Top critical review
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This "Handbook" is a joke
on December 4, 2011
First, I will start with the good. This is a well written book and easy to read. It is a good starting point for the novice. There is some very good information in it. However...
I find it hard to refer to this as a handbook when so many aspects of the building process are missing from this book. There are many problems that you can expect that are not mentioned. First of all, dealing with code issues seems to be glaringly absent from this book. In many parts of the US there are building codes that have to be followed. How to get the code departments to approve your cob building is pretty important.
I understand that Becky is mainly dealing with the actual building of the walls, but a "handbook" implies an all inclusive manuscript about the subject. The lack of how to actually plan your plumbing and electrical systems is truly lacking. In addition what if a person wants to use store bought cabinets etc., what is the best way to integrate these squared units into "organic" shaped walls. Also, pictures are worth a thousand words, seeing more photos of actual cob houses would have been helpful.
Maybe Becky doesn't want to get "too technical" but there is hardly any discussion of one of the major reasons to build with cob... thermal mass. The idea that the walls weigh so much that they take a huge amount of energy to heat or cool them, creating a cool environment in the summer and a warm one in winter. This is much better explained in other books that discuss cob. Maybe a little bit of discussion about how to heat your cob home might be helpful. Like using the thermal mass present in the building to hold heat, like with rocket mass heaters or masonry heaters.
In addition, the amount of repetition is at times annoying. For example, when I buy a book called a "handbook", I don't expect to be told over and over to experiment and trust my intuition or my ancient knowledge that is in my cells. I expect examples, discussion of specific things that have worked well. Another example is boards, tongue and groove boards plywood, strips of wood, and wood lath are all wood or wood products. It also seems odd that someone that is as chemical-phobic as Becky is would mention plywood without commenting about the "toxic" glues used that tend to off-gas formaldehyde.
That brings me to another sticking point. Becky has not done her homework on many subjects. She comments that materials are "toxic" yet provides no examples or proof to back up her OPINION. I'm quite positive that she is NOT a toxicologist or any other highly educated scientist. For one, gypsum does not give off fumes at room temperature. It is a mineral, and is present in nature. It will not give off any fumes until heated to a very high temperature. Asphalt is also a natural material that is present in deposits and in crude oil. It may be manufactured but is identical to the natural version. Yet Becky neglects to mention that sawdust, at least according to California, is a carcinogen (toxin).
Lastly, before I bore too many people, Becky barely even mentions second stories. There are cob buildings that have regular second stories. There are even cob homes that were built in rectangular shapes. However, these things are glossed over because they don't fit the "organic concept" of cob homes.
Overall, I am thoroughly disappointed in this book. Much of the information is available elsewhere and in many cases it is better presented with more detail and photographs. I based part of my purchase of this book on the reviews of others and after reading it, I wish more people had reviewed this book and had more accurately represented its shortcomings in their reviews. I probably wouldn't have wasted my money.