Cheap, Sustainable Building With Earthbags

Imagine building the entire structure of a home in one day. Imagine building a solid home with thickly insulated walls that keep a home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That’s the beauty of earthbag homes. Some people are building beautiful homes that look normal while others are taking full advantage of the earthbag building process to construct spacey houses that defy the look of conventional homes. has a great project list showing the construction process behind various earthbag buildings.

Perhaps the most important use of earthbag building is found in quickly deployable, easily constructed houses for refugees and those suffering through natural disasters. Organizations like Cal-Earth and the Lhasa Foundation are popularizing earthbag dome structures as quickly build-able structures using locally-sourced materials that are earth-quake safe.

Earthbag construction is a simple process used to build homes that cost as little as $650 U.S., according to World Habitat Awards. Such earthbag homes, made of “Superadobe” were developed by Cal-Earth founder, Iranian architect Nader Khalili. These structures were a finalist in the habitat awards in 2007. Khalili’s process for building these simple but beautiful, earthquake-proof dome-shaped homes, is entirely low-impact since they require no lumber and few building materials that aren’t already onsite. The main building material, dirt. The main energy source for building, sweat.

The patented process, free for humanity, requires that a twelve-inch deep foundation trench is dug, then long, tubular bags are filled with slightly dampened earth, placed into position, tamped down by hand and then a strand or two of barbed-wire is placed atop the bags, two strands for larger homes and foundation layers. The next long tubular bag is placed atop and slightly inward of the first tube, creating the gentle sloping that will lead to the rain-shedding dome shape.

The barbed wire, the damp earth used and the dome shape of the structures are key developments that make these structures earthquake-proof, even by California’s stringent standards.

As the buildings are erected, spaces are left for doors and finally an earthbag archway is constructed for the doorway. Small windows are cut out of the structure later and plastics tubes are placed in for ventilation. A barrel or bucket section may be used during construction to hold the space for a larger window.

Cal-Earth’s refugee housing is just one example of earthbag building. One downfall to its use as refugee housing is that the structures may be too permanent. Countries with refugees and their home countries worry that Cal-Earth’s Superadobe buildings create a  structure that encourages refugees to stay in these structures, which were supposed to temporary.

Other earthbag homes are built using a number of lumber-reducing tricks that help maximize sound and heat absorbing properties of earthbags and use their versatility to create truly original homes. Many of these homes use earthbags in the same way that brick homes are made, by piling earth-filled bags on top of each other and then offsetting subsequent rows slightly.

In such structures wood, metal and/or concrete are used to reinforce the structure and create spaces for windows and doors. The reinforcement also allows multiple floors to be built. Finally, the home is finished with an adobe or cement mixture to make sure the structure is water and wind proof. Such earthbag homes are still inexpensive to build and minimize use of wood and other materials.

In the end, the look and feel of an earthbag home can be traditional, spacey or a home that blends into the natural surroundings. The vision for an earthbag home is limited only by the architect’s and owner’s imaginations. Natural Homes has a map of earthbag homes around the world, showcasing their looks and features.

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