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Vastu Sandbag House

Vastu Sandbag House


23 January 2009
“The new Vastu home is ready. The interior walls have been covered with clay, which naturally regulates humidity. From the outside, the buildings look like conventional homes. Sandbag filled Vastu houses can be finished with wood, marble, and other beautiful materials.
The walls are coming up! The builders proudly stand near the half-finished home. The sand-filled walls are an excellent sound barrier. Electrical wiring, and radiant floor and wall heat are also very simple to install.”

Source: Ukraine ‘Green’ Maharishi Vedic Architecture Building

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Sandbag House in Jeffrey’s Bay (click to enlarge)

Sandbag House in Jeffrey’s Bay (click to enlarge)


“This blog is about sharing our story of building an eco(ish) friendly house for our mother. We have never done this before and thought it may be useful to document lessons learnt along the way – so that others can learn from our experience. We hope that this journey inspires and motivates others to participate in our project, and even better, inspires others to start their own.

In my absence from the site a beautiful gable wall arose. It includes a little inlet for a free-standing wood using fire stove that will be placed in afterwards – we layered this with brick to protect the bags from the heat. Above it was placed a sleeper and even further up a round window (one we thought had also been stolen but was not!).

The earth we used in our natural plaster mix was obtained from an area that they are clearing for new RDP houses. Jakkie found it exactly at the right time. We had done some experiments on earth plasters sourcing earth wherever we could but on D-day all our sources pulled out. Jakkie found this earth as she drove to one of our gardens one day. With some negotiations, the tip truck delivered the earth to our site, instead of taking it to be dumped. Lovely going sister!

We will be constructing inner walls using an ancient building technique called wattle and daub. Many historic buildings include wattle and daub walls and it has been used for at least 6 000 years. It consists of a woven wooden lattice work that is plastered with an earthen plaster (combination of earth, straw and cow dung). This technique is brilliant for inner walls since it takes up little space and is more insulating that dry walls.

We will be building an earthen floor which contains no cement. This type of floor is far warmer than a synthetic floor and a lot cheaper to construct. Layered with stone, cob and lime, the floor is warm to the touch.”

Source: Sandbag House in Jeffrey’s Bay

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This fellow is having a lot of fun with his first experimental earthbag dome. From his blog, PaleoPlanet.

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Compression rings are a key part of a fast, convenient roof building system that can utilize locally available wood poles.

Compression rings are a key part of a fast, convenient roof building system that can utilize locally available wood poles.


A roof like this can be bolted together with hand tools in one hour.

A roof like this can be bolted together with hand tools in one hour.


The compression ring I designed and had built by a local machine shop for our earthbag roundhouse worked perfectly. It costs me just $20 or so and used very few materials. The roof bolted together in one hour and, as reported previously, it was rock solid even with 4-5 workers climbing on it. Also note, roundhouses are the fastest, easiest earthbag shape to build and this type of roof works perfectly.

So why did I make this new design? For one, the compression ring on our roundhouse required tricky bending of steel at an angle. See photo of the beautiful exposed ceiling. Some shops may not have the skill or equipment to make one like this. I wanted something simpler that anyone could build almost anywhere at dirt cheap cost.

I was admiring the beautiful roof on the Superadobeserano earthbag house. (Again, wow! Great job on the roof.) They used a log section instead of a steel compression ring. That works fine on small roofs, but what about larger roofs? And then there’s a risk of splitting, non-code compliance and the inconvenient center pole. So I set out to combine the best features of both.

The new design shown above seems to meet all my criteria. The emphasis is on simplicity. It’s just a steel cylinder with brackets welded on. Every metal shop or backyard welder in the world can make this if you can’t. There’s a vertical piece bent into a circle, and circular pieces of plate steel welded on top and bottom. Steel brackets with pre-drilled bolt holes are welded on to support the rafters. Fabricate and paint the compression ring in advance so it’s ready when it’s time to build the roof. Then all you have to do is drill holes in the rafter poles and add bolts.

Note, the drawing is to scale showing 16 – 3” poles (at the tip) bolted to a 16” diameter compression ring. If you use different size or number of poles, you’ll have to adjust the measurements so everything fits.

Also note you can build two of these roofs — one above the other — to create a Double Pole Roof with space for lots of insulation.

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Jayn Hobba builds a wood stove for $165

Jayn Hobba builds a wood stove for $165


Lynda Wilson over at The Owner Builder Magazine was kind enough to send me a photo and some text about building a homemade wood stove. It’s a very clever design with adobe surround to retain the heat and has a pizza oven on top.

“I’ve built a wood heater! It’s warm like a rock in the sun, it cooks a good cake, keeps the chai warm and this morning I cooked breakfast in it. And it seems reasonably efficient and clean burning if the shiny glass in the door and the terracotta pink internal walls are anything to go by. Okay, so it’s not a technological marvel boasting fuel-efficient, catalytic burning, knock-ya-socks-off good looks… at a price. It’s not even middle-of-the-road new and shiny off-the-rack gorgeous like the one up the road that the neighbours have installed. It’s certainly affordable, miraculously so and this is the story of its creation.

I wanted something that would burn cleanly and efficiently and heat a large open space for about 12 hours on one feed. My search for a good second-hand wood heater piqued my natural curiosity about the ‘how’ of all things that burned wood and soon I was enthusiastically researching masonry stoves. Having to be resourceful during my life, I have acquired skills. I come from a family that has multiple talents and abilities. We learn from each other. I have a particular zest for learning new skills as a way of surviving hardship and being on my own.”

The complete article with instructions and drawings is available for sale from The Owner Builder Magazine. Order issue #167, October/November 2011.

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Alternate title: How to Build an Earthbag House That Will Last as Long as the Pyramids. I can’t say for sure that the pyramids were built this way, but this video describes a reasonable theory of how the blocks of the pyramids were made with natural materials from the Giza Plateau – limestone, kaolin clay, sodium carbonate, lime and water. According to the video, the mixture consists of 95% limestone aggregates, 5% rock making binder and between 12%-17% water. The same methods could be used to create rock hard earthbags with incredible durability. And it’s simple enough that anyone can do it. It’s ancient technology after all.

There’s a great deal of very interesting information about this by Professor Joseph Davidovits and other researchers at the Geopolymer Institute. Here are a few quotes from their Archeology page.
“The pyramids stones are man-made (synthetic, artificial), cast in situ.”
“The Great Pyramid of Kheops is comprised of about 2.5 million blocks, most weigh two tons and could have been hauled by no less than sixty men. But some weigh up to seventy tons and these are to be found, not at the base of the pyramid, but some forty meters high. Since the ancient Egyptians did not yet have the wheel, they would have needed more than two thousand men to haul each block.”
“How could the Ancient Egyptians have cut these stones, which are extremely hard, with only the most primitive of tools? At best they would have been able to use copper saws, and copper is a softish metal, incapable of hewing the hard limestone blocks from which the early pyramids are constructed.”
“If the stones were carved, as most people believe, where are the fragments of broken stone left over? Limestone frequently splits on being cut. 5 million tons of limestone blocks must have produced millions of broken blocks and fragments. Yet, not a trace of them has ever been found.”
“The pyramid casing stones are light in density and contain numerous trapped air bubbles, unlike the quarry samples which are uniformly dense. If the casing stones were natural limestone, quarries different from those traditionally associated with the pyramid sites must be found, but where?”
“In natural stones, we expect to find elements that had the time to crystallize. However, silicates in pyramids stones are completely amorphous (not crystallized). This allows us to think that we are in presence of a cementitious process. The silicates were formed in a very short period of time.”
“This photo shows a sample of the casing from the ascending passage of Kheops great pyramid… the cross section is characterised by the presence of organic fibers and air bubbles that do not exist in normal situation, especially in a 60 millions years old limestone from the eocene era!”
“Barsoum’s team took a fresh look at 15 samples using scanning- and transmission-electron microscopes. The samples contain ratios of elements, such as calcium and magnesium that do not exist in nearby limestone. The imaging also revealed regions of amorphous structure. Both observations suggest that other substances were added to make a concrete mix.”
“The famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA, is supporting Prof. Davidovits’ re-agglomerated stone (concrete) pyramid theory. At MIT, Professor Hobbs and two colleagues and students are experimenting the construction of a small scale pyramid using the method recommended by Davidovits.”

This video helps explain the geopolymer process. In this video Professor Davidovits explains how they made a man-made sample of re-agglomerated stone and then submitted it for laboratory analysis. The laboratory said it was natural stone. For more details, go to the Geopolymer Institute YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/kadamix to see more videos such as: Bricks made at low temperature, low energy, low cost http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjeVeDVtghc&feature=related,

If the microscopic, x-ray and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy analysis doesn’t convince you, think about the Colosses of Memnon, which these same geopolymer scientists believe were cast of amalgamated/agglomerated stone in a similar manner as the pyramids using geosynthesis (limestone treated like a concrete).
“In antiquity, the statues commanded respect; the Colosses of Memnon are monoliths: they are made from a single block of stone weighing nearly 1000 tonnes and standing on a pedestal of 550 tonnes. They are 20 metres high, equal to a seven storey building. The stone from which they are made is quartzite, which is practically impossible to carve.”
“None of the great quartzite blocks bear any trace of tools that is so common in the sandstone and granite quarries: a material that is so hard, so refractory in the face of sharp tools cannot, it is true, be worked by the same methods as ordinary sandstone nor even of granite. We know nothing of how the blocks of such a rock were squared, how their surfaces were dressed or how they were given the beautiful polish that can still be seen in some places… Did the sculptor, in the middle of engraving a hieroglyphic character, strike one of the flints or pieces of agate that are encrusted in the material, the line of the character continued in all its purity, and neither the agate nor its enveloping stone bear the slightest crack.”

Summary: Whether or not the pyramids were made with geopolymer cast stones could be debated endlessly. However, the key point for natural builders is geopolymer scientists have developed recipes using natural materials and simple production techniques that can be utilized in rammed earth and earthbag construction. This is an exciting new field of opportunity in my opinion. Please refer to the publications by Professor Joseph Davidovits and other researchers at the Geopolymer Institute for complete information.

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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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Tent cities in Haiti

Tent cities in Haiti: A common sight in the region; tent cities in various stages of disarray and deterioration.


Tim Merritt is working to provide emergency earthbag shelter in Haiti. He’s currently at the Haitian Academy, the site of the only full-time medical school in Haiti, not far from Port-au-Prince. The directors of the academy have offered land and are enthusiastic about building with earthbags.

At this point, he’s getting set up with tools, choosing building sites and networking with locals to help determine final house/shelter designs. They’ve started a tool shed first for training workers and to help introduce this building system. You can read more about the project on their new blog.

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Barbed Wire Anchors for Seismic Regions

Barbed Wire Anchors for Seismic Regions

Patti Stouter has devised a new way of reinforcing earthbag walls in seismic regions. Cement mortar is inserted in some joints between bags to lock the barbed wire in place and increase tensile strength. Mortar isn’t needed between every bag, and most likely every course doesn’t need this extra reinforcement. Designers/engineers could strategically place the mortar only where needed. For instance, analysis might lead to reinforcing the joint on each side of each corner and the middle of each wall on a moderate sized house. This system is very efficient — each joint would use just one shovel of mortar. One option is to tie or cinch the lower and upper courses of barbed wire together (only where mortar is being applied) to better embed the wire and increase strength. You could also mound a little extra mortar on top to add additional strength.

Designers and engineers now have another very good technique to add to our ‘tool box’ of reinforcing earthbag buildings — none of which were available or published just a few months ago. Thank you Patti.

Image credit: Patti Stouter

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Our roundhouse is nearly finished and so I wanted to share some results. The main impression is one of incredible fortresslike strength — massive walls with no sway. Our roundhouse and dome are probably the two strongest buildings I’ve ever worked on. Our earthbag dome, for instance, never budged as about 15 truckloads of soil were dumped on top (and remains in perfect shape in a rainy climate two years later).

It boggles the mind how flimsy stick-built houses meet code and yet some have doubts about earthbag building. Let’s briefly compare the two: A strong person could readily kick their way through pressed board siding and sheetrock (typical materials in stick framing) in about one or two minutes. The same person would probably be struggling an hour later trying to penetrate an earthbag wall, even with a sledge hammer, pick, shovel and crow bar.

I’m trying to find the best way to convey just how strong earthbag building is. There’s a good example on page 21 of Donald and Kaki’s book Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques. They show photos of an earthbag privacy wall that was hit by a drunk driver. The wall was relatively undamaged except for some chipped plaster, while the car was totaled.

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