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Off the Hamster Wheel: Morgan’s $5000 Earthbag House

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  • Off the Hamster Wheel: Morgan’s $5000 Earthbag House

    Morgan Caraway had been interested in sustainability for a while when he ran across natural building for the first time at his local library. The Earthship book by Michael Reynolds got him dreaming of a low-cost sustainable home, and by 2007, he was also delving into strawbale, cob and yurt homes, eventually discovering earthbag construction.

    In 2009, Morgan took the plunge on land in a community outside Asheville, North Carolina, building his off-grid dream home with his girlfriend for under $5000.

    Digging earthbag house foundation

    The rubble trench foundation coming together, with help from a friend.

     

    Earthbag homes are constructed by laying moist earth-filled bags in rows (like bricks). Barbed wire is placed between each row, acting as a binder and helping the wall perform as one structural unit. Once walls are complete, earth plaster is applied to create a smooth stucco-like finish. Earthbags, initially based on sandbag temporary shelters, were developed and refined by architect Nader Khalili of the Cal-Earth Institute, among others.

    The versatility of the bags and their high compressive strength makes for a myriad of designs, including arches, vaults and curvilinear walls. Due to their thermally-massive composition, earthbag walls also help regulate interior temperature swings, leading to increased comfort for occupants. On top of all that, the earthbag technique is also easy to adapt for earthquake zones.

    Morgan surveys the work on his earthbag house

    Morgan takes a look around as the house begins to take shape.

     

    “I studied and contemplated many types of natural building before going with the earthbag technique.” Morgan says. Other types considered were the “strawbale yurt” as well as cob, a building method he researched in The Hand-Sculpted House that uses clay, sand and straw. After realizing that his area was perhaps too moist for strawbales, and that cob required a more precise mixing process, he decided on earthbags for the simplicity of construction and the additional structural strength the bags provided. Morgan says that “looking back five years later, I’m glad with the choice!”

    Building an earthbag house with friends

    Lots of help from friends makes the natural building process more fun. [Mary Jane and Morgan on right]

     

    When asked why he chose a circular design, he explains “in earth building circles there is a saying: ‘round is sound.’ A round wall is structurally very stable and self-supporting and has less outside surface area so it’s more energy efficient.” He used the compass arm technique detailed in the book Earthbag Building which made the circular walls easy to construct.

    The earthbag house takes shape

    Almost ready for the roof. If you look closely, you can see Mary Jane flexing, as well as the compass arm used to help make the walls vertical.

     

    “I wasn’t very experienced at all when we started. I had built a yurt which was our temporary residence while we built the earthbag [house] but that was about it.” he said. He recommends the earthbag technique for novices, explaining that he prepared by reading through Earthbag Building several times before starting the project. “If they follow the directions in the book with some care, they are almost guaranteed success.”

    Earthbag house roof framing

    Roof rafters at a slight angle, supported with one central post made out of a beautiful tree trunk.

     

    Except for some moisture problems as the earthbags cured, he explained that everything pretty much went by the book, saying “overall the house has been very sound and our experience living here has been joyous.”

    Interior earth plaster going on the interior of the earthbag house

    Interior earth plastering begins.

     

    When I inquired how the home had affected his life, he explained: “We built our 450 square foot house for less than $5000 and haven’t paid a cent on rent since then. This means that our overhead is very low. Not paying rent opens up more free time and gets you off of the modern hamster wheel.”

    Earthbag roundhouse view from interior

    Looking towards the front door.

     

    Earthbag house bottle wall

    Front door with recycled glass bottle sidelights.

     

    Morgan continued: “I can’t think of any negatives to this. I know that many people feel stuck these days but we are only as stuck as we believe we are—actually there are many options and ways to live.”

    Laying tile floor in earthbag house

    After a precise floor-leveling process, Mary Jane creates a unique tile pattern.

     

    earthbag house morgan caraway

    The completed house. It wouldn’t be long before a sun room was added onto the front.

     

    Morgan Caraway has been interested in sustainability from a young age. His first brush with natural building was the Earthship book by Michael Reynolds at the local library. Starting in 2007 he studied strawbale, cob, yurt building, earthships and, eventually, earthbag building. In 2009 he and his better half, Mary Jane, built their off-grid earthbag house near Asheville, North Carolina. He is also an author, musician and is currently designing a video game.

    Resources from this article:

    Earthship: How to Build Your Own, Volume 1*

    The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage*

    Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques*

    *Affiliate link

     

    Well thanks for stopping by. I personally think the earthbag technique is a fantastic way to build. It’s simple, economical, and super strong. It’s approachable enough that a novice builder can put together their own home with help from a few friends, who in turn get to learn the technique for their own projects. If you enjoyed this article, please share it using the buttons below. A lot of people don’t know their options when it comes to homes. I’m spreading the word on Alternative Homes Today, but I can’t do it without your help.

    What did you think of the earthbag technique? Would you build a house like this?


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    About the Author:

    Ross Lukeman is the founder and editor of Alternative Homes Today. Find out more about him here and connect with him on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google Plus.

    Discussion

    1. Nicole Mackey  July 13, 2016

      Hey there! I’m so thankful to have found this site! My partner and I live in Mars Hill NC and commute to work in Asheville NC. We are currently looking to buy some unrestricted land in Marshall NC area. We really want to build an earth bag home! We have some questions though. Lets say we buy unrestricted land to build our earth bag home. Are there building codes in Madison County? What do they entail ? We are having trouble getting in touch with anyone who has experience with this, so I’m very happy I stumbled upon this! Please let me know if you have any info on this or a way I can get in touch with Morgan. Appreciate this! ::D

      ~ Nicole

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 17, 2016

        Hi Nicole, thanks for stopping by, and sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been on the road the past few days. Building codes depend on the county, and it looks like Madison County NC requires a single permit (covering building, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical) for single dwellings. If construction cost is less than $5000, you don’t need a permit. Here’s the site http://www.madisoncountync.org/permits.php

        Morgan can be reached via the Bottom Leaf Community website at http://bottomleaf.org.

        I also have a friend currently building around the nearby town of Hickory on unrestricted land, who went through the permitting process. I would try to get in touch with Morgan, and if needed I can put you in touch with Kara as well, who is in the middle of construction right now.

        Thanks again for stopping in and let me know if you need more help/contacts.

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    2. William  May 25, 2016

      Morgan i have five acres in nc im turning into a sustainable farm i would love these homes on it. Is the book you used still in print? Or do you know anyone who would be willing to help teach us how to built these hands on?

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  May 25, 2016

        Hi William, the book Morgan mentioned is still in print, it’s Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques.

        Morgan just started teaching some workshops at the Bottom Leaf Community in NC. He’s got a couple coming up in the next month. You might check it out at bottomleaf.org. There are also photos of past workshops. If nothing else, you could head over there and chat with him about the house in this article.

        Hope this helps,
        Ross

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    3. Terry  October 12, 2015

      Can I get someone to build one of these in the Caribbean Trinidad in particular?

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  November 13, 2015

        Not sure about that Terry. You could host a workshop with an earthbag teacher and have students help with the build. I know people occasionally fly to international workshops. Or, if you can’t find a contractor in Trinidad who already knows about earthbag, you could show a local builder the technology and have them build it for you.

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    4. Leon  July 1, 2015

      Can you build one of these with electricity? I understand the need for smaller housing, I live in my car and would much rather be able to afford a small place to live (roommate situations have not worked out for me). But, I would love to be able to cook and also read or use the internet at night, as I am a night owl. How do they cook? Do they not use the internet?

      Thanks nice site.

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 5, 2015

        Hey Leon, you can definitely build one of these with electricity, either from a municipal source or with solar or wind. In the final picture above you can see they added a couple of solar panels to the roof. These panels feed a small battery bank (1 or 2 batteries) inside, which provide 12 volt DC power to devices (you can also add an inverter to create regular 110 volt AC power like a house would have from these batteries).

        They do have a small kitchen along one wall with a sink/stove, etc. Also, I’m sure they have internet, although I’m not positive on the specifics. If a landline for internet wasn’t available, you could use satellite or a cellular hotspot. I am in the process of moving into a cargo van and have a 4G hotspot for internet. It’s pretty fast.

        You might also consider living in a cargo van. Some of the same cost/mobility benefits as the car, with more room for cooking, reading, etc. I am even putting an “office” in mine with a flatscreen computer mounted to the wall. Great questions! Feel free to leave another comment if I didn’t answer everything.

        (reply)
        • Leon  July 5, 2015

          Ross,

          Thanks a bunch for your detailed comments, much appreciated. I am currently saving and waiting for the right time to buy a van. Hopefully a 2014/15 Ford Transit when I can find a decent deal on one. I more than agree that a van is the way to go, because even though I have a long (old) wagon that I can fully stretch out in and has backseats (2nd and 3rd row) that are incredibly easy to fold down completely flat (at the flip of a lever), I can not sit up with my mattress in the back. So it’s slide in and go to sleep, or read for a bit while lying down but no sitting up and eating snacks and hard to use the laptop while in the back, hard to get dressed in the morning. I have made great reflectix shades with black fabric on the outside for the sleeping area windows, but it is a bit cumbersome not to be able to sit up (until I shimmy up to the front seat, lol).

          There is something to be said though, for having a reliable, safe place to lay your head. That is what attracts me to a tiny house or earthbag house such as the nice one shown above on your wonderful website!

          I’m a traveler, I love to travel frequently so the Van would be my first (and only) choice if it was easy to find a relatively peaceful and hassle-free place to park each night when traveling. As I’m sure you are aware, a large portion of society and law-enforcement look down on van dwellers, in addition to the safety issues with sleeping at certain locales. Campsites are just too expensive these days in some states and have time limits as well. I’ve even ran into a few that said I have to pitch a ten or I cannot rent a campsite, even if it’s raining! I do have a tent, but do not enjoy folding it up and putting it away when it’s covered in water and mud and I have to move on the next day. Some will let your rent an RV site but obviously that’s more expensive. I have learned how to find decent areas to spend the night even in my car, but, you can still run into hassles from time to time.

          I’m hoping that we can broaden our culture of van dwelling as well as areas where both small homes and van/car/truck living is allowed. The old strength in numbers and banding together somewhat would be our best way forward, especially when we don’t have the money to pay people off and we’re up against a slew of industries that benefit from inflating basic living expenses such as housing (real-estate people, government tax industry, those creatures who make most their money off of usury, et al…)

          What type of Van are you moving into? Sounds great the you will be hooking it up with various features! I will be back regularly now that I’ve found your site, hope I don’t get annoying asking for advice. I’m still trying to figure out the best way forward, whether that be moving into a van, or trying to find a plot of land for an alternative small type of house. The problem with that is, I want to be close enough to a population center to find enough work, but I also love nature and the Mountains/Rivers much more than the city life, so it’s a bit of a tall order.

          I tried living down near Chattanooga, and that had amazing swimming holes within minutes, hikes with beautiful scenery, and large population centers… but, it didn’t work out for a few reasons so now I’m back in Eastern Mass, I’ve worked for awhile, saved a bit now I’m trying to decide where to go! Upstate NY? West Virginia? Both areas I’m researching are stunningly beautiful (took a trip to WV last year) with all the nature (swimming/hiking) I’m looking for, but with significantly less opportunities to earn a living. Exciting but with that excitement comes some anxiety and second guessing myself on my next move. Thanks again for your comments, back to reading some more of your great site.

          (reply)
          • Ross Lukeman  July 6, 2015

            Hey Leon,

            Thanks for sharing some of the challenges from living in your wagon. I can see how that would get old quickly. The cargo van definitely sounds like it would help with some of these issues. You might try renting the Transit and laying out your bed in it, etcetera, as I’m not sure how long the cargo bay actually is. Another reader from Portland, Oregon is considering one, but she is 5’2” she says.

            The van I chose is a Chevy Express 2500 extended. I find the steel sides better than windows because it is always looks weird to black out windows in a passenger vehicle when parked overnight I think. It also helps with the installation of permanent insulation material to have less windows. My rear windows are tinted at 85% (legal limit varies by state apparently) and are the only windows with blackout material at night. The cab has a steel partition behind the seats, so the cab looks like a normal work van at night. It is a 2014, financed for 72 months (I know, terrible), but this gave me a new van (less problems, draws less attention) for $366/mo. I will also be keeping it washed regularly. I find that work vans are welcome in both urban and rural areas because they are the workhorses of society. They put in the plumbing, bring the power, paint the houses, etc. With a clean newer work van, you are invisible to most people.

            As far as being close to population centers with work, I understand that issue. This is why I never pulled the trigger on a tiny house myself. Yes, the bills are lower, but if you are in the middle of nowhere, you income will tend to lower itself to meet those lower bills. Of course that could be just what someone is looking for, less bills and less time spent working. So I found that the van will let you travel but also go to work in cities when needed. For me personally, I am working full-time online now, and would encourage you to consider those options as well. This site alone has been built by people working remotely online. The site was originally designed from Costa Rica, the logo was designed in New York State, and some of the interviews were transcribed in Portugal, and the server was worked on from Romania, all by remote freelancers. Most of these people were from Elance. As the U.S. economy moves to more 1099 contractors, a lot of us are going to have to build in some type of office or workshop into our homes to provide a product or service.

            As far as society and law enforcement giving us trouble, I think you probably have more experience with that as I’m just getting started. It may be an anomaly, but I have a police officer/former marine in my family who has been instrumental in my van conversion. He even found the van online for sale and went with me to buy it in another state. He has the typical hectic American life and can see the appeal of something like this. For places to stay, a friend just sent me freecampsites.net, which may be a help.

            As far as the vandwelling movement, I am finding that as the economy changes due to globalization and more automation every year, people in the 30-year mortgage group are going to be more and more squeezed. The van was a way for me to adapt to changing times. I don’t know if sitting in the same spot paying for 30 years and working a job is really going to fit the bill for a large portion of us going forward. It may have been a phenomenon of the 20th century, a sinking ship. There’s a new book called The End of Jobs that just came out talking about the economic changes and opportunities that are happening. To me, it ties in with what I’m doing with the van.

            Well I hope this helps a bit. I know it can be hard to choose where to live and in what type of house. But I think if you are actively choosing something outside of the default path, you’ll be ahead of the game. I am also putting together an online course on cargo van conversion. If you think that might be helpful, you can check it out at CargoVanConversionCourse.com. I will be releasing it in August as a beta version with HD video lessons, group calls and a group forum for people who’d like help fully converting their van with power, water, insulation, etc.

            (reply)
            • Leon  July 6, 2015

              Ahh I’m a Chevy Guy (have had 2 Caprice, one Classic Wagon), so you’re swaying me here. But, of note, I think you may be thinking of the Ford Transit-Connect (smaller). The Ford Transit (minus connect) is a bigger van (though with smaller wheels than the Chevy Express and previous Ford vans). The Transit comes in 3 roof heights (I can stand up in the medium height) with variable window arrangements. Also comes in a Wagoneer style that has 2nd/3rd row seats, but the industrial version has indents in the side for shelving, perhaps a folding bed of sometype, etc… but again, I am a Chevy guy. Tough call and I will take some more time deciding, also I think GM’s tend to be slightly more expensive (perhaps slightly more rugged and less repair prone?).

              Yes, there are definitely some helpful police officers out there, but there are even more who are quick to harass people for sleeping (where they’re not supposed to). However, the main portion of the blame for harassment of people who are trying to sleep in a van can be placed on those setting policy, not those enforcing it. It also may be that I have an older car and they perceive me as “down and out” which people do not want to see, but I see that as a character flaw of society not a legitimate reason to harass me, my car looks fine anyway nice paint job it’s not an eye sore. I’ve had it with harassment from cops to tell you the truth, regardless if they’re just robotic drones enforcing junited states policy, and I sometimes don’t feel so bad when people like Eric Frein exact some revenge (even though I know that’s not the correct way, sometimes it feels like the only way). Being awoken from a deep sleep with loud knocks and threats (multiple times) when you’re simply minding your own business and not bothering anyone, can drive you to feel this way.

              I thank you so much for your advice, it’s admirable how you reply to everyone and answer their questions to the best of your ability with absolutely solid advice. I dream of starting some type of website some day… designing it is my first challenge. I will definitely be checking out your how to videos, as I do have a lot to learn in terms of a full conversion. Thanks again for your words of advice and all you’re doing to promote these various alternative living situations.

              (reply)
              • Leon  July 6, 2015

                I mean look at this, even at FREE CAMP SITES the jNew York state troopers are harassing people simply trying to camp !! Click link and scroll to the bottom comment

                http://freecampsites.net/#!5152&query=sitedetails

                I was there this year. It is a nice area with several nice campsites. There is one porta-potty, and NYS forest region rules apply. We were stopped by a NY State Trooper who checked our ID and registration (and our inspection sticker). He later told us that they watch the area because people do things “they aren’t supposed to” sometimes. Very nice spot, but note that there are patrols that might be looking for a reason to bust you on principle.

                (reply)
                • Leon  July 13, 2015

                  Now I am in no way directing animosity toward your pro-police comment, I love a righteous cop. I am simply showing you what I (and many others) have experienced.

                  This is not exactly a free country. How, in a free-country, is that we have made sleeping illegal. I don’t care where you are sleeping, whether it be on a public bench, or in your car. Especially given the housing crisis (housing prices have risen sharply and wages have not). I am a wage slave so I am especially subject and sensitive to this crisis (which is indeed an appropriate label).

                  So, let me track this: because so much of our tax-dollars to go to endless wars to “protect” Israel from countries that never even attacked us on 911, we can’t afford to build affordable housing or enough shelters, but we also won’t let people sleep anywhere else? OR, is it all the usurers and industries making money hand over fist off of skyrocketing basic housing expenses, we can’t jeopardize all those profits?… Is that the reason why we can’t LET PEOPLE SLEEP without a hefty payment?

                  Nobody should be forced to “STEALTH CAMP” in a vehicle on a public roadway or park. Made to feel like a criminal who’s trying to get away with something, for simply trying to achieve some much needed (and earned) rest.

                  Picture this; you happen to have had a long and stressful day (at work or whatever) and all you would like to do is drink a few beers (3-4) to help you relax and go to sleep. Only you weren’t “Stealth” enough in where you parked to sleep, and a curious overseer discovers you. He informs you that you are sleeping illegally and you must move, only he smells the alcohol on your breath and subsequently pulls you over for dui when you start to obey his command by driving off. Now, your license is suspended, you lose your job, and your entire lifestyle is up-ended simply for trying to get some rest!

                  It can and does happen! I’ve heard of people being arrested for oui even without having driven anywhere from their “stealth” camping location (especially true if your keys happen to be in the ignition as you’re listening to some music).

                  I’ve had responses to the effect of “well if you want to sleep in your car, don’t drink”…. Riiiiight, that sounds right in line with the type of freedom loving lifestyle that we pretend to be the main proponents of here in the good ole jUSA! This country is entirely fake in many respects! But alas we’re told to “Love it or Leave it!” and this by the quote unquote “patriotic” crowd. jeje

                  (reply)
                  • Morgan  October 12, 2015

                    Just so you know Leon, we have great internet!

                    (reply)
                • Sel  October 21, 2015

                  Try looking at http://www.cheaprvliving.com
                  Great to places to camp for free are listed – many areas run by the Bureau of Land Management are free to camp on but they (mostly) have no amenities; no bathrooms, etc.
                  That site is absolutely full of useful info.
                  Check it out. It’s run by those who are living this way right now!

                  (reply)
                  • Ross Lukeman  October 21, 2015

                    Thanks Sel! Great resource.

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    5. Buddy  June 30, 2015

      Can you comment on other building techniques using soil, like earth-filled vehicle tires or tubing instead of bags, hay/straw bales and other techniques? All should be very insulative materials. It seems like site orientation and roof overhang would also be important and maybe some kind of turntable system for tuning to different seasons by turning the whole structure. Thanks, Ross.

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 5, 2015

        Hey Buddy, the tubing you speak of is usually called superadobe, which is a close cousin to earthbags. Superadobe, earthbags, and another technique called rammed earth all benefit from having high thermal mass and regulating internal temperature swings. However, they don’t have a lot of insulative value and that may need to be added to add comfort/energy savings during peak heating/cooling seasons. And you’re right about site orientation and roof overhangs helping as they will limit or promote solar gain depending on the season. The turntable could be neat, although you might need a lighter building system as these earth buildings can be excessively heavy. Great questions, thanks for stopping in!

        (reply)
    6. Mitch Mitchell  June 29, 2015

      Wow, that’s amazing! A round house; what will they think of next? I like the idea of sustainability and the house looks strong enough to withstand pretty much anything. I wondered if there was access to getting out of the house via both the front and back. I have to admit that as cool as it looks, I might feel trapped a bit if I could only get in and out through the same door.

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 5, 2015

        Hey Mitch, good point. I think they built it with just one entry/exit. I know windows are counted in the fire code as exits, although they have to meet certain size requirements. I’m sure the windows in this case would suffice if you really needed a second exit. Great question!

        (reply)
      • Morgan  October 12, 2015

        We have 2 entrances. One is on the side and one goes through what is now the sun room.

        (reply)
    7. terry  March 24, 2015

      Would like to get someone to build one of these houses for me.

      (reply)
      • Morgan  October 12, 2015

        Where do you live Terry? You could probably find someone who would do it. You could join the Earthbag Builders group on facebook to inquire.

        (reply)
    8. luanne  March 24, 2015

      Thank you so much for the info. We are looking to moving back into NC, but I was researching to see how the area is taking to sandbag homes. Is Asheville the best place to get permission for this? And do you have any other suggestions for other areas in NC that you may suggest we start looking for land where the “authorities will allow this? We might want to take your workshop class. Great work, thanks!

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  March 24, 2015

        Hey Luanne, thanks for stopping by. Morgan is actually a bit outside of Asheville in an intentional community of owner-built homes. Many counties in the U.S. only require inspection of your septic system to be sure you’re handling your sewage correctly. Other than that in many places they are laissez faire with the type of construction you use. If you’d like to get Morgan’s take, you can reach him at http://asustainablelife.info

        Thanks again for stopping in and good luck with your build moving forward!

        Ross

        (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  March 24, 2015

        Oops I just saw his site is not coming up. Let me know if you’d like to get ahold of him. Thanks!

        (reply)
    9. gunguru01  July 22, 2014

      I really like this building technique. My wife and I thought about this type of build years ago and only decided against it because we couldn’t agree on a place to build it. My favorite part of this type of building is the integration of furniture and shelving and heating into the walls. I have seen some of these houses with stoves in the walls. Being able to mold wall lighting (electric or candle) directly into the wall covering brings out anyone’s artistic side.

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 23, 2014

        Hey Gunguru, thanks for stopping by. That’s funny that you guys couldn’t decide on a location. I can definitely relate, and I’ll probably be building some type of mobile house for myself in the near future.

        I have really enjoyed your blog and have been sending people looking for tiny house construction specifics over there. Readers, check it out at: aTinyHomeCompanion.blogspot.com

        (reply)
    10. KALIYA  July 21, 2014

      I studied with the man who created this system. Give him his due “props” See his school and website at http://www.calearth.org. He also wrote the book on his process.

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 22, 2014

        Thanks Kaliya

        (reply)
    11. Hope Henry  July 19, 2014

      People in really extreme climates are building with two layers of bags, linked together with barbed wire, with one layer filled with insulating materials (such as rice hulls, which are extremely inexpensive). Having gone through a Texas summer with no A/C a couple of years ago (several days at 110-112 degrees, most days at or over 100), I would say this is a very good idea. An earth roof is very insulating – you have to make sure it is supported well and properly drained…Rob Roy, whose home, Earthwood (Cordwood construction) has been around since 1981, said his roof has leaked only once and he easily mended it by cutting back the sod, cleaning and patching the protective membrane (most people use swimming pool liners), and replacing the sod.

      (reply)
      • Ross Lukeman  July 19, 2014

        Hope, thanks for adding to the conversation. I believe they used reclaimed styrofoam insulation between their rafters in this case. I also love the earthen roof method, as you can grow some interesting stuff up there, adding to the aesthetics of the home.

        Rob Roy has been an inspiration for me as well. Other readers looking to see his work can go to CordwoodMasonry.com. I also did a short review of his book Mortgage Free! here and an article inspired by that book “8 Reasons to Build Your Own Home, Mortgage-Free” here.

        (reply)
      • Morgan  July 19, 2014

        Yes, thermal mass (earthbags) on the inside and insulation on the outside (strawbales, bags filled with rice hulls, etc) are the ultimate combination. The thermal mass regulates your inner temps and the insulation protects you from outside temps. I will berm the next house I build for the constant thermal mass of the earth temp. My friend Robert Shear built a house like this called the Half Moon: http://halfmoon.californiadreams.us He told me that when it was -20 degrees F out it was 57 degrees inside!

        (reply)
        • Ross Lukeman  July 20, 2014

          Hey Morgan, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for sharing Robert’s Half Moon project with us. That’s a good-looking earthship! It’s good to know that it performs well in the harsh Utah winters.

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    12. Virtue Instincts  July 18, 2014

      I loved your project. How many bags in total were you needing to use for the build? It was hard for me to see how you connected the center pole to the roof beams.. how did you connect them? I just love what you all did.. when the bags are filled are they too heavy for someone to lift if they had a disability like what was the estimate weight on each one if they were trying to do it alone.

      (reply)
      • Hope Henry  July 19, 2014

        I have read several earthbag builders say that, if you fill the bags either on the wall, where they will remain, OR very close to their permanent location, they are not hard to lift. It would probably make the building time slower, but would be easier on one’s back, arms, and legs, whether or not a disability existed and would be more efficient if one was building alone. One of my favorite earthbag houses was built by a woman. http://www.earthbagbuilding.com/projects/kennedyhouse.htm

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      • Morgan  July 19, 2014

        We used between 1100 and 1200 bags in the main part of the house. The roof joists are secured to the center pole with long screws. The bags (14“x26“) are probably between 40 and 50 lbs when filled. More pictures of the building process here: http://asustainablelife.info/pictures.html

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    13. Janet  July 17, 2014

      This home seems so simple to build. What a concept! I’m so impressed with the creativity of some people. This is a wonderful way to live simply, not to mention cheaply. Love this post, Ross.

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      • Ross Lukeman  July 17, 2014

        Thanks Janet!

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    14. Kristi  July 17, 2014

      It is great to see what people are doing to get out of the mortgage enslaved rat race. This home is beautiful! I would love to see some interior pics. I would also love to learn more about how people are building and living in sustainable, small mortgage free homes in urban areas. My initial research shows that it’s not easily done in the Phoenix metro area. Thanks for a great post!

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      • Ross Lukeman  July 17, 2014

        Hey Kristi, thanks for your input. You can see a few more pics at http://www.asustainablelife.info/pictures.html

        As far as urban mortgage-free stuff, it seems to take a bit more research. I know some cities are letting down their guard when it comes to tiny homes on trailers, especially in high-rent areas of the country. Oregon has had a movement with ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) during the last few years which are a good alternative. You can follow that movement at http://accessorydwellings.org.

        I would encourage you to pursue your vision, as no one is going to look out for your long-term finances like you will. Smaller housing is prevented when possible because it erodes earnings for a lot of players, notably bringing in less revenue from property taxes, and for materials suppliers, home insurers, and banks. Even the energy companies lose out. But guess who wins?

        I am pro-business, but a lot of people are losing their shirts with the homes we are being channeled towards. I say channel yourself based on your own interests.

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    15. sandy  July 16, 2014

      hi,
      I want to thank you so much for this article today. we live in Ecuador and are planning on building a couple of casitas on our property. we’ve been wondering how to find qualified people to build concrete block houses. This is absolutely the answer to our dilemma and besides have always love the yurt concept. We figure we can have a minga or 2 and pay the participants from our pueblo to help fill bags and maybe help build them. Bought the book and excited to read it and get started! Will send pictures..

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      • Ross Lukeman  July 16, 2014

        Hey Sandy, I’m glad to hear this article was so useful for you! That’s what we’re here for! I agree that this would probably give you a much better building at a lower cost than the concrete block houses. Plus you can build for earthquakes with these, which may come in handy. If you want to see this stuff in action, I also recommend Owen Geiger’s Basic Earthbag Building DVD, available on Amazon. I haven’t done a review on AHT for it yet, but I watched it and it’s very thorough.

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    16. Jennifer  July 16, 2014

      It looks so easy! where did the dirt come from?
      looks like a great idea if you have land to build on.

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      • Ross Lukeman  July 16, 2014

        Hey Jennifer, thanks for stopping by! Any dirt excavated while leveling the site and digging the foundation trench can be used if it has a high-clay content. They had the railroad ballast shipped in for the rubble trench foundation, and possibly additional soil for the earthbags. I’m sure it was dirt cheap.

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    17. Ree Klein  July 16, 2014

      I’M IN LOVE!!! The home is beautiful, the cost is so affordable and it’s bigger than the “tiny home” option (which is also interesting). I can’t wait for your book release, Ross, I’m definitely going to pick up a copy 🙂

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      • Ross Lukeman  July 16, 2014

        Thanks Ree! I agree that this is a very affordable setup and the size seems just right for a couple of people.

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