Building Rammed Earth Homes

Building rammed earth homes out of adobe clay walls, includes planning the design of your home, creating the foundation, the art of formbuilding, building walls, and the essentials of soil.

| April/May 1996

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    Designed and built entirely by the owners, the structures are free to grow out of, and into, the landscape, and it can be as simple or as complicated as you wish.
    PHOTO: CYNTHIA WRIGHT
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    One of the beauties of rammed earth is that as soon as the walls are set, the roof, whether manufactured trusses, hand-cut timbers, or round vigas, can be set immediately.
    CYNTHIA WRIGHT
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    Earth is poured into wooden forms, simple structures which can be as large or small as you wish. Here, the builder has chosen to use large forms covering the whole perimeter.
    CYNTHIA WRIGHT
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    The moistened earth can be rammed inside the formwork either quietly with hand tampers, or, as shown here, with pneumatic backfill tampers hosed to air compressors.
    CYNTHIA WRIGHT
  • Rammed earth 2
    Where earthquakes are a hazard, the tops of the walls are tied together with a bond beam, poured directly on top of the earth using the formwork.
    CYNTHIA WRIGHT
  • Rammed earth 3
    We see concrete flowing from the grout pump and a finisher using a vibrator to ensure consolidation.
    CYNTHIA WRIGHT

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  • Rammed earth 1
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  • Rammed earth 2
  • Rammed earth 3

Building rammed earth homes. Why is the world's oldest form of human shelter malting a comeback? For a start, it's beautiful, inexpensive, durable, highly insulating, and it's raw materials are all around you. (See the rammed earth building photos in the image gallery.)

Building Rammed Earth Homes

Finished rammed earth homes have the same components (foundations, walls, doors) as any other building. The difference is mass, and plenty of it. With 18-inch to 24-inch-thick walls, rammed earth homes create a level of strength and comfort that can't be duplicated with wood-frame construction. Typically the walls are formed in long horizontal sections, but the wooden forms holding the compacted earth can be modified to build them one small panel at a time. The gap between panels will be filled by a poured concrete post.

Why is the world's oldest form of human shelter malting a comeback? For a start, it's beautiful, inexpensive, durable, highly insulating, and it's raw materials are all around you.

There is a certain magic to living in buildings with thick earth walls. It's hard to describe, but easy to notice. Just take a step inside one on some warm summer day and you'll feel it immediately. It's cool, of course—everyone knows adobe houses are "warm in winter and cool in summer"—but there's something else, too, a little harder to put your finger on. It's quiet and feels somehow incredibly solid and sturdy ... very different from other houses.



Most Americans today have grown up with the idea that a house is a lightweight box with walls built of thin sticks covered on both sides with even thinner skins. The floors and roofs are also built of sticks with equally thin skins. In the past two decades, as our awareness of the value of energy conservation has increased, builders have begun to fill the spaces between the sticks with expanded petroleum-based fibers, but that insulation hasn't done much to eliminate the flimsy nature of the building.

After all, not that long ago, houses used to be built to last for generations. People actually lived in a house long enough to think of it as home. People died in the same house they were born in. Times have changed of course, and in our fast-paced world few of us expect to die in the same city we were born in, let alone the same house. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't still appreciate the special qualities of a house built solidly enough to last for several hundred years.

Omoruyi Egharevba
11/23/2012 9:58:24 AM

I just want to thank the founders of this website as well as the author, David Easton, for providing access to his writing on Rammed Earth construction. Fantastic subject illustrated in the simplest of words ! I am an African keen on building a decent, yet affordable, home for my family and the idea of transforming locally available material to achieve a beautiful build would be the ultimate indulgence for me. With David Easton's kind help, I am now several steps closer to indulging myself !! Many thanks, MOTHEREARTHNEWS and DAVID EASTON !!!!!!!!!!







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