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Down to Earth Design

design | educat ion | consult ing

with an exclusive focus on eco-sensible buildings


Down to Earth Design

Sigi Koko. Principal
admin @ buildnaturally.com

202-302-3055 DC
215-540-2694 PA

www.buildnaturally.com WWW .BUILDNATURALLY.COM

Completely non-toxic. All ingredients in clay plasters
are completely non-toxic.
Plasters made with clay are beautiful, durable, and WEBSITES
made from inexpensive and non-toxic ingredients. Clay Moisture control. Clay naturally absorbs excess www.thelaststraw.org/bonus-articles/earthplaster.html
is unique in that it is pliable & sticky when wet with a moisture in the air, helping air to feel more comfortable www.networkearth.org/naturalbuilding/aliz.html
strong internal structure as it dries. This makes it an on humid summer days. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthen_plaster
ideal binder for sculptable plasters. www.buildingwithawareness.com/earth-plaster-walls.html
High thermal mass. Clay plasters have high thermal strawbale.pbworks.com/Mother-Earth-New-Earth-Plaster-Article
mass, which stores heat or cooling energy that helps to www.buildnaturally.com/EDucate/Articles/ClayPlaster.htm
T HE MAIN I NGREDIENTS maintain constant air temperatures.
Clay: sticky binder that holds the ingredients together; Local, Indigenous. Often soil dug from foundation B OOKS
can use clayey site soil or purchase dry bagged clay excavation contains sandy clay that is ideal for making Clay Culture: Plasters, Paints and Preservation by
Sand: aggregate reduces shrinkage and minimizes beautiful clay plasters in a variety of colors. Carole Crews
cracking; use course concrete sand for base plasters Low-Tech & Easy to Learn. Techniques for mixing Using Natural Finishes: Lime- $ Earth-Based Plasters,
and fine masons sand for finish plasters and applying clay plasters are extremely easy to learn Renders & Paints by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce
Straw: finely chopped reinforcing fiber helps further and fun. Perfect for the plaster novice!
The Natural Plaster Book: Earth, Lime and Gypsum
minimize cracking and adds bulk for sculpting Plasters for Natural Homes by Cedar Rose Guelberth
and Dan Chiras
OTHER ADDITIVES CHALLENGES Earth Plasters for Straw Bale Homes by Keely Meagan
Numerous additives can enhance the qualities of clay Perception. A false perception remains that durable
plaster or adjust the appearance of the finish. I interior finishes are not feasible with something as
recommend experimenting with any additives before simple as clay.
committing to a large surface finish.
Exterior durability. Clay plasters require annual
Minimize Dusting: wheat paste (purchase a powder maintenance when used on exterior in most climates.
or make with flour & water), casein, lime putty (be
Timing. Clay plasters are not generally a standardized
careful, lime is highly caustic), prickly pear juice, glue,
material, so additional time is required to experiment
oils (linseed, tung, etc.), laundry soap & alum, egg
with specific recipes and techniques. If paying for all
Straw Alternatives: hemp, manure, paper pulp labor, this additional time translates into higher cost.
Aesthetic Additives: pigments, mica


A simple shake test determines
Your substrate must provide firm backing to support the
relative percentages of clay and
plaster, and the surface should always be wet down
sand contained in your soil. It
before applying clay. Burlap dipped in clay slip and
works because clay remains
imbedded into the plaster allows you to plaster over
suspended in water, whereas sand
surfaces that clay will not adhere to (such as wood).
Clay plasters are very forgiving, so experiment!
and silt sink in water.
First coat: goal is covering the straw, not making it 1. Fill approximately of a cylindrical-shaped glass jar
look pretty. Increase the clay content and eliminate with crumbled soil (free of visible stones). Down to Earth Design teaches workshops on
chopped straw in this coat; best results when plaster is 2. Fill to the top with water, close the lid, and shake
how to make clay plaster and apply it to strawbale walls
worked into strawbales by hand; use screen well, until all of the clay is dispersed.
and other substrates.
3. Set the jar down on a level surface and watch for 10
Second coat: goal is shaping the wall. This is the thick seconds. All of the sandy solids will settle to the WORKSHOPS INCLUDE:
sculpting layer, so add more straw to sculpt and apply bottom. Draw a line on the jar at the top of the overview of clay plaster, including properties of each
thicker flattening coat by hand or with trowel; use sand. The water remains cloudy with clay. ingredient & how to analyze site soils for clay content
or screen 4. When the water becomes completely clear, draw
demonstration of mixing & application techniques
Finish coat: goal is to create a beautiful texture. This another line at the top of the settled clay. The ratio
coat is usually thin, so screen soil through 1/8 screens. between the height of the sand and the height of the guided hands-on experience mixing & applying clay
Finish can be burnished for super smooth texture and clay represents the ratio of sand to clay in the soil. plaster to strawbale walls and other substrates
can be pigmented, or covered with an alis, breathable Note: it is difficult to differentiate silt in this test, as
Check our website www.buildnaturally.com for
paint, or clear sealer. silt is similar to sand, only smaller and spherical.
additional information.