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The Island Earthbag Project

The Island Earthbag Project


Oooh, this sounds so good. Here’s an opportunity to build your own earthbag home without having to buy land.

“My wife and I (vegan and otherwise ordinary middle aged Americans with 3 children) recently purchased 31 acres, which includes a small semi-attached island just off the northern coast of Maine (USA). We are planning to film and document the entire design and development of a small Earthbag community.

The initial project starts with a collaborative group-effort development of a small cottage on the attached 2 acre private Island. We are interested in building a community of 6-8 families and individuals, which will be allowed to use 2-3 acres of our land ABSOLUTELY FREE to build their own Earthbag home.

Earthbag homes are a way for people looking for a home that is earth friendly and is built from natural materials that are readily available. Because of the design, giving thick walls and the insulating qualities of earth, these homes are designed to make good use of passive solar heat, facing south or east, depending on location. They homes are also designed so that sunlight during the day is absorbed by the interior walls, keeping the room warm after the sun goes down. Often, the only source of energy used is either fireplaces or small propane or electric heaters in individual bedrooms. An important step here is to insure that exterior walls are properly finished so that the daily heat from the sun does not leak back out in the evening.”

Source: The Island Earthbag Project

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Natural twig bench

Natural twig bench


Twig rocking chair

Twig rocking chair


Twig furniture by Andrew Gardner

Twig furniture by Andrew Gardner


Twig dining set

Twig dining set


You’ve built your sustainable home with low cost, natural materials. Now you want to look at furniture options that match your new home. Rustic twig furniture can be built practically for free if you make it yourself, and is quite attractive.

“Rustic furniture is furniture employing sticks, twigs or logs for a natural look. Many companies, artists and craftspeople make rustic furniture in a variety of styles and with a variety of historical and contemporary influences. There are two basic types of rustic-furniture construction: bentwood (sticks are harvested fresh or steamed to make them supple, then bent into a variety of structures and decorative shapes) and twig work (sticks – straight, curved or forked – are assembled into structures and decorative shapes within a structure). Sometimes both types are used in the same piece. Some rustic furniture makers use mortice and tenon construction; others simply nail or screw members together. Dan Mack is a well-known furniture maker who has authored several books on the subject. Ralph Kyloe has written books on rustic furniture and related topics.

Rustic furniture was originally made from whatever natural materials were in greatest supply, and often by poor people as items of trade for food or cash. It is associated with the Great Depression and other hard times in America; however, it is also associated with the Great Camps built by wealthy Americans in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Various rustic styles reflect the personality of their maker, with techniques such as chip carving, silver or gold brushwork, milk paint, peeled bark and other decorative enhancements. The basic wood used for rustic furniture was usually willow, although many other hard- and softwoods were also used. In the American South, palm fronds were occasionally employed. Historical examples of rustic furniture may be found in museums and antique shops, although fine historical pieces are rare outside a museum setting. One showcase for this style of furniture is the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. Typical items of rustic furniture include chairs, love seats, tables, desks, clocks, chest of drawers, rockers, coat racks, mirror frames and lamps.”

Source: Wiki
Image source: Natural Tree Furniture.com
Image source: Log Cabin Rustics
Image source: Twig Furniture
Image source: Custom Rustic Furniture.com

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Owen,
I just wanted to let you know I’ve created a twitter account that is linked to the facebook one I’ve been managing for you. This wasn’t much effort, but should be to some great benefit for those who prefer twitter over facebook. Every time that I post one of your links on facebook, it ‘tweets’ it to twitter. Twitter followers will see the page as Earthbag Building, and can write to the page by using @earthbagblog. The link will be http://www.twitter.com/earthbagblog.

Some more good news is that we’ve now well surpassed the 750 benchmark of followers for your incredibly informative blog. Currently we’re at 776 followers. I am so happy to have been a part of this so far. Thank you for letting me do this, it’s meant a lot to me and has forced me to read your blog every day, which has forced some great knowledge into my thick skull, haha. Plus it’s been fun just seeing the community interact over the facebook platform. I hope it does the same with the twitter account.

Some great things are happening here in Charlotte as well, and I hope to use the knowledge I’ve learned from your blog to share with some folks here in Charlotte. There will be a Tiny Homes/Earthbag Building discussion group getting together on March 17th that I will be helping to lead discussion. The author of thetinylife.com is a local here and I’m so glad he started the meetup group. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with meetup.com but it’s sure brought a great group of permaculturists together for Charlotte. I’m lucky enough to pick the brains of some very experienced locals.
– Luke

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Homes built with natural materials are beautiful, safe and typically cost far less than conventional homes and trailer houses.

Homes built with natural materials are beautiful, safe and typically cost far less than conventional homes and trailer houses.


Sara: John, you know I’ve been reading about earthbag building and natural building lately. Well, I’d like to build our new home this way.
John: [long pause while thinking] Are you sure? I really like those trailer houses we’ve looked at.
Sara: Come on John, trailer houses are shoddily built and you know it. And they smell really bad. They have a lot of formaldehyde and plastics.
John: Oh, they’re not that bad. The smell will go away in a few years. You’ll get used to it.
Sara: It’s not just a bad smell. The fumes are toxic. Look what happened to Mary Hampton and her girls. They all got respiratory problems from their trailer house and have been sickly ever since.
John: [pause] Maybe you’re right about that part. I remember seeing the formaldehyde government warning signs in each trailer house… But it’s so convenient and easy to buy factory made, you know?
Sara: Yeah, it will take more time and effort to build our home, but it will be just what we want… our dream home. Everything will be natural and safe.
John: I know what you’re saying, but what about building codes? Trailer houses are approved by the government.
Sara: You’re kidding, right? Since when did you start believing the government?
John: [loud laughter] Okay, you got me there. I’m sure they must buy off the government somehow. How could those tin boxes possibly meet code?
Sara: Remember all the disaster photos of hurricane and tornado damage? Trailer houses are often wiped out while better houses in the neighborhood are still standing.
John: That’s right. It’s crazy. Geez, everyone knows sleazebag politicians would sell their grandmother for a buck.
Sara: Good… now you’re coming around, darling. And just think about how much money we’ll save. We can save tens of thousands of dollars if we do it ourselves and build with natural and recycled materials.
John: Tens of thousands of dollars! Let’s do it!

Image source: Spy Home Design.com

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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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqqN9oumCHs

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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Homes built with natural materials are beautiful and less expensive than homes built with concrete, steel and milled lumber.

Homes built with natural materials are beautiful and less expensive than homes built with concrete, steel and milled lumber.


The way to save the most money on your new home is to build it yourself. Anyone who has priced new houses or gotten bids for remodeling knows how expensive contractors are. If you build with conventional modern materials, houses tend to be quite complex and beyond the scope of DIYers, so most people end up paying contractors to build their home. Building with natural materials provides a way out of this debt trap. People have been building their own homes with earth, stone, wood poles, bamboo and other natural materials throughout human history. Anyone can do this if they really set their mind to it and move to an area with minimal building codes. In the past, building everything by hand was very arduous. Things are much easier now thanks to ready availability of good tools, machines (low cost if rented), and books and articles that explain the process.

Here are just a few ways to save tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of hard work.
• You can save an enormous amount of time and effort over traditional methods by having soil, sand and gravel delivered right where you need them. This one step could save you 100 hours of hard labor.
• Buy bags for earthbag building instead of building time consuming wooden forms for rammed earth.
• Buy poles from a woodsman if you’re too busy, or harvest them yourself from a local forest. Either way is far less expensive than milled lumber that has been shipped 1,000 miles and marked up in price by numerous middlemen.
• Build tamped earth floors or another type of earth floor and save a bundle on materials. Tamped earth floors are dirt cheap because you don’t need beams, joists, special hardware, sheathing, glue, nails and so on.
• Earth plaster is another way to cut costs. People have been plastering their own homes for thousands of years, so obviously there’s no need to hire contractors for this. Earth plaster creates a superior wall finish on the interior and is suitable for exterior walls with wide roof overhangs.

Image source: Caribbean Living Blog
(excellent blog that I just discovered!)

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Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership - Rob Roy

Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership - Rob Roy


“This is a banker’s worst nightmare — a book that tells you how to live without being enslaved to financial institutions .Chelsea Green has produced a formidable series of books on innovative shelter. But every alternative building strategy, no matter how low-cost or environmentally benign, requires a complementary financial strategy. The accepted path is to go hat-in-hand to a big financial institution, such as a bank, to borrow a lump sum that is repaid over many years. By the time the loan is repaid, the homeowner will have paid several times the original amount in interest. The literal meaning of “mortgage” is “death pledge.” Author Rob Roy is offering an escape route from a lifetime of indentured servitude. “Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership” is a complete guide to strategies that allow you to own your land and home, free and clear, without the bank. Included is detailed advice about: Clarifying and simplifying your notions of what’s necessary; Finding land that you love and can afford; Taking control of the house-building process, for the sake of sanity and pleasure; Learning to take a long-term perspective on your family’s crucial economic decisions; avoiding debt and modern-day serfdom.”

Source: Amazon.com

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