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Archive for March, 2009

Where are you going to build your sustainable home? For the best possible life you’ll want to find a community of people with the right attitude. In Crestone, Colorado, for example, there are straw bale, earthbag, adobe, earthship houses, etc. on almost every block. This tiny town has around 125 of these alternative buildings. The realtors, builders, inspectors, homeowners, suppliers, everybody involved knows about this and agrees it’s a good thing. Now why is that? No one forced these people to build this way. Well, they’re educated, well informed, open to new ideas and have progressive minded building officials, that’s why. You could talk this up to another community 100 miles away and they would give you 100 reasons why it wouldn’t work. But in Crestone people know these ideas work and laugh at those building houses out of “2×4 skinny walls” that waste energy and are difficult to keep warm.

There are numerous other like-minded communities in California, Oregon, Kentucky, etc. They attract do-it-yourselfers, organic gardeners, people interested in renewable energy and natural builders. They often have intentional communities/ecovillages nearby. Search Global Ecovillage Network and Intentional Communities to locate forward thinking areas as possible building and relocation sites.

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What about using tires for foundations? In my opinion, earthbags are superior for foundations and walls. If you’re not convinced of this, tamp one tire (the way it’s supposed to be done, which takes 20 minutes or so). Then tamp the equivalent (in cubic inches) in earthbags and see for yourself which is easier. But it gets better, because lower courses can be filled with gravel (double bagged for durability). I could fill and stack about one-half to one whole course of earthbags on a small dome in the time it takes to tamp one tire. That’s a 10 to 20-fold improvement in speed! Swinging a sledge hammer is gut busting hard work. Tamping earthbags isn’t exactly “easy” but it’s way easier and faster than doing rammed earth tires. And with earthbags you can use insulated fill material such as scoria or perlite to create an insulated foundation.

I love the look of earthships and admire all the wonderful eco features, but I’ve learned how the same things (roofwater collection, solar hot water, etc.) can be integrated into a well designed earthbag home. With earthbags you can have these same features at a fraction of the labor and time.

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Bag stands can speed the bag filling process. Doni and Kaki provide details for building bag stands in their excellent book Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques. I like using a “bucket chute” — a plastic bucket with the bottom cut out. Here we present two commercially available bag stands for those who don’t want to make one.

Sandbagging Frame
– Removable legs to enable storage in small space
– Saves bending while holding the bag
– Prevents knuckle injuries that might occur when one person is holding the bag while another one shovels the material in
– Suits hesian bag size (230mm wide) and silt bag size (250mm wide)

Sandbagging Frame

Sandbagging Frame

SandHopper
– One person fills fast
– Easier and safer
– No power source required
– Take it where you need it
– Lessens backstrain and fatigue
– The HopperHook (optional) attaches the Sandhopper to the delivery vehicle, enabling filling of bags directly from the source.

Sandhopper Bag Stand

Sandhopper Bag Stand

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I invite you all to visit my new website Earthbag House Plans. At this point I have 77 earthbag plans in the preliminary design stage. Most are houses, but there are some cabins, shelters, sheds and shops. All are small and made with sustainable materials — earthbags, straw bales, earth floors, earth plaster, sustainably harvested wood from local forests (ala cheap firewood permit), rice hulls, recycled materials and so on. I’ve just started adding elevation drawings and will work hard to get these finished soon.

At this stage, the main thing I’m looking for is reader input. No one else has a large collection of earthbag house plans, and so there’s no way for me to know what people are looking for. If there’s a big interest in domes, for example, I’ll add more dome designs. I look forward to reading your comments!

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Several new earthbag planter projects have been added to our Projects webpage at EarthbagBuilding.com (our companion website). This seems like a popular option that has lots of potential.

An Earthbag Raised Bed Garden from http://www.thefarm.org, Ecovillage Training Center, Summertown, TN provides their recipe, building techniques and photos for building planters/raised garden beds.

Beth’s Earthbag Construction Project from home.comcast.net shows a similar technique for building planters. Beth cut and resewed her poly bags to create long, thin bags that take up less space. Detailed instructions and photos are provided.

Earthbag Greenhouse Planter

Earthbag Greenhouse Planter

Constructing Planting Beds in Dome Greenhouses from Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs, Colorado shows pictures of various ways of building planters in grow domes. Having indoor grow beds is especially practical in areas with harsh climates. Planter walls will be more durable if plastered. (Note: only a link is provided here since there isn’t enough information to create a project page.)

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Sandbags can be filled with a minimum of tools (often just a shovel is used), but sometimes you need machines to speed the work. Maybe there’s an urgent need due to flooding, or maybe you’re building a large number of sandbag (earthbag) houses. Here’s a sampling of some of the sandbag filling machines currently available.

C-MAC Sandbag Machine

C-MAC Sandbag Machine

C-MAC Sandbag Machine
This company offers the widest range of bag filling machines I’ve found so far. Machines are available for sale or hire.

Sandbagger Sandbag Machine
The Sandbagger fills 1,600 bags per hour and includes four filling stations.

Sandbagger Machine

Sandbagger Machine

To see the full report, go to our Projects page.

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The following is an article written by Jeanne Chaussee in the March 21, 2009 issue of the ‘Guadalajara Reporter’, is about a project in Mexico that I am involved with.

CHAPALA – Members of the Chapala Green Group have started a project teaching young people at the Niños y Jovenes Children’s Shelter in San Juan Cosala how to build an “earthbag” home. At the center of  this project is Kelly Hart, who has already built several buildings like this in the United States.

nyjThe Chapala Green Group is busy instructing kids from the
Niños y Jovenes shelter in a completely environmentally friendly,
efficient and inexpensive way to build an earthbag home.

The real beauty of these homes is that they don’t cost much more than intense labor. They are built from dirt-filled “costales” (produce sacks) laid in a circular pattern on a foot-deep foundation that is reinforced with rocks and gravel. The sacks are stacked one upon the other, with the first two rows filled with gravel and rock to prevent the wicking of moisture up into the walls. The structure finally reaches into a dome shape without the necessity of beams to support the roof. Like caves or old adobe structures, the climate inside is nearly completely controlled at a mellow 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring little or no cooling or heating. When completed, the structure will be about 5 meters across and just about as tall and will be covered with stucco to protect the sacks. Richard Bray, another involved volunteer pointed out that over a period of time, similar structures can be added to the initial one to provide more space for a family or storage.

Many of the students involved are from impoverished communities and the group hopes that they will take this technology back to those communities where the process could provide comfortable shelter for many with almost no cash outlay. Four men working eight hours a day could complete one of these structures in about a week.

The San Juan Cosala project has several foreigners involved, with lots of Mexican kids doing the grunt work, all working together. They are working Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the public is invited to come and have a look at the project. Be forewarned, though: this is not a social reception and you might just be asked to participate.

So far, the group has spent about 2,300 pesos. It will take about 10,000 pesos more to complete the building. Those interested in learning more should go online to www.greenhomebuilding.com or www.earthbagbuilding.com.

Anyone interested in contributing to help fund this project can do so by going to the bottom of the home page at www.greenhomebuilding.com and clicking on the “donate” button.

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