We got a great comment about the Earth Home Builder that mechanizes earthbag construction. I try my best to explain things, but sometimes it helps to hear things explained a little differently from someone else’s point of view. Thank you for sharing your insights Sarah.
“I think some of the comments are missing the point of this, which should be exciting to hear. Things are in motion where you could have crews of skilled workers who can speed this up to a commercial level.
Conventional building is so wasteful, carbon intensive. Imagine that being replaced with alternative building like earthbag where there is less waste, less carbon, cooler in summer, rot resistant, better air quality, earthquake and hurricane safe, I could go on..
A ragtag movement of back to the woods DIYers taking 1-3 building seasons to finish their modest sized home isn’t going change the status quo and an incredibly polluting industry. Having it mechanized, quick to throw up, knowing it’s a tested technology, these are things builders care about.
Not everyone has the physical ability, or time or patience to do it “the cheap way” by hand. Not everyone has a crew of hardworking willing friends and family to rope into helping build. Anyways, Jerry said it well, this is like breaking the sound barrier!”
15 thoughts on “Reader Feedback on the Earth Home Builder”
Note: I moved my slipformes immediately due to dry desert summer, minimal water usage and bomber soil.
Just tack some ply or similar to a pallet facing inside. Though scrap 2x can frame the forms more suitable to whatever dimensions. Block them out to the desired thickness and clamp (or bolt). Neighbor did 30′ of wall length 12′ talk (6 sections of 5′ span semi circular) with an old small tractor in a few hours solo. Road base. Barely pound a 16 penny without bending it over.
I did a 24′ wall 8′, practically solo, in a day with a pneumatic tamper. That included me welding/setting scrap steel for window/door openings that morning and drilling/spiking a 1/2″ steel strap top plate for rafters to be welded on to.
Trailers are exempt from Local building codes under the Federal National Mfd. Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974. They are regulated by HUD. They couldn’t pass code in places where those apply if they were applicable. The HUD rules were last changed after Hurricane Andrew when those trailer parks were mowed down. Basically if you asked the Government the position would be that they were making affordable housing more accessible but the actual result is they are holding up an industry and preventing direct competition.
Trailer houses are absolute rubbish. The last one I went in about 14 years ago had a warning sign (EPA?) about the high levels of toxic fumes inside the trailer. This warning sign was in plain sign on the sales desk. My nose was burning and so I didn’t spend much time there.
For a affordable housing system like that there isn’t much off a trade off. A bigger house can be made of the same quality as a smaller houses. This is not the case for standard housing. Trailers don’t compare in durability to the standard wood built homes. 50% of energy costs can come from heating and cooling. This number drops as homes become more efficient. This number seems to go down as your income goes up. Instead of developing homes with solar panels and composting toilets, develop them for efficiency. Quit trying to save the world and start trying to save people money then green might matter. Affordability and lower operating costs.
You said, “Trailers don’t compare in durability to the standard wood built homes.” That’s true, but it’s funny how they both meet code. Sham trailer houses that start falling apart almost immediately still meet building codes. Amazing. So you have to question the value of the codes.
Honestly I don’t care about green. There’s little point to. The majority of polluters don’t care. Those that do care often miss the base. They have plans that cost people more and expect people to majorly change their lives. Earthbag construction and this new machine are great to me for another reason. The Bar in the United States is set at a mobile home. Earthbag construction with this automation has the potential for cheaper homes at or lower than the mobile home price for a modest size home that is much sturdier. And honestly if you want that 2500 sq/ft home there’s a possibility of getting it at reduced price with this. As far as looks and feel goes you make any old dumb house with this building method. As lovely as any. There’s alot of potential here. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is a you can’t build something like that here mentality. The logic generally being that since nothing like that has been built here you can’t do it.
This reminded me of one of our readers who was planning to build affordable housing for average people like Wal-Mart employees, clerks, fast food workers, etc. He was going to buy an old trailer park at a steep discount with all the roads and utilities already built and build trailer sized earthbag houses. That was several years ago and so I thought I’d throw the idea out there. The Earth Home machine could crank out a lot of simple houses for a project like this very efficiently.
Update: I just searched Google Images for trailer park fire photos. Is this earthbag trailer park idea good enough for a separate blog post? This could avoid a lot of trailer park fires.
I don’t get it. Two machines and a specialized loader attachment to replacereplace what a tractor and a couple pallets/scrap rammed earth forms can do in the sametime. If we are talking about levees or building with inappropriate soils, then I could understand. But to have twice the machines running around A construction site just to use earthbags as forms doesn’t make sense to me. I like the earthbag form cause if it’s flexibility over rammed earth forms and it’s ability to go into awkward places. As far as commercial application of earthbags, especially in coded areas, RE is more tested, faster, and doesn’t require the labor of plaster filling crevices (as long as we are talking about machines instead of human wages), more monolithic (eg structural), aesthetic. To me, earthbag is appealing as a diy ragtag endeavor because it doesn’t cost anything and allows the 9-5 populace an option by working on the weekends to achieve homeownership. Doubtful to finance the “earth home builder” built picetag home, but a rented tractor and powered tamper can fly through wallsand still have the cost of machinery over wages, maybe even financed.
See James’ response. The Earth Home Builder fills a special niche like he’s doing on a Native American reservation. I don’t know of anything that can knock out houses so fast. This scenario is feasible because codes are lax or nearly non-existent on reservations. A tribe could invest in the equipment and build hundreds of homes.
Maybe you could tell us more about using pallets for rammed earth. Have you seen this done? Do you have more details? How many pallets are used? Rate of wall construction?
Yes Owen, as to your out buildings point, I think the structures you propose would be a more “sure bet” entry point than my “outlying counties” suggestion–make the out buildings in relaxed area the first step, actual house in outlying counties the second step and suburban counties the 3rd step.
Point # 2 on labor cost building by hand. I think to get the models built, it is a cost that can’t be avoided on the road to “mainstream approval”–the point needed to make the expensive machine affordable. An experienced crew using the super adobe/mesh tube technique of 6 guys at $10 and hour is $480 a day. On a small 3 BR, K, LR and BA house they could get the earthen walls up in 12 working days at a labor cost of $5,760. This is almost double what the framing crew charge would be in my area for walls, but some materials cost savings would be a partial off set. Other building costs would be comparable to traditional housing.
Point # 1: I know you are right on this–but I don’t see a way around it if we want the earthbag technology to gain approval for mass markets. We would lose the cost savings so valued by this blog, but we do gain the other beneficial features Sarah mentioned– “less waste, less carbon, cooler in summer, rot resistant, better air quality, earthquake and hurricane safe.”
For the green builder with the “right stuff” I think this step by step is one way to get to building earthbag houses for in the mass market. It may not be, I just put this out as food for thought.
I like Sarah’s take on this. To move beyond a small niche, we need mass markets in order to gain competitive costs/prices.
We get to mass markets by getting approval from local county/city code and zoning boards, at least in areas like mine near Atlanta, Georgia.
Here is one possible approach: a green-oriented builder goes to outlying counties away from the big city, where the approach to regulations is more relaxed and where hopefully he has a cousin or friend on the local county board, and gets approval to build two or three 1,200 to 1,400 (“normal” size for the area)sq ft earthbag houses.
Use local engineering firm with established reputation. These houses would be built “by hand” as generally seen in this blog. Keep clear and accurate construction costs and utilities records. Monitor and maintain for 3 to 5 years.
Assuming the 3 to 5 years go well, promote earthbag technology to zoning boards in suburban areas, now with the benefit of a proven track record. Perhaps builder finds one willing board, who grants 1 “experimental technology” permit, or perhaps a small sub division of 8 to 12 “experimental technology” permitted houses. These may have to be built by hand too.
At some point, with developed public support, a strong educational campaign, a few good attorneys and some able politicking, our green builder gets approval to build enough earthbag houses to justify the capital outlay for an “Earth Home Builder” machine. If his profit margins are sufficient, price point attracts buyers and the market likes the “new” product, sales will result and the benefits Sarah alluded to will be on their way to becoming common place. This machine will have then “broken the sound barrier” in green construction.
Two main problems:
1. Building codes skyrocket construction costs. Building officials would almost certainly require lots of extra steel reinforcement, concrete foundation, plaster mesh, etc. that end up making it cost as much or more than conventional houses.
2. The labor cost for building by hand would be a major disadvantage.
I think you have to find a niche market where codes are lax to gain entry in the marketplace: outbuildings on farms, homes for Native Americans and others in remote rural areas, disaster resistant storm shelters, vacation cabins, root cellars, etc.
This machine will be too expensive for many. However, we all have different needs and budgets. Imagine a builder in hurricane alley who wants to build a disaster resistant structure like in the photo every week or so. This machine would do it.