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Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar Level 8 and 9 and Backfilling

We’ve completed levels 8 and 9 …



… on level 9 we were joined by Itsik and Yifat who visited with us for a week … so we reached and celebrated the end of 9 together.



In level 9 we also put in additional vertical reinforcement by pounding in rebars into the longest stretch of buried wall that we have (~6 meters)  … and we will continue to do that in an interlaced pattern to give the wall some more strength to resist the weight of the earth piling up behind it.


Which brings us to today … soil … we called the excavator back (marking what is probably the half-way point of wall construction) … to start backfilling and bringing some more soil to our mixing station (so that I don’t need to carry it in a wheelbarrow). Yesterday we prepared by pulling the plastic covering over the walls   20161010_095944

.. and so it started … and very quickly the corner behind the first retaining wall was filled up ….


… then the side and rear corner20161010_110123

… during the backfilling, a new soil pile near the mixing station started to appear



… and before you know it (almost three hours later) the backfilling was complete …. so from the outside we are back at ground level (which does make some maneuvering on the walls easier)


… and a huge pile of soil (30+ cubic meters) is now blocking the entrance and hiding the site … when that soil is gone, construction of the walls should be complete (or very close to completion)


As the work progressed we realized we were going through A LOT (= surprising amount) of soil … we’ve used up most of the free soil on and around the site … and it doesn’t look like what we have left will be enogh to complete backfilling and covering the structure. At first this felt like a potential problem … but it quickly transformed into opportunity. It looks like the supply of soil needed to complete this project will overlap and lead into the next project. One option weve been discussing is a small lake (a whole other story). Another option is to start excavating what may be the next construction project … either way … it left us with a pleasant sense of continuity 🙂

Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Technical Report from Nepal

Good Earth Nepal has published this PDF on its site.

Before presenting some highlights I would add that there are a few details which, to my understanding are only correct in the context of typical above ground houses, less so with bermed or underground structures.

“At present, there are over 15,000 Earthbag buildings worldwide with recent Earthbag  constructions gaining approval under strict US building codes.

An estimated 55 Earthbag structures built in Nepal survived the 2015 earthquake, in regions ranging from Solokumbu to Sindhupalchok to Kathmandu.

… The main material of an Earthbag structure is ordinary soil obtainable at the worksite.

… A study by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration found that the half -life of polypropylene fabrics in benign environments can be 500 years or more. The
bags themselves have a tensile strength even higher than that of steel, and can resist circumferential forces generated from the weight above.

… An Earthbag building uses its own weight to anchor itself to the rubble trench foundation. Since the superstructure is not attached to the foundation by bolts or rebars, the foundation and the
superstructure are able to move independently minimizing the shock transfer to the walls. A rubble trench is also built of individual units rather than a continuous beam further absorbing the shock.

Earthbags are resilient. As per an experimental study on vibration reduction … Earthbags have a relatively high damping ratio with horizontal as well as well as vertical vibrations effectively reduced.

… All of these components make Earthbag structures extremely earthquake-resistant. Tests done in accordance with IBC standards have found that Earthbag construction far exceeds Zone 4 standards, devised to protect against the very highest level of seismic activity. Numerous Earthbag structures have been built in the United States. Earthbag structures are permitted by the California Building Code, the toughest in the United States due to high seismic activity.”



Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Level 6 and 7 Done

After finishing level 6 we ordered another batch of sand (another 6 cubic meters, like the first batch).


… and it was delivered just as we were getting started on Level 7 (because of tricky vehicle access to our property it came in two batches of 3 cubic meters) … this is the second batch being delivered with the first one in place:


Layer 7 was relatively smooth sailing … that is with uninterrupted and continuous bag laying … also the overall wall length is shortening as both of the retaining walls are starting to shorten:


This weekend I was alone and so could not progress with construction so I focused on preparing soil for the next two layers (I hope):


We’ve pretty much used up the entire side-hill that was created during excavation. I pulled down 45 roughly sifted wheelbarrows of soil. You can see the soil pile that I’ve prepared behind the sand pile. That should allow us to make good progress with mixing and packing the next two layers. Its a tough job … and I hope I’ve seen the end of it .. at least for a while. After the next two layers we want to bring in the excavator to do some backfilling and to collect a large pile of soil next to the sand-pile … that should take us nearly to the end of the earthbag phase of this project


We’ve had a fairly long stretch of work without rain interruption … but that is about to change. I’ve pulled the  plastic that will cover the walls, over the walls … and later today will go out and layout more tarps to keep the site as dry as possible.


Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Level 5 Done ready for 6

Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Level 5 Started

We decided to incorporate a small cob bench facing a western view (sunsets) – these are the supports built into the wall:




Level 4 is complete and Level 5 has started


Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Working on Layer 4

With the second layer finished we needed to position the inner ends of the ventillation tubes … we had to assemble the corner joints and the parts that oenetrate the wall used cob to continue the slight angle that was already established with the long section of the pipe.



The days are getting noticeable shorter, and we felt we wanted to be work longer at the tail end of our evening work sessions … so … lights:



After finishing the third level (we are already more than half finished with the 4th) we did some simple level testing and got very good results:


20160826_121451We are now settling into a continuous flow of work moving endless wheelbarrows of soil … things are moving a bit slower because we are now two people … things to look forward to: wrapping the structure with a moisture barrier, backfilling, electrical installation working higher up, earthbag arches … stay tuned.

Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Ready for 2nd Layer

When we finished laying the first layer of earthbags for the cellar walls we felt like “that’s done … on to the 2nd layer” … turns out that wasn’t the case … instead more preparations.

First we had to do finish the first layer by putting in the retaining walls. That required leveling the soil (by adding more soil and tamping it) and then putting down a layer of gravel (and tamping it). It greatly enhanced our sense of the structure and how it is built into the hill. The retaining walls acts as a funnel which converges on the outer door.


Then it was time to finally prepare the 50 bricks to hold down the barbed wire (stay tuned to see what these do as we move up the walls) and then to put in the first layer of barbed wire. That went fairly smoothly.



With one level of the walls fully down we could not loger roll wheel barrows into the structure so we had to finally put down ramps over the two door frames.

The last task was to put in place the ventillaton pipes that would provide fresh, temperature moderated air into both rooms. This required positioning the pipes, creating supporting earth ramps that gently rise from the intake (built into the retaining walls) into the cellar rooms, covering the ramp with sand …


… and finally connecting and laying down the pipes.


now we are finally ready to get started with the second layer of earthbags.


Being at Bhudeva during Earthbag Cellar Construction


We are, for the first time since starting this adventure called Bhudeva, considering inviting volunteers to partake in the earthbag cellar project. This is that invitation. If you are interested in being with us here at Bhudeva and experiencing earthbag construction first hand then please read through this invitation with care. It contains valuable information that will hopefully help you understand what the invitation is and if it is relevant for you.


We have been developing this project since early spring. After much preparation we have taken major steps forward into the construction phase. After experimentation and learning we feel we have arrived at a working process which we can share with others. For the coming weeks we will be entering a flowing construction phase which involves building up the walls and preparing the structure for burial. There is a lot of physical work involved and we can benefit from more helping hands in doing it. The work is also becoming clear and organized enough that we feel we can bring others into the process.

Being at Bhudeva

Bhudeva has, over the years, settled into distinct rhythms and patterns. It is hard for me to describe, but as I write these words I feel that the people currently here (there are three of us) share an interest in practicing an authentic, grounded presence. We trust that our individual pursuits of these qualities result in a good shared existence. This is a delicate, intimate and sometimes challenging pursuit both individually and collectively.

Almost everything we do here is in service to that exploration. So while superficially it make look like we are making an earthbag cellar, we are actually practicing being authentically present and true to ourselves while doing the actions that lead to an earthbag cellar. If our actions (big or small) do not support our individual practices of being authentically present we stop doing them and reconsider.


Who is Invited?

We don’t know. We have no experience hosting volunteers to draw on. However we can say this: people who resonate with Being at Bhudeva are welcome. If your presence here disrupts Being at Bhudeva, you will be asked to leave. If you DO NOT understand or do not resonate with Being at Bhudeva, you probably don’t belong here. If you DO resonate with Being at Bhudeva but are unsure what it actually means, you are welcome to come here and find out for yourself.

You do need to be healthy and physically able to do physical work.

What is work like?


Moving around a lot of soil interlaced with some other tasks. It is a lot of physical work.

If you approach it with seriousness and force you may experience it is as difficult … and probably not get far. If you are playful and curious and are interested in learning to pace yourself and move gracefully and make every shovel swing good … it can be grounding, pleasant and even meditative. If you rush it, it is hard-going, if you pace yourself with correct effort you make good, reliable progress.


What will you experience?

First and foremost you will experience Being at Bhudeva. It is difficult to do anything here without first connecting to the way life is lived here.

Depending on when you are here with us you will learn, through action, the basics of earthbag construction and in later stages (when we start to bury the structure) some additional things which are unique to underground structures.

You you will be partaking in a living process. You will most likely have questions that come up as we work together and we will try to answer your questions generously. We will be hosting no more than 4 people at a time. This allows for personal spacious interaction. However, this is not a course. There are plenty of theoretical subjects which have informed this process and we are not offering (at this time) a structured training on these subjects. So sometimes, you may get only partial answers, or pointers on where to look for more information.

How long can you stay?

If you don’t have much time but want to have a look around and get a taste of the work you can come for  one of our work sessions (typically a few hours).

If you want to experience more aspects of the work you may wish to stay longer. A longer stay makes it possible for us all to experience a more meaningful exchange where we can share with you more of what we’ve learned, you can practice more skills for more time and make a more substantial contribution to the process. This may happen if you stick around for a few days.

If you are into Being at Bhudeva and into earthbag construction (which you can probably discover by being here a few days) you may want to stay here for an even longer period of time. For that happen we need to experience a mutual connections that makes such a longer stay possible.

Living conditions

We are asuuming you will want to stay at Bhudeva, however there may be other options one of which is a new pensiune just outside the village (a few minutes drive) which has recently opened its doors to visitors.

If you do choose to stay with us, here are a few things you may wish to know:

  1. You will be camping in a tent (that you need to bring with you). We do not yet have built structures to house other people. We have one small house which is a private space and we prefer to keep is that way.
  2. We have one composting toilet in the house. If you stay here for a few days or more, you will learn not just to use it (make contributions) but also learn to care for it (emptying it in our humanure hacienda).
  3. If you are staying here for a few days we will provide you with a short warm shower at the end a working day. We know how precious this can be, we treasure it and expect you will too.
  4. We have a small outdoor kitchen.
  5. We eat mostly vegetables and fruits, with some dairy productions and eggs. Most of it locally (in the village) produced.

Families and Kids

… are welcome here. However their presence must also resonate with Being at Bhudeva. If you are interested in being here and your spouse is joining you for the ride, you are welcome. Children are also welcome. However you will need to balance their presence with the purpose of your being here. If a good balance isn’t found, then you will not be able to stay here during this time, when our focus is on the earthbag cellar construction project.

When it comes to families and kids sometimes more space is needed and at those times it is your responsibly to find and make that space. The living space around the house and the construction site cannot be that space. Being at Bhudeva is a delicate and subtle. We welcome and embrace the presence of families and kids, however we ask that you and your presence here be respectful of us and the place.


We hope that with conscious effort from us and you, your visit here will be pleasant and mutually beneficial. We would like to believe that it will be a nourishing experience for you and that your presence will contribute to the progress of our project. We would like the exchange to be complete in that way without money.

We do ask for a contribution to cover costs of food and other facilities that make it possible to be here. We suggest a sum of 20 lei per day per person. We invite you to choose a sum that feels right to you.

What Next?

Let us know about you and your wish to be with us 🙂

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How long would you like to stay? (required)

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Wishes and intentions for your visit (required)

Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Getting Started

This year’s project is the most ambitious construction undertaken at Bhudeva: an earthbag cellar. Its design process was intriguing and inspired by some of the ideas I discovered in Christopher Alexander’s work … a gradual, adaptive approach, where each step informs the next (instead of having a theoretical master plan) … organically, during the spring months, a specific shape unfolded informed by a specific place behind the house.

Hopefully this will result in a hobit-like space where all you see is a door going into a hill and inside two rooms – one for dry storage and one for more humid storage). It will be completely buried, including a living roof … so that the hill will be restored (though somewhat reshaped) … and the whole space will become a pleasant place to be in and around.

Once we had a design that felt substantial enough we began preparations. This included clearing the site (overgrown with wild prune) which we had to extend twice (beyond what is show in these pictures) to allow a manageable work site (the cut wood pile is much bigger now). Until we had a clearing.





Then we had to prepare some tools such as the tampers for the earthbags and forms for the two doors (an entrance door and a door connecting the two rooms).



… and finally, after preparations and some other life-delays … the tractor came to excavate … a powerful and brutal process … and converted the clearing into what we now call the crater.





In the crater we marked an outlines of the structure to be with some lime … that got washed out in the rain.


Most of the structure has no foundations … however in the entrance area (the only part of the structure that is exposed to the elements and other life forces) we did put in some foundation to stabilize, to prevent rodents from being able to dig in underground and to insulate. We built a simple frame at ground level and used 8cm insulation on both sides as forms (that stayed in place)


We borrowed a cement mixer (my first time using one) and filled it in.



We brought in some gravel and spread it out (on top of some geo-textile to stabilize it) on the site to have a clean work-surface … the concrete we were proud of making quickly disappeared.


We re-marked the outline of the structures (this time on top of the gravel) … then added a door-frame which gave it a whole new feel …


… and after some experimentation we were able to lay a first round of earthtubes.


We have since made more progress and more pictures to come …

We are also going to send out an invitation for people to who may be interested experiencing earthbag construction to come out and lend a hand … stay tuned.