Low-cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made With Earthbags

One of the most practical structures on a small farmstead is a multi-purpose garden structure that can serve as a storage shed or cool pantry above ground, or as a root cellar or storm shelter below ground. You can build this multipurpose structure for about $300 using earthbag construction (bags filled with earth and stacked like bricks). And the skills you learn by building the dome will serve you well if you plan to build a larger earthbag structure — or even an earth home.

Here’s how the dome looks today.

Mother Earth News Earthbag Dome
Mother Earth News Earthbag Dome

Earthbag structures provide a cool space in summer and an escape from the cold in winter, which means this earthbag dome is well suited for many purposes. Depending on your needs, the most practical combination of uses might be a root cellar/cool pantry for daily use and a disaster shelter for emergencies such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

Click here to read the entire 9 page article and view 11 photos and complete drawings: Low-cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made With Earthbags

Click here to read the free step-by-step How to Build an Earthbag Dome Instructable at Instructables.com.

18 thoughts on “Low-cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made With Earthbags”

  1. I’m was searching on the web for how to build a house into a hillside, such that there was only a southern exposure front. Do you have any links to doing such a project, even perhaps using earthbags? Thanks

  2. I was surfing around for more personal opinions on this issue this afternoon when I found your really fascinating post…thanks a lot for writing this. I will definitely be keeping an eye on your blog and coming back for more.BTW how long have you been blogging? :)

  3. Owen,

    Would you put the plastic all over, or just on the uphill side?

    If all over, I assume I need to be sure to provide enough passive ventilation to keep the moisture content inside from getting too high — upper and lower vents, for example.

    • I covered everything with plastic because we live in a rainy climate, and I suggest you do the same to make sure water doesn’t get to the earthbags.

      This does make it a little tricky adding soil on top of slick plastic. I used shade cloth and then later fish net with a base layer of clay to help tie everything together.

      Yes, provide passive ventilation through the door or screened vent tubes that slope down to the exterior.

  4. Took the leap. I have bags on the way for my first project — a small outbuilding that will probably serve as a garden shed or dog shelter.

    There is no level ground on this Tennessee hillside site, so I will probably dig in a French drain on the high side before I dig the foundation. This was an extra-wet year, so I am uneasy about what sort of foundation to provide.

    I’m thinking of a rammed gravel trench foundation, possibly with another perforated drain hose in it, oriented to drain downhill past the building.

    What they call “pit run gravel’ around here is probably too liable to compression, what with the high fraction of “fines,” at least if the batch I had delivered a couple of weeks ago is any indication.

    Should I specify washed “56s” for the gravel in the foundation, with 3/4-inch max crushed limestone? If I fill and tamp the trench with 56s, should I also stack a row of bags with 56s above the trench?

    I like the idea of putting plastic sheet against the uphill side of the wall, at least up to a foot or so above finished grade. Is there anything else I need to do to protect the plaster and keep the inside dry?

    Thanks for this blogsite — it’s a gold mine of information on dirt.


    • I’m not familiar with the terms you’re using for gravel. They vary from region to region. Use washed 1/2″ or 3/4″ gravel in the trench and first three rows of bags.

      Two layers of 6 mil plastic on the outside is recommended — one up against the structure and one layer after about 1/2 the soil has been backfilled. This is what we did and our bags are totally dry, even though we live near a tropical rainforest.

      Please send photos and an update of your project when finished. Good luck!

      • Thanks for the insights. “washed 56s” is exactly what you describe, in Tennessee terms, I guess. I will try to document the project in photos.

        thanks again,

    • Hi Tom Cox,

      My husband and I moved to Tennessee recently. We would love to see your earthbag structure, or anyone else’s. We would like to build our home out of earthbags. We live in middle Tennessee.

      • I think many people would be glad to show their earthbag structures to others, including myself. (Demonstrating this technology to help it spread was a key reason for building our dome.) We live in NE Thailand and you’re welcome to visit. We’re also finishing a roundhouse you could see at the same time.

  5. I would like to use an Earthbag building to store this years crop of potatoes onions and carrots…Would a small Earth covered building like this be suitable….or does it need to be beneath the frost line?

    • If you only want to store vegetables and possibly some fruit, I would build an earthbag rootcellar: http://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2009/07/11/earthbag-rootcellar/ This will be quicker and easier than building a dome.

      Build below frost line? I would say it depends how cold it gets in your area. In general, the earth on top and the sides creates plenty of insulation. But in an extremely cold northern climate, you might want to inset it into a small hillside or build it below grade. Investigate what old timers in your region used to do and apply that knowledge. Also, you could add an insulated door or a double entry for extreme climates.

  6. I just read the article in Mother Earth News today about this particular building. Do you have any inside pictures? I’d love to get some sort of idea of how the inside space might feel. Seems like a decent option for an office. Also, do you think a skylight would work in this type of building?

    • It’s only 8′ wide inside and so I haven’t bothered to photograph it. The bags are still exposed. No problems yet, even in this rainy climate.

      Here’s a shot looking down from above:

      You could scale it up and use it as an office. An easier way is to use Kelly Hart’s earthbag dome building guide. The shape is more conical but easier to build and more stable, and you can build these even larger — up to about 20′ diameter: http://www.earthbagbuilding.com/articles/riceland.htm

      A 16′ – 19′ diameter (interior) dome would be good for a home office, and there would be a nice little loft above. Skylights are an option.

      You can buy my Peace Dome plan for complete drawings and specifications that are customized to your needs, or you can follow Kelly’s dome building guide for free and just wing it.


Leave a Comment

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