For those that don't know
what earthbag construction is, this page is just a
introduction. For 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
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
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 conventional).
- 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
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
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 strings.
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.
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 &
- 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
- Specialty 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