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Posts Tagged ‘dome’

The number one barrier to home ownership is affordability. Many people can’t afford a home made with expensive modern materials, and bank financing. That’s why earthbag building, and natural building in general, is becoming so popular. Why not build it yourself – in stages if you have to – with low cost materials and pay with cash as you go?

Let’s look at the materials required to build a small $300 earthbag dome at about $6/square foot. (Detailed building instructions at Instructables.com)
– Recycled or misprinted bags: Polypropylene bags are widely used for rice, sugar, fertilizer, animal feed and other uses. You can often find used bags at low cost, or you can order misprinted bags at reduced cost from a manufacturer. The standard size for earthbag building is 18”x30”. Mesh bags and burlap bags are others option if you can get them cheaply.
– Subsoil: This is usually available at or near the construction site. Some builders dig a pond and use the excavated soil to build their home. Excavating companies frequently have excess ‘fill dirt’ they’ll gladly sell for cheap, especially if they’re working in the area and you can reduce their trucking costs. Excessively clayey soils can be mixed with sand from a stream or river bed (often available free for the hauling). Overly sandy soils can be mixed with a bit of clayey soil to make more solid earthbags. Another source is sand and gravel producers, who often have ‘reject fines’ or ‘road base’ at low cost.
– Gravel: This is a good fill material for lower courses and can serve as a low-cost ‘gravel bag foundation’. Gravel and/or rubble from old driveways or sidewalks can be broken up and used in a rubble trench under the first course of bags.
– Barbed wire: This adds a lot of tensile strength, which is critical for domes. Most builders use new barbed wire between courses since it’s not a major expense for a small structure. But for those on a tight budget, using recycled barbed wire from old fences is another way to save money. (Make sure it’s in good condition, especially for domes.)
– Tamped earth floors and earth plaster: Experiment with your local soil and find a mix that is suitable. If it shrinks and cracks excessively, add sand. If it doesn’t adhere well, add clay. Adding chopped straw or other fibers will reduce cracking. Earth plaster can become a work of art, with almost any color imaginable. Your floor could be made simply by tamping the mineral subsoil that’s under the dome, although in most climates it’s advantageous to add insulation under the earth floor (such as scoria or pumice) and a moisture barrier.
– Doors, windows and vents: These can all be salvaged. Short pieces of pipe can be buried in the wall for ventilation. Insert some screened pipes low in the wall and some up high on different sides of the building for optimum ventilation. Some builders add operable skylights for greater ventilation and lighting. Arched window and door openings can be formed from barrels, tires or forms built of wood scraps. Consider using old wagon wheels or culvert pipe for window frames.
– Exterior plaster or living roof: Unless you’re living in an extremely dry desert, you’ll need to protect your structure from moisture damage. There are numerous options. Some builders used a soil cement mix to create a reptilian-like scaled surface. Most use lime or cement plaster. Another way is to put 6 mil plastic sheeting and earth over the dome and create a living roof with plants. Living roofs are very beautiful, but they do require a lot of time and effort, and a favorable climate.

Learn more by going to Instructables.com and by searching any of the above keywords in the search engine. We have hundreds of pages of free information that cover virtually every topic.

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Murrong Gunya sandbag house near Sydney, Australia

Murrong Gunya sandbag house near Sydney, Australia


“I have now finished my first sand bag dome…well almost. It was a great experience, however lonely, as I moved over 25 tonnes of sand by hand, mixed it with cement and put it in the bags myself. I am excitedly happy with the result thus far. The dome was built at a significant Aboriginal heritage site on the beach at Sandon Point south of Sydney, Australia.

This project was initiated to effect positive and sustainable change in Aboriginal and community housing in Australia. Appropriate housing in remote and bushfire prone areas must be met with sustainable solutions such as earthbag building. I built and donated this History Pod dome with respect to Australia’s first peoples and the continuation of their Original Sovereignty.”

Source: Murrong Gunya (Sand House)

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4-people.org earthbag dome

4-people.org earthbag dome


“Last week was full of great events and hard work. The second phase has begun construction of the bedroom and begin to delineate which are the parts of the building: rooms, bathrooms, showers.

As regards the Dome, we are building the mezzanine floor, the rooms and we have hired three beautiful ladies to make the external finish of the structure.
The days passed very quickly and happily thanks to the presence of Ciardes and Mick left us yesterday, much to his regret, promising to return soon to reunite with the children of Bala.

To end the week with joy, we organized a concert on Saturday night for guests and employees of the orphanage. The evening was a success. The children have spent a couple of songs and dances of Kenyans and we played songs like “Knockin ‘on Heaven’s Door,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “One.” Of these, the first seems to have been the favorite of all, from that night, he often heard the children singing the chorus of the song that has really succeeded! Now back to work and we are with you next week when we have new volunteers who come from Italy to work with the project!”

Source: 4-people.org

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Michael’s Dome at Sacred Garden Sanctuary

Michael’s Dome at Sacred Garden Sanctuary


“Sacred Garden Sanctuary is an intentional community dedicated to sustainable farming and lifestyle, on 40 acres of land located near Douglas, Arizona.

We are currently planning to use a modified Cal-Earth (earth bag/tube) construction, after completing a trial dome. We plan to use a more inexpensive tubing material, which is used for onion sacks, rather than Cal-Earth “sandbag” tubing. Adobe domes will be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer mainly using passive solar and thermal mass to moderate day/night temperatures, which can vary up to 50 degrees in a 24hr period. This may be supplemented by wood stoves in the winter and evaporative cooling in the summer, if necessary. Progress on the dome has been slow due to other priorities, but we have done some more coating with the asphalt emulsion layer.

After putting on a partial “finish” coat of plaster, we have decided to rock-and-mortar the exterior instead of plastering. This will have the following advantages:
• Higher longevity
• Reduce maintenance to near-zero
• Add some further structural integrity
• Improved aesthetics”

Source: Sacred Garden Sanctuary

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Alderleaf Earthbag Rootcellar

Alderleaf Earthbag Rootcellar


“With patience and persistence, many hands came together to make the Superadobe Root Cellar project possible. The project is now very near completion, with the main body of work completed.

Here Danny R., Phil J. and Steve N. celebrate a day of work completed.

Finishing touches will be to back-fill around the root cellar, do some plastering and/or masonry on bags, complete the awning, and depositing soil on top of the structure. Finally the soil will be seeded and the root cellar will be all but invisible, beautifully blended into the landscape.

Everyone involved is excited to see this project progress and move towards completion. Upon completion, this wonderful structure will be able to house a variety of edible goods from the Alderleaf farm without the need for refrigeration. It will also be another great example of a natural building utilized on the Alderleaf Campus.”

Source: Alderleaf Wilderness College

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Disaster Resistant Catenary Dome (click to enlarge)

Disaster Resistant Catenary Dome (click to enlarge)


Specifications: 314 sq. ft. interior, 181 sq. ft. interior loft, total = 495 sq. ft. interior, Footprint: 23’ diameter

This blog post is a continuation of the discussion about disaster resistant domes. So far we’ve talked about Hemispheric Domes and key ideas about How to Build the Strongest Buildings That Can Last Centuries.

Wiki describes a catenary arch as “the curve that an idealised hanging chain or cable assumes when supported at its ends and acted on only by its own weight.” A catenary arch can be inverted to define and guide the shape of a dome (a dome is an arch that’s been rotated about its axis). This creates an incredibly strong shape, that when combined with the right materials can produce structures with superior disaster resistance.

The idea for this design sprang from a reader who liked the disaster resistant building concept, but wanted a taller dome with a loft. Well, here it is.

More details at my Earthbag House Plans site.

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Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)

Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)


This 20′ interior diameter, 314 sq. ft. design is my proposed solution to Dustin’s dilemma in Florida for houses that can withstand repeat hurricanes. See How to Build the Strongest Buildings That Can Last Centuries for more details. Features include: lexan windows with removable window and door shutters, monolithic geopolymer slab floor that’s integrated with the walls, build on high ground, plastic mesh that won’t rust, geopolymer plaster both sides, geopolymer pumicecrete or geopolymer perlite fill. Integrating the slab and dome and building on a rubble trench is ideal for seismic zones. In an earthquake, the building would slide back and forth somewhat like an upside down cereal bowl on a kitchen table (meaning the whole house remains intact as one shell).

The design will have to be tweaked for individual homeowner needs, and some details worked out with the engineer. Note how a woodstove is shown to reach a wider audience, even though it’s probably not needed in Florida. The woodstove could be replaced with an emergency water storage and filtration system, etc. A fold-out bed saves space.

Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)

Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)

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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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Mindfulness Project site plan -- aerial view of dome cluster and gazebo (click to enlarge)

Mindfulness Project site plan -- aerial view of dome cluster and gazebo (click to enlarge)


Houses in the Mindfulness Project, a planned sustainable community in Thailand, are grouped in clusters of five with a bamboo gazebo in the center and two Solar Vaults (1. mechanical room, shop; 2. toilets, showers, laundry) in the nearest clearing. This cluster shows Insulated Earthbag Domes. Some clusters will have Domed Roundhouses (an exciting new design coming soon). All houses are joined by paths covered with wood chips.
Mindfulness Project site plan -- dome cluster and gazebo (click to enlarge)

Mindfulness Project site plan -- dome cluster and gazebo (click to enlarge)


Actual tile work, which is inspired by the work of Gaudi, will be much more beautiful than shown.

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Earthbag Dome Workshop in France

Earthbag Dome Workshop in France


We are building a large earthbag house with earthen plasters and a rubble trench foundation at: Mas Pinet, Ste Cecile D’Andorge, Ales, France.

The workshop is divided into 2 parts:
Part 1, 5 days, 18-22 October 2011
Part 2, 5 days, 25-29 October 2011

The price of the workshop includes accommodation in the wonderful artistic retreat of Mas Pinet.

10 day workshop €450 or €650 inc. meals or a
5 day workshop €280 or €380 inc. meals

We are providing three organic home grown vegetarian meals every day.

The workshop is taught by Paulina, author of Building with Earth.
Earth Hands and Houses

Paulina is an experienced builder and architect. Here’s a strawbale house built at a previous workshop in Poland.

Strawbale house in Poland built at a previous workshop

Strawbale house in Poland built at a previous workshop

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