Archive for November, 2007

I spent several hours working on this project page: http://earthbagbuilding.com/projects/haiti.htm

The Sun House
I think it really is one of the best yet, because it shows the entire project from foundation to finish work on a simple home that would appeal to most people around the world; it was created by poor Haitians who had no prior experience; and it was done in a manner that I could easily recommend for others to follow. I think this really shows how earthbag building can realistically work for people throughout the world.

The house itself is a simple design (with some interest because it is an L shape) and was accomplished without any buttresses. Once finished it is nearly indistinguishable from their customary cement block homes, except that the walls are thicker…and it will be more comfortable to live in I am sure.

This home was built at Pwoje Espwa in Southern Haiti, where Father Marc has dedicated his life to serving and helping suffering children. This project not only houses over 700 children, but has an agricultural project, three schools, carpentry and masonry facilities, and an arts and crafts program. They have many ideas to help the Haitian economy and people living there. Because they are a non-profit, and are continuously struggling with funding, I encourage you to visit their website (www.freethekids.org) and consider making a donation to their cause.

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I am very pleased to announce that there is now an extensive slide show of earthbag building projects up at www.earthbagbuilding.com. I spent several days selecting the best photos that I could find and formatting them to fluidly present a marvelous array of architectural styles and approaches to building with earthbags. There are already over sixty images assembled, and I expect to continue to enlarge the library over time.
Opening Slide

The pictures are labeled so that if any of them attract further attention, the more detailed description of the project can be found on the projects page.

The pace of the slide show is controlled by the viewer by clicking on arrow buttons below the images, so one can browse as casually as one likes. This is a great way to become familiar with some of what is being created with earthbags. The photos depict both works in progress and completed projects.

So sit back and enjoy the show!

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Kelly Hart of GreenHomeBuilding.com has recently completed a web page with step-by-step instructions on earthbag dome building.

 earthbag dome

Complete with clear illustrations and detailed text, the instructions Kelly provides includes almost everything you need to know to build your own earthbag dome. Additional information is available at EarthbagBuilding.com and GreenHomeBuilding.com.

A key advantage of Kelly Hart’s system over other techniques is the use of scoria as a fill material. Scoria, a lightweight volcanic aggregate, is rot proof, fireproof, flood resistant, and does not attract rodents or insects. Scoria also has an insulation value approximately that of straw bale walls (R-30), making it ideal for extremes of hot and cold climates.

These earthbag domes are ideal for earthquake-prone regions such as Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. Domes are inherently very stable, plus these particular domes are reinforced with barbed wire and plaster mesh to withstand seismic activity.

In addition, they cost only a fraction of concrete and steel monolithic domes, and also are much more environmentally friendly and more practical for do-it-yourselfers. Unskilled workers can learn the basics in a few hours and build their own shelter with minimal hand tools.

Kelly Hart and Dr. Owen Geiger are available for consulting on earthbag building projects.

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[Note: This design was originally published shortly after the Pakistani earthquake in October, 2005. Even though the information is a little dated now, it gives you a sense of the urgency Kelly and I felt at the time.]

The death toll mounts as winter closes in on the survivors of the recent earthquake in Pakistan. Emergency shelter is essential for the survival of up to 3 million — and time is of the utmost importance.

The Geiger Research Institute of Sustainable Building, along with Kelly Hart of GreenHomeBuilding.com, is finalizing an emergency shelter design that could save many thousands of lives and alleviate considerable suffering.

The challenge is to provide quick, safe, decent shelter with minimal tools and supplies to sustain life through the winter. Access to remote areas is extremely difficult, since many roads have been destroyed or blocked by landslides. Because of these and other difficulties, and the fact that winter will soon create a much more dire situation, fast easy-to-build temporary shelter (that can be upgraded to permanent housing later) seems most appropriate.

Emergency Shelter for Pakistan

The proposed design incorporates a round earthbag structure partially inset into the ground. Rice bags or sandbags are filled with soil from the building site and tamped in place to create the walls. The roof is built with poles salvaged from destroyed buildings, covered with straw, grass, leaves or whatever is available, covered with plastic sheeting or tarps, and bermed with earth to hold in place. The size can be adapted to meet site-specific needs.

A typical shelter could be built in 90 hours, not including plastering. For example, this structure could be constructed by 5 unskilled workers working 6 hours a day for 3 days.

Free plans and specifications are posted at:
Emergency Shelter Plans for Pakistan

Earthbag Dome Building (another option for earthquake zones)

More earthbag building information at EarthbagBuilding.com

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Dirt Cheap Shelter

Ever wonder how to build a simple home for very little money, without going into debt? Free articles on the Geiger Research Institute Publications page and articles here at EarthbagBuilding.com explain how to use low-cost, locally available natural materials such earth, small diameter wood and straw to keep expenses to a minimum. The real fun is incorporating all these methods into an optimum, affordable home.

Earthbag construction: Of all the various earth building methods, earthbag construction is probably the fastest and easiest. For starters, here’s a table of earthbag advantages over other earth building methods. Earthbag building can be done very simply and for very little money. This qualifies it as dirt cheap shelter and therefore a very promising solution to the world’s housing needs. Almost all the materials and supplies can be obtained for free or next to free, and most people already have the necessary tools around the house.

Materials: misprinted or used grain bags, local soil for fill material, earth plaster and earth floors, old barbed wire (still in good condition).

Tools and supplies: shovel, knife, hammer, level, tape measure, wire cutters, trowel, saw, garden hose, buckets, #10 cans, rope and stakes (as guides for domes), and rocks or old bricks for holding down barbed wire between rows. Specialty tools such as tampers and sheetmetal sliders can be fabricated from scrap metal. ‘Bucket chutes’ (buckets with their bottoms cut out) are helpful in filling bags (they add support and help keep the bag open).

Tractor cob: Cob houses last for centuries and can be built using the soil from the building site. Consisting of just clay, sand and straw, cob is well suited for owner-builders short on cash. However, the process hasn’t become widespread because it is so labor intensive. This article (the first full-length article on tractor cob) explains how you can eliminate over 90% of the labor using a tractor to mechanize the process.

Tamped earth floors: Earth floors have been used since the beginning of history. Floors in Taos Pueblo, for example, have lasted for over 600 years. Imagine how much you could save by not replacing carpet or linoleum every 10-20 years. And, they don’t require expensive wood framing, offgass toxic chemicals or clog up landfills. The main drawback to earthen floors is they are very slow drying. Tamped earth floors are much faster drying than poured earth floors and have the potential to turn this age-old building technique into mainstream use.

Small diameter wood: As a result of poor management, US forests are choked with small trees. Thinning this excess wood improves the health of the forest, reduces risk of forest fires, and provides a nearly unlimited source of wood for those who harvest it. These small trees can be used in the round (which is inherently stronger than milled lumber) for pole trusses, posts, beams, etc. Or they can be turned into door and window bucks, studs, plates, rafters, cabinets and furniture using an inexpensive chainsaw guide.

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Earthbag Foundations

Earthbag foundations offer many advantages over reinforced concrete foundations and work well with many types of sustainable buildings. In particular, they are low-cost, fast and easy to build, require no cement (a major expense and cause of global warming), and require no forms or expensive equipment.

Earthbags are simply polypropylene sandbags (rice or feed bags, for example) filled with soil, sand or aggregate obtained from or near the building site. Unlike adobe or rammed earth, which require a rather specific mix, almost any type of soil or aggregate will work (expansive clay soils are not recommended for foundations). Aggregates are preferred for foundations because they will readily drain away any moisture and prevent wicking into the wall system.

Designed to control flooding and resist explosives, earthbags are amazingly strong, durable and versatile as long as they are protected from direct sunlight. Keep earthbags tarped until they are plastered.

Some typical uses include:
1. Earthbags on a rubble trench foundation (to raise wall system above grade) – Example: an earthbag wall or straw bale wall stacked on top of aggregate-filled earthbags or earthbags filled with cement/lime stabilized fill material.
2. Aggregate-filled earthbags starting below grade and extending well above grade in flood-prone areas (reduces risk of the structure being undermined) – Example: a rubble trench could get scoured away and soil-filled bags on lower courses could dissolve in a flood.
3. Earthbags filled with scoria (lightweight volcanic aggregate) in cold climates – Example: scoria-filled bags are equivalent to a frost-protected foundation, and therefore eliminate the need for rigid foam insulation and extensive excavation.
4. Scoria-filled bags in desert regions or tropical climates as a cooling strategy

For more information: EarthbagBuilding.com

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This is how earthbag building started out decades ago — providing safe, bulletproof and bomb resistant shelters for the military that were fast and simple to construct. The same qualities that make earthbags useful for military and flood control purposes apply to building houses.

 sandbag shelter

This WWII photo from the UK is part of the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records, titled Sandbag Shelter, St. Peter’s Green, 5 September 1939.

Almost seventy years later people all over the world are using the same basic process of filling and stacking bags to build their dream homes, home offices, shops and additions.

Tatu Penrith’s hideaway
Baraka’s house
Alison Kennedy’s house
Rum Cay sand castle
Robin’s house
Kelly and Rosana Hart’s earthbag and papercrete house

Kelly and Rosana Hart’s carriage house (office, shop and storage)

And as people discover the advantages of building with earthbags (sustainable, safe, quiet, durable, low-cost, nontoxic, fire and flood resistant, rodentproof, etc.) they are also building commercial buildings.

La Casa de Tierra vacation rental in Costa Rica
Sound Dome
Ranger station
Affordable earthbag schools and houses in the Philippines

In addition, builders, NGOs, research institutes, and governments are rediscovering the potential for using earthbags in affordable housing.

Earthbag domes of Ikio Inoue
Post-tsunami affordable housing project
Pakistan emergency shelter proposal
How to build a small earthbag dome
CalEarth sandbag emergency shelter instructions

New and interesting projects are being discovered all the time. If you have a project you would like added to EarthbagBuilding.com, please email us from our About Us web page.

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