A few weeks ago, I wrote an article discussing what an earthbag home is and why you should consider building one. Over the past week, I traveled to southeast Ohio to actually participate in building an earthbag home with two women who built the earthbag home that they live in. Because I did research on earthbag homes and felt pretty familiar with the concept, I had some knowledge going into the build on what to expect. However, getting my hands dirty actually building the home brought some new perspectives on earthbag construction.
The major drawback of earthbag building that I hadn’t really considered before is you must create a plan. Once you decide the basic footprint of what you want to build, then you have to carefully map out where you will place pipes to allow for water and electric hookups, where to put Velcro plates if you plan to construct walls, where you want doors and windows to be to maximize stability of the structure, how tall you want your ceilings to be, where to place beams for the roof, and whatever else you can think of. If you plan on building in this style, taking the time to carefully plan from start to finish will save you a ton of time and headaches down the road.
Once you start building, you can’t really go back and add later. It takes more time and energy to fix or add elements down the road, so planning on the front end will save you later. Careful planning also allows you to order the necessary materials and build the forms for the doors and windows, so you don’t waste time waiting for materials.
Earthbag construction isn’t easy; it’s a labor-intensive process. First you have to carefully lay out the barbed wire. Next you start filling, laying, and then tamping the bags down for each layer. Even though we worked for about five hours each day, I felt pretty exhausted at the end. Despite having about eight people there working on the structure, the construction takes time. Traditional homes go up quickly once the foundation is laid. You’ll see progress each day when building your earthbag home, but probably not nearly as much as you’re used to. This process takes patience, so make sure you have plenty of it before starting.
That being said, building an earthbag home is possible to do even if you have no construction knowledge. The two women who built the earthbag home I toured built it basically all by themselves in about nine months and consulted an earthbag home book to guide them. They had people help here and there, but for the most part the two of them built their home, which amazes and inspires me.
The women noted that for their 14-x-20-foot home it cost them about $10,000 to build. For less than the average cost of a new car, they built a small home. I know you’re thinking that a 14-x-20-foot space isn’t a whole lot, and it’s not really designed for more than two people to comfortably live in. However, you can make these structures bigger and finish them out to look more like a traditional home. If you want to make your earthbag house look more traditional, you might have to spend more money, but you do have that flexibility.
As mentioned in the other Zing post about earthbag homes, these types of homes provide a pretty much impenetrable fortress. The women living in the earthbag home mentioned that every once in a while they get gale force winds or even tornados in their area. They’d sit in the living room watching trees fall around them and even on their house but did not flinch one bit. They even said a tree fell on their house and it broke in half! The only thing damaged in the house was the papercrete exterior, which can be patched up easily. Several times the women mentioned they can’t think of a safer place to be than their home during severe weather. I really couldn’t agree more. The house basically felt like a rock; the walls were basically 12-14 inch thick stones.
I know you’re thinking, “Krissy, would you build an earthbag home?” Yes, I would. The cost and safety alone drive me to learn even more about these structures. Despite the time it takes to build one, the benefits this type of structure offer to me far outweigh some of the drawbacks. If it takes me a year to build my ideal earthbag home but it lasts 100 or more years through the toughest weather Mother Nature can bring, then to me it was time and money well spent.
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