David Easton, author of The Rammed Earth House and owner of Rammed Earth Works in California, shares his earth floor building method in Popular Science. Click link below for full article.
“My family and I live in a beautiful earth home with a handsome earth floor. It may sound unbelievable, but as a successful builder of rammed earth houses I’d been trying for a while to expand the use of earth to finished flooring. After much experimentation, I’ve finally found a suitable mix of soil and cement to do the job.
Why bother? Well, a soil-based floor is softer and more comfortable than a conventional concrete slab, and if you lay it yourself, it’s less expensive. As a bonus, it can be stamped to look like rustic tiling that has an earthy color. Finally, a soil-cement floor is a natural for passive solar heating and a perfect medium for hydronic radiant slab.
Soil-cement is softer underfoot because it is less dense than concrete. Unlike the aggregate used in concrete, soil expands significantly when it’s wet. As a soil-cement slab dries and the soil particles lose water, they shrink, and millions of tiny air pockets develop. These air pockets essentially make the floor a little spongy.”
[Easton goes on to explain all the steps in detail. He recommends a 1” thick layer of soil cement on top of 4” of well-compacted soil such as road base. This saves cement because only the top 1” is stabilized.]
Source: Popular Science, Dirt Cheap Dirt Floors by David Easton (type the name of the article and author in a search engine if the link doesn’t work)
Soil Cement Pavers
Tamped Earth Floors
27 thoughts on “Dirt-cheap Dirt Floors”
Can you use this type of floor outside for the patios?
I suppose you could, but I would not expect it to last as long as stone or ceramic materials.
are you still looking for a potential house building show? if so I would like you to give my idea a chance. I’m going to be building a small beach house out at my pond out of railroad ties. we are also going to put in an earthen dirt floor with a in floor heating system. We will try to make the place completely off grid or as close as possible. if you think it would work let me know.
You might check the TV show possibilities shown at http://greenhomebuilding.com/bulletin_board.htm#media
Hi there, how do you make the soil cement floors look so shiny? What kind of polish do you use? We have just done one ourself and I have some beeswax so was looking to make my own.
A typical finish for earthen floors is to apply several coats of linseed oil, always wiping any excess before it congeals. A final coat of wax can serve further protection.
Why is earth cement tamper and damped rather than mixed like regular cement?
Concrete is different than stabilized soil — completely different materials and properties, Stabilized soil only has a little cement and therefore is stronger when tamped.
I am considering an earthbag floor on top of 6 mil plastic sheeting. Tamp it flat then a thin layer of concrete. Suggestions please and links if anyone has done this. Thank you.
You don’t need earthbags on the floor. It’s much easier to build up a strong base using crushed gravel. Tamp the gravel in layers then pour the concrete on top. 6 mil plastic sheeting will reduce wicking of moisture up into the concrete. So in other words, study up on how floors are typically built.
Are rammed earth floors the same as earthen or cobb floors? I’m doing research for the building of my first home and would like to do earth floors throughout, but in other articles or books, there was nothing on cement, only clay, sand, water and some type of straw as a binder. Would this be considered the same thing? Also, I live in Southern California, so the climate can be very dry and hot almost year-round. Would this floor be suitable in that kind of environment? I also understand it wouldn’t be suitable in particularly wet areas of the home (ie bathroom or kitchen), so naturally, I’d put a different kind of flooring in those rooms. Does this kind of floor do well alongside a different material, like corkboard, for example?
Yes, search for tamped earth floors. That’s the correct name. We have detailed articles on our blog. The best one sums up Frank Meyers method. This method is perfect for hot, dry areas. Use tile, etc. in bathrooms. And yes, you can use wood, cork, etc. alongside it.
What precautions could you take to ensure a floor like this would be suitable for a bathroom?
Or should I just forget that idea!
It would be risky. Maybe if you sealed it very carefully, had a separate shower or tub, and it was a low use area.
This floor looks warm and gorgeous! Our 5 acres came with an inherited 2 bed prefab- plywood on a concrete slab.
I’m trying to salvage the place for guest accommodation- adding reclaimed wood cladding and insulation, but I’m stumped on finding an affordable eco-flooring solution.
Do you think that the cement slab might work as a stable structure to pour the soil cement onto? I don’t mind raising the level of the floor a few inches.
Thanks so much!
The slab would make a great base. Concrete wicks moisture and expands/contracts at a different rate than soil, so I would add plastic sheeting between the concrete and earthen floor. I use 6 mil poly.
Earthen floors are my favorite. They are warm, somewhat resilient and comfortable under foot. I think they’re the best flooring choice in the world. Even some millionaires have put these floors in their homes. You can add pex radiant floor heating if you want. The key is to get the right soil mix. Make sure you experiment because it’s a bit tricky. And be sure to buy that new earth floor book that just came out. It was on our blog a few weeks back.
Hello From Australia.
How would a rammed earth floor perform on very reactive clay soil?
Reactive clay reacts to water. So keep the floor dry. Prevent expansion by building on high ground, raising the building site, adding a French drain, build wide roof overhangs, etc.
I’ve already planned to have such floors in the bedrooms of my roundhouse.
It’s just beautyful…
Let us know how they turn out.
It looks amazing but sounds as if it isn’t something that could be implemented in an existing house?
Also, is it possible to obtain different colors using dyes or stains?
I would love to do this in my family room, kitchen, bath, and hallway, which have different flooring types, all in bad shape. But my house is already built and certainly doesn’t have the substrate mentioned above. : )
This is for new home construction. It’s easy to make any color you want with iron oxide colors or using local colored clay.
Is it permeable? For example: a pet has an accident on the floor while I’m at work and can’t clean it up right away. Will that seep into the floor and be a big stinky deal to get out?
Also, how does it stand up to heavy rolling loads (garage, workshop with heavy power tools on casters)?
You would have to write David to know for sure. I would guess you could clean up dog pee okay, but it would not be strong enough to support heavy rolling loads.
That they are dirt cheap is great. But this floor looks so good I can not believe it.
I know. This is now my #1 favorite floor method. I’ve typically recommended the process described in my article Tamped Earth Floors: http://www.grisb.org/publications/pub11.htm
It seems to win on all counts — durability, practicality, looks…