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, May 14, 2012

I'm Collecting Water!

So, I've been quite bad about blogging. I find that whenever I'm actually doing things I don't have time to write about it, and when I do have time to write it means I'm not doing much and thus don't have much to write about. It took me a little bit of time to get back into the groove of things--finally, helping a couple friends on their projects helped me get started on my own. I worked pretty hard for a week, got my catchment set up and then left to visit family. It began raining right after I finished, so when I return I should have a happy amount of water waiting for me. I cannot even imagine how that will change my life.

The start of the gutters.

Cistern and pipe-run hole.

The slitted 4" hdpe pipe.

Finished gutters.

The hanging tape for connecting the gutters.
Milla backfilling around the cistern.

Almost done connecting the downspouts!

Connected downspouts!

Milla is the champion of silicone!

Water catchment!

Connecting the PEX to the cistern.

Backfilling the pipe trench.

Eventual box around water on/off switch from cistern.

PEX hooked up to cistern outlet.

My roof presented a potential problem given the curve and inconsistent slopes. Luckily, I saw a book at some point that had a picture of a curved roof guttered with what appeared to be corrugated hdpe pipe, like what would be used in a french drain. I was never able to find more information about that particular set-up or any like it so had to go into uncharted waters without really any bearings to speak of.

And the slope...The roof has two major low spots and one more which I decided to regard as insignificant enough to ignore. If it's not, I'll deal with it when I have to. That basically means that I couldn't have just one downspout but had to have two. What I did was connect one of them (sloping) into the other so that there is only one that goes into the cistern. Look at the pictures above to see what I mean.

The cistern was the first thing I had to deal with. I had had a hole dug last year when I had a backhoe come out to dig the greywater basins, but my friend Kai let me know that it wouldn't work where it was. I had gotten it dug before I did the roof and so had not accounted for the funky slopes. So, I had the backhoe come out again because I didn't want to dig a four foot hole eight free across myself.

Once that was done, I still had to empty the cistern, which I mostly did with the help of my friend's sump pump which burned out when there were still 20 or 30 gallons left. Luckily, my friend Milla and I were able to dump it and roll it into the hole, cleverly lowering it with a rope.

The gutters were much easier than I anticipated. I took a 100 foot roll of 4" hdpe non-perforated corrugated pipe and cut off 60 feet of it. This 60 feet I slit with a circular saw so that I could slide it over the edge of the roof. I connected it with plumber's galvanized hanging tape. One screw went through the metal roofing into a 1x4 below with a roofing screw, and the other into the rafter tail. At first I did every other rafter, but then went back and did every one. It seems quite sturdy. Took me two hours.

Then we cut two holes at the low points just big enough to shove in the 4" pipe. This part was a little trickier but we got it in the end. We secured that piping with the same hanging tape, then used outdoor silicone to seal the joints. We ran the downspout into the small hole on the cistern lid, with some screen on it so rodents etc. won't get in, and voila! I also screened the ends of the gutters to discourage rodents from walking in, though they would still be able to get in if they really felt like it.

Once that was all done a huge burden left my shoulders but there was a bit more--connecting the cistern to the indoor plumbing. I had run the 1/2" PEX piping under the foundation in two places, planning on using the one on the west side of the house. However, with the new cistern placement, it made sense to use the one on the east side so I consulted some old photos, saw where it would be coming up and dug down to the boot covering it. We connected it with the shark bite connectors but couldn't connect it to the cistern water outlet because I didn't have the necesary wrenches. Thankfully, Kai came over with his pipe wrenches and got it all together so once I have my water pump and the solar to run it, I'll have indoor plumbing! Until then, I have water! Oh, what I can do with water!


  1. Hi Aly! Just found and read through your blog. So awesome!! Do you have an email I could contact you at? Cheers :)

    1. Hi! Sorry for the long delay. You can reach me at:

      alyssawebley at gmail dot com

      Talk to you soon!

  2. Replies
    1. :)
      Nice to see you. We'll hang a bit more mellow in the fall. Kiss.

  3. Hey Aly. My kids and I will be out this Wed thru Sun. I am bringing a 250 gal water tote container. I plan to bury it on my property there n use a 9' x 12' tarp just above grade to funnel water into the tote while I am gone. We are planning to dig the hole by hand when we are there. My next trip will be rubble foundation and cement grade beam so I want to collect water prior to the trip so I can mix cement on site. I have a solar generator I have made I am bringing to n it will run my water pump for me. We will have to stop by for few n see your progress. Take care neighbor.

    1. Hey!
      Glad that you're back. Looked for you on the road today but didn't see you out. Stop by--I'll be in and out a lot over the next few days but late afternoon is a good time to find me. Hope to see you all soon!

  4. coming to visit via Susan of Home Sweet Hive
    your house looks great
    hope the continuing journey proceeds well for you


  5. We need to buy a cistern that size for a property we bought in New Mexico, where do you get one that size?

    1. Hi, you can call Anne at 7198590126. Good luck!