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Do I have enough time to build earthbag?  RSS feed

 
Angela Danyluck
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Hello all! I will try to condense this as I have a problem with rambling

I am separating from my husband and looking to buy a lot on one of the islands off of Vancouver Island Canada. The island is off grid and I know no one. I am a 43 yr old female so my athleticism isn't what it used to be. I would take possession of the lot around the end of July. I would really like to build an earth bag house but am concerned that I won't have enough time before the rainy season starts. I am on a limited budget (aren't we all?!) So hiring a crew to help would probably not work for me. I am wondering if anyone has any advice or maybe different alternatives? I don't want a yurt as I want this to be low maintenance for decades. My intention is to build it for me and have a part of it for vacation rentals.

Any advice would be appreciated
 
Tiffany Morris
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The problem we ran into with our earthbag was definitely rainy weather. You may find it advantageous to purchase a high quality tarp and invest in some lumber to get the house area covered, so that you can still work during rain. It's also nice to not be worried about damp earth washing away during heavy rain, if you are filling onion bags. Most of all, though, if you can't finish in one season, use the tarp to keep the sun off the bags until you can finish the next year.

I would also advise looking into tiny house design, so that you can use their concepts to keep your earthbag smaller, and thus easier to complete. If you want a bigger place, add on later by planning that into your design as stage two.

We are in PA, so I'm not sure what your weather will be compared to ours. Anyhow, hope this helps. Good luck.
 
Angela Danyluck
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Thank you Tiffany! Do you mean build the roof first? That is something I was thinking about! The weather is similar to Washington/seattle. So fall, winter and spring are mainly rain with very little sun.
 
Daniel Ray
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Hi Angela, you could do a post and beam and build the roof first. Being in such a rainy climate I think that might be smart. Plan as small as you can, and if you want it larger, plan on adding additions later.  Tarps can get expensive, call billboard companies to see if you can get the old roadway billboard signs they take down. These are usually discarded to the landfill and make amazing waterproof tarps that you can get for free or a really low cost. Bales go up fast if you have access to strawbales, but protect them from the rain obviously. Earthbag is a lot of work for a single individual, my wife and I can fill about 50-60 bags in a single day working all day. Lots of work. Good luck
 
Angela Danyluck
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Daniel Ray wrote:Hi Angela, you could do a post and beam and build the roof first. Being in such a rainy climate I think that might be smart. Plan as small as you can, and if you want it larger, plan on adding additions later.  Tarps can get expensive, call billboard companies to see if you can get the old roadway billboard signs they take down. These are usually discarded to the landfill and make amazing waterproof tarps that you can get for free or a really low cost. Bales go up fast if you have access to strawbales, but protect them from the rain obviously. Earthbag is a lot of work for a single individual, my wife and I can fill about 50-60 bags in a single day working all day. Lots of work. Good luck


Thank you Daniel! The only issue with billboards and bales is that I would have to barge them over and then get them from the dock to my lot. I am hoping to do one maybe 2 at the most barges with a U-Haul to bring all of my supplies and furniture etc as at $600 for each barge that is money I could use on building!
 
William Bronson
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Tiffany Morris
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Hello. I don't think you could build the roof first, as you need to be able to tamp the bags all the way to the final layer. We had to build a temporary roof-like structure, so that we could work on the lower bag layers during a very rainy summer. We will be using the lumber for the actual roof (hope to finish this summer), and use the tarps to wrap the finished earthbag structure during the winter to keep off the suns rays (extremely important!). Basically, the lumber that was bought is not going to waste, and the tarps will always be useful for something. I'm just being honest when I expect it to take you more than one year to complete, unless you make it very small, or enlist some help. We have been working on ours for 3 years on weekends late Spring through early Fall (from last frost to first frost), with myself, my husband, and three teenagers. Ours measures about 17'x17' with a loft. We are building it on a steep slope, and have used a lot of rebar to stabilize the bags. So, you may have an easier time than us, if you have easy road access, a close water source, and a more level area to build. I can try to figure out how to post pictures to explain, if you are interested.
 
Angela Danyluck
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William Bronson wrote: Will your lot have access to the water?


Depends on what you mean by water lol I am in the middle of the ocean. I can't dig a well till spring but there is a spring a 5 minute walk away where many locals get all their water in addition to water catchment. I would either be wagoning it or by golf cart.


Tiffany I would love to see your photos! I am thinking maybe 18-24 ft round no lofts as the scare the crap out of me lol
 
Christopher Steen
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Depends on the length of the window of opportunity, construction skill and knowledge, endurance, helpers, laborers, budget, motivating drive, tools, resources,  building codes, site issues, utilities, other jobs/commitments, size and complexity of the build, etc.

time is money (for most, you and I at least), and work ethic is probably the biggest factor in owner builder "success"

If it's just a time crunch, you could hire a few hard working college guys with young backs to knock out the bag work and exterior plaster base coat in 2-4 weeks (depending upon size/resources) while they are on summer break. Then use them as laborers for a week under the direction of a carpenter to slap on windows/does/roof/internal walls/etc. Yes you can find free laborers, but you tend get what you pay for... Or Enlist your nephew and his friends. Find someone experienced in construction to stop by once in a while for a cheap retainer fee. It'll likely save thousands of dollars and hours
Start small no matter how you proceed. Meaning glass exterior doors instead of windows and a roofline that won't get in the way to another roofline. Get a roof overhead, finish all details, then you can expand with additions. Make it manageable now. It won't be easy, but that's good
 
Angela Danyluck
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Christopher Steen wrote:Depends on the length of the window of opportunity, construction skill and knowledge, endurance, helpers, laborers, budget, motivating drive, tools, resources,  building codes, site issues, utilities, other jobs/commitments, size and complexity of the build, etc.

time is money (for most), and work ethic is probably the biggest factor in owner builder "success"

If it's just a time crunch, you could hire a few hard working college guys with young backs to knock out the bag work and exterior plaster base coat in 2-4 weeks (depending upon size/resources) while they are on summer break. Then use them as laborers for a week under the direction of a carpenter to slap on windows/does/roof/internal walls/etc.


Length of time: I will have approximately 8 weeks until rain begins August 1-October something

Knowledge & skill: Zero except for my research

No helpers, no codes, no utilities (off grid island), no job, no commitments except making a house to live in.

Complexity- 18-24 ft circle, 9 ft high walls. No complexities. Think yurt but with solid walls

Budget max $15,0000

I would have a mini excavator dig out the foundation trench and have a local construction guy frame the roof for me. My son would come from Alberta and do the roofing for me.

In terms of "local college guys" Noone works here for less than $20 an hour and that is out of my budget. I also can't provide accommodations etc...
 
Christopher Steen
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Ok. Don't want it too easy. If you do this, accept the challenge and don't let it overwhelm you. It can be doable if you hit it hard all day every day. Obviously, framing this with someone experienced will be way quicker and higher success rate. I've seen some projects fly and some drag on. But if you need to hit your deadline:

Find a helper. Some stuff needs two people to lift or position. Two people can bounce ideas. Two people can motivate each other to keep working after the hours, days, weeks drag on.

A square or octagon, with posts in the corner will probably be cheaper, quicker and easier for you to utilize the small space. This considers roof and floorplan usability.

With 8 weeks, no budget or utilities or construction background: I'd consider framing unless you get one badass helper or two average ones. I.e. Conventional framing, post and beam, or pole barn... That way you'll be ready for your son in time. A little 16x24 framed is quick and cheap, just saying. (And I'm an experienced earthbagger among other things. I love the superior construction methods, but the best house is the one you can live in, not camping in, and doubley so if it's finished, even modestly. And while most in this forum here thumb their nose at framing, a finished debt free house is what you want most right?) Your son being a roof framer, could frame and cover 16x24 walls and roof quicker than he could do a round roof (if that's what you were thinking).
If say dump your money into a small sealed proper shell now with small scale utilities for comfort. Finish out with salvage. Anything you'd save bagging will get squandered mysteriously. You have the money for a package of all materials needed for a small framed home.
That's the first part of my free advice from a stranger. The second part matters more: ask your son. He's the one that's gonna show up and work for you, it's his time and skill, and he's family. He knows you and your situation the most.
Good luck

 
Angela Danyluck
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Christopher Steen wrote:Ok. Don't want it too easy. If you do this, accept the challenge and don't let it overwhelm you. It can be doable if you hit it hard all day every day. Obviously, framing this with someone experienced will be way quicker and higher success rate. I've seen some projects fly and some drag on. But if you need to hit your deadline:

Find a helper. Some stuff needs two people to lift or position. Two people can bounce ideas. Two people can motivate each other to keep working after the hours drag on.

A square or octagon, with posts in the corner will probably be cheaper, quicker and easier for you to utilize the small space. This considers roof and floorplan usability.

With 8 weeks, no budget or utilities or construction background: I'd consider framing unless you get one badass helper or two average ones. I.e. Conventional framing, post and beam, or pole barn... That way you'll be ready for your son in time. A little 16x24 framed is quick and cheap, just saying. (And I'm an experienced earthbagger. I love the superior construction methods, but the best house is the one you can live in, not camping in, and doubley so if it's finished, even modestly.)



The only issue I have with framing is I would have to barge the wood over at $600 a pop. So if I forgot things (which of course I would) it would be an expensive lesson. I thought about getting a cabin kit but they are delivered by transport and I have no way to get it to my lot from the barge. I have no framing experience and literally no one to really help me lifting walls etc...  Asking someone to come stay with me in a tent for 8 weeks for no pay probably isn't feasible :S I chose this place because of the low taxes, it is an unorganized island so no codes or permits. The other side of that though is that there are no quick fixes to anything. If I am short 3 screws I have to take a water taxi and then drive half an hour to get to a hardware store. I realize it is all alot but I would rather this than the people in my community who are living with whole families in tiny rv's out on logging roads.
 
Christopher Steen
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Ok. So I edited my last post while you responded so look back.
If your son is gonna frame a round roof for you, a 16x24 rectangle walls and roof will take the same time. Talk to him, maybe he can get a buddy to come and pro Bono this with him. He can draft up and call in the order from the lumber yard, making sure that he has everything needed for the whole build. The lumber yard may even have packages already calculated their computers. If not, grab cheap plans online if needed. In your climate and situation, I'd Pier the foundation to raise your floor above the ground. And $20/hr for an experienced carpenter on a simple no frills rectangle goes a long way quick. You can make more money but you can't make more time. I suggest asking your son to bang out the floor, walls, roof for you.
Or they have cheap shipping containers in Seattle. Could you afford to barge 1-2 non functioning reefers (they are already insulated enough for a small size, thin stainless walls inside, aluminum siding outside)-no rust, mold, rot or termites to worry about. Sawzall windows and doors and no welding, just bolt a big roof for porch and rainwater... sitting on Piers and a sheet metal roof and paint your walls, and it'll be cute enough to move your stuff in and be happily done. Hire a professional to surface mount some simple electric and plumbing. A cordless sawzall, sheet metal screws and caulk are the tools needed with this route. I think faircompanies had a video about a backyard architecture office using these insulated reefer refrigerated shipping containers... Although your aesthetic went across the spectrum from what you were envisioning...
Good luck. I gotta get back to work now before permies hammers down on me for suggesting framing
However if there roof is framed, why not frame the walls?? That question gets under people's skin.
 
Bill Erickson
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Tiffany Morris wrote:Hello. I don't think you could build the roof first, as you need to be able to tamp the bags all the way to the final layer. We had to build a temporary roof-like structure, so that we could work on the lower bag layers during a very rainy summer. We will be using the lumber for the actual roof (hope to finish this summer), and use the tarps to wrap the finished earthbag structure during the winter to keep off the suns rays (extremely important!). Basically, the lumber that was bought is not going to waste, and the tarps will always be useful for something. I'm just being honest when I expect it to take you more than one year to complete, unless you make it very small, or enlist some help. We have been working on ours for 3 years on weekends late Spring through early Fall (from last frost to first frost), with myself, my husband, and three teenagers. Ours measures about 17'x17' with a loft. We are building it on a steep slope, and have used a lot of rebar to stabilize the bags. So, you may have an easier time than us, if you have easy road access, a close water source, and a more level area to build. I can try to figure out how to post pictures to explain, if you are interested.


Tiffany, if you have pictures over time of the project, please make a topic in the "Projects" forum. You can link to it for Angela's and everyone else's appreciation. Having real work pictures is always a great thing to motivate folks.

Angela, it looks like you have set up a great challenge for yourself and I hope you are successful at getting the housing you want for yourself.
 
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