Montana Couple Build Their Cob House and Business

Daniel and Katharine Ray in Victor, Montana are living in a home created by their own hands, and now they’re teaching others how to do it themselves. For two years they worked on their house on their 5-acre property, building primarily out of cob sourced locally.

“Cob has to be mixed together on a tarp. It makes probably 3 cubic feet of material. You put it on the wall in courses going up. The walls are all monolithic as opposed to adobe bricks, which are mortared. This is all just one big adobe brick,” Daniel said.

With zero background in construction and architecture, the couple learned how to build from books. Every piece of the home has been crafted by the owners. Not everything is leveled, save for the doors. “With natural building, it’s like everything is curved, everything is artistic, and you can’t do that with a door. It has to be squared. It has to fit properly,” Ray said. “You can’t be a quarter of an inch off, and so that was the biggest learning curve for us.”

The house stays warm in the winter thanks to a rocket mass heater, and the walls absorb the heat in the summer. Their home is on the grid, gets its water from a well and has a septic tank.

The couple learned from their missteps with this project and now hope to pass their wisdom on. That’s why they started Spiritwood Natural Building, to teach others how to work with cob.

Their workshops range from a simple how-to-make-clay plaster class to a nine-day immersive experience that teaches how to build entire structures.

“It was like an a-ha moment,” Ray said. “We realized it’s all we want to do all the time. And then we found a bunch of people who said, ‘This is really cool, we want to learn how to do this.’ And it’s kind of snowballed into a business.”

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