Archive for the ‘Filling Bags’ Category

The driving factor behind this project is the belief that simple design is high design, particularly when working in the developing world.

For the Love of Earthbags (F.L.O.E.) is an interactive design project that aims to prove that it’s possible to approach high-design in a manner that is tasteful, modern, and groundbreaking by using only the most basic materials, such as the dirt beneath our feet.

This project is an initiative led by architect Travis Hughbanks and supported by Edge of Seven (www.edgeofseven.org) in partnership with the local community of Basa, Nepal.

Edge of Seven is a nonprofit organization that generates awareness and volunteer support for projects that invest in education, health and economic opportunity for girls in developing countries. According to the World Bank, 30 percent of Nepalis live in poverty and this population is most concentrated in rural areas where people survive off of agriculture and subsistence farming. For Edge of Seven, earthbags offered an opportunity to improve rural educational infrastructure and combat poverty in the most low-cost, efficient and sustainable way possible.

How will the funding be spent? The money raised through this campaign will be used for supplies to create the earthbag school, educational tools, and the production of the graphic materials.

F.L.O.E.’s end goal is to elevate the practice of earthbag construction by producing several engaging and creative educational materials that will be used both to promote earthbag construction and teach local residents how to build with this method. The materials to be produced are an animated video and a graphic print manual.

To read more about this innovative project and see more of their interesting graphics check out this website: www.indiegogo.com

We have profiled the Nepali school project on several other posts:

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These screening machines are primarily for production earthbag builders and other natural builders who want to mechanize the building process for maximum efficiency. They are useful for screening soil for earthen plaster, earthen floors, straw/clay and, of course, soil for earthbags. One advantage is the ability to utilize soil from the building site, which would offset the purchase or rental cost of the soil screening machine/attachment. The screened soil would be ready for filling earthbags. The rubble can be used in rubble trench foundations, under floors and as fill material.

Soil screening machines are usually not needed for earthbag building. Typical clayey/sandy soil can often be used as is to fill the bags. Or you can use road base or crusher fines, which have been processed in a gravel yard. This is my preferred approach because using a readily available material that’s already been processed greatly reduces labor, speeds construction and eliminates the need for a screening machine.

More soil screening videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEnZFqpLGkc (note how he is standing and shoveling from the wrong side — either that or build a lower soil screen)

Sandbag Machines (covers a wide range of machines for automating all aspects of earthbag building)

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A blog post entitled “Earthbag, Superadobe, Hiperdobe, Why Not Hiperpapercrete?” caught my eye. The author makes a very good case for filling mesh tubing with damp papercrete. Here is how he explains it:

“I have recently been reading up about earthbag/superadobe construction. One of the new techniques that some earthbaggers are very excited about utilizes a type open mesh bag material called “knit raschel.” It was started in Brazil by a guy named Fernando Pacheco. They have named their new system Hiperadobe.

The knit raschel is the same type of netting material that is often used to bag produce like onions or oranges in the supermarket. Here is a photo of what this type of knit raschel produce bag looks like. http://www.marketeo.com/photoArticle/big/1940_big.jpg

The bag material has many advantages for construction. Very low cost, fast drying for the contents, no need to run barbed wire between bag layers during construction like typical woven polypropylene earthbags bags require, and when compacted, the earth adobe mixture they use in the knit raschel bags seeps out of the netting openings slightly to mix with the adjacent bags and layers to become one big solid block very much like rammed earth, but without all the extensive formwork or the hassles of ramming tires.

All this is fascinating, but what does it have to do with papercrete you ask? Good question.

What about filling knit raschel bags or tubes with papercrete? (Manufacurers of the knit raschel material make big long tubes that are rolled up so that the company purchasing the tube can cut it to whatever length of bag they want and sew the ends shut.)

This concept has the potential to speed up papercrete construction rather dramatically while drastically reducing the man hours of labor required. No more need for fiddling around with papercrete blocks. No need to pour them into forms, individually turn and dry them. No need to then stack and store until ready to build walls. No need to mortar them into place. No need to build slipforms, wait for a layer to dry, tear off and reattach the forms, and then repour the next layer. One can simply keep working as fast as your mixer can make papercrete and you can dump it into the bag. With a small crew of unskilled people, and splitting up the various tasks assembly line style, work should proceed rapidly. You only handle the papercrete one time. You mix it, and if you fill the bag while the bag is sitting on the wall, you never have to move the papercrete again.

The netting bags would be the formwork. The netting would remain in place and become part of the structure permanently. Think of it as a very light weight reinforcing mesh, ready for interior and exterior plaster, stucco, shingles, clapboards, or whatever you choose.

The netting would allow the papercrete to drain out the excess water easily and quickly. The netting would allow the papercrete to dry in place in the wall after it has been built. The drained but damp papercrete could easily be tamped into place as the wall is built providing for some compression of the damp slurry. It would also help the layers of bags glue themselves together to become one big block of papercrete.

While earthbag is a great technology, one of the biggest drawbacks is that it can become difficult to insulate an earthbag structure if you do not have access to porous volcanic rock to fill the bags, like scoria or pumice. Where insulation is needed the most, like very cold northern regions, volcanic rock is often very expensive to have trucked in from long distances. Papercrete could be the perfect alternative that recycles material that is nearly universally available and being thrown away.

Interesting architectural shapes can be easily accomplished, like very graceful curving walls, the standard straight box type construction, or a blend of both working together.

I don’t know of anyone that has attempted Hiperpapercrete. Heck I think I may have just invented the term, but I am confident that it could work well. It would be great if someone adventurous and sharp is willing to figure out the tricks and kinks being the trailblazer. No doubt there are some details that I have not considered, but I am confident they could be addressed.

Clearly a small test structure should be the first place to start to figure out the details of how to handle the process.

The idea of building an entire highly insulated papercrete structure in a few weekends using the help of a few unskilled laborers like family or friends seems very possible. Even reasonably sized children could help.

Anyone intrigued by the idea and want to be the first to give it a shot?

Here is a video of a Hiperadobe structure getting started using the knit raschel tube material filled with adobe soil. Instead of adobe soil, imagine filling the netting tube with wet papercrete, allowing it to drain while on the wall, and tamping that into place.

Thoughts anyone?”

I think that this is a brilliant idea! I have a lot of experience with both earthbag building and papercrete (see the house I built using both at earthbagbuilding.com ). I can easily visualize making very substantial walls using the raschel mesh tubes (or even individual bags) filled with damp papercrete.

Everything about this idea fits well with the physical needs of curing papercrete: the damp papercrete is held in place while it cures; the excess water can easily drain away; the wall can breathe on both sides once it is cured; the finished wall ends up being substantially reinforced and monolithic; and all of that mesh reinforcement acts to stabilize the wall against potential seismic forces.

I’m sure that in reality it would be a messy proposition to be filling and placing that damp papercrete, but then working with papercrete tends to be a messy proposition period.

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A cellulose insulation machine like this one could be used to blow rice hulls into earthbag tubes.

A cellulose insulation machine like this one could be used to blow rice hulls into earthbag tubes.

Cement mixers can greatly reduce labor and speed construction.

Cement mixers can greatly reduce labor and speed construction.

Posthole diggers (augers) can be used to dig holes for posts.

Posthole diggers (augers) can be used to dig holes for posts.

Mike, in Texas, has been asking some interesting questions about wrapping a post and beam frame with tubes of rice hulls. He thinks this is probably the fastest way to build an earthbag house. He may very well be right. Conversations and blog posts like this one are my favorite. Here’s part of my email reply to Mike.

Previously I reported on the rice hull house in Thailand that was a success. The owner has agreed to write a follow-up report soon that we’ll publish here when available. So we know rice hulls will work under certain conditions. The main issue is keeping the hulls dry.

Here are some suggestions for speeding construction. Note how all the machines could be rented so you don’t have to invest in a lot of expensive equipment. You could rent a cellulose machine (blower) and blow rice hulls through a hose into earthbag tubes. (Tubes are faster than bags.) This would take about one day like you said. But you have to figure out how to stabilize the tubes (hold them in a vertical plane and prevent from shifting around). I would put 4×4 posts or round poles about 3′-4′ apart to align with windows, doors and corners. A posthole auger would make quick work of digging holes. Build the roof before proceeding. Factory made trusses are fast and efficient. Now you’re ready to fill the tubes. Put the tubes on the outside of the posts and attach to backside of posts with baling twine. Put baling twine between tubes for later attachment of plaster mesh. Spray the walls with plaster using a mortar sprayer. Use wide roof overhangs and/or wrap-around porches so the rice hulls never get wet and so you can use earth plaster to save money. First 2-3 courses are gravel bags/tubes to prevent moisture problems. In Texas you could make the rubble trench flush with the ground and use just two courses of gravel bags/tubes. Post and beam with factory trusses and engineer’s stamp would enable bank financing, contractor sales, building permits and insurance if necessary.

Earthbag is super simple. But for those just starting out, my earthbag building book and DVD are now available. Everything is explained in great detail.

Below is a work schedule based on a modest sized home with experienced crew and mechanized system (cement mixer, truck to bring the sand and cement right where it’s needed, post hole auger, insulation blower):
Day 1: Dig trench and post holes, rough plumbing, fill trench with gravel, set posts in concrete
Day 2: Set beam, fill 2-3 courses of gravel bags (back truckload of gravel right next to work area)
Day 3: Set trusses, sheath roof, install metal roofing
Day 4:, Fill tubes with rice hulls
Day 5: Minor carpentry (windows, doors, interior walls), run electrical, attach mesh
Day 6, 7, 8: Spray plaster (move mixer and materials right where it’s needed)
Day 9: Earth floor (see blog post on 11 different earth floor methods)
Day 10: Ceiling, finish electrical and plumbing

Image source: Manifold Recording
Image source: Taylor Rental
Image source: Save My Gardening Tips
YouTube: Rice hulls are an excellent building material.

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I am pleased to announce that Owen Geiger’s Basic Earthbag Building DVD is finally available for purchase. It has taken more time than expected to complete the production, but it is well worth the wait I think.

Owen is a natural teacher who understands how to present information in a clear and understandable way and this DVD is excellent for introducing folks to the basic essentials of sound building practice using earthbags. Much of the DVD is derived from actual instruction at workshops, so you witness the whole process from the ground up.

After an introduction to the tools and supplies that are necessary for building, they construct a small sample wall with a rubble trench foundation. Every step is fully explained and demonstrated as the wall proceeds.

The second portion of the DVD takes you through the process of building a functional cool pantry that is attached to a house. Here you can see how doors can be framed and roofs attached. There are many tips and tricks that emerge from watching that could be invaluable in constructing most any project.

At the end there are some bonus scenes that include tips for building a dome, an animated fly-through of Owen’s Enviro Dome, and a tour of Owen’s completed Earthbag Roundhouse.

With over three hours of solid instruction, this DVD would be a valuable addition to anybody’s building library. You can review portions of this DVD by exploring the short clips that are shown on Owen’s YouTube Channel. And you can purchase the DVD directly from the manufacturer for $28.

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The Superior Sandbag System can place 250' of sandbag in 90 seconds with a two man crew.

The Superior Sandbag System can place 250' of sandbag in 90 seconds with a two man crew.

Superior Sandbag Systems’ revolutionary, patented technology, creates and places on site, a high quality, seamless, tubular, continuous sandbag. Installation requires dramatically less manpower and time compared to labor-intensive traditional one-at-a-time sandbagging methods. With the ability to customize sizing, superior sandbag systems can be a cost and time saving fit for any application.

– Capable of placing 250′ of sandbag in a mere 90 seconds with a two man crew.
[Note: this rate is for narrower sandbags. Earthbags are wider and would take longer to fill.] Weight and continuous cell design resists and eliminates side blowouts — a big problem that severely limits the effectiveness of traditional sandbags. Automated system requires no manual lifting, reducing workers comp claims
– On-site placement eliminates “double trucking” associated with traditional sandbagging
– Requires no trenching
– Unlike traditional sandbags, Superior Sandbag Systems bag size consistency and uniformity finally guarantees that you get what you pay for
– Cylindrical bags allow for stacking sophisticated pyramidal configurations
– Weight of cell conforms to underlying terrain limiting leakage; extremely effective for full containment

Superior Sandbag System

Best mechanized earthbag systems at this time in my opinion:
Superior Sandbag System for non-stabilized fill
Concrete Pumps for stabilized fill
Good potential for Bobcat attachment

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A concrete pump could be used to fill tubes on earthbag structures. (click to enlarge)

A concrete pump could be used to fill tubes on earthbag structures. (click to enlarge)

Paul, one of our readers, left a comment that said “Filling and placing bags [by hand] when you only have a few hundred or a couple of thousand may work best, but if you are creating a large earthbag building that would require thousands of bags or thousands of feet of tubing definitely requires some level of mechanization to be efficient. I like the Bobcat attachment, it could be very useful.”

Owen: I agree. Some sort of mechanization is highly desirable, especially on large jobs or where you’re building for profit. The machines that have been built so far are for filling sandbags for flood control, not for earthbag building. Most or possibly all of these machines would jam up when using moist fill material such as road base or subsoil. Filling tubes with a machine could go quite fast as I suggested in a previous post about the SandMaster.

I heard Cal-earth has experimented with a concrete pumper with a long boom (boom pump). The truck is stationary and the boom is swung around as the tubes are filled. A tube on the end of the boom directs material into the earthbag tubes. This would be a good way to deliver stabilized fill material such as cement stabilized crusher fines. The cost of the pumper would be offset by reduced labor. Use rapid set cement so work could continue unabated. This would make the most sense in areas with high labor costs where boom pumps/concrete pumps are available.

Fill material for earthbag tubes could be supplied with a crane and banana bucket.

Fill material for earthbag tubes could be supplied with a crane and banana bucket.

Another option to reduce labor and speed construction is with a crane and banana bucket. The bucket is filled on the ground and then raised into position. The curved shape helps funnel material into the tubes. This may be less expensive than using a concrete pump, although it would not be as fast.

Image source: Wiki
Image source: Hi-Tech Engineering and Hindustan Enterprises

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“The SandMaster is an attachment for a skid steer, backhoe or an excavator. It quickly fills, transports, securely closes, and places sandbags at or near the area of need. Its primary function is to facilitate flood prevention efforts and emergency response. This is a fast and efficient tool that can run circles around hand labor all day long and never tires. It saves time and money and is able to pay for itself quickly.

The SandMaster 20 attaches to a skid steer and is capable of producing 20 bags per cycle or 4,800 bags in an 8 hour day. The SandMaster 26 and 26 E attach to a front end loader or excavator respectively and are capable of producing 26 bags per cycle or 6,240 bags in an 8 hour day.

The attachments work equally well with other materials such as rocky soil, gravel and nursery and agricultural products. While the bags must be made to specifications, both polypropylene and biodegradable burlap bags work well with this attachment.

Source: BarrierSystems

Owen’s comments: This attachment should work fine for flood control work. It also has some potential for large scale housing relief operations, possibly in disaster situations. In most cases, however, the preferred earthbag method is filling bags on the wall to reduce labor. Most earthbags are larger (18”x30” is standard) and heavier than sandbags for flood control – nearly 100 pounds of moist earth (when tamped in the bag after each bucket load and filled to capacity) versus 60 pounds for smaller sandbags. The larger bags are desirable because they overlap more and create more stable walls.

For earthbag construction, something like this Bobcat mixing attachment (modified for filling earthbag tubes) seems more practical. Sooner or later someone will devise a suitable machine like this that will enable earthbag houses to be built in one day. The Bobcat or tractor could simply drive around the house all day as the attachment fills and guides tubes into place. Another machine would feed soil into the hopper of the first attachment. Pneumatic tampers driven by a large compressor (same as used in rammed earth building) would enable workers to keep pace with the other machinery.

My Sandbag Machines article has a sampling of some of the sandbag filling machines currently available.

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La Casa Vergara was designed by José Andrés Vallejo and built in Bogotá, Colombia in just 5 months, early in 2011.

I am delighted to see that professional architects are beginning to accept earthbag technology as a viable approach to building. La Casa Vergara is a fine example of  an upscale home that is built by a professional crew, with solid engineering and with all of the amenities and refinements that you would expect in this class. The attention to finishes, flooring, light, and form make it an aesthetic journey just to browse the photo gallery.

I have assembled an extensive project page that reveals much about how it was actually constructed. There is very little descriptive text, so you have to study the images to follow the proceedures, but there is much to be learned from this project.

From the architect’s website.

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The number of new earthbag videos is growing fast. I did a quick check yesterday and found quite a few new ones. Many of them are in other languages and probably won’t make it onto our Video page, so I’ll post them here on the blog.


Our main Video page at Earthbag.com has all the best earthbag videos. This page will save you from clicking through a bunch of poor quality videos.

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