Earthbag Homes: The Ultimate Bullet-Proof Retreat… Cheap and Easy to Build!

C. Davis
By C. Davis June 1, 2015 15:47

Earthbag Homes: The Ultimate Bullet-Proof Retreat… Cheap and Easy to Build!

Environmentalist’s best kept secret and the concrete industry’s worst nightmare…

… the earthbag method means that you can build a small retreat to withstand bullets, floods, hurricanes, storms and fires much better than a conventional house.

And all at a fraction of the cost!

Earthbag construction is a hot topic in underground circles but has yet to hit the mainstream.

First used by the military to make bunkers and temporary army buildings, the earthbag building system became a family necessity in some war zones. There are also a few video guides on how to turn your home into an impregnable fortress.

And I’m pretty sure that this method will become pretty popular among survivalists and cautious people in general. And here is why:

Indestructible

Earthbag buildings are tough and have some serious credentials to prove it:

In Nepal’s recent earthquakes, the entire village of Sangachok was flattened, with the exception of one building. This school building is now being used as a shelter for the majority of the community who’ve lost their homes to the quake. And guess what this building is made of? That’s right, earthbags.

The polypropylene bags filled with soil, laid like bricks and tamped down into place proved too tough for the 7.8 earthquake to defeat.

With its plaster, attached to the bags by chicken wire mesh, it looks just like a regular concrete building. It’s just much tougher. 

Emergency shelters are now being put up in Nepal using this method, based on the success in rebuilding in Haiti after their earthquake in 2010.

Earthbaghome6It was the military that first used earth and sandbag construction and have been doing so for at least a century. Used to make bunkers and temporary army buildings, the ability of earthbags to take bullets in and not let them out makes them indispensible for those in war zones or preparing for dangerous situations.

We don’t have to look too far to get proof of earthbag’s waterproof properties. Bags filled with earth or sand are used for flood control worldwide with great success. Though the burlap bags commonly used degrade when exposed to water for a long time, polypropylene is totally water resistant, so is the ideal choice for waterproofing. In earthbag construction, the walls are constructed on top of simple rubble trenches with french drains to keep rainwater water away from the bags. The first few courses of bags are filled with gravel for best results.

Dirt cheap…

…literally!

You’ll still need to buy windows, doors, fixtures, fittings and roof materials, but the cost for the bulk of the construction is dramatically slashed.

Barbed Wire Earthbag HomesPolypropylene bags go as cheap at 10 cents each or even less when you buy in bulk and search around for a good deal. Fill them with soil from your own land and there’s only barbed wire to buy to complete your wall. This is laid between the courses in two strips to create friction between them.

The only cement you’ll need is enough to pour a concrete bond beam. A few rods of rebar rammed vertically through the bags and cemented into the bond beam are recommended for strength.

Finishing plasters for the outside and the inside will vary depending on which options best suit your needs. Concrete, lime, clay or earth based plasters will attract different price tags. Don’t be tempted to skip the plastering step – polypropylene bags degrade under prolonged UV exposure. Chicken wire or fishing net draped over the bags before the plaster is applied creates superior strength in the wall.

Tamped earth or soil-cement floors, sealed and varnished, offer a great low-cost alternative to concrete slab and help with temperature control and insulation.

You’ll also save a bundle on transport costs, as most of the material (soil) is already on site.

This method makes hard to access areas easily buildable, perfect for those who want their shelter way off the beaten track.

Bulletproof-600x120

Construction costs are also slashed by lack of tools needed. Without so much as a cement mixer or a drill, a shelter or house can be erected with no need for a source of electricity or water during construction.

Of course it depends where you want to build and what finishes you choose, but at an average of $10 per square foot with labor costs negligible to none, a sizeable shelter of 500 square feet can be built for $5000.

Do it yourself

One of the greatest things about earthbag construction is that it’s so easy to do. There’s no need to pay out a load of money in labor costs. A team will speed things up, but it can even be done alone.

Earthbag home 1

Loading bags with earth where they’re being laid rather than heaving them up fully loaded saves a whole load of strain, too.

During construction, frames for windows and doors can be installed just as in conventional block building, though lintels must be wider than usual to support the weight of the earthbags. Pipes can be inserted between the courses for plumbing to be installed later.

Freedom to innovate

Concrete blocks and other conventional construction methods are good for building box shaped buildings but not much else. Complicated shapes and creative designs cause prices to skyrocket.

Eartbaghome2

Earthbags are another story, their versatility being one of their main benefits. Vaulted ceilings and arches are easily achievable with earthbags and scientific tests have proved their strength.

Under great loads they deform rather than collapse, meaning they can be fixed after a disaster rather than being a total write-off.

earthbag-homes2Semi-underground shelters built into hills or backfilled on top of are viable options and roundhouses are actually the shape of choice for hurricane resistance. Storm cellars and root cellars are possible, too, as well as earthbag cisterns, retaining walls and planters. If you prefer square or rectangular styles, that’s no problem either, though it will need strengthening in the corners with rebar or buttresses.

Earthbag building gives you the ultimate freedom to create according to your vision. Whether it be an ultimate underground storm shelter or a multi-family homestead, earthbag building can make your dream affordable, attainable and sustainable.

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C. Davis
By C. Davis June 1, 2015 15:47
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51 Comments

  1. willy June 1, 22:12

    I love it this looks like something I could be comfortable in. I might want several all hooked together.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Chris M June 2, 01:48

    Neat Idea maybe a mixture of this and IFC Concrete would be interesting they make a IFC Decking for Floors and Roofs that is a T beam with steel bar 3+ inches and up I have seen up to 15 inches Its a neat theory if you were to use this as the Floor if there is a basement and the Roof Cap before putting on a living roof of sorts..

    Reply to this comment
  3. Dale June 2, 05:04

    I love this method of home construction. Where can I find more info on the dome style home earthbag construction?

    Reply to this comment
  4. Mr AL June 2, 13:11

    I think it would be nice to build on a slightly elevated earthen platform or Concrete chain wall, to keep rain water from entering along the bottom or floor level
    .

    Reply to this comment
  5. Rae June 2, 14:31

    Those green domes were from the Teletubby set. May have been earth bag structures, but I don’t know

    Reply to this comment
  6. Reality June 2, 14:41

    I think building codes would be a major issue, not to mention they are not that structuraly sound. I know first hand from the gulf war as soldiers were crushed under 2 tons of sandbags.

    Reply to this comment
    • KP June 8, 01:52

      I think most people planning on building their own survival shelter are probably not subject to building codes. As far as structural integrity, that’s all in the construction. Round domes are the strongest basic shape, (and the standard choice in nature- beaver, birds, bees etc), but only if built right. You can’t build round the same way you would square.

      Reply to this comment
    • Rich Reitz January 23, 22:20

      Then you didn’t support the walls and brace the roof correctly. Helped to build them when I was in the Army and only a direct hit with high explosive would have collapsed them. The base of the wall has to be wider than the top to help bear the weight.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Little Alex June 2, 16:44

    Where is a good source for the polypropylene bags and instructions on how to build a structure? What would be the best covering to put over the structure?

    Reply to this comment
  8. InsightfulSojouner June 2, 22:36

    Do you need a building permit for a root cellar?

    Reply to this comment
    • hamza June 3, 05:22

      Your message..yes i want to how to build it my email hamza_beroh@hotmail.com

      Reply to this comment
    • C. Davis Author June 4, 13:07

      Here is a good source:

      “… usually required to have building permits.

      However, in some rural areas they are considered “agricultural sheds,” and therefore not subject to building-permit requirements.

      Any addition of utilities, such as electricity or water, is likely to change any building-department nonchalance and cause the local agency to insist upon permits and inspections.

      Renovating an already existing root cellar can usually be accomplished without a building permit, provided no extreme expansion is planned.

      Hiring a contractor to build a root cellar will certainly necessitate building permits and periodic inspections of the work.

      Digging a root cellar into the exposed soil in a basement may allow for an unobserved and therefore un-permitted construction, but such illegal additions to a house can become problematic when it undergoes inspections prior to being sold.

      Source: http://www.hobbyfarms.com/food-and-kitchen/root-cellars-14908.aspx

      Reply to this comment
  9. Me June 8, 04:09

    Could you find some smaller pictures? i can almost make out a couple of them

    Reply to this comment
  10. Jean June 11, 19:46

    This is a dream I have had all my life to build a fairy home or a hobbit house. I want too look into maybe making one of these. I will have to find someone to do it for me I am in a wheel chair and not well. But I live on the border where bullets fly. Hard to say when the house next to one will be attacked with a home invasion or be attacked by mistake same with your own house. A drug dealer lived there before you or they come after you by accidentally thinking your house is where the drug dealer lived. We live in a dangerous world any more.

    Jean

    Reply to this comment
  11. Donna June 26, 16:20

    I’d like to see more interior pictures if you know where to find them.

    Have always LOVED this concept and sharing with my son (who has wanted to build one of these for a long time).

    Anyone know how they stand up to copious amounts of rain?

    Reply to this comment
  12. Davo August 4, 11:38

    Another cheap and simple way to build a shelter or a cottage is to use lots of green branches to make a wattle and daub building. Wattle means bendable wood or even thick vines, and daub is mud — preferably with a high content of clay. These have been in use for many hundreds of years in the UK and parts of Europe. Do a little research and see, There is even an excellent video on Youtube of a guy building a small miner’s cottage. He took months to do it, admittedly, but it has a built-in bed (for one person) and a fireplace with outside chimney. He even chipped his own ax from stone and made and fired his own clay pots with mud,
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFHTVncAe3WDDXr2KUlk6XCtaHMt2Q4WX

    Reply to this comment
  13. Shaman November 2, 16:36

    Mother Earth News has given a LOT of information on building these over the years and it is well worth looking it up on their website.

    An outstanding alternative is using old tires instead of bags. It is something to think about.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Maggie October 31, 17:28

    My family has been military for years.. after loosing my husband too young.. I now have 2 grown sons that think mom is nuts for being concerned about the future.. it hurts I’m in this alone.. but stubborn enough to know who they will be looking to when this happens..
    I am concerned .. do I just stay close as possible and use my money to be happy now with them ( when possible ) or to finish preparing ( already had plenty but lost a lot that was in storage in the flood in La. lost most of it) I have no one else.. it’s fought to engage preppers which i understand why.. but I read and have the knowledge to know I need to make a decision soon.. no small or grand children which .. well I hate to say it but I don’t have much luggage or much to look forward to.. I stay in constant concern.. please give me some feedback .. I can’t make grown men see the things I feel in my heart.. I’ve always canned, prepared and taught them to shoot .. I was raised with all boys .. helped work on vehicles .. never had anything but a truck.. military for years.. I need to make a decision soon I know.. help!!!
    Thanks for any comment.. positive or from ur heart .. I need someone’s thoughts!!!!
    Thanks,
    Maggie

    Reply to this comment
    • fibrewizard December 16, 23:22

      I hear you I am in the same position I do think a couple of the kids are starting to see but its me to look after me would love to communicate with you

      Reply to this comment
    • Juniemoon December 19, 02:39

      Hi Maggie, I share your sense of urgency. When I try to talk with my family about various needs of preparation for the worst case scenario they look at me like I’ve grown horns. Have tried to get them thinking about survival but their heads are in the sand. Like you, I will continue to prepare. Perhaps when SHTF they will get a clue and come up with helpful ideas. Idk

      Reply to this comment
    • EZNTN April 12, 14:05

      No matter their age our children always think they know more than their parents. I am past 70 and am a widow.
      I will never be a grandmother. Because I believe in being prepared I have been able to help others in need. Keep preparing.

      Reply to this comment
  15. dreamcatcher447 September 8, 07:59

    My grown kids think that T am mental, because I want too plan ahead just in case, we don’t get a long very well because of this, but I feel in my soul I have too be prepared for myself and my disabled son, but it is hard without any help, I’m 70 years old, female, my mind says you can do it, but my body says no, does anyone know what I can do? Do I just try too prepare for just us?

    Reply to this comment
  16. StarterPrepper October 15, 15:13

    Are you people staying because of your area? I live in a suburban area, and am unsure of whether or not to bug out or bug in. I have an aunt in Georgia, with a slightly more rural neighborhood, where I could bug out to. My family could stay on back roads to get there, though the challenge would be that I am in Texas. On the other hand, I live in a sturdy house, 1 story, no basement, in a medium sized neighborhood. It’s quiet, so I’m not going to be threatened by gangs if I stay put. The thing is, I have a very small backyard, and live very close to neighbors. I could team up with them should the need arise, but am unsure about that option because they may become more of a liability than a help. they are more of a ‘im sure the government will help us, there is no reason to worry’ type of people. there is also a pond near us for water source, but there is also one in my bug out location. Also keep in mind that since I am only 13, I have limited resources. I have a source of income through reffing soccer, so I can buy reasonably priced gear and equipment, but I can’t do anything to expensive. Please give me your feedback, and thank you.

    Reply to this comment
    • Odee January 29, 19:54

      First off, I’m impressed that you are 13 and wanting to be a prepper. Second, you sound pretty smart and investigative. Having said this, reading your comments and questions, I would like to address a couple of things. Since you made this post back in October, I’m sure you have probably learned quite a bit more about prepping and what things will be like. May I suggest the following books: The Trackers Series (4 books) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith (Government worker). This is FICTION, but, IS SO CLOSE as to being THE REAL THING. Here is a statement from book 1:
      “Trackers is a work of fiction, but many of the places in the story are real. Utilizing his background in emergency management and disaster mitigation, Nicholas has done an excellent job of describing a realistic geopolitical crisis that sets the stage for an EMP attack. The following story is a terrifying scenario in which brave men and women must adapt to a challenging new world – a world that we could see ourselves being thrust into…Trackers is a novel that could become non-fiction.”
      2 more books that are NON-FICTION are by Dr. Arthur Bradley. They are Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms and The Survivalist.
      As for you living in a quiet neighborhood, that doesn’t matter. You WILL get attacked by gangs and other thieves – eventually. I, personally, would try to sneak my way to Georgia. If you could find a place closer – better yet. Where do your parents stand in all this??

      Reply to this comment
  17. homes November 7, 03:08

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    Reply to this comment
  18. Chasbo March 21, 14:57

    Down here in the SW many small lots are surrounded by Mexican brick walls. Using a corner and forming the other walls using sandbags as described above can form a small bunker. I use boards across top for roof topped with sandbags. Bags for entryway too. Be inventive for size.
    Bullet proof, radiation proof and can be disguised as well as temporary. Lots of sand down here in the desert for the taking.

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