An Earthbag World at 84!

Reader Contribution by Atulya K. Bingham
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You might think building mud homes, especially earthbag houses, is age-dependent. But let me introduce you to Jehane Rucquoi, one of the most inspirational people I’ve met in the natural building world recently. Her creations will mash to a pulp any age-related limitations you harbour about earthbag construction. At 84 she’s not just building an earthbag house, but she’s founded and is constructing and entire off-grid world. It’s beautiful, daring and sustainable. 

The 3-Moons Project in Nevada

Nestled in the dusty landscapes of Arizona, a magical world of domes is being born. The 3 Moons Project is an inspiring exhibition of alternative building techniques. Jehane has been committed to creating this off-grid natural haven for years. Like all pioneers, she’s experienced her ups and downs. Initially she began the project somewhere else, and then had to move. But now 3 Moons has settled near Nevada, and is growing.

Earthbag Dome Construction

Jehane is very experienced in earthbag building. Indeed she met the famous Iranian architect Nader Khalili, who invented the technique. Earthbag inspired her to such an extent, she stayed at Cal-Earth and studied with Khalili himself for almost two years. Her speciality is definitely domes.

Jehane and friends have already constructed two perfect earthbag domes at Three Moons. The design is fascinating; one is covered with a deck (a brilliant idea because the deck protects the dome from sun and rain), the other is topped by a cupola. Both domes are completely naturally plastered with earth, clay, lime and sand to create a rustic finish on both exterior and interior walls.


Earthbag Building Basics

For those who don’t know how earthbag building works, it’s a system that utilises polypropylene, burlap or hemp sacks filled with moist clayey earth. The sacks are then laid end to end and tamped flat with something smooth and heavy. 2 courses of barbed wire are then run between each layer of bags. The barbed wire grips the sacks preventing them from sliding in an earthquake. Earthbag building is sometimes called superadobe, and has been proven both on the shake table and around the world to be one of the toughest, most earthquake resilient construction methods around. If you’d like to know more about it, have a look at my step by step earthbag building guide.

Using Tubes

At 3 Moons, Jehane and friends have used special polypropylene tubes in their build, as opposed to the individual sacks that many people build with. With earthbag construction, the clayey soil mixture cures in the bag within the wall itself (in contrast to standard adobe where mud bricks are formed and dried in the sun before being used for construction). The sacks hold the damp earth in place until they are properly dried, thus forming a semi-permanent mold. Whether you use sacks or tubes, both create strong, earthquake resistant structures if used properly. The key is tamping the moist earth sufficiently to create a solid brick. You can learn more about how to fill tubes and sacks here.


Earthbag in the Desert

Jehane has chosen the right construction technique for her climate. All mud homes, be they earthbag, adobe, cob or rammed earth are perfect for the desert. Earthen walls provide thermal mass. This means they absorb the heat and store it (at a rate of about an inch of wall an hour). If you are in a hot, dry climate like Arizona, this is what happens: The house absorbs the sun’s heat in the day, and then at night when the temperature drops the walls radiate the heat back into the house. By morning the earth has released all the stored heat and has become cool. So in the heat of the day the opposite occurs; the walls release cool air into your house instead. It’s a type of natural air-conditioning.

Other Features at 3 Moons

3 Moons is completely off-grid, solar powered with composting toilets, and a rocket stove and solar oven for cooking. One of the most striking natural building features is the now enormous snaking bottle wall that runs through the property. Made from hundreds of bottles mortared together with earthen plaster, the wall is a testament to tenacity and patience, and shows exactly how far you can get with glass bottles and mud mortar.

The Earthbag Greenhouse

Still in the making is a greenhouse with earthbag stem wall. This structure is square, not round, and will be topped with glass to house a number of plants.

Volunteer at Three Moons

The Three Moons project has been open to volunteers for a while now, and runs from March to June. The community is going to suit folk who are comfortable living in simplicity off-grid in the desert, who are open to group creativity, and to all things Earth-loving.

People with campervans are welcome too. Bear in mind you can expect freezing nights in March, and boiling days in July. For those who stay and work, there are two small beds in the earthbag shed, and two queen sized beds north and south of the trailer under the sun shed. Meals are basic, often cooked in a solar oven. Nearest stores and eateries are 18 miles away in Pahrump, NV.


All photos are courtesy of Jehane Rucquoi and the Three Moons Project.

For more details and a way to contact Jehane go to her website. For more information about earthbag building pick up my free PDF and email course on the subject.

This story was covered by Atulya K Bingham, natural builder and prize-winning author. Her most popular books includeMud Ball, the story of how she built her earthbag home in Turkey, and the recently releasedDirt Witch.

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