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Earthbag Construction Footers, Foundation, and Flooring

This page is about the excavation and construction details of the footer, foundation, and flooring for earthbag construction domes. It is meant to be the most complete, comprehensive, and easy to follow guide available. Once we’ve finished this tutorial and open sourced all the details for the 3-dome cluster as part of our crowdfunding campaign, we’ll do the same for the complete Earthbag Village (Pod 1) and Duplicable City Center®, and then the other 6 villages.

This guide consists of the following sections:

NOTE: THIS PAGE IS NOT CONSIDERED BY US TO BE A COMPLETE AND USABLE TUTORIAL UNTIL
WE FINISH THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN AND ADD ALL THE VIDEOS AND EXPERIENCE FROM
THAT BUILD TO THIS PAGE – IN THE MEANTIME, WE WELCOME YOUR INPUT AND FEEDBACK

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WHAT IS THIS

This page is about the excavation and construction details of the footer, foundation, and flooring for earthbag construction domes. It is meant to be the most complete, comprehensive, and easy to follow guide available. One Community will be using the Earthbag Crowdfunding Campaign and construction of the Earthbag Village to make it even better.  This will help to show people that sustainable and maximally space efficient construction can be equally (if not more) beautiful than traditional building, artistic, significantly more affordable, and a much more easy and realistic do-it-yourself project. 

 

WHY OPEN SOURCE FOOTERS, FOUNDATIONS,
AND FLOORING FOR EARTHBAG CONSTRUCTION

EVI earthbag village footer and foundation, Earthbag Village Icon (EVI), Earthbag Village Construction, earthbag building, earthbag architecture, earth construction, community construction, community living, Pod 1, One Community, earth bag home, earthbag house, building with earthbags, building with earth, earthbag community, earth architecture, green living, earthbag community, earthbag eco-tourism, earth building, earth construction, One Community Pod 1Dispelling the mystery and demonstrating a clear path for replication of earth and other dome-home footer, foundation, and flooring design is important to helping create mainstream adoption of dome-home building approaches. Most builders have never had experience with earthbag or other dome-home construction, so we are creating a resource people can use to understand the complete process. We are also creating this to combine into one place all of the necessary resources for replication because our research demonstrated a huge lack of comprehensive resources in this area. In so doing, we are providing an open source tool set that is both specific to this build and useful and scalable for other dome-home builds too.

 

TOOLS AND MATERIALS

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveWhen undertaking a project and acquiring tools and materials seek out those that best fit your situation. Quality of tools generally correlates with price, but thorough research can save you money if you have the time. What works for us, may not necessarily work for you, but in many cases it will. We share our list here with the hope that it will act as a useful guide for saving you time, money, and frustration. To fully engage in this action, the following tools and materials are our suggestions. If you find a better substitute, please let us know.

  1. Polypropylene bags
  2. Geotextile fabric
  3. 6 mil polyethylene plastic
  4. 2-gallon metal/plastic buckets
  5. 4-gallon plastic bucket
  6. Saber saw, sawzall, or utility knife
  7. Wire cutters/fencing/linesman pliers
  8. 15 gauge wire
  9. 16d nails
  10. Level
  11. Tape measure
  12. 4-point, 12.5 gauge galvanized barbed wire
  13. Bailing twine
  14. One rounded wooden stake/steel pole
  15. Slider
  16. Wheelbarrow
  17. Pulaski
  18. Shovels
  19. McLeod
  20. Tamper
  21. Leather gloves
  22. Gravel & rock for trenches and lower courses
  23. Soil mixture of sand and clay
  24. Water for misting soil mix
  25. Welded wire fabric (6x6x10x10 – 6”x 6” and made of 10 gauge wire)
  26. Utility broom for concrete finishing
  27. Paint tray and liner
  28. Paint roller and brush
  29. Extension handle
  30. Concrete sealer

HERE ARE PICTURES AND DESCRIPTIONS TO HELP YOU

Polypropylene bags, earthbag construction Polypropylene bags are used to hold the earth mixture. They are purchased used or new. If you have the need, you can purchase larger quantities by the roll. The most common-sized earthbag is 18” x 30”, empty. UV treated bags are preferable, but even those will break down if left exposed to the sun. Keep them covered as much as possible during the building phase.
Geotextile There are numerous variations of geotextile used for keeping soil out of rock trenches, enhancing the drainage. Geotextiles are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain. For our purpose, the textile fabric prevents soil from permeating the gravel and rocks. Typically made from polypropylene or polyester, geotextile fabrics come in three basic forms: woven (resembling mail bag sacking), needle punched (resembling felt), or heat bonded (resembling ironed felt).
Plastic sheeting, earthbag construction, One Community Plastic Sheeting comes in a wide range of thicknesses. It is rated with the term, “mil.” A mil is a measurement that equals one-thousandth of an inch, or 0.001 inch. Most human hair is one-thousandth of inch, or 0.001 inch. The most common size in the thickness rating for plastic sheeting is 6 mil. This is 6-thousandths of an inch, or 0.006 inch. Generally, the thicker the plastic, the stronger it is. If it has string/scrim reinforcement, then the string within the plastic will give it added strength. Plastic sheeting comes in different thicknesses, 6-mil the most common. If you have radon in your area you may want to consider the 20-mil as an underlayment for your floor. Click on the links below to select the thickness that will best serve your project. We have decided on 10 mil black poly due to the additional strength over the standard 6 mil.

2-gallon bucket, One Community 2-gallon buckets are a convenient-sized bucket used to fill earthbags. The metal buckets might be preferable for handle durability.
4-gallon-bucket for filling earthbags, One Community A 4-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out works well as a funnel in filling earthbags. If you have a sabre saw or a sawzall, it is very easy to remove the bottom of a plastic bucket, converting it into a funnel for easily filling bags with gravel or soil. A utility knife can be used though and is much less expensive, just more difficult but still completes the task.
Wirecutters, fencing pliers, linesman pliers, One Community Wirecutters (fencing pliers/linesman pliers) are essential for cutting barbed wire.
 15 gauge wire, 16 penny nail, One Community 15 gauge wire for securing earthbags tops OR 16d nails (16 penny nail, common) for securing earthbag tops
Common level, One Community Here is one of many variations of the common level, used for leveling the earth bag courses and making certain the walls are plumb.
Tape Measure, One Community Your tape measure will be used throughout the project, on the opposite side of most of these, there is a clip that connects to your belt, to keep it close by. Some people prefer a brighter color because it can help to more quickly find this frequently used accessory. For this reason, many tape measures are now manufactured in bright fluorescent colors.
12.5 gauge, 4-point galvanized barbed wire, One Community 12.5 gauge, 4-point galvanized barbed wire on the left and a roll of polypropylene bags on the right. Set on a suspended rod, this provides easy access for both materials. These are two of the four critical elements of earthbag construction infrastructure, the others are the earth mixture of sand and clay that go inside the bags and the plaster/stucco exterior.
Bailing twine, One Community Twine is used for securing courses of bags together and to enhance the cohesive aspect of the plaster/stucco.
 Wooden-stakes-&-black-pipe Wooden stakes on the left, and 2” diameter schedule 40 black pipe on the right, either of which can be used for establishing the centerpoint of domes. One length of any-sized twine and the rounded stake/black pipe will also be used as a guide for maintaining the curvature of the dome.
Two versions of a metal slider, One Community Two versions of a metal slider, which aid in keeping the earthbags in their proper position and intact when positioning them on barbed wire. The one on the top has a smooth surface and the addition of a 2”x 2” piece of wood (similar to that shown but smaller) snugged and bolted in place at the 90 degree angle of the slider would make this a perfect tool. The one on the bottom is simply a scrap piece of metal with a set of vice grips acting as a handle, the sharp-edged metal on the second example could tear the poly bags, but it will still work, it’s just not ideal.
 Wheelbarrows, medal and plastic, One Community Wheelbarrows come in both metal and plastic, with a single or double front wheel and with different cubic foot carrying capacities. The single front wheel is more easily maneuverable but the double front wheel has more stability. The tires also come as solid or inflatable. Solid tires will last longer but they are typically more expensive.
Pulaski, One Community The pulaski is an exceptional, versatile digging & cutting tool that is a great addition for any manual digging project. Highly regarded among wildland firefighters, it is working its way into the construction labor force. As with this tool and other wooden handled tools, they are subject to breakage, therefore the fiberglass handled tools are increasingly selected due to their longevity. One end has a dual function with an axe blade and the other side a grubbing hoe. Once you learn how to properly use a pulaski, you will constantly rely on this tool for most any manual digging project.
 Rounded-Shovel, One Community This rounded shovel is a good overall digging shovel and for loosening the soil.
Squared Off Shovel, One Community The squared off shovel is best for cleaning out the trenches once the soil has been loosened by a pulaski, spade, or rounded shovel.
 Spade, One Community The spade is best suited for narrow trenches, slightly widening an existing trench, or digging small post-sized holes.
McLeod, One Community The McLeod is another wildland firefighting tool and commonly used in trail restoration that can also be used to pull soil, gravel, and rock from one position to another, centralizing piles, and cutting roots.
Tampers, One Community These tampers will see constant use for compacting and leveling of gravel, soil, and earthbags throughout your project. A gas or electric tamper can also be rented or purchased for larger projects.
Leather Gloves, One Community Leather gloves will help prevent blisters when frequently using hand tools for extended periods of time.
2 to 6 Inch Rock, One Community  2-6” rock. This is rock we would consider for the footings, at the bottom of the trench, it would negate the use of a French drain, mixing in smaller ¾” and tamping well, before using a ¾” washed gravel on top of this.
Washed-Local-River-Jacks, One Community Washed local river jacks, 2-4”—This rock can be used as a transition layer between the larger 4”-6” & the ¾” river gravel, but is not absolutely essential. The transition is possible without it, if you use more of this, you would use less of the ¾”.
Washed Three Quarter River Gravel, One Community Washed ¾ river gravel, ¼”-1”. We will utilize this at the top of the footers and lay our first course of earthbags over this relatively smooth gravel. Before setting the bags it is tamped well to attain a smooth level foundation.
Number 2 River Gravel, One Community #2 River gravel, ¾-2 ½”. This is slightly larger and not as smooth but can still be used under the first course of earthbags.
One Half Inch Washed Pea Gravel, One Community ½” washed pea gravel, used for base material under the dome slab.
Scoria, One Community Various scoria sizes, that which is often used in foundation earthbags for both drainage and insulation. these were also referred to as “cinders,” used in the winter on highways for traction. Scoria, commonly called lava rock, is very lightweight volcanic rock containing many air pockets, thus the insulative value.
Soil Mix, One Community The soil mix for earthbags is dependent upon the level of clay already existing in the soil. With sandy soils, the goal is 10-15% small stones and gravel, 80-90% coarse and fine sand (with angular granules to enhance cohesion), and 5-10% cement. Lime can be used for sandy soils with some clay and the goal is then 10-15% small stones and gravel, 40-80% coarse and fine sand, 5-20% clay, and 10-20% lime. In the case of soils with large amounts of clay the goal is 10-15% small stones and gravel, 40-80% coarse and fine sand, 20-40% clay, and 10-20% lime.
Water, One Community Water is an important ingredient in mixing the earthbag contents so they hold firmly together. Do not add too much water to the point that it oozes out when tamping. It is generally considered that water of potable quality should be used to mix mortars, cements, and plasters, it won’t hurt to use it with your earthbag mix either. The pH should not be less than 6. Dissolved salts and minerals should be as low as possible.
Welded Wire Fabric for Earthbag Construction Welded wire fabric (WWF) (6x6x10x10)—This is a 6” x 6” wire mesh made with 10-gauge wire running both directions. It is laid over the EPS (extruded polystyrene) insulation and elevated 1 ½-2 inches so it is positioned in the lower to mid portion of the 4” concrete pour, thereby maximizing the strength of the concrete.
Utility Broom, One Community Utility broom used to apply a non-skid finish on a concrete floor.
Paint Tray with Liner, One Community Paint tray and liner for concrete sealer.
Paint Roller Handle and Three-Eighths Nap Roller, One Community Paint roller handle and ⅜” nap roller for concrete sealer.
4 Inch Bristle Brush, One Community 4” bristle brush for concrete sealer “cut in” (that which cannot be accomplished with a roller).
Extension Handle for Nap Roller, One Community Extension handle for nap roller.
Concrete Sealer, One Community Concrete sealer for dome floor.

 

MUNICIPALITY/COUNTY INVOLVEMENT

Check with your local building inspection department to schedule appropriate times for your inspections of footers, foundations, and floors. They will:

  1. Check that your plans are approved by an engineer and an architect*
  2. Compare your engineered plans to the structure you have built
  3. Give recommendations (if they have enough experience with earthbag construction to do so) and confirm the timetable for the next inspection

* Note: You will most likely need the stamp of a local engineer on your plans.

They can offer you a timetable along with what work is necessary to complete before each inspection and the order of occurrence. Often times the building inspection department is viewed as “the evil empire,” but their responsibility is to ensure safe construction and code compliance of whatever you are doing. It is definitely in your best interest to be on good terms with them and demonstrate cooperation and your desire to work with the system.

They will review your work to assure adherence to code; be certain those performing the work are briefed on those exact specifications. If they find a code violation, you are responsible to correct that violation until they are satisfied and sign off on that particular segment of work. It is to everyone’s advantage to bring onto your team members who have adequate experience and some knowledge of proper construction techniques and code issues, one way to look at inspectors is to consider them as people who help to fill this role. If you have members of your team with this experience also, they will help with your interaction with the inspectors, give your project an increased professional foundation, and support a building experience that is even more meaningful, enjoyable, and educational.

 

EXCAVATION OF FOOTER, FOUNDATION, AND FLOORING

In our case, the frost line at the West Virginia build site is at 30”* and we will hand excavate with pulaskis and shovels** with the excavated soil set aside to later berm up the exterior walls 2 feet above grade and sloping away. Before the excavation, a centerpoint is established to maintain curvature of the dome. Including this, the four components of the excavation process are:

  1. Centerpoint establishment
  2. Excavation of footer
  3. Excavation of foundation
  4. Excavation of floor
1st earthbag course

First Earthbag Course

* Note: In an area of no frost, generally the first course of earthbags is dug into the ground a few inches, with a gravel underlayment, to make sure it has a good “toe-hold”. Fill the first 3-4 courses with gravel to keep water from wicking upward.

**If your soil drains poorly and there is danger of frost upheaval, it is a good idea to dig a deeper rubble trench (and possibly install a French drain) to guard against this.

CENTERPOINT ESTABLISHMENT

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveThe centerpoint for excavation is first established to maintain continuity of the dome curvature throughout the construction process. This is done by digging a hole and or pounding in a wooden stake or metal pipe as a guideline, as shown in the photos below. Using a center pole and piece of string is much simpler and will get the job done also. Dig a hole for the center pole, throwing in some gravel and rock to stabilize the pole, tamping the gravel and rock as needed and constantly checking it for plumb, and finally filling the hole with dirt to ground level. Tie the string to the pole and run it out to the edge of the where you want the earthbag foundation; you will need a string to cover the radius and the width of the earthbags. You may want to paint a spot on the string for the exact measurement. This will work until you begin corbelling (curving-in) the walls, at this point you will have to make a new marking for the lesser dimension or simply cut the string to size to avoid misreading the string. The examples below demonstrate the use of steel pipe and a length of wood to achieve the same result.

Earthbag Home Center-point Establishment

Establishing the center-point for excavation to maintain continuity of the dome curvature throughout the construction process.

Here’s a video showing use of the centerpoint. The relevant content is 1:14-1:57. Once we are doing our own build, we will replace this video with our own video of how to establish and use the centerpoint:

With all the physical exertion you are about to endure, we have included here a video demonstration of proper pulaski and shovel operation that will certainly lessen the strain of lower back muscles.

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VIDEO COMING OF: PROPER PULASKI/SHOVEL TECHNIQUES – THIS SHORT DEMONSTRATION WILL SHOW HOW TO REDUCE BACK STRAIN, USE LOWER BODY STRENGTH WHEN SHOVELING, AND FOCUS ON PACING ONE’S SELF

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From grade (and depicted below), the first 36” of excavation for the trench bearing the foundation wall (or stem wall) is simultaneously dug along with the interior floor that reaches 33” below grade and a total diameter of 19 feet. At this point another 17” depth of perimeter excavation 16” wide will complete the footer trench of the dome circle.

Earthbag Dome Home Foundation Drawing

Earthbag Above-grade and Below-grade Foundation (the Stem Wall) and Footer

Here are examples of previous work in progress, you can see the bottom of the floors of the domes and the excavation process to establish the footers and foundations. The right photo has the gravel conveniently positioned for easy shoveling of gravel into the trenches.

Earthbag Home Footer and Foundation dug

Excavating the Footer and Foundation for your Earthbag Home

 

CONSTRUCTION OF FOOTER

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveEarthbags don’t require a conventional foundation or footer and act as their own forms; therefore we will not construct wooden forms as in a conventional concrete pour. The footer is the base upon which the foundation lies, and constructing it consists of the following steps:

  1. Line footing trench with geotextile fabric
  2. Set polyethylene in place
  3. Lay in rock

The below sketches and photos reference the footer, foundation and flooring details.

earthbag footer foundation and flooring

Earthbag Footer Foundation and Flooring Cross Section

The circular-shaped footer trench is first lined with sections of 6-8’ long and 7’ wide double layered geotextile fabric (see video below) that covers the first 12” of floor space, then goes down 17” on the interior side of the trench and extends 16” across the floor of the footer trench, up 20” on the exterior side of the trench and is left unsecured until after the first foundation gravel bag is set in place, when the geotextile is then lapped 16”onto the first course of gravel foundation bags. The fabric is eventually secured by the barbed wire, pressure of the second course of foundation gravel bags, and rock at the base of the footer as indicated on the drawing above.

carpet substituted for geotextile fabric In this picture old carpeting has been substituted for geotextile fabric and serving the same purpose (prevention of soil from sloughing into the rock footer.
Securing the Trench Obviously not a dome, but this is an example of a very meticulous and secure trench, ready to receive the larger rock, establishing the footers and preventing entry of any soil to mix with the rock footer and hinder drainage.

Here is a video detailing how geotextile installation works:

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VIDEO COMING OF: GEOTEXTILE INSTALLATION

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Earthbag Home Footer Once the geotextile fabric is in place, fill the bottom of the trench with 6” of 4-6” course rock.This rock represents the footer and is topped with a finer mix that is the base that will directly contact the scoria/gravel filled earthbag foundation. If you are building in a dry area, the scoria may not be critical.

Here is a video showing how to install the rock for your earthbag footer:

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VIDEO COMING OF: 4-6” ROCK INSTALLATION FOR YOUR EARTHBAG-HOME FOOTER

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earthbag gravel foundation Now add the finer top mix of ¾” washed gravel and sift and tamp into the course rock gaps until it covers the rock to about a 1” depth. The remaining 5” of trench can be filled with ¾” rounded washed gravel, tamping as you go, so it creates a smooth surface that will not tear the first course of double (one bag inserted into another) foundation gravels bags.

Here is a video showing how to install the gravel for your foundation:

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VIDEO COMING: ¾” WASHED GRAVEL INSTALLATION FOR YOUR EARTHBAG-HOME FOUNDATION

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CONSTRUCTION OF THE FOUNDATION

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveWith completion of the rock and stone footer, the foundation of an earthbag dome is created with multiple courses of gravel/scoria bags. Due to its volcanic origin, scoria also is known as volcanic rock or lava rock and is filled with tiny air spaces, which is a contributing factor of insulation; though the R-value of scoria is debatable as there is little evidence of thorough testing.

  1. Preparing the bags.
  2. Create 4-gallon plastic bucket funnels by cutting out the bottom of the bucket with a sabre saw, sawzall, or utility knife
  3. Fill the earthbag – here are two ways to do this: Tutorial 1 | Tutorial 2
  4. Secure bag tops together with wire or nails
  5. Laying out bailing twine
  6. Set 1st course of gravel/scoria foundation bags* and tamp for compaction and leveling as you go
  7. Secure remaining end of geotextile fabric that extends up from footer
  8. Run barbed wire and weigh down with rocks
  9. Use slider to lay and align next course
  10. Place next 6 courses of gravel bags and barbed wire
  11. Set double layer of 6-mil polyethylene between 7th & 8th earthbag courses.

*NOTE: THE FIRST COURSE OF BAGS ARE DOUBLE BAGGED: Double-bagging is a precautionary measure to prevent the bags from tearing open as they are in direct contact with the rock footer, though we are minimizing this possibility by using rounded rock at the top of the footer as a preventive measure.

In the following video, pay particular attention to the 1:00-2:32 mark where it discusses bag preparation before filling. The particular slang phrase used is to “diddle” the bag. This is a term used to describe pulling the bottom corners (also called the “ears”) of the bag to the interior so the end result is a square corner, and then filling dirt or gravel over the tucked ears so they no longer project outward. This is important for when you attempt to stucco over the bag ears, which is problematic when they protrude from the wall. By “diddling” the ears and drawing them within the bag, you eliminate this future problem.

Before you begin filling the bags, a bucket chute (funnel) can easily be made by cutting out the bottom of a 4-gallon bucket with a sabre saw, sawzall, or utility knife (whatever you have available). Here is a video showing how to do this:

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VIDEO COMING: CREATING AND USING YOUR BUCKET SHOOT/FUNNEL

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This 30-second video demonstrates the use of a bucket chute (funnel) for filling the earthbags. Simply insert the bottomless bucket in the earthbag, grabbing the top of the bag and the top of the bucket simultaneously. Working with another person makes the process much easier and there really is not a need for a stand unless you have to work alone. Note how the bag is placed on a slider and filled in place so you can secure the bag on the spot and then immediately work it into place, a great labor-saving detail.

Filling Earthbags By Yourself If you have to work alone, another option is using these cardboard forms to steady the bags, as they are filled the forms are pulled from the bag, but that could be just an unnecessary expense for those who have plenty of labor.

Once the bags are filled you can fold them over and stitch them together with 15 gauge wire (9 inches long) as demonstrated in this video:

Another option is to use 16d (penny) nails for closing the bag. This is viewed at the 2:41-3:40 mark on this video. If you haven’t already, the remainder of the 6.5 minute video too as we consider it very informative:

earthbags ready for placement These are stockpiled bags ready for placement. If you are working with a small crew you won’t have the labor to do this, but if you have people standing around looking for something to do, have then fill bags, but do so as close to the point of installment on the wall as possible to avoid carrying them more than is necessary.

Before laying the first level of bags, place underneath each bag a length of baler twine long enough to go under the existing bag and up and around 2 additional courses of bags with the twine tied off at the top of the third bag. You will do this with every bag of every course and it serves 2 purposes:

  1. Securing the bags during construction
  2. Acting as a binder for the lime plaster finish

Here is a tutorial video for how to best place and secure the baler twine:

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VIDEO COMING: BALER TWINE TYING OF 3 EARTHBAG COURSES

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The first layer of bags goes down on the gravel and is tamped and leveled. When they are firmly compacted you will notice a difference in the sound of the tamper hitting the bag.

3 Courses of Earthbags: 2 tamped, 1 untamped This photo is a good demonstration of what two lower courses that are tamped look like with an upper course still waiting to be tamped and compacted.
well-maintained earthbag building site Here’s a photo of a clean and well-organized worksite. Note the flatness of the bags after tamping. The first set of gravel/scoria bags is positioned directly on the stone and the remaining end of the geotextile fabric that was installed in constructing the footer is laid on top of the first scoria bag as indicated in the drawing below.

The actual earthbags serve as forms, so this eliminates form construction as required with a traditional concrete foundation. We will fill the first 7 courses of bags with ½” gravel/scoria to create the 16” wide foundation adjacent to the floor, taking us 6” above grade level. The 7 courses of gravel bags (6 below grade and 1 above grade), allow for any water that might get into the foundation to gravitate downward and not reach the interior walls or slab. A double layer of 6-mil poly wrap between the gravel bags and the first course of soil bags prevents moisture from wicking upward into the soil bags. Tamping bags solidly after each course is complete makes sure walls remain plumb and level:

earthbag footer foundation and flooring

Earthbag Footer Foundation and Flooring Overview

 

INSTALLATION OF BARBED WIRE

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveOnce we have set the initial course of bags, each successive course is secured with a double run of 4-point, 12.5 gauge galvanized barbed wire to prevent lateral shifting of bags and to resist any tendency for the wall to expand from the above weight. The installation steps are outlined here:

  1. Set up wire for ease of accessibility.
  2. Lay double strands on each course of bags.
  3. Weigh down the wire with rocks.
  4. Use a slider to facilitate the process.
4-point, 12.5 gauge galvanized barbed wire Here is an example 4-point, 12.5 gauge galvanized barbed wire. Be sure to always use gloves when handling barbed wire. A long-sleeved shirt and pants are helpful too in protecting your arms and legs.

Begin by setting the spool off the ground, the wire is accessed easier. You can accomplish this with a piece of pipe sitting in the notch of two trees and the pipe threaded through the spool of wire, fabricating a small stand from 2 x 4’s, or using a couple sawhorses with a branch or pipe secured between them and through the spool of barbed wire. The main idea is to get it off the ground so you can easily peel it off the spool.

In dome construction the reason the stem wall is supported from the exterior by a buttress or backfill is due to the inward curvature of the dome from that point upward that causes outward pressure.

Earthbag-Construction-Barbed-Wire-Placement One strand of barbed wire is run ⅓ of the distance from the exterior side of the bag along the entire run of bags and the second strand is run ⅓ of the distance from the interior side of the bag, again along the entire run of bags as depicted here. 4-point barbed wire (instead of 2-point barbed wire) is used for enhanced friction.
anchoring your barbed wire As you place the barbed wire, lay rock, brick or any heavy objects you have nearby on the barbed wire to keep it in place.This photo also shows superb tamping of the earthbags, something that helps save work during the plastering process.

Here is a video showing how to install the barbed wire with maximum care for personal safety:

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VIDEO COMING: BARBED WIRE INSTALLATION DURING EARTHBAG CONSTRUCTION

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Use a metal slider to help place bags on top of the barbed wire. This allows you to align the bags correctly and prevents tearing the bag as you are attempting alignment.

Using the Earthbag Slider One end of the bag is placed on the slider while the other is precisely butted in place. This makes it so the end on the slider is then specifically located and aligned so one person can hold the bag in place and have another person pull the slider out with a smooth and fluid motion. “Smooth and fluid motion” helps keep the bag from tearing. Securing a handle to the metal slider makes for a better tool and easier execution of this step as a whole.

Here is a video showing a well-made slider and the specifics of how to use it:

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VIDEO COMING: EARTHBAG PLACEMENT USING A SLIDER DEMO

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The second run and all subsequent bags are placed so they overlap the previous run and the corners (if you are building a non-dome structure), so they are locked in. This is the same technique used in bricklaying. This is a non-issue if you are using a single continuous bag. 

Proper Alternating Earthbag Placement Here is a picture showing how the bag ends overlap those below to maintain the integrity of the wall. As you fill bags, it is important to fill them to the same level so they turn out the same length. If you start noticing length-discrepancies leading to uneven wall construction, you can easily correct this with a little more or less-filled bag to bring them back into even and alternating alignment.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE FLOOR

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveOnce the dome has been closed in we will prep the ground for a concrete floor. The existing earthbags will serve as the concrete forms for the pour. Following are necessary steps to complete this task:

  1. Level floor
  2. Dig a 3” wide perimeter trench 4” deep around entire interior perimeter
  3. Lay down a 6-mil polyethylene vapor barrier
  4. Install 3” wide x 10” deep x 8’ long sections of EPS edge insulation around interior perimeter
  5. Use ½” gravel to build up a 4” gravel base
  6. Install 3” of EPS (extruded polystyrene)
  7. Set in wire welded fabric 2” above EPS by elevating it with small 2” high stones
  8. Pour 4” of concrete* with expansion joints (control joints) 25% the depth of concrete
  9. Broom finish (click here for a WikiHow article on this)
  10. Seal the concrete (click here for a product including application instructions)

 *Due to the volume we’ll need for all three domes, we will have this concrete delivered and poured by a subcontractor

To begin, make sure any uneven areas on the dome floor have been leveled and the soil removed and used for backfill above grade against the exterior walls. Next, use a tamper to compact the soil as level as possible. A 3” wide x 4” deep trench will then be excavated around the interior of the dome and the entire floor lined with a 6-mil polyethylene vapor barrier. Next the perimeter EPS (extruded polystyrene) insulation will be placed into the trench with seams taped. Then a 4” gravel base is formed from ¾” gravel. Compact the gravel well and interlock your EPS 4 x 8 sheets and tape all seams. Lay in the 6x6x10x10 wire welded fabric and elevate it about 1 ½”-2 off EPS with small stones and pour 4” of concrete. Apply a broom finish with a sturdy utility broom as indicated in Step 9 above.

Here is a time-lapse video showing the entire concrete preparation and pouring process:

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VIDEO COMING: CONCRETE PREP AND POUR FOR YOUR EARTHDOME FLOOR

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Let concrete cure for 30 days and then seal with a water-based sealer, applying 2 coats with the second running perpendicular to the first and applied about 2 hours after the initial coat. Be certain surface is as clean as possible before application of sealer.

Here is a timelapse video showing the entire concrete sealing process:

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VIDEO COMING: APPLYING SEALER TO YOUR DOME HOME FLOOR

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RESOURCES

Here is a list of resource we found helpful:

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ALL THE VIDEOS AND ADDITIONAL DETAILS WE HAVE PLANNED

 

FREQUENTLY ANSWERED QUESTIONS

Q: Why is your list of tools and materials different than some I have seen recommended by others?

Our list is simply a recommendation for those not familiar with tools and materials that are necessary to complete this work. Feel free to purchase and use other tools, buy less or more expensive tools, and if you find anything that works better than what we have recommended, please inform us and we will see how we can add your suggestion as an addition to this page.

Q: Why do I often see 6-mil poly recommended?

6-mil poly is definitely not the strongest but a good middle of the road in quality and function for most uses. You can easily choose a stronger plastic, but be careful about going thinner than 6-mil as they tend to tear easily and break down more quickly when exposed to sunlight.

Q: Do I have to build everything to code?

Some areas will not be under a jurisdiction of code and the code can also vary from one area to another. If you are in an area where you are required to build by code, it is advisable to do so. Even if you are not required, practice safe building and build for longevity.

Q: Some of what I have read differs regarding your recommendations for building footers, foundations, and pouring a concrete floor. How do I know what recommendations to follow?

In our research we have experienced the same; different approaches for the same tasks, including different materials utilized. Often times there are multiple ways to reach the same conclusion and yes, there may even be different results. We are working with different volunteers and consultants and often times there is no single correct answer. Many times, the different approaches will still lead you to a satisfying result. We recommend you do the necessary research, talk to those who have been through the process before you, and then make your own decision.

Q: Why don’t you just bring in a backhoe and be done with it, instead of digging by hand?

We realize that using a backhoe would be the easiest solution, but in some locations and different parts of the world such equipment isn’t an option. For this reason, we have chosen to demonstrate hand-excavating a dome site to let others know how long it takes and what problems they might confront. We will use a backhoe for utility lines but we want to collect and open source the complete manual dome-digging data for those will build under more challenging circumstances with limited funds and/or equipment access for their project.

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