Building Efficiently

Many people want to know the lowest cost way of building. Here’s a short comparison of costs to build an earthbag house using ‘free’ options versus buying the building materials:
hand dig soil on site = free versus deliver soil $200
gather materials and make thatch panels = free versus buy thatch panels $100
hand sift soil for plaster = free versus buying it already pulverized and screened $50
(You could itemize all building costs in a spreadsheet and evaluate various scenarios.)

This shows how you can save money if you want, but at what cost? Do you want to dig for two or three weeks to save $200? Possibly. But maybe your time could be spent more efficiently doing something else. In this example, at 14 days of labor, that’s about $1.79/hour for your time digging soil by hand. (8 hours per day x 14 days = 112 total hours divided into $200 = $1.79/hour.) This includes soil to raise the building site and for the earthbags.

The same is true with thatch. For example, we roofed our roundhouse in one day using $100 of pre-made thatch panels. I can’t even guess how long it would take to do it ourselves from scratch.

Now, I’m not saying to buy everything. I’m just trying to help people understand the options. For our project, we’ve decided to buy these materials because our time (in the case of buying versus digging soil by hand) is worth more than $1.79/hour. In other words, I can do enjoyable, rewarding work and make more than $1.79/hour. I also enjoy natural building, so I’m not going to contract out all the work. But it may make sense to hire someone to fill and carry buckets. There are lots of options and everyone needs to find the right balance that works for them. You may find it advantageous to spend $2,000 and finish your small earthbag house in one month instead of three, and that the least expensive approach is not necessarily the most efficient or best choice for you.

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