How to Build Super Adobe Structures

Written by daniel ketchum
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With the concern many people have about trying to protect the environment and live in a more eco-friendly manner, there is a growing movement to build houses that are more efficient and better suited to their environment. In part, this means making them more energy efficient, less polluting, and less costly. It can also mean trying to use local materials wherever possible to reduce shipping and to make the house blend better into its surroundings. This is the approach taken by those building super adobe houses, also known as earthbag houses. Super adobe houses are houses that are constructed using earth filled bags that are layered to produce the exterior (and something of the interior) walls.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • UV resistant bags
  • Shovels
  • Barbed wire
  • Plastic tubes
  • Papercrete
  • Lumber
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Wiring
  • Pipes and fixtures

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  1. 1

    Select a location for your super adobe house that will work for this style of construction. While it is possible to build these houses in colder, wetter climates, it requires much more work, and the house is far less likely to be approved by the building department. It is better to choose a location that is relatively dry, like Southern California.

  2. 2

    Sketch out on paper your ideas for your house. Remember that super adobe houses are constructed as domes with very thick walls, so large rooms are difficult to achieve. If you want a larger house, it is better to design a series of interconnected domes.

  3. 3

    Clear and level the site you will be building on. Place a number of markers in the ground to outline shape of your super adobe house based on the plans you sketched. Run string around these markers to serve as a guide.

  4. 4

    Dig a trench about two-feet wide and one-foot deep along the interior of the string line. Fill the bottom of this trench with a two-inch layer of gravel.

  5. 5

    Fill your bags with soil. You want them to be fully filled so as to avoid shifting or too much settling (although there is always some initial settling in a super adobe house). Place one layer of these bags at the bottom of the trench. Now place two long strips of barbed wired on top of this layer lengthwise along the whole length of the trench.

  6. 6

    Repeat Step 5 as many times as it takes to create you dome. With each new layer, you want to alter the angle of the layer slightly to form the arch of the dome. Have a reference angle cut in wood that you can hold up against the outside to make sure you are getting it right. Also make sure that you place wooden place holders for things like doors and windows, and plastic tubes for adding plumbing and wiring.

  7. 7

    Add the windows, doors, wiring and pipes. Then seal everything (including the exterior) with a layer of papercrete.

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