The longer I build houses out of mostly earth, the more advantages I realize that it has. We started our first official earthbag tiny house during a workshop in September of 2019. Working over eight days, around ten of us built the walls and put the roof wood and a moisture barrier on (the roof metal was installed later). Everything about the build felt like a life-changing experience. At the time, I was especially motivated to downsize and simplify my life. I tend to have challenges keeping my clutter organized and living big had gotten out of hand. Part of me was longing for simplicity and a tiny house seemed like a step in the right direction. I live part-time in the tiny house now and love it! I find that I don’t need much indoor space to be comfortable and happy. A couch, a bed, a cooking area, and a place to rock the fuck out, seem to be the essentials to me.
In addition to intentionally living small, building with earth gives tiny homes these additional benefits:
- Economics – the dirt from under your feet is less expensive than milled or finished wood or other modern building materials.
- Longevity – earthbag walls don’t rot, get eaten by bugs or pests, mold, burn, warp, bow, etc. There are lots of functional earthen structures around the world that are thousands of years old.
- Strength – When cured, earthbags with decent clay content are like hardened bricks. The small bags make a wall that’s a foot thick when plastered and it can stop bullets and other impacts.
- Flexability – unlike with wood, with earth, it’s easy to build diverse, rounded shapes.
- Thermal mass – having a lot of mass in the walls makes earthen structures great for biomes like deserts that are hot in the day and cool at night. They benefit from the “thermal flywheel” effect where it takes temperatures time to work their way inside, giving you heat at night and coolness during the day.
- Storm and wind resistance – being so bulky makes earthbags a good choice for areas that are prone to cyclonic storms or heavy weather. I have told folks living on hurricane ravaged islands that I’d build something that could handle a category 5 – build high and berm/bury the walls so you have no wind profile.
- Sustainability – using earth from on-site does less to exacerbate climate change and adds less carbon to the atmosphere.