Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cordwood Masonry Home

I recently read an article about a beautiful home, hand-built by a couple I had the pleasure of meeting in person. Jessica Diemer-Eaton is an author, historian, educator, artist, and owner of Woodland Indian Educational Programs. I met her husband Mark in the fall of 2011 at an event I featured here. Mark and Jessica built the wigwam on the grounds of Prophet's Town State Park. Mark also helped me find some seed stock for my three sisters garden that day. Jessica and Mark are the proud owners/creators of a Cordwood Masonry home. I asked Jessica if she would write a guest post for the blog and send me some pictures to share with you. I'll turn things over to Jessica now. Please give her a warm welcome!

Building & Living In Our Cordwood Masonry Home
No it’s not stone masonry, although from a distance that is what our walls are mistaken for.  Our 16-sided home is built with cordwood masonry.  Cordwood construction, the building of walls by stacking cordwood using a mortar to bind, is an often overlooked construction style.  Most folks have yet to hear of it, even though it is a building style of antiquity.  But why cordwood masonry?  Why not just a log cabin?  Well, cordwood masonry is a great alternative for log home lovers who especially 1. Don’t have an ability to maneuver large logs and 2. Want the look of wood log walls inside and out, but don’t want to sacrifice interior temperature efficiency. 
Ease in BuildingBeing a woman under 5ft in height, I was able to build our cordwood house walls alone while my husband was at work.  Most construction methods will not allow for that, and those that do, such as other masonry materials like stone and brick, require a certain amount of skill that is usually acquired with experience.  Being a novice builder, never doing masonry before, I felt the learning curve was something that could be overcome in just a couple days work.  However, keep in mind that this ease of building does come with one larger setback - time.  If you chose cordwood, do so with the understanding that this construction is a long process.  The cordwood must be seasoned, laying it up is time consuming, and you can only build so high before the lower layers are dry.
An Efficient Home
The walls being 16” thick feature a hollow inside filled with cedar chips for insulation.  The mortar beads on the inside and outside are only 4” wide, leaving a hollow interior – the secret to insulation of the walls.  We don’t even have conventional heat, only wood heat provided by a Russian-style fire place in the middle of the home.  In a cold winter, after a few days of firing, we usually top out at 80-84 degrees in the living room.  We can stop for 3 to 5 days, and lose only 10 degrees of heat.  There is nothing more efficient than our cordwood walls.
Points of Light
Cordwood is a great canvas; many like to create images in the walls using the cordwood ends like mosaics, or put unconventional items into the mortar.  Usually, most cordwood builders will put a few bottles in their walls to bring in some beautiful spots of light.  Because the walls are 16” thick, each “bottle window” requires two bottles or jars, top ends put together, and rolled in aluminum flashing.  When stacked into the wall, only the bottoms of the bottles or jars are visible both inside and outside. 
A Round Floor Plan
Besides the look of a round home, one reason to pick this shape has to do with floor space; round buildings get more square footage for less money. However, what many people don’t talk about is that extra space lost due to an unusual floor plan.  Round homes don’t have the wasteful space of hallways, but we do still have space issues created by our round fireplace that sits in the middle of the house and holds up our roof.  So, no, we don’t have a hallway, we have a donut.  And just like a hallway, this doughnut shape can easily become underutilized.  We have counteracted that by placing an office behind the fireplace, two sitting areas on each side, and bar in front of the fireplace overlooking the kitchen.  Also, any money you saved by having a round floor plan may have to be put towards building custom furnishings.  As it turns out, most cabinetry is not made for walls that have angles more than 90 degrees, or have a little natural wave in them.  Cordwood walls are never straight, and our countertop’s width has a 2” inch difference between the middle and ends of the counter (one reason we used broken tiles for mosaics, as square tiles would have shown this variation in countertop width and the wave in the wall).  We chose to build our cabinets to get the style we wanted, and to save money.
It Comes Down To Cost In all, our home cost about $43,000 to build, including the tools needed to build the home.  We only paid for two jobs done through outside professionals: pouring the concrete foundation and applying the rubber membrane roof (which is a specialized process and warrantied through professional installation).  Friends and family helped us build some walls, construct the massive fireplace, wire the home for electricity, and install a new and efficient type of plumbing that utilizes plastic tubes that bend and expand, not ridged pipes prone to burst if it freezes.  For that price, we have almost 1,500 sq ft of living space divided between two bedrooms, bathroom, storage room/bathroom, kitchen, living room/dinning room, and the common room in the middle (aka the donut hallway that contains my office behind the fireplace).  It’s not large, but a great size for 2 people.
  Learn more about our cordwood home and cordwood construction at


  1. I can't see the pictures......... just red x

  2. Hi there, nice post. This is an interesting and very informative topic. Thanks for sharing you thoughts on this issue. Keep it up, looking forward to read another one in the future. Cheers!
    Mason Beverly MA

  3. Where did you get plans for the Russian-style fireplace? Please will you mail me at

    Many thanks,
    Gordon Smith