How To Build An Earthbag House For $6,164

In this post, guest author Jay Eisenberg details how he and his wife built their earthbag house for $6,164, completed on Oahu recently in 2017.

Earthbag Dome House

Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

For years I had dreamed of building my own home and not being enslaved with a mortgage. While living in New Zealand I was connected with Shaye Boddington of DIY House Building. She suggested I read The Hand-Sculpted House: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage.

I moved to Florida where I met my wife Carissa Merceri. We attended a 5-day “Learn to Build with Cob Workshop” in Kentucky put on by Disputanta Cob. On our honeymoon in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua we met with Austin Drill of Casa de Tierra. He suggested we read Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques.


We then moved to Hawai’i where the journey really started to take off.

After arriving, we decided to build a cob pizza oven to test out the local building materials.

Here we are mixing up a batch of cob.

mixing a batch of cob for an earthbag dome

Mixing up cob. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

outdoor pizza oven

Cob oven. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

The pizza oven partially coated with lime plaster for weatherproofing.


Through building the pizza oven we learned that our ideal mixture was 75% sand to 25% red dirt. We chose to build with Earthbags rather than cob because of the high cost of straw on the island. The next step was to find landowners willing to let us build the first earthbag dome on the island of Oahu.

That actually didn’t prove to be too challenging.

It was then to the drawing boards for the actual design. We decided to go with a 12’ interior diameter floor plan which gave us just over 113 sq. ft. plus the loft with an attached open-air bathroom and kitchen. We designed the layout once we had sourced used windows that would provide us with all the natural light we needed. We built the entire home for less than $7,000.

Here is time-lapse video of the project.

Read on to see how we did it.

Preparing The Site

clearing debris on site of earthbag dome

Clearing space. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

First, we had to clear the debris where the home would be built.

sunken site filled with gravel for earthbag dome

Excavating the foundation. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We decided to sink the house two feet into the ground. This was so we could use dirt from the site rather than having to source as much offsite. We poured a layer of gravel in the bottom of the hole for drainage.

Building The Structure

vapor barrier for earthbag home

Foundation vapor barrier. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We put a vapor barrier in place. We then laid the first row of bags. They are filled with gravel and then tamped.

layered walls for earthbag dome

Foundation is laid. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

Subsequent layers were filled with the moistened mixture of sand\clay and then tamped. In between each row lays two strands of 4 point barbed wire which acts as Velcro and tensile strength for the rows.

earthbag dome wall with supports for bench

Forms for the windows & doors. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

Here you can see 2×4’s sticking out of the wall. These are supports for the bench that went along the window. We built window and door forms from wood salvaged from a 7\11 construction site.

earthbag dome with buttresses and lintels in place

Buttressing the buttresses. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

Here you can see window and door forms in place. The compass is used to maintain levelness of each row as well as making sure step-ins are correct. The buttresses create mass in between the windows and doors. Lintels support the bags above the window. The wood for the lintels came from a Reused building material warehouse.

fan bags create archways in earthbag dome

Detail on the window framing process. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We used fan bags to create the support for the archways.

loft installed in earthbag dome

Loft ceiling structure. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We then installed the loft.

forms removed and supports installed in earthbag dome

The earthbag house takes shape. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We removed the forms, then installed supports for the eaves.

an earthbag dome structure complete and ready to plaster

Structure ready for the exterior finishes. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

After 354 man-hours the structure was complete. It was time to plaster.

Plaster And Exterior Finishing

sunroof in earthbag dome

Weatherproofing the roof. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We installed a sunroof made from a used coffee table top, as well as the loft windows. We installed a waterproofing membrane for good measure. We put construction fencing on the roof to act as extra tensile strength for the cob.

first layer of plaster in earthbag dome

Initial plaster layer. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

Here you see the first layer of plaster is complete, and the windows and eaves are installed.

bottle window in an earthbag dome

Bottle windows. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

The bottle window allows passive lighting.

earthbag dome with terraces

Living roof. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We added terraces to the roofs, filled them with soil, and planted native plants on them.

cedar shingles on roof of earthbag dome

Salvaged cedar shingles. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We got the cedar shingles free from a house that was deconstructed.

We put the final coat of plaster on the buttresses, and installed used tiles to protect the vertical surfaces from rain.

final coat of plaster for buttresses of earthbag dome

The buttress tiles protect from rain. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

Interior Finishing

interior of earthbag dome plastered

Interior plaster coat and decorative tile and mirror. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We then plastered the interior. We added tiles and sculptural cob with mirrors, too.

custom front door on an earthbag dome

Front door to the home. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

Our custom front door—constructed, stained, and installed.

floor of an earthbag dome

Adobe floor with eucalyptus inlay. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

The floor is poured adobe with inlayed red eucalyptus, which came from a tree knocked over in a storm.

open air bathroom of an earthbag dome

Open air bathroom. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We framed and painted the open-air bathroom. The bamboo for the door was harvested from a neighbor’s property

We then built the kitchen. Almost all of the paint was discounted mis-pours from the hardware store.

kitchen paint in earthbag dome

Salvaged paint for the kitchen. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

floor of an earthbag dome, made from pallets cut up and nailed to plywood

Pallet flooring. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We made the floating floor by cutting up used pallets and screwing them to plywood. Then we clear-coated it.

the kitchen of an earthbag dome

Iron wood bar top & propane stove. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

The granite counter top was free, we just had to cut it to the correct dimensions. The bar top is iron wood that was given to us.

earthbag dome bathroom

Detail on the open air roof. Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

The hot water is supplied by an on-demand propane system.

The Finished Earthbag House—And Final Cost

casa de lodo, the earthbag dome

Welcome to Casa de Lodo! Jay Eisenberg / Nifty Homestead

We named the house Casa de Lodo which is Spanish for “Mud House”.

The goal of this project was to create a home using recycled & sustainable materials and to be as self-sufficient as possible. Light is provided by a solar panel that charges a battery. The house is built with approximately 50 tons of dirt. It cost $6,164 and took 1,333 man hours to build.

Amongst all the materials that went into this build, the most important ingredients were love, blood, sweat, and tears.

Earthbag House Cost Breakdown

  1. Lumber: $1,682
  2. Screw, nails, hardware, adhesive, misc.: $863
  3. Dirt: $710
  4. Paint, stain, clear coat, brushes, rollers, & roofing material/plants: $611
  5. Tools & cement mixer: $550
  6. Bags: $365
  7. Hot water heater & plumbing: $341
  8. Gravel: $325
  9. Tarps & vapor barriers: $192
  10. Barbed wire: $172
  11. Windows & doors: $245
  12. Straw: $108

Total Cost: $6,164

We created something out of this world and from the earth, and we hope we’ve inspired you to do the same!

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Author: Homestead Stories

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Comments
  1. looove it!!! wot an inspiration,, thanku for sharing,,,, has been my goal to build naturally, using recycled materials ( since i was a kid back in the 70s) and one day i trust my dream will manifest,,,,hmmm, change that, positive thinking,,,Will manifest,,,not a dream!!!

  2. So happy for your success and your wonderful home built with and inspired by love. You are fortunate young people indeed. I’ve been researching cob, earth bag, adobe, tiny houses for so many years, at least 15. Not sure my body will hold up anymore to the abuse so I may not achieve my dream, but sure is inspiring to see you achieve yours! Peace.

    • Sandy,

      I am almost 60 years young. I and my grandchildren are getting ready to help me realize my dream. If I can do it, so can you. 🙂

      Don’t give up on your dreams.

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