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How to Build an Earthbag Home
by Dr. Owen Geiger

Earthbag (sandbag) building is a great way to build sturdy, long-lasting structures. The military have been building with sandbags for about 100 years. The same basic process of filling, tamping and stacking bags is becoming popular with modern-day builders to construct beautiful homes, offices, shops, orphanages, schools and other structures. Earthbag buildings are safe, sustainable, nontoxic and quiet, as well as fire, hurricane and flood resistant. They don't attract rodents, and are bullet and blast resistant.

Building with earthbags may very well be the simplest, least expensive way to build safe, long-lasting buildings. A small dome, for instance, can be built out of recycled materials for around $100. A 14' diameter dome with loft can be built for about $1,000. Unskilled workers can learn each step of construction in a minute or two, often just by watching.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about earthbag building:

What kind of soil do I use and where do I buy it? In most cases, soil on or near the building site will work. The best soil has a mix of about 25% clay to 75% sand. Don't worry if the mix isn't perfect. It's easy to add extra sand or clay to get the right mixture. You can dig it by hand or have it delivered by the truckload. It's very inexpensive. In addition to subsoil from the site, earthbag builders are using road base, reject fines, adobe soil or fill dirt. Talk to your local excavator or sand and gravel producer.

Where do I find the right kind of bags? Most builders today are using polypropylene grain bags or long tubes. Burlap will work, but it's not as durable. Bags are readily available around the world. Check with local farmers or feed stores first. They may have recycled bags in good condition. Our website has a list of resources, or you can order from other companies on the Internet. Manufacturers sometimes have misprinted bags and recycled bags at reduced prices.

What tools do I need? Most people have the basic tools around the home: shovels, buckets, garden hose and wheelbarrow. Also, you will need a tamper and slider. These can be handmade or purchased inexpensively. See our website for free plans.

Do I have to build a dome? No, you can build almost any type of structure imaginable: domes and vaults, or structures with vertical walls such as rectilinear designs (square, rectangular), roundhouses or 'organic' shapes with curved walls.

Can I build an addition on to my house or a small backyard office? Yes you can. Starting out with a small structure is the best way to learn. There's a learning curve to everything, so it's best to start with something small.

What about underground structures? Earthbags are ideal for partially or completely below-grade construction such as foundations, storm/rootcellars, disaster shelters and earth-bermed designs. Based on decades of use for flood control, earthbags have proven to be highly resistant to moisture and very strong.

What else can I build with earthbags? You can build planters, benches, retaining and privacy walls and other similar structures that need to withstand the elements.

Can I build in cold climates? Yes. Earthbags can be filled with insulation material such as lava rock, pumice, perlite or vermiculite to achieve a superinsulated wall system.

What about building codes? Numerous permitted, code-approved buildings have been built. There is a loophole in the building code that allows for alternative building materials and methods. It's easier to get a permit in rural areas. The key is finding open-minded building authorities who are willing to investigate this building method. You will have better success if you are knowledgeable and can supply them with the necessary information. Much of this can be printed for free from our website.

Owen Geiger, Director of the Geiger Research Institute of Sustainable Building at and Kelly Hart have teamed up to create and Earthbag Building Blog at to better focus and keep track of the rapid growth of this novel building method.

This article was first published at


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