Houses in Nepal: Gone in the Twinkling of an Eye

Imagine watching a lifetime of work turned to rubble before your eyes.
Imagine watching a lifetime of work turned to rubble before your eyes.

Imagine a builder who spent their whole life building houses in their town for family, friends and other people they know. The builder is approaching old age when suddenly an earthquake destroys a lifetime of work in seconds or minutes. Even worse if loved ones are killed or injured in the quake. Try to imagine how it would feel to have all those years of hard work wiped out just like that. The people of Nepal, Haiti, Indonesia, Philippines and Vanuatu were poor before disaster struck. It’s hard to imagine what people are going through now and how they cope.

Fortunately, there is a bright side to this sad event. About 60 earthbag structures in Nepal are intact with little or no damage. None were destroyed to my knowledge. That’s amazing when you realize about 90-100% of the surrounding buildings were destroyed. I’ve contacted all the main groups in Nepal who have built earthbag schools, dormitories, houses, orphanages and other buildings. As bad as the earthquake was, it has shown how strong earthbag buildings are. This tragedy can be a new beginning for Nepal if they rebuild with earthbags. It’s not as unlikely as it may sound. The people in each of these villages know about earthbag building and now they are asking for help to rebuild this way. They have seen firsthand earthbag buildings are disaster resistant, as well as low cost and simple to build. For example, where First Steps Himalaya built their new earthbag school, it’s the only building left standing in the whole village. The building crew for Edge of Seven, who have completed six major earthbag buildings such as schools, are now fully trained and able to do their own projects. Provide local workers with the necessary supplies — bags, shovels and few other tools and they can do the work themselves with minimal training. For sure, locals can’t afford to rebuild with concrete.

First Steps Himalaya
Edge of Seven earthbag school
Image source: Time magazine

15 thoughts on “Houses in Nepal: Gone in the Twinkling of an Eye”

  1. Hi Owen
    We are trying to help rebuild village in Gorkha district 200 families need urgent help with housing plus 15 classes school. I have learned about this earthbag technology just a few days ago. Look very promissing and cheaper and we can use local materials. We want to learn more and especially train local people so they can build themselves with our financial support. We have one person on the ground in the village comming back to Kathmandu in day or two and a few local friends Nepalis in the city who can coordinate effort – they are originally from the village. How can they get in touch with you or people who can explain to them so they can decide if this will be good alternative for them. All our money are from private foundrising village can also get some help from NGOs or other friends and at the end from government.
    Please provide me with contact info so I can pass it to them.

    Thank you,

    Piotr Steranka

  2. Thanks for the helpful requests for info/ suggestions for formats from many of you. I am hard at work on this.

    Shaun, it appears you may be closest in to the higher ground motion than any other earthbag we know of. This is important to establish how much force earthbag can survive.
    On my English web maps I cannot locate Ranikot, Kavre. Kavre appears to be a district east of Kathmandu.
    Is there any way you can tell me a distance and direction from the Tribhuvan airport to your house? You can email me at if that’s better.
    Also, anyone willing to work with me on engineering tests, prepping info documents or getting Nepali translation is welcome to email me there as well.

  3. More from Shaun:
    My house was not build with steel other then the barbed wire. ill talk through hwo my house went up.
    the foundations are a 40cm deep 50cm wide trench filled with rubble, stones of all sizes. with a drainage pipe at the bottom.
    on that i lay a course of Earth-tube. we mixed in lime. then i had a double layer of flat paving stones as a capillary break followed by another layer of limed earth tube.
    from there on up all the courses are laid with only subsoil. I have two strands of barbed wire between each course.
    the joins and corners are a running bond and the wire just turns the corner and keeps going.
    I’ve plastered with clay and straw.
    the roof is a steel truss system that sits on the bag work. it feed are sitting on the bags second from the top, so the weight of the last set of bags is holding it down.
    the roof is clad with corrugated metal sheeting.
    the floor was installed afterwards in between the walls. it is a cob (straw and clay soil) floor.

    there appears to be no damage at all to any of the house. how ever my inspection was a quick one, we are still very busy here in Nepal. my house is in Ranikot, Kavre.

    for any of you here in Nepal we are having a meeting tomorrow at 10am at the Yellow House in Sanipa to talk about what needs doing in regard to long term housing relief. feel free to call me, Shaun if you want 9860477275.

    • The stone capillary break is not recommended. The way you describe the process it sounds like there is no bond between those two courses other than gravity. The barbed wire is important! Plus, we recommend vertical rebar pins like I said earlier. But anyway, very glad to hear your house is not damaged.

  4. Dear Owen,

    It would be a tremendous help if you would put together three succinct documents and post them up here for everyone (or it could be one doc. in three parts).

    One, like Shaun was asking for would be clear, thorough step-by-step instructions that can be translated and distributed. Warning away from insufficient gauge barbed wire and the like would be really helpful too.

    Second would be a brief introduction to earthbag houses (size and range of structures that can be built this way, their environmental advantages etc. PLUS a summary of known earth bag construction in Nepal to date (with place names) and the condition of those in the earthquake area. The way the earth bag buildings came through is what is going to get attention, please highlight it. The news is getting out but what I’m seeing is scattered and partial. The point is to have one document to inform and capture the attention of people who are going to be deciding on national rebuilding plans. This is crucial if it is to be adopted on a wide scale.

    Third: A list of *non-local* materials that are going to be needed, along with their specs. I see you emphasizing a certain gauge of barbed wire for example. This is really urgent as there are 3-4 weeks to get materials to some places prior to the monsoon where building could carry on during the monssoon IF these materials are delivered soon, soonest.

    Lots of this is probably on your site, but I’m asking you to draw it together because you have the expertise and time is so short. Thanks

  5. Hi I am from Nepal and of course you heard already about the earthquake, the main concern in Nepal is of shelter and that too long term the felt earth bag homes would be cost effective I would like yo know where the school is located and where is Shaun home and a picture of his home. Hope to hear from you

    • Every earthbag project in Nepal is posted on this blog. Search this site for keyword Nepal. A few new projects have come to light and we’ll be publishing stories about those soon. Our articles provide links to their websites and contact info.

  6. Dear Owen, I am glad I found your website and the articles about Nepal. I am from Germany and work with a charity organisation in Kathmandu to support orphanges and rural development projects. Being aware of the danger of earth quake I often thought about ways for people to build safe and affordable houses. As we know now this is what rural Nepal really needs. It seems that earthbag building is a good solution. I would like to initiate a proposal for a government supported project to teach local people about this technique and to provide the material partly on a loan basis partly for free. There are good chances to get this approved with the German government. Can you give me information about who is already doing earthbag projects in Nepal? Are there workshops in Asia available (India, Pakistan or even Thailand)? Please let me know. Any information could help.

    • Every earthbag project in Nepal is posted on this blog. Search this site for keyword Nepal. A few new projects have come to light and we’ll be publishing stories about those soon. Our articles provide links to their websites and contact info.

      I plan to offer free earthbag training for NGOs, professional builders, architects and engineers in the near future in Thailand. Watch for an upcoming blog post about this.

  7. the houses that have been worst effected are the ones made from stone mortared with mud, which is the most common style in rural Nepal. houses with cement have survived for the most part but most people don’t have the money to buy cement. it will also be in very short supply. where as rice sacks and barbed wire are not likely to be.
    if there is any good alternatives to the barbed wire I’d like to know about that as well as that would bring the cost down a lot.

    • Don’t skimp on the barbed wire. That’s what ties the walls together as the house jumps around in an earthquake. Use long 4-point barbed wire, not the cheap stuff. (Lots of cheap junk from China, etc.) Also, I HIGHLY recommend pounding 1/2″ steel rebar down through the center of the walls next to doors, windows, long straight walls and corners.

  8. Hi Owen. we the meeting i am organising will be to talk to any one in the Kathmandu area involved in long term shelter. I am not sure how far reaching it will end up being. we are very much making it up as we go. I am myself focused on Kavre district which has several 100,000 people most of whom now don’t have homes. we will not be able to rebuild that many houses but maybe we can build a few to show some ideas. My house is earth bag so i can help but having something 1-3 pages that is simple and that we could translated in to Nepali would be very useful. that way the info can be out there and understood as quickly as possible.

    thanks for getting back to me so quickly

    • You live there so you probably know best what people need. Again, try copying and pasting into Microsoft Word. You can use text and images from the Step-by-Step Instructable or any other page on our website since you’re using it as a free flyer to help educate the public.

      You might want to search this blog for projects in Nepal. We’ve covered almost every project in Nepal. Look up Her Farm, a farm community for disadvantaged women. Cluster housing like they built at Her Farm is real practical.

      Please send me a photo of your house if possible, thanks.

  9. From Shaun (previously posted on our Bulletin Board)
    hi Earth-bag community.
    I am currently living in Nepal and working on the earthquake relief. I have built my own house here from earth-bags and it has suffered no damage at all. i am hoping to use Earth-bags as part of the longer term shelter for communities that need that. I am looking for some resources to spread simple information about building with Earth-bags. a small flyer or something of that size. with picture would be great.

    Cheers, Shaun

    Owen: Shaun, thanks for writing. It’s good to hear from someone in Nepal. How badly damaged are the houses in your neighborhood? How are they built?

    Flyer: how many pages do you want? We have about 3,000 pages of free information. Just tell us more about what you need. The Step-by-step Earthbag Building Instructable linked in today’s blog post is really good. You can print it as a PDF. But maybe you want something shorter. You can make your own flyer by copying and pasting photos and text. Let me know if I can help.

    Can you send me a photo of your house?


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