Photo by Pixabay/Tama66

One of the greatest needs in the world is disaster-resistant housing – houses that can hold up against hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, flooding and other natural disasters. Events like this that affect many of thousands of people seem to occur almost daily. It’s sad and painful to see so many lives lost, and so many families and homes upended. But it’s even sadder and more painful when you know most of this tragedy is preventable by using sound construction methods. Properly designed structures that can withstand natural disasters can save millions of lives and millions of structures every year.

Let’s start with challenge of rebuilding after the 2004 Asian tsunami. What methods and materials would work best to rebuild the region? Ideally, the houses would be very low cost, simple to build, require few special tools or skills and be incredibly strong – preferably as strong as bunkers used by the military, but yet still meet the typical needs of families around the world. Most options are too expensive, non-sustainable, impractical or culturally inappropriate. At or near the top of the list is earthbag construction.

For those who don’t know, earthbag buildings are made out of sand bags that are filled and stacked like masonry. Sand bags are also called earthbags, because they can be filled with any number of materials, including soil. They have a long history of use by the military for constructing bullet and blast resistant structures. Militaries around the world have used sand bags since the Napoleonic Wars about 250 years ago. That’s a very long record of proven performance, and sand bags are still used today because they have many desirable properties. The first sand bags were made of burlap; today they’re made out of woven polypropylene for even greater strength and durability.

Sand bags (or earthbags) also have been used for many years in flood control. Millions of bags are placed around communities every year to protect against flooding. Average citizens often pitch in and work together with no training to construct barrier walls to prevent flooding.

The same characteristics that make earthbags ideal for military and flood control use – strength, durability, simplicity of use, low cost – also apply to constructing houses. In addition, earthbag houses are fire resistant, non-toxic, do not attract pests and can be built to suit any climate. For instance, bags can be filled with insulation in cold climates.

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