Advantages Galore to Earthbag Building

I’ve had the pleasure to meet and train several hundred builders, architects and engineers in earthbag building techniques in Nepal. Even though I’ve been researching, working with and promoting earthbag building heavily since the Asian 2004 tsunami, it still amazes me how practical and efficient it is to build with earthbags. Here’s just a brief list of advantages that many people are not aware of.

– You can quite easily carry a bundle of 500 bags to a remote village in the mountains. That’s enough bags to build one room in a small home. Likewise, you can also use tubes made of the same material (polypropylene). I can’t think of any other building method that can compare.
– You can build almost any shape imaginable – round, curved corners, domes, organic shapes, rectangular, etc.
– You can match local traditional building styles so people love the homes.
– Earthbag is one of the strongest building methods in the world. Earthbag building evolved from the use of military sandbag bunkers that can withstand bullets and bombs. Search YouTube for sandbag bullet tests if you have spare time.
– Earthbag is one of the most earthquake resistant building methods available today. Earthbags are resilient unlike rigid materials such as brick, concrete and adobe. Earthbags will ‘give’ or flex versus rigid materials that will break like a cookie under pressure.
– Earthbag building is one of the simplest building methods. It’s basically just moist subsoil tamped solidly into large blocks. Most of the materials (the soil) can be obtained on site. A special soil mix isn’t required. Most subsoils that contain sand, gravel and sufficient clay to bind the particles together will work.
– Earthbag building is incredibly versatile. In remote regions you can build with a bare minimum of simple tools, and get by with a few basic things such as hand made timber bond beams and buttresses for earthquake reinforcement. I don’t know of any other building method than can match this and still provide the other benefits listed here. Carrying large amounts of steel, brick and cement for days over mountain passes is not practical.
– There is no delay waiting for materials for mortar, etc. to set. Brick, concrete block, adobe all require curing time. Earthbags can be stacked continuously for the whole wall without waiting.
– No forms or expensive tools or machinery are needed.
– The same basic building process that’s used to build affordable homes can be used to build schools, clinics and other structures. I heard Nepal lost at least 30,000 classrooms. Some say the number is more like 50,000 or even higher. That’s a lot of kids with no school to attend.
– The walls of a 2-classroom earthbag school can be built by untrained villagers in 10 days or less. Building with earthbag tubing is approximately twice as fast.

I could go on and on. But think about this – what would you recommend to house hundreds of thousands of people who live in remote areas with earthquakes and have very little money? (That’s where the recent earthquakes caused the most damage.) The large aid agencies hand out tarps and say good luck, but that’s not a permanent solution. While no building system is perfect, I don’t know of a better building system for earthquake prone areas like Nepal than earthbag building.

4 thoughts on “Advantages Galore to Earthbag Building”

  1. Great article!
    And your statement not needing “forms” is so true.
    I found that out first hand when we built the roundhouse in Chiang Rai.
    We didn’t have wooden forms for windows, instead, we laid and tamped the tubes complete, then cut the corresponding slits in the places of the window openings on each level. We left them that way until the roof was in place. When we were ready to render we pushed the cut sections out.
    Heck! We didn’t even use barbed wire. We simply laid the tubes, then spiked them with two meter lengths of re-bar at appropriate places.
    The roundhouse was half completed when we experienced a 6.5 earthquake. The building showed no ill effects.

    • Numerous earthbag buildings with minimal reinforcement have withstood quakes. For safety reasons we encourage people in earthquake regions not to skimp on reinforcement and to follow our building guidelines if at all possible. That said, we know there are lots of people in remote villages who can’t afford hardly any reinforcement. That’s why I wrote the previous blog post Low Cost Village Housing for Nepal.

      • I totally agree with you here. Reinforcement is very important.

        I was trying to emphasize the flexibility and versatility of the Earthbag method in my experience.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.