$300 Earthbag House Update – What the World Needs Now

Every once in a while I go back and look through my websites to check on things and look for fresh insights. I was very surprised to see this $300 Earthbag House video has received over 180,000 hits. That’s far above the average 2,000 hits on most of my videos and this got me thinking about why it’s so popular.

The $300 Earthbag House was the 14th place winner in ‘The $300 House’ challenge. (Earthbag designs had a strong showing with #1, 2, 3, 5 and 14 place winners. No other building method came close to this level of success in the competition.)

The low cost of this design is almost certainly the main appeal. Whenever we run a story about dirt cheap housing like Straw Bale Roundhouses Built in One Day or Rex’s $4/sq. foot Pallet House we almost always get a spike in traffic. This is the main point of this blog post – people want affordable housing! How obvious is that? It’s terrible seeing tens of millions of people who can’t afford a decent home even in a ‘rich’ modern country like the US. Most housing options, especially those made with highly processed materials such as steel, brick and concrete are not affordable, while those made with local natural materials such as earth, straw bales and wood poles are much less expensive. Look for rural areas with few or no building codes and you will reduce construction costs by many thousands of dollars.

Description of $300 Earthbag House: 11.1 sq. m. interior, 5.4 sq. m. sleeping loft, 11.2 sq. m. patio for cooking and socializing. Total living space = 27.7 sq. m. Single units can be expanded by adding on in any direction or joined to create multi-unit structures. Almost all materials are free or recycled: grain bags, rubble, clay, door, security bars, earthen plaster and floors, or locally available, natural materials: bamboo, rice hull insulation. All drawings and details for the $300 Earthbag House are provided for free.

A brief note about the cost: The competition organizers set a somewhat arbitrary $300 cost figure. They reasoned most slum dwellers could afford $300. Some people left comments that said no one could build a house for this amount. As I explained in my housing proposal, slum dwellers would scrounge almost all the materials for free or barter for as much as possible. They can’t afford to buy new materials. But what about building something like this in a developed country? This home built with recycled materials and some new materials might cost around $2-3,000 in the US – still very reasonable by any measure. Also note, you could use various materials such as earthbags, straw bales, adobe, etc. Use what makes sense in your area.

11 thoughts on “$300 Earthbag House Update – What the World Needs Now”

  1. I’ve often thought that an intelligent manufacturing businessman could do some amazing things for his business as well as his workers at the same time.

    Imagine if a big business decided to locate a manufacturing plant in an area with few or no building codes and bought up a sizable tract of land. Imagine if that business then started recruiting the best and brightest of the unemployed laborers to come and work. Part of their salary could be to purchase their own small lot of land that they could build on.

    Allow the employees to build their own $300 houses on their own land, and you now have highly motivated and very hard workers that will probably want to work for your business the rest of their life.

    The people that are not willing to work hard, won’t stay around because they won’t have a place to live if they don’t work hard.

    If the businessman allowed the employees to borrow the company backhoe, tractor, and/or other such heavy equipment, construction could proceed rapidly, as well as rapidly creating local gardens and farms to feed everybody.

    Next thing you know, some worker’s spouse or child will open a daycare, because of the need. Of course, they build the daycare the same way the houses were built, but looks completely different with all the whimsy and fun architecture can offer to a kid.

    Then somebody will see a need for a store to buy and sell the produce grown in all the local gardens and build a store. Makes sense to build the store to match the other local buildings, but maybe bigger and with lots of shelves and a good traffic flow.

    Next thing you know, a mechanic opens a shop to fix everybody’s cars, and wouldn’t you know it? It’s built with similar methods, but just has really big doors to get the cars in and out.

    Suddenly all these new workers and new homeowners find they have extra time in the evenings… which inevitably leads to a baby boom.

    With the baby boom… soon follows a school to educate them. Everybody pitches in and the school gets built in just a few weeks one summer.

    Before long, parents are complaining about the new dance hall that was built being a bad influence on the kids, and everybody starts to worry if the liquor store stays open too late. Of course… that leads to the next building being built. The first house of worship. All the parishioners lend some muscle to get it constructed.

    on and on it goes…

    100 years later, politicians pass building codes making almost every building in town illegal and some smart enterprising business man starts a new manufacturing plant a few miles down the road and starts the whole process over again.

    • I’ve had thoughts along these lines for years — different, but similar. Heck, I’m still thinking along these lines. Part of what drives me is the pursuit of finding ideal building methods. No harm in utilizing those ideas to possibly make a profit building and selling houses…

      But working out the details is the hard part. There are a thousand factors to consider. Here’s one example: Christopher Alexander’s Mexicali community. https://naturalbuildingblog.siterubix.com/building-living-neighborhoods-mexicali/

      Another interesting project was with one of our readers who wanted to build affordable earthbag houses along the lines of a trailer court. He was investigating buying an old trailer court (with utilities, road) and building comparable sized earthbag houses that WalMart type workers could afford. The possibilities are endless. The main barrier is often codes.

      Feel free to post links to other similar projects.

      • Getting ready to begin our home FINALLY… pretty sure the earthbag option is for us but what is all this about geopolymer airform? Been looking over alll this for the last few hours & was unable to find a whole lot on it… thanks & btw… you wouldn’t be in TX this year by any chance would you?

  2. But I must say, that this little plan that is easy to add additions to, is indeed a breath of fresh air. It just might be do-able for the working class slummer.

  3. The affordability is just one of the reasons we began buying into the EB type homes. For us, in EQ country, domes would be the safest. But because we live in a rainy area, we would need to roof it. A truckload of Sand, is 150 bucks without the sand. Gas prices are ridiculous. Even the EB is no longer affordable for many. Sand, Gravel, Clay, Bags, 3+ barb wire, windows, plumbing, wiring, roofing, 3ml pond liner, cisterns, generators, solar panels and more. Maybe 30 thou for a 300 dollar home, is more like it, here in the states. Rural living requires extra gasoline to bring the goodies on home. Many of us pay 50 bucks a day just to go to work…

    • I was referring to the cost of just the shell of the home. Sure, adding solar panels, etc. would greatly increase the cost. But you make a good point — you have to plan ahead and consider the total cost of everything to see if it’s practical for your situation. This includes planning time for labor. You may not have time to build a home if you’re spending $50/day on gas. You might want to consider using a really fast building technique such as straw bales (see Straw Bale Roundhouses in One Day https://naturalbuildingblog.siterubix.com/straw-bale-roundhouses-built-in-one-day/) or building with pallets or scoria bags.

      And keep in mind that sand, gravel, fill dirt for the earthbags, wood poles, etc. can often be obtained for free near the site. For instance, some dig a pond and use the excavated soil for the house. You could rent a backhoe for a day or hire a neighbor and get enough soil for the whole house.

      And as many have already pointed out, many recycled materials can be obtained for free or almost for free.

      So, excellent comments, thank you. Without reader input all these ideas might sound overly optimistic. In reality, building a house is a lot of hard work no matter how you do it. It’s not all fun and games, quick and easy, peaches and cream. That’s why you want to plan, plan and plan some more.


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