Battle of the Bulge – Fixing a Leaning Earthbag Wall

Leaning Earthbag Wall

A Bulge Is Born

In April of this year (2021), I led an earthbag tiny house workshop at some friends’ property. The workshop had a big turnout and was a huge success in my eyes – we got a lot of the house’s walls built and had a great time doing it. Recently I learned that a part of the wall built after the workshop had developed a bulge. There are several reasons this can happen. Here are some:

  • Insufficient plumbing. If someone isn’t making certain that the walls are close to plumb (straight up and down), they can very quickly start angling inward or outward, usually the latter. 
  • Putting very full bags on the wall and over tamping them. Sometimes, doing this can push the shape of the wall outwards instead of compacting it.
  • Angled tamping. A natural instinct for most people while tamping is to tamp based on your height and angle of vision. This can leave a slant on the top of the wall that is very dangerous to a structure with so much mass. Make sure to tamp straight down on the bags.
  • Having insufficient bracing or anchoring. Making sure that an earthbag home is properly braced is an important part of the construction process. Also, ensuring that you have sufficient strip anchors attached to all posts and frames is crucial, this is why we try to place them every foot or so. If you have front posts on your structure, make sure there is a stout beam between them for support.

How We Fixed It

At first we tried a couple of quick fixes. The only thing I found online about fixing such a bulge was this video by the My Little Homestead family (not to be confused with the Manson family). Their method involved drilling through the wall and using a come-to that we don’t have so we braced a 4×4 post up against the wall with another 4×4 and applied pressure. This didn’t accomplish anything except dropping me right on my dense, white hiney.

We decided to do it with some old fashioned elbow grease. My friend began pulling the wall apart, dropping the bags to me, and snipping the barbed wire. You can see how out of line the wall was compared to the window frame next to it.

Taking Apart Earthbag Wall

We pulled off sections of several rows of bags off until we got to a point that was mostly plumb. We also drilled a hole in this pressure treated strip anchor and drove rebar through for extra support (not shown). 

Disassembled Earthbag Wall

We built the wall back up, taking care to make sure it was plumbed and tamped flat. It was a yooj improvement and now we can sleep soundly at night again! The gap that you see here was filled with half of a large cinderblock as a spot for a stovepipe to go out of.

Earthbag Wall Being Rebuilt

After the wall was rebuilt plumb, we hammered rebar through to make sure it says that way. It only took two of us three or four hours to complete this very important fix. This story certainly illustrates why it’s crucial to keep your wall plumb as you build. With a little attention and effort, this is easily achievable. 

Thanks for reading, Morgan.

Rebuilt Earthbag Wall

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