Saturday, November 15, 2014

7 foot, 3 inches. The Earthbag walls are done!

The walls are done! Really basking in the glory here. Feeling an enormous sense of pride as well as gratitude for all those who helped accomplish this goal. I feel very lucky that so many people were ready to come lend a hand in getting this done.   I have a whole new appreciation for how much work is involved in putting up walls made of earth yet it still seems like a small effort when compared to how long this building should stand. If I have done my job right these walls will live much much longer than I will. No small sense of wonder in that. I know it is a very humble structure and anyone reading this who has ever built anything of truly significant size is probably rolling their eyes but have patience with me. This is the first thing like this I have ever done and it gives me awe and admiration for those whose job it is to create buildings that others live and work in. I wonder if we give those folks enough credit and gratitude.

 So, the hard part is done! And just in time. Here the northwest of the US the weather is turning very wet. The tarps we hung over the project site are doing a good job of keeping the area relatively dry (the humidity is slowing the bags from curing faster than they would in the summer) but they have greatly limited the head space during construction. The way they hang over the area causes them to angle low over some sections of the wall so you have to duck under and then lift the tarp with your head while you are tamping the bags down. This is literally a huge pain in the neck!

Still, there is still a LOT of work to do. A LOT. Filling the gaps between bags with mud and straw, hanging a plaster mesh, plastering, back filling with gravel, pour the bond beam and cement floor OH! and lets not forget the roof! 

3d rendering of the rafter design.

The plan for the roof is to make it a Living roof, also called a Green roof. There are many great advantages to making a living roof.A few of them are:

Storm water management- this is an important landscape feature in my area where rain fall is almost constant 9 months out of the year. This roof will slow a good bit of rain fall and divert run off into a drainage channel away from the building site of the main house. 

Longer roof life span- when built correctly green roofs will actually last longer since the decking material is protected from the elements and unless they are very poorly constructed they tend not to leak at all. 

Temperature control- soil on the living roof acts as insulation. 

Habitat- the vegetation will attract small birds, beneficial insects and small mammals, increasing bio-diversity rather than stamping it out for the sake of a metal roof.
Aesthetics- They just look cool, 'nuff said!

Since I wont be planting anything that needs more than a few inches of soil I wont have to build the roof with anything much heavier than a normal roof. This type of living roof is known as "extensive". In this style, the soil depth is generally no more the 4-5 inches which allows for enough soil depth to support sebums, herbs and small drought hardy perennials. this type really doesn't require much in the way of specific design considerations as the end product is in the same weight class as a standard, well built roof design meant to carry snow loads.
The other type of living roof is known as "Intensive". Soil depth on Intensive type green roofs are 6 inches up to 2 feet! These roof designs will require serious planning and engineering and is well beyond the scope of small structures like this.

If you have followed the process on the blog this far I want to express gratitude to you as well. This has been enormous fun and its very rewarding to be able to share the experience with other people. 

Building an entire house is still a long way away and the magnitude of that project dwarfs this by a large margin but now I feel like I have a new perspective on what I am capable of and that this isnt just a wild, hair-brained scheme in my head anymore. 
Seeing this project develop, starting with reading a book about earthbags and then manifesting  strong, secure walls into physical reality creates a deep confidence which lends strength to the belief that all the goals we have for this land and our lives is possible.

Thanks for reading! 


  1. Joby-
    Awesome earthbag house! I discovered your blog here through, where I saw that you're in Pierce County, Washington. My wife Nicole and I are looking to build an earthbag house ourselves (we live in Lakebay, on the Key Peninsula), and i was wondering if we could come over some time and see what you're doing, maybe help with some of the work? We would love to "get our hands dirty" and learn a few things. Anyway, happy building!
    Dan Bothwell

    1. Hi Dan!
      Thanks for reading!
      To clarify, this current EB project is not the actual house we have in mind, that is still in the permitting phase but Im feeling confident and the county planners have been positive and receptive. So far so good *fingers crossed*

      In the future I would love help and you are also more than welcome to come out just to have a look. For now the earthbag work is done on this project but there will still be some neat aspects of earthbag building yet to be done so if you were interested in coming out to see that and pitch in you are more than welcome!

      When it comes time to start the house you should definitely come out. Being the first legal house of its kind in Washington I think there will be a lot of fun things happening and Im hoping to incorporate some new technology which can mechanize the process making it incredibly more efficient and faster. You can read more about that in this post:

      If you like, send me your email at oneraindog[at]gmail[dot]com so I can keep you posted on days I will be working out there. right now we still live in seattle and with the weather turning Im not out there as much. Also let me know if I can add you to the MN newsletter so You can stay hip to the happenings!

      Thanks again!

  2. Man...anyone who has built anything of significant size wouldn't roll their eyes at this - they would know what an insane amount of work goes into even a single row of bags! Those things look super level man, great work!

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