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What is the Cost Per Square Foot of Different Earth Building Methods? An Overview of Natural, Eco-Friendly, Earthen Architecture Traditions.

Introduction

Mirror mirror on the wall, which is the cheapest earthen construction method of them all? You might ask yourself which style of earthen building is the cheapest, and that is a fair question, so let us simply begin by posing the following question, “Which earthen building style is the cheapest in terms of paying a contractor to make a building?” It is a fun thought exercise to do a cost analysis of different earthen building materials, and interestingly, adobe is the cheapest building material discussed here.

Providing an Overview of Different Materials

This post was not just written to provide information about the costs of different earthen building methods, it was also written to give you, the reader, a basic overview of a few different earthen building methods.

The Materials:  A Quick Reference of Costs per Square Foot

– 💰 The prices listed below reflect the cost of paying a contractor to build a completed home.

  • Adobe- $ 125

  • Conventional Construction Methods- $ 152

  • Earthbag- $ 160

  • Rammed Earth/ Compressed Earth Brick- $ 175

  • Cob – $ 250

The film furnished above is intended to provide a basic overview of different ancient earth building methods. Earth bag construction is a newer method of earth building and is not covered in this video. This article also does not discuss straw and clay slip construction.

Below is a link to an informational graphic that compares the construction costs per square foot of different styles of earthen building. (Wattle & Daub), plus (Light Clay & Straw) are NOT covered in the cost chart posted below.

Click here to view the: Earthen Housing Construction Costs Chart

Analysis of Building Costs and Materials  Overview:

 

Conventional:

Let’s begin with an analysis of conventional construction in order to establish a reference point for pricing.

 

What is Conventional Construction?

Most homes being build in America at this time are made from a wooden frame held together by nails. Most of the new homes in America at this time also have walls covered in a Portland cement mixture commonly called “Stucco”. Additionally, most of the conventional American houses built at this time are topped by roofs covered in asphalt shingles.

Image of Conventional Construction

The above image shows a conventional wood-framed home under construction. ( Image courtesy of 99acres.com)

 

Standard Housing Costs

Example of a New Home

The image above is a screen capture from an article posted on Thumbtack.com. The Thumbtack article where this information is posted appeared on May, 8 2019, and this writing was authored by Ricc Brindicci. Brindicci is an established building contractor.

Midrange+ House

Midrange Plus

 


The image above is furnished courtesy of Ricc Brindicci and Thumbtack.com.

High End House

The image above is also furnished courtesy of Ricc Brindicci and Thumbtack.com.

What is Adobe?

For those who are not familiar with this building method, adobe is a building style where bricks are created by adding water to a dry mixture consisting of approximately 70% sand and 30% clay. After this simple earthen brick-making mixture is made, the earthen brick-making material is pressed into wooden molds for shaping. After the wetted sand and clay mixture that constitutes adobe bricks is dry enough, the newly formed bricks are taken out of their shaping molds and allowed to dry in the air. Adobe bricks are often dried by laying them out on the ground to sit uncovered in direct sunlight. Adobe bricks are also frequently dried on racks that are exposed to the open sky, and it is not uncommon for adobe bricks to be dried under a roof of some type. The drying time for adobe bricks varies; however, the the general time needed for adobe bricks to fully dry is about 6 weeks.

Sometimes wet clay bricks are allowed to dry while remaining in their wooden shaping molds; however, adobe bricks that have dried to completion in their wooden shaping molds are generally an exception. Adobe bricks are often made from the clay-heavy subsoil of their building location; however, it is also not uncommon for builders to use adobe bricks that were made at a different location.  Additionally, using adobe bricks that are not made from the subsoil of their building location is a practice that dates back for many millennia. Since the beginning of civilization, people have been operating facilities dedicated to making adobe bricks that will be transported to construction sites.

Many adobe bricks contain vegetable fibers of some type that are added to give the bricks more strength, examples of vegetable fibers added to adobe bricks to increase the strength of the bricks include wheat straw or finely chopped palm fronds. Adobe bricks are also less frequently reinforced by adding some type of animal hair to the wet clay and sand mixture.

Adobe is considered to be about the oldest method of building construction found by archeologists. Individual adobe bricks have been excavated by archeologists in India and Northern Iraq that date back over 10,000 years. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, Incas, and the Indus Valley civilizations of antiquity all build with adobe bricks, as did the Romans.

Today,  building with adobe is popular in America, although mostly in the Southwest region; however, this style of building is also quite popular all over Latin America, the Middle East, Southern Europe, all of Africa, and the Indian Sub Continent. The building style of adobe was partially introduced to the Americas by the Spanish; however, many parts of Latin America, such as Peru, already had a strong Pre-Colombian tradition of building with mud bricks when the Spanish arrived.

Where are Adobe Buildings Most Common?

Making adobe bricks quickly and in a cost-effective manner requires the right environmental factors; namely, having prolonged periods of fairly hot and dry weather; however, many regions of our planet do not offer such conditions. Given the environment actors needed to efficiently produce adobe bricks and then to make buildings out of these bricks, it is no surprise that even to this day adobe building is still primarily confined to warm and dry places.

For example, the Romans used adobe bricks extensively in the southern parts of Europe, along the coast of North Africa, and all throughout their territories in the Middle East; however, the Romans were eventually forced to abandon the use of adobe in the northern reaches of their empire. When the Romans abandoned their efforts to continue  building with adobe in the northern provinces of their empire, they simply switched to building with kiln-fired bricks.

For the Romans, building with Kiln-fired bricks supplanted the use of mud bricks in the north of Europe because making kiln-fired bricks did not require long drying times in covered buildings. When the Romans wanted to dry mud bricks in the northern parts of their empire, they had to cover their bricks with a roof because exposure to summer rains would not only delay the drying process of the adobe bricks, but expose to rain could also lead to uneven drying that might create cracks and structural weaknesses within the bricks. Building with adobe also did not work very well in the northern provinces of the Roman empire because these places not only lacked the prolonged periods of warm and dry weather needed to dry mud bricks, but they additionally lacked the long stretches of warm and dry weather needed to dry the mud mortar that holds layer of adobe bricks together.

Adobe bricks also need warm drying conditions in terms of the weather because trying to rush the process and dry adobe bricks by setting them close to a fire is a sure way to apply uneven heat and produce lots of structurally weakening cracks within the bricks.  On the flip side, when adobe bricks have a drying time that is too slow, this state of affairs creates its own set of problems.

In addition to the need for long brick drying times under a roof, the limited window of time during a year when adobe buildings could be constructed in northern Europe made the process of building with unfired earthen bricks very slow in this part of the world. In the northern parts of Europe, the region’s relatively cool and wet summers created an environment where the construction of adobe buildings was often halted on account of  summer rains and the prevalence of relatively cool summer temperatures meant that mud mortar often dried very slowly.

Not only did wet adobe bricks have to be slowly dried under a roof in the northern reaches of the Roman empire, any place with cold snowy winters assured that there would be several months out of the year when adobe bricks could not be made or dried due to freezing temperatures. If  winter temperatures remain below freezing for several consecutive months in a given place, then producing any adobe bricks outside of a continuously heated building will not be possible for a decent portion of the year.

For example, it is not really possible to lay mud bricks out to dry during the winter months in Finland unless someone is willing to pay the fuel costs needed to keep a building filled with drying wracks for thousands of adobe bricks continuously heated above the freezing point. In light of Northern Europe having so many months of the year with unfavorable adobe making conditions, paying the cost needed to keep adobe bricks drying in a continuously heated building during the winter months totally destroys any cost advantage  offered by mud bricks in the first place.  Adobe bricks can potentially be dried in a somewhat cost effective manner in Northern Europe, but only under a roof, and only during the limited time frame offered during a few short summer months.

Another problem associated with trying to make adobe bricks during a freeing winter arises if newly made and still-wet adobe bricks freeze solid because the water inside wet adobe bricks will expand when it turns to ice. Water freezing and expanding inside wet adobe bricks is a problem because it creates stress fractures within the bricks, and the presence of freezing-related stress fractures is a problem because it results in structurally weak bricks that are unsafe to use for building.

An example of a northern territory of the Roman empire that got very cold winters is the old territory in what is today called the Alps mountains. Due to its high altitude and relatively high latitude, the Alpine region of Europe gets cold winters that offer several months that are marked by continuous temperatures below the freezing point; needless to say, making mud bricks was not happening for several month out of the year in the Roman province of Helvetica. The old Roman provide of Helvetica is now referred to as Switzerland.

Some places do exist that have very cold and snowy winters, yet they also have a long tradition of building with adobe bricks. Examples of places with freezing winters that still have a solid tradition of building with adobe bricks include the arid northwestern region of China, and the mountains of Afghanistan; however, unlike most of Northern Europe, the northwestern regions of China and the mountains of Central Asia have summers that are hot and dry to an extreme degree.

Due to having a more southerly latitude than most of Europe, the high-altitude and landlocked regions of Central Asia and Western China also enjoy longer summers than Europe, and these longer summers offer larger windows of time that are suitable for drying adobe bricks and constructing buildings from mud bricks. The cold winters of Central Asia and Western China exist at their relatively low latitudes primarily because very landlocked areas lack any nearby ocean to moderate temperature swings, and high elevation areas can still experience cold winters despite being rather close to the equator. The extremely hot and dry summer months of Western China and Central Asia are also conducive to building with adobe because having reliable days of hot and dry weather allows for mud mortar joints to dry quickly.

 

Mud Houses In Khandahar

The image above shows mud brick houses on a hillside in the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Despite having a relative southerly latitude, much of Afghanistan still gets cold winters by virtue of being landlocked and having a high elevation. Not surprisingly, mud brick building is popular in Afghanistan because this region has long, hot, and dry summers. ( Image courtesy of wikipedia.org)

 

Adobe bricks are still made in wet rainy places to this day; however, the wet rainy places where adobe bricks are commonly used generally do not receive protracted periods of freezing weather. Wet adobe bricks need to be air dried under a roof in a rainy place, and the covered air-drying process necessary to make usable adobe bricks in a rainy and humid climate can take up to 4-months, so building from adobe is still possible in very wet and damp places, but it takes a bit of patience. Adobe construction is still very common in the wet and rainy mountains of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Central America, partially because freezing temperatures never arrive in these places.

Adobe buildings are also not very common in places with cold winters because adobe walls generally lack the insulative value desired when temperatures really plummet.  On account of wood’s insulate value and desirable appearance, any place where wood is plentiful will see a greatly reduced demand for earthen buildings in general.

Why is Adobe so Cheap?

Because of adobe’s low material cost and potentially modest labor requirements, this building technique is also an appealing option for those who are looking to build their own homes on a budget. Adobe bricks are arguably the most inexpensive and the most ecologically-friendly building material of them all, provided that they are made locally in a region with the right climate for drying the bricks and their mud-based mortar joints. One reason that adobe bricks are so cheap is because they require so little energy and labor to produce. Because adobe bricks are not fired in a kiln, the amount of energy required to make one adobe brick is 30 times less than the energy required to produce one kiln-baked conventional brick.

Building with adobe is also so cheap because adobe bricks are held together by a cement or “mud” made of the same material as the bricks.  The adobe cement that holds the bricks together consists of 70% sand and 30% clay mixed with some type of straw, some other type plant-sourced fiber like rice husks, or some type of animal hair. The cement used to hold adobe bricks together is so inexpensive because unlike lime mortar or Portland cement-based mortars, making the adhesive that holds adobe together does not require any high-energy heating process.

The heating processes required to make Portland cement and lime mixtures is very energy intensive, and although it is possible to make Portland cement and lime by using solar energy, the reality of standard mortar manufacturing is that vast quantities of coal, oil, and natural gas are burned in order to manufacture conventional types of mortar. Estimates place around 6% of all the world’s carbon dioxide emissions to be a byproduct of manufacturing Portland cement, so a lot of energy goes into making cement. Think of the mortar used to make adobe structures as just being the same material as the bricks, only more watered down.

Adobe construction is also quite cheap because it only requires a modest amount of labor to construct, and the labor involved in building an adobe home from smaller bricks is not excessively demanding. Building an adobe home involves stacking bricks; however, the size of the bricks used can vary, and smaller brick sizes are intentionally designed to put less strain on the body.  A smaller adobe brick only weighs around 10 pounds, so the world of laying small adobe bricks does not necessarily involve a whole lot of heavy lifting.

By contrast, building with conventional construction techniques involves a lot of sawing, nailing, and carrying heavy pieces of wood, so this type of work is quite physically demanding. Estimates provided by affordableadobe.com say that the walls of a 2,000 square foot adobe home can be built in a month’s time with a crew of three people working regular 9-5 hours; however, the typical time for a start-to-finish build for an adobe home is around 4 months.

According to the website adobebuilder.com, a lone owner-builder working part-time who pays for a little bit of help from a contractor can expect to completely finish an adobe home in about a year. The adobebuilder.com website estimates that the self-builder of an adobe house can expect to pay around 50 dollars per square foot; however, the costs presented in this posting are primarily based on paying a contractor.

Many family-owned adobe construction businesses in the American Southwest are able to offer affordable prices because they base their costs and time estimates around working at a steady and manageable pace and only using modest-sized bricks that limit physical strain. Basically, there are three ways to do a job: good, fast, and cheap– and a client can pick any two. If a contractor offers a low cost for an adobe construction job, then something is being compromised. For many low-cost adobe builders, the trade off for their low construction costs comes at the drawback of offering longer build times.

The sizes of adobe bricks vary, and some smaller brick sizes are recommended for amateur home builders who are not on very strict time schedules. By contrast, some larger bricks sizes are used almost exclusively by commercial adobe contractors who are interested in completing as many jobs as they can, as quickly as possible, and for highest price the marek will provide. Using larger adobe bricks may speed-up the construction process,; however, using large bricks puts a lot more physical more strain on the people doing the building.

Adobe:

Cost Per Square Foot to Pay a Contractor – $125

Photos and Videos About Adobe:

Adobe Buildings Can Take Many Forms!

The above Youtube.com video link shows a group of people affiliated with the Architecture for Humanity Institute in Tehran, Iran building an adobe brick dome home for Afghan refugees.

Adobe Under Construction:

workawayblog.com

The image above was taken by an American backpacker traveling in Morocco. The image above shows a traditional adobe brick making operation at an oasis in the desert. The adobe brick making operation above involves digging up the clay saturated subsoil of the  area, getting it wet, then pressing it into wooden molds. ( Above image courtesy of workawayblog.com)

Making Adobe Bricks

The above image shows adobe bricks being made by people building their own home in New Mexico. ( Image courtesy of shutterstock.com)

Adobe drying in the sun

The above image shows adobe bricks drying in the sun in Guatemala. ( Image courtesy of livingearthstructures.com)

Living Earth Structures

The image above shows adobe bricks drying in the sun in Guatemala. ( Image courtesy of livingearthstructures.com)

Little-flower india.org

The image above shows a new adobe house under construction in near Calcutta, India. ( Image courtesy of littleflower-india.org)

adobe house greece 1

The image above shows the interior of an adobe home under construction in Northern Greece. ( Photo furnished courtesy of adobehousegreece.wordpress.com)

adobe house greece 2

The image above shows an interior corner of an adobe home under construction in Greece. ( Photo also furnished courtesy of adobehousegreece.wordpress.com)

greek adobe #3

The above photo is another example of an adobe wall under construction in Greece. ( This photo is also sourced from adobehousegreece.wordpress.com)

Adobe House Greece

The photo above shows the exterior of the same Greek adobe house seen in previous photos as it nears completion. ( This photo is also sourced from adobehousegreece.wordpress.com)

new photos 141

The above photograph was taken by the author in 2014 in the town of Pisac. Pisac is located in Peru’s Sacred Valley region. This photograph depicts an unfinished adobe home.

new photos 142

The above photograph depicts the same unfinished adobe home in Pisac, Peru that was posted in the image above, this image just shows the same home from a slightly different angle.

Weathered beehive house in Syria

The image above shows how adobe bricks can be stacked one layer at a time and made into a fairly solid earth-brick dome.  Buildings like the one pictured above are commonly referred to as “Beehive Houses” by locals in northern Syria. (Image featured on Pinterest.com)

Otherworldly Adobe of Africa, the Middle East, and Pakistan:

The desert regions of Africa, and the Middle East both have a long and fascinating history of building with adobe bricks.  The prevalence of adobe architecture in the desert regions of Africa and the entire Middle East has been in place for so long because a virtue was made out of a necessity. Adobe architecture in Africa and the Middle East has ancient roots and is still very prevalent to this day partially because deserts have a pronounced scarcity of good building-quality wood.

Earthen buildings are also a good choice in desert regions because mud brick buildings are very good at keeping their interiors cool during the heat of the day, and they are also very good at storing warmth that will be slowly released when the chilly desert nights arrive. Adobe building is also popular in desert regions because these climatic zones offer great conditions for drying adobe bricks and building adobe structures for most of the year. Many desert regions have rainy seasons; however, in these places, most of the year is still quite conducive to making adobe bricks and then using them to construct buildings.

the great mosque

The above photo shows the Djenna Mosque in the African nation of Mali. The Djenna Mosque is one of the most iconic, and also one of the largest, mud brick buildings on the planet. ( image courtesy of Wikipedia.org)

mali village mosque

The above photo depicts an adobe village mosque in Mali. Adobe is an ancient and cross-cultural method of constructing buildings, especially in this part of Africa. ( Photo courtesy of Ferdinand Reus’ Flickr account.)

African Science Fiction Building

The above photograph shows a row of brightly painted adobe townhouses in Zaria, Nigeria. The adobe townhouses pictured above were built rather recently and their design features borrow heavily from the adobe buildings of the American Southwest. ( Image courtesy of britnica.com)

Ben's Casa

The image above shows the character Obi Won (Ben) Kenobi’s house on the planet Tatooine as seen in the original 1976 Star Wars movie. Obi Wan Kenobi’s house in the first Star Wars movie was in fact a traditional mud-brick house in Tunisia.  The adobe home used as Ben Kenobi’s house in the first Star Wars movie has been maintained by the local people in that part of Tunisia and this old house still serves as a tourist attraction that is often visited by true enthusiasts of the Star Wars movies. (Image courtesy of obsidianarchitecture.com)

Beehive Homes of Syria

In the Middle East, Africa, and India there is a long-standing tradition of making domed houses from locally sourced adobe bricks. The image above shows traditional mud brick dome homes from the north of Syria. ( Image courtesy of Inhabitant.com, article by James Gordon)

Luke Skywalker lives in a cob house

Adobe dome buildings may have an otherworldly appearance to many people; however, the traditional adobe beehive domes featured in the planet Tatooine scenes in the original 1976 Star Wars movie were real traditional adobe buildings in Tunisia that are common in that region and have stood for centuries. ( Image courtesy of starwars.com)

Star Wars .com

The image above is a map of Tunisia with icons marking all of the filming locations for scenes taking place on the planet Tatooine. The traditional adobe architecture of Tunisia made for a great setting for a franchise of science fiction opera films. ( Image courtesy of starwars.com)

Adobe of India and Southeast Asia:

The parts of India that are not outright desert lands also have a very old tradition of building with adobe; however, the adobe building traditions of India and Southeast Asia differ from that of desert regions because most parts of India receive more rainfall than the deserts of the Middle East, so they have better access to wood and thatching grass.

To this day, adobe houses are still relatively common in places with a decent amount of rainfall, provided that there are stretches of warm and dry weather that will be conducive to drying adobe bricks and building with mud mortar. Most of the Indian subcontinent has a portion of the year that is very wet; however, most of the Indian subcontinent also has long stretches of the year that are very hot and dry, so even outside of the desert parts of India, building with adobe is possible for a decent portion of the year.

Contrary to what many people might image, building homes from mud bricks is still a viable and sensible thing to do in very rainy places, as evidenced by visiting many rainy parts of Latin America; however, in India, and everywhere else, the prevalence of adobe houses tends to decline in proportion to the availability of good building-quality wood.

In summary, because of India’s seasonal hot and dry weather, is is no surprise that adobe building enjoy some degree of popularity in this part of the world. However, because most parts of India receive more rainfall than an outright desert, adobe will be a bit less popular than it would be in outright desert regions, and this is the case because builders in most parts of India have better access to wood. Lastly, aside from issues concerning the popularity of adobe homes in the non-desert parts of India, the adobe buildings made in most parts of India are understandably going to be a bit different than those of the Middle East. The main difference between Middle Eastern adobe buildings and Indian adobe buildings is the fact that the adobe houses made in India tend to incorporate more wood into their construction and they tend to have thatched roofs as opposed to tile roofs. .

Adobe of India

The above image shows a village in northern India with houses made from adobe bricks with thatched roofs. ( Image courtesy of complexmania.com)

thestar.com

The image above shows a traditional adobe home in rural Dholera, India. ( Image courtesy of thestar.com)

Sri Lanka Adobe

The image above shows a traditional adobe home in Sri Lanka. The home pictured above is largely traditional with the exception of having electric wiring added along with a cement porch. ( Image courtesy of bestofflanka.com)

Urban Hut.com

The above image shows a traditional adobe home in Kerala, India. Kerala is a southern province of India and this part of the subcontinent has a fairly rainy climate on a seasonal basis, so adobe housing in India is not limited to just dry desert regions. (Image courtesy of urbanhut.com)

Adobe of China

Early archeological evidence shows that mud brick building techniques have been known in China for around 10,000 years; however, China has never had a strong tradition of building with unfired earthen bricks. For the last 5,000 years, almost all of the buildings made in China have been constructed of wood, fired bricks, or stones that were cemented together with various types of lime mortar. Adobe architecture has never been popular outside of  certain western desert regions of China because most parts of China have traditionally had decent stocks of good quality lumber and decent access to building stones. The reliable availably of good building-quality wood in most parts of China has also meant that the fuel needed to kiln-fire standard clay bricks has also been readily available. Lastly, most pars of China are either a bit too cold, or a bit too wet to facilitate efficient adobe building.

Another factor that has restricted the use of mud bricks as a building material in China has been the prevalence of earthquakes in this part of the world. Traditional Chinese wooden architecture lacks nails and even glue because practically every wooden building ever built in China has been constructed with earthquakes in mind, and for this reason, the joints in traditional Chinese buildings are designed to move and flex in the event of an earthquake.

Throughout the long history of this part of the world, whenever the Chinese did build with earthen materials they favored making rammed earthen walls. Despite lacking much of a tradition for building with mud bricks, most traditional Chinese houses have still employed some earthen building methods because they typically had foundations made from giant pounded slabs of rammed earth.

The rammed earth foundations of traditional Chinese houses have also typically had the main supporting vertical wooden timbers that prop-up the roofs and walls of the houses imbedded into their rammed earth foundations. When a traditional Chinese rammed earth house foundation was under construction, the unfinished ingredients of the foundation were pounded into one solid mass of sedimentary rock with the vertical supports aligned in their intended final resting places. The process of making a traditional Chinese home foundation began by setting up a wooden mold, then placing the vertical wooden supports in their places, and the final step involved filling the mold with loose sand and clay that was then compressed into one solid piece of sedimentary stone with the vertical supports sticking out.

Traditional Chinese houses, and even imperial palaces, may have been primarily made from wood with a rammed earth foundation; however, most common houses, and even palaces, typically had a high and thick rammed earth wall surrounding them to provide security and privacy.  Over the millennia, a typical Chinese house also had a ceramic tiled roof, an inner courtyard, and a rammed earth wall surrounding the house that usually had its own ceramic-tiled roof.

The roofs of houses and security walls that were covered with glazed ceramic tiles were expensive to buy and install; however, once they were finished, they lasted for centuries. Properly made tile roofs were also considered to be great works of art. In traditional Chinese culture, any building that did not have a proper roof made from fired ceramic tile was seen as a pretty shabby place.

The Chinese Social Stigma Associated with Mud Bricks Buildings

For over 5,000 years, the Chinese have made use of mud bricks buildings; however, outside of the desert regions of western China where wood was quite scarce and the climate was dry, adobe bricks have been primarily used to make chicken coups, pig stys, warehouse buildings, agricultural storage sheds, and rough public toilets. For millennia, the Chinese have believed that respectable housing was only made from wood, stones held together with lime mortar, or kiln-fired bricks that were preferably covered with a layer of ornate and colorful glazed ceramic tiles. In traditional Chinese culture, living in a home made from something other than the materials previously mentioned was seen as lowly. For a very long time, the Chinese have believed that living in a home made from mud bricks was a mark of severe poverty and a situation associated with shame and dishonor.

Unlike in China, in other parts of the world no comparable stigma has traditionally existed against building homes and other buildings from natural earthen materials. In the Middle East and India, there has traditionally been no stigma against living in a mud brick home, and even the most wealthy and prominent citizens of the desert regions of the Middle East have traditionally lived in large and luxurious mud brick homes. The Romans also made lavish Mediterranean villas from adobe bricks, so the Romans also had no stigma against using mud bricks to build, and well after the official collapse of the Roman Empire, the Spanish perpetuated the old Roman traditions by making copies of elegant Roman mud-brick villas in Latin America. Today, living in an adobe home is not exactly a status symbol for Americans, but it certainly does not carry any social stigma either.

Prosperity Inc.

The image shown above depicts traditional Chinese mud brick houses. In traditional Chinese culture, the dwellings pictured above definitely do not conjure images of wealth and prosperity due to having both mud brick walls and a wooden roof. ( Image courtesy of travelblog.com)

Severe Poverty In China

The image above is a screen capture from a YouTube video documenting the continuing and severe poverty in rural China. This image may reflect present-day realities in China; however, the tendency to associate mud brick buildings with severe poverty and places of unpleasant necessity dates back for thousands of years in this part of the world, and this negative e perception of adobe buildings still persists to this day. ( Image courtesy of Zhimali account on YouTube.com)

Rough public toilet

The image above shows a traditional mud brick public toilet in China. Although these old-style adobe public toilets are being replaced in modern China, ancient-styled public latrines like the one pictured above are still found in the countryside. Photos showing the inside of this building are purposely omitted; let it be said the interior accommodations of mud brick public toilets in China do not look very good. ( Image courtesy of news.cgtn.com)

Pigsty in China

The image above is a screen capture from a video documenting severe rural poverty in the Sichuan province of central China. The image above shows a mud brick shelter for pigs in a rural area in the Sichuan province. The Chinese have a long tradition of building unpleasant and utilitarian structures like pig stys and public bathrooms from mud bricks, and this partially explains the traditional Chinese disdain for mud brick architecture. ( Image courtesy of Zhimali account on YouTube.com)

Adobe of the American Southwest :

The American Southwestern style of adobe architecture is based on the Native American Taos Pueblo. The Native Americans of this region had a well-established and proven system of adobe architecture that pre-dated the arrival of the Spanish by several millennia. Adobe architecture was adopted by the Native Americans of this region for the same reasons that adobe became the prevalent architecture of the desert regions of Africa and the Middle East. The Southwest style of adobe architecture is characterized by square shapes, along with having generally flat yet gently sloping roofs made from wooden beams covered in several layers of clay. Interestingly, in more modern times, this style of adobe construction has migrated to other parts of the world, such as Africa.

Taos Pueblo

The image above shows a traveler standing in front of the famous Taos Pueblo. The Taos Pueblo is a community of adobe houses that was build by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago and is still inhabited to this day. The Taos Pueblo has been classified as an official UNESCO World Heritage site for many years now, and places like the one pictured above are the foundation of the Southwestern style of adobe architecture. ( Image courtesy of runawayjuno.com)

Taos Pueblo II

The image above is another photograph of the 1,000 year old Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.   ( Image courtesy of runawayjuno.com)

Native American Pueblo

This image shows an adobe house in the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico that has been continuously inhabited since around 1150 A.D. Obviously, this building is in need of a bit of repair and maintenance; however, this photo has been included to provide a sense of how the American Southwestern style of adobe with its square building shapes and jutting roof rafters originated.  ( Image courtesy of runawayjuno.com)

houzz

The above image of an adobe home sourced from houzz.com

Unknown

The above image of an adobe home in New Mexico is furnished courtesy of Adobe Stock Images.

cool santa fe home

The above photo depicts a high-end real estate listing for an adobe building in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of santafelistings.com)

adobe wall

The above photo depicts another well-maintained adobe building in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of probuilder.com)

Ordinairy adobe home

The above image shows a typical home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Notice the native American design influences present in this type of adobe architecture. The modern Southwest style of adobe buildings combines Native American influences from the American Southwest such as square roof parapets and imported Spanish influences such as terra-cotta roof tiles and long overhanging roof eves.  ( Image courtesy of  zafraphoto.com)

Taos House

The adobe houses of the American Southwest have a square appearance that is derived from the traditional adobe dwellings of the Native Americans who have lived in this regions for unknown millennia. The photo above depicts a typical adobe home on the outskirts of the township of Taos, New Mexico. (Images courtesy of Q.T. Leong’s account on terragaleria.com)

Adobe of Peru and Latin America:

The Spanish clearly did not introduce the practice of building with mud bricks in many parts of the Americas, but the Spanish certainly did introduce their own stylistic version of this building method to places where a tradition of mud brick building was already present. After the arrival of the Spanish, Adobe has remained a staple of the cultures of Mexico, Central America, and all of South America.

Latin American traditions of building with adobe bricks have remained in use since before the arrival of the Spanish partially for practical reasons, but the tradition of building with mud bricks has also endured for cultural reasons. For example, in America, adobe is still the signature building method in the states of Arizona and New Mexico, and many wealthy residents of these American states that share a border Mexico still build with adobe, and people all over Latin America continue to have custom homes built with adobe for cultural reasons as much as for practical reasons.

Peru’s adobe building tradition predates the arrival of the Spanish and continues to thrive up to the present. Adobe is a popular building choice in Peru due to its low cost and its cooling effects in hot weather. The people of Peru still construct many buildings from adobe because Peru is a fairy dry place with scarce rains in the areas on the west side of the Andes Mountains, and for this reason, wood is somewhat scarce and of poor quality for building in many parts of Peru.

In dry desert regions of Latin America, adobe architecture is popular for the same reasons it is popular in the Middle East and the American Southwest; however, in regions of Latin America where wood is more readily available adobe architecture is less common. Some of the regions of Latin America that have solid and plentiful supplies of wood include places such as the high altitude parts of the Amazon Jungle Basin and the south of Chile. Due to cultural and historical influences, many pats of Latin America still maintain long-standing traditions of building with adobe, despite having relatively plentiful local supplies of wood and a fairly wet climate. Some of the regions of Latin America where building with adobe is still common despite having a wet climate include the mountains of Colombia and Mexico along with the dense rainforest regions of Central America.

Adobe architecture still remains popular in many parts of Latin America that have abundant local wood supplies and rain because building with adobe is still much cheaper than building with wood for a host of reasons, and the Spanish established a strong cultural tradition of building with adobe bricks that has endured up until the present.

Early Roman Adobe

The illustration above is a copy of a Spanish colonial era illustration showing the Roman influenced Spanish buildings in what is today Colombia. ( Image courtesy of gettyimages.com)

Common Spanish Adobe House

The Spanish simply built Roman-styled adobe buildings after arriving in the Americas.  An imported Roman style of Spanish adobe buildings may have begun with churches and colonial villas for wealthy Spaniards; however, Roman architectural influences eventually became adopted by the general population, as seen from the image above. ( Image courtesy of jimclinephototours.com)

Adobe City Street

The Latin American practice of building adobe row houses in towns and cities actually dates back to Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, and the Roman era. Today, urban areas in Latin America from Mexico to Chile have countless streets filled with low-rise adobe townhouses that use the old Roman-styled sloping roofs with terra-cotta tiles.  The city street pictured above is located in Guatemala City, Guatemala. ( Image courtesy of gettyimages.com)

Colorful Row Houses

Not all adobe row houses in Latin America are inhabited by the urban poor. Many neighborhoods across Latin America offer large and well-built townhouses made from adobe, and these nicer urban adobe homes are often painted in bright colors. In many cities across Latin America, the historical adobe townhouses in the city center serve as an attraction for visitors. ( Image courtesy of atlasobscura.com)

wealthy townhouses

Some adobe townhouses are built in very wealthy districts of Latin American cities, such as these elegant adobe townhouses pictured above that are located in the city center of La Paz, Bolivia. ( Image courtesy of us.fotolia.com)

San Migue Allende

The above image shows classical Spanish colonial era adobe town houses in the city center of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  This image was posted to show that classic adobe townhouses are often found in the most expensive and wealthy neighborhoods across Latin America. ( Image courtesy of msm.com)

Tico Times

The photo above shows an Spanish colonial home in the central valley region of Costa Rica that was built in 1765. This Spanish colonial adobe house was built in a very wet rainforest region of Central America that receives continuous rainfall all year and has abundant stands of wood suitable for home building. Despite having other options for building materials, the Spanish chose to build their estates in wet tropical areas from simple mud bricks. The Spanish chose to build their colonial homes from mud bricks largely for cultural reasons; however, just having these old colonial homes made long ago in very wet places demonstrates that building with adobe does not need to be limited to desert regions. ( Image courtesy of ticotimes.com)

Spanish Bombs

The photo above shows a classical Spanish colonial home in the wet and rainy highlands of Colombia. This photo is included to show that adobe can be a viable construction material even in the most rainy and perpetually wet places. Notice how the structure of this old adobe house is kept well-protected from the nearly constant rainfall of this region by having a solid ceramic-tiled hip roof and very deep eaves to keep the walls of the home dry.  ( Image courtesy of steppstravel.com)

Tango Tours

The image above shows another classical Spanish house located in a truly rainy place in the highlands of Colombia. Like other adobe buildings in very rainy spots, this building has extremely deep eves designed to keep the rainfall well away from the adobe walls. ( Image courtesy of tangotours.com)

New photos 133

The photo above was taken by the author. The photo above shows a new adobe home in the town of Pisac. Pisac is a town in Peru’s Sacred Valley Region which is situated high-up in the Andes Mountains. The adobe homes of this area in Peru are built with old Roman influences combined with pre-Columbian local artistic touches.

new photos 127

The above photo shows an adobe hostel located in Peru’s Sacred Valley region in the town of Pisac. This photo was taken by the author in 2014.

Adobe of Southern Europe:

Adobe buildings are still quite common in Southern Europe, but practically nonexistent in Northern Europe.  Southern Europe has a long tradition of building with adobe, at least in part due to its old Roman roots, plus the cultural influences brought about from Southern Europe’s relatively close proximity to Africa and the Middle East have also contributed to this region’s love for adobe buildings. Aside from cultural influences, adobe buildings have also been constructed in Southern Europe since the Roman era due to this part to the world having a relatively warm climate and also having less available wood than the northern parts of Europe.

The continental parts of northern Europe, such as Germany,  have no real tradition of building anything other than military barrier walls from adobe because cold winters mandate houses with good insulation, and, as mentioned earlier, the climate in Northern Europe is not favorable to the process of building with adobe. As mentioned previously, the climate in Northern Europe is not very favorable to earthen construction because the summers are generally not very long, not very hot, and often quite rainy, plus the winters of northern continental Europe are typically quite long and freezing cold.

santorini greece

The above photo shows the nation of Greece’s long-standing love affair with adobe architecture. ( Photo courtesy of Zenfolio on Pinterest.com)

Santorini

Adobe buildings grace a hillside on the Greek island of Santorini. ( Photo courtesy of nomadicmatt.com)

Malaga Country House

The image above shows a classical rural home near the township of Malaga, in the south of Spain. ( Image courtesy of kayero.com)

Nerja Spain

The Spanish coastal village of Nerja is a showcase of classical Iberian adobe townhouses. The classical adobe townhouses that line streets, combined with a mild climate and a nearby beach make Nerja a very popular tourist destination along Spain’s southern coast. ( Image courtesy of apairandasparediy.com)

Traditional Portugese Adobe Home

The photo above shows a traditional adobe home in rural Portugal. Portugal has a long history of building with adobe for cultural and climatic reasons. ( Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal Magazine wsj.com )

Romanian Fairy Tale House

This adobe home looks like something right out of a fairy tale, but it is a very real adobe home in Romania that is over 200 years old. As one travels further north through the Balkan Peninsula, adobe buildings grow more scarce by the mile; the northern parts of Romania and the south of Hungary is pretty much the place where earthen buildings disappear in continental Europe. ( Image courtesy of pinterest.com)

Adobe Interiors:

adobe interior

The above photo showing the interior of a nice adobe home furnished courtesy of treefeathers.com

colorful adobe interior

Thick walls and open roof beams and floor supports are a common feature of Spanish Style adobe homes and buildings. The above photo shows a colorful interior of a home in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Millie’s account on Pinterest.com.)

Small HOuse Bliss

The above image shows a cozy adobe interior in New Mexico. ( Image courtesy of smallhoubebliss.com)

The above film clip from the original Star Wars movie shows the interior of a traditional North African adobe home in Tunisia. The buildings featured in the Tatooine scenes in all of the Star Wars movie franchises are all real earthen buildings in Tunisia. Since the releases of the different Star Wars movies, the nation of Tunisia has maintained a small tourism industry catering solely to Star Wars fans who want to see as many Tatooine filming locations as possible.

What is Earth Bag?

Bags of dirt have been used to form hastily-built flood walls for untold millennia; however, wars were the place where this style of building saw new uses. Earth bag construction is a method of building that began in earnest during the American Civil War. The American Civil War was the first industrial war where long-ranged and accurate rifles were produced on an industrial scale and issued to soldiers by the million. The American Civil War saw new weapons technologies being applied, and for this reason, this conflict was the first case where protracted trench warfare was experienced. During this conflict, both sides built fortifications from bags of earth because these structures could be constructed quickly from readily-available materials, and these hastily built emergency fortifications provided excellent protection against bullets and explosions.

In the American Civil War, earth bags were not only used to form the walls of trenches, they were also used to form protective emplacements for canons, and these carefully-stacked bags of dirt also served as the building blocks used to make fortified strong points along ridge tops. Earth Bags were also the material used to create the exposed barricades that stood-up along the tops of trench sections. Pill boxes and nests for the old rotating gatling machine guns of that era were also created from sand bags, and these old sandbag fortifications offered the defenders dedicated firing slits that allowed them to shoot at advancing infantry and horse-mounted cavalry from positions that were well protected. Aside from providing protection from incoming rifle bullets and cannon ordinance, bags of earth were used to line the walls of trenches so that they did not collapse during wet weather or suffer severe degradation from soldiers endlessly climbing in or out.

The soldiers fighting in the American Civil War discovered that these hastily-built earth bag fortifications were more structurally sound if strands of barbed wire were placed between layers of dirt-filled bags; and for this reason, sections of barbed wire are still placed between the layers of earthen bags when any worthwhile structure is built using this technique. Earthen bag fortifications saw plenty of use in subsequent wars such as World War 1; however, an ethnic Persian architect from Iran who emigrated to the United States in the 1960’s named Nader Khalili (1936-2008) saw the potential for using this old and obscure building method for peaceful purposes within in the civilian sector.

New Kid On the Block

Of all the common styles of earthen building, earth bag is the newest, so this building method has no established tradition anywhere in the world. Until Nader Khalili developed his ideas, earthbag constrution was unknown outside of trench warfare and emergency flood barriers.

Some people credit a German university professor named Gernot Minke as being the father of modern earth bag construction. Minke first proposed building houses from bags filled with pumice; however, others believe that modern earth bag construction got its start back in 1984 when Khalili was invited to attend a NASA conference where architects and engineers were asked to brainstorm ways to build shelters on the moon. At this conference dedicated to building shelters on the moon, Khalili devised the idea of using earthen bags to construct shelters from the moon’s soil and a few sturdy bags brought from Earth.

After the 1984 NASA Moon Base Conference, Khalili began to experiment with different top soil and earth-filled bag building methods here on Earth, and in 1991 he founded the CalEarth Institute in Hesperia, California. After founding the CalEarth institute, Khalili remained a devoted believer in the game-changing possibilities offered by earth bag construction for the rest of his days, and Khalili tirelessly promoted the earth bag building technique until his death in 2008.

Today, with the help of the Cal Earth Institute, earth bag construction has emerged as a popular style of building for those interested in constructing their own homes for a low price. Thanks to the work of Khalili, building with earth bags is now based on the idea of carefully stacking bags of earth on top of one another with sections of barbed wire between the layers of dirt-filled bags.

Why is Earth Bag So Expensive?

At this time, earth bag construction is most commonly done by owner-builders, and do-it-yourself homesteaders. Earth bag construction has also begun to see some institutional interest; however, this institutional interest is still primarily limited to charities and non-governmental organizations that operate in very poor places. The only construction firm that will actually build an earth bag home for anyone as a building contractor is the CalEarth Institute in Hesperia, California.

The cost of an earth bag home is listed on CalEarth’s website as being $160 per square foot, and it still remains to be seen if building contractors other than the CalEarth Institute will eventually embrace this type of building. There is a good chance that as earth bag construction practices becomes better-know amongst the general population a core of contractors will arise who cater to this new demand. A new generation of earth bag-friendly contractors will likely begin their new lines of business by offering to build their clients earth bag additions to existing homes. If the market for earth bag home additions sees growth, it is likely that more contractors will start to offer complete custom-made homes built from earth bag building methods.

In the future, it seems likely that at least a few home-building general contractors will be able to carve-out a place in the business of earth bag construction because not everyone is interested or inclined to build their homes themselves, especially when building a home from earth bags will involve hard physical labor stretched-out over a period of several month, or even several years.

It seems likely that the earth bag building technique will remain very popular with those who want to build their own homes; however, building contractors are likely to still cultivate a business niche in the coming years because many people would rather just pay someone else to build their earth bag home quickly and be done with the process. The reason that the cost of an earth bag dwelling is listed as being a bit higher than that of a conventionally built home is because the process of building with earth bags is a bit slower and more labor intensive than building with conventional timber-framed walls.

Earth Bag:

Cost Per Square Foot to Pay a Contractor – $160

Photos and Videos About Earthbag:

Earth Bag Under Construction:

Earthbag tools

The image above shows the basic tools needed for building walls from earth bags. ( Image courtesy of goodearthglobal.org)

Super Adobe roll

The image above shows rolls of super adobe tubing. Super adobe tubes are long tubes of polypropylene fabric designed to hold compacted earth within and to form the layers of an earth bag building. Polypropylene is a popular choice for making earth bags due to its low cost and resistance to rotting. Layers of barbed wire are placed between the compacted super adobe bags to prevent shifting as an earth bag structure is built. ( Image courtesy of calearth.org)

Fill it and Pack it

The above image shows how super adobe bags are filled with topsoil from the construction site and them packed into place. ( Image courtesy of La Casa Vergara’s account on Pinterest.com)

Lay the barbed wire

The image above shows how barbed wire is places between courses of bags during the construction process in order to lend the final earth bag structure increased stability and strength once the building process is complete. ( Image courtesy of eco-logis.org)

Earthbag with barbed wire

The above image shows layers of long tubular earth bags being placed and set to form an earth bag dome. ( Image courtesy of Holly Barstow on Pinterest.com)

mango earthbag home

The above image shows an earth bag home under construction, note the layers of compacted super adobe tubing that form the walls of the building under construction in this photo. ( Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com)

Earthbag Barel Arch

The above image shows a small barrel-vault roof being made from long polypropylene super adobe tubes. ( Image courtesy of endeavourcentre.org)

Earthbag ArchThe above image shows a smaller arch that the one in the photo above that has been made from smaller earth bags. ( Image courtesy of lilyannfouts.com)

Building the Dome 1

This photo posted above shows builders filling long continuous tubes of poly fabric with topsoil to be packed down and then to function as another layer of an earth bag dome. ( Image courtesy of permaculturenews.org)

Dome View

The image above shows the polypropylene tubes that will form the final layers of an earth bag dome being filled with topsoil and set in place. During the construction process of dome made from super adobe tubes, the tubes are filled, set in place with strands of barbed wire between them, and finally tamped down in their final resting place. ( Image courtesy of permaculturenews.org)

Earth Domes in Nepal

The image above is a screen capture from a video posted on YouTube in 2009. The video posted showed constructor of earth bag dome homes in Nepal. This video appeared on Small Earth’s YouTube channel.

Build Abroad. org

The image above shows American volunteers helping to build housing for low-income residents in Peru. The ease of building with earth bags, combined with this construction  technique’s low capital requirements make this way of making building popular with non-profit organizations the world over. This image was included to show that not all earth bag buildings are round and capped with domes. ( Image courtesy of buildabroad.org)

Pillapeens Earthbag House

The photo above shows an earth bag house under construction in the Philippines. This house was part of a rebuilding effort to help those who lost their homes after a typhoon struck the Philippines. The construction process for building seen above was sponsored by a nonprofit organization in the Philippines. The earth bags used to build this home are made with gusseted and reinforced corners in order to hold a square shape as effectively as possible.

Each of the earth bags used to form this home also had a very precisely measured amount of earth added to each bag in order to ensure uniformity, and each of the bags used in this construction project was also tamped in a wooden mold before being placed in its final resting spot. Precisely weighing the bags before setting them in place and then tamping them into a wooden mold was done in order to ensure a rigid consistency of size for each bag. This home is was made with square earth bags of the same size so that it would look identical to nearby homes in th vicinity that were made from more expensive kiln-fired bricks. ( Image courtesy of naturalbuildingblog.com)

Earthbag Garage

The image above shows a garage being built. When finished, this earth bag structure will match the rest of the home’s appearance. The bags used above are only partially filled with loose and dry sand. When a very movable medium such as loose sand is used to fill earthen bags that will serve as a building material, the bags are only filled to about 1/5 capacity so that they will lay flat and lend themselves to being stacked more effectively. ( Image courtesy of  journeytosustainability.com)

Earth Bag Homes:

images

The above photo of an earth bag home was provided courtesy of Pinterest.com

o'connor homes inc.

The above image of an earth bag dome building was furnished courtesy of oconnorhomesinc.com

The above image of a cosy Hobbit-hole styled home comes courtesy of Pinterest.com

natural building in Mexico

The image above shows an earth bag dome at an organic farm near the village of Santiago in the province of Baja California Del Sur, Mexico. ( Image courtesy of workaway.info)

Hotel Rooms In Mexico

The above image shows a collection of earth bag domes that serve as rooms at a hostel outside of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. ( Image courtesy of calearth.org)

new-earth.org.uk

Not every earth bag home is made in a dome shape, some earth bag homes have conventional roofs and some have vaulted half-circle roofs similar to the barrel-vaulted desert houses of Iran. The building pictured above has a cement and steel vaulted roof,  but making large barrel-vaulted ceilings is still possible by using earth bag construction methods. ( Image courtesy of new-earth.org.uk)

Jar Jar

Indeed, many of the images of earth bag dome buildings conjure recollections of the planet Tatooine from the Star Wars movies. To most Westerners, and others people who live outside of the Sahara Desert region of Africa, the traditional earthen buildings of this part of our world look positively otherworldly. The absolutely otherworldly appearance of earthen dome buildings makes them great for settings in science fiction movies; however, buildings like there have been built and used for millennia in some parts of the world. (Image furnished courtesy of dorkly.com)

The above image features the character Jar Jar Binks; Binks was a supporting character in the three prequel movies to George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy of films. Interestingly, Jar Jar Binks stands as the most disliked of all characters in the entire Star Wars movie franchise.

Mos Eppa Street Scene

The above image shows a street scene of the city of Mos Espa on the planet Tatooine as featured in the 1999 Star Wars prequel movie The Phantom Menace. Quite a few earth bag buildings may conjure mental recollections of the Star Wars movies for many people; however, the buildings featured in many of the scenes talking place on Tatooine are based on real buildings found in the desert regions of Africa; most notably Tunisia. ( Image featured courtesy of nubiansuniverse.com)

Rural Nepal Earth Bag House

The above photo is included to show that not every earth bag home has to look like something out of one of the Star Wars movies. By design, some earth bag houses look like standard homes. Many earth bag homes are built to look as much like conventional homes as possible because not everyone wants to live in a house that looks like it belongs in an episode of Star Trek.

Many people would particularly not like to live in an earth bag house if it looks like something out of a comic book and stands out like a sore thumb in an established residential area filled with conventional houses. Fact is, many homeowners may not wish to live in a home that has a very unconventional outward appearance if that home will draw a lot of unwanted attention. The earth bag home pictured above was built in rural Nepal. ( Image courtesy of goodearthglobal.org)

Earthbag house in rural Kansas

The photo above shows a recently built house outside of Topeka, Kansas. This image was included to show that an earth bag home can have a rather conventional appearance. ( The above image courtesy of failedoasis.com)

Earth Bag Interiors:

Earthbag Interior #1

The image above shows a bedroom in a new earth bag home built near Bogota, Colombia. This bedroom is one one small earth bag dome connected to the larger domes that constitute the living room and kitchen of the house. ( Image courtesy of Daniel Sjoberg on Pinterest.com)

Earthbag Interior #2.

The image above shows the living room in an earth bag dome home in California’s Mojave Desert. This photo is included to show that layers of compressed earth bags that have been made into domes can create striking interiors after the plastering process has finally been finished. ( Image courtesy of blog.jungleow.com)

Barrell Vault Interior

The above image shows the interior of a vaulted roof earth bag home in Hesperia, California. The home in the image above was built and designed by the CalEarth Institute. ( Image courtesy of calearth.org)

 

What is Rammed Earth/ Compressed Earth Brick?

Rammed earth is a very ancient style of earthen building. The rammed earth construction practice is basically a process where humans create sedimentary rocks for their own purposes. The rammed earth construction technique involves taking the same 70% sand and 30% clay mixture that constitutes adobe or cob, then getting this mixture damp, but not really wet, and finally placing this mixture into molds of some type and then proceeding to compact the mixture until it reaches about half of it’s original volume.

Unlike the process for making cob or adobe bricks, when a damp mixture of sand and clay is pounded into a useful stone shape during the rammed earth building process, no animal or plant fibers are added to mixture. Rammed earth construction mixtures do not have any added straw fibers, or any other types of added fibers for that matter, and this is done because adding any fibers to a rammed earth mixture will not help to produce the hard compacted stone mass that is desired as the end product. Adding any fibers to a rammed earth mixture has traditionally been avoided because adding any matter other than the clay and sand will only lower the internal cohesion of the final structure and result in buildings and walls that are less structurally sound. Given the need for a rammed earth mixtures to be compacted into tight and solid  pieces, it is advisable to never put any fiber additives into a rammed earth mixture.

In times past, as a traditional rammed earth wall was under construction, the wooden molds used to shape the walls were moved up as the walls took shape. The process of moving wooden molds upwards while pounding and shaping the rammed earth wall eventually created one solid piece of artfully-made sedimentary stone. Today, the basic process of making rammed earthen buildings is the same except the compacting process is typically done with air-powered compacting tools and the molds used to shape the walls as the sand and clay mixture is compacted are now made from steel.

Where are Rammed Earth Buildings Most Common?

The practice of creating one-piece stone walls by pounding a damp mixture of clay and sand seems to have arisen independently in many different parts of the world thousands of year ago.  The Romans built several fortifications from rammed earth that survive to this day, and Roman records make mention of the city of Carthage having rammed earth watch towers that formed a defensive permitter around the city.

Roman records also mention Hannibal’s soldiers building rammed earth watch towers as they advanced towards Rome during Hannibal’s invasion of the Italian Peninsula. In the past, making rammed earth constructs was a slow and labor-intensive process; however, in modern times, the sand and clay formula for rammed earth is often compacted into solid walls and bricks by machines, not by humans pounding with hand tools.

Rammed earth structures were built in ancient times by may different people, including the Romans and the Chinese, and this method of earthen building is known in many parts of the world; however, this type of construction has seen limited applications pretty much everywhere. In desert regions, such as the Middle East, this method of building has been known for millennia; however, in dry desert regions adobe building has historically been preferred and adobe building practices still dominate to this day.

Adobe building gets preference over rammed earth in desert regions because a hot dry climate allows adobe bricks to dry quickly after being made, and a dry climate also allows adobe construction to the place for most of the year. In a hot dry climate, building a wall from adobe bricks requires a lot less work and moves much faster than the process of constructing a rammed earth wall. Making buildings from adobe is more popular in places with the right climate because stacking adobe bricks is comparatively fast compared to making rammed earth. Making walls from adobe is generally preferred if the circumstances are favorable because adobe building does not require the endless hours of hard tedious work associated with pounding a damp clay and sand mixture into compacted earthen walls.

Given the prevalence of adobe in hot dry climates, rammed earth building is more often associated with regions that have damp wet climates. One reason that rammed earth building is more commonly found in wet climates is because pounding a damp earthen mixture into a man-made sedimentary stone can be done without waiting for any mud bricks to dry, and the process of pounding damp clay and sand into a sedimentary rock can also be done in even in very wet and humid air.

Compared to building with adobe, making a building from rammed earth requires more labor; however, rammed earth is more popular in wetter places because it offers the advantage of only needing a minimal amount of protection from rain during the construction process. Additionally, making buildings from rammed earth offers the advantage of only needing to halt the construction process when a heavy rain is actually falling. Unlike when building with adobe or cob, building with rammed earth also offers the advantage of not having to worry about whether the building that is under construction will be damaged by getting wet once the earthen mixture has been pounded into sedimentary stone.

In light of their relatively wet climates, both China and Viet Nam have long-standing traditions of building all sorts of structures from rammed earth; however, rammed earth has never been a particularly popular method of construction in China or anywhere else. Regardless of the climate, rammed earth has always been a somewhat unpopular method of building because it requires so much hard manual labor. Aside from seeing limited use in China as fortification walls, building foundations, and the occasional one-piece pagoda, rammed earth has also seen limited applications in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia.

Over the millennia, whenever an earthen home did appear in China; other than the occasional heavily stigmatized mud brick home, it was made from rammed earth, not from abode or cob. In China and Viet Nam, living in rammed earth houses never carried anything close to the same negative association as mud brick dwellings; however, rammed earth houses were still never regarded as proper houses fit for respectable citizens.  Aside from China and Viet Nam, the only other part to the world with a solid tradition of rammed earth construction is various regions of France.

The Romans introduced rammed earth construction to France, and this practice never disappeared; however, in the centuries that followed the end of the Roman Empire rammed earth construction in France was primarily limited to storage buildings, barns, wineries, defensive fortifications, and other utilitarian applications. Since Roman times, most houses in France have been constructed from wood, stone, or kiln-fired bricks, and rammed earth was not favored as a building method because it was rather labor intensive and the buildings made from this material were not very well insulated.

Rammed earth’s lack of insulation may not be a real problem in a hot and humid place like Viet Nam; however, central France gets snowfall and plenty of cold weather in the winter months, so living in a house made from rammed earth is quite uncomfortable in the winter months in any colder climate. Despite its drawbacks, some houses in central France were still made from rammed earth; however, this style of building was traditionally associated with the poorest rural residents in the region.

Why is Rammed Earth/ Compressed Earth Brick so Expensive?

The reason rammed earth/compressed earth brick is listed in the PDF file attached to this post as being a bit more expensive than conventional construction is because shaping molds have to be set-up and the earthen mixture has to be tamped-down repeatedly, and this need for tamping the rammed earth mixture creates a higher labor cost, and a higher labor cost eventually translates to a higher building cost.

Rammed Earth/ Compressed Earth Brick:

Cost Per Square Foot to Pay a Contractor – $175

Photos and Videos About Rammed Earth:

Rammed Earth Under Construction:

Rammed Earth Mold On Wall

The above illustration shows how a wooden mold is attacked to a rammed earth wall while it is under construction. ( Image courtesy of tinyhousedesign.com)

Rammed Earth Mold

The image above shows a traditional rammed earth compacting mold from Afghanistan. The basic design of a rammed earth building mold is very similar around the world and over the millennia. ( Image courtesy of rammedearthconsulting.com)

Rammed earth compactors

The above image shows a few very early stone and wood rammed earth compacting tools. (  Image courtesy of rammedearthconsulting.com)

traditional rammed earth

The photograph above shows how rammed earthen walls have been made for many millennia in China and other parts of East Asia. This image is interesting because it shows how rammed earth walls can be made with very simple tools and a lot of labor. (Image courtesy of the Auroville Earth Institute’s webpage)

Building Rammed Earth in Rwanda

The photo above was included because it shows how rammed earth can be made with very simple tools. This image shows construction of a rammed earth home in rural Rwanda back in 2010. ( Image courtesy of rammedearth.blogspot.com)

ramming volunteers

The above photo shows volunteers working to compact the mixture of clay and sand that will be pounded into rammed earth within a wooden mold in the traditional manner. ( Image courtesy of the Bhutan Nuns Foundation.)

big volunteer group

The above photo furriness courtesy of the Bhutan Nuns Foundation website shows a large group of volunteers working together to manually and laboriously pound a damp mixture of sand and clay with hand tools until it becomes compressed into rammed earth. The rammed earthen mixture getting pounded into wall material is being held in place and shaped by getting compressed in movable wooden molds.

Compressed Air Compactors

Modern rammed earth builders now compact their walls with compressed-air-powered compactor tools that help speed-up the building process.  ( Image courtesy of rammedearthconsulting.com)

Hot Chick making rammed earth

The photo above shows an air-powered compactor tool in use. ( Image courtesy of  velvet verve on pinterest.com)

Modern Rammed Earth Making

The above photo shows a rammed earth building contractor in Australia using a modern steel compaction mold along with contemporary compacting tools that are powered by compressed air. ( Photo courtesy of Rammed Earth Enterprises Australia)

The above image depicts a rammed earth home under construction. ( Image furnished courtesy of theconversation.com)

ordinairy rammed earth home

The image above shows a rammed earth home under construction. After a rammed earth building has been finished, the walls are usually neither painted nor plastered because the textured and earthy appearance of rammed earth walls is considered to be quite attractive by itself.  ( Image courtesy of Home Construction and Consulting Services LLC.)

Traditional Rammed Earth:

bhutan nunnery

The above image shows a traditional building in Bhutan that has walls made of rammed earth. ( The above image is featured on the website for the Bhutan Nuns Foundation.)

Traditional Rammed Earth Housing

The above image shows traditional rammed earth houses in a village in the mountains of the Fujian province in southern China. ( Image courtesy of news.cgtn.com)

Da Nang Rammed Earth

The above image shows a traditional rammed earth house from the northern region of Viet Nam. ( Image courtesy of journals.worldnomads.com)

Alamy Rammed Earth

The image above shows an old rammed earth farmhouse in the Brittany region of France. ( Image courtesy of almany.com)

Modern Rammed Earth:

Modern Rammed Earth 1

The house pictured above is a contemporary rammed earth home in Ontario, Canada. ( Image courtesy of endevourcentre.org)

Rammed Earth au.

The photo above shows a contemporary rammed earth home in Perth, Australia. ( Image courtesy of yourhome.gov.au)

loukimball.com

The photo above shows a custom-built residence made from rammed earth located in the Austin suburb of Westlake, Texas.  ( Image courtesy of loukimball.com)

Rammed Earth Interiors:

swank rammed earth home

The above image depicts the interior of a swank high-end home with walls built from rammed earth. Rammed earth homes often have bare and unfinished walls that prominently display the natural beauty of the compressed earthen structure. ( Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.)

Rammed Earth Interior Australia

The above photo shows the bare rammed earth interior walls of an upscale custom-built rammed earth home in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. ( Photo courtesy of  the website for Rammed Earth Enterprises Australia.)

Compressed Earth Bricks:

Wherever rammed earth construction is practiced, people are also aware that bricks can be made from this same method; however, pounded earth bricks have never been a particularly popular building material. Adobe bricks and kiln-fired bricks have always been preferred to pounded earth bricks because, like pounded earth bricks, making adobe bricks also requires no fuel or kiln. Despite the process of making adobe bricks also not requiring a kiln, using adobe bricks is generally preferred over making pounded earth bricks because producing adobe bricks requires minimal labor in regions that have the right climate for drying the bricks. Kiln-fired bricks have also always been more popular than rammed earth bricks because making kiln-fired bricks is faster and  requires less labor, and the time savings and lower labor costs associated with making kiln-fired bricks still offset the expenses incurred from fueling brick kilns.

The first brick making press designed to turn damp rammed earth mixtures into bricks was invented by the architect named Francious Cointereaux. Cointereaux was from the Lyon region of France. Cointereaux developed the first compacted earth brick press in 1788. Cointereaux developed his brick press by applying well-developed wine press technology from his native region of France. Cointereaux’s intention was to create a building system that would allow rural people who were unable to afford enough expensive cut lumber to build their now homes to build adequate shelters for themselves. Cointereaux also intended to help poor rural people who were also unable to afford the relatively pricey kiln-fired bricks that offered another for a home building material.

Cointereaux’s idea did see some international success in the years that followed the public release of his invention; however, the technological innovations of the industrial revolution lead to his invention seeing little use. Cointereaux’s invention languished because the technological developments of the 19th century ushered-in cheap mechanized coal mining, and the new possibilities that accompanied transporting coal by rail lines helped lower the cost of brick production.

The industrial revolution’s innovations in faster mining and transporting of coal also coincided with the development of massive coal-fired industrial Hoffman Kilns that allowed conventional kiln-fired bricks to be produced even more cheaply on a massive scale, so the development of relatively efficient brick kilns combined with the lowered cost of coal eventually made kiln-fired bricks quite inexpensive.

The age of steam engines and rail lines eventually made manufacturing and transporting regular bricks so cheap that Cointereaux’s invention was relegated to a curiosity in the industrialized world and compressed earth bricks have remained nothing more than a curiosity in wealthy parts of the world for the last 200+ years.

Today, variations of Cointereaux’s invention are still in use; however, the modern brick presses that are the descendants of Cointereaux’s original invention are primarily used by very poor people living in poor nations who are building their homes themselves. In order to find the idea of building with compressed earth bricks appealing, the people using this method will need a lot of time on their hands, they will also need to be blessed with a solid motivation to work, and they will also need to have a fair amount of patience. Regrettably, the most prominent characteristic of the people who use compressed earth brick presses to make their homes seems to be having a shortage of money. Some institutional use for compressed earthen bricks is around today, but it is mostly confined to charity organizations operating in very poor countries.

Compressed earth bricks are not a very popular building material in most parts of the world because time is money for commercial brick layers. The process of setting up the equipment to make rammed earth bricks on the job site is unlikely to be popular with commercial brick-laying contractors if they have the option of using kiln-fired bricks that are ready for use. Aside from not wanting to expend the labor to press-out bricks on a job site, commercial brick laying crews are also unlikely to want to wait 3-4 days for the compressed earth bricks to fully dry to the point where they are ready to be used for building, especially if they have a ready supply of kiln-fired bricks.

The only way that compressed earth bricks are likely to become more widely used outside of the poorest parts of the world is if brick making companies decide to switch from kiln-firing their bricks to compressing their bricks. Making compressed earth bricks by machine on a small scale is also likely to remain unpopular in wealthier countries because buying an automated and petroleum-powered machine to compress earthen bricks is hard to justify for people who are simply interested in building homes for themselves.

So long as the cost of kiln-fired bricks remains relatively cheap in more developed countries, compressed earth bricks will remain an unpopular building material. For the time being, making homes from compressed earth bricks looks like it will not be very common outside of places like Africa and India. However, if energy costs continue to rise, then interest in variations of Cointereaux’s invention might get renewed interest in wealthier places.

Costs:

The cost of building a home by using compressed earth bricks is higher than using adobe bricks or just building with conventional construction methods because if the compressed earth bricks are made on-site, then a capital-intensive brick compression machine is needed; otherwise, a high labor cost will be accrued if the earthen blocks are pressed into sedimentary stone with manually-powered presses, or an even higher labor cost will be accrued if the bricks are compressed by using human labor pounding with simple hand tools.

Even if compressed earthen bricks are not made on the construction site, the labor cost of building walls from rammed earth bricks is still going be about the same as having the walls built with conventional masonry bricks, and this state of affairs makes the cost of construction from compressed earth bricks a bit higher than it would be by just building with conventional wooden construction.

Photos and Videos About Compressed Earth Bricks:

The video posted above shows how compressed earth blocks can be made with a simple manually operated press. Compressed earth bricks also offer the nifty advantage of creating individual bricks that interlock in the same manner as Lego blocks and thus require no mortar.

The video posted above shows how compressed earth bricks can be made from a damp subsoil mixture which is the same formula as adobe bricks or cob, except this sand and clay mixture is compacted in a manually operated brick press into a durable construction material. The bricks made in this manner are designed to be interlocking, so they can be stacked into walls without requiring any mortar.

 

madeinearth.in

The illustration above shows how clay-laden subsoil can be sifted, wetted, and then compressed into solid bricks with the assistance of a simple and cheap hand-operated brick press. ( Illustration courtesy of madeinearth.in)

Wooden Earthbrick Press

The image above shows a simple wooden compressed earth brick making press intended for limited residential use. Devices such as this are helpful for homeowners who want to make their own bricks for surfacing small patios or for building small retaining walls. ( Image courtesy of homebestidea.com)

manually Operated Compressed earth brick press

The above image shows inexpensive Chinese-made compressed brick making machines that are manually operated. Simple hand-operated brick presses like these are a great option for people who are wiling to put-in all of the work needed to build their own homes for very little money. ( Photo courtesy of exportimes.com)

Automated Brick making machine

The image above is a screen capture of a listing for an automated earth brick pressing machine. The listing above was listed on the website alibaba.com. The brick making machine pictured for sale in this online listing posted above is powered by a small gasoline engine and uses hydraulic rams to compact the earthen mixture into bricks. Purchasing an automated compressed earth brick making machine may be a solid investment for a contractor who wishes to specialize in this type of construction.

Aliexpress.com

The images above show some of the options available when making compressed earth bricks. The bricks seen in the image above are designed to fit together without any need for cement or mortar. ( Image courtesy of aliexpress.com)

China Brick machines.com

The image above shows another example of how compressed earth bricks can fit together to make walls without any need for mortar. ( Image courtesy of chinabrickmachines.com)

 

Earth Block House

The image above shows a completed home in India that was made with a simple hand-operated brick press that compacted on-site subsoil into bricks. ( Photo courtesy of emiworld.org)

 

Cruddy Earthblock home

The image above shows a new compressed earth brick home nearing completion in Kenya. The bricks used to build this house were all made with subsoil from the construction site and a hand-operated brick making machine. ( Photo courtesy of earhthomesnow.com)

 

Earth Auroville Institute. org

The above photo shows an attractive new house in India that was made out of compressed earth bricks. The bricks used to make this house were created from subsoil on the building site, and compacted by using a manually operated brick press.  ( Photo courtesy of earthaurovilleinstitute.org)

Compresssed Earth Block School

The image above shows the interior of a school in the African nation of Mali. The bricks that were used to make this school building were compacted from the subsoil found at the school’s building location. ( Image courtesy of eartharchitecture.org)

Mexican Compressed Earth B rick Home

The image above shows the interior of a new home that was constructed from compressed earthen bricks in Ocuilan de Arteaga, Mexico. The home pictured above was designed for the Guzman family who lost their previous home after the Puebla earthquake struck central Mexico in September 2017. The Guzman family’s new home was built by Fundación PienZa Sostenible and Love Military México working with the Mexico City-based architecture firm, Francisco Pardo Arquitecto. ( Image courtesy of thecrstimes.com)

What is Cob?

There is a decent chance that an increasing demand for custom-built cob homes will arrive in the future. The demand for custom-built cob homes will be likely to increase because the magical beauty of a cob home is the primary selling point of this building material. Cob is basically the same sand and clay mixture as adobe, except this mixture is not made into bricks. Cob is also the same mixture of clay and sand as rammed earth except without the pounding and compacting, or any use of molds, and unlike rammed earth, cob traditionally incorporates some type of added fiber for increased strength.

Cob is the same sand, clay, and straw/animal hair mix as adobe except, instead of being made into air-dried bricks, a cob wall consists of layers of building material that are mashed together when the material is still wet. The mashed-together layers of clay, sand, and plant fiber that constitute a cob wall eventually dry and form one very hard and solid continuous earthen mass. Unlike building with adobe bricks, building with cob simply involves stacking layers of building material on top of one another, mashing these layers together, and then allowing the building material to dry naturally over a period of months.

The term “Cob” is an old English term referring to a loaf of bread or a bale of hay, and the term cob was applied to a particular type of earthen construction because large lumps of clay, sand, and straw are often applied and mashed together one layer at a time to form a “cob” structure. Cob pieces typically range in size from about the size of a baseball up to the size of a larger loaf of bread.

Building with adobe consists of laying layers of dried mud bricks; however, cob loaves or balls are typically not fully dry, but instead, they are ideally semi-dry and rather stiff when they are used as building material. Cob loves or balls that are suitable for building in the rain have about the consistency of very stiff cream cheese or perhaps Brie cheese, and the cob pieces used to build walls are ideally not used if they are too wet so that they can still be applied when a modest amount of rain is falling. Although cob layers or “lifts” are typically applied in a semi-dry state, a finished cob wall takes a varying number of months to fully dry. The drying times of cob walls vary by the thickness of the walls and the nature of the climate. A cob wall can take many months to dry in the wet rainy mountains of El Salvador; however, a cob house can dry thoroughly in about a month if it is finished during the very hot and dry summer months in Arizona.

Cob walls are often constructed by mashing together bread-loaf-like pieces of earthen building mixture; however, in the British Isles layers of the earthen building mixture are often applied in small loose piles by a pitchfork and then mashed together with a wooden mashing tool. Whether a cob wall is built by mashing together loaves of building material or by applying layers of wet building material with a pitchfork, the end result is the creation of one solid piece of earthen material. A properly built cob building is effectively one solid piece of clay, sand, and straw when fully dried, and this offers the advantage of improved structural integrity. 

A cob home often has rounded and curving walls and interiors that are reminiscent of sea shells. If anyone has actually seen any photos of well-made cob homes, they are often very captivated by the artistic appearances of these organic-looking earthen dwellings. It is possible to say that a well-built cob home is really a work of art and a functional sculpture, and the builders of cob homes are really more artists and sculptors than carpenters or building contractors. Given time, some wealthy people might cultivate enough interest and patience to have custom cob homes built. The custom cob builders of the future are likely to be bohemian sculptors who are covered in tattoos and have flesh that is criss-crossed with piercings. Indeed, the future of cob construction will probably include art school graduates and potters who masquerade as building contractors.

Where are Cob Buildings Most Common?

Traditional cob buildings are most common in places with cooler temperatures and more rainfall than places where adobe architecture is prevalent. Like rammed earth, the primary advantage that cob building techniques offer is the ability for construction to continue even when a modest rain is falling, and like rammed earth, cob also offers the benefit of having better resistance to damage from contact with water once it is built. Not very many places in the world have any old tradition of building with cob, except the British Isles and some parts of West Africa that are South of the Sahara and are not deserts.

In recent years, cob homes have been seeing an increasing level of popularity in the Pacific Northwest region of America and the Canadian province of British Colombia, and this is the case because of cob’s thermal retention qualities and natural earthquake resistance. Cob works well in the Pacific Northwest because this region has a climate that is similar to the British Isles, in addition to having a well-know propensity for earthquakes.

Unlike their continental European neighbors to the east, England and the rest of the British Isles have a long-standing tradition of building cosy homes from cob. Cob may not be the most insulative material; however, after the walls of a cob home get warmed up, then a cob home becomes quite warm and comfortable. Warming the walls of a cob home requires continuously maintaining a fire in one or more fireplaces within the home for anywhere between 1 to 3 days. Despite cob’s poor insulation value, the fact that cob retains heat fairly well makes living in these types of homes a viable option in England’s climate that is cool and damp, but not frigidly cold like that of Sweden or Poland.

When rating the strength of different earthen building materials, the strongest seems to be rammed earth; however, cob finishes second in this comparison. Despite its amazing structural properties, cob is often a less popular method of building in many places because it requires more manual labor than adobe and the fact that cob dries so slowly means that this method of building requires a lot more patience and waiting than building with rammed earth.

Cob is also not as popular as other earthen building styles because it seems to lack the structural scalability offered by other building materials. One of cob’s main drawbacks is the fact that so long as the cob forming a structure is not fully dry, the structure will remain less than solid, and this means that very thick walls made from cob may take a long time to become acceptably dry. Some fortresses in Central Asia have adobe walls that are over 12-feet thick; however, it remains to be seen how long it would take a cob wall of that thickness to fully dry.

Unlike cob, both rammed earth and mud bricks offer builders and engineers the tools to build really big structures. Fore example, rammed earth structures in China have been built that were more than 16 stories and over 180 feet tall, and very large mosques and huge palaces have been built from adobe bricks in Persia and other parts of the Middle East. Some traditional adobe houses in Saudi Arabia have 7 stories and rise to 80 feet, and the adobe buildings in the city of Shibam, Yemen have up to 11 floors, with the tallest adobe building in Shibam reaching 98 feet. The minaret at the nearby Al-Muhdhar mosque in Southern Yemen rises to an impressive height of 150 feet; making it the highest mud brick structure on the planet. Despite cob’s solid structural sturdiness when dry,  structures made of this material are generally limited to about 2 stories in height because of cob’s long drying time.

The Cob Quake

Despite its drawbacks, cob is a good building material choice in earthquake-prone areas because cob buildings are effectively one solid piece of very compact earth. Cob is a surprisingly strong material that actually rivals rammed earth for structural strength, and countless cob building books mention that the first time a cob builder has to demolish wall section for repair work always gives them a whole new understanding of this material’s strength and toughness.

Cob buildings are also very earthquake resistant because they can easily be made into flowing curved forms that are much stronger than straight lines, and this design feature allows cob structures to have much more strength and resistance to earthquake damage than comparable mud brick structures. One disadvantage of mud brick building is that the square shapes of adobe bricks tend to lend themselves to building in straight lines with square corners, and this characteristic results in structures that do not resist earthquakes as well; however, no such limitation exists with cob.

A thick single-story cob house with a round shape and flowing curves is going to be very resistant to both earthquake damage and water penetration after the cob has thoroughly dried, and this makes cob houses a good choice in particularly rainy and earthquake prone areas. Given cob’s natural earthquake resistance and friendliness to construction in the rain, it comes as no surprise that cob houses have become an increasingly popular choice for a building material in the rainy and earthquake-prone states of America’s Pacific Northwest.

Why is Cob so Expensive?

At this time, the cost of cob is hard to quantify from the standpoint of paying a contractor to construct a home or building. As things stand, there is only one firm in America, that operates out of Austin, Texas; who caters to those wishing to have any cob constructions larger than a pizza oven or an ornate custom-made sitting bench. Due to the amount of labor involved in building with cob, this method of construction is mostly a building technique reserved for those who are looking to build their homes themselves. There are many workshops teaching cob building techniques advertised on the internet these days, but very little can actually be found in the way of building contractors willing to custom-build anything out of cob that is much larger than a backyard wood-fired pizza oven.

The estimates of the cost per square foot for cob construction that are presented in the informational graphic at the beginning of this article are based on the cost of having the CalEarth Institute custom build a completely enclosed earth bag dome. The cost of having the CalEarh Institute custom build an earth bag dome was used a base for calculating the cost of having a cob home custom built because the process of having CalEarth build a custom earth bag dome home is somewhat similar to the process of having a home custom-built from cob. The process of having CalEarth build a custom dome home and the process of having a cob home constructed are somewhat similar because both procedures are very labor intensive, both procedures are very time-consuming, and simple hand tools are used extensively in both processes.

As things stand now, paying a contractor to build with cob is basically a fancy for those who have a lot of disposable income and a willingness to wait months for the project to be completed. On the flip side, cob is also a great building technique for hose who have a lot of time on their hands and also have the patience to put-in the months of hard physical labor needed to slowly build the custom homes of their dreams. In light of the labor and time needed to build a cob house, one can conclude that paying someone to build a custom cob home is not a viable option for the vast majority of people living in more developed nations.

Cob:

Cost Per Square Foot to Pay a Contractor – $250

Photos and Videos About Cob:

This video from the popular Primitive Technology YouTube channel shows the host making a tiled roof from clay found near by, and this video also shows the host making the walls for this simple dwelling from the bottom soil of the house site. The clay-laden subsoil used to construct the walls of this simple house lack the vegetable fiber reinforcement commonly mixed into cob buildings; however, this short film still demonstrates the basics of cob construction because at it most basic cob is just the practice of using clay-rich subsoils to create functional shelters.

Cob Under Construction:

Cob Ball

The above illustration shows a ball of clay, sand, and plant fibers that is ready to be mashed into the cob structural wall being built. The traditional English term for a ball or loaf of clay, sand, and vegetable fiber is a “cob” like the piece seen above. ( Image courtesy of fieldstudyoftheworld.com)

Togo Bale Stacking

The image above shows loaves of cob being stacked and mashed together to form the wall of a new home. This picture was taken in the African nation of Ghana back in 1987. ( Image comes courtesy of Dr. Matthias Funk’s account on flickr.com)

Building a Small Cob Wall

The image above shows volunteers building a cob wall by mashing together small balls of clay, sand, and straw. ( Image courtesy of reserachgate.net)

Cob In El Salvador

The image above shows a layer of cob being applied to a wall and getting mashed into the previous layer with a simple wooden stick. ( Image courtesy of fieldstudyoftheworld.com)

Wet Weather Cob

The image above shows a cob house under construction in the wet rainy mountains of El Salvador. Cob has become a popular alternative to bricks or adobe in the highlands of El Salvador due to its low cost, resistance to earthquake damage, resistance to water penetration, resistance to rot, resistance to termites, and the fact that cob walls can still be built when rain is falling. ( Image courtesy of fieldstudyoftheworld.com)

building with cob

The above photograph shows a cob home under construction. (Photo courtesy of oconnorconstruction. com)

Hapnlin.com

The image above shows a cob home under construction in rural Iowa. The small cob home seen in the above photo rests on a foundation made from dry-stacked rocks. The author of this blog admits that his cob home is not very warm in the winters; none the less, he loves his cob home during the rest of the year. ( Image courtesy of hapnlin.com)

Cob Walls

The image above shows a new layer of cob being added and then pressed into the previous layer to form one continuous berm of sand, clay, and straw. ( Image courtesy of kirkhansen.com)

big cob

The image above shows a nice and new 2-story cob home nearing completion in the United Kingdom. (Photo courtesy of buildsomethingbeautiful.com)

Traditional Cob:

Traditional Cob Cottahge

The above photo shows a traditional cob home in England complete with an old-fashioned thatched roof. ( Image courtesy of selfbuild-centroa.co.uk)

Irish Pub

The photo above shows a traditional Irish cob cottage. Cob homes with thatched roofs have been a common form of housing all over the British Isles since well before Roman times. ( Image courtesy of irishtimes.com)

Tradtional Cob Houses of Ghana

The above image shows a traditional cob house from the African nation of Ghana. ( Image courtesy of clajot.photoshelter.com)

Togo West Africa

The image above shows a traditional cob village house in the African nation of Togo. ( Image courtesy of tripadvisor.ca)

Traditional Cob House in Burkina Faso

The above photo shows a traditional cob house in the town of Teibele in the African nation of Burkina Faso. ( Image courtesy of insteading.com)

Modern Cob:

artistic cob house

The above image shows a very cool and artistic cob home in England. ( Image courtesy of offgridkindred.com)

images-1.jpeg

The above photo of a cob house in Southern Oregon was provided courtesy of niftyhomestead.com

red cob

The above image features a whimsical cob home in the south of England. ( Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com)

Highland Toruist Lodge

The above image shows a recently build cob cottage at an eco-resort in the rainy and misty highlands of El Salvador. ( Image courtesy of fieldstudyoftheworld.com)

thai spa

The above image shows a collection of small cob buildings at the Evason Earth Spa in Thailand.

earth spa village

The above photo shows the tiny village of cob cottages at the Evason Earth Spa.

spa accomodations

The above photo is another shot of the spa’s cob village at the Evason Earth Spa.

snowy cob

Architect and natural builder Ileana Mavrodin of Verde in Banat, Romania has come up with this aesthetic looking cob house to promote building eco-friendly structures from natural material. She used cob as the basic material, along with dry stone to add strength to the walls and roundwood for the doors and roof. The dwelling has a very contemporary feel which shows a connection with nature, and a craving for basic living. (The above image and text were provided courtesy of homecrux.com)

Cob Interiors:

brisish colombia cob interior

Cob homes also lend themselves to very appealing and cosy interiors with organic flowing curves.

Cob home Mayne Island, BC–The major construction of this cob was completed in the summer of 1999. Pat Hennebery had the excavation and foundation ready for a 3-week workshop led by Ianto Evans and Elke Cole of CCC. The roof was on by fall and the following spring saw the interior finishing completed by Tracy, Elke and Patrick. Hilde’s project was the first cob fully permitted as a house in Canada. The roof is totally load bearing on the cob walls. The house is 600 sq.ft on 2 floors and is fully plumbed and wired. Finished cob and roof construction costs were approximately $56,000. ( Photo and text provided courtesy of Insteading.com)

flourish marketing

The above image shows an elegant living room in a cob home. ( Image courtesy of homecrux.com)

hyderabad cob

The image above shows a cool cob dining room. ( Image courtesy of hci-hyderabad.com)

Cool Cob Kitchen

The image above shows a whimsical and colorful kitchen made from cob. Unlike some other earthen building methods, cob gives an artist a great tool for 3D self expression. ( Image courtesy of buzzfeed.com)

cool cob interior

Cob lends itself to incorporated furniture such as beds and sofa-type earthen settees. ( The above image is featured on Pinterest.com)

cob bedroom

The flexibility of cob construction lends itself well to incorporating pieces of furniture such as beds and sofas into the structure of the building. ( Image furnished by Cathy Vaughn on Pinterest.com)

Corn on the Cob:

Mexican Corn on the Cob

The Mexican style of making corn on the cob where the corn is just roasted on an open grill is the best way to prepare this type of food. ( Image courtesy of seriouseats.com)

6 thoughts on “What is the Cost Per Square Foot of Different Earth Building Methods? An Overview of Natural, Eco-Friendly, Earthen Architecture Traditions. Leave a comment

  1. Lots of great information. Would you consider posting a gallery contrasting different cultures adaptation of adobe (Santa Fe?) to see how architectural lines and shapes alongside Western building elements change its visual quality? ms

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  2. I would be happy to do such a comparison of different cultural adaptations of adobe at a later time. I am pretty busy with school work at the moment so I would have to do more research and writing when I am not so pressed for time and sapped of inertia and energy. Setting up this blog was a class assignment for the San Francisco State Professional Writers program; however, I am still planning on maintaining the blog after the course is finished.

    Your comments and interest are quite appreciated, I am glad that my post relayed some useful information to someone.

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  3. Wondering if anyone is still active on this blog. Great material given any thought to geographic limitations of various methods?

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    • In answer to your question about whether anyone is still active on this blog, I am still editing some of the existing blog entries and I have recently added a lot of new content to the post about making adobe buildings more resistant to earthquakes. As for the question concerning the geographic limitations of building with earthen materials, there seems to be a de-facto limitation of constructing earthen buildings in places with warmer climates. Given the rather poor insulate qualities of earthen building materials, it is no surprise that earthen buildings tend to be most commonly found in warm tropical areas and mild Mediterranean climatic zones.

      Some colder places at high latitudes, like the British Isles, also have a long-running tradition of building with earthen materials in the form of cob; however, the British Isles have a climate that is cool and damp as opposed to having a truly cold climate like that of Sweden or Minnesota. Despite the British Isles having a cool high-latitude climate, earthen homes are viable there because the thermal mass of cob houses allows them to stay relatively warm in cool and wet places; provided that a fire is continuously kept lit in the fireplace. Cob also works well enough in cool and rainy places like the coastal regions of British Colombia, so constructing new earthen buildings outside of the British Isles is worth considering.

      Interestingly, despite having a relatively high attitude, the coastal regions of Oregon, Washington, British Colombia, and Southeast Alaska actually have Mediterranean climates. A Mediterranean climate is classified as having a warm and dry summer and a cool and rainy winter, so even high latitude regions are decent places to make new earthen buildings, provided they are in a Mediterranean climate.

      Indeed, buildings made from earthen materials are most commonly associated with warmer regions of the planet for good reason; however, I am planning to write a blog entry addressing ways to build adobe and cob homes for genuinely cold and snowy climates like Upstate New York.

      I hope my answers have been helpful.

      Like

  4. I do believe your cost per foot is way way wrong. if you were correct and the cost per foot was $125 no one but a millionaire could afford these house. perhaps you meant per square foot and that would be for the entire house. $125 x 2000 sq foot would be $250,000 and this is just to erect the walls. Then you have to add everything else. A more realistic way to price the materials is to PRICE just doing the walls. So Sq foot of the entire wall system would be of a lot more help. This might end up being between $10 to $30 for each sq ft. of wall that is erected. Obviously the numbers you quote must be for a finished home with utilities, finishes, roofing, mechanicals.

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