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!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Excavation and More Snow

Excavation looking west. Note the huge difference in color between the topsoil (back) and subsoil (front). The former will be great for the garden, the latter for bags. Wooden stakes are the outline of the shape of my house.
Looking SW.
The Kitchen looking west. Usually the shade cloth is connected to the tent but I wanted to give it a break from the wind. Johnny's tent is in the background.
Looking NW.
The bathroom and shower looking SE. I like it as is but my brothers cite privacy issues. Nice, open view of the mountains.

Last night I fell asleep, or rather lay awake for hours, to an incessant, but thankfully not too strong, wind. I slept through seventeen degree weather. I woke up this morning to snow on the ground and small flakes flying through the air. According to weather.com, it's supposed to snow 2-4 inches over the next 36 hours. I've been out of sorts for a couple weeks. I think it's what people generally refer to as "adjusting." The symptoms tend to be along the lines of being at odds with what's happening, feeling negative, antsy, etc. I think I adjusted a couple days ago because the weather and everything else has ceased to drive me crazy. Too windy to open your car door? Go to town. Snowing and forty? Go to town. Excavator doesn't show up or answer your calls? Find a new one. I'm relieved to be back in a mellow space internally.

Joe did in fact show up on Friday. He not only started the clearing and excavating but he finished it as well. It was on the windiest day that I have ever experienced in my life so I didn't hang out. I went to his house the next day to pay the $600 to his wife and experienced a part of New Mexico I have heard quite a bit about but only experienced in the context of upper-class Latin Americans. The obsession with race. This daughter married a Spanish man, that one an Anglo (a slight sigh in the voice). Are you Anglo? Spanish? Mexican? Sacha and Johnny had a similar experience yesterday with two men grilling them about whether they were Mexican or some sort of Latino immigrant. I kinda wonder what happens if you tell someone you're Mexican. I also wonder if people are aware that "Spanish" New Mexicans are the same mix of Spanish colonizers and Native Americans that Mexicans are. That all that separates the two is a border that went up during a war 150 years ago. Just wondering.

I got a bit of work in yesterday. Mainly I mapped out my house within the excavation which was an unparalleled feeling. I actually got to walk around and look at the view from my kitchen sink, see where my bathroom is going to be etc. It was exhilarating, to say the least. I also got to envision the trees (ponderosa pines?) I'm planning to put in on the west, probably sooner than later (next week?), to act as a windbreak for the house and a little garden over there. I got more land cleared on that side of the house to leave space for them at a bit of a distance.

Today and tomorrow are basically dead days. I could be hard core enough to work in windy 40 degree weather with snow but I think that might be grounds for being institutionalized. Scoria can supposedly get delivered on Tuesday so that works out. I have to level the excavated area before I do anything else so I'm going to try to have it delivered in the afternoon (inshallah). It doesn't have to be perfect because I get another chance to level with the scoria and again with the base floor, but I would like to get it pretty even because it seems like the best way to proceed.

The excavation was supposed to be three feet but in reality is a little over so I'm thinking of using that extra to make different floor levels (i.e. lower office vs. kitchen) in order to differentiate between spaces. I've also basically decided to get rid of the north door (why does a 500 sq foot house need two? and I'll get more usable floor space) so I'm going to have that whole back (north) wall be seven foot ceilings (less exposure to this crazy weather!). I am going to put in a lintel, though, so that if I want to add in a below-grade door out to a root cellar or up to a patio later I can without worrying about loss of structural support from cutting it out with a chainsaw.

It's supposed to be sunny beginning on Tuesday (70's and up beginning Wednesday) and as far into the future as the forecast can see, so hopefully work will take off. Once the scoria is laid, earthbag stacking can theoretically go, go, go. Theoretically. A blessing in disguise that I've gotten from this weather is not being able to stack earthbags. I had forgotten that you're not supposed to do earthbag work when it's freezing. Sub-zero temperatures can take your tamped, hard bags and turn them into fluffy dirt. All work lost! Per weather.com, I should be okay beginning Thursday. So things are going as well as they possibly can which seems pretty damn good to me. Happy May!


  1. Glad to see you got it started. There is nothing like seeing a plan take shape Do you have a floor plan? It would be great to see what your going to build.

  2. Hey, check out this link to a previous post.


  3. Hi, great blog, thanks for taking the trouble to post all the pix, it's really helpful for those of us thinking of doing the same thing.
    Where in New Mexico are you? My wife and I want to build something up between Santa Fe and Taos in the next couple years...have to sell our house first, we live in upstate New York.
    Have you had any interface with the building codes yet? If so, how's that going?
    Good luck with your project, looks great so far!