Building with earthbags: there are so many excellent reasons for doing it, and below I have listed a few just because I can not restrain myself. But what we really want to know is how long it takes to build one. Of course, it depends on the size of the building and the number of workers, but still, we want to get a good idea of what to expect.
What is an earthbag house?
For those of you who have been oblivious to the genius concept of earthbag homes: an earthbag home is a house built of rammed earth, also called superadobe, and that earth is put in bags. The bags are stacked in a certain manner, and the houses often have domes, because in the case of earthbag buildings this shape has many advantages. The house is plastered after the bags have been stacked. It takes very little money and a lot of labor to make one.
Why build an earthbag home, to begin with?
Alright, to sum up:
- An earthbag house is non-toxic, and built with natural materials: with earth, to be more precise – surprise surprise.
- Us humans are part of nature, and it makes us feel at ease when we are in a natural environment.
- It gives great satisfaction to design and build your own house.
- Nothing in nature is straight, and the curves in an earthbag house mimic nature.
- It is hurricane, bullet, and earthquake-resistant (preppers out there: get ready!).
- It can be cheap (depending on the cost of the labor).
- It is insulated, and it has a high thermal mass.
- It has great fire resistance.
- It has high acoustic insulation (great if you like eighties music and you are alone).
- It gives protection from electromagnetic radiation (mobile phone towers, powerlines).
Below is our interview with Brian, who is building an earthbag house in Escamequita, Nicaragua. He is building one big dome, with two smaller domes attached, and he has five workers at his disposal. Read below to find out how long each stage of the building process is taking him and his men.
Hello Brian. You have been building with earthbags these past weeks. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Brian: ‘This is the first time that I am building with earthbags. A year ago I started with my plan to build an earthbag house. I graduated from the Universidad Politécnica Nicaragua in Managua and wrote my thesis about bioconstruction. After that, I set up my company ‘Ecoconstruction Nicaragua’. My dream is to let my company grow and offer maintenance, remodeling, construction, and design in earthbag buildings. When the company has matured I want to help my community: build houses for our community, and let them pay back only the costs, in small monthly payments. You see, earthbag building is much cheaper than traditional building. The most expensive part is the workers. The earth is free; the bags and the plaster and lime do not cost much.’
You are working on a building with one big dome and two smaller ones; what is the ground surface of the three domes?
Brian: ‘The big one has a diameter of 6 meters. The small ones are 3 diameters each. The whole construction is 96 m² in total.’
Who is helping you to build it?
Brian: ‘I have five workers. But it is difficult to keep the same workers because I do not always have the money to hire them. And, one week you need five people, and the next week maybe two. And then there are the rains; this makes working days very irregular. It is a challenge. I selected people who know how to do this; you can not just hire any worker.
In January 2023 I plan to use volunteers. This is cheaper, although I will have to take care of food and housing for them.
Can you tell us about your planning, how long does each stage take?
Brian: ‘We have had delays, because of the rains. Right now it is the rainy season, and we can only work two to three days a week. My advice is: do not build during the rainy season if you live in the tropics!
First, there is the pre-building process: making the design, contracting the right workers, and making a budget. I sorted out where can I get earth, bags, wood, and other materials.
Then we looked again at the location: is it still a good location when there are heavy rains? You can make a bigger trench for example, if the place needs it.’
The actual building process of Brian’s earthbag project
Draw the diagram of the earthbag domes in the earth: where are you going to make the trench? Then you start digging the trench. After digging the trench, you fill it up with rubble.
Filling the earthbags and stacking them on top of each other.
Plastering of the walls outside with (in this case) cement.
Plastering the walls inside with cob. During the plastering, we build the interior; the doors, windows, water pipes, and electricity wires.
Make the floor, in this case, it is an earthen floor.’
Great job Brian. How can people find you and your earthbag building?
Brian: ‘On my website are contact details: www.ecoconstructionnic.com
The website will be finished in July 2022, so please take a look when it is ready, thank you.’
So, based on Brian’s experience, it is kind of safe to say that you can easily build an earthbag house within four months. It will have one big dome and two smaller ones, 96 m² ground floor, with an average of four workers a week, working eight hours a day. If there is not a lot of rain and if you have more workers or volunteers, then it can be done within three months.
Of course, circumstances can differ widely; this timeline is here as a guiding principle, for you to adapt to your situation.
We hope that you will venture out on your earthbag project and enjoy the many benefits!