Picture of How to Build an Earthbag Roundhouse
Note: If you’re new to earthbag building, please read the introductory Step-by-Step Earthbag Building Instructable first. Also, my new Earthbag Building Guide and Earthbag Building DVD are now available. Stay up-to-date on all the latest earthbag news by following our Natural Building Blog.

We built this earthbag roundhouse in 2010 as part of an earthbag workshop in Thailand, and finished it later that summer. Roundhouses are perhaps the simplest, fastest, easiest earthbag structure to build. We’re extremely pleased with the results, especially in terms of strength and cost. This is one of the strongest structures I’ve ever worked on in my 30-plus year construction career. The main impression is one of incredible fortresslike strength - massive walls with no sway. I’m sure it could easily withstand a direct hit by a speeding vehicle. This is no exaggeration. There’s been at least one incident where a drunk driver hit an earthbag wall and only chipped the plaster. (The vehicle was totaled.) Earthbags also excel at withstanding floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Engineered plans are now available for whatever conditions you face. Earthbags are even bullet resistant, as explained in our highly popular blog post where compressed earth withstood 50 cal “BMG” 661 grain Full Metal Jacket rounds. Bullet Resistance of Compressed Earth

The other key advantage of earthbag is cost. For our roundhouse, we wanted things to look nice, of course, but we didn't want to spend a fortune. The final cost came out to $11.50/square foot. Most stick-built houses are $100/sq. ft. and up, so this roundhouse demonstrates how anyone can build their own home even on a very tight budget. We used a few basic, low cost methods to class up the roundhouse: rounded window and door openings (free), nice colors (no extra cost), curved bathroom wall and buttress (no extra cost to create curves), exposed wood and thatch roof (dirt cheap), earthen plaster on the interior (really dirt cheap), and lots of beautiful old windows for views, ventilation and to add a sense of spaciousness. In summary, build small -- just what you need, use simple shapes, pay with cash, and add on later if needed.

Basic project information:
18’ exterior diameter; 15’ interior diameter; 177 sq. ft. interior floor space; total cost of materials: $2,045, which is about $11.50/square foot

The following instructions assume you have cleared and leveled the site, removed topsoil, positioned fill soil around the building site to minimize work, dug a trench to stable subsoil, buried any utilities, put about 12” of gravel in the trench, and added a center pole with stringline to measure the radius. Bags or tubes can be used. We demonstrate bags, because they’re often available recycled for very low cost. My YouTube Channel has short video clips that show each step of construction.

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thalesvga12 days ago


Can I fasten shelves and things like it? How does the walls behave with screws?

Owen Geiger (author)  thalesvga12 days ago
My earthbag book covers this topic Attaching Things to Earthbag Walls.

Add wood blocking between the bags as you build. That way you can screw cabinets, shelves, etc.into the blocking. Same with electrical. This requires a bit of pre-planning to figure out where you want to put things.

Lightweight things can be supported with big nails or 1/4" rebar pins drive in at a downward angle.
onijohnson2 months ago

Thank you so much for this tutorial. It was so easy to follow. and now im here dreaming about building my dream home in joshua tree.....

ford.crews2 months ago

I always wanted to make a house like this, but use used tires packed with dirt for the outside walls, get rid of the old tires, and nothing can beet 2 feet of earth as far as insulation goes.

Owen Geiger (author)  ford.crews2 months ago
Earthbag is quite similar to rammed earth (an ancient building method). That's the same rammed earth in the tires. Except here we're using bags instead of tires. Making earthbags is so much faster and easier there's no comparison. One rammed tire takes around 45 - 60 minutes from what I've read. You can do one earthbag in five minutes. Using tubes is even faster. Maybe twice as fast. Plus, there's no concern over offgasing. The wall surface is flatter and uses far less plaster than filling gaps between tires.
bahayaliwan3 months ago

what is the best material to use as a divider to make a bathroom in a round earth house?
Owen Geiger (author)  bahayaliwan3 months ago
The "best" solution depends on what materials are locally available, durable, practical and affordable, and on your skills. We used low fired clay brick because it's waterproof. Most people use wood framed walls with the pipes in the walls. Our pipes are on the surface (local custom) so they're easy to maintain.
bahayaliwan3 months ago
Hi Owen,
Im planning to build an earth bag round house.
can you send me a floor plan where to place sink and bathroom.
Owen Geiger (author)  bahayaliwan3 months ago

The Roundhouse Studio plans are available at Dream Green

But this plan is so simple and this Instructable explains everything so you may not need the plans. In general though, the sink and bath are usually adjacent to each other to simplify plumbing.

Beautifully earth bag house look nice cost is also less. This roundhouse
demonstrates how anyone can build their own home even on a very tight budget.
For those who are not living that type of home, take
care in weather changing so that could live safely specially for roof it is
worst time. Keep EPDM with you as precaution. For more to know please visit

Owen Geiger (author)  liquidroofrvrepair3 months ago

EPDM is very expensive. I would only use it on a living roof if the budget allowed. Metal roofs are much less expensive.

Do you have any resources or advice for building a double storey roundhouse? I am beginning to build in the New a Year (2015) and am starting to plan the details...thanks!

Owen Geiger (author)  Edwardmartinhill5 months ago

I just emailed you. Use lightweight building materials on upper stories because soil is very heavy.

Would Lime plaster work well on the exterior walls? Or gypsum plaster? I'm in Central Oklahoma, by the way, with our weird weather patterns. Long dry (as in no rain) summers with high humidity, moderate winters with fairly low humidity, and two rainy seasons... spring being the main one, the second being in the fall. Clay soil, so flooding happens easily and slab built buildings usually do flood.

Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner565 months ago

Up to you. Cement plaster is the standard and likely the most resistant to flooding.

Water is the #1 enemy of buildings, so raise your building site above flood stage or building on high ground. Use gravel bags on lower courses. Plastic sheeting under the floor to prevent wicking. Slope the ground away from the building in all directions.

Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner567 months ago

You can use cement or lime plaster. Some mix the two. Recipes are free on the Internet.

Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner562 years ago
Lime plaster is great. Read up on the details and follow the instructions.

Raise the building site above flood stage. We did this by dumping truckloads of road base in 6" layers and driving a truck back and forth over the top in opposite directions.
jim_skofield5 months ago

Hi Owen, loved your article. I live in Michigan and we tend to have crazy winters here. I'm wondering if a project like this would be feasible in our high humidity environment.

Owen Geiger (author)  jim_skofield5 months ago

Yes, but you need to modify the design for your climate. This one is for the tropics. You want fewer windows, insulating south facing windows, roof insulation, durable roofing, lots of wall insulation, floor insulation, heating system, insulated door, etc. Read up on climate appropriate design or climate responsive design.

Awesome! thank you very much. you have been incredibly helpful

On the floor... if using earth floors, would I need to put down a moisture barrier, between ground and scoria, possibly tamped sand also? I'm concerned about moisture wicking up the walls from the ground under the floor. Our heavy clay soil doesn't drain well, and I have enough health problems without adding mold in the house on my walls to the mix.

Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner567 months ago

Yes. Add a layer of sand and then plastic sheeting and then do the floor. That will prevent moisture from wicking up into the floor.

Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner562 years ago
Yes. Use typical plastic sheeting, also called 6 mil poly.
J-Ri1 year ago
This is absolutely amazing! I think I'm going to give it a try.

Do you know how these homes are affected by strong vibrations? I like to crank up my music sometimes and my current home shakes quite a bit when I do... I'm not sure if the heavy walls would be unaffected or if the dirt walls would crumble.

Thank you so much for the instructable and a reply if you have time!
Owen Geiger (author)  J-Ri7 months ago

No problem.

Owen Geiger (author)  J-Ri7 months ago

Don't worry, the walls won't vibrate or crumble. The walls are incredibly strong. The army uses similar construction methods (sand bags) to store loads of ammunition. The ammo bunkers are next to each other. If one bunker blows up, the other bunkers won't blow up.

kruklanki2 years ago
Hello Owen
Your building methods are astoundingly simple and effective – they just make sense. I live in Thailand and I want to build an earth bag roundhouse, a larger one that the 177 sq ft that you built here. I'd be interested to know where in Thailand you built the round house? Also, and more to the point, your mention of the materials being $11.50 per square foot was that the price in Thailand?

Peter McLaren. Udon Thani
Owen Geiger (author)  kruklanki7 months ago

Yes, that's the price in Thailand. I live in Isaan.

Owen Geiger (author)  kruklanki2 years ago
You can email me at:
naturalhouses [at] gmail dot com
kruklanki2 years ago
Hi Owen
I find your ideas very inspiring
I intend to build a big roundhouse about 33 feet diameter in Udon Thani Thailand. It seems to me that the roof will present a problem in that I can’t think of any cheap material to build it with. I don’t want thatch because of the insects and the short life span of such a material. I actually want to include a central pole/tree trunk as an interior feature rather than using a compression ring.
I can get bamboo for next to nothing and cover the roof with it which should look good from the inside but I’m at a loss then to know how to waterproof it on the outside. I don’t want to have to screw tiles to the bamboo if I can help it.
I also want to build the site up with soil to about half a metre AFTER I build the house. So I think I need a solid foundation. If I make the foundation slightly higher than half a metre and us earth two bags side by side where do I place the single earth bags for the walls…….in the middle of the two?
Owen Geiger (author)  kruklanki7 months ago

I hope you see this. It's been a year already. We replaced our thatch with MCR tiles (super popular in Thailand). They should last 25-30 years. They're quite easy to work with. I would build a wood pole roof structure because bamboo in Thailand is too unpredictable unless you've thoroughly done your research and treated the bamboo.

Lower walls for earth berming: You could use regular bags all the way if the berm is only 24" high.

Owen Geiger (author)  kruklanki2 years ago
Foundation: Set the center post first then start your walls. Use doubled gravel bags or tubes (one inside the other) for added strength. Make sure you start on solid ground because earthbag walls are very heavy. Make a rubble trench under the wall. Do half a meter of gravel bags and then add fill material on the inside and outside. Road base is an excellent choice. Slope the ground away from the building in all directions. This will give you a raised floor. Do one more course of gravel bags before starting regular soil filled earthbags.

Roof: You can use bamboo, wood or metal framing. Bamboo is rather difficult to work with and requires treatment to prevent rot. It's not commonly used in Thailand and you'll have a difficult time finding what you need. Metal framing is actually a good choice in Thailand because it lasts a very long time and is affordable in Thailand. (It's the standard construction method now.) For roofing you can use metal roofing (often the best choice), micro concrete tiles (can still collect roofwater but not so noisy), wood shakes (hard to find) or ferrocement. You can email me at natural houses [at] g mail dot com for further details.
wwylde1 year ago
Any success with structure shapes besides "round"? Can you free form the design in a fashion similar to the "super adobe" style or . . . ?
Also: what kind of size/span limitations have you encountered with this method?
Owen Geiger (author)  wwylde7 months ago

Lots of people are building free formed structures. Curved walls are very strong. You just have to plan carefully so the roof isn't too difficult.

bandara1 year ago
Very interesting and very beautiful low cost house.
Owen Geiger (author)  bandara7 months ago

Thanks. We added new MCR tile roofing and it looks even better.

njc1219831 year ago
I have to say that I'm very impressed with your earth bag structure. Your explanation of the process is clear and concise. I will definitely utilize this "ible" when I need to add on to my current domicile.
Owen Geiger (author)  njc1219837 months ago

Thank you.

HydePoison11 months ago

Is it possible to go into more detail about plumbing and electric? I'm a bit confused about how that works in an earthbag home :/

Owen Geiger (author)  HydePoison7 months ago

99% is the same as any house. Check out the simplest books you can find from the library. I like the little "pocket guides" that are mostly illustrations. You don't need all the complicated stuff for a simple house. The small differences are explained on our Natural Building Blog (search by keywords such as electric) and in my earthbag ebook.

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