Hi, there. My partner and I are in the first stages of planning an earthbag house. We're very interested in earthbag technique because of its low cost, ease of building, low environmental impact, and insulation properties. However, we currently live in the Tennessee Valley, which gets a considerable bit of rain, so we will probably end up doing a traditional roof rather than the dome shape that otherwise interests us. Along with that, we are concerned about any kind of plaster or stucco we might make without professional help being too susceptible to the elements. Because of this, and because my partner and I both like the look and low maintenance of traditional (in the US, anyway) brick houses (not adobe brick), we were considering whether it would be possible or desirable to brick the earthbag house. I have done some cursory research, and it seems that professionally done stucco is just as or more expensive than brick, and is prone to cracking over the long term, needing a considerable bit of maintenance- I can't find any information on bricks for an earthbag house, though. I assume this is because most people who do earthbag houses are trying to use natural, local materials, which is awesome, but I want to make sure that the house is low maintenance for future cost purposes, and attractive for my partner's benefit (even if we can't brick it right away).
Two questions, in summary:
1) is it possible to traditionally brick an earthbag house?
2) is this desirable from a practical standpoint (will the bricks leech moisture into the earth and require extra precautionary measures, for example)?
Earthbag is awesome. If you haven't already, I highly recommend that you read "Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques" by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer. I was able to check it out from my local library and read it cover-to-cover. It was so useful I purchased a copy so that I could have it around for future reference and loan it to my friends. I haven't built an earthbag structure yet because I live in Vermont, and while the thick earth walls provide some insulating value, it is not nearly enough for a Vermont winter. I'm trying to figure out how to do a double-wall earthbag construction with insulation between, but that is not a pressing project.
You could certainly brick an earthbag building. You would want to leave a small gap between the earthbag structure and the brick, and tie the brick to the earthbag using brick ties. You should figure out how the brick ties are going to work with the earthbag construction. You might need to install them as you build the earthbag. You will also need to have a smooth "brick shelf" for your first course of bricks. This image: http://www.imiweb.org/design_tools/masonry_details/details/01.030.0321.php shows typical details for brick for conventional construction. The vapor barrier shown in the image relates to the insulation, not to the brick itself - if you are not using insulation, don't worry about the vapor barrier.
Another option other than brick would be to protect your walls with a large overhang. If you are using a conventional roof, you can protect your walls from lots of moisture with large overhangs. This works best for single-story buildings. If you get wind-driven rain, the windward side will still see plenty of water.
I am a strong proponent of walk around porches for protection (both rain and sun). Make sections into screen porches for 3 season use. You could make simple 8-10 foot wide porches for less than bricking.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
posted 6 years ago
Thank you, Karen. Your response was very helpful! We do get some wind driven rain here. I've never actually heard of brick ties- shows my inexperience! I'm thinking that either way we may have the finish professionally done after we lay the earth just to ensure that we don't screw things up.
R Scott, that is a good suggestion, but for some reason I've always been averse to porches. Maybe because my family never actually used them, or because the ones I saw on family houses were all extremely ugly and cumbersome looking. Something to consider.
A follow-up, for those who use stucco or plaster, am I misunderstanding the costs/risks that come with it, or at least with certain mixes we could use? I've seen some attractive houses around here that look to be made of some kind of stucco-like material, but I'm not sure what it is, and I don't know how much maintenance they put into them.
Location: VT, USA Zone 4/5
posted 6 years ago
Hey Brittany - you are welcome! If you choose to have brick professionally installed, I suggest you meet with the mason before you build the rest of the building to make sure that you leave him/her the structure and connections they need. You might need to meet with a few different contractors before you find someone who is interested in and open to working on an unusual (for them) project.