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Earthbag Building: The Next Big Thing?

10/10/2010 10:10:27 AM

Tags: earthbag, earthbag building, earthbag houses, earthbag homes, earthbag construction, sand bag, sandbag houses, engineering, engineering approval, earthbag engineering, Nabil Taha, Owen Geiger

Earthbag building has just received engineering approval. This is probably the greatest news ever for earthbag building. You can read more about this exciting breakthrough on our Earthbag Building Blog. This blog post has more details: Specifics of Nabil Taha’s Engineered Earthbag Designs 

For those who don’t know, earthbag structures are constructed with bags of moist soil or other suitable materials, stacked in courses like masonry and then tamped solid. As they dry, they turn into incredibly strong walls. Although very popular for a number of compelling reasons, this building method has struggled to reach its full potential due to the difficulty of gaining acceptance by building departments. But now with engineering approval by an engineer licensed in 27 states (see below), we expect an explosion of new interest and rapid developments in earthbag building.

First, let’s take a look at the larger picture to better understand what’s taking place in the natural building movement. Resource scarcity and high energy prices for manufacturing and transport have begun to tip the scales toward more sustainable, lower cost options. People are now asking themselves if they want to trade 30 years of their life to pay for a home built with highly processed, energy intensive building materials such as brick, steel, plastic and concrete.  They also have to wrestle with their conscience, since these materials cause great environmental harm.

Production builders, manufacturers, suppliers and others who profit from modern building materials claim these materials are the easiest to use and most practical. However, this assumes these highly processed materials are affordable. But the fact is they’re not affordable to 1.2 billion people who have no housing. They’re not even affordable to millions in developed countries, including the United States, where about 70 percent of Americans can’t afford a contractor-built home, and that was before the current recession and housing crisis.

Natural resources, such as oil and gas (which provide the energy needed to convert raw materials into finished goods and transport them), metals and other resources are finite, but the world’s population is growing. … Something has to “give.”

The explosion of information on the Internet has fueled rapid-fire innovation in all areas, including alternative ways of building. Twenty years ago, for example, a few brave innovators built straw bale houses. Now there are many thousands of straw bale buildings, dozens of books and videos, and countless websites and articles on the subject.

Lately, earthbag building has experienced similar growth. For instance, our team at and has been inundated with requests for housing assistance in Haiti and other disaster areas after the recent earthquakes and floods. These natural disasters, as tragic as they are, have encouraged people to look for alternative solutions, partly due to cost, but also because of the difficulty of shipping large quantities of building materials to devastated areas. We know of seven earthbag projects in Haiti as of October 2010, and at least seven more projects in the pipeline. You can read the list on our Earthbag Building Blog.

Earthbag structures have been built in at least 25 countries and 15 states. This building method is popular because it’s low-cost, safe, durable and ideal for owner-builders with limited tools and building skills. Literally anyone can build this way with a modest amount of research. Earthbag buildings are fire, pest, hurricane and earthquake resistant, and suitable for a wide range of styles, including domes, and square, rectangular, round and organic shapes. It’s also the fastest and least labor intensive earth building method, surpassing cob, adobe, rammed earth and rammed tires.

And now with engineer-approved plans available from Nabil Taha, Ph.D., P.E. of Precision Structural Engineering, Inc., we see unlimited potential for earthbag building for homes, shops, schools, you name it. We know they’re safe, low cost and simple to build. All we need now is to get the word out. You can find almost everything you need to know for free about this innovative building system by researching our sites at, Earthbag Building Blog, and Earthbag House Plans.

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10/15/2010 2:34:29 AM
You can build lightweight domes made of volcanic rock or other types of insulation. Look up Kelly Hart's house on Google. He used scoria inside the earthbags.

M Fowler
10/14/2010 11:03:37 AM
I would love to do this in my area (central Florida). However, without a costly footing in place to distribute the weight, the dome sinks into the soil. Plus, the water table is incredibly close to the surface. Here's what a neighbor has done: Dig a hole to 6'. Add 6" of gravel for drainage. Nail concrete siding (leftover from newly constructed homes) to pressure treated studs and drop these into the hole. Secure those to each other & build a "traditional" roof capable of supporting sod. The right construction for the right climate.

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