I’m forever searching for ecologically friendly, low-cost alternatives to owning my own house. One of my biggest hurdles is the land, especially living in a sprawling urban environment that’s land-locked. However, if land wasn’t an issue, I could potentially build an eco-friendly house for under $10,000….or for as little as $3,000!
Want to know the secret? Dirt! Yes, dirt.
On one of my random internet searches for unusual home designs I came across a building method called Earthbag homes. Basically, these are homes created using bags filled with dirt (I guess Dirtbag just didn’t sound as appealing as Earthbag). Layering plastic or natural fiber bags filled with dirt, a solid structure of walls and possibly a ceiling is created. To hold the bags in place, barbed wire is used between each layer. Wooden framed windows and a door are added and held in place by the bags of dirt. A standard roof can be added using wooden beams. Once the structure is finished, plaster is applied to the exterior and interior to hold it all together.
Most of these homes are curved or round, though there are plans for rectangular shaped buildings as well. (Think Hobbit House and Bilbao Baggins). The curved or round structures are stronger and better able to handle natural disasters (such as floods and earthquakes). An advantage to this style of home is that these homes can be built with just a few people with minimal construction knowledge. Other advantages include it’s quicker to build than a cob house, less prone to mold or rodents (like a straw bale home), and fire and termite retardant.
The house plans and illustrations I found on the Natural Building Blog are beautiful. But….finding gorgeous, finished Earthbag homes is a little more difficult. After spending hours searching for contemporary finished Earthbag homes, I was disappointed with my findings. Many “finished” Earthbag homes look nothing more than primitive huts. Apparently the most difficult part of building one of these homes is the plaster. Creating just the right plaster that doesn’t crack isn’t easy.
Another drawback to this style of home is that many cities may not grant building permits based on the Earthbag structure. If you live in the middle of no where, building an Earthbag home may not be an issue at all. But, if you live in a big city, you may have difficulties getting permits to build your earthen structure.
If you’re interested, need a weekend project, or have free time on your hands, check out these two sites that give detail instructions on how to build your own Earthbag structure: CalEarth and Inspiration Green. You’ll find additional information on both sites as well as the Natural Building Blog mentioned above. Oh, and if you want step-by-step instructions, check out Instructables by a well-known Earthbag builder.
If I had land, I might just experiment with this kind of structure.
What are your thoughts? Would you experiment with Earthbags?