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Indiana Earthbag Cabin?

 
Posts: 15
Location: Corpus Christi, TX
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My wife's family has about 8 acres in Indiana about 45 minutes west of Indy that we want to move out to. It is in Owen County, way out in the country. Her mom and sister are excited about the prospect of us moving out there and offered us their garage, which has already been converted into very "campy" living space.  

I want to build a more "proper" house, as cheaply as possible/ practical, slowly over the course of a year or so. I 1st considered a Quonset Hut, but they cost around 10 grand for the bare shell. Earth bags were my 2nd choice.

Ideally, we'd like a conventional square/rectangle footprint, I was considering a dirt-crete floor, sleeping loft for our 7 kids, rafters and interior framing with round poles sourced from on the property. Considering very minimal electric usage, wood stove, composting toilet, and rain-water harvesting. Kind of Amish meets Walden. I am guessing around 1000 sf foot print.

Are earth bags suitable for a slightly bigger build like this? Will they be able to support the weight of a round timber roof and the sleeping loft, or should I support the loft independently? I suppose I will need engineering drawings to "sell" this all to local code enforcement. My sister in law said the locals consider any additional structures on the property as outbuildings. Maybe this will circumvent the need for code???

 
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Location: Westbridge, BC, Canada
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Hi Thomas and Welcome to the forums!

Every place is different when it comes to codes.
I've seen many earthbag structures that have straight walls that utilize buttresses to help support them although curved is often utilised for strength and stability.
As you may know, earthbag building has been dubbed being 'dirt cheap' but at the cost of labour. Perhaps you could draft some of those 7 children to help out with the manual labour?

Are you familiar with Kelly Harts work? He has a great FAQ page that may be able to answer your questions here:  www.earthbagbuilding.com/faqs

A great thread by Daniel Ray who built his own house used earthbags as a foundation. There could be some useful into here for you as well: balecob-home-earthbag-foundation-building
 
Thomas Brinn
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Location: Corpus Christi, TX
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Thanks Gerry,

I have spent countless hours pouring over several of the websites you listed, which is how I've come to settle on this method of building. I know circular shapes are far stronger but the conventional aesthetics make for an easier sell to the wife's family the idea of building with dirt-bags. The finished product should be much more palatable to the neighbors on the property up the road too. I read somewhere that the buttresses should be every 12ft  and the wall should not exceed 10ft tall. Straight walls being more prone to buckling than circles, would rebar stakes every few courses be able so sufficiently stiffen up the walls? Is there a definitive guide book that covers design criteria such as this.

In economics, as with most of life, everything is a series of tradeoffs. As you mentioned, it is a very cheap building solution but requires lots of repetitive lifting and it is fairly slow going from what I gather. I fully planned to enlist the help of all my kids although only the oldest three will be of much help lifting stuff. My oldest is only 10 years old, but he's chomping at the bit to build his own shack in the woods too. The little ones will have a blast plastering it all! We're not on a time table since we're going to be camped out in the garage apartment. The payoff to me personally is not only a very sturdy, debt free house but probably more so, the time we spent together as a family during the build, learning new skills and sharing what I already know with the kids.

I want to contact the county code people there but I dread trying to explain what I want to do. They've likely never head any such thing and will be overly skeptical.  If I approach them about building an "outbuilding" it may be easier. It could be a workshop easily enough. And furnish it for living quarters after the fact.  
 
 
Gerry Parent
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I have only built a single 16' diameter dome so the finer details of building a straight wall are foreign to me. I have heard of driving rebar into the bags helps to bond it all together better but don't know how much it would help with vertical stability, particularly if you have one side back-filled.

This sounds like a really great project for you and your family. Like a community barn raising that brings people closer together in a world that (particularly now) is going in the opposite direction.

Your approach to building officials sounds like a wise step. Keeping this vague yet sounding safe and confident in its intent can go a long way with making the officials happy.

I don't know of any highly recommended books on the subject but can provide a few links: Earthbag Architecture

and Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques

 
Posts: 3
Location: Brown County, Indiana 6a
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I am about 40 minutes south of Indy in a similar situation but with rammed earth, still in the planning stage but there is an interesting clause in the law that established the counties ability to make codes. If you look up log cabin rule you will find that if the home is owner built then the only code that applies is septic. Here is the link to the code on the govs website http://iga.in.gov/legislative/laws/2019/ic/titles/036/#36-7-8 look under 36-7-8-(d). Also if you look at the Indiana building code you'll find adobe listed under masonry. You might try to convince them that what you want to do falls under that. That is what I'm going to try.
 
master gardener
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Gabe Pope wrote:

If you look up log cabin rule you will find that if the home is owner built then the only code that applies is septic.

Just because you don't have to follow a rule, doesn't mean building whatever you want and hoping an unexpected storm won't take it out isn't a *really bad idea*. Hubby and I are firm believers about building "above the code" or "better than code", as the code is generally written to save lives, not to save the building (which I consider incredibly short-sighted since I'm living in a major earthquake zone where it's damp and wet all winter so if the big one hits in December and takes out our 1970's house things could get ugly fast!)
In fact, some of the "alternate" building techniques when done as intended have been shown to stand up much better than stick-built housing in bad storms. I agree you have to balance what is best practice for the technique you settle on verses some consideration for those around you wanting to live in a home they perceive as "normal", but then again, maybe you are embarking on the path to a "new normal". I've read of some round earthbag buildings with a wooden roof that withstood bad storms, floods and earthquakes with hardly a scratch while the surrounding "normal and to code" buildings were condemned. Those "weirdos in the round house" were suddenly very popular!

I'd try and get the rest of the family to read all the alternate building books you can get your hands on - maybe they'll start to see and appreciate the "future"! Lloyd Kahn's books are great inspiration.
 
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If you are set on straight walls, maybe consider straw bale building as well.  It isn't nearly as cheap as earthbag building though.

You may be surprised how accepting people can be of unconventional shapes.  I personally find round buildings much more interesting looking than rectangular, and I've seen earthbag building that are just beautiful.  Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder though.  Good luck to you, it's a really cool opportunity.
 
Gabe Pope
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Location: Brown County, Indiana 6a
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Just because you don't have to follow a rule, doesn't mean building whatever you want and hoping an unexpected storm won't take it out isn't a *really bad idea*.
That is why I mentioned the code for adobe, which I am using as my baseline not my end point. If they won't take it under adobe, then I'll try classifying it as concrete. But if they still won't take it then it is very helpful to have a way to sidestep that particular roadblock. I had originally wanted to do earthbag but thought it would be to hard of a sell to the code people and I want to set a precedent for more innovative/ancient construction methods in this county. Hope that clarifies.
 
Thomas Brinn
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Location: Corpus Christi, TX
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"Just because you don't have to follow a rule, doesn't mean building whatever you want and hoping an unexpected storm won't take it out"

I want a very strong, house that will outlast me and my wife, even be able to provide shelter for whoever comes after. Can't get much more sustainable than that, right? One of my older brothers hired on at a construction company in FL after hurricane Andrew and was disgusted at their outright dangerous building practices that somehow pass code. He concluded the inspectors were paid off. Most new homes I have seen my friends buy, look pretty from the street but if you know what you're looking at, the craftsmanship is non-existent and structural integrity is in question. It still passes code though and they paid over a quarter million bucks, dooming them to debt-slavery till their dying breath.

I want strength, not just to be approved by code, but rather because this is my castle, built by my own 2 hands. I am investing my own sweat and blood, using my own creativity to solve issues as they arise. I want a high quality return for such an investment.

My main concern is that some overly critical busy-body will report us to Child Protective Services who may "try" to confiscate my children due to our unconventional lack of running water or electricity. Will I have clean safe water, YES! Will I need electricity, IDK. These things will come at some point however, I don't want to be forced to rely on the grid. My children's well being is of vital importance.
 
pollinator
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If you supply yourself with water and electricity at the start, not only will the task be faster and easier it may help with the welfare situation you mentioned.
Both of them will make it more comfortable and you may squeeze an extra hour a day in, as a result.
 
Thomas Brinn
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John,

My in-law's house has conventional water and electricity. This is a constraining factor concerning the location of the house on the property if I am to tap into their septic, water, and electric. The costs also increase, and it will have to be permitted, and inspected as well.
Running power tools won't be an issue though, since I can run extension cords or get a small generator or compressor for construction purposes.
 
pollinator
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I like the idea of building a self-supported roof structure/out building/pole barn/workshop. Getting it permitted.
And then build earthbag walls later on.


https://earthbagplans.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/custom-crow-plan.jpg


https://earthbagplans.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/summer-breeze.jpg


 
Thomas Brinn
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Bengi,

That looks a lot like where I grew up in SW Florida! My neighbors there did the same thing as you; built a pole barn then finished it out on the down-low. They were well connected with the local officials though so I doubt anything would be done to them regardless.

I definitely considered the Pole Barn route too. I like the idea of using round timber that is available on the property and I could source locally for cheap. My little brother works for the Power Company back in FL and has access to huge power poles we cut down to build our cow pens and corral. I'm fairly sure I could make friends with a local line-man to get  hooked up with cheap/ free 2nd hand power poles.

What do you do about rot below ground level? In the grey sand in SW FL, the water drains fairly quick, so rot isn't too big of a problem. Where I currently am in SE Tx, we have expansive clay, and rotten fence posts are a constant problem. In Indiana, where we are looking to build, the local soil is very sticky clay too. The rain fall there is much heavier too. It stays moist. How do you think the poles could be mounted/ anchored to some sort of rubble/ stone foundation, to keep it dry?
 
Gerry Parent
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Thomas,  I remember a thread or two discussing different ways to preserve posts from rotting from used motor oil to burning the post ends. A quick search didn't bring anything to me but its out there.
I think one of them was at Wheaton Labs, perhaps in the berm shed thread. Sorry I couldn't be more help.
 
S Bengi
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You can have a stem wall/bondbeam foundation

https://polebarnsdirect.com/options/post-frame-foundation-options/

 
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I think you might be like me a bit. Eady to get hitched to an idea.

I have looked at about every building method, and earth bag ranks high in my mind. But, you will work very hard, when I studied  earth bag, I figured for large structure one needs more conventional roof, like trusses. And insulation is going to be difficuly.

My thinking for me is to do more conventional, stick built, get on property and family together
 Think of building assets,  cabin(s) on skids .
Move in, then perhaps in future do earth bag, these poles you mentioned, are they from the land?  Do you  have timber?

A used saw mill, planner, and 12 feet wide "amish" cabin, other fast and some what conventional  is 4x4, 4x6, 6 x6, posts directly inbeded  on the ground, the make cool protective sleeves to really resist rot, , floor could be patio pavers, very snug


I am leaning in this direction then once on land build some structures alternatively  like greenhouse, root cellar,  shed ecetra.

Just a thought, my calculations show I can build "amish " shed at 1/2 the cost.

Just saying, step back and consider,

I built conventional when my family was young

By the way,  I know  dollars are tough. If you had a cluster of well built cabins they could be sold in the future
 
Thomas Brinn
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paul salvaterra wrote:  Think of building assets,  cabin(s) on skids .

I am leaning in this direction then once on land build some structures alternatively  like greenhouse, root cellar,  shed ecetra.

Just a thought, my calculations show I can build "amish " shed at 1/2 the cost.

By the way,  I know  dollars are tough. If you had a cluster of well built cabins they could be sold in the future



Sister in law has the Main House, Mother in Law has Amish Shed conversion on skids, as well as my sister in law's adult son.

Didn't consider "Chinese- Blueprinting" off their Amish Cabins and up-sizing accordingly. Hmmm. I think I can definitely build one, just not sure on estimating costs. I'd hate like the devil to get back in debt! Need to get in a decent garden, a few animals for eggs & milk, adding meat critters later. Like you said, a root cellar and other outbuildings/ misc expendatures may be more needful.
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