Step outside. You could be standing on the building materials for your next home. Earthbag homes—the concept is as simple as it sounds.
Earthbag Homes With Sandbags
The sandbags are filled on-site and arranged in layers or as compressed coils. Stabilizers such as cement, lime, or sodium carbonate may be added to an ideal mix of 70% sand, 30% clay. Straw may also be added. The earthbags are then plastered over with adobe. Arquitectura en Equilibrio (Architecture in Balance) (Jose Andres Vallejo / Flickr)
Earthbag construction in the Philippines. Long sandbags add stability, but using barbed wire between layers of shorter sandbags, is also fine. It takes much longer to fill the long bags than the short ones. This photograph was taken by SCDLR8899 / Flickr.
Earthbag Homes With Plastic Bags
Plastic bags recycled into earth bags—if plastic does not break down for a thousand years, this home is sure to last several lifetimes. Of course covered with adobe or plaster, so that the plastic does not offgas or degrade. Arquitectura en Equilibrio, Colombia. Photo by Jose Andres Vallejo / Flickr.
Inside an EarthBag ready for plaster. The other way to make an earthbag. A mix of native soil; clay/aggregate/sand, and/or insulating material such as lava stone, scoria, pumice, perlite or vermiculite inside polypropylene bags (which have a half life of 500 years). The plastic needs to be protected from the degradation of the sun’s rays with a plaster. More information can be found at structure1.com.
Polypropylene Sandbags For Sale
- Empty Beige-Tan or Green Woven Polypropylene Sandbags with BUILT-IN TIES, UV Protection; Size: 14″ x 26″, 100 bags
- Sand Bags – Empty White Woven Polypropylene Sandbags w/ Ties, w/ UV Protection; size: 14″ x 26″, 10 bags
- Empty White Woven Polypropylene Sandbags with UV Coating Protection, 14″ x 27″, 100 bags
If you do not like the idea of plastic bags—then Kelly Hart and Dr. Owen Geiger of Earthbag Building suggest natural porous bags (hemp, jute, flax or linen) filled with dirt, stone powder and sodium carbonate or lime (or numerous other cement capable wastes). After you lay a course of bags, sprinkle the layer with water, and after drying you will have a cement layer. Read more here: earthbagbuilding.com
Earthbag Home Foundations
Foundations differ depending on your site. In a rainy locale, rocks are placed under the earthbags for drainage.
The time consuming part, filling the bags. The bags are filled in place on the wall. The CalEarth site says that three reasonably-fit persons can lay 100 linear ft of bag per day. Arquitectura en Equilibrio, Colombia. Jose Andres Vallejo / Flickr.
Tamping is a necessary step. Initially a trench is dug and then filled with gravel, cement or a sunken layer of bags. This technique makes nice benches as well. Visit ecocentro.org for additional information.
15 Striking Earthbag Homes Around the World
1) Project Seres
Project Seres, Guatemala. projectseres.org, this photo was originally found at “flickr. com/photos/projectseres/4827000210”.
2) Emergency Shelter Village
CalEarth — Emergency Shelter Village, Hesperia, California. Iranian born architect, Nader Khalili developed the long-bag Superadobe prototype in California. In 1991 he founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), a non-profit research and educational organization. Photo by James / Flickr.
Cal Earth — Emergency Shelters. This long bag/barbed wire concept was originally presented by Nader Khalili to NASA for proposed home habitats on the Moon and Mars. Photo by Ashley Muse / Flickr.
3) Visible Layers
CalEarth Let the layers show. Photo by James / Flickr. Defining the layers of your earthbag home is one of many ways to add a personal touch.
4) Earthbag Tiny Home
The perfect sustainably tiny home! It looks especially dreamy with the snow fall!
5) Something Fishy
CalEarth — this might not be totally earthbag, but like the fish face. Photo by James / Flickr.
6) Hurricane-Resistant Home
The aerodynamic forms resist hurricanes and the structures pass California’s earthquake codes. They are flood and fire resistant as well. A double eco-dome can be built (bagged) in 10 weeks. Photo by James / Flickr.
7) Textured Walls
The textured walls accentuate the shape of this building by contrasting the smooth walls.
8) Defining The Structure
Wooden boards are used to help define and stabilize the structure before applying plaster.
9) Classic Design
Classical Arches, domes and vaults updated. The combination fireplace and wind-scoop faces prevailing winds. Photo by James / Flickr.
CalEarth — inside of the vaulted house. You can find additional information about their building at calearth.org.
10) Close-Up Of Mud Ornaments
Cal-Earth —exterior mud ornament. Photo by Ken McCrown / Flickr.
11) Earthbag Vault
CalEarth Vault under construction. Photo by Ashley Muse / Flickr.
12) Boarding School
Ninos y Jovenes boarding school in San Juan Cosala’, Mexico. Pic taken by earthbag expert Kelly Hart. see more photos of project here: flickr.com
13) Earthbag House In New York
This is the first EarthBag structure to receive proper home permits in New York State. A project of Sister Marsha Allen of Rochester, she hopes the students who helped build the structure will join her in Haiti, where she hopes to build many more.
14) Florida Earthbag Home
Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Justin Martin / Flickr.
Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Justin Martin / Flickr.
Earthbag Home under construction in Argentina. Lots more images here: superadobeserrano.blogspot.com
15) Cyclops House
This small earthbag home looks like it comes from a different world. For keeping warm during the colder months, it is important to include a chimney.
Earthbag Home Construction Timelapse Videos
This video (viewed more than 3.5 million times!) shows the construction of an earthbag home in Fairbanks, Alaska. The video shows the first bags being laid over a gravel foundation. The first three layers of bags are filled with gravel for extra drainage. The two-person construction team runs barbed wire along the bags to hold them in place. After each layer is laid, they tamp down the bags.
Related Post: Rammed Earth
The video shows the team putting in place a door frame, cutouts for electrical outlets, and windows. (Though they note in the video the doors and windows should have been done differently!) The final step shows them building a frame for a second floor, and has photos of them living in the half-finished home. In the description, the guy who filmed the video says they never actually finished the house! (But they’re working on it.)
This time-lapse video from Happen Films shows a team of people building a small, circular earthbag shelter. The team uses six-foot-long sandbags for the foundation, filling them with sand as they lay them down. Long sandbags can provide more stability than short bags. The bags are laid on dirt, within a pit, over a plastic tarp. Meanwhile, another group frames and windows for the shelter.
As it’s a circular house, they build a circular roof, with trusses rising up from the top of the walls and meeting at a peak. The team packs mud into the gaps between the sandbags and completely covers both then interior and exterior walls. Then, they finish with a coat of adobe. They lay pre-cut plywood in the gaps formed by the roof trusses, nailing them to the trusses themselves. The roof is completed with a chimney and metal sheeting.
This is time-lapse (sort-of). The family that runs the channel “mylittlehomestead” bought a huge plot of land, and decided to build earthbag bedrooms for each of their four teenagers. The kids design the homes and their friends help with the construction (along with the rest of the family).
This video—it’s 87 minutes long—shows everything from laying out the sandbags, to installing the electrical, the window frames, building the roof, all the way to setting up the solar panel array.
The Best Earthbag Home Books
Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer.
Earthbag Architecture: Building Your Dream with Bags by Kelly Hart (Forward by Owen Geiger).
Building With Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction by Paulina Wojciechowska
Earthbag Home Plans
See dozens of earthbag home concepts from Owen Geiger. Also check out his Natural Building Blog.
Earthbag Home Resources
- Great ‘how to’ resource here: buildsimple.org
- Books, Supplies, Links, Lots of Info: earthbagbuilding.com
- Cal-Earth focuses on researching, developing and teaching the technologies of Superadobe. The prototypes have not only received California home permits but have also met the requirements of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for emergency housing. calearth.org
- Buy long bags here: calearth.org/shop
- See structural notes at bottom of pdf: structure1.com
- Rubble-Bag Houses – How to: motherearthnews.com
- How to make papercrete: greenhomehome.com
- EcoFrame & EcoBags, Israel: ecobeamhomes.com
Earthbag Home Lessons And Tourism
- California and Worldwide: calearth.org
- Brazil: ecocentro.org
- Argentina: superadobeserrano.blogspot.com lots of home pics
- Northwest US: earthenhand.com
More Earthbag Home Pictures
- Lots here: structure1.com
- Master builder Gernot Minke gernotminke.de
- School in Mexico: escueladeenergiasolar.org
- Nice step by step images from Panama: landtrees.net
Meghan Fish says
We built an earthbag retaining wall with barbed wire between the layers. It is solid and appears to be doing the job. We tried stucco-ing the bags directly but it quickly disintegrated over the summer. Trying to find something to cover the bags so we dont lose all our hard work.
Alex Bowman says
I wish I’d known about earthbag homes years ago. I’ve only become aware of them recently and I like the low cost of it and the fact that most of the material is already onsite. I wasn’t sure how to achieve an earth home for my project so what I did was buy a dome home kit (this one, simpleterra.com/dome-homes/) then built earth up around it, using it as the base.