Low-Cost Multipurpose Earthbag Building

With this novel technique you can make an earthbag building to serve as a studio, garden shed, chicken coop, or root/storm cellar — no permit required!

| August/September 2009

Earthbag building

Whether as a studio, garden shed, chicken coop, or something else entirely, an earthbag building is adaptable.


One of the most practical structures on a small farmstead is a multipurpose building that can serve as a storage shed or cool pantry above ground, or as a root cellar or storm shelter below ground. You can build this multipurpose structure for about $300 using earthbag construction (bags filled with earth and stacked like bricks). And the skills you learn by building the dome will serve you well if you plan to build a larger earthbag building — or even an earth home.

In many cases, no building permit will be needed for this little building, because it’s below the minimum size required by most building codes (for structures that are not inhabited and not attached to a residence). But because codes vary by region, check your local building regulations before you begin.

Earthbag structures provide a cool space in summer and an escape from the cold in winter, which means this earthbag dome is well suited for many purposes. Depending on your needs, the most practical combination of uses might be a root cellar/cool pantry for daily use and a disaster shelter for emergencies such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

The earthbag dome has a natural look and blends in with the land. It has a solid, organic feel — just what you’d expect from a design inspired by nature that has been combined with a little modern ingenuity and thousands of years of earth- and dome-building wisdom.

Building With Earthbags

No expensive forms or equipment are needed with earthbag building, and the technique is faster and easier than other earth-building styles — including cob, rammed-earth tire construction, and adobe (if you have to make your own bricks). Earthbag buildings are more water resistant than those made with straw bales, making them suitable for earth-bermed and below-grade structures. If your site is susceptible to flooding, earthbag building is one of the best options — after all, sandbags have a long history of use for flood control. Just use an appropriate fill material, such as gravel, in lower courses.

The cost of building with earthbags varies. You can almost build free if you take the time to scrounge the materials, (used poly bags and barbed wire, recycled wood, and local soil and gravel). Few tools are required. Here's a “middle of the road” cost estimate that assumes you’ll buy the major items but also take time to shop around. For example, if you don’t have used polypropylene bags, you can almost certainly find a local farmer who does.

7/8/2015 8:58:30 AM

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7/8/2015 8:55:33 AM

yhaaaaa, you right... I like your building design.. hmmm there is makes me so inspiring,, I want to build a house, and I want to use your idea. hhehehe thanks ya :) by the way, you can view uor design with http://tempatberwisata.com

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3/24/2014 7:03:38 AM

Require info. on how to make expanded polystyrene plaster /render ?

5/30/2013 3:07:13 AM

New Zealand's first South Island Earthbag structure is now underway. See the progress at: http://www.sheltercraft.org/blog.html


4/27/2013 12:24:50 AM

Just wanted to thank Mother Earth for giving us this information.  I now am in the process of buying everything needed for a Hobbit house built partially underground.  I have done quite a bit of research on this building technique and I'm very, very pleased. There's DVD's and a few selected books that I'll purchase just to give me further information and a connection to the authors for additional info if there's something I get stuck on.  Thanks again Mother...you're the best

pete lipman
9/8/2012 4:08:13 PM

I have seen a wedding arch for rent at this bargain shack place. you rent it. this would make a great form for the doorway and you just add the wood, hinges, and door knob. There is no mention of a French trench at this point for getting rid of water from rain or condensation, etc.

9/25/2010 9:07:35 PM

Earthbag building has just gained engineering approval. Details are on our Earthbag Building Blog: http://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/ This opens the door to more widespread acceptance because people will be able to get building permits.

9/27/2009 4:27:49 PM

Thanks for this article. I have been dreaming of my very own small earthen structure for some years now. Stumbling on the issues of permits and neighbors, and oh yeah, how am i gonna put a roof on the thing. Within my price range, next to nothing i can get it done dome style. With this method i can have a little out building made of beautiful dirt. Thanks again.

working father
9/26/2009 9:05:49 AM

Dont get me wrong, it is nice and gives one a good idea as to what can be done on a larger scale given enough open land but it has its limitations as to where it can be used.

working father
9/26/2009 9:04:01 AM

While the design is ok for land that is not restricted it is a problem for those of us who have severely limited city lots or suburban lots due to its actual waste of space and limited interior space. If anything the one shown for this article is more of a hobby model than a fully functioning shed capable of providing proper storage for more than a few items at best.

8/28/2009 12:08:29 PM

I really like the looks of your Hobbit hill shed. I'm going to start with a dog house and work my way up to the shed. Looking forward to it.

8/14/2009 12:55:38 PM

Seth, We do so with a sprayer & hand trialing for smoothness. Its just like stucco.

8/14/2009 12:53:44 PM

Perhaps the nicest thing to us, as Builders & for the do it yourselfer too, about Earth & Bag Construction is the range of poor soils & the lack of special mixes, one is able to use to build with. Plus the overall lack of worry, when a storm approaches ( in GA. you never know ) . With Adobe or Cob construction, all though they are portable to the site in small units & that don't require forms, if your walls are not yet dry, you could loose a wall, that was left uncovered, during a bad storm. Certainly you could have damage but, with bags or tire forms And Yes, Conventional Rammed Earth too, (Our Favorite), they are somewhat better protected. Certainly, with C. R. E. , even after the forms are removed, your walls are still solid, after a rain event as they are compacted so well. Within Certain Conditions, The next best thing to Rammed Earth Conventional Construction may then very well be bags or tires as the forms , that stay solid in wet climates and so do the walls too, as that the form is left in place forever.

seth richardson
7/30/2009 10:03:22 AM

how do you finish the inside of the earth dome? there is no mention of it anywhere.

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