The Common Good
January 2008

Cordwood and Community

by Scot DeGraf, Linda DeGraf | January 2008

Over the past two years, educators Linda and Scot DeGraf have been building a one-room cottage made of natural, recycled, and local materials.

In nearly 30 years together, neither Linda nor I had built a shelf or a box without something being crooked. How did we talk ourselves into building a cordwood and straw bale cottage? The answers boil down to the twin goals of building community and committing ourselves to live lightly on the earth. Wood for the posts and cordwood walls came from the surrounding land, the straw bales from a local family farm. Scrap sawdust—mixed with lime to keep the critters out—and fireproofed recycled blue jeans serve as insulation. We’ve planted a living roof (that includes 6,000 pounds of compost) to keep us cooler in summer and warmer in winter. And a few tons of local clay, sand, and straw have been laid for an earthen floor that in winter will absorb the warmth of the sun and radiate the heat back at night. Nearby trees and large overhangs will prevent the summer sun from baking us.

How did such inexperienced people accomplish this? With some reading and training, but most of all through the helping hands and spirits of others—people we knew well and friends of friends that we had never laid eyes on before.

This project often has been energizing and hilarious, sometimes exhausting and frustrating. But overall we’ve had a wonderful experience of stepping into the unknown and being encouraged and pulled forward by a community of people who are more and more like family.

Scot and Linda DeGraf worked at Sojourners for a combined total of nearly 20 years. Now both work at Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, D.C. For more information on this project, visit

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