Earthbag Home Building Tips
Doing a project “solo” means you have to get creative at times to get the job done. This is how I did it and it worked out quite well.
Step #1 The right material…
This is 24.5 tons of 1/2 minus crusher fines and 1000 18” x 30” polypropylene bags.
Step #2. Building my soldiers…
Get a 12” concrete form tube and cut into 2’ long pieces that fit perfectly an 18x 30 bag. Cut it down the middle then slip it into the bag and let it expand. Reduce the diameter by an additional 1 ½” or so to allow for easy in/out slipping from the bag. Then secure back together with tape.
Building a Funnel…
Take an old 5 gallon bucket. Remove the bottom and put four to six cuts from bottom to just below the thick top part. Pinch down and secure with tape. Instant 12” funnel for your soldier.
Step #3. Filling the bags…
Determine a way of measuring your fill material that will remain consistent. I used four 10 quart buckets. By determining a consistent unit of material measurement you are able to easily make the partial bags necessary when you reach doors and windows.
Start by putting two buckets off material into the tube first. Remove funnel and slide the sleeve about 90% up so it is just slightly below the pile in the bag. Add two more buckets then remove the sleeve completely by wiggling it back and forth while lifting… it should slide right out. If it is stubborn just take a pair of pliers for additional leverage and pull up. If you can remember to lift or just pull the tube up a bit in between buckets 3 and 4 that also works great. Your bag should look like this when the tube is removed.
Next, grab the top and pull up while wiggling. All the slack in the bag will now be at the top. Fold the top over in four corners and secure with 2 large nails. Make sure each nail goes through all four of the flaps.
Gently lay the bag over, while still physically in the bent over position and the fill material is very loose. Tuck in the bottom corners as deeply as possible into the bag.
The tamped bags are wide enough to allow the tube to sit perfectly on top of. This creates a stable platform for filling tubes and building your wall vertical. Remember to align the seam in the bottom of your bag parallel with the wall before you fill it completely up. This will eliminate any additional effort to manipulate the bag before tamping it flat.
“Things I learned”
Barbed wire is really springy. In my area, seismic occurrences are very rarely and I quickly discovered that working with barbed wire by yourself is a bit challenging. Instead, I chose to fabricate 12” rods out of 3/8” rebar and put one in every other bag, staggering them up the wall while putting in shorter more manageable pieces of 4 pt barbed wire. Personally I feel that the time I gained by not messing with the wire was more than worth the additional expense of the rebar. However, if you’re building the home with more than one person, 4 pt barbed wire is definitely the way to go. You still will need 4’ pieces placed in the corners and in the walls for added stability.
I did discover during my brief dealing with using a slider over the 4 pt barbed wire that simply attaching a pair of Vice Grips made it easier to jerk out.
Re-purposing: Another benefit of the Cozy Shield is that you have plenty of scrap pieces of steel left over from the construction of the walls, this makes perfect anchors for door and window bucks.
A must do: The bottom two rows should be double bagged and filled with some type of rock to help them both withstand the pressure from the weight of the wall above them. They also aid in stopping moisture wicking up from the ground.
100 lb Christmas presents: After trying various types of bag securing methods to hold the end flaps together, my final choice was to use very rusty 16 gauge nails. I could not believe how tightly they held the ends together when going through all four flaps. I think the longer nail combined with it being rusty helped it to quickly bind to my moist fill material and make for a secure seal.
Corner Slump: Even tamping securely each bucket of fill one at a time still left me with a slumping corner. I realized later after much frustration that using my enclosed top ends instead of the sewn bottom ends made for a better corner with minimal corner slump. The secured tops held up to tamping very well and solved my corner slump problems.
Critical step: Tamp each level thoroughly multiple times and check for level on each level. I could not believe how quickly the wall could slope up or down and by tamping more vigorously in certain areas I was able to keep it pretty level. Gently tamping the interior and exterior walls left a remarkably smooth surface that would actually require much less plastering than I ever imagined.
Avoid the Leaning Tower of Pisa: Try to keep the distance between doors and windows at least 5’ apart. My front door and front window were too close together. I quickly noticed during the construction of it that it never really became completely stable, no matter how high it went up.
The Case of the “Disappearing Material”: My pile was quickly being transformed into walls. When estimating material, I was figuring each bag at 100 lbs. This would factor in some waste left on the ground and would be asy math for me. (24.5 tons = 49,000 lbs) That’s only 490 bags at 100 lbs each, so when you calculate your number of bags needed to complete your Cozy EB Shield home, this figure will give you a good idea of how much material will be needed. Go ahead and get a full load, even if you need half a load. The transportation cost will probably be comparable and this material would be perfect for other areas around most construction sites.
Never have I been so physically exhausted and yet completely content and connected to a construction project. You get a sense of accomplishment after placing, tamping and securing each bag knowing that you’re constructing a home that will last. Earthbag construction truly is the epitome of “Sweat Equity”. Don’t forget the Ibuprofen for your sore and aching muscles.
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