Jorge Dominguez has been helping his friend Mark Hanson build the first permitted earthbag dome house in Hawaii. After several months working on this project, Jorge offered these impressions of building with earthbags and the potential market for this in the U.S. The accompanying photo was taken by Jorge during construction of the Hawaiian house.
There is zero government support for this type of construction.
For big and medium contractors it’s not profitable in the USA. With labor so expensive, workers comp and so on, numbers don’t add up to monetize it.
It is an ideal method in hot regions of the USA for small builders who already own land in rural areas. I have asked several builders here in the Big Island why, if they have 20 years more experience than I do in conventional building, they cannot build their own homes on the land. The answer from them: the materials are too expensive, and they don’t qualify for financing. Even if it can be very cheap for materials, you still need some capital for materials.
So yeah, good for environment, durable and not disposable, but money, money, money.
Regarding the labor, it would be awesome if rural neighbors came together in something like cooperatives, and everyone helped each other to build their homes. But I don’t see people having community spirit in the USA as in poorer countries. Here in the East Side of the Big Island there is some degree of community feeling, much better than in the Bay Area. But you still see attitudes like don’t park in my sidewalk; shut up your f*** kid; I’m trying to sleep, read my book, do my yoga. In 25 years in the USA I have never seen a homeowner asking his neighbor to borrow some beans.
Still I see hundreds of young people who like to travel who want to build these kinds of buildings. Someone has to figure it out, maybe on the Internet, to create a network of volunteer opportunities. Volunteers can help for a couple of days. Most young people need to make a living and they cannot commit to earthbag building for months if they don’t get paid. But I think people can commit to volunteer for months if they perceive it to be in their self interest. Like getting their own earthbag dome in exchange for doing so many volunteer hours for other builders. Example: if a volunteer commits 200 hours of help to some homebuilder, the network has to guarantee to him to provide him with volunteers when it comes the time to build his own. By doing work for trade and bartering, you don’t have to release cash, no taxes to report, and no stress in trying to get too much work during a work day. Even though airfares are very expensive nowadays, I see lots of young people willing to pay their own airfare for the opportunity to travel. But the homeowner has to give something in exchange; he cannot just get slave labor just like that. If the homeowner is willing to provide free rent, plus food for the volunteer, it makes it very enticing. No matter how idealistic a young person maybe, I don’t see them paying for expensive hotels, restaurants and rental cars for his free labor for someone else.
To see more pictures and read more about the Hawaiian project, visit this page.