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Archive for July, 2010

Here’s a brief summary of the cement plastering process we used on the exterior of our earthbag roundhouse:
Step 1: Put cement between the bags in the gaps.
Step 2: Add thin coat of cement over bags.
Step 3: Add more cement.
Step 4: Add more cement.
Step 5: Trowel the plaster smooth and use a sponge float to smooth out the finish.

As you can see, the process is quite simple, although labor intensive. It boils down to adding a little plaster at a time. Leave each coat rough so the next coat will better adhere. No plaster mesh is needed — the plaster sticks to the earthbags, no problem. Resist the temptation to overwork the plaster. The total process took about five days of work for two workers spread out over a little more than week (some days there was no work). A third worker helped the last day.

Caution: Research the techniques used by plaster professionals in your area and follow their lead. The techniques in this video show what works in a rainy/humid climate, but they can cause problems in dry climates.

More videos at my Earthbag Video Channel.

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We just finished installing light fixtures in our earthbag roundhouse. This step has taken a lot longer than anticipated. The porch light by the front door was easy to find since it is conventional looking. But we wanted something special inside for our three wall sconces because they’re more prominent. Two sconces, one on each side of a fold-out bed, are located on curved earthen plaster walls. Another sconce is in the bathroom. We’ll add some table lamps after all the furniture is in.

One of the light fixtures in our earthbag roundhouse.

One of the light fixtures in our earthbag roundhouse.


I spent hours scanning websites for something unique, beautiful, curved and inexpensive. My heart was set on rice paper lamp shades. (Do a Google Image search to see the amazing variety that’s available.) In the end though, we went with the dirt cheap option, since demonstrating how to build affordably is a major goal of the project. My girlfriend found some ridiculously inexpensive split bamboo lamp shades for $1.25 each. The light fixtures were $2.50 each, plus compact fluorescents. This keeps us on budget for $10/sq. ft.

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Do not zigzag barbed wire between courses of bags, because this will lessen its tensile strength. A load (stress) on the structure, such as a hurricane, earthquake or differential settling, would tend to pull the structure apart as the slack is taken out of the wire. Zigzagging the barbed wire would provide more attachment points, which at first glance seems like a stronger solution, however, you would lose some of the tensile strength that way. The recommended practice is to place barbed wire in concentric rings on domes and roundhouses and in straight, parallel lines on rectilinear designs, usually two strands of 4-point barbed wire per course.

Correct: Two parallel strands of barbed wire

Correct: Two parallel strands of barbed wire


Incorrect: Zigzagged barbed wire

Incorrect: Zigzagged barbed wire

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An earlier post described how to use ¼” steel rod to install electrical boxes you may have forgotten. This steel is incredibly versatile and so it’s handy to have some around during construction.

¼” Steel Rod

¼” Steel Rod - Click to Enlarge


Here’s a list of things we’ve used it for: attaching bracket for wall mounted bath sink; attaching shelf brackets and nailers; reinforcing cast-in-place concrete countertop; reinforcing top of brick wall and arch; tying brick wall to earthbag wall; reinforcing brick wall footer.

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The folks at Phangan Earthworks in Thailand have created a marvelously meditative structure using earthbags placed between existing large boulders that was then capped by a wood-framed roof and eventually thatched.  The result is a symphony of forms that mirror nature and quiet the mind. The open, well-vented design remains pleasant at all times.

You can read about how they built this and see many more photos at earthbagbuilding.com

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I’ve seen various barbed wire dispensers being used and have wondered what design works best. I started making a dispenser for our roundhouse workshop, but gave up when things weren’t quite working out. It seems easier to move the roll of barbed wire by hand to where it’s needed instead of using a dispenser. Also, this makes it easy to remove the twist, straightening a little at a time as you go, so the wire stays in place against the earthbags.

Barbed Wire Dispenser

Barbed Wire Dispenser


Uncoiling Barbed Wire by Hand

Uncoiling Barbed Wire by Hand

What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Safety warning: Working with barbed wire can be dangerous. Use thick leather gloves and stay alert. Be aware that barbed wire can spring loose and cause injury.

Photo credit: Patti Stouter

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The year-round greenhouse at Sandhill Farm is built with sustainable materials, including earthbags for lower walls and light straw/clay in upper walls. Greenhouse segment starts at 1:12.

Maybe someone from Sandhill Farm can chime in here and leave some comments.
More info:
Sandhill Farm
Dancing Rabbit TV

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