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Archive for the ‘Foundations’ Category


Demonstration wall showing cordwood stacked on earthbag bag foundation (click to enlarge)

Demonstration wall showing cordwood stacked on earthbag bag foundation (click to enlarge)


Demonstration wall showing cordwood stacked on earthbag bag foundation (click to enlarge)

Demonstration wall showing cordwood stacked on earthbag bag foundation (click to enlarge)


There are a lot of little details you can search on the Internet. This is just a basic introductory video to show you the cordwood/earthbag concept. What I like to do is have the mortar recessed slightly. It looks a little better if the wood is protruding slightly. You smooth this out. The mix is very similar — it’s basically cob. You could also call it earthen mortar.

Here is my general impression of cordwood construction. It’s extremely beautiful. It’s very practical in certain areas where you have an abundant wood supply. But it’s very labor intensive. Earthbag is several times faster. So it’s very slow. What I would recommend for most people is maybe just use it around a doorway, an entryway, because it’s very beautiful. Maybe around your fireplace, something like this, because it’s very beautiful. You can search the Internet and see some really beautiful examples of cordwood construction.

You can watch almost 100 videos at Earthbag Natural Houses YouTube channel. Each step of instruction, including how to make gravel bag foundations, is shown in detail.
Earthbag Instructable: steo-by-step earthbag building instructions

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Earthbag window wells allow additional sunlight and ventilation to enter basement windows or windows on bermed and underground houses. (click to enlarge)

Earthbag window wells allow additional sunlight and ventilation to enter basement windows or windows on bermed and underground houses. (click to enlarge)


Clear window well covers allow light to enter while keeping out rain, snow, leaves and pests. Security grills are also available.

Clear window well covers allow light to enter while keeping out rain, snow, leaves and pests. Security grills are also available.


Optional window well grow space.

Optional window well grow space.


With all the recent blog posts on earth bermed and underground houses, the topic of earthbag window wells seems fitting. Earth-sheltered houses can often benefit from additional lighting in certain parts of the home. Window wells allow additional sunlight and ventilation to enter through the windows, and can provide egress if necessary. Earthbag window wells function just like conventional window wells. They’re simple and easy to build — so simple in fact that I’ll point new readers to my Step-by-Step Earthbag Building Instructable that explains 99% of the basics.

Some considerations:
– Basement window wells are more prone to moisture problems than window wells built into an above grade earth berm. Use gravel-filled bags or stabilized earthbags in rainy/snowy climates and below grade applications.
– Set the earthbags on a stable base. Bermed earth will settle over time, so make sure the base is well tamped.
– Provide a drain to daylight or to a French drain. Geotextile filter fabric will help keep the drain from clogging. Periodic maintenance may be needed to remove build-up of leaves, etc.
– Include a layer of gravel in the bottom about 6” below the window so water can’t accumulate in the window well.
– Secure the earthbag window well to the main earthbag wall by overlapping bags, interconnecting barbed wire and/or pinning with rebar.
– Provide one or two layers of 6 mil plastic sheeting for moisture protection, being careful to avoid punctures as you backfill.
– Coat earthbags with lime or cement plaster. White colored plaster on the inside will reflect more light into the home.
– Window well covers are recommended for most applications. Wide roof overhangs that block most of the rain and snow may work if the window well is above grade.

Image source: Magic Vac
Image source: Vinyl Window Wells.com

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Anasazi stonework at Chaco Canyon

Anasazi stonework at Chaco Canyon


Anasazi stonework at Chaco Canyon

Anasazi stonework at Chaco Canyon


Doorways, Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Doorways, Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico


Anasazi ruins

Anasazi ruins


“Ancient Pueblo People or Ancestral Pueblo peoples were an ancient Native American culture centered on the present-day Four Corners area of the United States, comprising southern Utah, northern Arizona, northwest New Mexico, and southern Colorado. They lived in buildings called pueblos, designed so that they could lift up entry ladders during enemy attacks, which provided security. Archaeologists referred to one of these cultural groups as the Anasazi. The word Anaasází is Navajo for “Ancient Ones” or “Ancient Enemy”. Archaeologists still debate when this distinct culture emerged. In general, modern Pueblo people claim these ancient people as their ancestors.

The Ancient Pueblo culture is perhaps best known for the stone and adobe dwellings built along cliff walls, particularly during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III eras. The best-preserved examples of the stone and adobe dwellings are in National Parks (USA), such as Chaco Canyon or Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument. These villages, called pueblos by Spanish settlers, were often only accessible by rope or through rock climbing.”

“Immense complexes known as “Great Houses” embodied worship at Chaco. The Chacoans used masonry techniques unique for their time, and their building constructions lasted decades and even centuries. As architectural forms evolved and centuries passed, the houses kept several core traits. Most apparent is their sheer bulk; complexes averaged more than 200 rooms each, and some enclosed up to 700 rooms. Individual rooms were substantial in size, with higher ceilings than Anasazi works of preceding periods. They were well-planned: vast sections or wings erected were finished in a single stage, rather than in increments. Houses generally faced the south, and plaza areas were almost always girt with edifices of sealed-off rooms or high walls. Houses often stood four or five stories tall, with single-story rooms facing the plaza; room blocks were terraced to allow the tallest sections to compose the pueblo’s rear edifice. Rooms were often organized into suites, with front rooms larger than rear, interior, and storage rooms or areas.

Ceremonial structures known as kivas were built in proportion to the number of rooms in a pueblo. “T”-shaped doorways and stone lintels marked all Chacoan kivas. Though simple and compound walls were often used, Great Houses were primarily constructed of core-and-veneer walls: two parallel load-bearing walls comprising dressed, flat sandstone blocks bound in clay mortar were erected. These surfacing stones were often placed in distinctive patterns. Gaps between walls were packed with rubble, forming the wall’s core.”

Source: Wiki – Ancient Pueblo Peoples
Source: Wiki – Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Image source: Flickr
Image source: Dennis Holloway Architect.com
Image source: Wiki
Image source: Anasazi Ruins, USA

Comment: Anasazi stonework evolved over time into numerous distinctive styles. There isn’t time or space here to fully cover this subject. There are some excellent books about Anasazi stonework if you want to learn more.

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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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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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Basic Earthbag Building: A Step-by-Step Guide will be available soon. (click to enlarge)

Basic Earthbag Building: A Step-by-Step Guide will be available soon. (click to enlarge)


After months of delays due to technical glitches, my new Basic Earthbag Building video will soon be available through Amazon. Special thanks to Kelly Hart, co-developer of this blog and EarthbagBuilding.com, for making the cover and steering the project through the final difficult stage.

The first part of Basic Earthbag Building provides clear, simple explanations of each step of construction, and includes full coverage of the tools and supplies needed to complete any sized project. The second part documents the construction of a cool pantry, which uses the same basic steps as most any other earthbag structure. Watching the construction of an actual project is key to understanding the whole process, and will enable you to see how all the steps and parts go together. As a bonus, there are some extra scenes that include Building an Earthbag Dome, an animated Enviro Dome Fly-through and a tour of a Finished Earthbag Roundhouse. Popcorn NOT included.

The Basic Earthbag Building video is designed to accompany my Earthbag Building Guide. The book and video combined cover virtually everything you need to know to build your own earthbag home.

Release date details: It will take up to 2 weeks for Amazon to review the DVD and artwork to make sure it is up to their specs. Once they make a trial copy of the finished program in its packaging, they will send it so we can confirm that it is OK.

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Vertical TJIs on piers, combined with insulated earthbags, create a fast, superinsulated wall system. (click to enlarge)

Vertical TJIs on piers, combined with insulated earthbags, create a fast, superinsulated wall system. (click to enlarge)


I’ve been reading about the building boom going on in Wyoming and the Dakotas from all the oil and gas exploration. There’s currently a severe shortage of affordable housing in the area. But the climate is very harsh and so conventional earthbag building is not so practical. We’re always searching for faster, easier, lower cost, better ways of building. This opportunity got me thinking about how to optimize code-approved earthbag building in extremely cold climates with short building seasons.

Precision Structural Engineering, Inc. is willing to approve an innovative building system that uses vertical TJIs (engineered joists) on piers and scoria-filled earthbags on rubble trench between piers. This is similar to the EcoBeam system, where earthbags are used as fill between posts. Differences include: scoria-filled bags create an insulated foundation; tubes are recommended instead of bags to speed construction; earthbag upper walls (area above where moisture can cause problems) could be filled with perlite, vermiculite or other material for higher R-value. Plans must be adapted for each area to meet wind and seismic loads.

Features:
– This building method would include the first code-approved insulated earthbag foundation.
– Piers cost less and use less concrete than typical foundations.
– Walls could be thinner than typical earthbag walls to conserve space. (12” is suggested. Perlite = R-3 x 12” = R-36, which is double or triple most wood framed walls.)
– Siding could be added to speed construction.
– Insulated TJI or wood box bond beam speeds construction.

Contact Precision Structural Engineering, Inc. for details

[Between Bill Taha and sub-consultants, they carry licenses in 48 states nationwide. They have also completed projects in 14 countries internationally and counting. PSE, Inc. developed the first engineer-approved earthbag system that can be widely adapted to most any design. See https://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/reinforced-earthbag-specifications/]

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