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Want to Build a Cheap, Sturdy House Made of Bagged Clay? Try Earthbags

If it takes a village to raise a child, what’s it take to raise a house? With earthbags, it actually doesn’t take as much effort as you might think (though having a village would certainly help).

Earthbag construction is a method of building in which tubular bags (usually made of polypropene or canvas) are filled with clay or sand and then stacked in concentric circles to form walls. The idea isn’t that new, but it’s not that well-known either, so we’re trying to give it the love it deserves.

Slate recently posted a video (see above) that details the building process. Andrew Mugford, co-founder of Permaculture South Africa—a community that provides education, training, site design, and assistance to NGO’s with food gardens—showcases the potential of the earthbag.

In this video’s particular location, Mugford explains, he and his team mix localized clay with a bit of cement and water to create their bagged substance. Workers wait at the top of the structure where they catch clay-filled buckets (there’s a lot of bucket tossing) and then fill the bags until they look like giant white anacondas. Once a bag is filled, the team uses barbed wire to secure the layer and then add another on top. After it’s plastered and dried, the walls are as thick as three adjacent bricks, and it can take as little as two weeks to finish an earthbag building.

The best implementation for earthbagging, of course, is building in remote places where people don’t have access to many resources. That said, anyone can benefit from earthbag construction; it’s economical, it’s environmentally friendly, and, best of all, it resembles the structural love child of an igloo and a teepee. (I’m currently torn between naming them igpee, teegloo, or Kevin. Leaning towards Kevin.)

If you’re interested in building one yourself, check out this great FAQ with earthbag guru, Kelly Hart. And remember, it may not take a village, but in some villages it may be the only option for shelter. As Mugford says in the video: “We don’t have to rely on people coming from other places to come help us; we can actually do it if we work as a community.”

IMAGE: GoPro

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