Archive for January, 2009

There are dozens of building methods and design techniques that enable virtually anyone to build their dream home at rock-bottom prices. The solution lies in natural building – using locally available, low-impact materials such as earth, stone, straw and small diameter wood, in conjunction with timeless vernacular building methods.


Our grandparents didn’t need a quarter million dollar bank loan to build their house. (My grandfather was a carpenter.) Instead, they used time-tested skills passed down from generation to generation. They learned what materials and designs worked best in each climate through many years of experience. Much of this know-how got brushed aside in the post-WWII building boom, but the good news is these skills haven’t been lost. Countless thousands of owner-builders have made the switch and are now living in comfortable, beautiful, nontoxic homes built of natural materials, and you can too.

The reason I love working with natural materials is because there are so many benefits. First of all, most of the materials are dirt cheap: sand from nearby streams or river beds, straw bales from local farmers, clay free for the digging and so on. A thrifty do-it-yourselfer can scrounge a large part of what they need from construction sites and yard sales. And as far as beauty, there’s no comparison. A home built of natural materials is more like a work of art that’s personalized to match your lifestyle and needs.

The rest of the article can be read at Buzzle.com.


Read Full Post »

We’ve added another project to our Projects page: Angel’s Dome in Mexico.

Angel's dome in Mexico.

Angel's dome in Mexico.

A lot can be learned by examining other projects. There are many ways to do things and people are constantly innovating. On this project you’ll observe how they used volcanic rock, built eyebrows over their windows with rebar and utilized barrels for window forms. They also show how they built their door form. Thanks for sharing.

If you are involved in an earthbag project and would like to share your experience with others through these pages, please contact us. Providing good photos and sufficient detail is appreciated!

Read Full Post »

My earlier post about Earthbag Building in Cold Climates on January 17, 2009 piqued some interest. Since energy performance on most buildings can be improved with insulation, including those made of earth — adobe, earthbag, etc. — I decided to pursue this idea further.

Insulation-filled tube sandbags on exterior of soil-filled earthbags creates a superinsulated wall with high thermal mass.

Insulation-filled tube sandbags on exterior of soil-filled earthbags creates a superinsulated wall with high thermal mass.

So here’s another method for insulating earthbag buildings using tube sandbags, also called traction tube sand bags, typically used to improve automobile traction on snowy/icy roads. (The bags are sold to add weight for vehicle traction.) This method involves stacking tube sandbags filled with insulation on the exterior of earthbag walls, thereby creating a double wall. One benefit over the other method just mentioned is ease of filling.

Filled tube sandbags provide about 10” of insulation, which is perfect for many climates – not too much, not too little. Again, scoria, pumice, perlite, vermiculite or rice hulls could all be used for insulation. Perlite would be my first choice due to its high R-value (R-2.7×10”=R-27), although the final decision needs to be weighed against other locally available and inexpensive natural materials.

Read Full Post »

Green roofs or living roofs have a number of advantages over conventional roofs. In addition to being beautiful, green roofs reduce runoff problems, provide habitat for wildlife, buffer noise, filter the air and reduce the ‘heat island effect’ in cities. They also improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reducing heating and cooling costs.

All these benefits and more have made green roofs popular across Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, where experience has shown a proven return on investment.

One drawback, however, is the added costs of green roof materials and reinforcing the structure to carry the extra load. This was foremost in my mind when I built the dome for Mother Earth News magazine. (See post on January 22, 2009 below.) My goal was to make the green roof as ‘green’ as possible.

The design I arrived at minimizes synthetic, non green materials typically used on green roofs – insulation, root barriers, filter fabric, drains and rubber waterproof membranes (EPDM, etc.). It also avoided added structural reinforcement because domes are inherently stronger than other forms. While not perfect, my design is a step in the right direction, and it’s very simple. The earthbag dome was draped with two layers of 6 mil plastic as a moisture barrier. Shade cloth was placed over this on the steep upper half to prevent erosion. Backfill was built up in layers and tamped (road base first and then topsoil), and then planted with drought-resistant grass. It has weathered one monsoon season with no leaks, mold or other problems.

If you haven’t voted for your favorite green roof at Huffington Post, I believe there’s still time. When you vote, think about which design is the greenest.

Read Full Post »


Owen Geiger built an earthbag dome with a green roof for Mother Earth News magazine that is scheduled for the August/September 2009 issue. It is a multi-purpose storm/rootcellar and storage shed.

A picture of the dome was submitted in a green roof competition at Huffington Post. It is moving up the charts and is currently ranked #2. You can vote for your favorite green roof by going here. (Owen’s dome is #9.) www.huffingtonpost.com

Read Full Post »

There needs to be much more focus on sustainable housing solutions that benefit average people. According to the UN, approximately 1.2 billion people lack adequate shelter. The main problem is lack of affordable housing.

Natural building can play a major role in addressing the current unprecedented housing crisis. Everyone can have safe, decent, debt-free housing by using locally available, natural building materials such as straw, earth, earthbags, bamboo, stone and sustainably harvested wood. Also, using recycled materials is encouraged.

Natural building is the logical solution to the housing crisis. There is simply no other way to create affordable housing for all those in need. Highly processed materials such as concrete, steel and synthetic materials are beyond the reach of many and cause great harm to the environment.

To read the entire article, go to Amazines.

Read Full Post »

In my opinion, this project ranks as one of the top in the world not just for its sheer size (over 40 earthbag domes) but also for its leading role in demonstrating how earthbag building can provide affordable housing to those in need (in this case homeless children in Nepal).

The Pegasus Children's Project in Nepal

The Pegasus Children's Project in Nepal

The Pegasus Children’s Project includes an orphanage and school for 80 children in the Himalaya Mountains near Kathmandu. Perhaps the most striking feature is the seamless blending of domes of various sizes and shapes. The final result is artistic, practical, safe and affordable. This is a must-see project for all those studying earthbag building.

To learn more, visit our Projects page.

Read Full Post »

We have added a new feature to http://www.earthbagbuilding.com: videos!

Once we realized how many really informative and entertaining short video programs can be viewed through YouTube.com, we did a thorough scouring of related titles to select only the best for our website. While there are some videos that are merely promotional in nature, or are so poorly produced they are distracting, there are many others that are quite worthwhile. These videos were made in various places around the world, and emphasize how much earthbag building has been embraced by people everywhere.

Several of the videos describe the work done at CalEarth with Nader Khalili, and you sense the charisma and genius of this innovator.

Another video, made in Canada, shows the building of an earthbag vault that eventually collapses, demonstrating how important it is to make sure that the engineering is sound, even for small projects.

So we encourage you to access this new feature, sit back, and enjoy the show!

Read Full Post »

Most earth structures such as adobe are located in hot, dry climates. But what if you live in a cold climate and want the benefits of low-cost earth building techniques? Earthbag building has the unique advantage of providing either thermal mass or insulation, and therefore can be adapted for cold climates with an insulated fill material. Scoria, pumice, perlite, vermiculite or rice hulls could all be used for insulation.

One possibility is to add a seam lengthwise down earthbags or polypropylene tubes to divide them into two compartments. The outer part could be filled with insulation; the inner part with soil. This would create an insulated wall with thermal mass on the interior. For many situations, this is an ideal wall system.


The placement of the seam could vary, depending on the climate. In a mild climate like New Mexico, I would add about 4”-5” of insulation on the outside. This would provide about R-10 insulation. In a slightly colder climate the seam could go down the middle (50% insulation/50% soil).  In extremely cold or extremely hot climates I would fill the bags with 100% insulation (or all earth in a hot climate if insulation wasn’t available).

To read the entire article, go to SearchWarp.com.

Read Full Post »

Earthbag building (also called sandbag building) is surely one of the lowest cost, most practical building methods. First used by the military for building durable, bullet and blast resistant structures, this building method has recently experienced a surge of interest among do-it-yourself builders. There are now an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 earthbag structures, including homes, offices, shops, schools, temples, clinics, orphanages and even ecovillages.

One of the strongest selling points is affordability. A simple earthbag dome, for example, using recycled grain bags and earth can be built for around $100. A larger, more comfortable home can be built for around $500-$1000. The EarthDome House at Terrasante Village in Tucson, Arizona is just one example.

To read the entire article, go to EzineArticles.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »