Earthbag Homes

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

earthbag home

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-philippines

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

earthbag home

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.

earthbag home

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

If you do not like the idea of plastic bags—then Kelly Hart and Dr. Owen Geiger of Earthbag home 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: earthbaghome.wordpress.com

Earthbag Home Foundations

Foundations differ depending on your site. In a rainy locale, rocks are placed under the earthbags for drainage.

earthbag home
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.

earthbag home

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

earthbag home

Project Seres, Guatemala. projectseres.org, this photo was originally found at “flickr. com/photos/projectseres/4827000210”.

2) Emergency Shelter Village

sandbag home

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.

earthbag home

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

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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) Farming Earthbag Homes

These two domes are on a farming residence. A great example of combining need with sustainability.

5) Something Fishy

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CalEarth — this might not be totally earthbag, but like the fish face. Photo by James / Flickr.

6) Hurricane-Resistant Home

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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

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CalEarth photo by Mike Smith (really!!) / Flickr. The textured walls accentuate the shape of this building by contrasting the smooth walls.

8) Defining The Structure

curved entry way of the house

A post shared by JustinVoorhees (@drgreenthumbs53) on

Wooden boards are used to help define and stabilize the structure before applying plaster.

9) Classic Design

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Classical Arches, domes and vaults updated. The combination fireplace and wind-scoop faces prevailing winds. Photo by James / Flickr.

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CalEarth — inside of the vaulted house. You can find additional information about their building at calearth.org.

10) Close-Up Of Mud Ornaments

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Cal-Earth —exterior mud ornament. Photo by Ken McCrown / Flickr.

11) Earthbag Vault

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CalEarth Vault under construction. Photo by Ashley Muse / Flickr.

12) Boarding School

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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

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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

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Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Justin Martin / Flickr.

earthbag home

Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Justin Martin / Flickr.

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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. 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

earthbag home plans

See dozens of earthbag home concepts from Owen Geiger. Also check out his Natural Building Blog.

Earthbag Home Resources

Earthbag Home Lessons And Tourism

More Earthbag Home Pictures

Written by Keiren

Keiren is an artist who lives in New York City. A lover of animals, nature, science & green building. Keiren originally founded Inspiration Green in 2007, which merged with Insteading in 2016.

109 Comments

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  1. Encouraging ideas. Still, they look like dry climate concepts because there are no eaves to run the rain off. Many humans live in damp or humid places where a strong dwelling must be above puddles, withstand storms/wind driven rain, and resist mould and dampness.

  2. Hi Winston,

    When dirt is mixed with a binder, making a cement-like structure – and the exterior is plastered – these buildings are fine in most all climates. Many are being built in wet Central America and note the above home in Florida as well. And domes are about the best shape for strong winds, as the winds do not encounter much resistance. Superadobes can be built to meet national U.S. and local building standards. Although in a wet climate it is important to make sure drainage under and surrounding the base of the bldg is adequate. Also aggregate-filled earthbags starting below grade and extending well above grade in flood-prone areas (reduces risk of the structure being undermined) – See this site for expert advice https://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/

    Best! Thanks for writing…

  3. Any idea of the lifecycle impact of a cotton bag? Way more than that of plastic. I don’t think using cotton in this manner is terribly sustainable.

  4. Hi, You are right, new cotton bags would not be a green choice. But expert earthbagger Owen Geiger says ‘Recycled bags made of natural fibers would have the least environmental impact of all bags. The drawbacks include added time and effort tracking them down and the extra cost and labor stabilizing the fill material, so the soil remains a strong building block when the bag inevitably decays.’ See https://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/natural-fiber-bags/

  5. Hi there Rebecca, If you put an insulating material such as lava stone, scoria, pumice, perlite or vermiculite inside the bags then you can build in cold climates.

    Material — R-value/inch — R-value/15′

    Rice hulls — R-3 — R-45

    Perlite — R-2.7 — R-40

    Vermiculite — R-2.13 — R-32 to 36

    Scoria — R-26 to R-30 ?

  6. If someone ever calls you a ‘dirtbag,’ say, ‘thanks for the compliment! Yes, I am a visionary!’ I love these homes! They are another form of ‘earthship,’ and the fact that they could be built of any dirt/earth/clay/cement, inside bags made of many locally available fabrics/materials, makes them THE practical, cheap, sturdy home of the future. Will share your link on our Facebook group, ‘Worlders – A Tribe of Wanderers.’ Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. A huge waste product each year. I’ve heard of these houses with external plaster on chicken wire. External walls are the long width and internal walls the narrow width, Recycled doors windows and frames, wooden or tiles but I have heard of one floor of vertical directories. Because its paper all the walls must be waterproofed

  8. I love these alternative, eco friendly ideas for buildings. Cracks me up that people suggest they are not practical or ugly. Wake up, what is practical about our current building strategies and in my eyes these are far more beautiful and in harmony with nature than most existing structures. Love it!!

  9. this is pretty nice building material. Ancient tech with the modern touch, I’m about to tear my house down and build a dirt house.

  10. I would like to try to build one but I would have to get bags and use slate as outside because I have a lot of it.I am disabled so I have plenty of time but not much strength.thanks for the inspiration.

  11. We have wasted so many domiciles to quakes, hurricanes, Tsunami, due to failure of the materials and planning of the buildings. Using the earth itself to build residences, and probably animals, and more.

    Creating all of these will lead to creating newer means of heating, cooling, power sources, storage.

  12. Such a cool concept, I absolutely love the look of these and the general idea. My only concern is how they would work in different climates.. A pretty inventive idea, and so eco-friendly!

  13. How cool! Some of the photos look like Luke Skywalkers home! Thanks for sharing great photos of something I have never seen before!

  14. Such a fine presentation of environmentally sound construction and earth friendly materials to reduce waste, recycle and reuse. How do we get builders to use this type of construction in neighborhoods? It most likely would not fit in established areas, but would take off in new developments. Blessings, Debby

  15. Exciting and innovative. This is really great information and hopefully will circulate beyond this exposure to many people around the globe.

    The only issues that I see would be with power. I know that many places would not require permits but in many countries the electrical and the water supplying would present a problem to the ordinances.

    If the complete package were to include self reliance on power from solar and wind then this could really take off like a storm and never see the dust gathering from complacency.

    Great article.

  16. I work for a company that does Energy Performance Certification in the UK and have to say I am very impressed by these structures. If we could just find somewhere for the rain to go then I think these would take off in a big way in England. Trouble is, we’d all be out of a job! If you want to know more about Landlord EPCs click here. ‘

  17. Boo on Jomar. I guess there always has to be a downer on a comment thread. Most of these countries don’t have the materials for the ‘age proven alternatives’. They are labor intensive because that’s one thing they do have and not to mention that it’s a community building these together and that is just as important.

  18. Възхитен съм от решимостта на господин Нейдър Калили да материализира своята величествена идея,и направи съпричастни към нея голяма част от посетилите мрежата!Вярвам,че някъде ще се окаже като спасителен остров,който ще задоволи житейските нужди на много хора.Удобно е,топло изолационно,дълготрайно,устойчиво на трус,дълготрайно и въпрос на индивидуален избор.

    Желая успех на благородното начинание!

  19. Love the innovation behind this, and am always in favor of energy saving, low resource ideas. Now imagine having a few bicycles to power the homes! I imagine with the materials used, you’d already be using way less to maintain a comfortable temperature, so what if you had bike generators powering your lights and everything else, like these guys did! http://www.melodeego.com

  20. Can these homes be built in the Midwest? They are just like a regular house and can be heated and cooled right?

  21. Yes, they hold up really well, as well as adobe. But one must make sure there is good drainage around the base of the building so the walls never sit in water. Earthbag buildings also hold up really well during earthquakes and are resistant to fire to boot.

    Yes, they can be heated and cooled with the bonus that the walls are so thick the interior temps will be more stable.

    I hope you both get to build one one day!

  22. I admire the look, feel and simplicity of this type of construction. However, I see the barbed wire creating problems in the long run similar to the use of rebar in concrete structures. Eventually the barbed wire will oxidize and create structural problems and weakening of the overall structure. Perhaps a nylon or plastic substitute could be used.

  23. These buildings are really cool. I wish I had known about them when I toured eco homes in your region.

    Cheers, Terry

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