Wednesday, October 1, 2014

3D printing a house and why Earthbags are important

 The EHB
 In my previous post I mentioned  the news of an emerging technology that has important implications  for bringing  Earthbag building into the mainstream. If you have never heard of "Earthbags" please take a quick moment to read the article behind the previous link or click the tab in the menu above that is labeled "What is Earthbag?". You just might find the information interesting and valuable!
Back to the topic at hand,
I am incredibly, PROFOUNDLY excited about this new innovation not only because of what it has to offer by way of drastically decreased building times but because of the potential for it to launch Earthbag building into the mainstream without sacrificing the low tech accessibility which makes Earthbags so appealing.

This new technology is called the Earth Home Builder and it is more or less a 3D printer for earthbags. 
The Earth Home builder laying bags.
Photo curtesy United Earth Builders

The machinery was designed by a company called Progressive Innovations who has been working in the field of flood and erosion control. All their equipment is designed to fit universal mounts on a skidsteer, an already invaluable piece of earth moving equipment.

When building by hand a good crew working at top efficiency can lay down about 40ft of bags in an hour. The earth home builder can lay down about 400 ft per hour. That is a 1000% increase in efficiency!!!

the value of that difference is best seen in the contrast between the two videos below. The first is of the EHB in action, laying feet by the second. The next video is of me and some friends laying about 1 bag every 3 minutes

As a new technology its applications and limits are still being discovered but the possibilities are expanding. Currently the only company I am aware of that has taken up this innovation is a non-profit group called United Earth Builders. They are incorporating the EHB into various projects to work with some of the lowest income groups in the 3rd world and disenfranchised minorities here in the states. 

I am excited about this development on many levels. Not just as a potential labor saving device for building my own home but as a means to help close the gap between earthbag building methods and mainstream acceptance.

Usually when the efficiency of labor drastically increases there is a great sacrifice in the human element. The history of industrialization is filled with masses of marginalized people who find themselves as obsolete parts in the great industrial machine. The EHB and earthbags are examples of technology which can empower people without the risk of disenfranchising entire classes. In fact the scenario is reversed. This is technology which has the potential to bring empowerment not just to the lowest classes but to ALL people, bringing everyone closer to the means of providing for one of the most important necessities without having to grovel at the door of cold, uncaring lending institutions.

Why Should I Build with Earthbags?

There many many reasons to utilize the Earthbag construction method but I think there are 4 key aspects to the  process which really set it apart as uniquely advantageous.
1. plentiful local materials. When Building with Earthbags the majority of the building materials needed happens to be the most plentiful, easily accessible material on the planet: DIRT! Thats why the practice of building with mixtures of earthen materials is as old as human history and as much as it is a physical practicality it is also psychologically healthy. Building with the earth brings a deep satisfaction in feeling connected to the place that gives you life. 
2. sustainability.  Earthbags also play a role in environmental health by taking plastic out of the waste stream. Bags can be found as misprints or salvage from local businesses but even buying them new has environmental benefit. This is because the Polypropylene used in making the bags is a byproduct of oil refineries and needs to be utilized in some way whether it is disposed of or turned into something useable. Turning them into bags for building walls with indefinite life spans is a great way to not only negate their environmental impact but also creates a new market which can open the door to even more sustainably derived resin products like those made from hemp oils. If you really can not bring yourself to love the plastic then consider burlap bags or canvas! anything that will hold the dirt can work. Ultimately, earthbags can do a lot for moving construction methods a lot further down the sustainability spectrum.

3. Low Tech! Of all the great features that Earthbag  building has to offer the one that resonates the most with me is that anyone can quickly and easily learn how to do it with only the most minimal training. In a few hours you can learn all the basic steps which will allow you to build nearly limitless shapes and forms. Because this skill can so readily be put within reach of any person it can be a tool to offer strength and empowerment to those who can not qualify for entry into the debt financing system.

4. affordability. Because the materials are so cheap and easy to access nothing can compare to the cost effectiveness of building with earthbags. Depending on how much DIY you are willing to invest into your project its not unheard of for cost per square foot to be as low as 10$. Of course that is building at its most basic and simplistic but as a starting point you can see how much room there is to expand and embellish your projects before you get close to what traditional methods will cost you.
 I am not a rich person and odds are you aren't either. Building a durable, strong, safe home in an environmentally conscious way using any of the more traditional methods will be beyond the reach of most people. The modern way of obtaining shelter in the west is to rent or to enter into the convoluted and dangerous systems of debt created by governments and financial institutions.  I believe that earthbag building offers a way out of the debt trap while providing strong, earth-friendly, beautiful shelter.

These four essential aspects of earthbag building lay the foundation for a nurturing environment, bringing people together to help friends and family build homes and strengthen communities. This gathering and bonding of people calls back to our ancient, pre-industrial roots and brings attention to the alienating strangeness of our abstract modern methods of providing shelter. Today we travel vast distances and work for long hours to pay for a home we dont spend hardly any time in because we are always traveling and working to pay for it. This scenario seems to isolate and alienate us more than offer closer relationships and tighter community bonds.

Earthbags for the Future!

Even so, I wont pretend that there is an immediate transition from the modern workings of our convoluted consumer culture to one where the time and effort needed to construct a house with a labor intensive method is a practical option for the everyday person. Building with earthbags is hard work and does require a good bit of time to construct a building of any significant size. This fact could be a big drawback, even a deal breaker for those who are constrained not just by money but by time as well. 

However, the EHB offers the potential to help bridge the gulf which now exists between the desire for sane systems of living and the practicality of  alternative construction methods. It can answer the call for new solutions and I want to be a part of this mission! I am developing plans for what role I might play and I hope you may want to help. Lets start by spreading the word of this new innovation, the work being done by United Earth Builders, the benefits of building with earthbags and the potential it offers for adding new vitality to the process of making homes and communities.

Thanks for reading!

This post was shared with the Homestead blog hop


  1. The first thing I noted in the video was a man working beneath a hydraulic lift without a safety restraint on the lift. Something really needs to get done to change that condition. This is an excellent technology, though, and I look forward to seeing it further developed. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi and thanks for reading and for sharing your concern for the workers safety!
      You could pass along your info to them directly at
      Be well!

  2. This looks very interesting! Thanks for commenting on my blog, I'll catch up with your building project now :) For bloglovin, there's a button about half-way down my blog on the right hand side, but I find it even easier to just copy and paste the blog name into bloglovin and it usually shows up with a button to follow. I just did that with your blog and it looks like it worked. Cheers, Liz (First comment I submitted had typos!)

    1. Thanks so much for reading!

      I figured out the bloglovin connection. I thought that might have been it but for some reason I was expecting a blogspot icon so I ASSumed wrong ;) alls well that ends well.

  3. I have never heard of earthbag building but they look interesting. They kind of remind me of wigwams and longhouses. :)

    1. Yes, they have a great look to them and the best part is you are not limited to any shape! Most often you see pictures of them built as domes but they can really be almost anything.
      I think that anyone who needs to build a shelter of any kind should consider earthbag. But of course I am very biased ;)
      Thanks for reading, hope you stay tuned with us!

  4. So interesting! I had never heard of earthbags before, my husband is going to be super intrigued! Thanks for sharing with us at the Homestead Blog Hop! :)

    1. Thanks for reading! Tell your husband if he is interested to check out the section of this blog under "what is earthbag?" for more information and resources.

  5. Looks interesting! I was just wondering: How many years will this type of building last? Does it compete well with brick-houses and the like? And how does it withstand rain, snow, wind and other weather hardships?

    1. Hi!
      Yes, it competes very well.
      Ultimately this is a variation of millennia old techniques used to build houses and many examples of very old structures made of earthen material are still standing strong after 100s of years. Like anything it needs to be built correctly and with care but earthbags are very forgiving and very strong.
      Earthbags have been tested in california and are proven to meet or exceed the standards for seismic stress on fault lines. In much less scientific experimentation they have also been shown to withstand the impact of cars and gun fire :)
      In regions where rain and snow or other inclement weather are a consideration then it is very important to build a strong sturdy roof. and to make sure the bottoms of the walls are protected from moisture being drawn up from the ground. This has been done in many snowy and wet places like england and canada with cob or strawbale structures which have weathered 100s of seasons.
      The advantage that I see with earthbag over some of these other methods is how much less skill earthbag requires in order to build a strong, sturdy building and with the use of a machine like the one above, labor costs can be greatly reduced.

      Thanks so much for reading! hope you stay tuned :)

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