For those that don't know
what earthbag construction is, this page is just a
those interested, we provide links to more
information. There are also plenty of books &
websites out there that go deeper into the subject
than we do.
Start with the basics. Take some clay-rich dirt in
your hand. Moisten it, squeeze it, roll it into a
snake. Now add a little sand, squish it into a form,
lay it in the sun & let it bake for a few days. It
gets hard. Congratulations... you've just made adobe.
(Real adobe will have some straw, manure or fibrous
material to help bind it together.)
If you put this wet clay/sand mix in a sandbag &
stack the bags, pound them flat, smoosh them around to
your liking (straight lines, curves, rounded corners,
whatever) and let them dry, then you have earthbags -
modular building blocks, adobe bricks in a bag.
With the right fill & a little finesse, earthbags
can achieve a strength & stability superior to
concrete blocks. They're low-cost, low-tech, have a
relatively low carbon footprint, and - depending on
your fill material - are free of the chemicals &
outgassing that are increasingly common with many
modern building materials.
The idea of using dirtbags/earthbags isn't new; think
of the sandbag trenches &
fortifications from World War I. There are suggestions
that they were used back in the Revolutionary War. The
Industrial Revolution allowed mass production of
textiles; before that, baskets filled with dirt &
rocks (the predecessors to gabions) were used for
fortifications as far back as Mesopotamian times. But
the application of bags with a wet fill that'll set up
as an alternative building material is fairly new,
starting around the 1960s, and can be largely credited
to two individuals.
One was Edward
Dicker, who patented the "Stack-Sack" process in
the 1960s (burlap sacks filled with a dry mix of sand,
cement, and gravel; soaked in water & then
stacked, with rebar driven through every couple of
feet to anchor them). Further refining the concept was
Iranian architect Nader
Khalili, humanitarian and founder of the
Cal-Earth Institute, who recognized that people left
homeless in war zones and disaster areas around the
world often have (if little else!) abundant access to
three things; sandbags, barbed wire, and dirt.
The beauty of earthbags, especially in contrast to
more conventional, rigid and mass-produced material
lies in their simplicity, their ease of handling, and
their ability to be laid in curves. They're ideal for
bordering sinuous walkways, garden beds, terracing,
erosion control, building arches, serving as
foundations or stem walls for cob or straw-bale
constructions, or more ambitious projects. Once
they're fully cured & well plastered, no one would
know that they're not adobe (or something more
- Aesthetic - easily covered with plaster or stucco
- Versatile, graceful, and easy to work with
- Non-toxic - no fumes or allergens
- Low-tech, requiring a minimum of tools or experience
- 12" thick walls provide superb insulation
- Stable; excellent earthquake resistance
- Perfect for managing erosion, rain/sediment runoff,
- Ideal for low-cost ponding & concrete washouts
- Tamped dimensions of standard 14"x26" bags at a
manageable 30 lbs each = approx. 12" wide by 12" long
by 3" high. If you choose, you can pack up to double
the amount of fill in the same size bag to achieve a
60 lb. bag with tamped measurements of about 18" x 12"
x 4". (Bigger bags mean fewer bags, but they're much
harder to maneuver.)
With the basic materials (bags, dirt, barbed wire to
lock rows of bags together, and a tamper), anyone can
design and build with earthbags. If your dirt doesn't
have sufficient clay, you can add it, or stabiize
it with lime or cement.
You don't even need to buy bags. Sure, we're happy to
sell them to you. But some people have had success
using alternatives like thrift-store pillowcases,
sheets sewn together, etc. The point is to have a
container or wrap that will hold & confine the wet
fill, and that will survive the tamping without
splitting a seam. Once the contents of the bag have
cured & and your construction is plastered, it
doesn't matter at all (structurally speaking) what the
bag was made of.
If you're new to this, you'll find information, links,
and resources on these pages & elsewhere to help
you get started.
Our standard sizes are 14"x26" (approx. 36 cm x 66
cm). We also carry 18"x30" bags. These are treated
with 1,600 hours of UV inhibitors & have tie
We can also get tubular bags on a roll in a
variety of widths & lengths. These are
special-order and require advance payment.
- Polypropylene bags (standard
size) are $0.50 each, $40 for a hundred, or $300
for a thousand. They're available in any
quantity desired. Shipping and applicable tax may
apply. Click HERE
to see our prices on poly bags.
Bags in either material are available (by
special order) in a variety of other sizes, up to 3
feet long and beyond - though they may not have UV
treatment. Expect about a week for us to get them in.
Pre-payment or a deposit may be necessary for all
large & special orders.
- Burlap bags (new, additive-free,
9 oz. weave, 14"x26"), start at $1.25 each. Again,
shipping & tax may apply. See our store page
for current prices.
bags include medium weight (in
colors, if you like) in 14"x26" or 18"x30".
They're heavier & are treated with 2,000 hours
of UVI. We also carry heavy-weight black 14"x26"
bags that last for four years or more; mesh bags;
near-indestructable snake bags (6"x48") and more.
We provide 4-point barbed wire in rolls
or by the foot. This is used between the courses
of bags to lock them together. We also provide
tampers, bag fillers, sifters, zip ties, trowels -
pretty much anything you need. See our store here.
If you live out in the boonies & want us to
find you something to add to your order (whether
it's a mantle for your Alladin lamp or chocolate
espresso beans from Trader Joes), we'd be happy to
look around & give you a quote.
After building, you'll need to cover your structure.
Popular materials include lime, cob, adobe mud,
papercrete, stucco, and earthen plasters. Typically,
you'll want to add one or more rough basecoats, and
then a finish coat that will add color, texture,
durability, and weatherproofing. See our
pages (in progress!).
New Mexico residents, please add NM gross receipts
tax of 7.00% to all orders.
All sales are final. Defective merchandise will be
cheerfully replaced at our discretion.
no answer? Leave a message!
not to use
concrete (cinder) blocks