Author Topic: Earthbag Homes  (Read 3091 times)

CptPoo

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Earthbag Homes
« on: April 12, 2012, 11:12:06 AM »
I recently stumbled across this building technique called earth bagging. The premise is simple, you get a special kind of plastic bag, fill it with a certain kind of dirt and stack it to form walls. Obviously, it is a little more complicated than that, but people are reportedly building entire homes for about $10-$20 a square foot.

These houses have a ton of benefits over traditional construction. The material inside the bags can be adjusted to provide either thermal mass or insulation, depending on your climate. Construction costs are incredibly low and the largest expense you are looking at would probably be paying for labor. (unless you do all the labor yourself) Earth bag homes are much more durable than wood frame houses and can be designed to resist just about any kind of natural disaster.

Here is some more info on this technique: http://www.earthbagbuilding.com/

Does anyone have experience with this construction technique? I also discovered a technique for building walls out of straw bales, and I'm thinking that there must be room for these techniques to be combined.

Aloysius_Poutine

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2012, 01:36:26 PM »
Your biggest problems will be getting a development permit and keeping mold away. The magnitude of both problems will depend upon your location of course.

In most places building codes exist only for 'normal' building techniques. Where I live, you'll need to dish out a bunch of cash for the variance application, architects and engineer fees to create and sign off on the plans, novel plumbing and electrical installations, etc. Not to mention the hassle of installing finishing on un-square everything (walls, floor, etc). And all the trades you bring in to help will probably charge more because it'll take them longer to figure out how to do things.

But of course there are a million reasons to never do something cool like this. If I had some land in the country I'd totally do a straw bale or rammed earth outbuilding. (I think those earth ships looks ridiculous).

gooki

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2012, 04:23:09 AM »
Also look into compressed earth block.

MEJG

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2012, 05:17:50 AM »
I've looked into earthbag and adobe and cob :-)  Right now I'm sold on Rammed Earth as a viable alternative that  is relatively natural, treads lightly on the earth, looks awesome and can easily be adapted to passive solar and net zero.

Landor n Stella

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2012, 03:34:27 PM »
I wrote my undergrad honors thesis on natural building methods in the midwest. There are so many out there! And each has it's own strengths and weaknesses. http://naturalhomes.org/ Check out this website for a good overview of all the different styles. I personally really like cordwood. It's natural, looks like a slightly different log cabin, is easyish for the regular DIY person to build. It can be made out of leftovers from several different industries, or from the timber cleared from the spot you want to build it. And you can incorporate more traditional methods of electrical and plumbing, which will get you around the inspector/regulations piece.

I'm also a fan of the tiny house movement. http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ This is the most famous website of tiny houses, but there are others. Most tiny houses are traditional construction, but they focus on waaay less space than a typical structure, and therefore are cheaper to build, cheaper to heat/cool, and tread more lightly on the earth. And they appeal to my idea of aesthetics. :-) Some tiny houses are on wheels, so you can take them with you when you move.

CptPoo

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2012, 08:14:37 AM »
Straw bale houses seem like they would be more practical in my area since Indiana gets both cold and hot weather. A well sealed straw bale house can have an R rating as high as 60 vs. conventional construction which typically has an R rating in the teens. It seems to me that it is a little crazy to build houses using conventional techniques when straw bales cost about 1/3 the price and are way more efficient. Here is an interesting project happening in Louisville.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIxO85EGclo

The thing that I like the most is that it doesn't take advance construction knowledge to build one, and if you have a team of people to help you it would be relatively easy to do yourself.

Your biggest problems will be getting a development permit and keeping mold away. The magnitude of both problems will depend upon your location of course.

In most places building codes exist only for 'normal' building techniques. Where I live, you'll need to dish out a bunch of cash for the variance application, architects and engineer fees to create and sign off on the plans, novel plumbing and electrical installations, etc. Not to mention the hassle of installing finishing on un-square everything (walls, floor, etc). And all the trades you bring in to help will probably charge more because it'll take them longer to figure out how to do things.

But of course there are a million reasons to never do something cool like this. If I had some land in the country I'd totally do a straw bale or rammed earth outbuilding. (I think those earth ships looks ridiculous).

There are a lot of resources out there that show you how to properly drain and seal everything, and if done properly earth bag and straw bales would be much more resistant to mold. I think the development permits would definitely be the hardest thing to accomplish with these methods.

The big MMM is in to construction, I wonder if he might have any input.

Landor n Stella

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2012, 07:46:15 PM »
Good luck if you decide to take it on! I've worked on a straw bale project, in Muncie, Indiana. The biggest problem with building a straw bale house is that you HAVE to get everything well-sealed before it rains or your bales get wet. Even morning dew can be an issue. Like you say, if it is done well and sealed properly it can be a great building material. If not, though, it can be pretty bad. Indiana is pretty wet, in general, so make sure that your foundation puts the bales well up above the ground. The project I worked on in Muncie is a demonstration building for straw bale, built by a couple of classes in the architecture program at Ball State. I think it is open to the public to tour.

http://www.archdaily.com/92521/straw-bale-eco-center-students-of-ball-state-university-deptartment-of-architecture/

CptPoo

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Re: Earthbag Homes
« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2012, 10:28:40 AM »
Good luck if you decide to take it on! I've worked on a straw bale project, in Muncie, Indiana. The biggest problem with building a straw bale house is that you HAVE to get everything well-sealed before it rains or your bales get wet. Even morning dew can be an issue. Like you say, if it is done well and sealed properly it can be a great building material. If not, though, it can be pretty bad. Indiana is pretty wet, in general, so make sure that your foundation puts the bales well up above the ground. The project I worked on in Muncie is a demonstration building for straw bale, built by a couple of classes in the architecture program at Ball State. I think it is open to the public to tour.

http://www.archdaily.com/92521/straw-bale-eco-center-students-of-ball-state-university-deptartment-of-architecture/

That's awesome! I am actually studying at Ball State right now, so I might have to go check that out.