Common Misconceptions About Earthbag Building

Unplastered Earthbag Wall
Our first earthbag house before plastering.

Misconception 1 – Finished Earthbag Houses Look Like Igloos. 

When we were building our first house, I routinely shared pictures on facebook. The reactions were quite muted until I shared a finished picture of it plastered. There was resounding, unanimous applause. People thought that the exposed bags were the finished look! A properly plastered earthbag house is nearly indistinguishable from other forms of earth building such as cob and adobe.

Earthbag Roundhouse
...and after.

Misconception 2 – Earthbags Add Plastic to the Environment.

When I share information about earthbag building, some folks wrongly believe and claim that earthbags add plastic to the environment. A properly plastered and maintained earthbag wall should last somewhere in the range of forever. Only if the wall isn’t plastered, or if the outer plaster is allowed to disintegrate, would the bags be in danger of breaking down. Ultraviolet light is the biggest threat to the integrity of the bags. I plan for each house I build to last at least a thousand years. Even if I fall a couple hundred years short–score! (And how would I even know about it?)

Where I live, wooden and stick frame houses that are left unoccupied for a time are reclaimed back into the earth. This means that all of the fiberglass in the walls and every other toxic material in the structure is released into the environment. One good thing about earth being your main building material is that it doesn’t rot.

Misconception 3 – Earthbags Are Only for Building Domes. 

The varieties of structures that can be built with earthbags are nearly endless. Though many associate them with domes and other round structures, they can also be used to build square buildings or can be used as infill in a post and beam structure, a configuration that would likely be approved by almost any permitting department.
Good Earth Nepal
Photo: Good Earth Nepal

Misconception 4 – Earthbag Structures Need to Be Covered With Chicken Wire or Other Mesh to Be Plastered.

A clay and sand based plaster sticks to the polypropylene bags perfectly without any need for chicken wire or lathe. Those would only add cost, time, and unnecessary materials to the structure. If one is using a cement-based plaster, without clay, they might be helpful or required in parts, but otherwise they aren’t needed.

Thanks for reading! Morgan.

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