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Archive for July, 2009

I found another great way to build gable and vaulted roofs — with pallets: Pallet Pavilions

Pallet Pavilion

Pallet Pavilion

The site referenced above shows how pallets can be used for walls and roofs. This is exciting because free pallets are usually quite easy to get in most countries and they’re very strong. Many are made of hardwood such as oak.

I’m most excited about using pallets for roofs because this is one of the most expensive parts of a structure. Using pallets opens up a lot of possibilities for affordable roofs: medium-sized vaults (which are difficult to build with earthbags larger than 8′ wide or so), corbelled roofs for roundhouses, cathedral ceilings and more, as well as curved, free-form shaped houses shown above.

You can even use pallets to make gabled roofs. Cut pallets into 16” sections, stack them flat, corbel each course a few inches and nail together with a nail gun to create a conventional looking gable roof. Once covered with metal roofing, framed on the ends and trimmed out, no one could tell how it was built. This technique is limited to small spans and areas without building codes, but it is another dirt cheap building technique for building almost for free.

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Date: 7 days, April 19-25, 2010
Cost: $500 includes excellent hotel, shuttle van, breakfasts, dinners, snacks
Location: Sakon Nakhon, Northeast Thailand
Instructor: Owen Geiger
Email: strawhouses [@] yahoo dot com

Roundhouse information:
Round earthbag office, 15’ interior diameter, 18” walls, earthbag foundation
Wood doors and windows, small bathroom, earthbag benches
16 sided wood bond beam, steel compression ring
16 sided roof is framed with 8 wood poles and milled lumber, plus terra cotta tile
Exposed wood ceiling with peeled eucalyptus saplings
Cupola with vents for natural convection cooling

Earthbag Round Office

Earthbag Round Office

General building plan:
Goal: build walls and roof in one week (some parts won’t be completely finished, such as the plaster and roof tiles, but we will do as much as we can so you get at least some experience on each step of construction)
Hard, dirty work will be completed before the workshop (earthwork, digging trenches, peeling poles, etc.) so the focus can remain on learning
Workshop participants can assist with any or all building activities as they choose (ex: you may or may not want to climb on the roof, that’s okay)
The emphasis is on hands-on learning, although there will be short training periods throughout the day with white board, and question and answer sessions.

More information here.

Note: I’m also considering a workshop in December. Something small and simple. Email if you’re interested.

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Here’s an email from one of our readers (abbreviated for ease of reading).

I just had a few questions about building an earthbag home, and I hope you can get me pointed in the right direction. First off, I’m broke, so these questions pertain to me saving up for my future home. My dream home would need to be fairly round, or made up of several smaller domes. Finally, seeing as how I know nothing about construction and have to work most days, how would I ever learn to build one of these things, safely, without practicing on a few first? Even then, I don’t think I’d trust my work. Is there no one I could pay to help me construct it, who would have some experience with this?

My reply:
I’ve written quite a bit about low cost housing. Do a google search for “Owen Geiger” dirt cheap earthbag. Or “Owen Geiger” low cost earthbag.

There’s even a brief summary of the possibilities on my earthbag house plan blog.

By far the easiest, fastest way to build earthbag houses is with perlite or scoria (lava rock) in the bags. You can do a google search for Owen Geiger insulated earthbag for details.

The best dome method is illustrated by Kelly Hart’s free dome building guide. It’s super simple. Build an earthbag storage shed first if you’re unsure. These same structures can be grouped (clustered) any way you want and of any size up to about 20′ diameter.

Kelly Hart’s FAQ page will answer most any other questions for free.

With these methods I’ve just mentioned you can build very good houses at very low cost. The lightweight fill means you can do almost everything yourself at a fairly good pace. You can add one dome at a time. Hiring workers will blow your budget in no time. Slow and steady wins the game.

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In 2005 there was much publicity and delight regarding a lovely earthbag clinic built in a small town in the Philippines. This was a project of Illac Diaz and several organizations there. You can see the finished building below.

clinic24
Since then it has been privately reported that the building has fallen into disrepair. Some photos accompanying the report clearly show that this is the case:

clinic27

So what happened? Here is what I think. You can see in the photo below how the workmen are applying mud to the cement-stabilized earthbag structure.

clinic28

Obviously the final layer of plaster did not adhere to the mud fill that was applied. Plants are now growing naturally in this earthen medium; the seeds or roots may have been present at the time it was applied.

What this indicates to me is that the intermediate mud plaster was a mistake, and it should have been replaced by more stabilized material like what was placed in the earthbags. Then the final color coat of compatible plaster would likely have remained intact, and nothing would be growing up there.

It is a sad commentary that despite such a lovely structure having been built, there is not sufficient interest, or follow-through to remedy the situation and salvage the entire building.

To read about the entire project and see  more photos see www.earthbagbuilding.com

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One of the most practical structures on a small farmstead is a multi-purpose garden structure that can serve as a storage shed or cool pantry above ground, or as a root cellar or storm shelter below ground. You can build this multipurpose structure for about $300 using earthbag construction (bags filled with earth and stacked like bricks). And the skills you learn by building the dome will serve you well if you plan to build a larger earthbag structure — or even an earth home.

Here’s how the dome looks today.

Mother Earth News Earthbag Dome

Mother Earth News Earthbag Dome

Earthbag structures provide a cool space in summer and an escape from the cold in winter, which means this earthbag dome is well suited for many purposes. Depending on your needs, the most practical combination of uses might be a root cellar/cool pantry for daily use and a disaster shelter for emergencies such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

Click here to read the entire 9 page article and view 11 photos and complete drawings: Low-cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made With Earthbags

Click here to read the free step-by-step How to Build an Earthbag Dome Instructable at Instructables.com.

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Here’s a real nice earthbag/ferrocement rootcellar plan from Karl in the Missouri Ozarks. It is 8’ across, has 2’ of soil on top and beautiful stonework in front. Great job Karl!

Karl describes his rootcellar in more detail: The U-shape on the top of the bags is a row of cement beam block that will hold the entire roof to the bags via re-bar pounded down into the earth bags. I opted for this instead of using bags to create my arch because I plan to pile a bunch of dirt on top of the root cellar and I believe this will be stronger. We’ll grow some ground cover over the top of the rootcellar and pump house.

Earthbag Rootcellar Plan

Earthbag Rootcellar Plan

Earthbag Rootcellar with Ferrocement Vaulted Roof

Earthbag Rootcellar with Ferrocement Vaulted Roof

Entrance to Earthbag Rootcellar

Entrance to Earthbag Rootcellar

More photos and information on Karl’s Pile of O’Melays blog.

We’ve also added it to our Projects pages.

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ea2

According to an article entitled “Eccentric Aesthetics: DIY Eco-Friendly Earthbag Homes” posted at dornob.com, the phrase “form follows function” has morphed in meaning over time and is, perhaps rightly, open to interpretation. One interesting extension of this idea is that the form of a building can follow the functions of its constituent parts – that the visual result can reflect the process of construction and that this, in turn, makes the architecture more educational or “honest” – a way to learn the history of a building simply by taking a look at how it was made.

In addition to their do-it-yourself, easy-to-build and other sustainability-related benefits, “earth bag” homes – constructed of bags filled with local dirt, mud, sand and/or rock – are also potentially extremely expressive as works of design. Their structural properties and the ways in which they are stacked certainly preclude some design possibilities but they enable others.

The end product reflects not only the more universal properties of sand-and-dirt-built structures but also can indicate individual stylistic preferences and regional building practices. The final appearance is generally curved, organic and assymetrical – not things we are used to in home design – but invariably are anything but boring.  All in all, they have a great deal of expressive potential for something so cheap, easy and fast to build – if nothing else as an eccentric guest house or secondary rural cabin.

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