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Posts Tagged ‘sandbag house’

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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Reinforced Mesh Corners (click to enlarge)

Reinforced Mesh Corners (click to enlarge)


The idea presented here is for Haiti and other areas susceptible to earthquakes. It’s a very simple concept, but even small steps like this one can save lives.

The main idea involves reinforcing corners of earthbag buildings with plastic mesh or plastic fencing. For background information, see my previous post on Low Cost Reinforcement of Earthbag Houses in Seismic Areas that discussed the research at the Catholic University of Peru. Blondet, one of the lead researchers on the project, said plastic reinforcement mesh was the strongest method they’ve tested in 35 years of seismic research.

The main addition here is ¼” rebar to secure the plastic mesh. Add ¼” rebar and plastic mesh on both sides of the wall and tie together through the wall with baling twine or nylon cord. Bend the rebar and plastic mesh at the top of the wall and embed in the reinforced concrete bond beam. Embed it in the concrete foundation if you have one. Lower cost chicken wire or fishing net may be adequate for the remainder of the walls. There’s also a 1/2″ internal rebar pin pounded through corner bags. Note: earthbag walls in non-seismic areas typically do not use mesh unless required by code.

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Confined Earthbag (click to enlarge)

Confined Earthbag (click to enlarge)


Sometimes incremental changes are the most effective. People are naturally resistant to major changes, but they’ll more readily grasp and utilize small changes. That’s the thinking behind this confined masonry/earthbag system. Confined masonry is one of the most common building systems in the world, with millions of structures built this way.

Confined masonry construction consists of unreinforced masonry walls confined with reinforced concrete (RC) columns and RC bond beams. In Mexico, where confined masonry makes up over 60% of all structures, it is used for lowrise construction and for buildings up to seven stories high. Confined masonry housing construction is practiced in several countries that are located in regions of high seismic risk, including Mexico, Slovenia, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Serbia and Montenegro. A very important feature of confined masonry is that columns are cast-in-place after the masonry wall construction has been completed.

The drawing above shows how to mimic traditional confined masonry using mortared stone or rubble and rebar columns, with earthbags between. Make the columns with steel cages filled with mortared stone or rubble as shown. This is one good way to build long straight walls without buttresses. (Note: mountains of rubble are freely available in Haiti. This system was created to help utilize some of that waste material to rebuild the country sustainably.)

Confined Masonry Construction, by Mario Rodriguez

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A new article by Arvid Linde in Green Home Design compares typical earth-sheltered homes with structures made of earthbags. Linde raises a number of interesting points. I agree with his assessment that most earth-sheltered designs contain a lot of high embodied energy materials, notably concrete and steel, and therefore are not as ‘green’ as they could be. Earthbag buildings, in contrast, are simpler, lower cost and have much lower embodied energy.

You can read the entire article for free at the Green Home Design website.

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Earthbag Shed in Belize

Earthbag Shed in Belize

This fine project is by Jesse Loving in Bullet Tree Falls, Belize. The content below is from his Picasa photo album. He has lots of great photos. Take a look. Or see the project page we created about it.

 

In planning to build an earthbag house in Belize, Central America, I decided to first build a smaller structure so that I could teach myself the process, learn from my mistakes so as to avoid making such mistakes when applying the technique to a large living space and, finally, so that I would have a place to store all the tools and equipment I would need onsite to actually build a mud house.

By mass, this building is 99.9% biodegradable. With its principle components being clay, sand, water, wood, and leaves – I believe it is a good example of natural building. There are some nails, screws, joist hangers, window screen, and a synthetic wood stain . . . . but by and large this building is eco-sensitive, inexpensive, built by inexperienced hands, with local labor and local materials. It will stand for a long time, provides non-mechanical temperature cooling, and is aesthetically pleasing. No forest cover was cleared for construction and the building blends well into its natural environment. No concrete was used, there are few, if any, petroleum-based products used, a very small amount of fossil fuel was used to transport materials, and very little electricity was used to charge a wireless drill and make a few cuts with a circular saw. It was a great experience, and the blueprint for a larger home design.

Image credit: Jesse Loving

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600 year old Hohokum dwelling made of caliche. Tamped caliche in plastered earthbags would be even more durable.

600 year old Hohokum dwelling made of caliche. Tamped caliche in plastered earthbags would be even more durable.


Certain types of soil for earthbag fill material may be available for free or dirt cheap. Excavation companies typically want to empty their trucks as quickly as possible to reduce labor and trucking costs. Ask them for ‘clean fill dirt,’ which is low cost soil free of debris. It’s best to avoid problem soils such as expansive clays.

One example of low cost soil that’s sometimes available from excavation companies is caliche. Caliche is calcium carbonate or decomposed limestone soil. Its nickname is nature’s cement, and covers about 12% of the earth’s crust. I’m referring to soil with calcium carbonate, not the stone. It’s widely available in Texas. Sometimes caliche is used in adobe, compressed earth block, rammed earth construction, and earthen plaster and floors.

Quentin Wilson, a leading authority on adobe construction, mentions the use of caliche on his website. He recommends a mix of 70% limestone fines, 30% caliche and 3% asphalt emulsion. The asphalt emulsion isn’t needed if you put the mix in earthbags and plaster the walls.

Pliny Fisk of Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems says caliche performs very well when mixed with sand and about one percent Portland cement. They have a demonstration building with walls made of caliche mixed with fly ash and Portland cement to form calcrete. Caliche can reduce the use of Portland cement by two thirds.

The Caliche Report – The Distribution and Use of Caliche as a Building Material: This is the best source I have found on building with caliche. The composition of caliche varies widely and so you’ll want to apply the findings in this report to ensure good results.

Photo credit: http://woodsworth.ca/IMG_1436_edited.JPG

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Roundhouse/Dome Cluster (click to enlarge)

Roundhouse/Dome Cluster (click to enlarge)


The Roundhouse/Dome Cluster and Roundhouse Cluster share the same floorplan, although in this case I’m showing a larger master bath with laundry.

Specifications include 1,330 sq. ft. interior, including lofts in the roundhouse and both large domes, 2 bedroom, 2 bath, Footprint: 31′ x 70′, not including buttresses.

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The following text and list of properties has been gathered from various poly bag supplier websites to give you a snapshot view of poly earthbags. The information is presented here in a condensed format for brevity. It’s fun doing these blog posts because I always learn something. For instance, did you know polypropylene is 100% recyclable? That’s just one of many positive properties.

Woven polypropylene bags are designed to ship large quantities of dry product in a cost-effective manner. Woven PP bags are the most common bags in the packing industry due to their wide variety of usage, flexibility and strength. These bags are commonly used in packing fertilizers, feeds, grains, flours, salt, sugar, cement, seeds or any other palletized and powdered materials. In addition, millions of poly sand bags are used every year for flood control. Bags can be made according to your desired specifications of mesh, denier, tape width, color and sizes depending on the required capacity.

Flexible and high strength • Anti-skid – treated to prevent slipping • UV resistant or UV stable (but protect from sunlight if project will take more than a few weeks) • 100% recyclable • Resistant to chemicals (alkali and acid resistant) • Corrosion resistant • Resistant to fungal growth • High strength to weight ratio • Moisture resistant – virtually unaffected by water and atmospheric moisture, doesn’t absorb water • Available in a wide range of sizes and strengths • Low elongation/dimensional stability • Lightweight • Tear and wear resistance • Low electrostatic charge • Electric insulation • Aging resistance • Low cost • Radiation resistant • 40-120gsm typical, 90-95gsm typical for grain bags

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Roundhouse Cluster (click to enlarge)

Roundhouse Cluster (click to enlarge)


Readers have shown a strong interest in my domes and roundhouses, so I decided to cluster them to create a new unique design for larger families. This version has three two-story roundhouses. There are a lot of things to like about this design: possible third bedroom, game room or home office in the main roundhouse loft, 2 baths, separated bedrooms, large walk-in closets, dining area next to the windows, and lots of south-facing doors and windows.

More information is on my Earthbag House Plans site.

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Desert Submarine (click to enlarge)

Desert Submarine (click to enlarge)


This unique 241 square foot all solar design qualifies as a zero energy home. It’s for desert regions only. The home is cooled with water trickling over the metal roofing using the same evaporative cooling principle as found in the original Desert Submarine. It’s a simple yet proven technology. Solar panels power the water pumps, lights and other electrical needs. A solar hot water heater provides domestic hot water. Electronic controls regulate the flow of water to maintain interior temperatures. The main structure consists of steel studs covered in galvanized metal roofing. Earthbag walls help keep the home comfortable year-round.
You can see more details and the floorplan on my Earthbag House Plans site.

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