“A “House of Sand” sandbag [earthbag] building combines leading edge technology and patented processes, resulting in homes and buildings that are substantially lower in cost to build and run.
The inherent eco-friendly elements that are part of our system are ideal for custom homes and together with our design team, you are assured of a home that reflects your individualism.
The carbon dioxide emission of one square meter of sandbag wall is more than 95% less than that of a conventional brick wall.
Sand can be found locally nearly everywhere around the world, in some regions even directly on the construction site. As there is no need for centralized processing, there is very little transportation of materials. The sand makes up 98% of the weight of the wall materials.
Due to its flexibility, the system offers several cost saving options, depending on the needs of the builder. Due to the enormous weight of sand, Sandbag homes are very wind resistant. The unique quality of sand to absorb impact is not only responsible for making the walls virtually “bulletproof”, but also perform well in earthquake conditions. According to California Standards testing, results have documented the Sandbag system as one of the best methods of construction for earthquake-prone regions.
Plastered sandbag walls are highly fire resistant. Tests conducted in South Africa in 2011 awarded a fire-rating of more than 1 hour, half an hour being the benchmark for fire test certification.
This construction alternative offers design flexibility, environmental responsibility, energy efficiency, long-term structural integrity, durability and lower home-operation costs.”
Learn more at House of Sand.com
Note: House of Sand.com appears to be the new EcoBeam website that we’ve covered previously.
28 thoughts on “House of Sand”
I am a newbie to earthbag construction. I’m in the research/learn phase and so far, very much considering this type of construction. I have a piece of land on the Southern Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, adjacent to a nature reserve. It’s a beautiful piece of land and I don’t want to mar it with conventional construction so my partner and I are researching alternative solutions. Since there is seismic activity in the area, an earthquake resistant structure is important. So glad to see that earthbag construction holds up well in earthquakes. Durability is important as well because of the sun and rain. Wondering if anyone on this site has built in Costa Rica using earthbag construction.
Everything you need to learn is on our websites for free. Keep searching key phrases using the built-in search engine – ex: earthquake, earthquake resistant, reinforced earthbag, etc.
Yes, other people have built with earthbags in Costa Rica. Keep reading…
If anyone is interested I am happy to set up a skype conference call with Mike Tremeer the “inventor” of the system….He has a wealth of information on the system and can field questions based on the technical elements as well as his experience in using the system in South Africa, South America, Europe and Australia…
Thanks for the offer.
This sandbag building system has been extensively tested in South Africa by the South African Bureau of Standards and the Agrement Board (www.agrement.co.za) – we have full certification here and banks grant mortgage loans for people wanting to use this system. I am happy to share the technical information with anyone who is interested.
I like the fact the sand bags are more earthquake resistant. good on vertical but lateral movement might be a issue. All that weight something is gonna move. The up and down is not as big a problem as side to side.
The smaller bags are also easier to handle for some people (meaning me). The building code here in NZ requires good insulation. I could double bag or even put a straw bale in between.
Owen, any major comments on sand bags vs earth bags from you immense knowledge?
Add plaster mesh and cement plaster and horizontal movement will be safely contained. I believe this system could be engineer approved and meet code most anywhere. It falls in between pure earthbag building and pure truss wall systems to strike a happy balance for those who need code approval.
You could fill the bags with crushed lava rock for good insulation value.
Thanks, you are a genius as always. The knowledge you share with everyone is truly priceless.
It would be like a hybrid earthbag solution.
So just use scoria filled bags in the same way as earth bags, of course. I didn’t think of the code compliance issue but that is a biggie for me.
Could this be reasonably incorporated into your earthbag vault design?
Yes, but you’d have to make your own curved trusses and take extra steps to prevent bag slippage. This probably wouldn’t be accepted by code. But it would be a fun project. A jig built to the desired size and shape will ensure each member is uniform. Cut strips of wood about 1/4″ thick. Use a small rubber roller to roll on yellow wood glue and then clamp the strips to the jig until dry.
Like making parts for a boat. I have also seem them steamed to get a curve in the wood. Amazing when they bend wood like it was clay. I rally like the vault but going uphill against code is a long hard battle here.
Thinking out of the square as you know I always do is there any merit in the following scenario: Have an MTD (modified trickle down) solar system but have pipes that run the water from the collectors on the roof through the walls to collect the heat in the walls instead of a water storage tank. Don’t collect the heat in water but in the walls. If you snake the return pipes though the walls it should suck out any heat by the time it got to the bottom then pump it back up to the collector. In the summer you could run it at night to actually chill the water from the night air cooling the sand in summer.
The whole house is a huge thermal battery but due to the sand would be slow to charge or discharge IMHO. Any heat or cooling should be either absorbed into the sand or radiated into the room. It seems simple to me but most likely I am missing something even simpler why it is not feasible which I often do.
Comments or thoughts?
While possible, embedding lots of pipes in the walls where they can’t be easily accessed would cause major problems at some point. Everything breaks eventually. The only way to maintain something like this is if it’s on the surface, but then you don’t get ideal heat transfer. Plus, it would take a lot of pipe.
Thanks for the insight and experience. I considered the repair issue but in hindsight I underestimated the future effort. KISS always rules.
Keep thinking about this. There may be a simple way to replace/repair the pipes periodically. For instance, a grid of pipes could be installed behind removable paneling such as wainscoting. But then again, these could leak and cause a lot of damage…
There is no way to mitigate the issue only make the repair easier when it does happen. The risk-reward isn’t there. If I wanted to use an MTD system I could just mount water to air radiators external to the walls even using auto radiators with temperature controlled fans.
An MTD solution doesn’t operate at as high a temperature as a normal solar system so the thought was to trickle charge the sand for later use.
Water in a a wall is never good. While the sand won’t be effected long term everything else in the wall will be.
Dozens of simple, low tech, passive cooling systems are summarized on this blog. Search for the term passive cooling strategies.
I admire the creative thinking.
I encourage you to consider humidity. By actively cooling the walls in the summer, are you going to be encouraging condensation on the walls, promoting damp walls, and fostering conditions that are favorable to encourage mold growth?
Before spending large amounts of time and some money creating this system, I encourage you to build a small scale model. Run some tubing inside as you suggest, and observe carefully how much condensation gets created. A small scale test can be done extremely cheaply and easily, and the knowledge you gain will probably pay off by saving large amounts of time and money on a larger project. Don’t just work harder. Work Smarter.
Keep the creative thinking going, but never be afraid to test your theories. Knowing the outcome of your biggest efforts before you start will give you great confidence as you build.
It’s your house. Build it your way. Just make certain you have anticipated all the important contingencies.
I wrote the following behind a Yahoo news story titled ‘Can Any Buildings Survive Tornados’?
“An Earth Bermed Structure like the Terraset School in Reston Va would have a much better chance against an F5 tornado. Also a cheaper way to build a home would also be safer, its called EarthBag building. Google it at your leisure
Thank you! We’re getting some emails and comments since the Oklahoma tornado. No surprise. Imagine living through something like that. Most sensible people would start looking for safer options.
And for new readers, earthbag houses can be built to code by hiring the engineers at Structure1.com. We often focus on low cost/non-code structures because they cost far less, but you can build to code if you want.
How do you think this would hold up in tornado areas? I am moving back to the US to a somewhat tornado-prone area – west of Corpus Christi.
Most earthbag structures will be tornado resistant. This particular system is for areas where sand is predominate and you want to meet building codes.
Round structures are better than rectangular, because the wind will blow around it rather than build up pressure against flat walls. Make sure you use standard hurricane methods and materials such as hurricane ties on the roof, shutters, etc. And it ‘s good to build on high ground or raise the building site before building your home to reduce risk of flooding.
It’s strange because none of this is complicated. It seems to me more people would want to protect their homes by using more common sense.
Owen, as usual, is right on target.
I would expand upon his comments and encourage a thoughtful approach to ensure that any roof structure of any building is tied firmly down all the way to connect it to the foundation. This simple rule applies to any form of construction.
Think of a roof as an airplane wing, just waiting for a strong wind to lift if off a building an carry it away. When you tie that roof down all the way to the foundation, now the wind must lift up the weight of the entire structure to move the roof.
On method to consider is to blend the best practices used by Strawbale Builders with earthbag building.
Strawbale builders use strapping to tie box beams on the top of a bale wall to the toe up beams at the base of the wall and compress the bales together. Since the toe-up box beams are firmly connected to the foundation, this connects the upper box beam all the way down. Then the roof of a strawbale structure is firmly connected to the box beams on top of the bale wall.
This same concept would work extremely well with an earthbag, cob, rammed earth, adobe, and just about any other style of construction.
Just loop the strapping below the gravel bag stem wall layers as the first course of gravel bags is getting laid down. Leave plenty of excess strapping and coil it up, tie it off, and wait until your walls are built and tamped. Then run that strapping all the way up the walls, inside and out, all the way up to connect to the roof structure down to the foundation.
The strapping then gets embedded in plaster or covered over with whatever siding you put on the structure so it’s never seen.
Even better still would be to put a row of bags in the base of the rubble trench, just so that the strapping can have something to wrap around. Then you can tie the entire structure down all the way to the footings.
This strapping would add only a very trivial cost to a structure but provide an incredible amount of wind protection, especially for the roof of a structure.
Poly and nylon strapping is ridiculously cheap and a great way to secure the roof as Jay said. It’s the same stuff you see that secures boxes on shipping pallets. You can find lots of companies selling the strapping and tightening tools on the Internet.
Research hurricane and tornado resistant building methods on the Internet to learn carpentry tips for building stronger buildings.
Also, search this blog using keywords such as disaster resistant, hurricane resistant, tornado resistant, earthquake resistant. We have lots of free information on building stronger houses. For instance, plastered earthbag walls are far stronger than houses with wood siding, and roundhouses are safer than rectangular buildings because the wind will blow around them rather than build up pressure against straight walls.
And this might be a good time to remind everyone who lives in tornado alley and other similar places of the importance to have a storm shelter near their home. This earthbag dome I built is one good example of a low cost storm shelter (although there are many possibilities). http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Build-an-Earthbag-Dome/ (The grass on top is now about 3′-4′ tall.)
Compare the costs of the strapping with the costs of the Simpson Strong Ties products.
Simpson has become yet another corporation that is providing an incredibly overpriced set of products because they succeeded in getting their products written into the Building Codes.
There are other ways. Cheaper ways, and dare I say, BETTER STRONGER WAYS to tie roofs down to foundations. Strapping is one of those ways.
Yes, I’m making the claim that simple strapping could be used even on a stick built lumber framed house and be stronger than Simpson Strong Ties linking together all those matchsticks.
No, I don’t have a bought and paid for “scientific” University study to prove my claim.
The key is careful, thoughtful use of the strapping such that it really will hold the roof down to the foundation, as well as every other part of the structure.
I shudder to think how many millions or billions of dollars Simpson has extorted out of home buyers ever since they got their product line written into the building code. Suddenly they had a product everyone now had to have, and they could overcharge at will. Perfect example of corporate corruption in the building industry.
I’ve always liked metal fasteners like those from Simpson. I used to spend hours studying all the different kinds like a kid flipping through a toy catalog. But I also learned a long time ago you can buy knock-off brands at lower cost, sometimes even half cost. They all meet code. Or do as Jay recommends and find substitutes. In non-code areas you could fabricate anchors from scrap metal. Poly and nylon strapping has been tested and the strength rating is listed for each product. Adding a vertical strap every 3′ or so would greatly increase the resistance to roof uplift if attached correctly.
Also note, most every house can be upgraded/reinforced at relatively modest cost to provide far greater resistance to earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. All the information is free on the Internet. Ex: search tornado resistant construction. Even if you don’t build with earthbags, I encourage people to research these things.
The reason I claim that strapping can be stronger and better than using Strong Ties is rather simple.
I’ve been around construction most of my life. All those clips and special gusset plates are fine, but their weakness is in their connection to very weak, fast grown, matchsticks.
Lumber simply isn’t as strong as it used to be. Furthermore, many, if not most of the Simpson Strong Tie products are designed to be attached at or near the end of a piece of lumber. When each bracket is nailed in according to manufacurers’ recommendations, it is very common for the end of the board to split. This weakens the connection very dramatically. The bracket may be strong, but if it cannot hold on to the piece of wood it is nailed to, what’s the point?
This is where strapping excels. Strapping is best used when you run it up and completely over a board, like a roof rafter or completely over the top of a roof truss. Then run that same length of strapping all the way down and under the foundation footing, back up the wall on the other side, and back over the top of the roof rafter or roof truss again. Once the strapping is pulled tight, it often can be tied together with the opposite end of itself. The means the the full strength of the strapping must be exceeded before the connection will fail. Unlike Strong Ties which use the stick of lumber as an integral tensile component. The nails holding the brackets in place must be driven into strong wood that doesn’t fail in order for the connection to hold.
The only real question is how many straps to use, and that is a very simple mathematical calculation.
This is way, in my opinion, when installed correctly, strapping is far superior to using any manufacurer’s hurricane clips.
Getting a building inspector to agree? … well… that will almost certainly require a special engineers stamp, and the engineer will want to run his own calculations and tests, probably costing more than if you use spindly cracking matchstick lumber and expensive Simpson Strong Ties.
Impressive. Now, if we could only get more people to look to alternative building methods. It truly should be utilized with all the benefits it gives. The savings of money and natural materials can’t ever be dismissed. There’s plenty of dirt and sand. I’m very proud to know that building with earth bags IS the way I’m doing it. NO regrets what so ever.
Now the fun begins trying to figure out how make the perfect home for your family. Some people like to make a digital scrapbook on the computer (save online images and ideas in a folder). Some people like to use Pinterest. http://pinterest.com/ (Warning. I hear Pinterest is highly addictive. But it’s probably about the same as YouTube, Google Images, etc. that turn into giant blackholes gobbling up hours of your time.)