:30-1:00 cobbing

1:15 lunch & a ride back to the campsite

2:00-4:00 free time

4:30-6:30 lecture

7:00 dinner

8:00 slide shows/campfires/free time


Saturday & Sunday

We’ll work until lunch on Saturday (breakfast and lunch will be served on Saturday)

Sundays are off for exploration and enjoying local food  (no meals provided)


About the Site & Local Area


The workshop will take place on a verdant piece of land in the hills overlooking beautiful Tenacatita Bay and Boca de Iguanas beach.  Alejandra and Camila, a Mexican mother-daughter duo, purchased the land in 2018 with the vision of creating a permaculture-infused travelers’ hostel and center for learning.  They’ve been hard at work terracing the slope, planting scores of fruit trees, flowers, & herbs, and constructing two earthbag cabins, a ferrocement cistern, and a palapa-roofed kitchen.  In the winter of 2018/19 we helped build at Mambo-Mambo and began planning this workshop.


See Alejandra and Camila’s blog here.


We’ll be staying near the small and friendly town of La Manzanilla, with plenty of restaurants and taco joints, music, dancing, and an incredible beach that stretches over 5km along the bay.


We’ll camp at a beachfront campground a short ride away from the building site.  The campground has restrooms, showers, shade from palapas and palm trees, an outdoor kitchen, and beach access just steps away from your tent.  Breakfast and dinner will be served at the campground, lunch at the building site. Afternoon & evening programming will happen at the campsite as well.  


Recreation & Local Sights

The ocean water is warm and luscious and a pleasure to swim in.  The waves are friendly and perfect for body surfing and boogie boarding and the sand is ideal for building sandcastles.  Many locals go for long swims in the morning or take walks on the beach with the sunrise and sunset.


There are several restaurants in town with beachfront seating where it’s easy to spend an afternoon enjoying a drink, the sun and surf, and time with friends.  There are taco joints in town to sample, a market day each week on the square that abounds in local crafts (textiles, woodwork, pottery...), general stores for food and gear, a few art galleries, three cafes, and even an English-language used bookstore.  


La Manzanilla is also known for its “Cocodrilario” or crocodile preserve - a protected mangrove lagoon home to scores of the big reptiles (some as long as 15 feet!).  There’s a wonderful boardwalk tour that ends at a croc nursery where visitors can hold young crocs. And, for birders, there are boat tours through the mangroves where dozens of tropical bird species can be seen in their natural habitat.  


A short taxi-ride away is Tenacatita beach, one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever been to.  There are fewer people, umbrellas to rent with light foods and drinks to order, and great reef snorkeling in a cove just around a bend.


When we were in La Manz with our family, we enjoyed renting one of the many fishing boats (with a captain) to tour and fish around the bay.  We caught fish each time and saw dolphins, turtles, and even whales.


The weather this time of year is just about ideal and a perfect antidote to the northern winter. Temps average 83 (high) and 68 (low) in January & February and rain is very rare.


​Getting There

There are three airports near La Manzanilla: Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, and Manzanillo.  


We will offer one group pick up from Puerto Vallarta (about 3.5 hours away) in a van on Saturday, January 11th at 4pm. This way, you can plan to fly to Puerto Vallarta anytime before then, enjoy the city a bit (or hang at the airport), meet up with fellow cobbers, and have a ride together to La Manzanilla.  


From Guadalajara (5 hours) there are easy bus connections followed by a simple one-hour taxi ride from Manzanillo. For Manzanillo (1 hour away), taxis are easy to find and the cost is about $50.   



Versaterra* certification


After full participation, every student will receive a VersaTerra certificate. We believe that after taking this workshop, participants are qualified to teach at least a one-day event in their neighborhood. The certificate will also allow you to promote your event(s) through the House Alive Facebook page. By providing a certificate, we want to empower our student to become facilitators of community revitalization through building with earth!

*VersaTerra is a holistic design, building and living philosophy, celebrating clay-soil as its primary building material. Clay-soil is:

  1. plentiful, inexpensive or free, durable, easy to maintain and modify, and endlessly reusable

  2. non-toxic, breathable, soft, beautiful, and displays superior performance in a wide variety of climates

  3. sculptural by nature, inviting to work with needing only simple tools and methods, and easily combines with other natural and human made materials.

By focusing on these specific qualities of clay-soil, we can make the design, building and living process a conduit for community revitalization and personal transformation, while creating housing with dignity for the people of this world.

Click here to read more about Versaterra

Bringing kids

We welcome the participation of young ones. In past workshops they have always been a welcome addition to our group and 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 10 and 13, will be in and out of the workshop.

Costs for kids: this varies based on age but includes camping, food, and instruction as they participate.  Call for details.


In order to secure your spot for this program, please fill out the form below and 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, more info on transportation, etc.​

Instructor Bios


Lead instructor Kyle Isacksen has been been building with earth since 2010 and teaching natural building since 2011 both with House Alive and from the Be the Change Project in Reno, Nevada.  


Kyle brings a unique professional background to Versaterra that mixes construction experience, teaching, and simple living.  He’s worked as a framer, carpenter, and commercial roofer and is building a new “green” conventional home in Reno in 2019. 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, sci-fi books, wrestling with his boys, and herding their chickens out of neighbors’ yards.


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.


Kathleen O’Brien is an apprentice natural builder who has participated in multiple workshops and done natural building contract work on the side.  She has extensive general carpentry experience, is a permaculture designer and talented grower, and has over 20 years of teaching experience.  She is an avid reader and writer, & loves dogs including “Dermot”, a fun, low-riding Cardigan Corgi.


More...In 2011, Kyle & Katy started the nonprofit Be the Change Project - an urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service, simplicity, and community engagement and 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 in their fixer-upper conventional home, 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

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"

© 2017 by Be the Change Project