Earthbag Homes

Step outside. You could be standing on the building materials for your next home. Earthbag homes—the concept is as simple as it sounds.

Earthbag Homes With Sandbags

earthbag home

The sandbags are filled on-site and arranged in layers or as compressed coils. Stabilizers such as cement, lime, or sodium carbonate may be added to an ideal mix of 70% sand, 30% clay. Straw may also be added. The earthbags are then plastered over with adobe. Arquitectura en Equilibrio (Architecture in Balance) (flickr.com)

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Earthbag construction in the Philippines. Long sandbags add stability, but using barbed wire between layers of shorter sandbags, is also fine. It takes much longer to fill the long bags than the short ones. flickr.com

Earthbag Homes With Plastic Bags

earthbag home
Plastic bags recycled into earth bags—if plastic does not break down for a thousand years, this home is sure to last several lifetimes. Of course covered with adobe or plaster, so that the plastic does not offgas or degrade. Arquitectura en Equilibrio, Colombia. (flickr.com)

earthbag home
Inside an EarthBag ready for plaster. The other way to make an earthbag. A mix of native soil; clay/aggregate/sand, and/or insulating material such as lava stone, scoria, pumice, perlite or vermiculite inside polypropylene bags (which have a half life of 500 years). The plastic needs to be protected from the degradation of the sun’s rays with a plaster. structure1.com

Polypropylene Sandbags For Sale

If you do not like the idea of plastic bags—then Kelly Hart and Dr. Owen Geiger of Earthbag home suggest natural porous bags (hemp, jute, flax or linen) filled with dirt, stone powder and sodium carbonate or lime (or numerous other cement capable wastes). After you lay a course of bags, sprinkle the layer with water, and after drying you will have a cement layer. Read more here: earthbaghome.wordpress.com

Earthbag Home Foundations

Foundations differ depending on your site. In a rainy locale, rocks are placed under the earthbags for drainage.

earthbag home
The time consuming part, filling the bags. The bags are filled in place on the wall. The CalEarth site says that three reasonably-fit persons can lay 100 linear ft of bag per day. Arquitectura en Equilibrio, Colombia. flickr.com

earthbag home
Tamping is a necessary step. Initially a trench is dug and then filled with gravel, cement or a sunken layer of bags. This technique makes nice benches as well. ecocentro.org

Earthbag Homes Around the World

earthbag home
Project Seres, Guatemala. projectseres.org, flickr.com

sandbag home
CalEarth — Emergency Shelter Village, Hesperia, California.
Iranian born architect, Nader Khalili developed the long-bag Superadobe prototype in California. In 1991 he founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), a non-profit research and educational organization. Photo by James flickr.com

earthbag home
Cal Earth — Emergency Shelters. This long bag/barbed wire concept was originally presented by Nader Khalili to NASA for proposed home habitats on the Moon and Mars. Photo by Ashley Muse flickr.com

earthbag home
CalEarth Let the layers show. Photo by James flickr.com

earthbag-construction-fish-faceCalEarth — this might not be totally earthbag, but like the fish face. Photo by James flickr.com

earthbag-construction-double-eco-dome
The aerodynamic forms resist hurricanes and the structures pass California’s earthquake codes. They are flood and fire resistant as well. A double eco-dome can be built (bagged) in 10 weeks. Photo by James flickr.com

earthbag home
CalEarth photo by Mike Smith flickr.com

earthbag home
Classical Arches, domes and vaults updated. The combination fireplace and wind-scoop faces prevailing winds. Photo by James flickr.com

earthbag home
CalEarth — inside of the vaulted house. calearth.org

earthbag-construction-mud-ornamentCal-Earth —exterior mud ornament. Photo by Ken McCown flickr.com

earthbag home
CalEarth Vault under construction. Photo by Ashley Muse flickr.com
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Ninos y Jovenes boarding school in San Juan Cosala’, Mexico. Pic taken by earthbag expert Kelly Hart. see more photos of project here: flickr.com

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This is the first EarthBag structure to receive proper home permits in New York State. A project of Sister Marsha Allen of Rochester, she hopes the students who helped build the structure will join her in Haiti, where she hopes to build many more.

earthbag home
Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Justin Martin flickr.com

earthbag home
Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Justin Martin flickr.com

earthbag home
Earthbag Home under construction in Argentina. Lots more images here: superadobeserrano.blogspot.com

Earthbag Home Construction Timelapse Videos


This video (viewed more than 3.5 million times!) shows the construction of an earthbag home in Fairbanks, Alaska. The video shows the first bags being laid over a gravel foundation. The first three layers of bags are filled with gravel for extra drainage. The two-person construction team runs barbed wire along the bags to hold them in place. After each layer is laid, they tamp down the bags. The video shows the team putting in place a door frame, cutouts for electrical outlets, and windows. (Though they note in the video the doors and windows should have been done differently!) The final step shows them building a frame for a second floor, and has photos of them living in the half-finished home. In the description, the guy who filmed the video says they never actually finished the house! (But they’re working on it.)


This time-lapse video from Happen Films shows a team of people building a small, circular earthbag shelter. The team uses six-foot-long sandbags for the foundation, filling them with sand as they lay them down. Long sandbags can provide more stability than short bags. The bags are laid on dirt, within a pit, over a plastic tarp. Meanwhile, another group frames and windows for the shelter. As it’s a circular house, they build a circular roof, with trusses rising up from the top of the walls and meeting at a peak. The team packs mud into the gaps between the sandbags and completely covers both then interior and exterior walls. Then, they finish with a coat of adobe. They lay precut plywood in the gaps formed by the roof trusses, nailing them to the trusses themselves. The roof is completed with a chimney and metal sheeting.


This is time-lapse (sort-of). The family that runs the channel “mylittlehomestead” bought a huge plot of land, and decided to build earthbag bedrooms for each of their four teenagers. The kids design the homes and their friends help with the construction (along with the rest of the family). This video—it’s 87 minutes long—shows everything from laying out the sandbags, to installing the electrical, the window frames, building the roof, all the way to setting up the solar panel array.

The Best Earthbag Home Books

Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer.
Earthbag Architecture: Building Your Dream with Bags by Kelly Hart (Forward by Owen Geiger).
Building With Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction by Paulina Wojciechowska

Earthbag Home Plans

earthbag home plans

See dozens of earthbag home concepts from Owen Geiger. Also check out his Natural Building Blog.

Earthbag Home Resources

Earthbag Home Lessons And Tourism

More Earthbag Home Pictures

Related Posts

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Author: Keiren

Keiren is an artist who lives in New York City. A lover of animals, nature, science & green building.

Comments
  1. Hello sir?

    First of all I want to think you about all these good informations , actually I plan to build my house using earthbag technique but I’ve some questions

    1- What is the minimum possible width for earthbag? I mean if i use a bag with 20CM width to give me as a result a wall like if I use normal blocks , or the thickness of wall will be not strong enough .

    2- if I finish my house, and in future i want to open a new window or new door in internal or external wall can i do it ? or it will be as a risk to collapse the whole ? wall ?

    3- the roof , can i use some prefabricated cement beams as the array and put the bricks between them and then the cement to create the normal roof like modern houses? Or san d bags can not hold the weight if roof!

    4- ? could i build two floors with the same plan ? I mean the wall over the wall

    Thanks and best regards

    Tarek Elbarouni

  2. I want to build an earthbag home in Hawaii and want to know if I can use cinder instead of sand, which is harder to come by here. Please let me know, Thanks, GReg

  3. That’s a good question for an expert! Try Patti Stouter (simple_earth@yahoo.com) or Kelly Hart/Owen Geiger (kellyhartATgreenhomebuilding.com / strawhousesATyahoo.com – they would surely know…

  4. Thank you for the excellent information you are providing about building with earth bags. I actually plan to build my house in Jamaica using earth bag technique. I certainly appreciate the information available on your site.

    Thank you

  5. We are planning to develop an eco-resort. We wish to use earth-bag construction technique. Is it possible to find some Indian resource?

  6. Hey thanks for the pics and tips.

    Doing an earthbag retreat and residence in TN, India after a lot of study of Nader Khalili and Owen Geiger’s earthbag construction.

    Great work guys… all of you.. thanks a lot for the pioneering research.

    Hello Dr. Amod. You can contact me if you need any help at mountainmakers.india@gmail.com.

    We need more earthbaggers in India.

  7. I have this lot near Cancun and is in the jungle, I will make a little house with earth bags, autosustainable, but can be with my design? is circular but doent want dome in roofs.

  8. Good day, I would like to know the cost of your earth bags for a 4 bedroom 3 bathroom house combined with shipping. Also would it be possible to request a consultant in the construction of the earth bag house so as help train local workers in Indonesia.

  9. Hello

    Good day I am studying facility management, I would like to ask if earth bag construction is a intelligent building like if its fire proof, lightning proof, flood proof and earthquake proof?

    Thank you.

  10. Yes as to the structure being fire proof. Also flood resistant and capable of withstanding strong earthquakes. I would think that lightening would not strike a large mound of dirt unless absolutely nothing else around…Hope that helps…

  11. This article was extremely informative. If I were 40 years younger, I would find a nice piece of land in B.C. Canada or rural Ontario and build myself a homestead. One could be really comfortable in one of these and it might be the right place to home school a child making them more survival savvy.

  12. i am a volunteer looking for volunteer can help me to build such houses in Pakistan as we face flood and earthquakes every year

  13. I have an ideal site in Romanian perfect for developing a holiday village from earthbag, looking for someone with the skills. I have plenty cheap labour and access to funds and materials. Salary negotiable. Email me on cedr2001@hotmail.com, prompt response assured.

  14. I have rolls of 14′ & 18′ wide, UVI stabilized, woven PP tube in 6000/lf rolls for sale at great pricing. I have sold these all over the country and they are perfect for Earthbag structures. Call me at 949-338-5978 or email me for pricing.

  15. I have rolls of 14′ & 18′ wide, UVI stabilized, woven PP tube in 6000/lf rolls for sale at great pricing. I have sold these all over the country and they are perfect for Earthbag structures. Call me at 949-338-5978 or email me for pricing.

  16. Don’t you have anything on hyperadobe, this is similar to building with earthbags but without the barbed wire, in this system a different type of back is used with holes which does away with the need for barbed wire.

    Hope to hear from you.

  17. Don’t you have anything on hyperadobe, this is similar to building with earthbags but without the barbed wire, in this system a different type of bag is used with holes which does away with the need for barbed wire.

    Hope to hear from you.

    • Im trying to find earthbag friendly places in the northwest of the US with low/no building codes. Do you have any ideas?

  18. Good day my good friend,

    Let me start by introducing myself. I am a senior Staff in the department of foreign remittance as officer with Bank of Africa here in Burkina Faso West Africa.

    I am writing you this letter based on the latest development at my bank which I will like to bring to your personal edification. ($15.5million) Transfer claim in to your bank account.

    Pleaded, do reply for more details on how we are going to proceed if you are interested in this grateful opportunity.

    Thanks

    Mr. Kabiru Wahid

  19. Hi Russell, Sure, I think an earthbag would work in southern Indiana. But you might desire to add some insulation, either pumice or rice hulls in the bags. Or a double bag wall with insulation between. Check out this Q7A page: earthbagbuilding.com/faqs/insulmaterials.htm

  20. can we use sea sand as a filling material in sand bag houses. And while selecting the soil, what are the properties that we consider in design

  21. Actually almost all sea sand is rough and coarse, and therefore the grains tend to want to slide off the sharp edges of each other. Therefore the sand will tend to shift to the outside edges of the bags under weight. Smoother sand will stay in place and compress better. It is helpful to add some clay in with the sand 30/70. Subsoil, not topsoil is a good choice for earthbag building. Topsoil contains organic matter, you do not want this. I do not understand the second part of your question…

  22. I spent 30 years learning applied building science in Ohio and elsewhere by working in low income Weatherization, and never knew about this intriguing housing type. One forum that promote smart housing is the Affordable Comfort Conference, hosted by ACI, that brings together 2000-plus housing pro’s from many fields. Consider presenting and attending. Check them out at http://www.affordablecomfort.org

  23. hello

    Is it possible to mix the clay in the earthbags also with plastic rubbish?

    I am living on a island, no garbage service and love to ged rid also from plastic in a recycling way. So i wonder if building with earthbags, plastic (small plastic rubbish on the beaches etc) can be mixed?

  24. Just spoke to a very helpful chap in South Africa who is very knowledgeable about sandbag building.

    What’s nice is that the structures he builds look exactly like a normal house.

    Look him up on his website ecobuilders.co.za

  25. We are trying to build are house right know for are four children and are doing it using cob to save money, we have land in Texas that we are building on. What can we do for cooling and Windows, and how thick does the cob have to be.

  26. Please check out the permies.com forum on earthbag building…so much info there and so many who can definitely answer your questions!

    permies.com/forums/f-79/earth-bag

  27. Hello family,

    I would like to know where are/were this projects going on!! Im a free traveler seeking for volunteer in such kind of projects in order to improve my skilss as ecobuilder. For that reason I would love to know the epicenter of such happenings…

    Looking forward to hear from you

    Namaste

  28. Hi, I would like to ask if there are projects conducted by TOP NOTCH Construction ? You mentioned some in PH. thanks

  29. Hello everyone, we are looking for volunteers to help build a school in rural East Africa using earth bags. Please reply if you or anybody you know can be of help. We are ready to provide accommodation to the volunteers. Email to: st.speciozahome@gmail.com

    Thanks

  30. I love your concept of building with plastic bags. If the technique could become tested to comply with modern building guidelines, also withstanding that it could take all kind of weathers, including arctic winters, then this techinque should become widespread!

    It seems as the easiest way I’ve ever seen.

  31. Really creative and sustainable idea for vast requirement of dwelling units for Rural India, ‘Locally available material with Local construction technology, with people. Eco friendly and can accommodate modern facility.

    This technology should be spread to as many people as possible. India should have similar institute or branch.

    i am willing to help in all possible manner. feel free to contact me.

  32. estamos diseñando una ecoaldea y no logramos calcular el mt2 de construcción con la obra blanca económica. si nos pudieran colaborar se lo agradeceriamos inmensamente.

    cordialmente

    scar Giraldo

  33. Depending on the dirt’s microbe composition, plastic bags break down in years or a few decades. Since dirt has no real compressive or tensile strength what happens then?

    • Hi Paul,

      Most of the earthbag structures use polypropylene sandbags. If exposed to sunlight they can break down pretty quickly, though on our project we purchased UV protected bags that were able to withstand about a year of direct exposure. However, once covered up in darkness there’s no breakdown, at least not in terms of a few years or decades. Further, the material inside the bags isn’t typically just dirt – it’s ideally a clay-heavy fill dirt mixed evenly with an aggregate. That combination is fairly sturdy so long as it’s kept dry.

  34. How Ironic, I was just thinking about Earth bag houses earlier! 😀 Q, I am wanting to do an Earthbag in April, can they be done for about $300, ( I saw a cob house done for that price), and, does Earthbags do well in rain? I live in NC, where we have all 4 seasons, with snow. We also have ice storms. And wind storms. What would you suggest??

    • Hi Ashley – cost totally depends on scope. If you don’t have to pay for clay-heavy soil or aggregate gravel to actually fill the bags, then Earthbags are pretty affordable. $300… maybe so maybe not. But you’re not gonna spend $10k on it unless you’re paying for fill material, or lots of labor, or you’re making the structure huge.

      Earthbags can handle rain but will depend on what you cover them with. If you cover them with cob, then you’ll need to give the a “good hat and boots” like any cob structure to protect the walls from wind and rain. If you cover the walls with a cement stucco, it’s more expensive and less eco-friendly, but can handle the elements with less maintenance.

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