Posts Tagged ‘sandbags’

There’s great, untapped potential for superinsulated earthbag buildings in cold climates. Here’s a way to combine the best features of earthbags and yurts. The basic idea is to combine earthbag walls filled with lightweight insulation such as scoria (lava rock), with a traditional yurt roof frame that’s insulated with perlite or vermiculite.

Yurts (ghers) have been used in Mongolia and other areas for centuries. Traditional yurts are well suited for cold, windy places, in part because the wind just blows around them. They can, however, be made even more comfortable with extra insulation in earthbags.

Scoria is perfect for superinsulated earthbag walls: low cost, all natural, rot proof, fireproof, doesn’t attract pests, lightweight and easy to work with. Scoria is great for building walls since the aggregates tend to lock together and form stable walls. Tie courses together with twine for best results, and then cover walls with canvas.

Yurt roof frames are readily available through numerous suppliers, and fast and easy to assemble. The steel tension cable is strong yet light. They are very resource efficient, using minimal wood, but often lack adequate insulation. I recommend tying bags of lightweight insulation to the bottom of the frame. Perlite and vermiculite would be excellent choices for ceiling insulation since they’re very lightweight.

This design is portable, just like traditional yurts. The entire structure can be disassembled and transported if necessary. This would be a dream structure for places like Minnesota, Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Mongolia because it would be super comfortable, inexpensive, portable, wind resistant, owner built and could be built in many sizes. Add a skylight, rocket stove, small solar panel and composting toilet and then you can laugh at the wind howling by.

Note: you can use recycled bags if available (often farmers have them). You can also order tubes from poly bag suppliers. They make custom sizes. Tubes are faster to fill since you don’t have to stop and tie the ends as often. A 12″ tube (measured when empty) that provides 10″ of insulation when filled would be ideal for many cold climates. Simply tie the tubes to the yurt frame with twine. Use whatever insulation is most practical in your area.

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Bag stands can speed the bag filling process. Doni and Kaki provide details for building bag stands in their excellent book Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques. I like using a “bucket chute” — a plastic bucket with the bottom cut out. Here we present two commercially available bag stands for those who don’t want to make one.

Sandbagging Frame
– Removable legs to enable storage in small space
– Saves bending while holding the bag
– Prevents knuckle injuries that might occur when one person is holding the bag while another one shovels the material in
– Suits hesian bag size (230mm wide) and silt bag size (250mm wide)

Sandbagging Frame

Sandbagging Frame

– One person fills fast
– Easier and safer
– No power source required
– Take it where you need it
– Lessens backstrain and fatigue
– The HopperHook (optional) attaches the Sandhopper to the delivery vehicle, enabling filling of bags directly from the source.

Sandhopper Bag Stand

Sandhopper Bag Stand

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Earthbag building (also called sandbag building) is surely one of the lowest cost, most practical building methods. First used by the military for building durable, bullet and blast resistant structures, this building method has recently experienced a surge of interest among do-it-yourself builders. There are now an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 earthbag structures, including homes, offices, shops, schools, temples, clinics, orphanages and even ecovillages.

One of the strongest selling points is affordability. A simple earthbag dome, for example, using recycled grain bags and earth can be built for around $100. A larger, more comfortable home can be built for around $500-$1000. The EarthDome House at Terrasante Village in Tucson, Arizona is just one example.

To read the entire article, go to EzineArticles.

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Kelly and I try to track everything about earthbags and sandbags.  Here’s a suggestion I came across on a January 4, 2009 post at SurvivalBlog.com.   It’s another example of the amazing versatility of building with bags.

“We came across a small discovery here on our ranch. We feed many animals and four dogs. So we go through a good deal of dog food in bags. I noticed the similarity in dog food bags to the construction of sandbags. So, I have been using dog food bags as low cost/no cost sandbags. They work well if you keep the weight close to the amount that came in the bag. They don’t rip. We have been using them for a year and they hold up well in our tests thus far. They have been used in areas that are under roof so they don’t get exposed to rain/moisture… We have also stored some [empty bags] and they hold up well and don’t seem to degrade.”

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Strawbale houses were first built shortly after the invention of the baling machine.  Settlers in western Nebraska who had access to this machine were quick to realize the potential of large, insulated building blocks.  And the rest of the story, as they say, is history.  This same potential now exists for earthbag building.

Ensor Equipment automated bag filling machine.

Ensor Equipment automated bag filling machine.

The benefits of building with bags are described in detail throughout this website.  But earthbag building does have a downside – filling, moving and tamping the bags is labor intensive.  The labor can be reduced somewhat by using lightweight volcanic gravel, but it’s still a lot of work.

This could change with the invention of the automated bag filling machine.  Originally designed for flood control projects, the Ensor Equipment bag filling machine has enormous potential for changing the future of earthbag building, especially large scale projects such as housing developments, warehouses, factories, shops, schools and other civic structures.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

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Readers are asking about two bag filling devices on the Internet — EZBagger and GoBagger.  They scoop and funnel sand directly into bags.

My preference for a bag filler was explained in my post titled Bucket Chutes (December 16, 2008).  I explained how you can modify a standard $1 bucket in couple of minutes for something very similar.

The main drawback to these other devices is they are designed for small bags.  From their websites it looks like they’re using 12” bags or something similar.  I’ve never heard of earthbag builders using 12” bags.  Most are using 18”-24” bags to obtain wide, stable walls.  It would be physically impossible for all but professional athletes to scoop up enough material to fill an 18” bag the way they show (and work steadily all day long).

Plus, most earthbag builders are using soils with about 20%-30% clay – adobe soil, road base, reject fines, etc. – not pure sand, which can shift and cause structural problems.  The clay portion is important for stabilizing the walls.  It would be very difficult if not impossible to scoop up these types of soils in the way that’s being advertised.

But judge for yourself.  I’ve never used either product, and don’t intend to.

EZBagger Their claim: One person can do 3 times the work… No price listed.
GoBagger Their claim: One person can do 5 times the work… Out of stock

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Sandbags have a long history of use in flood control.  United Bags, Inc., for example, has supplied sandbags to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the public for 117 years.

Sandbags play a critical role in building and fortifying dikes and levees to protect our communities.  The bags are low cost and easily transported to the site where needed.  They can be filled with locally available sand or soil by unskilled workers.  A few new inventions have come along as potential replacements, but all lack the time-tested efficiency and effectiveness of sandbags.

sandbag dikeIf you follow the news, it almost seems there’s a flood somewhere at any given time.  And when it comes to flood control, sandbags are the first choice of defense.  For instance, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers provided 13 million sandbags this year, in addition to those purchased by communities.

The same properties that make sandbags (earthbags) ideal for flood control – strength, durability, resistance to moisture, low cost, ease of use – also makes them well suited for building houses and other structures.

Floods are an all too common reality, so ask yourself this: In the event of a flood would you rather have a wood-framed house or an earthbag house?

Photo by Huitzil, http://www.flickr.com/people/7173680@N03
Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7173680@N03/1805951815

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In an effort to track down the history of earthbag building, I’ve been reading up on the history of burlap bags – the forerunner to polypropylene bags.  This post is based on information at NYP Corporation, a wholesaler of burlap bags.  (See “Jute to Burlap.”)

For centuries, the people of India used jute, the plant which burlap is made from, to make rope, paper and handwoven fabrics.

The first mill to mass produce burlap and other jute products was established near Calcutta, India in 1855.  This region is still the main supplier of jute products today.  The mechanical process of spinning jute fibers was first worked out in Dundee, Scotland.  Dundee produced the first power-driven machines for the mill in Calcutta in 1859.

According to the article on NYP Corporation’s website, “By 1869, five mills were operating with 950 looms.  Growth was rapid and, by 1910, 38 companies operating 30,685 looms exported more than a billion yards of cloth and over 450 million bags.”
Photo source: http://www.militarysupplyhouse.com

A sandbagged military position during the American Civil War.

A sandbagged military position during the American Civil War.

Update from Doug at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/7/18/754890/-NFTTFill-The-Sandbags!-Edition

Doug has kindly informed us that sandbags can be traced back almost 250 years to the Napoleonic Wars, during which time French troops were issued sandbags for use in the field.

The excellent photo above shows how sandbags were used during the Civil War.

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There is an ongoing debate over the origins of earthbag building — who ‘invented’ it and when.  It is an important point that gets into sticky questions about patent rights of building with earthbags.

Some accounts of military sandbag structures go back over 100 years.  I haven’t seen pictures of these, but a recent Google search turned up lots of images of sandbag (earthbag) structures that were built during World War II and the Korean War.  Most photos were of crude sandbag-reinforced trenches and gun fortifications.  However, I discovered several interesting photos of well-made sandbag buildings that pre-date modern sandbag structures by several decades.

The photo below shows a bunker with straight walls, a door and at least one simple window.  It’s nothing fancy, but it does document how military sandbag structures were used (and lived in) decades ago – in this case, over 50 years ago.

sandbag bunker

Here’s a quote from the news article associated with the photo: “The bunker in which Sgt. Orville Hinck and his comrades lived was made out of old railroad ties and sandbags that would provide some safety from exploding enemy artillery shells.”

Kelly Hart goes into more detail on the history of earthbag building at http://www.earthbagbuilding.com/history.htm.

Photo courtesy of Orville Hinck (from Korean War, 1955)
Photo source: http://www.sedaliademocrat.com/onset?id=1382&template=article.html

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We live in interesting and somewhat precarious times.  No one can say for certain that they are immune from economic collapse, civil disturbance or even war.  With the world’s escalating financial, environmental and political problems lately, anything is possible.

All the many benefits of earthbags are reported on our EarthbagBuilding.com website – low cost, simplicity of construction, durability, and on and on.  But almost no one mentions the bullet resistance of sandbags (earthbags).  As this post explains, it’s a bonus benefit of earthbag building that is often overlooked.

How effective are sandbags for stopping bullets? The Box O’ Truth website performed a test to find out: http://theboxotruth.com/docs/bot7.htm.

Testing bullet resistance of sandbags using boxes of sand.

Testing bullet resistance of sandbags using boxes of sand.

They built boxes out of 2×6 lumber and drywall, and filled them with sand so they could measure bullet penetration.  Four boxes were stacked back-to-back on sawhorses.  But it turns out they didn’t need that many.  Just one box would have been sufficient.

They started out with a .22 LR from a .22 revolver.  It penetrated about 5 inches into the sand.

They continued the test using 9mm Ball, .45 ACP, 5.56mm XM-193 Ball out of a 20″ AR15, 7.62 X 51 from a FAL, a 12 gauge slug, and finally .223 and .308 rifle rounds.

None of the rounds penetrated more than 6”!

And I’m sure the military have done extensive testing on this or they wouldn’t have kept using sandbags for all these years.  I think we can add bullet resistance to the list of earthbag benefits.

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