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!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Course 6

Course 2

Course 5 Untamped

The southern doorway buttress

Trying to maintain a running bond...

Course 5 tamped

Bathroom greywater exit

Kitchen greywater exit

Shelf brackets on velcro plates

Brackets installed

Course 6 waiting to be tamped

It's been almost a month since I've posted and just over two months since I arrived here. How time flies. Course 6 is bagged and waiting to be tamped tomorrow. I've been working on level and plumb which get much more even once you pay attention to them. I laid my first kitchen shelves today and my greywater plumbing is in. With course six, the plastic has reached its resting place on the north side, which is a few inches lower, and has one more course to go on the south side. I'm tired. Haven't been sleeping well lately and the work is hard and endless. I hurt my back last week so had to spend a couple days soaking in the hot springs (poor me). More than anything, it's my hands that hurt. They seem to be permanently cramped. I'm going to do one more course then take a break for a bit. Well, break is a bit of an exaggeration. I'm going to stop doing bags and build some window frames, mud over the bags that are up to protect them from the sun, get some more dirt moved, scoria delivered before the walls get too high and go to the sheep farm finally and hunt down the one door and window that elude me.

Brad, a reader of this blog, has been giving me LOTS of help/advice over the last few weeks with my roof. Getting close to figuring out exactly how it will be but at least have the general shape down and it's taken me to some new ideas. I'm going to do a gable roof. So, there'll be a ridge beam in the center running north to south, some end beams on the west and east ends and rafters running between them. Ceiling will go below (no more exposed vigas), insulation between, and purlins and roof on top. The cool thing is that since now the north end has to be all high there's all sorts of space to do something with. I figure I'll put in a door there too, let it be glass (low-e) for light and put in a small loft with a tiny office area below. Won't even bother to describe the cool stair setup down into the kitchen but it's pretty snazzy. Just working out with him how to disperse the heavy load from the ridge beam that will be falling exactly on those large openings.

Had another nice breakthrough with the plumbing. To make life simpler I had decided to run the greywater out at ground level. That's fine except the bath tub would have to be elevated like three feet and the shower would then be non-existent or too low for most people. But then I realized that since I'm going to have a curtain drain around the house anyways, that running plumbing out lower and through the drain--though still within pipes--wouldn't be that big of a pain. So, there'll be a shower.

It's been hot lately. Some days, like today, I just can't work that much so quit after about three hours. I have started a new schedule which results in lots less suffering. Earlier and earlier. I'm starting around 6:30/7:00 and would like to start working at 5:30. That way I can work for 6, 7, 8 hours and be done by the hottest point of the day. Before I was working in the morning taking a few hours off and then going back at 4:00. But at 4:00 it's really hot still. It's nice this way because I end up with more free time to...haven't quite figured out how to fill free time yet except with the hot springs. Looking forward to my bag filling break and even more to April and Jen coming out.


  1. Aly,

    It's so nice to have some advice! So you've laid 6 courses... How high are the walls now? Is it harder or easier than you thought it would be?

    And showers are nice aren't they!!! :)


  2. Hey Beth--
    The walls are at about hip height...also known as just under three feet. They're a few inches below grade level.
    It's both harder and easier. The actual building goes faster and is more intuitive than I could have imagined. On the other hand I am realizing the limits of my body which I guess surprised me. Not even my muscles, which have acclimated, but simply my body not wanting to keep working at times (like this week). With my friends coming out soon it will be A LOT easier. More than anything I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to learn to do by doing it alone and with no experience.

  3. Thanks Aly!

    It is such a viable building method; I would say I wish more people would take advantage of it but then the gov't would just regulate the heck out of it and regulations are cost drivers and then, well, we couldn't afford it without mortgages anymore. (My political statement for the day... lol)

    It's so nice to have someone who is actually doing this to follow along with! My plans are set for my 5 acres in MO but for next summer - however we'll be camping out there in the fall so we'll get to experiment some. It's just my son and I; he'll be 12 next summer and he will be helping, like it or not. I suppose after a couple of months of tent living he'll be all kinds of ready for it!

    But my house is considerably bigger than yours - however it's designed to be built in sections. I think it'll take about 3 years or so, with the first part ready to move in to before everything starts freezing up. Hopefully more quickly than that.

    I can't wait to see how fast the building goes when your friends are with you. I wish I could be there to help but it's too far away so, I'm pullin' for ya!


  4. Hi Aly: I am a friend of Susan's (the Pollinatrix) and connected with your blog from hers. I am from MN and will be in Taos in July. Would love to have a look at your construction, as impressive as it is!! Send me a note at sonjud2003@Yahoo.com if you have a minute. Great blog!! Judy