Building with earthbags is essentially building with adobe bricks without going through the lengthy process of making them. You take polypropylene sandbags, fill them with a moist mix of sand and clay, tamp them down hard and connect the layers with 4 point barbed wire. Then, you cover them over with an earthen plaster.

In reality, I didn't use polypropylene bags. Some Brasilians started a type of construction they call hyperadobe which uses mesh bags, or continuous tubing, made from the same material as the onion or potato bags in the grocery store. They don't require barbed wire, though otherwise the process is just about the same.

As I talk about in the blog posts, my design has been guided by simplicity and efficiency. More than anything, what's been most important to me is to live in a house that I myself, with no building experience whatsoever, can design, build and maintain. A natural extension of that has been the desire to live in a peaceful space. For me that means a home that's in tune with nature, thus limiting the use of imported materials for construction, in addition to those that will be needed later on, such as for heating. Please enjoy reading, ask me any questions, get inspired, and come help and learn!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Natural Materials?

My friend Julia asked me the other day why I chose to build with natural materials. The question struck me because I never made a conscious choice to build naturally. And yet, a desire to use materials that have low-embodied energy and that will enable my house to be efficient has certainly been, and will continue to be, a key motivator throughout the process.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


So what am I doing in the meantime?

Here in Portland I will be locating, pricing and in some cases buying supplies. I'm going to check out the rebuild center on Mississippi St. and might end up buying the bulk of my fixtures here and transporting them out. That means I would rethink the detour stopover in California (it doesn't make any sense at all now that I think of it to go and get all my stuff and a cat for a house that doesn't exist yet), and drive straight out there from Portland with a truck full of windows etc. instead of books and dishes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Inner Design

Simplicity and long-term efficiency have been the driving forces behind my design from the beginning. Straw bales originally appealed to me because of their high insulative value. After reading my 30th book or so, their building complications--mainly the need to compress them via the roof or straps before you plaster, in addition to keeping them totally dry until that happens--began to outweigh their apparent efficiency. At about the same time I started to understand thermal value vs. insulative value and the benefits of New Mexico's unique climate. Despite the fact that winter temperatures can get to -30 Fahrenheit, Taos enjoys 300 sunny days a year. While insulative value (r-value) will prevent outdoor temperatures from getting into a home and vice-versa, thermal value (u-value) allows a material to store and release heat over a long period of time. Dirt has a high u-value. The exterior and interior walls, in addition to the floor, will all be made from earth and thus have the ability to soak in the sun's energy and release it during cold nights and on cloudy days. This, coupled with the house's passive solar design--short width, long length, windows primarily facing south--will allow me to use the sun as my primary heating source year-round.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Plan

Coming up with this final plan has been a very circular process. I began the design from the bottom up. Having no prior experience with earthbag building, knowing no one who does it, and coming up with my own experimental design means that I have had to figure everything out myself. Imagine taking hundreds of pieces of different soup recipes in order to come up with your own egg scramble, which better work because you're cooking for a thousand people, with no trial run. Balancing the foundation--which, since the house is sunken two feet, is part of the structure itself--and the subsequent concerns of moisture, insulation, strength to combat the push of the earth etc. is enough in and of itself. From there I had to figure out the interior layout for two reasons. First off, so that I could build the water/greywater, flues and electricity entrances/exits into the building design, made that much more complicated by its buried aspect. Secondly, and just as important, I had to make sure that my ideas about plumbing and solar water heating would actually work with the design so that I didn't get to the roof and realize I can only have outdoor plumbing and no heating.