Archive for the ‘Vaults’ Category

Bonita Domes by United Earth Builders (click to enlarge)

Bonita Domes by United Earth Builders (click to enlarge)

Earthbag vaults by United Earth Builders (click to enlarge)

Earthbag vaults by United Earth Builders (click to enlarge)

“I would like to announce the United Earth Builders 10 day intensive workshop beginning in April! Located in Joshua Tree we will be teaching attendees how to build a standard 8′ earthbag dome and a retaining wall.

Participants in this workshop will be led through a series of intellectual, cognitive, and physical exercises that seek to strengthen mind-body connections to both the technical processes, as well as the creative processes underlying the art and skill of earthbag design and construction. From structural principles and design, soil practicum and on-site planning this 10-day workshop will supply the attendee with full confidence in the building process and instill a renewed sense of community through building with the earth.

Our mission, duty and purpose is to provide educational and charitable services in regard to environmentally sustainable, affordable, and structurally sound sandbag homes with the intent to help relieve poverty by improving living conditions globally.

United Earth Builders mission, duty and purpose is to empower and instill confidence in people by providing educational and charitable services in regard to environmentally sustainable, artfully designed and truly organic homes that compliment Nature.

What guides us:
We seek to make a more positive world by turning up good music, playing with earth bag structures and teaching the techniques to anyone and everyone, smiling and laughing as we do it!

Rehabilitate ourselves through honest play and an ethical, moral and high spirited team of builders. The Golden Rule is our life and collaboration works for everyone.

What We Provide:
Experienced-based-learning – workshops that provide you will a wholesome curriculum and full hands-on building experience.
Collaborative community beautification projects; with local non-profits and community leaders; in order to provide a tool to combat community deterioration and help improve race and ethnic relations, lessening neighborhood tensions.
Fund raise in order to attain seismic shake table testing; a key factor for providing the public with a record of proof to show the International Code Council (ICC) that sandbag homes are a viable and safe option for global deployment.

Hands-on training
We provide local, national and global communities with the ability to design and build adequate housing using the most abundant resource on the planet.”

Source: United Earthbuilders on Facebook
United Earth Builders.com

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Here is the latest installment of a series of videos that Doctor Dirtbag has uploaded to his YouTube Channel. You can find the other equally informative videos on his channel.

This is what he says about it: “West wall is done, but I’m waiting for the weather to warm up so I can plaster it. I was going to wait until the plaster was on to upload this vid, but too many requests for another video have forced my hand. Here it is in it’s unfinished glory… hope you enjoy. Music is Just For Now by Imogen Heap”

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Flying Concrete ferrocement house

Flying Concrete ferrocement house

Ferrocement is resource efficient because it uses minimal rebar and concrete to produce ‘thin shell’ structures. The resulting curved members are somewhat similar to trees and plants. This is the opposite of straight concrete walls that rely on massive thickness to gain strength (and cost way more money).

One of the best sites for learning about ferrocement is Steve Kornher’s Flying Concrete website. Steve has gone to great lengths to provide lots of photos and detailed information about ferrocement.

Ferrocement can be used to create many things, including boats, cisterns, stairs, and roofs on earthbag domes and earthbag vaults.

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The 'Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit' (SUDU) uses timbrel vaults, and is constructed with only soil and stone.

The 'Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit' (SUDU) uses timbrel vaults, and is constructed with only soil and stone.

Timbrel vaults offer another low cost, sustainable roof building method. This method is suitable for do-it-yourself owner builders if you do the research. Suggestions include: use a simple design with a reinforced concrete bond beam and modest spans. Look into using low-fired, lightweight brick like the type used in Mexico and SE Asia.

“The ‘Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit’ (SUDU) in Ethiopia demonstrates that it is possible to construct multi-story buildings using only soil and stone. By combining timbrel vaults and compressed earth blocks, there is no need for steel, reinforced concrete or even wood to support floors, ceilings and roofs. The SUDU could be a game-changer for African cities, where population grows fast and building materials are scarce.”

Source: No Tech Magazine (This site has hundreds of great articles on low cost living and building!)

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The Nubian vault is an African technique for the construction of timberless vaulted roofs. The AVN (Association la Voute Nubienne), through its Program ’Earth roofs in the Sahel’, helps provide families in sub-Saharan Africa with comfortable, sustainable, affordable, homes.

In a recent Newsletter from this organization, I was impressed by the statistics they provided regarding the impacts of their program:

Since the start of the program, 1309 vaults have been built by Nubian vault masons and entrepreneurs, for 533 clients, in 244 locations (villages, hamlets, towns) in 5 countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Zambia, and Madagascar). If all the vaults built were to be placed end-to-end, this would reach a total length of 9.7 km.

In total, 214  masons have been trained, of whom half are at the foreman and/or entrepreneur level ; and there are currently 296 apprentices in training.

10,000 people use, live in, or sleep in Nubian Vault buildings; of the total built, 85% are for private houses, and 15% are community-use buildings.

Approximately 18,000 trees, 25,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent, and approximately 15,000 corrugated iron roofing sheets have been saved as a result of NV construction, as compared to the alternatives.

Approximately 750,000 Euros of local economic impacts have been generated by the program.

Since 2000 the program has experienced an average annual growth rate of 36%.

We at www.earthbagbuilding.com have been cautious about recommending the construction of vaulted roofs using earthbags because of issues with stability. Using small and solid brick units for construction does make this sort of vault possible. I would still be cautious in suggesting that people follow the lead of Nubian Vault construction in climates where there is any danger of moisture soaking into the mud bricks and causing the vaulted roof to fail. But in sub-Saharan Africa this is obviously a very viable alternative to other roof systems. In wetter climates, the use of fired or otherwise stabilized bricks is also possible.

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Darfur Hospital

Darfur Hospital

“A permaculture “living system” designed by architect Mishou Sanchez of (Transform Design Group) for The American Sudanese Partnerships to be constructed by using the SuperAdobe method of construction (Nader Khalili, CalEarth) which integrates The Permaculture Research Institutes’ method of desert gardening for humanitarian relief in Darfur, Sudan.

The plan and volumes are straightforward, because I kept asking myself: Why offer starving refugees stiletto heels in the desert? In this challenge, it was not about developing the most exciting formal design, but rather the most effective use of resources to help facilitate survival. The entire self-sustainable system was designed to protect its inhabitants from attackers, utilize/harvest all resources possible, develop an easily taught design that could be built in any desert location by airlifting uncut sandbags and provide food.

Utilizing the basic principals of structure and geometry, the final master plan is circular and is reinforced by radial perpendicular walls. These perpendicular walls are angled slightly outwards and followed by a trench. This detail was developed in efforts to keep out the bulldozers that are often used to destroy refugee camps.
In the center of the master plan is a network of partially submersed domes that offer a safer location for the inhabitants in case of an attack. There is a conical grade in the interior of the camp which is utilized to collect any/all water for the garden which lies on the perimeter of the plan. The garden area offers re-enforcement for the exterior protective walls as well as an opportunity to retain water year-round, process human waste into fertilizer for the plants and produce food/shade.”

Source: Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

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For several years, Kelly and I have been filtering all the best earthbag content from the Web, writing extensively on all aspects of earthbag building and organizing the information for readers. There’s now an enormous amount of information available – so much that it’s difficult to keep up with everything. That’s one reason why our sites are helpful. We gather the best information so you don’t have to spend endless hours looking for it, wasting time clicking through low quality sites, blurry videos, etc. No one else has anything close to this amount of content. Below are just a few links from EarthbagBuilding.com (the mothership) and our Earthbag Building Blog. Also note how we strive to keep all these pages up to date so readers aren’t faced with a bunch of broken links. (And it’s free.)

Earthbag Projects and Pictures
Earthbag Videos
Earthbag Articles
Earthbag Testing
Earthbag Blogs (recently updated and expanded to include earthbag blogs in Spanish)

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You may have been following the progress on DoctorDirtbag’s earthbag house like I have. He’s been making a lot of progress. Note the freeform ferrocement roof and how he made the portal skylights. Watching these vids helped me realize how volunteering on a few houses could be more valuable than going to a workshop, assuming you had enough time to help out and travel to different jobs. I’m sure many homeowners would be glad to answer questions in exchange for the extra help. Our free Bulletin Board at EarthbagBuilding.com is one good way to meet up with other dirt baggers. (Send your project info to Kelly… his email address is on the About page.)

“Here’s the process of putting a roof on the completed section of the house. Took about 12 weeks. Each “slice” of the roof is comprised of a “shell” layer of grout (about an inch thick) which is placed on a bed of metal lath, then a “structural” layer of grout (inch and a half) which embeds a layer of welded wire mesh. The end of the video shows the section I’ll be tackling next, which is the center U-wall of the house.”

Q: If you don’t mind me asking how much does this project cost? You are doing a great job thank you.
A: That’s a loaded question, but the materials (sand, gravel, lumber, rebar, cement, lime, bags, windows, doors, and various doodads) for the dome and house I’ve spent approximately $7k. I’ve put about $2.5k into solar power so far.

Q: So how many bags did u end up using?
A: So far I’ve used about 3000 of the large bags on the dome and house combined. I’ll be ordering another 1000 bags to finish the house and smaller projects.

Q: Nice, but it cannot stand rain.
A: Let me help you understand. Those bags look soft and fluffy, huh? They’re not. They’re 100 lb bricks, and they’re hard as rock. Cover them with plaster and they stand forever. Thanks for your comment, but it doesn’t hold water. : )

Source: DoctorDirtbag’s YouTube Channel
Doctor Dirtbag’s Blog
Other Earthbag Blogs

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Instructable: How to Build an Earthbag Dome by Owen Geiger

Instructable: How to Build an Earthbag Dome by Owen Geiger

Every year we publish the most popular blog posts for the last 12 months. We’ll do that again in November on our 4th anniversary. Our goal here is to look at the most popular blog posts since we’ve started – the Best of the Bestest. Think of them as hidden gems unless you’ve read all 756 blog posts. (And if you have read them all, then you can start reading the info on our mothership at EarthbagBuilding.com. It’s all free. Enjoy.)

1. Counties with Few or No Building Codes
2. Bullet Resistance of Compressed Earth
3. Low-cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made With Earthbags (This is my earthbag dome that almost went viral last year and got republished on dozens of blogs… see photo above.) Click here to read the free Step-by-Step How to Build an Earthbag Dome Instructable at Instructables.com.
4. Creating Earthbag House Models
5. Earthquake-resistant Earthbag Houses
6. Earthbag Rootcellar
7. Cost of Earthbag Houses
8. $2,000 Earthbag House
9. Earthbag Survival Shelter
10. Using Earthbags as Ceiling Insulation

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This blog post provides additional information about the insulated earthbag vaults that I’ve been discussing the last few weeks. (Use the search engine in the upper right corner and enter “insulated earthbag vaults” to read prior posts.)

As explained from the very beginning “We get quite a few enquires about vaults. So far we’ve always cautioned against building earthbag vaults except for small entranceways, corridors between domes and the like, because they are inherently unstable if you just stack earthbags into a vault shape. (There’s a tendency for the bags to slide horizontally.) The proposed design shown here resolves the stability issues. This vault building method is very strong, simple, low cost, superinsulating and extremely fast and easy to build.”

Features that add strength to this vault design:
– small size: 12’ wide or less
– base of earthbag wall is below grade. This keys the walls into the earth to resist outward thrust.
– heavy earthbags are low in the wall; lightweight insulated earthbags are high on the wall
– lower earthbags (or tubes) are pinned together with steel rebar to prevent slippage
– the rebar is overlapped and joined at the top with galvanized tie wire
– the rebar frame is covered with welded wire remesh and expanded metal plaster mesh
– lengths of twine are attached to the rebar, which is used to secure the insulated earthbags
– the rebar and mesh is plastered to create a ferrocement shell (see below)
– add plaster with workers on both sides of the wall who apply counter pressure with their trowels or apply with a mortar sprayer to prevent air pockets
– mesh can be added on the exterior for additional strength (best to tie the inner and outer layers of mesh together through the wall)
– interior and exterior of vault is plastered for added strength and to protect bags against the elements
– use a roofed vault in rainy/snowy climates for protection against the elements

More factors to consider:
– stable shape: vault walls create an inverted V-shape much like a tipi or swing set that lend support to each other (or a triangle shape if the reinforcement in the floor slab joins the wall reinforcement)
– stable shape: catenary shape or pointed vault shape portrayed on my blog posts. The most dangerous situation would be an overly large vault that’s flat on top and/or building in earthquake, hurricane or tornado zones.
– horizontal ties between walls create an A-shape to resist horizontal thrust (also used to support an optional loft)
– ribs and buttresses can be added for increased strength
– rebar spacing can be increased and additional layers of remesh and plaster mesh added for increased strength if necessary
– rebar can be placed on both sides of the wall and tied together for maximum strength
– insulated earthbags improve comfort, but also add strength by protecting the ferrocement from thermal expansion
– thick interior plaster adds thermal mass that stabilizes indoor temperatures

Note the similarity in shape between vaults and boats. The vaults I’m describing are based on the proven strength of ferrocement. Ferrocement boats have been made for decades. According to The World of Ferro-Cement Boats “Ferciment [French term for ferrocement] boats built before 1855 are still in existence and at least one is still afloat.” This method isn’t limited to small boats. “It is the cheapest and easiest form of construction for boats over 25 ft.” Obviously boats must be very strong to resist the pounding forces of waves for decades. A modest sized (12’ wide or less) vaulted home would experience far less stress than this unless it’s in an earthquake, hurricane or tornado zone.

From Wiki: “Ferro concrete has relatively good strength and resistance to impact. When used in house construction in developing countries, it can provide better resistance to fire, earthquake, and corrosion than traditional materials, such as wood, adobe and stone masonry. It has been popular in developed countries for yacht building because the technique can be learned relatively quickly, allowing people to cut costs by supplying their own labor.”

From the National Conference on Ferrocement: “Ferrocement, a thin structural composite material, exhibits better crack resistance, higher tensile strength to weight ratio, ductility and impact resistance than conventional reinforced concrete. A team of researchers at The National University of Singapore has made an effort to popularise ferrocement as construction material through research and development since early 1970.”

Perhaps the most definitive site on ferrocement is Ferrocement.com, now available in multiple languages. They provide many free resources, including a guide on ferrocement house construction.

The Ferrocement Educational Network provides a lot more free information, as well as Steve Kornher at FlyingConcrete, who’s famous for his fabulous ferrocement designs. Steve goes into great detail about building ferrocement vaults. I believe the earthbag vaults I’m describing would be even more durable than Steve’s due to the second ‘skin’ of plaster that greatly reduces the risk of rusting in the steel reinforcing.

Ferrocement is accepted by building codes. Here are some resources used by design professionals from the Ferrocement Society. American Concrete Institute (ACI) first produced the state of the art report on ferrocement ACI 549R-97 in 1982 and the Guide for the Design, Construction and Repair of Ferrocement, ACI 549-1R-93 in 1988. Now 549.1R-93: Guide for the Design, Construction & Repair of Ferrocement (Reapproved 2009) supplements these earlier publications. Additional resources include Ferrocement and Laminated Cementitious Composites by Professor Naaman and the International Ferrocement Society’s Model Code, both published in 2000.

In conclusion, earthbag building, including earthbag vaults is a relatively new and evolving technology. Use common sense and do the necessary research. Don’t build a large vault without professional engineering. Don’t get in over your head. Start small and learn the basics on a simple building.

Additional sources:
Auroville Building Centre
(government sponsored ferrocement research in India)
GreenHomeBuilding.com (Dr. Nabil Taha, Ask the Expert about Ferrocement, and developer of reinforced earthbag building)
Ferrocement: Applications in Developing Countries
– Javier Senosiain, the architect who designed The Nautilus house, used 2” ferrocement to create the sweeping curves (but apparently there’s no insulation)
Ferro-Cement (a good introductory article)

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