Ram It, Damn It!

by Handsome Matt

“Evidence of the early use of rammed earth as been seen in Neolithicarchaeological sites of the Yangshao culture and the Longshan culturein China along the Yellow River dating back to 5000 BCE. By 2000 BCE, the use of rammed earth architectural techniques was commonly used for walls and foundations in China.” (From Wikipedia)


Dirt. Plain old dirt, can be a building material. I first saw this idea on an episode of Renovation Nation. A couple was using rammed earth to build their home. This piqued my interest.

One question I am always struggling with is: How do you make environmental affordable? If we in the environmental movement, can’t answer this question, then nothing will change.

Rammed earth, I believe, could be a viable alternative to traditional building methods. Not the least of which is its costs are comparable to stick built homes (although the cost estimates vary widely anywhere from 10% to 50% more cost in construction). But the savings in heating and cooling could offset the higher initial costs.

The dirt is collected from the building site itself, and is simply pressed between forms. The thickness of the walls then determine it’s strength and thermal properties, and the walls are coated in resin to make them water and weather resistant.

Intrinsic Value

Not to get to “mother earth” on you, but building one’s home out of the local earth would seem to foster some connection to the natural world around you.

Furthermore, it’s simply dirt. Last time I checked dirt doesn’t off-gas, pollute, or cause any long term illnesses. In that sense it’s relatively healthy. If it weren’t, how many of us wouldn’t be around today because of all the dirt we ate as children?

It’s dirt! When the home needs to be repaired, the material is on site and ready to go! If the home needs to be demolished there are a few options.

Remove everything but the dirt walls and let nature do it’s work.

Or, after removing everything but the dirt walls, turn the children of the neighborhood loose with digging implements and supervision.

Or knock the walls down, grind them up, and build another home with it.

The Stance

I like it! Readily available, relatively easy to use (and reuse), fairly inexpensive. The only downside that I see is this, it’s greatest champions are hippies and the terrorist-like environmentalists. The same groups that undermined Buckminster Fullers geodesic dome designs and whose most common argument is “woah, dude. Calm your chi, man.” (That’s a complete generalization, I hope no one uses that phrase in seriousness).

The other downside would be the higher upfront cost, and possible maintenance concerns in wetter, or cooler climates. But with many environmental technologies, the kinks will be worked out, only when we start to use them.

And that last sentence will be the topic of my next post.

Check It Yourself:

Rammed Earth – The wikipedia article on rammed earth

Rammed Earth Homes – a builder specializing in rammed earth construction

Green Home Building – information, links, etc on rammed earth building

Toolbase – a fairly technical look at rammed earth