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All homes need to be designed to withstand the worst disasters. In times of crisis, sustainable and durable housing is a must. Here are some examples.


With the April 25th earthquake in Nepal, the discussion of durable housing comes back to the surface. Homes in places prone to natural disasters need to be built to withstand what Mother Nature dishes out. There is no reason for hundreds of thousands of people to be without shelter on top of the trauma of losing family members, pets, and power, and living in an altered landscape. So much time and energy is spent supplying emergency housing, when it could be more efficiently spent working on recovery.

In 2006, an organization called Small Earth built over 40 dome-type structures for a Khathmandu orphanage. The Superadobe/Earthbag construction of earthbags and barbed wire was developed by Cal-Earth and passed California seismic building codes.

superadobe structure disaster housing

London’s Superadobe “earthbag” structure (image: Inhabitat Blog)

After last month’s earthquake, the domes are standing, and all residents are safe. The traditional brick buildings, however, were badly damaged. That says a lot!

Local and sustainable

This Superadobe building method uses local, natural, and inexpensive materials. The dirt of the building site can fill the earthbags, which are coiled with barbed wire between layers for strength. Earthbags are generally made of a natural material, such as jute. The final structure is almost completely biodegradable!

Families can build their own homes, becoming more self-reliant and able to pass those skills on. Community wide construction creates jobs and stimulates local economies.

Superadobe structures are also good for areas prone to hurricanes, fire, and flooding, not just earthquakes. They have been constructed in dozens of countries.

Other options

Earthships also make energy efficient and disaster-proof homes. In Haiti, they were built as temporary housing after the January 2010 earthquake. Earthship architect and founder, Mike Reynolds, said:

All housing becomes permanent regardless. People live in it until it falls apart even if it was meant to be temporary.

So why not build permanent structures? That’s what Earthship Biotecture did. These homes were built of ‘garbage’ immediately available, and were constructed in as little as four days. They have water and electricity, and there is space for food production. Earthships are so strong, they can withstand natural disasters easily. They are being built around the world.


Cubicco engineers modular homes to withstand the 180mph winds and subsequent flooding of hurricanes. They are built with recycled materials, and sustainably harvested lumber, and the shell provides R-45 insulation. Individual modular sections can be connected for a one-of-a-kind home, and adding solar panels would make this a truly eco-friendly home. Beauty and durability all in one!

Planning ahead

In the US, spring heralds the upcoming seasons of tornadoes, wildfires, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and flooding. If communities are devastated and need to be rebuilt, disaster proof housing should be the norm. Building codes need to be rewritten to require construction that will withstand natural disasters here and abroad. People will never mover out of those areas, so appropriate homes need to be built.

There is no season for earthquakes. They strike when the earth’s plates move, making them unpredictable. Nevertheless, we need to support and encourage organizations like Cal-Earth to design housing, a basic necessity and right, that will remain standing in the worst conditions.

Disaster-proofing entire communities

Imagine if entire communities were built this way! Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes would have less of an impact on daily life. Recovery would probably not take years and billions of dollars, either.

Aid for Nepal

Although this post is about building to withstand natural disasters, displaced Nepalese are in need of temporary housing now!  The second major earthquake on May 12 added to the urgency the first created. Monsoon season is on its way in June, and there are still thousands of people without shelter.

Here are a few links with news and more information about what to do and what not to do. When you donate, please make sure the organization is providing housing. Local groups know best, and some are designing shelter. They need funding to move forward. Do your homework to be assured your money is actually helping. At times like these, organizations pop up instantly to take donations and run.

Aid worker: Time is running out to help Nepal earthquake victims before monsoon season hits

Don’t rush to Nepal to help. Read this first

This page has a series of articles about the earthquakes and ways to help.

These are people I know from Italy who work at an orphanage in Kathmandu. The organization is an NGO helping their Nepalese community with housing. Please check them out, and help if you feel it’s right for you:

Human Traction Onlus (website)

Human Traction Onlus (Facebook page where there are updates on building temporary shelter)

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.