A home built with earth bags

S. Samyuktha experiments with sustainable architecture with her Earth Bag construction

December 25, 2017 03:46 pm | Updated 03:46 pm IST

The hands  The volunteers

The hands The volunteers

S Samyuktha’s new house under construction at Valukkaparai is a little different from the usual - it has no bricks or cement. An architect by profession, Samyuktha was always interested in sustainable architecture and implemented the concept of Earth Bag construction for her house.

“After completing my architectural course in 2014, I did a self-designed learning course in Udaipur. There, I got the opportunity to do several projects of my interest. This house also started off as a part of it. I have a team of civil engineers, architects and volunteers who are helping me build it”, she says. Samuktha has used the circle as a basic shape as it is “structurally strong.” With a total of five rooms, this 1000 sq ft project has used around 3000 polythene bags. “I planned to recycle used bags. It did not happen as finding strong bags was difficult. I wanted bags which were not affected by sunlight, and hence had to buy the bags from the market”.

Earth bag house under construction

Earth bag house under construction

Samyuktha says that using mud for construction is traditional way across regions especially in earthquake prone zones. “Here we have used it with a contemporary twist.” The soil has to be just right in order to go ahead with this kind of a building. “ I am lucky the soil in the plot was just right with the right proportion of clay and sand. Sacks are filled with the soil and beaten to remove excess moisture and make it hard.” Samyuktha has also added barbed wires in between rows of earth sacks to create friction. “We work from seven in the morning to two in the afternoon, depending on the weather. The construction started three and a half months back. The walls are complete and it is all done by my team and volunteers. We did not hire any labours, except for the foundation.” She is planning to do the plastering using lime, mud and sand. “The flooring will be mud, and the roof will be of Mangalore tiles. There will also be a dome at the centre, which will also be made of earth bags.”

She claims that the earth bag construction has a lot of advantages. “It is not very labour intensive. Anyone can do it. It is cheap when compared to the brick and cement houses and provides thermal comfort. The temperature inside the structure will be several degrees cooler than the outdoors. With time, the walls will also become stronger.” But like everything else, there also a few drawbacks. Samyuktha points out how “The height of the walls cannot be raised beyond a certain level. If you are planning to extend the building in future, it should be planned during before the construction as the walls cannot be disturbed much. It also demands a lot of care. The plastering might have to be changed once in a few years and it should be protected from insects.”

When the bulk of her volunteers are from South India, she says that there are also people from Rajasthan, Mexico and France. “We posted the idea in several online groups before the construction, inviting volunteers. Architects, civil engineers, farmers, and those who want to build similar structures responded. All of us stay at a farm nearby the construction site, where my mother cooks for us. Volunteers are also welcome to contribute whatever money they can afford to pay for their stay and food.”

Not too many people bought into her idea, says Samyuktha. Only once the construction progressed, people changed their opinions. “There are people asking us if we can help them build something similar for them.” She says what she learnt in the process of executing this project far exceeds what she learnt from her college text books. “I love the experience” she laughs.

To volunteer or for more details, contact 9487548163 or visit https://www.facebook.com/ mudhouses/ in Facebook.

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