My Step-by-Step Earthbag Building article at EarthbagBuilding.com has been updated. I built a demonstration wall and photographed each step. YouTube videos have been embedded to further demonstrate the process. All the latest tools and techniques are shown, including use of stronger sheetmetal sliders, 2-gallon cement buckets, bucket chutes, bags turned inside out, and filling bags to capacity with the same number of pre-measured buckets. Note how I demonstrate pre-tamping earthbags. This is a relatively new technique I developed to lengthen the bags so they have additional overlap. This step strengthens the wall, which is particularly important in earthquake regions.
The goal of this project was to simplify the explanation of how to build with earthbags, making it clear as possible. All too often people read the books and dozens or hundreds of web pages and still don’t fully grasp the basics. So my advice is to read (and watch) this Step-by-Step Earthbag Building article several times and then practice each step. Get the basics right and the other details will more easily fall in place.
13 thoughts on “Updated Step-by-Step Earthbag Building”
if I can just continue on Eva’s earlier question – I have just spent a weekend working on a hybrid Earthbag/Earthship house in Belgium (http://www.earthshipbelgium.be/en/earthresidence/380-voortgang-7-en-8-juni.html), which gave me the opportunity to stand inside a 5.4m diameter round wall for the first time. This struck me as being a little too small for something like a livingroom or even kitchen, which I am planning to build in the near future.
I then remembered having seen on your blogs and I think also in Kaki Hunter’s book that there is a maximum diameter for an Earthbag dome, which is about 20 feet / 6 meters. What exactly is the reason for this limit, as far as you know?
I understand that it is more ‘natural’ and probably more economic to build a series of smaller interconnected domes to create a larger house, but I wonder what could be done in order to achieve a larger diameter dome (e.g. for the livingroom), if anything. Is it just a matter of adding more buttressing or thicker walls at the base, or is the stability of the roof more the issue here? I am basing my design on the catenary curve design in Kaki Hunter’s book.
Thanks so much for all the work and research you put in to make Earthbag building accessible to us all! Your sites are truely an amazing source of free information and are really very useful in coming up with a design and in building an earthbag house!
Hello Maarten. The earthbag earthship looks great! Is it your building or are you helping? We would love to make a blog post about this project but we need a little more information. Please send us more details if possible.
The maximum size of earthbag domes depends on a number of variables, not least of which is workmanship. The larger you go the more exacting the work must be. The 20′ diameter is based upon experience. Larger domes such as the 27′ diameter Sound Temple (Om Dome) in Thailand are possible, but as you can read from this article the workmanship must be very good.
Thanks for your reply!
I only helped out on the project as a volunteer. The building is intended as accomodation for resident artists of the Verbeke Foundation. You can find more details of the project here:
For even more info, you can get in touch with Earthship Belgium (the people organizing and building it) through their contact page.
What is the maximum length of a straight wall that can be built with earth bags without buttresses ?
Somewhere around 12′-16′. It depends on wall height, wall width (wider bags are more stable), number of doors and openings, workmanship, etc. This topic will be covered in my upcoming books (primarily the 2nd book — Earthbag Design Guide).
Nice site ! Can I nail 2 feet long wooden sticks on successive rows of earthbags instead of using barbed wire ? Will it give the same structural stability as the barbed wire ?
Barbed wire is much better because it is continuous around the structure and adds tensile strength.
Hello earth people, from Spain, some people planning to build a 4 dome construction this summer, we plan to build the biggest one with a 3.5m radius, and a second floor, resting the timber on the same bags and putting a pillar on the center. What do u think, Owen? is this too big? How big can I build the windows? I´ve got already the carpentry and I just need to make the frames, the most of them are 110×105, are they too big?. I´d love u to answer my questions, I´m a bit lost in weights. Thanks a lot and a big hug
I highly recommend starting on a small dome first and then doing larger domes after you gain experience. A 23′ dome is right at the maximum size. If you make any mistakes, then you will have problems.
I would make the windows a little narrower — about 90 cm (3′) wide. And remember, every door and window opening weakens the structure, so don’t use too many and don’t put too close together.
Has anyone ever drove rods down through the bags to stabilize them?
Yes, this is common. This is usually only done in critical areas: next to doors and windows, and at corners. I like to add 1/2″ vertical rebar at the half wall height and when the wall is finished. The rebar put in from the top should overlap the first pieces by about 2′.
We are currently building an Earthbag wall in Peru. An architect is here with experience in earthbag building has advised us that rather than sewing up the ends, we fold the bag in and then secure it with 3 nails. We have almost completed the wall and this technique seems to work well.
Have you tried this method and if so, have you come across any problems?
That will work, yes. The most common method is just folding the end under with no nails, no wire, etc. But you can’t fill the bags completely that way. The method I’m encouraging now allows the bags to be filled all the way. This saves bags (= money, resources) and creates longer bags with more overlap (stronger).