Posted 16 July 2011, by Kathy Fairchild, The Innovation Diaries, theinnovationdiaries.com
Building with earthbags is a combination of both old and new concepts. Earth bag construction utilizes the concept of building with adobe bricks but uses bags of earth, rock, sand, or other combinations to create a well-insulated and sustainable green building.
The earthbag building concept was presented by architect Nader Khalili to NASA for building habitats on the moon and Mars; he originally termed the concept “velcro-adobe” because of the use of sandbags interlaced with barbed wire. Khalili’s original concept is now more commonly known as “super-adobe” and he continues to pursue sustainable green building techniques in his home state of California.
The earthbags are usually filled with local, natural materials, which lower the embodied energy commonly associated with the manufacture and transportation of building materials thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the building.
Earthbag homes can look like something taken right of a science fiction novel or the building can look like every other house in the neighborhood. The construction material does not predetermine the size or shape of the building it simply enhances the sustainability of the building technique.
One of the advantages of building with earth bags is that the contents of the bags can be customized depending on the local climate. When earth bags are filled with lighter weight materials, such as crushed volcanic stone, perlite, vermiculite, or rice hulls, they provide insulation; when the earth bags are filled with more dense material such as soil they provide thermal mass and protection against temperature variations. Once the structure is built the bags are plastered over to provide an erosion resisting layer.
A core concept of earth bag building is that structures can be built easily and economically by a single family. Skilled labor is not needed and expensive equipment is not needed. As long as one of the individuals working on the earth bag building the entire structure can be completed without skilled labor.
When built properly, earth bag structures that are reinforced with barbed wire are resistant to a wide variety of natural disasters including earthquakes, fire, flood, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
Do-it-yourself plans and step-by-step instructions are available from multiple sources in order to build your own earth bag house and there are a handful of licensed architects and building specialists that can also build earth bag structures based on your specifications.