Clay Houses | Earthen Homes

Clay Houses | Earthen Homes

Information on making clay houses or earthen homes.

Craftsman Style

¶ Earthen walls. - In districts such as the American Western prairies, where neither wood, stone, nor bricks are easily procured, the subject of building with unburnt bricks or "pise" is worthy of considerable attention. In Europe, South America, and Mexico this mode of building has been extensively practiced, and with success. It is well known that in portions of the former country, buildings two hundred years old are found in a good state of preservation. Here is the account given by Mr. Denson, an English author, of the manner of building these walls in Cambridgeshire, England.

¶ After a laborer has dug a sufficient quantity of clay for his purpose, he works it up with straw; he is then provided with a frame eighteen inches in length, six deep, and from nine to twelve inches in width. In this frame he forms his lumps in the same manner that a brick-maker forms his bricks; they are then packed up to dry by the weather; that done, they are fit for use as a substitute for bricks. On laying the foundation of a cottage, a few layers of bricks are necessary to prevent the lumps from contracting a damp from the earth. The fireplace is lined, and the oven is built with bricks. I have known cottagers, where they could get the grant of a piece of ground to build on for themselves, erect a cottage of this description at a cost of from £15 to £30. I examined one that was nearly completed, of a superior order: it contained two good lower rooms and a bedroom, and was neatly thatched with straw. It is a warm, firm, and comfortable building, and my opinion is that it will last for centuries. The lumps are laid with mortar, they are then plastered, and on the outside rough-cast, which is done by throwing a mixture of water, lime, and small stones against the walls before the plaster is dry, which gives them a very handsome appearance.

¶ Almost any kind of clay will answer for this purpose; the tempering is easily accomplished by treading it with cattle, the straw being added while the mixing is going on. The most convenient and economical size for these unburnt bricks is undoubtedly less than given in the above extract, viz., one foot long, six inches wide, and four inches thick. The exterior walls of a cottage built in this way may be two bricks or twelve inches thick; all short partitions not over one story high may be six inches or one brick in thickness; in both cases there is an opportunity for perfect bond. All the window and door frames should be made of stout two-inch plank, and inserted as the building goes up; these give additional strength to the wall, and being made to correspond with the thickness of the wall, give opportunity for covering the joints with both inner and outer casing. Stone lintels and sills are preferable, but as they are not likely to be had conveniently in a section where this mode becomes necessary, a piece of ordinary three by twelve inch joist, cut a foot longer than the width of opening, may be inserted as a substitute. The best roof for this species of cottage is made with shingles; some have asserted that thatch may be substituted, but we have no unity with the idea, and would only assent to it when the possibility of procuring a superior article is out of the question. The projection of roof ought not in any case to be less than two feet, so as to afford protection to the walls from rains.

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