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how to build an earthbag home

 

Earthbag homes are the dirt cheap way to build the ultimate bugout retreat or 24/7 self-reliant homestead. The ultra-sturdy homes can reportedly withstand hurricanes, floods, fires, and flying bullets far better than a home constructed in a traditional manner – and far more cheaply.

Although the term earthbag home may be unfamiliar to many folks, that style of construction has been a hot topic in the off grid community for quite some time. The military may not have “invented” the process, but did help to perfect it. Bunkers and temporary living quarters for soldiers were often quickly built using bags full of dirt.

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The claims of indestructibility of earthbag homes appear to have some merit. During the Nepal 7.8 magnitude earthquake the entire village of Sangachok was leveled – with the exception of just one structure. The village school was an earthbag structure, and was all that remained after the ground shook and wreaked havoc in the region. As Nepal began to rebuild, local officials decided to construct emergency shelters using earthbags – as was done in Haiti after the massive earthquake of 2010.

 

When building that hardy structures polypropylene bags are filled with dirt and placed like bricks to build walls. Once the dirt bricks are in place, they are tamped down to maintain their desired placement and form. Plaster is then smeared onto the earthbags and attached by using chicken wire and barbed wire to complete the wall.

The military has used earthbags or sandbags to construct temporary structures for about at least a century. Soldiers were able to get a little better night’s sleep knowing that the many pounds of dirt which surrounded them would help keep rounds fired by the enemy at bay.

 

earthbag home off grid

One of the many benefits of the earthbag home as opposed to straw or papercrete homes involves its durable nature. To prevent the growth of mildew in straw homes and crumbling in a papercrete home, you would most likely have to build in a dry climate with mild winters. Not so with earthbag homes.

Polypropylene bags filled with sand have been used for flood control purposes on a global scale. Burlap bags have also been used when constructing earthbag structures, but typically only when the building will only be used on a temporary basis – the burlap sack will degrade overtime.

To avoid damage by rainwater, the walls of an earthbag building are constructed upon simplistic “rubble trenches” with French drains. For enhanced durability, it is common to fil the first layers of bags with gravel and not dirt.


The primary expense of an earthbag home comes from the purchase of the bags, you can dig dirt from your own property to fill the bags – a massive home construction cost-saver! Roofing materials, the wire, windows, doors, and the like will still carry a price tag, but the overall cost of constructing an earthbag home is still minimal. In many locations polypropylene bags can be purchased for as little as $.10 each when buying in bulk.

Rebar and concrete to pour a “bond beam” will also be needed when constructing an earthbag home. The rebar rods are wedged through the bags vertically and cemented to the bond beam for added strength and stability.

The inside of the earthbag home does not need to be austere. If you are building a shed, cellar, barn, or garage with earthbags, attractiveness is not a concern. But, the lady of the house might want somewhere to hang photos of your adorable children or grandkiddos. Finishing plaster for both the interior and exterior walls vary based upon personal preference and location. Concrete, earth based plasters, clay, and lime are often used when constructing an earthbag home. The concrete also helps protect the polypropylene bags from degrading due to prolonged exposure to the sun.

Flooring inside an earthbag home can be done on the cheap as well. Sure, a concrete slab would work, but using seal and varnished soil-cement or tamped earth floors are both sturdy and attractive and carry a relatively low price tag. Such floors also reportedly aid with temperature control and insulation.

 

If you and other members of your tribe (my favorite term for family and friends or mutual assistance group) are at all handy, the labor costs associated with building an earthbag home are pretty close to zero. The average cost of building this type of prepper retreat is roughly $10 per square foot.

Save time and prevent sore back muscles as much as possible by filling the bags with dirt right next to where there are being laid.

Window and door installation does not appear to be any more difficult than completing such a task in a home build by traditional means. It is recommended to use “wider than usual” lintels when making a space for the doors and windows so the added weight of the earthbags will be adequately supported. Living in an earthbag home does not require gong entirely off grid, plumbing pipes can be installed after the initial phase of construction have been completed.

When building with wood, bricks, or concrete blocks, the design scheme is somewhat limited. Building a home with arcs, vaulted ceilings, and rounded corners to fit snuggly into an alcove in the woods or to make the earthbag home a partial earthberm dwelling is not a difficult task.

If great weight is placed upon an earthbag home, the bags (walls) reportedly “deform” instead of collapsing. Fixing this type of structure after a disaster is reportedly far easier, quicker, and less expensive than repairing a home constructed with traditional building materials.

Fencing in your property for either safety reasons or for livestock, or both, can be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. As a country girl who has helped erect and fix both barbed wire and electric fencing for horses, I am more than willing to give an earthbag fence a shot when we buy our dream land and start adapting the property to suit our homesteading and self-reliance needs. Reinforcing the corners of an earthbag fence with buttresses or rebar is highly recommended.

What do you think about building an earthbag home for a prepper retreat or as a permanent house for your family?

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