In only a few days C-re-aid launches a new all round project: The Earthbag House.
Not less than 19 Belgian students arrive to learn all about the do’s and don’ts of building with earthbags. Within three weeks they will construct an entire house under the supervision of C-re-aid’s well trained architects … All set?
Since some time now, we are looking at earth as an alternative building material for bricks. Building with earth is more durable, sustainable and furthermore accessible for everybody. In our past, we already used different techniques, but there are very specific reasons to build a house with earthbags. The method offers more structural integrity than adobe, more plasticity than rammed earth, and more speed in construction than cob.
In extreme weather conditions like the Masaai village, the solid construction withstands tornados, floods, earthquakes and with its great thermal mass it is a perfect insulator. Creaid aims with this durable solution to set an example and encourage the Masaai with simple tools and technique to self-construct their houses.
During our research and construction tests the past few weeks we had one fixed value, that led us through the whole process, our holy bible Earthbag Building by Hunter and Kiffmeyer.
Building with earthbags is a combination of the ancient rammed earth technique together with woven bags. It’s a basic procedure of filling the bags on the wall using suitable pre-moistened earth laid in a mason style running bond. After finishing each row needs to be compacted with self-made hand tampers. Instead of mortar we use a special technique with barbed wire in between to unite our construction.
There is a reason why the existing Masaai huts are round shaped. Maybe the used materials are not that strong nor durable (sticks, mud and grasses), they were definitely right with their shape! A round structure is the most stable of wall shapes. A curved wall is not only stronger; it entails less time and energy to build. Round homes use less wall, floor and roof materials to enclose the same square footage as a rectangular structure. Conclusion: round is sound! We based our design on the huts of their everyday environment, building two round houses for a mother and her daughter that suffers from epilepsy. We include a common outdoor space that connects the houses and offers shade for resting and cooking.
Preparations and Testing
After meeting with the family and making a design that fits their needs, we continued testing the different tools, techniques and materials closely supervising the quality of our work. While part of the team was designing and budgeting, the other part went on site to do a test and make some crucial decisions: what type of foundation do we use? What bags do we use and where do we get them from? Are all the materials easy to access in the Masaai village? Do we use cement or lime plaster? How to make doors, windows, shelves or benches attached to the earthbag wall?
As a first test we put our theory straight to use and made round benches for the family. In the shade of some existing trees, we pointed them to our soon-to-be construction site. We discovered the ease and fun of building with earthbags. As many hands make light work, we plan on finishing the houses with the students in no time! When we are making the last preparations, the students are packing their bags in Belgium.
Ready? Because we are!
Set? We are all set up!