Ground Insulation

Protecting the House from Cold and Moisture

One of the major things to consider when building a house is how to protect it from moisture and temperature extremes.  Here’s a video I filmed (a couple of months back now) on how Keith protected the foundation of the earthbag house from the elements using natural and reused building materials.  Enjoy!


Cistern and Utility Room

The most unusual and complex part of the earthbag house is the utility room, containing a 3,000 gallon rainwater cistern.  This room is the center of operations from which the electricity, sewer and water supply will be controlled.  It is also recessed into the ground with double-thick walls below ground level, making it an ideal storm shelter in case of a tornado.

Keith digging the utility room.

As fall season progresses and the weather cools, we’ll need to begin wrapping up the project for the winter and come back to finish it in the spring.  Our attention is now focused primarily on this utility room.

The utility room was “born” on August 13th when Keith began digging it out with the mini excavator.

Keith spent several days doing manual “touch-up” digging to level out the room and remove chunks of earth that the excavator missed.  Continue reading

Earthbag Mixture

Earthbag Mixture

Hoeing the clay slip.

Hoeing the clay slip.

This being an earthbag house, one of the primary tasks involved in building it is making the mixture to put into the earthbags. We start out with the piles of clay that have been dug up around the building site. 

My father-in-law, Lee, made mud pits–like kiddie pools–with boards and plywood and tarps, and into these we shovel a generous amount of clayish dirt.  Then we add water and let the mixture soak for awhile.

Every batch of dirt is a bit different; some is more rocky, some is more sticky, and sometimes it breaks down pretty nicely.  The rocky stuff seems to take the longest, but it all requires lots of patience to work a batch, which takes anywhere from about 90 minutes to 3 hours or more. Continue reading

Kidnapped and Hiding in Mexico

Kidnapped girlFour different people have sent me the same link to a news story that broke this week about a girl who was kidnapped by her mother and found hiding in Mexico.  It’s not uncommon for friends to let me know when a story like this comes up because it always reminds them of my own childhood story.  I, too, was kidnapped by my mother from my custodial father and taken to Mexico with my sister, where we hid out from my dad (and the FBI and other authorities). We were on the run for seven years before the FBI found us.

My mom got sent to jail and my sister and I went back to live with our dad.  The news stories that came out about us were very similar to the one that broke last week–sympathetic to the parent who had custody.  The news stories never reported that the reason we went on the run in the first place was because our father was abusive.   Continue reading

Gravel Walls

The Walls are Coming!

I’m so excited to be past the trenching and foundation stage and working on the actual walls!  We’ve hired some helpers to come out during the week, and on the weekends sometimes Denise and Jeff come out and may bring friends to help as well.  Thanks to the additional hands, things are moving along a little faster!

On September 6th, Denise and Jeff came out with their friend, Mike.  Keith spent a few minutes teaching them the basic procedures, and off we went.  At this stage we were working with the portion of the walls that will end up underground, so we were filling the bags (doubled up!) with gravel rather than the sand/clay mixture that goes into the earthbags.  By using gravel until we come above ground, we help prevent moisture from seeping into the walls.

IMG_6883 Continue reading


Foundation, French Drain, and the First Bags!

Unloading Mini Excavator

Unloading mini excavator.

We’re making steady progress on the earthbag house!  Here’s what we’ve been up to:

On the afternoon of August 13th, after we had finished filling the last of the trenches, Keith rented a mini excavator to dig the foundation and the cistern/utility room, which will be set lower into the ground than the rest of the house.

The first task was to scrape out the footprint of the house, leveling the uneven mounds of dirt and debris and pushing away the grass and shrubs. Continue reading

Natural Building Extravaganza!

IMG_6426On Saturday morning, July 26, I sluggishly opened my eyes in a cute AirBnB bedroom in North Carolina.  It had been a short night–we arrived at 1 a.m. after 16 hours on the road, where I got to see some parts of the country (such as St. Louis) for the first time ever.  The previous weekend I had no idea that I’d be in North Carolina in a week’s time.  I’ll let Keith explain the purpose of the trip below.  He’s my guest blogger today.  Here’s Keith: 

By now, you’re likely familiar with the earthbag house I’m building for my parents.  By mid-July, I had finished the underground utilities and I was about to dig the trenches and pit for the rubble trench foundation and the recessed utility room with the 3000 gallon rainwater cistern.  I had studied earthbag structures extensively, but had zero experience building them or any other natural building structure.  So I decided I should gain some experience before my first project since it is a big project after all and I don’t want to make any mistakes.  So… I Googled “earthbag workshop.”  After following a couple of links, I came across the Natural Building Extravaganza which was a full week of workshops and lectures about natural building.  Three days later Lily and I hit the road and drove for 16 hours out to North Carolina. Continue reading