Earthbag Construction

Make durable buildings from the dirt in your yard using earthbag construction.

| October/November 2005


Earthbag construction is a great way to passively avoid heating and cooling costs.

Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

You can build a magnificent shelter with a couple of rolls of barbed wire, a bale of bags, a shovel and nothing more than the earth beneath your feet. This is the premise that inspired the imagination of visionary architect Nader Khalili when he conceived the idea of “sandbag architecture.” In his quest to seek solutions to social dilemmas such as affordable housing and environmental degradation, Khalili drew on his skills as a contemporary architect while exercising the ingenuity of his native cultural heritage; earthen architecture is common in his homeland, Iran, and throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean.

According to many building professionals and environmental groups, earthen buildings currently house more than one-third of the world’s population. Thousands of years ago, people discovered and utilized the principles of arch and dome construction. By applying this ancient structural technology, combined with a few modern-day materials, Khalili has cultivated a dynamic, contemporary form of earthen architecture that we simply call “earthbag building.” He teaches this technique at the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture in Hesperia.

Simplicity and Beauty

Earthbag construction uses earth as the primary structural element, and it helps create curvaceous, sensual architecture while providing structural integrity. Earthbag structures can be monolithic, meaning that an entire structure is built from foundation to walls to roof using the same materials and methods throughout. Corbelled earthbag domes (bags laid horizontally and stair-stepped up to form the dome) foster simplicity and beauty. Earthbag domes designed with arch openings can eliminate 95 percent of the lumber used to build the average stick-frame house.

Earthbag building utilizes the ancient technique of rammed earth in conjunction with modern woven polypropylene bags as a flexible form. The basic procedure is simple:

Fill the bags using suitable pre-moistened earth.
Close, fold and pin the bags to make neat square-cornered rectangles similar to grocery-store brown bags.
Lay the finished bags in a masonry-style running bond.
Thoroughly compact with hand tampers after a row has been laid.
Lay two strands of four-point barbed wire, pushed down with bricks, between every row. This acts as a “Velcro mortar,” cinching the bags in place and providing exceptional tensile strength (resistance to lengthwise stress) while allowing the rows to be stepped, creating domes and other unusual shapes.
Apply exterior and interior plasters.

9/3/2017 1:38:16 PM

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hudaibi tahir_2
3/17/2010 6:54:18 AM

hi iam a sudanese arhitect living in portsudan city near red sea,i understad all about earthbag construction,the type of earth in my city is salt-earth no clay in my area and because of damp climate the earth contain sulpharic acid is that suitible for building using earthbag thank u

8/31/2009 11:17:06 AM

THe book Earthbag Building is wonderful and full of very much information. I just read through it yesterday for the first time. The authors also have on their website (, a page for WOrkshops. If you click on that page and scroll down to last item on page you can go to information on how to HOST an Earthbag Building Workshop for building your building. This is what I am now planning to do. Other people can pay to attend this workshop and help you build your building! BLESSINGS TO ALL. The world is becoming filled with positively wonderful earthbag dwellings.

8/11/2009 9:22:40 AM

For complete earthbag informaton, go to: Earthbag Building Blog Earthbag House Plans:

7/25/2009 6:55:09 PM

It is interesting that our Ukrainian ancestor made houses somewhat the same, except out of sapling sized poles intertwined with 'daub' (clay bearing mud) and lime or clay 'plastering' inside and out. Search the web for outdoor archictectural museum Poland Ukraine. mikhailo

jorge dominguez
5/10/2009 3:22:56 PM

I helped Mark Hanson build the first earthbag dome in Hawaii compliant will all building codes. Because the Big Island is one of the wettest places on earth, we had to use a proportion of 10% cement in the mix. I am wondering if someone has done without cement in similar environments.

firie ramos
2/9/2008 4:08:06 AM

I am planning to build a house on my lot, and I have been looking at the cost, till I stumbled on Earthbag Construction. I am very interested to adapt this method of construction for my house, because aside from being earth friendly its definitely pocket friendly. I am currently living in Tacloban City Philippines, and I am looking around for information where I can learn this construction method. My dad is a builder and is interested in studying this form. Earthbag construction not very popular in the Philippines. Any information on the method of construction is very much appreciated

jus dawa-colibri
8/22/2007 12:00:00 AM

Hello;We are in the beginning process of building a sustainable community in Northern New Mexico ... First cabins to be built are load bearing strawbale - Concerning the earthbag foundations ... Where can I get the most info concering the "How to's" etc.I.E. How are the bales attached to the earthbag foundation? (tiedowns) What's the best tiedowns to use for earthbag foundations?Is there a book ... 1 2 3 guide to building earthbag foundations?Thanks in advance - Any info will be greatly appreciated ... Jus

sridhar srinivasan
4/14/2007 12:00:00 AM

How does the load of the ceiling dome is borne in a domed structure ?What about constructing a standard flat roofing with sandbags?How to do electrical wiring and plumbing?

terry parmer
4/14/2007 12:00:00 AM

If I were to build an earthbag home in Hawaii, would it be wiser to have a pitch, overhang roof or could I still use the beautiful arch or dome roof if waterproofed?

terry parmer
3/27/2007 12:00:00 AM

Question. I plan to take an earthbag workshop soon. My dream house is sort of like a compound, i.e. three separate living units (the main room/kitchen, the bedroom, and finally bathhouse). My question is... can I have the entire compound of units be built on like two or three feet of earthbag foundation so as to be up higher off the ground with a stone or earthbag wall going all the way around as a railing? Thanks, Terry.

r bek
3/27/2007 12:00:00 AM

from what i've read, you can tie in different building materials (i.e. straw, wood) to an earthbag footer, stemwall (or 1/2 wall). just be sure to tie any material transitions together with pinning and/or strapping, bond beams et al. lots of good books at the library --

r bek
3/25/2007 12:00:00 AM

am building an earthbag house in wester colorado - looks great! hard to do alone and requires a strong back, but I like to putter and don't have a lot of time constraint. cement mixer is worth its weight in gold (got cheap one on ebay $120) after trying to mix by hand on first few "stabilized" rows. Cal-Earth is competitive source for continuous bag rolls.

winter star
12/6/2006 12:00:00 AM

Earthbag material in continuous rolls, various widths, available from the Cal Earth Institute.Nadir Kahlili developed earthbag building. has many photos, stories.They sell rolls of polybag. Some manufacturers get supplies in poly bags [recycle=free].Some feeds come in polybags [recycle=free].Long rolls of polybag material are easier/ more stable to build with than smaller bags.ALL polybags disintegrate when exposed to daylight for more than a couple months. Protect Earthbag construction with tarps between building sessions; stucco or plaster finished walls!Wet climates: fill bottom 2 rows polybags with crushed volcanic pumice stone or gravel. Some have used crushed pumice to fill all bags for whole structure with good result.

javier solis
9/25/2006 12:00:00 AM

Hello. My name is Javier Solis, I am an architect from Guatemala Central America.Receantly a friend from the States send to me the earthbag building book. I am already reading it and hope to start with some practice very soon. Actually my country will be benefited a lot by implementing this ecological construction system. Since many do not have access to a dignified home, this is going to be a beatiful way to make their dreams and needs come true.

ray kornele
9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM

When buying the bags, you need to make sure they are impervious to disintegration from being exposed to continuous dampness and UV radiation. This from an experience I had with sancbags I stored outside for a company I worked for years ago. After a years storage, the boss wanted to move them. Even on palletts, the bags fell apart.KrazyKyngeKorny (krazy, not stupid)

ray kornele
9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM

Be sure the bags are not vulnerable to continuous dampness, or UV radiation.KrazyKyngeKorny (krazy, not stupid)

7/30/2006 12:00:00 AM Is a site I found useful.

jeff otte
7/25/2006 12:00:00 AM

I like this idea as well. I am planning a large retaining wall project and would appreciate any comments on using this technique. Also, anyone know a good source for the bags?

lou casazza
7/1/2006 12:00:00 AM

Hi there, I really love this idea and am searching for a site to try it out, by building myself an office. I would like to know if there is anyone who has tried this, and how it went.

james grieve
6/23/2006 12:00:00 AM

Hi GuysJust bought a old cortijo in southern spain, looking to do majority of rebuild myself, but would like to keep it as eco friendly as possible, from materials to solar panels, re-using water etc etc etc. any advice gratefully received james

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