Earthbag Building in Philippines

I have been interested in building techniques for a few years, with dreams of one day building a small castle. A conversation with Louis, a Dutch friend, introduced me to earthbag building techniques. Essentially, this involves filling rice bags with soil, tamping them down and using the blocks to build a structure. It is a cheap and effective way of building using local labour and materials.

I am usually down in Puerto Galera at weekends tinkering on my boat,  and in the local community I learned of an old couple whose house had burned down a couple years ago. They were living in a tin shack.

Original House

This was Christmas 2016, and I asked if I could build something for them on the plot of land that they own, and within 6 hours they had stripped the spot bare...

Clearing

First thing we had to do was dig out the old rubbish filled cesspit and disperse the vast army of cockroaches and termites.

Clearing 2

We moved what eventually amounted to about 100 tons of earth - by hand! Then onto the foundations; a shallow trench about 12 inches deep surrounding the mini mountain. However, the plot was on sloping land, it rained a lot, a typhoon hit, and the power was out for a couple of weeks.
Trench building was slow going.

Trenches

Come Jan 10 2017, we hired 4 guys to work on the trench and bag filling.

The sacks were bought from Dinno at Beltran Sacks in Divisoria. After explaining what I was doing he gave me a discounted price of 4 pesos per 25kg Atlantic wheat sacks, not rice sacks and I took the car down to Puerto Galera with the original 1500 sacks. We turned them inside out before filling, which led to clouds of flour everywhere. We could have made loaves of bread with the amount that was still left in those sacks.

After first filling the trenches with loose rubble and gravel, the first layer of sacks were filled with gravel, and for the second layer the bags were filled with earth and tamped down with homemade tampers that we had made from a plastic container and concrete.

First Layer

First Layer 2

Each layer has two strands of barbed wire laid lengthwise, weighed down with small rocks before the next sacks are added. Usually the sacks are filled with soil on the wall, but we ended up filling them beforehand, sewing them up with the hand sewer and then hauling them into place to be tamped down. The soil contains quite a bit of clay, and with the rains it was moist. Half way up the walls I realised that we didn't fill up the sacks enough..so some layers were a bit thinner than they should have been. Eventually we got that right, as you can see in later pictures of the walls.

Barbed Wire

We used 1 meter lengths of rebar at certain points like window openings and doors, and laid rebar horizontally at the opening so we could weld steel frames in later. I wanted to use as little wood as possible (why add to the termites' menu.) I cut the lengths of rebar from 6 meter lengths using an old rebar cutter at the hardware shop

Rebar Cutting

We did use wooden frames for the windows and door openings, but I should have paid more attention to the measurements. It would have been better to have 17 inch wide frames but we used scrap wood lying around on site. It just meant more concrete mortar to be used later.

Talking about concrete, my original idea was to use Lime Hydrate to make lime plaster, and I bought some sacks from HT Mining in Valenzuela. We mixed it with water in bins to make lime putty and left it to hydrate for a few weeks. However, there is not a local supply in Puerto Galera so we ended up using concrete mortar mix for walls and floors. We will use the Lime Hydrate to make Limewash for the walls.

We topped off the walls with a concrete tie beam, seeing as this is earthquake territory..and also something for the roof to be attached to. The guys did it while I wasn’t there, and it not as wide I wanted..so now we are filling in the spaces with rip rack, rocks and mortar.

Tie Beam

Tie Beam 2

The roof we finally decided on was a simple sloping roof with overhang all around. We found a local welder within a few minutes walk and he made up the trusses, and Jane (Building Supervisor) screwed the whole roof on herself over a few days.

Truss

Roof

There is a 3 ft space at the back end of the wall, and we will be filling that up with bottles and concrete, to allow plenty of light as well as some 4 inch pipes for ventilation. The air should flow from the windows and lower eaves up the roof and out..at least that is the theory.

It was fun designing and working on the project, with no previous experience… Jane and Irene are 2 ladies that live in and look after my boat in Puerto Galera, and without their supervision, work and guidance the project wouldn’t have worked out so well. I was only down there at weekends.

Team 2

Team

So now this one is almost complete, when completely finished I will post the final pictures..

Total Cost will be around USD$5,000 - could have been cheaper but we put a good roof on the house.

Almost done

mark vernon

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