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Garden House in Tanzania

Garden House in Tanzania


Garden House in Tanzania

Garden House in Tanzania


Here’s a nice project one of our readers sent in. Text below is from Birgit.

“I just remembered I said I would send you a few pictures of my first experiment with lime mix earthbags here in Tanzania. So far they are “behaving” extremely well, and I am planning to do a “real” house in the near future (I just need to get more confident when it comes to a foundation…). I am hoping to raise awareness and “ring the bell” for earthbag building here in Africa as it would be a great way to do low cost housing for the local people and for people to start small building businesses.

Please find attached some pictures of a lime-earthbag wall and garden house (half done with bricks and half with bags as I wanted to see how the connection of the two works out) – the bags are discarded cement bags. The floor is unburnt clay bricks.

Usually you don’t buy ready made windows here but get them made, so I had small windows made which had a metal sheet all around to carry the bags. This way I could put the windows into the wall straight as we built and just build around them, so no need of wooden window forms.

By the way – one more small idea: To make a model of the house I am planning I use Lego blocks. This way I can play with my kids while doing “work” and the legos work well as they are quite wide, similar to the bags. The narrower legos I use for the internal walls, which are made from clay bricks. Doesn’t work so well for round structures, but is great for anything linear.”

All the best from Tanzania, Birgit

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Energy performance on most buildings can be improved with insulation, including those made of earth such as adobe and earthbag structures. Although most earthen structures are located in hot, dry climates, there is increasing demand for low-cost, eco-friendly earth building techniques in cold climates. This article explores four innovative methods for insulating earthbag buildings, which extends their building range to cold regions.

Most earthbag buildings use polypropylene grain bags or mesh bags filled with soil. Bags or tubes can be used. We demonstrate bags, because they’re often available recycled for very low cost. The bags or tubes are filled in level courses and then tamped solid. There are typically two strands of barbed wire between courses to bond the bags to each other and add tensile strength. The building process for insulated earthbag houses is nearly the same, although the materials would weigh significantly less and speed construction considerably.

Unlike other earth building methods, earthbag building has the unique advantage of providing either thermal mass or insulation, and therefore can be adapted for cold climates with an insulated fill material. Scoria, pumice, perlite, vermiculite or rice hulls are all suitable insulating materials. These materials are natural, lightweight, easy to work with and non-toxic. Most (all but rice hulls) will not burn or rot and do not attract insects or vermin. In addition, all but rice hulls are not adversely affected by moisture and can be used as part of earth-bermed or earth-sheltered structures. Recycled polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another good possibility. Another possibility is adding foam board or foam insulation on the exterior of earthbag walls, as explained in the 4th option.

You can read the entire How to Build an Insulated Earthbag House instructable by Owen Geiger for free.

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Earthbag projects that take more than a few weeks to build will need to be protected from the sun. You could cover walls with tarps or coat the bags or tubes with latex paint. Or you could order UV-rated bags or tubes that are specially coated to protect against sunlight. The higher the UV rating, the longer these products will last in direct sunlight.

Here’s one company offering bags with a 1,600 UV (ultra violet) rating — Commercial Bag and Supply Company. I found one company with a 2,000 UV rating, although they don’t carry standard 18”x30” bags. Pranavi Polymers Pvt. Ltd. makes UV-rated bags to order. Use Google to find companies who sell standard sized UV-rated bags near you. Bags like this can save a lot of work and protect your structure from UV degradation.

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Building with earth requires low energy input in processing and handling soil – only about 1% of the energy required to manufacture and process the same volume of cement concrete. This aspect was investigated by the Desert Architecture Unit which has discovered that the energy needed to manufacture and process one cubic metre of soil is about 36 MJ (10 kwh), while that required for the manufacture of the same volume of concrete is about 3000 MJ (833 kwh). Similar findings were also reported by Habitat (UNCHS), Technical Note No. 12 comparing adobe with fired clay bricks.

Environmental appropriateness – the use of this almost unlimited resource in its natural state involves no pollution and negligible energy consumption thus further benefiting the environment by saving biomass fuel.

Source: Compressed Stabilized Earth Block Manufacture in Sudan

Note: Due to the high cost of energy, low embodied energy materials are less expensive than materials that use a lot of energy (steel, concrete, etc.).

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Julien Balmer’s Freeform House at Phangan Earthworks, Thailand

Julien Balmer’s Freeform House at Phangan Earthworks, Thailand


Julien Balmer’s Freeform House at Phangan Earthworks in Koh Phangan, Thailand has been chosen as the cover shot for my upcoming earthbag book. Long time readers may remember Koh Phangan as one of last year’s earthbag workshops.

Hubert Huot and Julien have built some of the most amazing earthbag structures to date and I am very pleased to feature their work on the cover of my book. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Julien publicly for his generosity in freely sharing this photo, and for Hubert and him being gracious hosts at last year’s workshop. You can see many more photos of their projects on their Galleries page.

Julien’s Freeform House is also profiled on our EarthbagBuilding.com Project page. Like no other house I’ve seen, it is seamlessly integrated into the landscape between large boulders. Other interesting features include recycled ship masts as poles, outstanding plaster work and a masterfully crafted wood framed roof that maximizes ventilation in hot climates. Julien and Hubert have another earthbag workshop coming up February 19-20, 2011 and a Permaculture Design Certificate Course March 14-27 that come highly recommended.

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Development and passage of ASTM International E2392-10, Standard Guide for Design of Earthen Wall Building Systems. This four-year project has the greatest potential to affect the everyday lives and living conditions of billions of people in developing countries, where building materials such as wood, concrete and steel are expensive and scarce.

Bruce King, Ecological Building Network
Standards web page

Note: This group has been hugely influential in the growth of straw-bale construction, and I’m very glad they’re working to promote earthen building. But I don’t think they have incorporated the method developed by Precision Structural Engineering, Inc., whose reinforcement technique is a game changer for earthbag. There’s a world of difference between a stack of bags and an engineer- and code-approved reinforced wall system.

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Today’s post showcases erosion control booms — another possible material for earthbag building. This is a new development that looks promising. It gives builders one more material and one more supplier to choose from. And in this case, the UV resistance may be greater than standard poly bags. Syfilco, the company who sells them, contacted us and said they can add stabilizers to their tubes to protect against UV damage. Also note, this is another mesh product that would speed drying of fill soil and improve bonding with plaster. I hope someone will order a sample and test it out.

Erosion Control Booms

Erosion Control Booms


“Syfilco [ed.: and probably other companies] manufactures tubular knitted fabric and netting sleeves for erosion control socks, booms, or wattles. We are able to manufacture these out of polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyester. Our erosion control netting and fabrics can be designed with different life expectancies to suit specific project needs. We are working with oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable polyethylene to have a degradable life span between 3 months to 2 years. Some products can be enhanced with UV stabilizers to prolong life expectancy if required.”

For more information or product specifications please contact Syfilco Ltd.

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Bucket Chute with Shoulder Strap

Bucket Chute with Shoulder Strap


By now you’re probably getting excited like I am about using open weave mesh bags and tubes. I came up with this $10 solution for filling bags and tubes. It has a 3-gallon metal bucket chute with the bottom cut out and a heavy duty leather shoulder strap riveted on with three pop rivets per side. The raschel mesh bags slide on perfectly. Stainless steel or galvanized buckets would both work. You may want to attach a metal tube to the bottom if you use long tubes. Change the strap around throughout the day to reduce fatigue.

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From time to time we answer reader’s questions.
Paul: In the EcoOcha video I noticed they tamped the sides to reduce the ‘log cabin’ look and to reduce the amount of plaster required. This smoother surface would be much easier to plaster.

Owen: Yes, more and more builders are flattening the walls like this to save plaster work. It’s strange, but for some reason some people say this doesn’t work, that the bags will crumble if you tamp the sides. Maybe their soil has insufficient clay. I don’t know, but it works great for us and for others.

One thing is for sure — if you don’t at least try to flatten the walls somewhat then you’ll have to apply a massive amount of plaster to even out the walls. That would take a great deal of time, effort and materials.

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Every day we hear good news about earthbag building and other types of sustainable building – new projects, new companies getting involved, and on and on. If you’re new to this site (both this site and my Earthbag House Plans site are experiencing record traffic), please browse through the information we’ve compiled. I think you’ll be surprised. The uninformed tend to dismiss earthbag as just bags piled on top of each other, which simply isn’t true. Even frequent readers of our sites (which include all the most popular sites on earthbag building) are sometimes amazed. Yes, major projects are in the works. Stay tuned.

Here are just a few quick facts.
– Successful completion of an earthbag/strawbale shake table test in Nevada applied forces that surpassed that of the Northridge quake in California
– Seismic tests in California showed zero deflection on earthbag domes with forces that maxed out the testing equipment
– Engineer and code approved earthbag designs are now available for seismic and non-seismic areas
– A master’s degree thesis showed earthbag walls have 10 times the bearing capacity of stud framed walls
– Sand bags are the material of choice for storing ammunition in war zones due to their ability to absorb blasts
– Around a dozen earthbag projects are taking off in Haiti – some of which have been completed and the groups involved have decided to build more earthbag structures
– Earthbag is comparable to rammed earth, which can last for thousands of years
– Earthbag consists of compacted earth, which has now been shown to be resistant to 50 caliber bullets
– There are various ways of stabilizing earthbags and/or filling lower courses with gravel to make them extremely resistant to water damage, including floods
– For cold climates, bags can be filled with insulation or earthbags can be covered with a layer of insulation
– A Federal Highway Administration report estimates the half life of polypropylene bags (sand bags) may exceed 500 years in benign environments
– Earthbag is faster and more efficient than building with adobe, cob, rammed tires and rammed earth
– Building with sand bags is around 250 years old if you include the original burlap structures built by militaries
– Countless millions of poly sand bags are used every year to hold back floodwaters because they’re simple to use and effective

Every topic can be searched from our new search engine at EarthbagBuilding.com.

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