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Our Earthbag Home

Updated on February 14, 2013

We Built an Earthbag Home and Helped Launch a Worldwide Movement!

Neither my husband Kelly Hart nor I had any idea that earthbag building would take off worldwide when we built our earthbag house in the late 1990s. I'll show photos of what we did further on, but it's only fair to say that Kelly did most of it. I did help. We also had a "teenage slave" as we called him, Peter Rice, who listened to all sorts of progams on his headphones while he filled bags with scoria, put them in place, and did myriad other things for three summers with us.

Earthbag building had been taught by Nader Khalili before we got involved. Now deceased, Khalili had a school--which is still going--in California. My husband Kelly came across the method at a time when we were considering building something alternative, but we didn't know if it would be straw bale or any number of other methods. Kelly was sure he wanted to use a sustainable architecture method, and this is the one that caught his eye.

It took me a while to be convinced, but I got intrigued. And so we spent about 3 years hard at work here in Colorado. Most of the photos on this page were taken by Kelly, me, or his sister Molly. This one shows a triumphant Kelly at the top of the first earthbag dome we built. The photos a ways down of the exterior of the house and small dome after the stucco job was taken later by our friend Patti Stouter of Build Simple.

Our First Earthbag Dome

Our First Earthbag Dome
Our First Earthbag Dome

We began with this little dome.

Earthbags are polypropylene bags that are used for many purposes, such as food storage and sandbagging rampaging rivers. Here, we are using them to build an earthbag house inexpensively and relatively simply. The tarps are over them because the polypropylene degrades in the sun, so whenever we quit work for the day, we covered things up.

Domes are the easiest thing to build with the bags if you don't want to have to add a separate roof. You make a circle and lay a row of the bags around the circumference, leave space for a doorway of course. In many places, people fill the bags with dirt but we live near the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, and our land was sand rather than dirt. So we ordered scoria to fill the bags with--that is the crushed volcanic rock that you have probably seen in yards. It is very lightweight and all the air in it makes it a highly insulating material. Perfect to build a house out of insulation! It sure took the sting out of those cold Colorado nights.

The door frame was actually perfectly upright, although it looks a tiny bit off here...but the arch over it was inclined to meet the inclined angle of the dome.

Adding Beams to the Dome for a Loft

Adding Beams to the Dome for a Loft
Adding Beams to the Dome for a Loft

This is actually a slightly earlier step...

Here, wood for a sleeping loft is resting on the bags. On the left, the arch of bags to go over the door is in place. And just below the the wood, you can see a window. It was made from a culvert coupler.

Papercreting our Main Dome

Papercreting our Main Dome
Papercreting our Main Dome

We Covered the Bags with Papercrete

Moving along on this page much faster than we did at the time, here the main dome of the house is up. Kelly is stuccoing it with something called papercrete, which we used instead of adobe stucco.

We made papercrete by tearing up newspaper and throwing in junk mail and water plus a very tiny bit of cement. All this went in a container that we pulled on a small trailer behind our Volvo station wagon, along our street. The container had blades inside it that mixed everything up very well.

Next, we would pour the slurry into a form made with screen on the bottom. It would be time for a lunch break while clear water oozed out of the form. Once it had set up that way, we tossed it onto the house, leaving wonderful handprints behind.

Over time, the papercrete didn't hold up as well as we had hoped and later the house got a stucco job over the papercrete. Hey, it was all an experiment! There's a picture of the stucco further on.

Bedroom, Greenhouse, Main Dome

Bedroom, Greenhouse, Main Dome
Bedroom, Greenhouse, Main Dome

Here's a Detailed Webpage About Our House

This link takes you to a long page of photos, Kelly's comments, and a chart about our costs.

Our Finished House

Our Finished House
Our Finished House

Living Room, with Wagon Wheel Window

Living Room, with Wagon Wheel Window
Living Room, with Wagon Wheel Window

Living Room and Dog

Living Room and Dog
Living Room and Dog

Main House After Being Re-Plastered

Main House After Being Re-Plastered
Main House After Being Re-Plastered

The Small Dome, in its Current State

The Small Dome, in its Current State
The Small Dome, in its Current State

How our marriage survived the building of the house...

Not all marriages survive the stresses of building a new home. Ours did.

For one thing, we'd been together a long time. We had our 25th wedding anniversary party out in the driveway, with the potluck in the half-finished bedroom dome.

We've learned to compromise. I wanted to make invitations to the potluck that said, "Are We Dinosaurs?" Kelly didn't like that idea, so we came up with something we both liked okay.

Before we built the house, we talked through our ideas. I was happy to let Kelly fulfill a lifelong dream, to build a creative and interesting house. But I was busy with my own projects and didn't want to stop doing them. I agreed to help out when I felt like it, and in fact, I did fill plenty of earthbags with scoria. More importantly, I agreed to take over a lot of what Kelly normally did for our small home-based business, like preparing packages of our books and videos and taking them to the post office.

For years we had shared the cooking and kitchen cleanup 50-50 and I did more of those things during the construction years.

It also helped a lot that we were living onsite in a very comfortable and large bus conversion motor home that Kelly had done a few years earlier.

Our DVD

Kelly had been a filmmaker and video producer, so he made a program about our process of building. We showed some of our mishaps on purpose, since we felt people should know about the risks.

It's available further down this page as an Amazon instant video too.

Here's the First Minute of our DVD

It was originally a VHS video.

Then Kelly Started a Website on Earthbag Building - Here are just a few of its topics

Kelly works on this site all the time. It's amazing what is happening all over the world! Do note that the last link is a comprehensive resource list with numerous links to other earthbag sites.

Earthbag Building Resources at Amazon

Basic Earthbag Building
Basic Earthbag Building

Useful DVD, done by Owen Geiger, with whom we have worked.

 
Building With Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction (A Real Goods Solar Living Book)
Building With Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction (A Real Goods Solar Living Book)

Now out of print, but one of the best resources. There are usually used copies available.

 

Here's a Video Kelly Made of Earthbag Building in Many Places

Then What Happened?

We sold our earthbag house to friends in 2005 and we moved to Mexico, thinking we might stay there indefinitely. But after a few years, we came back to the same little town in Colorado.

We visit the earthbag house from time to time. Our friends love it. Life moves on... I wonder what's coming up!

Answers to Some of Your Questions & Comments

1. What about building codes?

We live in a rural county in Colorado which only requires the statewide plumbing and electric codes be met. That's one reason that there has been a lot of alternative building here. When we built, very few earthbag homes had been built. It's still rare but at least some building inspectors have heard of it and will work with you. Here's a page on my husband's website with a list of questions and answers about earthbag building and codes.

2. It's so beautiful. I would like to live in something like that.

There have been a lot of comments like this! I think it's because my husband is truly an artist, as well as due to the unusual techniques. But there is something very cosy and nurturing about living in a handmade house!

3. Could this be done in a wet climate?

Domes are somewhat more likely to develop leaks if it rains a lot, but you could build an earthbag house with a metal roof. See the links to explore ways that has been done.

4. Why on earth would you sell it?

That's what I asked myself when Kelly first brought up the idea. It's a long story but in a nutshell, we had been spending time in Mexico. See my lens About Me and Mexico (also an award winning lens) for that story. We decided to go live in Mexico, and I still couldn't let go of our house... I thought we'd grow old in it!

I dithered a bit. When some friends of ours offered to buy it at a very good price, I continued to be unsure but Kelly was very open to the idea. When I thought of the last name of the friends, Byer, and realized we had been brought "the buyers" my last resistance dissolved!

We had taken on a mortgage while building it, and ever since we sold it, several years ago now, we have been completely debt free. Heavenly!

5. We don't have any money, or any building skills, and we are desperate. We want to build an earthbag house.

Umm... this is not your best choice. Kelly had been doing construction, both on places we had had and at times for income, for many years. There are simpler things to do. We understand your desperation, though, and you could be one of the rare people for whom it would be a good fit. Do explore all the links on this page very thoroughly and those links will give you a lot of information about earthbag building and other eco-friendly methods that can be done cheaply.

This Lens Won a Purple Star - That's an honor that means Squidoo folks thought it was extra good!

Image credit: Purple Star Art.

Any Thoughts or Questions?

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    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 4 years ago

      @donnetted: Donnette, there is a lot more information about this method on my husband's site mentioned on this page, earthbagbuilding.com. It's not for everyone but it's a great method!

    • profile image

      Donnette Davis 4 years ago from South Africa

      I am absolutely fascinated!

    • profile image

      cricketlady 4 years ago

      I really love it!

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Paul Ward: Thanks, Paul! Means a lot coming from you.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      I'm glad I followed a link on your 70 lens - excellent content and perfectly written - Blessed,

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Linda BookLady: WELL... I only did a small part of it. My husband is the maestro!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 5 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      What a phenomenal house! I am so impressed that you helped build that!

    • profile image

      coolmon2009 lm 5 years ago

      I bet an earthbag home is well insulated for the heat and cold, Interesting story.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      congrats on your new purple star.

    • vetochemicals profile image

      Cindy 5 years ago from Pittsburgh Pa

      I had no idea an earthbag house was even possible, such as great idea. I really enjoyed reading your journey, thanks for sharing it with us and congrats on it's success and to your future, debt free is awesome! xoxo

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 5 years ago

      This is so awesome and uique. I have never heard of such a type of home and thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is amazing.. Simply Superb.. Loved it.. :)

    • bwet profile image

      bwet 5 years ago

      wow! very intesting looking houses! maybe one day when I have really retired, I will built one of these homes for myself

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 5 years ago

      I've never heard of such a house. Cool lens.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Teapixie LM: Thanks! Keep an eye out for the right place as you travel!

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      This is fantastic! I would love to build a home like this. Maybe one day when I live in area where the building codes will allow....

      Great work - on the house and the article. :)

    • Bestbuyguide profile image

      Bestbuyguide 5 years ago

      Such a unique style of home.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Lenskeeper: He he he!

    • HalloweenRecipes profile image

      HalloweenRecipes 5 years ago

      What an amazing and interesting story!

    • Lenskeeper profile image

      Lenskeeper 5 years ago

      I love this earthbag home. Wanna build me one? he he he

    • profile image

      alfredLebeau 5 years ago

      very cool

    • AnObeseMan profile image

      AnObeseMan 5 years ago

      I think that is a very interesting way to build a home. It definitely comes together to create a unique and in my opinion, a very good looking house. Just goes to show how even some of the most simple building techniques can create amazing homes. Thank you for sharing!

    • profile image

      What_to_Know 5 years ago

      So unique

    • profile image

      MarcellaCarlton 5 years ago

      Extremely amazing! I really like the look of these buildings. Beautiful.

    • profile image

      kgdunst 5 years ago

      They all look amazing!

    • peggygallyot profile image

      peggygallyot 5 years ago

      Must be really cool on the inside. Wonderful iidea.

    • gamrslist profile image

      gamrslist 5 years ago

      really cool idea maybe when i go home to Philippines ill build one thank you for sharing

    • profile image

      dellgirl 5 years ago

      Impressive lens, it is very unique! Good work. ~~Blessed by a Squid-Angel~~

    • cgbroome profile image

      cgbroome 5 years ago

      Very spectacular and amazing! Thanks for sharing.

    • anne mohanraj profile image

      anne mohanraj 5 years ago

      A very interesting lens!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @cmacleod lm: Well, you might be! Have any connections in the film world?

    • GreenfireWiseWo profile image

      GreenfireWiseWo 5 years ago

      Great lens. Very inspiring. Thank you.

    • Mariajomith profile image

      maria 5 years ago

      really really cool, it turned out so beautiful

    • profile image

      cmacleod lm 5 years ago

      Am I the only one that's thinking this would be great for a star wars remake? :)

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @AcornOakForest: We considered earthships but all that dirt-ramming didn't appeal to us! But many of the earthships turn out great. A friend of ours, Rob Roy of upstate New York, teaches cordwood and has written about it.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Soapmarked: The main house was around 1400 square feet, only we would say, NO square feet, all round feet! No real bug problems; the house was built tight.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @robertzimmerman2: Our house actually fit all the requirements of our association!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Mollysue LM: Yes, we use them a lot for that here in the US also!

    • themeaparty profile image

      themeaparty 5 years ago

      (jaw drop) That's just amazing.

    • cavehouseman profile image

      Steve Weatherhead 5 years ago from Granada, Spain

      I really like the look of these constructions and the whole idea behind them. I would love to live in one.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 5 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      A family near where I live is currently building an earth ship home... Ramming dirt into old tires. It's all interesting to me and so much work. My personal favorite is cordwood. Maybe someday...

    • Natashalh LM profile image

      Natashalh LM 5 years ago

      So cool! I'd never even heard about this. Thanks or sharing!

    • Dmarieinspires profile image

      Dana Marie 5 years ago from St. Peters, MO

      Very interesting, awesome and creative! I never knew...lol GREAT lens!

    • Soapmarked profile image

      Soapmarked 5 years ago from TX

      That's really interesting. How large did it end up? Did you have any bug problems?

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 5 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      I don't think our Home Owners Association will let us do these!

    • Mollysue LM profile image

      Mollysue LM 5 years ago

      I love your lens and the house. I would never have thought that you could build a house from earthbags. In Ireland we tend to use them to keep the water out when the rivers flood (which seems to be every year!).

    • profile image

      Lubicz 5 years ago

      That is amazing work, thanks for sharing that with us. It is a unique home, in touch with nature and very impressive, too! It is great to know that such house has been built and used successfully. Congratulations!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very interesting!

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @chezchazz: Thanks! Yes, the house really fits in there.

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @IncomeFromHomeT: Yes, this is much less well known!

    • IncomeFromHomeT profile image

      IncomeFromHomeT 5 years ago

      Wow. I knew about straw bale building, but didn't have any clue about this! What a great sustainable building method!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      This is amazing! I love the look of the house in that landscape too. Blessed and featured on Still Wing-ing it on Squidoo.

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @PocketfulofParis: There are even more photos on the links I provide. This is such an odd way of building that pictures are needed!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: And thanks for the blessing, Josh!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      How fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing this. Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • PocketfulofParis profile image

      PocketfulofParis 5 years ago

      i love all the pictures that explain exactly what's happening!

    • profile image

      classifiedshi 5 years ago

      informative topic

    • randomthings lm profile image

      randomthings lm 5 years ago

      THAT is amazing. LOVE the house, and great story! Thanks for sharing!

    • sconnelly711 profile image

      sconnelly711 5 years ago

      Very interesting houses, I really like learning about them, thank you!!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: We built this just outside of Crestone, CO, and we live near there now.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      What a grand adventure! You must have built this home in my vicinity. I really like the freedom of this area in terms of natural, green, alternative building opportunities. My next home will likely be of straw bale construction. Thanks for sharing your creativity. Earthbag homes are so artistic. Congrats on your Purple Star!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      What a fantastic idea. Your earthbag home looks very attractive. And I'm sure it will last a very long time.

    • nicks44 profile image

      nicks44 5 years ago

      1 - Great Idea

      2 - Great Application

      3 - Great Lens

      4 - Keep up the good work!

      :)

    • Kae Yo profile image

      Kae Yo 5 years ago

      Wow! that is amazing!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @BLouw: Domes don't generally do all that well in wet climates but earthbags can be built in other shapes, and domes can have different roofing from what we did. Look at earthbagbuilding.com for examples worldwide!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @aquarian_insight: Read your comment out to my husband and he loved it!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @seegreen: Like you.. these days we aren't into a huge project like that again!

    • profile image

      seegreen 5 years ago

      Wow. Years ago I would have really been into doing this, but these days I want someone else to do the work for me. What a gorgeous house, it's something to be really proud of. Have you thought of making another?

    • profile image

      aquarian_insight 5 years ago

      Very little of what I read these days amazes me, but your story here has totally amazed me! Wow! What a story? Apart from the technique, I also love the unique look of the earthbag domes. My partner and I have recently had a stressful time just looking for a new place to move into, so your story here really puts things in perspective for me. I thoroughly enjoyed this lens; thank you. *blessed*

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 5 years ago from France

      Would it do as well in wet climates, UK & France? Would love a house like this.

    • Mamabyrd profile image

      Mamabyrd 5 years ago

      wow amazing pictures! awesome lens

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @caketech: Sounds easier to me than what you did!

    • caketech profile image

      caketech 5 years ago

      That is great that you were able to build this house together! My husband and I have been married almost 19 years, and our marriage has survived total remodels on two homes, due to the fact that they weren't even livable when we bought them. I believe building a new house would have been less stressful for us...lol

    • benny77 profile image

      benny77 5 years ago

      Very cool story....thanks for sharing

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Craftypicks: That's hiliarious, and oh so true for most people!

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      That house is so cool and you can do so much. Very imspiring. My husband and I are married 25 years this September and can credit our marital success to having NOT build a house.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @RoadMonkey: It was actually pretty big, but often people make them very small.

    • xriotdotbiz lm profile image

      xriotdotbiz lm 5 years ago

      Very inspiring and yet another sustainable building method I was not aware of.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      Looks great. I think I could downsize sometime soon and live in a house like that.

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 5 years ago

      Never heard of this type of structure. Looks awesome and probably is an excellent place to live in!

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @JohnTannahill: I call my husband a hobbit frequently!

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Joan Haines: We live in a county without standard building codes... just had to be inspected for plumbing and electric by the Colorado state inspectors. People ARE building these in areas with building codes, with varying degrees of difficulty from regulators.

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 5 years ago

      It looks like a lot of work, but well worth it!

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens. I had not heard of this kind of construction before. Very unique.

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 5 years ago

      Wonderful accomplishment! It looks great. I'm wondering about building codes?

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 5 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Amazing - looks like something a hobbit would live in - especially with the wagon wheel windows.

    • bluewren56 lm profile image

      bluewren56 lm 5 years ago

      The house looks fantastic.

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Laychee: There are workshops you can take, to help with someone's house and learn how!

    • profile image

      Laychee 5 years ago

      I love this, totally want to try it someday soon!

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @PlethoraReader: There are getting to be more and more earthbag houses all over the world!

    • PlethoraReader profile image

      Matthew 5 years ago from Silicon Valley

      It is a very interesting story, and I believe I have seen a very similar house in northern CA which if the same brings new interest to this story. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on letting your husband follow his dream. Blessed

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      What a fantastic story. I read the whole thing. Your home is amazing.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @SgtCecil: It's just been in the past decade or two that this has grown in popularity. We happen to live in a county where the building codes are minimal, just the state-run plumbing and electric. People ARE doing this sort of thing where the building codes exist, but they do have to jump through more hoops.

    • SgtCecil profile image

      Cecil Kenmill 5 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      Earthbag. Awesome! I've never seen anything like this. Great lens, thorough and well-written.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Wow, fascinating. I love it when people take risks, and do something different.

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @LaurisB LM: They all tend to be unique!

    • LaurisB LM profile image

      LaurisB LM 5 years ago

      What a fascinating project! I would love to see one of these houses!

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      Awesome!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      Your earthbag house is so beautiful! Even without knowing what it's made of, it's such a cool, sweeping, artistic design... just amazing when you know it's made of bags of rock.

    • hartworks lm profile image
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      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @BarbaraCasey: Well... it did take three years! Thanks, the star surprised me!