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!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Of Mice and Chickens

Baby and I went out of town for a month. Coming home at 9pm I discovered that my french doors, toward which I have developed a vehement hatred, blew open while we were gone. It seems that the fixed side wasn't really in the locked position. Thankfully, they were chained shut so they didn't blow open more than an inch or so, but it was plenty of room for some mice to come on in and make themselves at home.

Again thankfully, I had the foresight to put out a tray of mouse poison, every last little crumb of which was devoured. Still, of course, there was mouse poop in my bed, on the rugs, in the bathroom etc. And a dead mouse on the bedroom floor, as well as a dying mouse on the living room rug which I discovered the next day. All in all though, not bad at all. I cringe when I think what it would have been like without the poison.

And they were deer mice, it seems, from looking at their big ears and taking a picture to a friend who concurred. So I've been bleaching away the poops, which I seem to continuously encounter, vacuuming them up, and waiting for a month or so to pass without any signs of Hanta. 

And those damn doors wouldn't shut. They would appear to be shut but a gust of wind could blow them open at anytime, as they did when I was out of town. At night I would push a couple of boxes of baby wipes up against the door (a pain in itself) but leaving the house was a nightmare. Put baby in carseat, come back inside, push wipes against door, go out bedroom window.

Finally, I borrowed a sander from a friend. He brought me the world's largest sander, and since I had to use it on the part above the door I knew it wasn't going to happen. So I stopped by one of my new neighbors and asked for help. He gave me a small, manageable sander. I couldn't find my sandpaper, nor could he. At the end of the week, recently purchased sandpaper in hand, I stop by Susan's to tell her this saga.

“Oh yeah, I've been meaning to ask: don't you want your sander back?” She asks.

She pulls out an electric sander which I had bought, lent her, and forgotten about in the flurry of the pre-baby September (fyi I know the baby's name is Xiomara, and while I have begun to call her this to her face, when speaking to others 'baby' seems to be most appropriate). Well. I now have three sanders. Sand down the top, get the door to shut, but the other side is still such a pain to open and close every time I go in and out of the house. Overwhelming resentment of these doors begins to arise. I must replace those doors, I say to myself twenty times a day. Infinite cragislist ad searches for a five foot patio door.

Who am I kidding? I'm not replacing a door in November, though replacing those doors next year is at the top of the list. Though everything will do the job this year, especially since I have a cranking woodstove, I have become painfully aware of the draftiness of the house. Most of the problem lies with the fact that the outside is unplastered and unfinished. I left a multi-inch gap between the top of the bags and the roof, where I'll add soffit vents when I plaster. But I haven't plastered. So, particularly when it's windy, cold air, and sometimes rain, blows right on into the insulated cavity and down into the house. I've stuffed some gaps on the inside with old sheets, but really my house just needs to get plastered. It took me about a week of stress to be okay with the fact that the house is simply unfinished. I know that. It's okay. More will be done next year, and so on.

Another problem with the weatherization is the windows. I think the total I spent on windows and doors was about $700. And never having installed a window (and keep in mind this was before the days that I began to worship the silicone god), and having windows at ground level, has created some problems. A couple close but don't seal, some of the fixed ones leak air around the edges. I don't know if you can silicone between mud and a window but I have. In reality though, the air leakage there is nothing compared to the draftiness due to no plaster.

The good news is that this has all led me to a realization. That greenhouse I want to build next year, that I definitely do NOT want attached to the house, is definitely going to be attached to the house. Duh! Of course! Why would I do it any other way? More on that when it starts to get built.

So windows can leak air, as can the door. I have solved about 90% of the door issue, and the rest I'll finish in a couple days. To get it to shut easier I sanded down the concrete threshold that it was getting caught on for infinite reasons that I'd rather not think about. Better but still not there. Finally, I took off all the weatherization strips that I'd stuck on in September and discovered a culprit—a piece that was placed wrong because it had been placed when the doors were placed wrong. Now done, enough, for the winter, like everything else.

All in all it's great and we're looking forward to snuggling out the winter. Weather's been beautiful (I was out in a tank top yesterday), and the baby plays by herself a lot so I've been able to get little projects done, like running copper pipe on my ceiling from bathroom to kitchen to *finally* have running water at the kitchen sink. Next I'm going to do the permanent bookshelves and some other little winter projects, the most exciting of which is framing in a bedroom so that the baby and I can have our own space. She is getting big after all.

What about the chickens you ask? When I came back I noticed that one was missing a lot of feathers; looked like she was getting beat up on by her fellow hens. Next day I go to the coop to let them out. Did I forget to lock the third up last night? I ask myself when only two come out. I peek inside. Nothing. I walk into the coop. Dead on the ground. Head stuck in the gap between the floor and wall. Hen pecked to death. What to do? Thank god for compost piles. Poop and dead chickens. A match made in heaven.


  1. I love reading about your life! Look forward to another post. Hope all is well with you.

  2. It was nice to see you last year. I don't know when I will get out again. I smile everytime i think about you walking down the road pushing your baby carriage. I miss the solitude there. One day, maybe we can practice yoga together. To you, your daughter, the stars and your spirit. Cheers....