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Archive for August, 2011

Carriage House (click to enlarge)

Carriage House (click to enlarge)


These structures complete the series for my Earthbag Castle: Custom Chonburi, Tower House, Carriage House and Guard Tower. Now, everything has to be put together inside the castle wall. Stay tuned.

The Carriage House is a garage with some shop space and a second floor apartment for extended family or ‘servants’. The Guard Tower serves as a tool shed and observation tower in ‘peaceful’ times. It could also function as a small dwelling for some workers.

Guard Tower (click to enlarge)

Guard Tower (click to enlarge)

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Earthquake and hurricane resistant geopolymer ferrocement cage filled with insulating material such as scoria or pumicecrete

Earthquake and hurricane resistant geopolymer ferrocement cage filled with insulating material such as scoria or pumicecrete


Dustin: I live in Florida where few domestic buildings last more than 50 years because of hurricanes. I explored the Monolithic Dome for quite some time. They have stood the test of direct hits by very powerful hurricanes that leveled the entire neighborhood; except the dome. The dome is the only sensible structure here. No other structural shape has ever withstood a Category 5+ Hurricane. EVER. Earthbag Domes seem capable of the same, or close. How can I finish an earthbag dome that won’t erode away in Florida storms?

Owen: A lot of people have been impacted by hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. This is something I’ve been working on for years due to the seriousness of the problem. My article on Disaster Resistant Earthbag Housing provides some background information on this issue.

Kelly Hart, Patti Stouter and I collaborated on EarthbagStructures.com as an effort to consolidate information on disaster resistant earthbag structures, especially for developing regions.

The short answer to your question is to use either cement plaster, or preferably plaster the dome with Portland shotcrete or geopolymer shotcrete. Geopolymer is a natural material (essentially man-made stone) that’s stronger than Portland. The incredible benefits of geopolymer prompted me to start the Geopolymer House Blog, which already has over 140 blog posts.

Geopolymer is preferred because it’s stronger and more durable than Portland, although it’s not available everywhere yet and it’s probably more expensive. So fiber reinforced shotcrete would be the next best thing. I recommend ferrocement eyebrows over window and door openings to help keep out blowing rain. See Geopolymer Shotcrete on Reinforced Earthbags.

Another very similar option is to build a double shell ferrocement dome filled with lightweight insulation. Scoria or pumice would work perfectly for fill material in the core. As explained throughout our blogs many times (use the built-in search engine above to read the details), scoria and pumice are fireproof, rot proof, lightweight, insulating and do not attract insects or pests. Earthbags aren’t necessary. You could pump or pour scoria, pumice, perlite, pumicecrte or perlited cement from above directly into the core.

So far no one has built a dome like this as far as I know, even though this building system would create some of the strongest buildings in the world. I’m sure it would work. However, there’s a learning curve to everything and some details would need to be worked out. The end result would be just as strong if not stronger than monolithic concrete domes, and be more durable and more highly insulating. In addition, this design is almost certainly stronger than monolithic domes in seismic areas, because it would more readily flex under extreme loads.

Precision Structural Engineering, Inc. is the pioneer of Reinforced Earthbag Building and the only company at this time that engineers and stamps earthbag plans. They’re also expert in ferrocement and can engineer the ferrocement domes that I’m describing here. They have pre-approved my Earthbag House Plans and provide free quotes. They can get code approval in virtually every state as well as many countries.

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Castle Tower House (click to enlarge)

Castle Tower House (click to enlarge)


The Castle Tower House is largely the same plan as the 2-story Roundhouse Above Survival Shelter with a crenellated roof design. In the earthbag castle I’m currently designing it’s used as a corner ‘watch tower’. Its primary function in ‘peace time’ is a guesthouse or office. Compare this version to the original plan to see how a few minor changes can make a lot of difference in appearance.

Specifications: 20’ DIA roundhouse, 314 sq. ft. interior first floor, 252 sq. ft. interior loft, 314 sq. ft. interior survival shelter plus pantry), 880 total square foot interior, Footprint: 23′ DIA, 23′ x 31′ survival shelter

Description: Every castle worth its name has to have at least one underground survival shelter. In this case it’s underneath the Tower House. It’s prudent to have a safe place to go to in case of emergencies, and what better place than your basement. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other natural disasters are all too common. While others panic and run for last minute preparations, you can calmly retreat to your basement (through a hidden trap door) that’s wisely stocked with everything you need to ride out the disaster.

More details on the Earthbag Survival Shelter that’s also sold separately (an excellent starter project and one of my most popular designs).

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Custom Chonburi (click to enlarge)

Custom Chonburi (click to enlarge)


This design evolved from email discussions with one of my repeat customers who is building earthbag homes in South America. He wanted a larger, grander design that included a larger master bedroom, pantry, mechanical room and sitting room. My recent blog post on Earthbag Fortresses and Castles was quite popular and so I decided to pursue this concept further. I changed the roof and a few other details to create a castle appearance. A complete castle design is in the works… stay tuned.

Specifications: 1,134 sq. ft. interior main floor, 1,134 sq. ft. upper floor, total 2,268 sq. ft. interior, 2 bedroom, 3 bath, Footprint: 27′ x 29′. Pantry and mechanical room could be converted into an extra bedroom.

Description: This is a larger version of the original Chonburi design that includes two large bedrooms versus three smaller ones (all upstairs for privacy). Master bedroom has private bath. There’s also a pantry, mechanical room, sitting room, arched doorways and large country-style kitchen. Optional cathedral ceiling in master bedroom. The crenellated roof design maintains the classic lines and adds a touch of grandeur. There’s also a large roof deck where you can take in the scenery and cool breezes.

Custom Chonburi with floorplans

Original Chonburi (624 sq. ft. interior main floor, 624 sq. ft. upper floor, total 1,248 sq. ft. interior, 3 bedroom, 3 bath, Footprint: 27′ x 29′)

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Have you ever puzzled over why so many people choose to buy homes at outrageous prices that require 20-30 year mortgages even though they are often poorly built, made with materials that offgas hazardous substances and readily burn in house fires? In addition, these conventional houses are usually energy inefficient, require expensive ongoing maintenance, cause untold environmental damage and are largely devoid of redeeming value. Why doesn’t everyone switch to simpler, lower cost natural building methods such as earthbag, strawbale, stone, pole building and adobe?

1. Housing rules and regulations generate massive profits for the building, banking and insurance industries, and ensure government taxation and control. These entities benefit handsomely and work night and day to prop up the current system at your expense.
2. People lack awareness and understanding of viable alternatives, and so they think it is more practical to buy a typical contractor built house.
3. Complex modern building methods and materials discourage homeowner involvement. Traditionally, most people throughout history built their homes up until the last century or so.
4. It seems easier to buy a home outright than to spend months building it yourself, although homeowners are then burdened for decades trying to pay off the mortgage (which can equal several times the original cost).
5. People push aside their doubts and concerns about going deeply in debt for the bulk of their lives in order to pursue the illusory American dream (or something comparable in other countries).
6. People want to use their home as an investment vehicle to profit from, even though millions are now upside down on their mortgages with no financial relief in sight.
7. It’s somehow comforting to know that your house looks almost exactly like hundreds of thousands of other houses.
8. I saw it on TV so it must be true, right?
9. It’s important to keep up with the Joneses… isn’t it?
10. Inability to think clearly and make rational decisions that are for their best interest.
11. Housing prices will always go up, right? (I threw in a bonus for the fun of it.)

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Hobbit House with Wood Shingles (click to enlarge)

Hobbit House with Wood Shingles (click to enlarge)


My Hobbit House design was one of the top viewed earthbag plans last week, and one of the most common search terms, so I reworked the roof to incorporate wood shingles. The first version showed a living roof, but these take a lot of maintenance and require an expensive EPDM rubber membrane. A wood roof is probably more practical for most people.

This alternate version uses a double pole roof to provide ample space for roof insulation. Inner and outer roof poles are bolted to steel compression rings like in my earthbag roundhouse. This enables you to bolt the entire roof together in a few hours. Wood shingles are practical and well suited for this curved (undulating) roof design. Loft height in the center is 8′.

This design also works perfectly if you want to build one structure at a time as you can afford it. I’ve talked about this repeatedly. It’s the best way to go in my opinion to keep costs low. It saves trying to build a larger house all at once. It means you can build without a mortgage — work in stages as you can afford it and as weather allows.

Roundhouses are the easiest shape to build in my opinion. Roundhouses can be built side-by-side, connected by joining structures (vaults, etc.), pergolas, or set apart separate from each other. Plan ahead if the units are joined. You don’t want to cut out doorways later due to lack of planning.

Hobbit House at Earthbag House Plans

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Curved edges around a window (click to enlarge)

Curved edges around a window (click to enlarge)


Carolyn: I am interested in both straw bale and earth bag building. My priority is an eco-friendly home that is airy and natural, but while cost is important, we are building a home not an emergency shelter and want something that helps people to see that you don’t need to be a “hippie” to have an eco house, they can be elegant and beautiful too. Most of the earthbag houses I can find photos of have very rough finishes, can they be finished to give smooth, rounded curves the same way straw bale can? I particularly like the floor plans of your Triple Dome Survival Shelter [Ed. which is not recommended as a first time project], and also the Spiral Dome Magic 2, but again, I am not building an emergency shelter, I am building a home which needs to be one I want to come home to every night – natural, eco friendly, off-beat is fine but not so far from mainstream that it cannot be re-sold if we do decide to relocate. Does that make sense?

Owen: You can get earthbag walls as smooth and flat as you want. I don’t like lumpy, bumpy walls either. This can happen with bales or bags, although it happens more with bags. They require extra care to align evenly. You also can create rounded edges around doors and windows as shown in the photo of our earthbag roundhouse.

My Earthbag Building Guide explains how to get smooth/flat walls with rounded corners, and I demonstrate the process in my new earthbag video. The video is ‘finished’ but we’re experiencing technical difficulties. All I can say is it should be available soon on Amazon — one month max — after we do one more round of editing. (Same thing happened with my earthbag book. The last 1% takes 2-3 months to get things just right.)

Our Picasa earthbag roundhouse gallery shows more quality detailing like you describe.

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