Earthbags – The Cutting Edge of Technology in Green Home Building

A cutting edge green home building technique that is taking the eco-friendly construction industry by storm is that of using earth-bags, or sandbags as they are more commonly known, to build new environmentally friendly structures. Earth bags use the very dust of the earth to create an extremely durable structure that is in many ways better than brick construction. Earth-bags can be used to construct a green home in a manner of a few days using only barbed wire, dirt, and a few burlap or polypropylene bags as the main construction materials.

Dr. Nader Khalili, a pioneering architect who immigrated from Iran, started the earth-bag construction movement as an eco-friendly way to build earthquake resistant homes in California. He combined the knowledge of ancient architects from Iran with those of the native peoples of the Western United States and came up with a method that he referred to as Superadobe. This method uses earth filled bags to build the walls and major features of a building and with a dome structure eliminates the need for wooden roofing. He pioneered getting the process approved with building codes in the US by working hand-in-hand with the building code department of Hesperia, California. Once the code inspectors saw just how durable Dr. Khalili’s structures were and tested them against earthquakes and other natural disasters, they approved the process into California’s building code. This development led Dr. Khalili to open the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture, which still teaches his methods of earth-bag construction.

As earth-bag construction has begun to take the eco-friendly construction industry by storm, it has shown that it possesses many advantages that are not found in typical stick and siding or masonry construction. One major advantage that has been discovered is that the use of unhealthy substances that cause allergies and health problems is eliminated in earth-bag construction. Many modern buildings have used substances such as fiberglass that cause allergies in their insulation. Earth bag buildings do not need substances such as fiberglass for insulation because the earth within their walls provides better insulating properties than traditional insulation substances. Another major advantage that has shown much promise in the use of earth-bag construction is that the buildings built with earth bags are usually able to be finished in less than a month from the start of their construction. Most buildings take a matter of a year or more to be built using most modern construction techniques. Because of the speed of earth-bag construction, it has been approved by the United Nations for the building of disaster recovery shelters in areas devastated by natural disasters. Simply put, earth-bag construction is an eco-friendly method of building green homes that outshines traditional construction in many ways.

Some of the many ways that earth-bag construction outshines traditional construction can be seen in the cost and environmental impact differences between the two. To use traditional construction in home building in the United States, it normally costs $95 to $150 per square foot according the Wall Street Journal. According to Derek Markham of Green Lifestyle Magazine, the cost for building a home with earth-bags is much less in most cases. The environmental impacts of the two methods also vary greatly as well. Traditional construction methods require large amounts of lumber that strip forests, large amounts of rock that strip mountains, and a significant amount of man-made materials that are produced with industrial processes that are not eco-friendly. Earth bag construction requires only dirt, bags to place the dirt in, barbed wire to be placed between the bags to hold them in position, and the same hard labor that traditional construction requires. The environmental impact is much less with earth-bags because the major components are materials that are readily and easily made from materials that are regularly recycled. Overall, earth bag construction is the method that provides a green home at significantly lower costs and in more environmentally friendly ways than any other method presently in use for home construction.

With all of the cost and speed advantages offered by earth bag construction, it is easy to understand why environmentally minded architects and construction firms around the world are starting to use this method. It provides a way to build a green home in much quicker times than any other method and its environmental impact is much less than many other forms of building. As time passes and the eco-friendly construction industry continues to develop, the process of building with earth bags will eventually become one of the best ways to build a green home.

June Fletcher, “Calculating the Costs Of Building a Home,” Wall Street Journal

Dr. Owen Geiger, “Earthbag Advantages Over Other Earth Building Methods,” Earthbag Building

Derek Markham, “Earthbag Homes,” Green Lifestyle Magazine

Dr. Owen Geiger, “Health Benefits of Earthbag Building as Opposed to Traditional Construction,” Earthbag Building Blog

“About Cal-Earth,” California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture

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