Community Rebuilds – Moab, Utah

We’re back in Utah once again, this time in Moab. If you don’t know Moab this is red rock country. It’s where you find the reality of all those southwest photos of red rocks, great formations, arches, ancient wall arts, ruins. It’s a Mecca for tourists and the outdoor adventure crowd. Not only do your regular sightseeing tourists come through here, there is a dizzying display of mountain bikes, deluxe car racks, kayaks, stuff I can’t even identify. With that gear come the climbers, the highliners, hikers, runners and of course the clothes to go with it all.
But we are not here for any of the above reasons. This time it’s for a non-profit named Community Rebuilds to teach clay plasters to their interns. It’s a rather remarkable program that looks like it’s for real. It’s the brainchild of a young woman named Emily Niehaus who prior to this was working as a loan officer. Tired of turning people in need down, she was inspired to create a very different kind of house-building program.

The result is a USDA financed program that builds houses that are a minimun of 1,000 sf, have 3 bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths. Emily’s requirements that are added on include “small, super-insulated with solar orientation.” So far they have kept the costs to around $75 a sf for houses around 1,000 sf. The man in the field is builder Eric Plouarde who supervises a crew of 8 interns who work on the house start to finish. They volunteer their time for the education, receive a stipend for food and are housed. And from what I’ve seen, they work really hard.

To date, everything they’ve built have had straw bale walls and are finished with lime plaster on the exterior and clay on the inside. We are currently staying in the house finished last year. We are here with good company that include Sandy Mailliard with whom we worked on her home in Bluff last year and co-teaching with friend Ryan Chivers who is teaching “Tadelakt,” the lime plaster tradition from Morocco in the showers and bath. or check out their Facebook page.


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  1. …and two recent interns went on to help Mary and Scott plaster their strawbale home in Torrey, UT. I was with them at Canelo for your straw bale workshop in ’08. see “Our House of Straw” blog.

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