Lowest Cost Earthbag Building Methods

This blog post describes super low cost earthbag building methods that do not have to meet code. These dirt cheap building methods are primarily for those in mild climates (minimal freezing) and low or non-code areas.

Here are some of my favorite low cost earthbag building methods:
– use busted concrete (urbanite) for the rubble trench
– a shallow rubble trench of around 12” deep should be sufficient unless you have expansive soils (in that case consult a local engineer)
– you can skip the rubble trench entirely if you have rocky/gravelly soil or build on bedrock if there’s no freezing
– you can skip the French drain if you’re on high ground that slopes away from the building in all directions and have wide roof overhangs
– use soil from the building site or have sandy/clayey subsoil delivered from excavation companies. There may be some nearby excavation work and find out it’s cheaper to unload at your place than elsewhere.
– use what’s locally available and low cost. For instance, you might want to experiment with rice hull bags if you’re doing a small structure and live near a rice mill.
– buy knitted raschel mesh tubing from Bag Supplies Canada for the best price. Contact Maurice at info@bagsupplies.ca. The last I heard the price was $460.00/ 14-16” loose x 3,000’ (1,000 meters) long. The mesh stretches width wise. This is the size you need to match standard 18” wide poly bags on the gravel bag foundation.
– do as much of the work yourself as feasible. Throw workshop parties with free lunches to help speed the work.
– no barbed wire needed between raschel mesh courses if you build small, simple structures with vertical walls in areas with no hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes
– build floors on grade using local natural materials – adobe, sand, stone, etc. with a moisture barrier underneath. Example: see Eleven Earth Floor Methods
– use local poles and wood from the forest or local saw mills
– use earth plaster when practical (wide roof overhangs of around 4’ are recommended to protect the walls)
– trade, barter, scavenge, buy recycled, buy used materials through Craig’s List or local newspaper ads as much as possible.

For many more ideas check out How to Build Dirt Cheap Houses.

3 thoughts on “Lowest Cost Earthbag Building Methods”

  1. Hello, Please clarify – can you can skip the rubble trench entirely if you have rocky/gravelly soil and 5″ frost line? Thanks Jeff

    • That would be your judgement call based on the value of the structure. Is it worth the risk? If there’s a good bit of moisture in the ground it will freezes and expand and potentially crack your plaster. So again, these guidelines are for warm climates.

      • The property is located in West Texas, Chihuahua desert, 10″ annual rainfall mostly in summer with a caliche base. While it may be doable without trenches, sounds like it might be risky. I had thought of berming over insulation. Thanks Jeff


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