$300 Earthbag House

$300 Earthbag House (click to enlarge)
$300 Earthbag House (click to enlarge)

Description: 11.1 sq. m. interior, 5.4 sq. m. sleeping loft, 11.2 sq. m. patio for cooking and socializing. 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.
$300 Earthbag House (click to enlarge)
$300 Earthbag House (click to enlarge)

This is my entry for ‘The $300 House Open Design Challenge.’ Over the next two weeks I’ll be adding more drawings and fleshing out my proposal. The challenge is to design affordable housing for the world’s poorest. You can view other proposals here. Several other earthbag house designs have already been submitted. The $300 House was first described in a Harvard Business Review blog post by Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar. The following text from their websites provides some background information on the project. A special thank you to Sylvia for alerting me about this contest.

Task: Design a simple dwelling that can be constructed for under $300 which keeps its occupants safe from the weather, allows them to sleep at night, and gives them both a home and a sense of dignity.

Five simple questions:
• How can organic, self-built slums be turned into livable housing?
• What might a house-for-the-poor look like?
• How can world-class engineering and design capabilities be utilized to solve the problem?
• What reverse-innovation lessons might be learned by the participants in such a project?
• How could the poor afford to buy this house?

Numerous factors should be taken into account, amongst them: regionalism, sustainability, cost and replicability.

Address: low-cost, self-built or self-improvable, low-tech, local materials, build greener, replicable.

Judging criteria: feasibility, viability, adoption, impact, sustainability.

More info at The $300 House.

16 thoughts on “$300 Earthbag House”

    • At this price it’s do-it-yourself construction. The free plans are on that $300 house website. Plus we have thousands of pages of free instructions, videos, etc. on our blog and other websites that explain the building process in detail. We also have books and a DVD that summarize everything so you can learn more quickly. In summary: the cost is dirt cheap because you have to do everything yourself using local natural materials that require labor. Tip: Search for my online article about Dirt Cheap Houses by Owen Geiger for lots of helpful info.

  1. Hey Owen, how tall is this building? What are the dimensions above and below the loft?

    Nice work! Cheers


    • Did you check out the drawings at Jovoto? All the drawings should be there. If you don’t see what you need then email me. My address is at the top of the page under About Us.

    • Some code jurisdictions go by interior square footage, some exterior. Matts Myrhman wrote an excellent paper on how to convince building officials that the code implies interior living space. It’s in a back issue of The Last Straw journal.

  2. I think the contest is a great idea and your plan looks great. One of the problems I see with earthbag building in general and specifically in this context is the quantity of materials needed for large groups of people to build earthbag houses. In some of the worlds more remote and poor areas, sourcing enough bags and other materials (recycled of course) locally could be a problem. That means transporting bags/other materials which could add to the cost depending on distance and location. Transportation of just about anything these days is costing more and more.

    • That would be true if somehow this leads to hundreds of thousands of houses. But otherwise there are lots of poly bags for storing grain, fertilizer and so. They’re sort of like plastic buckets — they’re everywhere.

      Also note, my proposal raises the possibility of bulk orders at discount from bag suppliers.

  3. I posted the following comments over at TinyHouseDesign.com, one of my favorite sites.

    Concerning the $300 cost estimate: The only way to build in this price range is to scrounge almost everything. Forget about normal cost estimating. This is for people living in slums who have virtually no money.

    And in case you’re wondering, the guidelines allow for community toilets.

  4. Hi Owen, this is great. Living in a developing country and being very interested in earthbag building, I am slowly trying to “spread the word” by doing building projects. Trying it out and showing how well it works is the only way – I still get lots of doubtful looks when talking about this way of building;-)
    I have two questions – not many people build second stories or lofts here, what holds your loft up? And, considering that most developing countries are in hot climates, would the loft not get very hot under the metal roof? Otherwise this house is great, toilets, washing and cooking areas are usually outside here in East Africa, so this house would work very well with local customs. Well done!


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