This Instructable explains each main step of construction for building vertical earthbag walls. Videos on my Earthbag Natural Building YouTube channel demonstrate the process.

For those who don’t know, earthbag building uses polypropylene rice bags or feed bags filled with soil or insulation that are stacked like masonry and tamped flat. Barbed wire between courses keeps bags from slipping and adds tensile strength. The final plastered walls look just like adobe structures. Thousands of people are now building with bags to create their dream homes, home offices, shops, resorts, rootcellars, storm cellars and survival shelters. Non-profit organizations are building schools, orphanages, emergency shelters and other structures.

I got involved with earthbag building when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Southeast Asia in December, 2004. As the director of Builders Without Borders at that time, I searched all available affordable, sustainable building methods and decided building with bags was the most practical. They’re flood resistant (used for flood control), earthquake resistant (passed an ICBO shake table test), bullet and blast resistant (used for military bunkers), and now engineer and code approved plans are available. Just search for earthbag house plans on the Internet.

Our websites at EarthbagBuilding.com and Earthbag Building Blog explain just about everything you need to know for free. And if you’re looking for house plans, my Earthbag House Plans site features over 110 sustainable plans that can be purchased through Dream Green Homes. My new Earthbag Building Guide and Earthbag Building DVD are now available.

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, put about 12” of gravel in the trench, and added corner guides and stringlines.

Step 1: Tools and materials

Step 1. Tools and materials (listed left to right): woven polypropylene bags (about 18” x 30”), bucket chute (4-gallon bucket with bottom cut off), 4 or 5 heavy duty 2-gallon cement buckets, stringline, metal chisel and scrap steel for cutting barbed wire (or bolt cutters), hammer, sheetmetal slider (about 13” x 16”), 15 gauge galvanized wire, knife, wire cutters, tape measure, 4-point barbed wire, corner guide, grub hoe or grape hoe, level, tampers, bundle 500 bags, shovel.

<p>I want to retrofit my stick construction house with Earthbag construction. Is there any info on that process?</p>
Yes you can. It's called a retrofit. Basically you just stack bags up on the outside of the house. It's somewhat awkward though. You need a wide roof overhang to accommodate the extra thickness. You'll need to redo all doors and windows. You'll need to dig down to stable soil to support the gravel bags and earthbags. Don't even consider any of this if you have building codes. They'll never allow it in 99% of code jurisdictions.<br><br>Always start with a small simple project like a tool shed so you can learn the techniques.
<p>Is there a good way to calculate earth plaster material quantities from sq. footage that needs to be covered?</p>
<p>I love this construction method but all the houses I see seem to be constructed on the ground. I would like to use this method for my future retirement in probably Belize or Costa Rica.</p><p>Ideally I would like to build on a water facing lot. My question is whether you can build this home on a &quot;raised&quot; wood foundation on stilts like a typical hurricane-proof water facing house to allow for any &quot;water flow underneath&quot; in case of a flood? Would it withstand winds?</p><p>Is building on stilts even necessary with this construction method? What sort of lot would be best? In looking at photos most water lots appear to be &quot;sand&quot; based?</p><p>Thanks</p>
<p>Is it necessary in colder climes with snow build up to build a cement stem wall below grade? What are you making your floors from and what is underneath them, between ground and flooring?</p>
<p>Scoria or pumice filled earthbags would be my first choice for a foundation. This assumes you're building in an area with no codes. Scoria and pumice are types of porous lava rock that are insulating and rot resistant. If you have codes then you'll have to build to meet code, and that usually means reinforced concrete. </p>
Hello Esteemed Owen!<br>Thank you for this reply, yes I do have to adhere to the IBC2006 codes in Southern Colorado (the mecca of recent offgrid lawsuits). Do you know if they oppose earthbag walls? I know strawbales and adobe have been used widely for decades, and can be made to conform visually to &quot;normal&quot; houses. I really like the idea of earthbags (I live in hot, dry climate conducive to straw combustion). Is it true that one should predominantly build them in dome shape for optimal stability? How would you best build them into square/rect structures, by framing, or...?<br>Thank you!<br><br>
<p>Scoria or pumice filled earthbags would be my first choice for a foundation. This assumes you're building in an area with no codes. Scoria and pumice are types of porous lava rock that are insulating and rot resistant. If you have codes then you'll have to build to meet code, and that usually means reinforced concrete. </p>
<p>Dear Sir/Madam,</p><p>We are the <br>manufacturer and exporter of Jute products. Our newly developed product which <br>is Water repellent Jute fabric. </p><p>Here are some of its uses. <br></p><p>WHAT IS WATER REPELLENT <br>JUTE FABRIC (WRJF).</p><p>1 POTATO BAGS: - WRJF <br>is used to cargo your potato bags with required humidity, prevent damages and <br>cure from fungus. Can repellent water during travelling and save the potato <br>till their final destination.</p><p>2 SAND BAGS: - WRJF is <br>used to make your sand bags to protect from flood water .Shops, Houses or <br>basements area for a longer period of time.</p><p>3 RICE BAGS: - WRJF is <br>used to save rice for a longer period of time from rain and humid weather.</p><p>4 COFFEE BAGS:- WRJF <br>is used to save coffee seeds in traveling and it doesn&rsquo;t react or damage with water during traveling <br>or storage.</p><p>5 RAIN COAT:- WRJF is <br>used to make rain coats. It&rsquo;s cheap and used multiple times. it feels light <br>when your raincoat protect you and your fellow members from rain.</p><p>6 COVERING PLANT FROM <br>HEAVY RAIN OR SUN LIGHT: - WRJF is also used to cover your growing plant to <br>destroy from rain and burn from sum light.</p><p>7 COVER CARS:- WRJF it <br>can cover your car during Snow fall.</p><p>8 COVER WET FLOOR:- <br>WRJF is used on wet floor in your party <br>area or snow on your roof. Snow can slip down and save your houses from <br>damages.</p><p>9 CATTLLES:- WRJF is <br>used to cover cattle like cows, goats, camels, horses from raining season or <br>from winter season. Or you can use this WRJF to cob either huts. It is going to <br>protect from rain too.</p><p>10 IMPORTANT DOCOMENT <br>COVER:- WRJF material cover your document for humidity season or protect from <br>water too.</p><p>11 WOODEN HOUSE:- WRJF <br>material cover your wooden roof we can used the fabric under the wood to <br>protect small gaps and water cannot come inside your house water.</p><p>Look forward to <br>hearing from you. </p><p>Email: - adnan@tgeastern.com</p><p>Regards,</p><p>Adnan </p>
<p>Why not just use cob, dirt, clay from the ground you are building on, and mix with straw, woudnt have to buy the bags, just the straw,, what, 9-12 a bail and mix it in, sounds cheaper than the bags.... and you dont have to worry about if you get plastic or not... same ordeal.... this is what Im thinking on doing out here in wyoming, but, hard enough to just get the land...</p>
<p>There are advantages and disadvantages to every building method. Use what makes the most sense to you and works best in your climate. In Wyoming, I would use post and beam with free poles from the forest plus straw bale infill for maximum insulation.</p><p>Earthbag is waay faster than cob. Maybe 10x faster. Try it and see. Tractor cob or roto cob are much faster than regular cob. Rent a rototiller for the job and save hundreds of hours of manual mixing. Again though, strawbale is much more insulating.</p>
<p>I like the idea of cob, but, even still, any way its done, local city authorities on trying to work with building regulations wont contact me on anything, and there are no workshops out here to learn anything like that,,, There is suppose to be a cob house outside riverton wyoming, and a cob church out past the airport, outside of riverton also,,,( I live in lander wyoming ),,, but, no matter how many ways you work around it,,, no one will help you just to find the information to read on to learn about if certain things are needed to meet their building codes or not,,, Only one person had explained to me that I would be able to use a sunmar composting system if I desired outside of city limits,,, but, guess if you live in city limits you have to hook up to the city water and such,, no if's and's or but's... My really big issue, is I would love to build log style home with landscape timbers,,, which I would probably be better off,, even thought about putting cob or something down in-between the landscape timbers,,, ( kind of like a 3 wall system, landscape timber, cob or something, then another landscape timber..),,, but with land as expensive as it is here, we rent, and hard to find a place, and with the wife also, concerned at the fact that it may take us too long to build anything ( if starting in April or May because of weather issues ),, that we may not have one built in time to move into for the winter... ( and wife is skeptical on everything ),,, dont want to waist the money if we cant be guarenteed.... this is where many of my problems come in at... I know I can construct a home probably within 2 months tops with landscape timbers,,,( and love that idea, cob or no cob )... Then, it comes down to the foundation, and roof system... which I have no idea about,,, but if we buy land, we also need to move in asap because we would have to leave the home we are renting because our payments would be going toward the land.... hard to find ways around that.....</p>
<p>The best option may be to put a cheap mobile home on the land as a temporary residence to satisfy the code nazis. Then build a post and beam strawbale house that will give you speed and ease of construction, and superinsulation. Start small and add on later. There's a blog post on our Natural Building Blog that shows how to build code approved post and beam houses with straw bale infill. It's fast and easy because standard Simpson type anchors are used throughout. Here's the drawing:</p><p>http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/wp-content/uploads/post-and-beam-straw-bale.jpg</p>
<p>Read this blog post that goes along with the image I just posted:</p><p>http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/post-and-beam-hardware/</p>
<p>I'm moving to Oklahoma and was wondering if this is the best way to build other then stick building. I live in Washington state now and this would never work with all the humidity but Oklahoma is dry most of the year, however it floods and has tornadoes. What do you suggest?</p>
<p>Build a tornado/flood resistant earthbag design in areas like OK.</p>
The only thing I can imagine this is good for is providing cover during a fire fight.
<p>Update: Ask the survivors of the recent 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Every earthbag structure in Nepal (50-60) is intact with little or no damage. Now we're getting requests from about 100 NGOs who want to build this way.</p><p>Also, the earthbag roundhouse in Vanuatu was one of the few structures left standing in the area after the recent hurricane hit the islands. So obviously earthbag buildings are more than just bullet resistant, eh?</p>
Lots of people would disagree. Thousands of people all over the world are building earthbag homes. Just google Earthbag Houses and you can easily spend a whole day looking at images on google and reading earthbag blogs.
Really? You lack imagination.
<p>You don't discuss what material to use for filling the bags, how to make door and window frames nor firing the home once it is built. What are you putting in these bags and do you intend to fire it as a ceramic or leave it stand as is?</p>
<p>No firing! Read the article Step by Step Earthbag Building Instructable.</p>
<p>where do you get the bags, and how much do they cost? I live in the Arizona desert, and would LOVE to give this a try.</p>
<p>Search online for poly bag companies near you. We have a list of major bag suppliers at EarthbagBuilding.com in our Resources section. (scroll down the page) Order 18&quot; wide sand bags or poly tubing. It's a little confusing because there are so many types of plastic products. Not all are strong enough for earthbag building. Get products specifically labeled sand bag, earthbag, etc. Order one bag and test it for strength before buying in bulk.</p>
<p>Watch my free videos on YouTube for more details. It's the first link at the beginning of this article.</p><p>Filling the bags: Most people use ordinary subsoil with clay and sand. No special mix is required. You want enough clay to bind the sand together so the earthbags are solid. I like road base because it's easy to get and uniform with the ideal mix of clay/sand.</p><p>No need to fire the earthbags! That would be a huge waste. Earthbag building is very similar to rammed earth that in some cases has lasted thousands of years. Search Ancient Rammed Earth Structures.</p><p>Window and doors, etc.: consult a standard carpentry book from a library. Get one with lots of easy to understand drawings.</p>
<p>This seems to be more expensive than it needs to be.... used tires and a sledge hammer... better insulation and you can get a ton of tires for free.... fill the tires with earth... and sledge it in...</p><p>these seem more diverse, but nuggit... depends on the project, i guess.</p><p>good instructable anyways!</p>
<p>Many people are not strong enough to ram earth in tires. What I tell people is try both as an experiment and time yourself. Ram one tire, then do one earthbag. Earthbags are several times faster per unit of wall area. Plus, you can get recycled bags to cut the cost. Check feed stores, brewers, etc.</p>
<p></p><p>This post on the left is what I am talking about. What is the space between the two posts? Would you put instruction How to do it and most of all the material.</p>
<p>Sorry, I don't know what you mean.</p>
Hi Owen,<br><br> I have been researching using earthbags here in N. Florida and have decided to use some plans found online. As far as building the walls how long does the process normally take two average guys for 450 sq ft? I am going to start with a small and straightforward plan at first. I have priced the bags and tools to do the job and can spend less than $500 to fully enclose the structure.Any tips or suggestions?
<p>How is your earth bag project coming along? I live in SW Florida and would love to build this way. My husband is concerned about cooling for the summer and damp. Curious as to how you solved these challenges.</p>
<p>Earthbags are popular in tropical climates. No problems with moisture if you follow the recommendations given here and in my earthbag ebook. It boils down to 1. building a good roof, 2. providing adequate roof overhang, 3. raising the earthbags above the splash line to avoid moisture problems. I use gravel bags as a foundation because they're unaffected by waer.</p><p>The inside of the house will stay cool year-round if you follow my advice in two blog posts at Natural Building Blog called Passive Cooling Strategies. Lots of low cost, low tech cooling methods are described. No AC needed.</p>
Check out our blog for answers to virtually every question (over 1,100 blog posts on every topic imaginable).<br><br>Here's the specific blog post about rate of earthbag wall building: http://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/rate-of-earthbag-wall-building/<br><br>The speed depends on all sorts of details. Again, search our blog for keywords such as 'production', 'efficient', etc. I usually address this using the term production building or production earthbag building. Really think through every step because you can save lots of hard work. Buy good soil such as road base that can be shoveled directly into bags without mixing. Stack piles around the job site to reduce labor. Fill the bags on the wall so you don't have to lift heavy bags. Consider setting up a big tarp so you can work in the shade. Build a simple shape such as a rectangle or circle.<br><br>My YouTube videos show every step. http://www.youtube.com/user/naturalhouses
<p>Hi Mr own,</p><p>I was wondering how the post that is set between sandbags are made ? Is that a plastic zigzag between the two post woods. What is the material nailed in between the two wooden post. Is that one string that is folded and nailed to the two posts?</p><p>Best Regards,</p><p>Elizabeth</p>
<p>Hello,</p><p>I would like to know if this building method is approved in South Africa.</p>
<p>I believe it is provided you meet building codes.</p>
Owen, <br> <br>In the state of California is it hard to obtain an actual passed permit and codes for the house. I just purchased my first piece of land and desire to make one of these homes and hope that it would pass permit.
<p>Contact Structure1.com. They can get it code approved.</p>
jnewport22,<br> <br> I would love to hear how your project goes as I live in California as well, and the only place I've ever heard of allowing EarthBags is San Bernardino County, but from what I understand, you may need to get an engineer to approve your earthbag plans before &quot;pitching&quot; it to your city. Hopefully Owen will give you a much more educated response..<br> <br> I have been looking at Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB). I read that they are even cheaper to make, and faster to build with. However, the compression equipment is not so affordable. Under California building code, I heard they are classed as adobe bricks, which I believe is permitted to build walls with as long as they meet the strength requirements.<br> <br> Here are some links related to CEB:<br> <br> Owen Geiger<br> <a href="http://www.jovoto.com/projects/300house/ideas/12512" rel="nofollow">http://www.jovoto.com/projects/300house/ideas/12512 </a><br> <br> Owen Geiger - lever compression<br> <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfVIC1P6vOU" rel="nofollow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfVIC1P6vOU </a><br> <br> Hydraulic compression<br> <a href="http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/CEB_Press" rel="nofollow">http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/CEB_Press </a><br> <br> <a href="http://www.midwestearthbuilders.com/BuildingInfo.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.midwestearthbuilders.com/BuildingInfo.html</a>
CEBs are great. Code issue are basically the same as anything else. They're especially good if you live in a rural area with few or no building codes. Then you can build dirt cheap. I know a guy who built a real nice CEB roundhouse about 700 sq. ft. for under $1,000. This is only possible if you do everything yourself with local materials (soil, poles, etc.). He used wood poles that radiate out from a center CEB column. He sloshed on lime wash to protect the CEBs. The only mistake I know of was his roof method. He used rough sawn lumber covered with plastic sheeting and dirt. The dirt had ants and termites that eventually messed up the roof. It's better to use metal roofing. That also makes it easy to collect roofwater, which would have been helpful since he built in the desert. One interesting part of the story is the building process seemed to have healed him of a life threatening disease. The hard work out in the fresh air, change of diet, lower stress, etc. probably saved his life. I think he's still alive and still building alternative structures. He shuns publicity though and so many haven't heard his story.
It's difficult to gain code approval in populated urban areas due to all the code requirements. We always recommend less populated areas. Remote rural areas with few or no building codes are ideal, so you can build whatever you want without harassment. This also saves you a ton of money. Restrictive codes do have some benefits, but they come at a huge cost. Codes can drive up the cost of construction 10-fold. California is one of the worst places unless you're off in the desert or some other remote place. Talk to your local building officials and see what they require. You'll probably need an engineer to sign off on the project. That can cost $2,500 minimum. And, they'll likely make you add thousands of dollars of extra things, force you to build to a minimum size with minimum room sizes, etc. etc.
Where I can get polypropylene bags
<p>Every major city in the world. They're super common since they're used for all sorts of things. Buy from the nearest city because shipping is a large expense.</p>
Could this be done with shredded tires as the fill? In order to enhance better pro-environmental-ness?
Yeah, probably. You can also use stacked tires in lieu of bags, kinda like how some of the earthships work.
I have acreage in Greer, SC that I am wanting to build an alternative home for me and my daughter -- any words of wisdom?
We now have thousands of pages of free information on our websites. Use the built-in search engines at Natural Building Blog and EarthbagBuilding.com to research every topic. Most topics now have several blog posts and/or articles that cover every detail. You can save lots of time by buying my $20 ebook since all the best ideas are distilled in one book. http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/owens-book-dvd/
building a wooden form, latched on the side, sliding the bag in, filling and scraping the excess off the top would get a pretty near perfectly sized bag, it would also be easy to sew it closed... even better, a plywood funnel could be built, so filling would be easier.

About This Instructable




Bio: Owen Geiger is the former director of Builders Without Borders, a Mother Earth News Green Home Adviser, The Last Straw Journal Correspondent and the director ... More »
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