'The $300 House' Challenge

Bring affordable housing to the world’s poor. $25,000 prize pool

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Totally Tubular: Earthbag Innovation

A natural stress-skin panel building system of light fiber and clay upper walls on a heavy earthbag or masonry base.

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A Haitian pastor/ agronomist planning earthbag aid buildings asked me last year for an easy and cheap way to build infill walls in an existing structural frame. Could trash be used for building? This hyper-wattle system is dedicated to Gueston Pacius and his extended family.

Earthbag construction is strong and heavy, well suited to wall bases. Earthbags can be built thinner to reach window sill level than when used for the full wall height.

Hyper-wattle upper walls are based on proven straw-clay or light wood chip clay (leichtlehm or terre-paille) used for timber frame infill in Europe and the US. A matrix of mesh and light outer reinforcements will transform this into a structural skin material strong enough for modest-sized single story buildings with light-weight roofs. Placing these clay rich tubes on rubble and/ or earthen base walls gives extra strength and moisture-resistance and allows high-quality earthen wall construction at low cost.

This new wall system has a good R-value as well as being long-lasting, flood-resistant, and moderately resistant to fire, termite and earthquakes. With increased reinforcement it can be hurricane-resistant and appropriate for the highest seismic risk regions. And yet it relies on local, natural materials, with only the addition of light-weight (and easily shipped) bags or mesh tubes.

It is time for earthen buildings to join the forefront of geo-textile technology. Simple structures can be beautiful and strong without great cost.


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