Mother Earth News Homestead Fairs

Mother Earth News magazine has been conducting sustainable living / homesteading fairs since 2010. A Mother Earth News fair just finished this weekend in Oregon. The next ones will be in Pennsylvania and Kansas. Check their website below for details.

“With more than 150 workshops, there is no shortage of informative demonstrations and lectures to educate and entertain you over the weekend. Discover more interactive programming than ever before! You will have an opportunity to preserve and make food from scratch, test garden tools, weave fiber, make tinctures, press cider, and more!
Get great deals from dozens of regional and national vendors that feature sustainable lifestyle products and services, including: books, tools, seeds, tractors, organic foods, clothes, solar gadgets and more.

Many of the exhibitors have their own demonstrations and short workshops at their booths. With topics ranging from hands-on seed saving to building mud houses to heritage breed livestock, there is a lot to see!”

Mother Earth News Fairs

Earthbag Earthship Videos and Workshop

“I’ve started doing youtube updates on our earthbag earthship on our youtube channel: Also, we’re going to be having another workshop on building high-quality, low-cost structures (including earthbag buildings) on September 23rd and 24th at Bottom Leaf Intentional Community, details at Thanks, Morgan.

Our mission is to empower ourselves and others with natural building and sustainable living techniques. Info on upcoming workshops and other news can be found at If you like what we share, please subscribe!”

Earthbag/Scoria Bag Building Online Workshop

I woke up the other day with a new idea for online training to help people build their own small sustainable homes. If five or more couples/households sign up for this training program then I could guide them through the building process for a reasonable fee over the Internet using email and Skype.

It’s important that everyone in the group have similar building conditions. Desert land is low cost and popular among earthbag builders, so for the first workshop it is a prerequisite that group members have some desert land with minimal building codes. We could greatly slash the time, labor and cost if everyone is building something similar with the same materials. This way people wouldn’t have to spend a year reading thousands of pages, for instance. The goal is to empower people and expedite the process.

Here’s a rough outline of this new training/workshop idea:
Everyone chooses a basic little design of around 200 to 300 square feet. It can be round, hexagonal, octagonal, curved, etc. I recommend scoria filled raschel mesh tubes for speed and ease of construction. (Yeah, earth is cheaper but it’s too heavy for some people.) Add cedar posts every few feet for stability. Add door and window frames, wooden bond beam, roof frame, metal roofing for water collection, and plaster and you’d have the basic structure built in weeks instead of a year or two. Most people start out with WAY too big of a house. Keep it simple! Add on later!

Here’s one sample design for illustration purposes. See this Roundhouse Studio. This studio is 18’ exterior diameter, 15’ interior diameter. Let’s make it a little bigger for this project – say 16’ interior diameter (201 sq. ft.) up to about 20’ interior diameter (315 sq. ft.) is a good size range to start with. The bathroom could be moved to an adjacent room to free up more space in the main living area.

Custom design options: Everyone in this workshop group could add some features to make their starter homes more sustainable and practical: cool pantry, loft, greenhouse addition, extra bedroom, extra room for a home based business, etc. Follow my advice and they would all be near zero energy buildings if you use scoria and build small.

Read this article about the Scoria Casita if you’re interested in building with scoria bags:

Now here’s the best part. After a few months the main starter home would be livable and you could start building another similar structure nearby. Over the course of two years or so you could build 4-6 simple little houses and create a tiny community of like-minded friends. Start a garden, plant fruit trees, drill a good well, maybe build a communal kitchen/laundry area. The possibilities are endless.

Everyone in the proposed training course could have a nice little home finished before winter if we start soon. For more details and to sign up, contact me (Owen) by email at: naturalhouses [AT]

If this training concept is successful then the same training method could be used for other types of houses and materials in different climates.

Q: Would everyone live in the same area and help each other?
A: No, everyone would have their own land and build their own home. Some may be in Arizona, some in New Mexico, Texas, etc. We would all be working at approximately the same pace at the same time.
Q: How much time is required?
A: You’d have to devote a good amount of time to the project in order to complete the home in a timely manner. Ideally everyone could work 8 hours/day for 5 days each week. If you can only work a few hours a week then this course is not appropriate.
Q: I’m alone. Will this program work for me?
A: Possibly. It depends on your strength and skill level. Ideally you could get a helper now and then for important steps such as the roof. Having a semi-skilled helper with the necessary tools for just one or two days can save lots of time and money.
Q: How much would my house cost?
A: It all depends on the size, the materials you use, etc. See this article about How Much Will My Home Cost? My specialty is Dirt Cheap Housing, so if you build according to my recommendations then your home may cost only a few thousand dollars. (Ex: the Roundhouse Studio cost about $2,100.)
Q: Our codes require building larger houses with lots of concrete and engineering.
A: Sorry, codes will skyrocket the cost of construction and greatly limit what you can do. This training program is for folks who have few or no building codes.
Q: How much is the training?
A: The training cost has yet to be determined. It depends on how many people sign up. Plus, I need to think through everything to better determine how much of my time is required.
Q: Why build with scoria?
A: For this workshop you could use gravel or scoria bags for the lower courses, and scoria or earthbags for upper courses. Kelly and I like scoria (porous lava rock) because it’s lightweight, fireproof, insect and rot resistant, and in general very fast and easy to work with. Search this blog and you’ll find lots of information on scoria.

Tiny House Sailboat

Hi Owen, This is a website to keep an eye on:
The video: Quidnon C: A houseboat that sails

It’s a tiny-house-sail-boat. And the plans will be ready next year.
I’m really tempted by this one. I live in British Columbia Canada and the idea of paddling around the lakes in the Okanagan and then pulling up on someone’s ramp and living in their yard for the winter at low cost seems like a great idea to me.

Love what you do. Read you every day without fail.

From the Quidnon website: “The purpose of this project is to design and mass-produce kits for a floating tiny house that can sail. It combines high-tech modeling and fabrication and low-tech assembly that can be carried out DIY-style on a riverbank or a beach. This boat is a 3-bedroom with a kitchen, a sauna and a dining room. The deck is big enough to throw dance parties. It can be used as a river boat, a canal boat or even a beach house. Oh, and it’s rugged and stable enough to take out on the ocean. Kits will start at around $50k (USD). The design has been tested in simulation and prototype; full-scale production will begin next year.”

Update on Confined Earthbag Building

Small earthbags are compacted with a plate compactor.

Small earthbags are compacted with a plate compactor.

I love hearing about innovative natural building projects. Ed, a long time reader, sent me an update on his earthbag home in Ecuador. Ed is using confined earthbags that sit within a reinforced concrete frame. This is a good method for those who need to meet building code and for areas that are vulnerable to hurricanes and earthquakes.

Compacted earthbags are set within a reinforced concrete frame with barbed wire between courses.

Compacted earthbags are set within a reinforced concrete frame with barbed wire between courses.

“We finally installed the last of the roughly 2,000 bags it took to build the house. Took a bunch of pics to show the process I finally ended up with. The bags we used were smaller than what you use, compacted they are 4x9x21 inches. [This works because the bags within a concrete frame.] They weigh about 45 pounds apiece. After plastering this still gives me a wall a little over 12 inches wide. I used cadenas through out (the rebar cage that’s $19.50 for one 6 meters long and made from 3/8ths rebar), no buttresses. All bags were filled and compacted in a form then installed compacted. The last batch of bags we did I decided to keep some good records. It took 3 of us 2 hours to run enough road base through a 3/8ths screen for 55 bags. It then took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to mix about 10% clay in a cement mixer and fill the 55 bags. It took us 40 minutes to compact the 55 bags using a plate compacter I bought. It took 35 minutes to install the 55 bags. [Total time: 2 + 1.25 + .45 + .5 = approx. 4.5 hours for 3 sq.m. wall area. Also note, try to buy good soil that doesn’t required extra ingredients and mixing.]

The bags are polypropylene or as they call it here, polypropelina and cost $190 for a thousand of them. The strength of this stuff never ceases to amaze me. On the front part of the house where I have one wall that is 11 feet tall I had to pour the concrete for the bond beam single handed. My problem was how to get the concrete up the ladder because there was no way I was going to carry all of those buckets up the ladder. I decided to try an experiment so I filled a bag with wet concrete to the brim and then just stuck the hook from my chain hoist straight through the weave of the bag with no reinforcement of any kind. I then hoisted the bag to the top of the wall and emptied it. After I had hoisted the bag to the top of the wall 25 times and emptied it there was no indication of impending failure but I got scared of it so I changed the bag. I used this technique for that whole wall and never had a bag fail. I figure I have about 25 cents worth of road base in each bag. The 10% clay is free. Barbed wire is about $20 for 200 meters. Sand and gravel are $22 a meter. A 50 kg. bag of Portland cement is $8.00. I would die a happy man if they started making 25 kg. bags of cement. I pay my workers $2 and hour which is actually about 50 cents an hour above the going rate and they work like freaking mules. Really good guys.

I didn’t take pictures of the concreting but you can see finished examples in the photos. Anyway we are now done with this part and I think the house could take a direct hit from a tractor trailer traveling 50 miles and hour and all it would do is piss the house off. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for all of your help and if and when we ever finish it I’ll send those photos.”

Confined Earthbag Construction
Confined Earthbag
Interesting idea: You could build a simple foot-levered device that raises the earthbags out of the form after they’re compacted. Also note how the end product is essentially rammed earth or large compressed earth blocks (CEBs). No need for a special CEB press using this method. Resell the plate compactor when your house is finished. Rammed earth requires expensive and time consuming formwork and expensive compaction equipment.

Update on Confined Earthbag Building is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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