Big project in mind?
(Rocket Mass Heater, Earthen Oven,
general cob projects)
Promoting an Event
Hosting / Hospitality
Workshop List (details)
Rocket Mass Heaters:
We often travel to give presentations or workshops. Check our workshop schedule to see where we will be this year. When we are in your area, we may have time to add a short course, site consultation, or evening presentation to a planned tour, but please contact us well in advance. Our schedule generally fills up 6 to 8 months ahead.
Fees and expenses must be determined on a case-by-case basis. For approximate current rates, please see the Services for Hire section under Wisner Resources.
What we don't do:
The following gives a general idea of our hands-on education events at several different scales, and the number of hours we generally need for prep, instruction, and follow-up. Travel time and expenses, of course, will vary with our current schedule and location.
Hands-On Classes: Make-and-take projects, 10 to 30 people. Popular with libraries and other education centers, and for parties and community events. 1-4 hours instruction time, typically 1/2 day to 1 day total instructor time. Minimum rates $50 local, $150 for 1 to 2 instruction hours, $400/half-day. Plan at least 1 month in advance. Click Here for more about Classes
Presentations: 40 minutes to 3 hours, for larger audiences (30 to 500+). Can be tailored to the audience and venue, e.g. firepit demos or auditorium slide shows, conferences and events. Rates vary with size of audience and established nature of event. Approx. $150/hr or $500/half day for standard presentations, more for custom presentations, multi-day events, keynote speaker, larger crowds, or recording/licensing agreements. See below for more details.
Building Projects / Installation Workshops: 1-3 days per workshop, a larger project may be a series of weekends. Group size varies; typically 8-24 people. Hosts plan a project, sell tickets, and participants build it together from the foundations to fully-functional. (Finish work is typically done by local talent, after the initial work has been tested and tidied up.) Includes hands-on building experience, instruction, discussion, and creative problem-solving. Plan most building workshops 6-12 months in advance. The cost of bringing us on-site for a project will typically be 4 to 5 figures; see "Project: Your Way" or "Project: Our Way" under Wisner Resources: Services for Hire. Note that most projects start with a non-refundable $300 design consultation before we can commit to dates, costs, or scope of work. Also, see site planning
Private Parties, Work Parties, Consulting: For hosts who need a more flexible time frame, or prefer building things themselves without the hassle of inviting the public onto their work site. We offer flexible rates; in-person, or long-distance consultation. See "Train Your Crew" and consulting rates; more details below.
Instructional Materials: We produce detailed instructions, teaching manuals, and course handouts for many topics. Published plans, booklets, videos, and other finished products are available in our Shop. For train-the-trainer purposes, we may have unpublished handouts and teaching resources for most of our other classes. Teachers, homeschoolers, parents, camp hosts, fellow authors: Please contact us if you are interested.
Our most commonly requested presentations include
- Rocket Mass Heaters: Site Specific Design (non-suicidal, superefficient wood heat, using non-combustible and "dirt cheap" earthen masonry.)
- Fire Science Theater: a campfire walk-through of combustion science with reach-out-and-feel-the-heat examples of fireplaces, stoves, ovens and/or heaters.
- Modern Needs, Ancient Tech: Energy Efficiency is Not Rocket Science (Formerly "The Nature of Power")
- Dirty Secrets: Earthen Art for All Ages (aka Natural Paints and Plaster)
- Natural Building: may focus on traditional/earthen architecture; climate-specific design; or hands-on model-building such as Fairy Houses
- Pacific Northwest eco-harvesting; edible plants; natural crafts;
- Nautical skills (water-tracking and navigation; boatbuilding; boat & oar designs)
- Science topics (fire-science; maritime ecology; carbon and climate.)
Custom Topics: We may be able to put together a custom presentation in as little as 2 weeks if not booked elsewhere. If you are selling tickets, we recommend allowing at least 2 months to plan & promote the event. Longer planning times (and recurring events) boost attendance.
- Most events are 1-3 hours for the audience, plus a half-day or more of backstage prep if we are giving a hands-on or customized presentation.
Please see Wisner Resources page for current rates. We are open to counter-offers from established educational institutions or event organizers.
Most projects begin with a basic project-outline consultation, where we take a few hours to learn your situation, needs, and goals, and offer our best advice. This can be done through phone or email, or as a site visit.
Consulting and private work-parties allow us to truly focus on your particular situation and goals. We can take the project at its own pace, ensuring the best solutions for unusual building shapes, older construction, or a custom design to suit your particular needs. We often get more done, more quickly, because the team works together more efficiently and with fewer explanations.
Our starting fee for consulting is $300. This covers two to three hours of email, phone, or in-person conversation; you will get the best value from this time if you use our site planning page to clarify your project in advance. Additional time can be billed hourly, daily at time+materials, or in some cases as a weekly or project bid. On-site work-parties, please budget for the initial design consultation plus one to three days on site. We may adjust these rates at our discretion, e.g. for long-term contracts, repeat clients, or projects of particular personal interest.
Services we provide for the basic consultation fee may include a half-day site visit, design guidelines, an existing plan set if available, and rough drawings (yours or ours) with comments on the proposed project general outline. Expenses and ongoing services will be billed separately.
A full plan set (floor plan and side views, materials drawn brick-by-brick) is usually a week or more of work, so expect to pay our hourly rates for this level of custom detail. Sometimes we can make a small adjustment to our existing plans, and give you something relatively accurate and usable within the billable hours of a basic consultation.
We recommend some free background reading before hiring us, to make the most of your budget. Search for free public advice on the Energy / Rocket Stoves forum at www.Permies.com/forums. Use our site planning questions to clarify your general information and intentions, so we can quickly get up to speed on your project.
After the initial consultation, you may or may not hire us to come to your site. If at all possible, we will provide design services or expert advice, and leave the physical project in the hands of local talent. Most of our consulting is on owner-built projects, but sometimes we work with local contractors, building professionals, education centers, building or garden managers, or paid employees of a site owner.
Wise people recognize that there is no free lunch - people will not "pay you to build your house." Neither we as instructors, or paying students who may buy tickets to your workshop, are a substitute for a dedicated, local, skilled builder. If you lack the skills or physical capacity to act as owner-builder for your own project, you will want at least one local builder who can help you with all phases of the project. You may need more than one (mason, framer, chimney installer, earthen/natural builder for cob and finish work).
Please call us or email to discuss your needs. Ten minutes by phone can save a lot of guesswork about your situation.
Planning a large installation takes time. Several months may be needed for site hosts to survey the site, plan the design, gather materials; organize event logistics; promote the event, and take registration.
Advertise early: If you want to sell tickets in order to cover workshop and project costs, allow 6+ months for promotion & registration. This promotion period should include appropriate seasonal months in your region - fall and early winter are prime time for 'wood heat' curiosity, while summer is better for boats. Many successful institutions publish their calendars 12 months in advance.
No Free Lunch: If you have never hosted a hands-on educational event, or on-site camping for 20 people, you may be surprised at just how much work is involved. There is no such thing as "Hey, if I have a workshop, people will pay me to help build my project for FREE!" Paying students expect functional site conditions, personal attention from the instructors, and a chance to get their hands dirty and work their least-confident skill sets. For a 2.5-day weekend workshop, instructors of our calibre spend at least 1 full work week on site, and weeks or months of prior planning, to ensure the project is buildable, ready for students, and ready to turn over to the host after the students leave.
A student-built project with 30 people's hand-prints on it may be a wonderful memory and conversation piece, but give us 4 dedicated builders and you may see a better job done in 1/3 the time.
- Send in your base fee deposit, and do a project-outline consultation with us.
- Set dates, project parameters, and design goals with us.
- Send your event deposit, and start advertising several months ahead.
- Final confirmation, planning, and materials list by 30 days ahead. (After this point, we don't cancel or postpone a workshop except for medical emergencies.)
- For private hosts: Have site clean and ready for work one week prior; all logistics in place (food, water, toilets, beds/hotels, etc.).
- We arrive a day or two ahead, check materials and site layout, and help with any problem-solving that may remain.
- People arrive for workshop; they learn, eat, work a little, learn some more, and achieve functional completion by the final day.
- We remain on site the following day to correct any problems, answer the hosts' questions, and ensure that everyone is comfortable with the remaining work to be done. We get paid and go home.
Rocket Mass Heaters: a week of prep, one 3-day weekend of instruction and assembly; a day or two for quality-checking; another weekend (or more) for finish work. We are most typically hired for the planning and assembly; many owner-builders feel comfortable doing their own finish work.
Kayak or umiak workshop: 14 days, or a series of 6 weekends, plus skilled staff time to prepare materials and assist slower students.
Earthen Art mosaic/fresco (small/medium): 1- to 2-day workshop, 3 days total including materials prep.
We will ask you for a non-refundable deposit up-front for project planning. We are happiest when you have local talent to handle local logistics to the fullest extent possible. We are not able to offer locally-licensed services such as permitting or engineering, and we may be at a disadvantage where local knowledge can get you the best rates or scrounge-venues for materials, tools or tool rentals, etc.
Will the workshop pay for itself? For dedicated and experienced education centers with good marketing and mailing lists, ticket sales can sometimes offset fees and costs, or even turn a small profit. It is also possible for a workshop to cost far more in time, energy, materials, and logistics than you would spend on a private consultation or even a private contractor.
Many hands make light work, but not always careful work: A public workshop may double or triple the amount of our time needed for the installation. It is not practical to rush novices into working at a
seasoned builder's pace; both the project and the participants will
suffer. (More than 6 people on a ducting layout, for example, can take a near-infinite amount of time.)
If you want to invite others to participate primarily as a way to get help with labor on your project, consider a work-party with volunteer helpers/participants, rather than a paying-students workshop. Work parties allow us to maintain focus on the project itself, usually accomplishing as much more more than a workshop, but without the need to push project timelines to meet promises to paying students. For example, in a work-party a heater could be finished but not fired because a heat-shield was to be added later by local help. In a workshop, the students would be promised a working heater, and an improvised heat shield might be needed to allow a test-fire.
What gets done?
Planning, guidance for prep and materials, and substantial functional completion are our goals in the workshop setting.
We can't guarantee project completion in a workshop setting; our job is to teach all the skills needed to complete such a project. We generally achieve 'functional completion', e.g. a heater can be test-fired, a boat should float, an oven should have all its structural layers in place; there will be some drying time and finishing to complete after we are gone. If the project was damaged during the workshop, or did not reach structural completion, we can use our follow-up day to bring it back on track.
What do you need from me as a project owner / workshop host?
Hosting a Hands-On Event:
- Planning and Prep: Design done and materials in place 2 weeks
before the workshop begins. Don't get stuck missing some
simple part that is back-ordered at the hardware store. Instead, be excited to share more detail with participants who call.
If your institution or community has its own process for hosting hands-on workshops, we are happy to try it your way (provided it's a fair offer and our costs are met).
The most critical thing we need is clear, timely communication. Hosting a workshop with us is a big commitment, on both sides. When we ask you how it's going with prep a month ahead, it is not polite chit-chat or a challenge to your professionalism. It's a realistic check-in regarding things that may need to be ordered or supplied from out of area. It is a lot easier for us to grab an extra tool or part if you tell us before we leave home. Successful completion of any project depends on timely, complete information and materials. It is neither practical nor pleasant for us to work with people who deceive us (or themselves) about their progres and commitments.
Please note that we are not building contractors - we are educators. When we plan a workshop, we earn our money by teaching you how to build and maintain your project, and by teaching others who may be interested in similar projects. Our focus is on providing an excellent learning experience, and enabling you to take over the finishing and maintenance without further assistance. Ideally, the local workshop group becomes a self-supporting team that completes several projects together over the following seasons.
We do not offer licensed, bonded, or guaranteed contracting services to build a project for you. Local building professionals can offer all of these things. Our rates do not include researching your local building codes or requirements, sourcing or pricing materials, or decorative finishing (except when that's the workshop topic).
If you need these services, we are happy to work with your chosen local contractor or building professional. We do recommend checking the conditions of your home insurance policy, and local zoning requirements, before planning your installation. We can help you understand how the physical laws of nature work; but we can't always anticipate how local laws and culture have decided to permit or outlaw these natural processes.
Don't feel obliged to rush into decisions about where to locate your project. The same skills can be taught in a 'no-install' workshop using temporary prototypes and experiments. 'Introductory' (non-installation) workshops can be easier to plan, as there are no permanent decisions being made about holes in the roof or where to relocate a favorite sofa.
As teachers, we hope to train others to continue and improve on our own work. We are always interested in helping local builders add to their professional skills. Two resources for finding local/regional natural builders are:
Cob Cottage Company (www.cobcottage.com, 541-396-1825),
The Natural Building Network: www.nbnetwork.org
Erica and Ernie
Mis-information is always free. (YouTube, Wikipedia, older articles on this website, online discussion forums, what your cousin said .... There will always be free stories there for you, and they will always be as accurate and reliable as .... well, about as accurate as an army of unpaid eighth-graders, or internet trolls, can make them.)
To provide accurate, up-to-date information at an expert level takes weeks or months of our time, every year.
With all the ways we can share our skills, free advice on private projects is rarely the best use of our limited free time.
We are honored to make our living in a life-giving field. There is always great demand for affordable and healthy solutions to life's common problems. But because they are common, it can be hard to recognize their true value.
It's easy to think that information, like clean water or clean air, is some kind of human right. But like clean water, and like healthy food, reliable information takes dedicated work to research, produce, and distribute. (What price would you set on breathable air, if you had to produce it yourself on the Moon?)
The fact that your mother provided loving care, or your community paid for public education, does not mean that you are entitled to expect the same free lunch from your employers, mentors, or community. The fact that organic food is "natural" does not entitle you to the benefit of the farmers' efforts for free. Even "public" lands do not entitle you to strip them bare with your private cattle, or harvest more than your share of wild berries. You are entitled to earn your own plot, grow your own crop, pick your own harvest, and set your own price for the fruits of your own labor.
We do make information available for free, in limited ways. This website, and online forums at www.permies.com, among others.
In order to continue our work, we depend on income from our past R&D efforts, including online publications, private consulting time, and tickets to presentations and workshops. If you'd like to offer something other than money, donation to our ongoing work, or pay it forward after you inadvertently got ahold of our work through pirated copies, please see our Gots and Wants page.
We welcome volunteer assistants, spare materials, offers of expertise in other areas, box lunches for our road trips, or scholarship funds. Our friends at Seven Fires can accept tax-deductible donations to support our work.
We often get requests for help or information from people with limited incomes (youth & students, live-action philosophers, homesteaders, disabled or unemployed people, retirees). Since we have experienced many of these situations ourselves, we empathize. But we don't do pity parties. Please consider how you can reciprocate, or pay it forward. We accept most forms of legal and historic exchange, including PayPal, bronze ingots, and cacao beans.
We are most likely to assign a scholarship to someone who shows a serious commitment to others: for example a grandparent with foster children, someone trying to save their family's century farm, or a PeaceCorps or AmeriCorps volunteer who wants better skills for their upcoming assignment.
If you want to negotiate with something besides money, please contact us and make an offer. We have limited time at home, and can sometimes really use some help or expertise. If your timeline allows, we can also point you toward not-for-profit sponsors for community fund-raising. You may have more resources than you think.
If your budget is zero, we recommend taking advantage of easily-available resources. Free public information is available through local libraries, at community events such as the VBC (http://vbc.cityrepair.org), from project bloggers, and through online forums (below).
We regularly contribute to the wood-burning stove topics and other discussions at www.permies.com/forums, as do many other useful contributors and good-hearted novices. Permies is welcoming, free, and site owner Paul's policy is that if your posted question has no responses after 48 hours, you can contact him and he will personally make sure your question gets answered.
More technical discussion goes on at the ProBoards forum http://donkey32.proboards.com/ ("Answers Questioned"), and there are some excellent articles at Kiko Denzer's http://www.handprintpress.com/. and video on Paul Wheaton's www.richsoil.com Rocket Stove article.
Do your homework: Research and read up on other people's projects. If your question isn't already answered, then ask it in a relevant place. You will get the help you need, and also help others by filling a 'gap' in the available public information. Everyone wins.
We are sometimes available for pro-bono presentations or advice, e.g. in emergency shelters, public schools, or for charity events. Please tell us how your event serves an audience that could not attend a paying workshop on the same topic.
Thank you for your interest in our work.
Ernie and Erica