Earthbag Training and Education

I want to poke a stick at spending thousands on an earthbag building workshop. For that same money you could do all of the following:
– learn carpentry fundamentals and basic wiring and plumbing through websites, library books and videos;
– buy several books;
– volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and weekend natural building wall raisings in your area (locate with these websites);
– read as much as you can on the Internet: free earthbag Articles;
– take an earth plaster workshop if there’s one nearby (do a Google search);
– build a storage shed and experiment with various techniques;
– talk to people who have already built their house;
– watch free Internet videos;
– start a scrap book of pictures and ideas clipped from design magazines to help visualize your dream home.

This is not intended to put down or denigrate workshops. I’ve heard good things about all of them. But earthbag building is supposed to be low cost and user friendly. Spending thousands of dollars and traveling long distances (burning fuel and time) kind of defeats the whole point in my opinion. The weak link among do-it-yourselfers is not how to fill bags with dirt, but rather on carpentry fundamentals – setting and sealing doors and windows, keeping everything plumb, level, straight and square. This is what I recommend focusing on.

7 thoughts on “Earthbag Training and Education”

  1. Sorry I have taken so long to respond. I work as a volunteer chaplain in a local hospital and have been extremely busy trying to coordinate my ministry with chaplaincy plus trying to raise funds for earthquake victims and coordinate a mission trip to Haiti in the near future. OK enough of the apologizing.

    In the rural mountainous area of Mizak where we need to replace 300 – 500 homes.
    Most Haitians live in structures around 400 – 500 square feet.
    They get extremely impatient with Americans who try to do construction because the Americans are so particular and take their time. They want to build the fastest way possible.
    They spend a lot of the time outside. Most of them have a cook shack or a place outside for their charcoal burners.
    The prevailing winds are Eastern.
    When it rains it usually comes down in buckets.
    The rich people build cisterns because of water shortages in the dry season. A lot of children cannot attend school because they have to carry water 2 hours or more several times a day to meet the daily household needs.
    The soil is thin and extremely rocky. (volcanic rock)
    Last year when I took the book earthbag building to Haiti to the leaders of the Artisan Coop and the church no one seemed interested – now they are extremely interested and want nothing to do with their old construction ways.

    I’ve been thinking about all of this and have the following questions;
    Could you come up with a house design of around 500 sq feet perhaps a semi circle with the front side a veranda?
    Could you design a sloping roof with a built in rain gutter?
    In the past the roofs have been built out of tin that is extremely light weight. You can roll up 3 sheets and carry them up the mountain.
    Because of the shortage of wood and high cost the shorter the rafter span the better.
    Concrete is extremely expensive for the average Haitian before the earthquake it was $7.00 – $8.00 a bag.
    Perhaps a square structure with veranda on the front and a roof sloping one direction? Front wall higher than back wall?

    If we could get the homes up and plaster the exterior immediately we could worry about pouring concrete floors and plastering later.
    Because of the rocky soil it would be better to do as little digging as possible – perhaps none.

    I could need not only a design but also an estimate of all the materials needed for a finished home, i.e. number of bags, barb wire, concrete for plaster.
    If we could come up with a ferro-concrete roof that would take the minimum amount of wire using a temporary reusable framework that we could use on other homes.???

    With the estimates I could go to the military to see about donation or transportation of materials.

    Thanking you in advance.

    Pastor Gary McDonough

    Tuesday a doctor and three nurses will be arriving in Mizak (where we want to build the houses) with money and medicine. We have another group scheduled for February 5th and July and I’m sure many more in between for construction.

    • Hi Gary. I’m going to copy this to the Responding to Catastrophe post so other readers will more likely learn about your project. Plus, you can read what others are doing. Be sure to read about the Barrel of Hope project. Shipping a container of materials in barrels sounds like the most practical solution at this time.

      Like I said, I’ll be glad to help with the design and materials list. We’re talking about small, simple structures, so the process will be easy. The key is to provide exactly what locals want to keep everyone happy. For instance, find out a few more details if you can: length, width, number of windows, best location and sizes for doors and windows, etc.

      Corrugated metal roofing will likely be the simplest and most practical roofing material. This will create a lightweight roof that won’t crush people in case of future seismic events. I recommend using suspended bags of insulation as ceiling insulation (more details later).

      Please send future correspondence to me at strawhouses [at]

  2. Gary, I can help with the design work. I’m already networking with numerous designers who also may help out.

    And I agree with Kelly. Go with someone who’s already on the ground and knows the local situation. His knowledge will prove invaluable.

  3. I am a pastor that lives in North West Iowa and for the past 3 years I have been involved in missionary work in Haiti. The last visit I took some information about building with earthbags over but of course didn’t connect with the right Haitian that thought they could build with homes with earthbag construction.

    I work with the directors of a Woman’s Artisans Coop in Mizak, Haiti that generates income through making greeting cards, purses, etc.

    Over 3,000 homes have been destroyed in the mountain region of Mizak, (21 miles from Port Au Prince).

    My question.

    If we can procure the supplies do you know of anyone who would be willing to travel there and work with a team of Haitians teaching them the necessary skills to do earthbag construction?

  4. I too believe that taking classes may not be the best or most economical way to learn. Certainly there are merits to going to established classes such as those offered at Cal Earth, but much of what you need to know can be found on the net and in books. Of course looking at an actual earthbag building is worth more then a thousand words.

    Hands on experience can be obtained by volunteering. Another practical way to get some experience is to buy some sandbags and 4 point barb wire. Build a small structure such as a dog house or shed.

    I live very close to Cal Earth and have been there many times. I found viewing the earthbag structures there helpful. Of course if you are wanting to build something other then a bee hive or vault house, Cal Earth may not be your best option. Last I was there they didn’t have any infill houses or rectangular structures with conventional roofs. I believe the vault house plans (actually the most impressive design at CE) were sold to a building contractor.
    Since Nader passed away, I don’t know what will happen as far as research and design.


Leave a Comment

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