After reading on their Earthbag Building website and on Owen Geiger's Earthbag Building Blog, I was quickly sold. Earthbag building is a simple, dirt cheap way to build an elegant, incredibly strong structure with little or no building experience.
Geiger also has a blog featuring nothing but a cornucopia of earthbag plans he's designed, which further simplifies the process. For a very reasonable cost, you can order any of these plans from him. The plan I've picked out is the Enviro Dome:
I've chosen this plan because it's one of the simplest to construct while still providing enough space for my needs. I also like the fact that it can easily be added onto later. Using the dome structure means that you don't need a separate roof, which is another plus; you just earthbag it all the way up, using a simple compass to keep the angles accurate.
On another level, the dome structure appeals to me because it resembles a beehive (I don't call myself The Pollinatrix for nothing.) For years, I've been fascinated by the peregrini, wandering Irish monks of the early Celtic church who would set up beehive-like cells wherever they stopped and stayed for a while.
|Monastic beehive cells, circa 6th century, |
on the island of Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland
Geiger estimates that you can build a house with earthbags for around $10/sq. ft., using recycled and scavenged materials. The polypropylene bags needed can be bought from a variety of suppliers at low cost, especially if you buy misprints. However, these bags can also be obtained for free with a little perseverance. I've starting looking for local suppliers, and recently found my first bag benefactor, a company in Santa Fe that goes through 20 - 30 bags a week, which would otherwise be discarded. I am in fact going there today to pick up my first free load of bags. I figure if I can find about five more suppliers such as this, I can likely build my house without ever having to purchase bags. It's just a matter of finding businesses like farms and ranches, breweries, etc, that regularly use materials like grain and feed that are packaged in these bags.
One of the wonderful things about Owen Geiger is that he is 100% invested in helping people build this way, as was quickly proven to me when I first began commenting on his blog. Every time I've asked him a question, he's responded within a day or two with a helpful and detailed answer. When I first commented that I had decided to use earthbags, and sent him the link to my blog, he immediately responded with enthusiasm and suggested that I use scoria for my bag fill, as its plentiful in my area (there's a volcano nearby). Kelly Hart built his earthbag house this way, and it's just brilliant. Scoria is highly insulative; I recently came across the blog of a couple who've built their earthbag dome house this way in Montana, and they say they've been warm all winter in it with just a crappy woodstove. Scoria is also much lighter than dirt, so the work goes "ten times faster," according to Geiger. It's also way less messy than using a dirt fill, which needs to be mixed with water.
Since choosing this method and starting this blog, I've discovered a variety of other bloggers who are either in the process of building with earthbags, are planning an earthbag house, or have already completed one. Just peruse my blogroll, and you'll see what I mean. I've even found a couple of people in my area who are or will be building with earthbags. All of this is just incredibly encouraging, to see that truly anyone, no matter how inexperienced at building, can do this, and do it very inexpensively. And to be part of what feels like a true movement at a time when that movement is really taking off is exciting, especially when there is a sense of community simultaneously building around it, no matter how "virtual."