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Tips for Building an Earthbag Greenhouse?

Posts: 15
Location: Menomonie, WI zone 4
fungi foraging building
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Hey, I'm a high-school age girl who has read a lot about earthbags. Of course, reading doesn't teach you everything you need to know. I am completely self-educated in the ways of earthbag building; I know nobody who's ever heard of the method before I told them. (Translates to: I don't have any real-life or inherited experience with the material.) However, I am very interested in natural building methods, and plan to build my house using natural materials someday. I thought a good, useful starter project would be a greenhouse.

Criteria in order of importance: Inexpensive (preferably under $100, max $200), enough space for plenty of lettuce/cold-weather crops, tall enough to stand in, stays above freezing on cold WI zone 4 days, small (max 6x4x7 ft), aesthetically appealing.

I thought I would use old double-pane patio doors for light-letting roof and walls, as I have seen them on eBay for $100 and less. This would be the least expensive insulated glazing, save for double-walled polycarbonate sheets; however, I don't want something that will last only ten years. I guess I won't even be living here ten years from now, but my parents will. I want it to last for them.

As for the earthbags themselves, I thought I'd just use super cheap wholesale polypropylene bags. I don't know how many I'd need for a project like this. And there is some old barbed wire on my property I could use.

I thought I'd just use earthen plaster, as the exteriors of the bags will be covered in pond liner or something like it and piled with dirt. (it's on a hill.) But any exterior plastered areas would be plastered with lime or cement plaster. Would someone with more experience please help me with the plastering?

Insulation: I would probably use hard foam insulation. Is it better to make a skirt with it, preventing the soil from freezing and allowing use of the earth berm as thermal mass, or to place it flush with the back side of the earthbags?

I want the greenhouse to be very well planned before I actually start building it. Here are the two general ideas I like. The first one would require more digging, possibly with the use of my neighbor's tractor. The second could be dug by hand, but there is less interior space. So for all you smart and experienced people: which is a better plan to use?

And is there anything I am obviously missing?
[Thumbnail for greenhouse.png]
idea 1: more digging needed than idea 2. Also, is this the better place for the insulation, or should it be flush with the bags? And should the bag wall be curved slightly for more strength?
[Thumbnail for greenhouse-2.png]
idea 2: less digging needed, but less plant space. Is this the better plan? And is the insulation okay?
Posts: 492
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I wish I had had some ambition when I was your age, I have seen some of the earth bag construction and
it look labor intensive. But when your young you have lots of time and the muscles.
I like to point underground or bermed green house builders toward this great example, although you want
much smaller. And i know cost is an issue, but notice they mention building this with patio door windows
they bought for $10 each. The builder also uses a cold frame in front of the patio windows of his greenhouse,
maybe it works good for insulation area. That site has other solar designs also.

Bermed Green House

Dale Hodgins is a big contributor here at permies, he also into tearing down old houses. If you do a search
of his name, or frugal living, there will be a ton of posts by him and others.
I was thinking you should contact a few/all of the local subcontractors that do home improvements in your area.
Anybody that replaces windows, if you have a Lowes or Home Depot in your area, they probably could recommend
someone that does this type of work. These window replacement types will probably be glad to give some young
person all the free windows they want, it saves them hauling to landfill.
When I was delivering a load of household items to Goodwill, I noticed several contractors dropping off loads of
windows. I can't imagine Goodwill selling this stuff, but they might, it is more likely the contractor was dropping
off items they could get a tax savings on. You may check with thrift stores in your area for similar items.

I am a big fan of "oneyardrevolution" on YouTube, he grows his fruit and veggies in a small area, he has
videos on how he composts perfect growing soil for free. Strictly organic, his growing area is probably similar
to yours, he's in Chicago. The greenhoop house he has, has cold frames inside it to keep winter's frost and freezing
temperatures at bay.

Heather Petersen
Posts: 15
Location: Menomonie, WI zone 4
fungi foraging building
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Thank you, Mike Feddersen, for your ideas! Yes, it'll be labor-intensive, but I am young! And I want to be fit.

It's a good idea to build a cold-frame greenhouse on the side of the greenhouse. It would at least break the wind, and could be used to start vegetables early. I think I'll use that idea.

Thanks for all the ideas about getting glass. I hadn't thought to check with Home Depot; I can probably do that even in the winter, and stock up on windows. Have to decide on a plan, though, before I do that! Don't want to end up with piles of glass that I don't know what to do with.

Actually, I can think of quite a few things to do with it... but never mind that.

Thanks again!

Anyone else have ideas, too? I want to learn as much as possible and get lots of input before I embark on this project.
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I'd love to hear how your idea panned out. I'm considering trying out an earthbag house. Don't forget Craig's List for great, free upcycling items. My Dad sees wood stoves, toilets, sinks and such on a regular basis, will be helping me get the needed parts for my new house. Post an update?
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