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8 Eco-friendly building methods using earth

With the current climate crisis, a lot of us are thinking of how we can live more eco-friendly.

Throughout history, humans have been using earth to build structures for thousands of years. Earth is the oldest and most abundant building material in the history of humankind and even to this day approximately 1.7 billion people continue living in earth homes.

Examples of earth construction can be found all over the world and in a variety of notably distinct techniques from continent to continent. Earth construction techniques have developed due to different soil qualities, climatic conditions, and technology.

8 Earth construction techniques that are being used today are:

1. Earth Bag

Earthbag construction is an affordable, simple, and sustainable method for building. The concept of earthbag buildings evolved from military bunkers and are popular for flood control prevention.

Some advantages of earthbag buildings are that they are fire, flood, wind, earthquake, and pest proof. Earthbag buildings are a popular choice when it comes to disaster-prone zones.

The process of earthbag construction has a minimal effect on the environment compared to conventional construction that uses, cement, concrete, steel, and timber.

The process of earthbag construction isn't as complex as other earth construction methods as most soils can be used.

The soil is stuffed inside polypropylene bags, which are then staggered like masonry bricks and solidly tamped; barbed wire laid between the layers of bags serves as mortar.


2. Cob

Cob is a natural building material made up of earth, water, straw, and lime. Cob is a low-cost building material, its advantages are that it is earthquake resistant and fireproof. Cob construction is extremely labor intensive which could affect the overall cost if you are not self-building. Cob buildings are making somewhat of a comeback due to their eco-credentials. The simple materials involved in cob buildings leave a small carbon footprint compared to conventional construction.


3. Wattle and Daub

Wattle and daub is one of the oldest building techniques and is used in timber frame construction. This technique is an ancient one used around the world in construction dating from roman times.

Some advantage of wattle and daub is its high thermal and sound insulation. The technique is much lighter in weight than adobe bricks or rammed earth. In addition, it has a very low carbon footprint.

Daub is typically formed from mud plaster made from a combination of wet soil, clay, sand, and straw.

Wattle&daub is making a comeback as an extremely sustainable infill for new timber-framed buildings.

4. Rammed Earth

The process of building with rammed earth walls creates a very low carbon footprint. Unlike building with conventional building methods i.e. concrete which uses around 10-20% cement, which in itself as a material goes through a process, and contributes greatly to air pollution and global warming.

With rammed earth construction, materials are sourced locally and doesn't go through a process for it to be suitable to build with. A combination of sand, silt, clay, and gravel is combined, add a little water to create a damp mix, and then its ready to use. If constructing stabilized rammed earth walls a little cement is added to your mix.

Rammed Earth walls have a high thermal mass absorbing heat energy through the day and releasing it into the building as temperatures fall at night. Experiments have shown that rammed earth walls can reduce daytime temperatures by 4 or 5 degrees, there leading to less energy consumption to keep your homes cool.

We have a step by step guide that you can download if you would like to know more about rammed earth.

5. Adobe

Adobe is a material used for building that is made of natural materials such as earth, clay, and straw. The word adobe means 'mudbrick', and buildings that are constructed from adobe have a similar appearance to cob or rammed earth buildings. One eco credential that adobe bricks have over clay bricks is that they are sun-dried and not kiln-fired.

When used for construction adobe bricks are laid up into a wall using an earth mortar. Before they dry out, the finished walls are smoothed down. Often a clay render is applied as a surface coating.

6. Stabilized compressed earth blocks ( CEB)

Compressed earth blocks are made from a damp mix of different subsoil, clay and aggregates compressed at high pressure to form a block. When Portland cement is added they become stabilized earth blocks. The difference between CEB blocks and traditional mud-brick is that mud bricks don't go through a chemical process when it air dries. CEB has become very popular as it’s a great low-cost and sustainable building solution, and it's very quick to assemble.

7. Poured Earth

Poured earth wall construction involves mixing soil, cement, and water until the mix can be poured into forms, typically the mix should be wet similar to a cake batter-like consistency. The mix is placed into forms set up directly in place on the footings, and once it has been set the forms are removed. Poured earth is considered a moderate-strength concrete and once complete little maintenance are required on the walls.

8. 3D Printed earth homes

WASP an Italian 3D printing company is the pioneer in 3D printed construction using natural materials and made with multiple 3D printers operating at the same time. The innovative habitat model engineered by WASP and designed by MC A - Mario Cucinella Architects took the form, of a new circular model of housing entirely created with reusable and recyclable materials, sourced from local soil, carbon-neutral and adaptable to any climate and context. This is a very exciting innovation for modern sustainable and eco-friendly construction using earth.

In today's world, many people that are embarking on building a home are considering using earth as a material.

With the current climate crisis, we are becoming more eco-conscious. The variety of different techniques to explore using earth shows its versatility and how it has evolved to be contemporary & modern.

What technique would you choose if you were building a home?

Sign up for our FREE rammed earth class to learn more about this construction technique.

Use discount code earth2022 for15% off all of our online rammed earth training materials.

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