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Posts Tagged ‘earthbag homes’

Yesterday’s video about How the Pyramids Were Built shows how loose limestone can be turned to stone. This method seems easier and simpler than using MICP, don’t you think?

This seems like a good time to experiment with geopolymer cast stone to make the first ever earthbag stone dome. The mountain range near our home is predominantly limestone, so the main material is readily at hand. I recently tracked down a supplier and am in the process of obtaining materials to make some test bags.

The ancients had to make the soil binding materials from scratch using salt, wood ashes, etc. But now the basic ingredients (sodium carbonate and lime) can be purchased off the shelf and mixed with limestone and water. In fact, the process is so simple that I’m surprised more people are not investigating the process.

The end product is actual stone, not just something “hard as rock”. It would be fire and rot proof, bullet resistant (almost bulletproof at some point after it gains hardness), totally waterproof obviously, and could possibly last thousands of years. Not much else can compare to this. Even modern concrete falls way short, because it’s too brittle. Concrete has a lifespan closer to 50-100 years in most cases (I’m talking about lifespans of actual structures, not some theoretical time period). The next closest thing might be Roman concrete that was used to make the Pantheon in Rome, among other structures. More about Roman concrete here.

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We know of earthbag structures in the following US states: AR, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, HI, ID, KY, MD, MI, MN, MO, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, SD, TN, TX, UT, WA

We know of earthbag structures in the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, England, Gaza Strip, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Republic of Djibouti, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turks & Caicos Islands, United States, Uganda

Please leave a comment if you know of other locations, and include a link to more info if possible. [Note: sorry, I don’t have time to answer questions like “where is the project in X?” You’ll have to google that information. Try our new improved search engine at EarthbagBuilding.com.]

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Building housing projects in developing regions is extremely rewarding, but also quite challenging. It’s prudent to draw ideas from as many resources as possible to improve the process. The following guidelines have proven effective.

1. Community Organizing
• Encourage solutions that are based on local needs and resources: Emphasize local control, community building, collaboration, self-empowerment and sustainable grassroots solutions.
• Involve the whole community in the design and building process: Men, women, children, young and old can work together in a way that is reminiscent of traditional barn raisings. Construction sites can be joyous places filled with singing, ceremonies, picnics and other festivities.
• Encourage vernacular architecture and traditional building methods: Discover what is important to the local community, and then design and build houses that people really like.

You can read the entire article for free at Mother Earth News Blog.

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Thousands of families who have built affordable homes, cash up front, made of earthbags, straw bales, cordwood, cob and rammed tires are not in danger of losing their homes in the current mortgage crisis. And if you include affordable adobe, bamboo and thatch homes built worldwide, over a third of the world’s houses have avoided the mortgage crisis.

In general, the people who build these low cost, alternative homes are often the same people who garden and grow fruit trees, raise small livestock and/or live on farms and, in many cases, utilize renewable energy. This includes many millions of homes with passive solar design, earth-bermed and underground homes, wind and water generators, and photovoltaics. Less obvious, but just as important, are the countless homes who utilize rocket stoves, Lorena stoves, methane digesters, vegetable oil, rice hull stoves or one of the other myriad low cost, sustainable cooking and heating systems.

You can read the entire article for free at Mother Earth News Blog.

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What does it take to build truly sustainable houses – the kind people really want and can afford – and not some greenwashing hype? Most contractor-built houses are not affordable to the masses, so obviously something is amiss. And because buildings account for the largest share of energy use and cause devastating effects to our world, most are not sustainable.

If you build small and use natural building materials, then most likely you’ll be able to build your own home in a reasonable amount of time for cash. That’s right, you can eliminate the most expensive part of the home when you build your own small, sustainable home – the mortgage. Natural building materials are ideally suited for DIYers on a tight budget. Most are dirt cheap or even free.

You can read the entire article for free at Mother Earth News Blog.

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Patti Stouter's earthbag newsletter recaps news and events in the developing world.

Patti Stouter's earthbag newsletter recaps news and events in the developing world.


Patti Stouter has published a new earthbag newsletter that recaps recent news and events in the developing world. This is a great way to spread the word. Feel free to share with others.

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Earthbag building tools and supplies

Earthbag building tools and supplies


My Step-by-Step Earthbag Building article at EarthbagBuilding.com has been updated. I built a demonstration wall and photographed each step. YouTube videos have been embedded to further demonstrate the process. All the latest tools and techniques are shown, including use of stronger sheetmetal sliders, 2-gallon cement buckets, bucket chutes, bags turned inside out, and filling bags to capacity with the same number of pre-measured buckets. Note how I demonstrate pre-tamping earthbags. This is a relatively new technique I developed to lengthen the bags so they have additional overlap. This step strengthens the wall, which is particularly important in earthquake regions.

The goal of this project was to simplify the explanation of how to build with earthbags, making it clear as possible. All too often people read the books and dozens or hundreds of web pages and still don’t fully grasp the basics. So my advice is to read (and watch) this Step-by-Step Earthbag Building article several times and then practice each step. Get the basics right and the other details will more easily fall in place.

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One way of acquiring affordable housing is working together with other people. Let’s say six groups of three workers agree to build their homes together. They could divide into teams based on interests and skill level.
Team 1: Site preparation and excavation
Team 2: Earthbag foundation
Team 3: Lower walls
Team 4: Upper walls
Team 5: Bond beam
Team 6: Roof

This system is designed so all the houses are built at the same time. When team 1 finishes the site prep and excavation on the last house (sixth), they could start over on the first house working on doors, windows, plaster, etc.

This plan is just a suggestion. There are many possibilities. You could have more or fewer teams. Team sizes could vary. You could have fewer people and all work together.

In an ideal scenario without codes, many of the materials could be free – recycled, salvaged, bartered, locally found materials – enabling you to build mortgage-free. The end result would be sturdy, low cost nice homes and a strong sense of community where everyone’s houses are paid off.

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Earthbag structures are sustainable because they are safe (fire and mold resistant, structurally sound, nontoxic), durable, code approved, easy to maintain by homeowners, low cost ($10/sq.ft. is possible with small, simple designs), site specific, maximize solar gain, resistant to natural disasters such as floods, low embodied energy materials, use locally available resources, reduce energy consumption (Zero Energy designs available), DIY friendly (no special training needed if you do the research), low long term maintenance costs, few tools required, no special forms needed, uses recycled materials (used bags are readily available from feed stores, farmers, etc.), poly bags are 100% recyclable, little or no wood required depending on design (ideal for areas with termites), ideal for roundhouses and domes which create more floorspace for a given length of wall, earthbag domes and roundhouses are ideal for hurricane/tornado/high wind areas, can be designed for seismic resistance at low cost, can be designed almost any size and shape to meet homeowner needs, suitable for cold, wet, dry and hot climates with the appropriate design, wide variety of fill materials available, no plaster mesh typically required, no concrete foundation typically required, scoria-filled bags create insulated frost-protected foundations that reduce excavation and use of concrete, empowers communities by creating jobs and enabling self-help projects…
[note to self: turn this list into carefully crafted prose so people don’t think I’m lazy]

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What’s the most efficient, cost-effective way to build with earthbags? How can you enclose the most space with the least time, effort and money? Well, it depends in part on climate, individual skills and preferences as far as styles/building types. (Other factors will be covered in a future post.)

In general, round shapes are the most efficient. They create the most amount of floor space for a given wall length. This is easily demonstrated by drawing a circle and a square using the same lineal distance of walls. For example, draw an 18’ diameter circle, which will have an area of 254 square feet and circumference of about 56.5’. Divide 56.5 by 4 (= 14.1’) to obtain a square with the same total wall length. A square with 14.1’ per side has an area of about 200 square feet. So in this example there’s a gain of 54 square feet of floor space. (Draw this with your kids. It’s a great learning experience.)

So why do builders churn out square/rectilinear structures? Because modern building materials are rectilinear – plywood, OSB, sheetrock, etc. But we know these materials are energy intensive, costly, lead to monotonous designs and have negative impacts on the environment. Earthbag building frees us from these constraints and enables the use of more efficient round shapes. In addition, round shapes are inherently more stable. “Round is sound” as they say.

Size is also important. Large houses require much more time, labor, skill and materials and can easily wear you down, even more so for owner-builders. It’s far better to build only what you need. You can always add on later. Build with cash one stage at a time.

Another factor to consider is fill material – what goes in the bags. Lightweight materials such as scoria are much faster and easier to use than soil. This one factor alone can cut the labor by severalfold, because scoria is lightweight, easy to work with and requires less tamping. Scoria is insulating and so it’s ideal for extreme climates. Plus, scoria doesn’t rot, burn, attract pests, etc. One limiting factor is it’s less stable in certain applications such as straight walls and tops of domes that curve in too quickly.

And the winner is? I’ll give it a tie between roundhouses and domes, depending on the variables listed above. Small to medium sized roundhouses with simple roof designs have an edge in many cases, especially rainy climates and for those with carpentry skills. In dry climates, domes may be more efficient. Organic shapes that approximate circles are a close runner-up, although this often complicates roof construction.

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