A Patio Wall
from www.caicosdream.com

Soon after I discovered Middle Caicos on the internet, I also discovered the Natural Building movement. I was seeking an affordable means of building an island home for our family. As a bonus, I found a philosophy that also promises to recognize and preserve the natural beauty that attracted us to the island.

In short, Natural Building utilizes building materials and construction techniques that minimize impact on the environment, both locally and elsewhere. It depends heavily on local and recycled materials. It also considers the lifetime costs of the building; energy, water and food production are all considered in the design.

To learn more, I took a short course in Sustainable Building Practices at Colorado State University. In a more practical vein, I also attended the 1999 Colorado Natural Building Workshop in Rico, Colorado. I was a little skeptical that I could learn something at 9000 feet in the Rocky Mountains that would work at sea level in the Tropics. Boy, was I wrong. I came home full of ideas. Most of the pictures are from CNBW.

Earthbag Building

This method really got me excited. It was presented by Doni Kiffmeyer and Kaki Hunter of Moab, Utah. Earthbag uses misprinted polyethylene feed bags which are filled with dirt and stacked like bricks. Barbed wire layed between the courses binds them together. Each course is hammered till it's hard. With time, the dirt hardens like concrete.

Doni and Kaki help friends of theirs build the first story of a house on Rum Cay using this method. Rum Cay is in the Bahamas, about 200 miles from Middle Caicos. The Turks and Caicos building code is much like that of the Bahamas so I hope the Rum Cay project sets a precedence I can rely on.

The fill material used on Rum Cay was a sand/coral/limestone mix dredged from a marina. The sharp corners and dissolved lime of this material made it well suited to this method. On Middle Caicos, the local road base called "curry" might work. I also know of several imminent construction projects which may provide suitable fill.

The Earthbag project at CNBW was a patio wall in front of the Casita. The wall features an arched doorway. Earthbag domes can be built to enclose living spaces.

The foundation of the wall is a rammed earth tire wall layed on a rubble filled trench. While most tire walls make use of old tires, these are brand new ones rejected by the factory for cosmetic reasons.

Kaki fills a bag one coffee can at a time. A homemade stand supports the bags for filling.

Long walls need the support of buttresses. The openings in the buttresses were formed by laying the bags around a plastic pail.

That's me standing atop a 6 foot wall with my knee in a bandage. Didn't let a torn ACL keep me down.

This bag will form the end of a course of bags. To keep it's end square when it's pounded, the dirt is hammered as the bottom of the bag is filled. The rest of the bags in a course aren't pounded till they're all layed in place.

Doni stands on the door forms and placed wedge shaped bags to build the door way. These bags wear a chicken wire diaper which will help the plaster finish adhere to the bags.

Miguel and Doni place and fill the three keystone bags.

The bond beam is made from a long bag. A long bag is the uncut tube from which the feed bags are made. Because it's not rejected material, it's more expensive than the individual bags.

The bond beam helps hold the top of the arch together.

Once the wall and doorway are completed, the forms can be removed.

Keith and Erica Lindauer inaugurate the newly constructed gateway. That's Doni standing on top. Keith was the host of CNBW.

A first coat of cob begins to fill the spaces between bags.

Kaki collects colored clays, primarily from roadside cuts, to make natural paints. Here's a sampler of some of her colors.


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