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Picture of How to Build an Earthbag Roundhouse
Note: If you’re new to earthbag building, please read the introductory Step-by-Step Earthbag Building Instructable first. Also, my new Earthbag Building Guide and Earthbag Building DVD are now available. Stay up-to-date on all the latest earthbag news by following our Natural Building Blog.

We built this earthbag roundhouse in 2010 as part of an earthbag workshop in Thailand, and finished it later that summer. Roundhouses are perhaps the simplest, fastest, easiest earthbag structure to build. We’re extremely pleased with the results, especially in terms of strength and cost. This is one of the strongest structures I’ve ever worked on in my 30-plus year construction career. The main impression is one of incredible fortresslike strength - massive walls with no sway. I’m sure it could easily withstand a direct hit by a speeding vehicle. This is no exaggeration. There’s been at least one incident where a drunk driver hit an earthbag wall and only chipped the plaster. (The vehicle was totaled.) Earthbags also excel at withstanding floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Engineered plans are now available for whatever conditions you face. Earthbags are even bullet resistant, as explained in our highly popular blog post where compressed earth withstood 50 cal “BMG” 661 grain Full Metal Jacket rounds. Bullet Resistance of Compressed Earth

The other key advantage of earthbag is cost. For our roundhouse, we wanted things to look nice, of course, but we didn't want to spend a fortune. The final cost came out to $11.50/square foot. Most stick-built houses are $100/sq. ft. and up, so this roundhouse demonstrates how anyone can build their own home even on a very tight budget. We used a few basic, low cost methods to class up the roundhouse: rounded window and door openings (free), nice colors (no extra cost), curved bathroom wall and buttress (no extra cost to create curves), exposed wood and thatch roof (dirt cheap), earthen plaster on the interior (really dirt cheap), and lots of beautiful old windows for views, ventilation and to add a sense of spaciousness. In summary, build small -- just what you need, use simple shapes, pay with cash, and add on later if needed.

Basic project information:
18’ exterior diameter; 15’ interior diameter; 177 sq. ft. interior floor space; total cost of materials: $2,045, which is about $11.50/square foot

The following instructions assume you have cleared and leveled the site, removed topsoil, positioned fill soil around the building site to minimize work, dug a trench to stable subsoil, buried any utilities, put about 12” of gravel in the trench, and added a center pole with stringline to measure the radius. Bags or tubes can be used. We demonstrate bags, because they’re often available recycled for very low cost. My YouTube Channel has short video clips that show each step of construction.

Step 1: Earthbag Foundation

Picture of Earthbag Foundation
3rd course complete.JPG

Earthbag foundations – gravel-filled bags or stabilized bags – offer many advantages over reinforced concrete foundations and work well with many types of sustainable buildings. In particular, they are low-cost, fast and easy to build, require no cement (a major expense and cause of global climate change), and require no forms or expensive equipment. In cold climates you can use lava rock or pumice to create an insulated foundation. This one simple step can save you thousands of dollars over building with concrete, and cut your energy costs.

Typical earthbag foundations are made with poly bags (double-bagged for strength) filled with gravel. Aggregates are preferred for foundations because they will readily drain away any moisture and prevent wicking into the wall system. Some prefer to use stabilized soil in earthbag foundations, seeing it as a longer lasting solution. The jury is still out, but it appears poly bags kept out of sunlight can last hundreds of years, so gravel-filled bags should last at least a lifetime.

Simply fill the bags in place with gravel. Stitch the ends closed or fold the bag end over. Butt each bag tight against the previous bag. Tamp the bags flat after each course is complete. Add two strands of 4-point barbed wire between each course. Add courses of gravel-filled bags until you’re at least 6” above the risk of moisture damage.

RodB361 month ago
great build! I'm in the process of building a round home, my question is where did you get the compression ring for the roof?
AmmUnique2 years ago

Hi! Thank you so much, for your time in sharing this knowledge. I live in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. We are quite elevated , and have very moist , soft soil on slanted land. There was an old large barn , on the property that was built in the 40's which burned down some time ago. The cinderblock base is still there ( well 2 opposite walls, actually) that were placed with steel rebarb? Regardless, they are not going anywhere, according to a contractor friend. My thoughts were to build a floor/deck on top then build a earthbag structure/studio on that. Any thoughts as to reinforcements, drainage, would it be too heavy for the raised wood deck/floor?

rscohen AmmUnique3 months ago
Hi. I'm wondering if you followed through with this. I am moving to Madison County, NC, and thinking about building an Earthbag house on my property, which is very much like the land you describe.
Owen Geiger (author)  AmmUnique2 years ago
Earthbag walls are very heavy. You need a foundation the same width as the bags (about 16"). One option is to stack gravel bags next to the block foundation on the outside. The floor joists could sit on the block walls (add a plate first). Follow the instructions in my earthbag book that include stacking the bags on a rubble foundation.
MeInKiev4 months ago
Hello Owen, I am about to build a large Spanish Style Hacienda and am wondering if I can use CCSPF (Closed Cell Spray Foam - about 1.5" - 2" thick) insulation on the outside of walls, and sprayed directly onto poly earthbags or continuous mesh, and then apply a lime plaster directly over this insulation to finish it? If so, which would be best to use, poly bags or continuous tube poly or mesh? I understand you prefer natural insulation materials, but would like you to comment on the work-ability of this technique.
ford5191 year ago

Amazing instructable!! Thanks so much Owen. I wonder... do you think earth-bag building would be a good solution for some people affected by hurricane Maria? It would be amazing if people could build their own cheap and eco-friendly homes in an area like Puerto Rico.

Edit: found your design for the catenary dome... looks very promising https://earthbagplans.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/disaster-resistant-catenary-dome/

epenry10011 year ago
Hi. We are planning on building in Tonga. Can I ask what general uses the Earthbags have so instead of getting a quantity of them shipped in especially, I can go to, say animal feed or builders yard and acquire them?

Also, are there any general roof fixtures/fittings that can be used together to create a compression ring save a metal worker existing.

Also, what type of ties would you use throughout the walls for tying wire onto the bag wall etc??

All of these items are referred to but what type of tie??

Thanks very much
MavicityC2 years ago

I live in the Philippines and I don't know why we don't make this kind of structure. I assume the earth bags are good enough insulation for the heat and humidity by themselves? Can I build a below-ground earth bad house? It sounds stupid but how do I deal with the moisture/rain//flood actually. I want to use it as a food storage area to keep refrigeration costs low.

Right, I scrolled down a few comments below. No underground earthbag house then. But then I guess I can build taller walls and create a loft inside with wood construction. As for my underground food storage, let me give that another think.

AlainaH22 years ago

Hello, Your Earthbag Rounhouse Building tutorial is excellent and I am really keen to build one. I live in the UK where it is wet. Do you think this would be suitable? I was thinking of building a concrete base with glass bottles and plastic layer under the concrete for insulation and then putting the bags on top. Would this work or do I need the them on the ground with gravel for drainage?

Owen Geiger (author)  AlainaH22 years ago
Earthbag buildings are common in the tropics where there's lots of rain. No problems as long as you build correctly -- wide roof overhang, build on high ground, slope the site away from the building, etc.

The bottle foundation sounds unnecessarily complicated. I recommend bags filled with an insulating material such as volcanic rock or expanded clay pellet insulation.
Komadin3 years ago
When you say lava rock.. does basalt count as that? There is so much basalt all over my area
Owen Geiger (author)  Komadin3 years ago
It will provide insulation if it's lightweight and porous like scoria. This is discussed in detail on our Natural Building Blog.
BeccaB223 years ago

Hi Owen! Thank you for this instructable! Are you familiar with sunken earthbag roundhouse designs? I have an opportunity to purchase several acres in arid Yakima Co, Washington. I think that I will be acquiring a 30 ft yurt soon. I would like to make a sunken earthbag roundhouse/yurt hybrid home. Essentially, I want to dig a 29ish foot diameter/ 6 foot deep hole; build a roundhouse with 11 foot walls with no roof and set up the yurt snugged around it. I would like to put in earthship style passive cooling tubes to help with combating the summer heat and a mass rocket stove.for winter. The building would look like a yurt from the outside but be much more expansive on the inside( I have a husband, three children and a mother in law in my immediate family). With that space we could construct a loft platform for my husband's mom. Have you heard of anything like that? I'm not sure where to get a designer to draw it up so I have a chance of getting a permit. I think in would be beautiful and much more affordable then a conventional home as my family, friends and I would be doing all the work. I would appreciate any advice you could give regarding such a build. Thanks in advance!!

Owen Geiger (author)  BeccaB223 years ago
Building below grade has high risk of water problems without a properly sealed foundation with French drain. I don't recommend it. One big rain and it could fill up with water.

Earthbags are very energy efficient if you insulate the outside with rigid foam board. The thick earth walls will stabilize the interior temperature, keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter. You do NOT need to dig down to keep the house cool, because earthbag houses are cool even in the tropics where it's much hotter. This will save you lots of work, money and headaches.

Hire a high school art student who knows how to use a graphics drawing program to draw the house.

This is the method that I recommend for yurts:
www.instructables.com/id/Insulated-Earthbag-Foundations-for-Yurts/
Okay. Thank you for your feedback! I really appreciate it!
MélissaD803 years ago
Greetings Owen,
I love what i see!
I planing to build few cabins like this on my land in Jamaica. Im extending my guesthouse Jardin d'Eden Jamaica. Do you have a team who travel and give a hand? We will start very soon! I can offer accomodation, food and a super great time :)
Please email me melissadauphin7@gmail.com
Diablita3 years ago

Hi Owen, hope you are well! I am planning on trying my hand on the round studio, its really super cute. How long would it take for 1 skilled contractor and two strong but unskilled workers to build the studio? Thanks. Saskia

Owen Geiger (author)  Diablita3 years ago
Around 7-10 days with bags if they know what they're doing. Tubes are about twice as fast.

Thanks for your answer Owen, thats pretty fast. Ill just double that because we are totally new to the system :)

Tubes; how do you look up where to buy them? My agro-veterinarian places have never heard of them.

Thanks again! Saskia

Owen Geiger (author)  Diablita3 years ago
Around 7-10 days with bags if they know what they're doing. Tubes are about twice as fast.

This is beautiful I like it & I can't wait to create my own !

PaulA313 years ago

Beautiful building; I like the round design, but I wonder, how would these walls hold up if stacked vertically, in the more traditional manner? That bond beam looks like it can support basically any kind of roofing type. I'm thinking a man who wanted to own an (eventually) sprawling home could just stack more bags and plaster them to add on to any house.

Maybe I'll start with a shed...

Owen Geiger (author)  PaulA313 years ago

Yes, start with a shed to develop your skills. You can use any roof method you want. You can add on in the future if you plan for it. I don't understand your first question. The walls are stacked vertically in this roundhouse.

thalesvga4 years ago

Hello!

Can I fasten shelves and things like it? How does the walls behave with screws?

Owen Geiger (author)  thalesvga4 years ago
My earthbag book covers this topic Attaching Things to Earthbag Walls.

Add wood blocking between the bags as you build. That way you can screw cabinets, shelves, etc.into the blocking. Same with electrical. This requires a bit of pre-planning to figure out where you want to put things.

Lightweight things can be supported with big nails or 1/4" rebar pins drive in at a downward angle.
onijohnson4 years ago

Thank you so much for this tutorial. It was so easy to follow. and now im here dreaming about building my dream home in joshua tree.....

ford.crews4 years ago

I always wanted to make a house like this, but use used tires packed with dirt for the outside walls, get rid of the old tires, and nothing can beet 2 feet of earth as far as insulation goes.

Owen Geiger (author)  ford.crews4 years ago
Earthbag is quite similar to rammed earth (an ancient building method). That's the same rammed earth in the tires. Except here we're using bags instead of tires. Making earthbags is so much faster and easier there's no comparison. One rammed tire takes around 45 - 60 minutes from what I've read. You can do one earthbag in five minutes. Using tubes is even faster. Maybe twice as fast. Plus, there's no concern over offgasing. The wall surface is flatter and uses far less plaster than filling gaps between tires.
bahayaliwan4 years ago

what is the best material to use as a divider to make a bathroom in a round earth house?
Owen Geiger (author)  bahayaliwan4 years ago
The "best" solution depends on what materials are locally available, durable, practical and affordable, and on your skills. We used low fired clay brick because it's waterproof. Most people use wood framed walls with the pipes in the walls. Our pipes are on the surface (local custom) so they're easy to maintain.
bahayaliwan4 years ago
Hi Owen,
Im planning to build an earth bag round house.
can you send me a floor plan where to place sink and bathroom.
Owen Geiger (author)  bahayaliwan4 years ago

The Roundhouse Studio plans are available at Dream Green Homes.com.

http://dreamgreenhomes.com/materials/earth/earthba...

But this plan is so simple and this Instructable explains everything so you may not need the plans. In general though, the sink and bath are usually adjacent to each other to simplify plumbing.



Beautifully earth bag house look nice cost is also less. This roundhouse
demonstrates how anyone can build their own home even on a very tight budget.
For those who are not living that type of home, take
care in weather changing so that could live safely specially for roof it is
worst time. Keep EPDM with you as precaution. For more to know please visit

http://www.epdmcoatings.com/





Owen Geiger (author)  liquidroofrvrepair4 years ago

EPDM is very expensive. I would only use it on a living roof if the budget allowed. Metal roofs are much less expensive.

Do you have any resources or advice for building a double storey roundhouse? I am beginning to build in the New a Year (2015) and am starting to plan the details...thanks!

Owen Geiger (author)  Edwardmartinhill4 years ago

I just emailed you. Use lightweight building materials on upper stories because soil is very heavy.

Would Lime plaster work well on the exterior walls? Or gypsum plaster? I'm in Central Oklahoma, by the way, with our weird weather patterns. Long dry (as in no rain) summers with high humidity, moderate winters with fairly low humidity, and two rainy seasons... spring being the main one, the second being in the fall. Clay soil, so flooding happens easily and slab built buildings usually do flood.

Leigh
Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner564 years ago

Up to you. Cement plaster is the standard and likely the most resistant to flooding.

Water is the #1 enemy of buildings, so raise your building site above flood stage or building on high ground. Use gravel bags on lower courses. Plastic sheeting under the floor to prevent wicking. Slope the ground away from the building in all directions.

Owen Geiger (author)  urbangleaner565 years ago

You can use cement or lime plaster. Some mix the two. Recipes are free on the Internet.

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