Building an Affordable Home From Earthen Materials

A guide to building an affordable home from earthen materials, including the pros and cons of adobe, cob, rammed-earth and soil-filled tire techniques.

| April/May 2002

  • Cob proponents Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley.
    Cob proponents Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley.
    SHAY SALOMON
  • A cob cottage in Oregon, with cob garden walls and outdoor fireplace.
    A cob cottage in Oregon, with cob garden walls and outdoor fireplace.
    PHOTO: NIGEL VALDEZ
  • Habitat for Humanity workers build an adobe home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
    Habitat for Humanity workers build an adobe home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
    COURTESY SANTA FE HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
  • Children help build what will eventually be a cob playhouse.
    Children help build what will eventually be a cob playhouse.
    DAN CHIRAS
  • This
    This mudcat made by Kiko Denzer demonstrates the sculptural potential of cob.
    KIKO DENZER
  • This adobe home sits in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.
    This adobe home sits in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.
    COURTESY LAURA SANCHEZ
  • Used tires packed with earth can be laid like giant bricks to form walls, which are then plastered.
    Used tires packed with earth can be laid like giant bricks to form walls, which are then plastered.
    DAN CHIRAS
  • Earthbag construction is easy to learn.
    Earthbag construction is easy to learn.
    DAN CHIRAS
  • The author's passive-solar home in Colorado combines rammed-earth and straw-bale techniques.
    The author's passive-solar home in Colorado combines rammed-earth and straw-bale techniques.
    DAN CHIRAS
  • Earthbag construction lends itself well to curves and arched features.
    Earthbag construction lends itself well to curves and arched features.
    DAN CHIRAS

  • Cob proponents Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley.
  • A cob cottage in Oregon, with cob garden walls and outdoor fireplace.
  • Habitat for Humanity workers build an adobe home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  • Children help build what will eventually be a cob playhouse.
  • This
  • This adobe home sits in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.
  • Used tires packed with earth can be laid like giant bricks to form walls, which are then plastered.
  • Earthbag construction is easy to learn.
  • The author's passive-solar home in Colorado combines rammed-earth and straw-bale techniques.
  • Earthbag construction lends itself well to curves and arched features.

Learn about building an affordable home from earthen materials. Homes made from natural, earthen materials are affordable, comfortable, sustainable and enduring.

Homes made from earthen materials are affordable, comfortable, sustainable and enduring. Building an affordable home from earthen materials requires specific techniques. Here are the pros and cons of adobe, cob, rammed-earth and soil-filled tire techniques.

In the rain-drenched landscape of Cottage Grove, Oregon, Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley live in a delightful little cottage fashioned from a most unlikely material, a mix of mud and straw, known as cob. Their home is warm, cozy and comfortable — not at all what you might think of a dwelling made out of . . . well, dirt.

Ianto and Linda are two of a growing legion of people worldwide who are embracing earth building, a centuries-old tradition of architecture and construction. This unlikely band of Earth heroes is helping to forge more sustainable homebuilding techniques.



Building homes from earthen materials has a long, illustrious past. For virtually all of history, our ancestors lived in shelter fashioned from locally available materials, especially earth. Today, approximately half the world's people still inhabit dwellings made with soils harvested from the Earth's crust.

Why Build a Home With Earth?

For one. earthen homes are clean, come and beautiful — even breathtaking. The thick. solid walls create a sense of comfort and security. Walls made of earth am not only strong, they are capable of re insects, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and fire. They have the very real potential to last hundreds of years.






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