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!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Windows Are Finally Going Out Of My Mind

I haven't thought about anything but windows in about two weeks. The human tendency to look for solutions by increasing a situation's complexity and/or complications is an interesting one. I've really been battling this field of low-e glass and not being able to get the u values and the shgc values that I want, while simultaneously feeling pushed against an increasingly expensive wall. Decent vinyl windows were coming in at over $2500 for the quantity, sizes and styles I wanted. Despair. Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten that if it's becoming too complicated it means it's not right.

Want better solar gain? Get rid of windows and just use glass. Use (small) windows for ventilation, and use glass for sun. Price plummets too. Another human tendency: to feel stupid for not knowing something you had no business knowing before you figured it out. Also, glass is potentially easier to work with and I can just plaster it right in. Even wondering if I can put it in at a tilted angle for more gain. It makes arches seem a lot more appealing too, so I will probably go that route instead of lintels. As an added bonus, I get to mostly use a material (glass) that has an origin I can grasp. While the science of heating sand to become glass does elude me, I can understand it conceptually. But vinyl? What is vinyl? And there's no small, dinky pieces to break.

Diving deep into the world of window manufacturers and distributors I did learn a lot, however. Most importantly, probably, is that at high altitudes you need to use high altitude insulated glass or it will break. And you can't use argon. How screwed would I have been if I had bought a bunch of windows here that were not only low solar gain low-e but had argon seals that would have exploded? I would have had a conniption fit.

Glass still costs a decent penny but browsing Kelly Hart's FAQs today I got a wonderful suggestion: buy wrong-cut size pieces or scavenge. Scavenging I think would be a bit harder because I wouldn't want glass with the wrong glaze. But I can still hit up glass companies.

It's all seemed to resolve itself. And while I'm here, over a thousand miles away from there, trying to prepare everything so that it all goes perfectly without a hitch, it's nice to get the reminder that that's impossible. Being prepared is awesome, but you can only do so much before you do it. I have to remember to not get frustrated, nor hung-up; keep moving forward in the ways that I can and remember that sometimes that movement is slower than my mind--which likes to jump to the end.


  1. I've been reading the Earthbag Building book, and became interested in the possibility of using car windshields for windows. There's an extensive junkyard on Two Peaks where these (and possibly real windows) might be obtained for a small price.

    I totally relate to your last paragraph here, and posted a similar sentiment yesterday.

  2. Yeah I'm looking forward to checking out the dump when I get out there. Guessing I'll be a regular visitor. When I first read that book I thought about windshields too because they're cool (and strong!). I've started toward real windows lately, though that could surely change again.

  3. Hey you might try some window companies that retrofit existing homes. Sometimes folks with older homes decide they want to up grade to a higher end fancier window. They either want a different color vinyl or perhaps think their older windows are not so good. Often these take outs are free or near so. Sometimes the takeouts are as good as the new ones being put in. You may not know what brand they are or the type of glazing, but they should be more then adequate for the area. The best part is the price is right.

  4. That was weird. I just posted the above comment and it ended up under another person's ID

  5. Aly, one thing I remember from my recent tour at Cal Earth is seeing how glass broke in some domes when they didn't put them in a frame, just plastered them in. My guide, Melissa, said it's because of the natural expansion/contraction of any monolithic structure (which hyperadobe technique creates) and if there's not a flexible material around the glass, it will shatter or crack. She thought maybe rubber (cut up old inner tubes?) or some other kind of expansion-absorbing material around the glass would be a good idea. Even wood frames do well at Cal Earth, maybe that's all you need. Or make your own. But I'd look into that before you start popping windows into the basic structure.

  6. Thanx. I actually went ahead and made frames and will probably put soaker hose around the edges so I don't cut myself like I already did :-)

  7. One disadvantage of using glass panes is someone is bound to get hurt if one is too careless. I suggest you reconsider because windows are fun too. I find the feeling of opening and closing a window very relaxing.
    Cedrick Finly