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Lightweight, insulating geopolymer is ideal for many applications.

Lightweight, insulating geopolymer is ideal for many applications.


As reported in a previous blog post just recently, low cost raschel mesh tube material is now available. (Thanks again to Patti Stouter for tracking this down.) Affordable mesh tubing means hyperadobe is now a more realistic option for many earthbaggers. A growing number of people think hyperadobe is the fastest, easiest earthbag method currently available. It all goes back to Fernando Soneghet Pacheco, the original developer of hyperadobe, who improved the superadobe technique because after having done a course he realized that there were a few problems. The hyperadobe is superior because mesh bags or tubes are narrower, so less soil is needed and it’s cheaper. You can also save money with doors and window bucks (rough frames) as they don’t need to be so wide. The soil dries much faster. The mesh material increases stability and in some cases can eliminate the need for barbed wire. In addition, plaster bonds more readily to the mesh.

The real purpose of this blog post is to point out how lightweight fill materials such as scoria and pumice can be used in the hyperadobe system to create superinsulated buildings in harsh climates. Options include loose scoria and pumice with no binder (requires some additional reinforcing), and scoria, pumice, recycled polystyrene, perlite or vermiculite bonded with clay. Although it hasn’t been done yet, I believe stiff mixes of pumicecrete, perlite geopolymer cement, cellular lightweight geopolymer concrete, hempcrete and other similar materials could be used. This idea ties in with my blog posts about Lightweight, Insulating Geopolymer Earthbags. The main addition here is the suggestion of using mesh bags and tubes to improve the system. Please let us know if you experiment with some of these materials.

We’ve already reported on hyperadobe in detail, but here are a few links for new readers:
Hyperadobe Update
Open Weave Fabric: Ideal Working Properties
Hyperadobe Continued
Mesh Bags Versus Poly Bags: Differences in Working Properties
Mesh Bag Details
More Hyperadobe Videos
Hyperadobe Update from Brazil

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The Arc House could be easily modified into an off-grid Boulder House. (click to enlarge)

The Arc House could be easily modified into an off-grid Boulder House. (click to enlarge)


Do you dream of ‘getting away from it all’ and living in a self-sustaining, off-grid home surrounded by nature? A number of my earthbag house plans would work well for this purpose. If you’re looking for a relatively low cost and easy to build Boulder House then take a look at my Arc House.

Arc Boulder House design summary: build the boulder house at base of sloping terrain near a lake (curved back wall resists thrust of soil), next to a stream flowing to the lake which is harnessed for fresh water and micro hydro energy, and add at least one small solar panel for electronics and back-up power. Want to see a drawing of how it would look? Well, the boulder house would totally blend into the natural environment and be almost indistinguishable from the surrounding environment due to the boulder shapes, texture, colors, and living walls.

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A tube on the mixer bucket can funnel material directly into earthbags.

A tube on the mixer bucket can funnel material directly into earthbags.

This Bobcat mixer bucket caught my eye on YouTube. This would come in real handy on large projects to speed construction. I’m posting it here to show how to mechanize projects such as the lightweight geopolymer earthbag system that I’ve been describing the last few days.

Source: Aplec Group

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I want to take the ‘boulder house’ concept one step further by combining boulders with living walls and living roofs. The end result would be au natural – a sustainable home in a natural state. I envision a home that looks almost exactly like boulders surrounded by plants. It’s hard to think of a more beautiful, durable and sustainable way of building. And again, you’re not limited to making boulder houses using this new lightweight geopolymer earthbag method. Let your imagination run wild.

Living walls can beautify your home, as well as add insulation, habitat for wildlife and reduce noise. In addition, plant covered buildings are very practical because they can save wall materials and finish work, reduce heating and cooling loads, and oxygenate air around the building. Just imagine your house enveloped in fragrant, colorful flowers, wonderfully blended with the natural environment.

In case you’re wondering about my living wall made with aluminum and removable potted plants, the living wall made with fishing net is thriving. So far plants prefer the living wall made with fishing net (probably because pots tend to dry out too quickly). Also, I’m less concerned about the durability of the fishing net. It holds up for several years in total sunlight. In this application, the plants soon cover the fishing net and block almost all sunlight, and so I think it will be quite durable. Eventual replacement will be a chore, however. One alternative is to plant vines around the base of the house and add a few sections of living wall tubes for flowers and other small plants. This would mimic the appearance of plants growing naturally in rock niches.

Living roofs or green roofs have a number of advantages over conventional roofs, although they take extra care to build and maintain. Besides being beautiful, green roofs reduce runoff problems, provide habitat for wildlife, buffer noise, filter the air and reduce the ‘heat island effect’ in cities. They also improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reducing heating and cooling costs. My earthbag dome rootcellar made it into the Huffington Post Green Roof Contest.

Recommended links:
Living Wall YouTube Video
Green House

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Portugal’s boulder house is a natural way to live green

Portugal’s boulder house is a natural way to live green


The Boulder House, Scottsdale Arizona (click to enlarge)

The Boulder House, Scottsdale Arizona (click to enlarge)


1,000 year old rock house in Cappadocia, Turkey (click to enlarge)

1,000 year old rock house in Cappadocia, Turkey (click to enlarge)


The lightweight geopolymer earthbag method I described yesterday opens the door to building boulder houses that could last hundreds or even thousands of years. All sorts of other styles could also be built, but for some reason (maybe because rocks last almost forever) these boulder houses really capture my imagination. Worst case scenario is you tire of the look, but you’d have a rental unit for hundreds of years.

Image source: Eco Friend
Image source: Images AZ.com
Image source: Flicker

Related: The Timeless Appeal of Stone Houses

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Stone House by Askjell (click to enlarge)

Stone House by Askjell (click to enlarge)


I’m proposing using a combination of ferrocement, earthbags and porous geopolymer to build durable, affordable housing. In a nutshell, earthbags filled with lightweight geopolymer cement are fastened to a rebar or bamboo frame and then plastered with geopolymer cement. This is distinctly different from heavy earthbag walls, and much different than regular thin shell ferrocement that often does not provide sufficient insulation and lacks the visual appeal of houses with substantial walls. The end result would be an incredibly durable stone home made with natural materials.

First, let’s do a quick recap of Part 1 since it’s been a few months (wow, time flies) since I posted my first thoughts.
Geopolymer is highly desirable because it’s an affordable, natural material that turns to actual stone and is fireproof, insect proof, rot proof, bulletproof and can last for centuries.
– Geopolymer is superior to Portland cement in a number of ways: far lower carbon footprint, less cracking, more resistant to corrosive elements such as sea salt, excellent frost resistance and durability in cold climates, rapid set binders available.
– Porous geopolymer is light weight, easy to work with and insulating. No additional insulation is needed.
– Recycled waste materials such as slag and fly ash can be used to make geopolymer, thereby making the material carbon neutral.

In Part 2 I posted a close-up photo of porous geopolymer and covered a few of the building basics: minimal tamping required, smaller diameter bags or tubes save materials, a keyway can be formed to lock courses together, flatten walls to reduce plaster work, bag material could be removed before plastering or left in place.

Now, on to Part 3. Here is the summary of the basic concept:
– Build a rebar or bamboo and mesh frame to guide the shape. This provides plenty of tensile strength and enables almost limitless design possibilities.
– Use tubes or bags to form walls 6”-15” thick. These could be made out of a wide range of materials, including polypropylene (typical sand bags) or natural materials such as cotton, jute, etc. Tubes would be faster than bags. Recycled bags may be available and less expensive than tubes. Mesh material will provide superior bonding with the finish coat and eliminate need to remove the bag material before plastering.
– The wall thickness depends on the climate and other considerations. Use thicker walls in colder climates where more insulation is needed.
– Fill the tubes or bags with lightweight, insulating geopolymer. The consistency would be similar to ‘stiff’ (not too much water) pumicecrete (pumice-crete).
– Pumicecrete is a standard product and provides a good point of reference, although many similar materials could be made using geopolymer mixed with different insulating materials in addition to scoria/pumice: perlite (perlite cement), shredded recycled polystyrene, vermiculite, etc.
– Porous geopolymer (lightweight aerated cement or concrete) can also be made with a foaming additive to produce tiny air bubbles in the cement. Porous geopolymer can be used alone or combined with scoria or other materials.
– Porous geopolymers have unique passive cooling properties which can improve thermal performance and reduce the heat island effect in cities.
– Tie the tubes or bags to the frame as they are filled.
– Flatten the tubes or bags slightly as they set up. This will greatly reduce plaster work.

Key advantages:
– No need for contractors or industrial size compressors and high-pressure spray rigs. Finish plaster can be sprayed on with a Mortar Sprayer.
– Nearly limitless design possibilities as mentioned above.
– This method has the advantages of ferrocement and earthbag building without any major drawbacks that I can think of: 1. faster construction and less labor than earthbags; 2. more substantial, bulletproof and more insulating walls than ferrocement.
– A second ferrocement frame could be added for seismic regions, but it shouldn’t be needed in most situations.

Part 4 will discuss how the building process can be mechanized to speed construction.

Note on the photo: I chose this photo to illustrate how almost any shape can be built — from ‘boulder houses’ like this to conventional looking structures of all kinds.

Image source: http://askjell.deviantart.com/ and http://fc01.deviantart.com/fs20/i/2007/230/5/3/The_stone_house_by_Askjell.jpg#elf%20house

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The idea of DIY cast stone houses has proven to be so popular that I’ve started a new blog to facilitate the development of geopolymer housing. It is an open source project to develop geopolymer cast stone construction. The goal is to create an archive of relevant information through an interactive process of sharing ideas among readers that will enable people to build their own cast stone homes. Since there is no book with all the information needed, we will work things out together.

The new blog enables me to publish geopolymer content more frequently and keep everything related to geopolymer on one site so the information is easier to keep track of. This also means geopolymer won’t crowd out the main focus on earthbag building on this blog.

[I still need to copy all the comments to the new blog.]

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No spaces between stones indicates they may have been cast in place with geopolymer.

No spaces between stones indicates they may have been cast in place with geopolymer.


This photo shows the near impossible to make perfect fit between stones that indicates they may have been cast in place with geopolymer. One source said iron tools were not available at that time, only copper. Ever tried chiseling and cutting hard stone? I have and I can tell you it’s ridiculously slow even with modern diamond embedded power tools.

Geopolymer is the latest hot topic here at our Earthbag Building blog. There’s a groundswell of interest already building as you can see in the Comments section of the previous blog posts listed below. Obviously people want to learn more about how to build a cast stone house with earthbags that has all the advantages of stone houses without the expense. Bit by bit the pieces are coming together, but unfortunately there is no book available on geopolymer house construction and so it’s going to take a while to do experiments and build a prototype.
How the Pyramids Were Built Excellent video!
Earthbag Building May be Thousands of Years Old
Ancient Stonework

Image credit: Travelpod.com

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Previous posts have introduced Bill McNulty’s cast stone method. This post is about his second patent — a second process that explains how to make other types of cast stone with sodium carbonate.

Abstract: Inorganic cementitious material
A method of producing a new type of cement, hereafter called Conch-krete. Conch-krete is created by adding sodium carbonate (also known as soda ash, natron, etc.) and one or more minerals from the calcium carbonate group (including aragonite, limestone, calcite, marble, dolomite, etc.) and the addition of water to the mix that will harden into a cement-like material. The combination of sodium carbonate and calcium carbonate can be either layered or in a mixed state. An exothermic reaction starts after the addition of water. The composition of Conch-krete can vary between 20% sodium carbonate and 80% calcium carbonate to 80% sodium carbonate and 20% calcium carbonate. Conch-Icrete can be used in a variety of applications not inclusive of forming bricks, interior architecture, table or counter tops, ornaments, repairing damaged cement products, casting and other applications not mentioned above.
Inventors: McNulty, Jr.; William J. (Provo, TC)
Appl. No.: 09/456,841
Filed: December 7, 1999

Interesting updates:
– Teresa, one of our readers, has learned sodium carbonate (also called soda ash or washing soda) is used in swimming pools. Check swimming pool suppliers for prices.
– Sam, another reader, told me by email that the military has thoroughly tested geopolymer in sand bag fortifications. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Can anyone legally track down the military reports that explain the process in detail?

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My Stone Dome rating keeps goes up and down. It’s been in the top 10 lately. There’s still time to vote if you haven’t already. But the larger picture is far more important. I think geopolymer is a million dollar idea. Most houses fall apart in a few decades, need constant maintenance and are made of readily combustible materials like wood. I think millions of people will be interested in cast stone houses that last indefinitely. And if they can be made simply and affordably with DIY earthbag building, then it seems the sky is the limit.

The main reason for this post is to announce my plan to build a stone dome as soon as possible. It’s obvious people are really interested in this concept, and it’s obvious geopolymer earthbags have enormous potential. I know it will work. The building process is largely the same as typical earthbag except you have to use the right combination of materials so the earthbags turn to stone. And as explained before, geopolymer is a proven process used in dozens or hundreds of products (maybe more). The main challenge is obtaining and testing the materials. Fortunately for us there’s a local university with a soils lab who could do our tests, so that’s a plus

Our dome may include a plant covered net on the south side to beautify and cool the home, create shaded outdoor living space and add some food production.

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