I went down to Nicaragua, fell in love and eventually wanted to have a house to call my own. It is the first house I have ever had. Really, I probably would not have been able to afford a “normal” house for some time and really when I found out about earthbag building I fell in love with it. I knew that is what I was going to do… It has been an adventure and a half. I will never forget some of the looks from the locals when we told them how we were going to build our house or when they seen us stacking bags up… it brought a lot of head shaking and prayers :-). The local people are very sweet people who are honest and most are hard working and live off of the land. They are very very open to foreigners, unless you’re Spanish…
We started building in November of 2010. It is on a peice of family land in the foothills. We started to pick and shovel thru the side of the hill to level it out. We wanted to be upon the hill a bit for the breeze, the view and less insects. We then put up a retaining wall made of “piedra cantera.” The piedra cantera is a rock that is cut into blocks, and from what I have heard it is not available readily in all latin american countries.
We let the wall dry and started leveling of the hill area. The earth had compacted again and was almost digging it up another time from scratch. We were very very lucky that there was not any big rock formations underneath because when I put up the internet tower there were plenty of them. We were also very fortunate to have great material to work with. I am not a big science guy but I could tell it was quality earth material. It was reddish in color and seemed to mesh together very tightly and quickly.
For the foundation we did the floating rubble trench. It was a mixture of river rock, “piedren,” and “hormigon” which is a volcanic rock. Then we started stacking… we made a bad mistake at the beginning and did not wet down the earth enough. After 2 rows we started wetting it down a lot more. From just letting the earth sit for some time it would compact quickly even dry. We did tamp it well… there is a lot of things I would do different.
I was looking at different designs for a while but as soon as I seen the Mediterranean design I knew it was perfect for what I wanted. I think it is a great design for keeping cool in a tropical environment and is a floor plan that can make a small place look bigger. Our place is 12×14 meters or so. The only thing different is we are splitting the bedroom in half so it will have bunk beds and the other half would be the bathroom against the wall. Once we had the walls up we did the crown [roof] and that seemed to really bring the house together tightly. Before the crown you could hit in one area of the structure and feel it vibrate pretty well, but after the crown it seems to really solidify the structure strongly. We then did a typical (for the area) zinc roof.
We are later going to do a thatched roof because it looks cool and we are thinking it will insulate it a bit more. Also, we do have an area that is open in the roof that allows light in and heat to escape, it looks pretty cool. We still don’t have our inside walls up nor a floor… but we are getting closer. We are doing all the plaster finishing right now. We did 2 big layers of cow poop, clay (local earth), wood chippings and hay. We are now doing another 2nd coat which is 45% clay, 45% sand and 10% cement. I am not sure what to do for the final coat but we are going to test 30% clay, 30% sand, 30% lime plaster and 10% cement. I have some other mixtures I am looking at too, but it is pretty foreign territory to me so I am going to try some different things. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. As we move along further I will keep you updated.