6 Types of Earth Construction Techniques

Concrete is undoubtedly the most used material today. But the cost and ecological damage that come with it are plenty.  To build sustainably with locally available materials, we need to go down to earth. 

Earth-building techniques are traditional methods that have been prevalent worldwide. By experimenting, earth has been used as a construction material in various different forms.

Here are a few of the most common earth construction techniques:

  1. Cob Construction
  2. Adobe construction
  3. Rammed earth construction 
  4. CSEB construction
  5. SuperAdobe construction
  6. Wattle and Daub construction 

Types of Earth Construction Techniques

 1. Cob construction 

This type of construction primarily makes use of a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water. These materials are kneaded together using hands, feet or simple tools. 

  • Lumps of the highly malleable mixture are pressed together to make the foundations and wall.
  • Cob mixture can also be used to make benches, shelves, niches, etc.
  • The walls are covered with earthen or lime plaster, with lime wash or silica paint for protection. 

Dingle Dell Cob House by Kevin McCabe

Cob Construction at Dingle Dell Cob House by Kevin McCabe
Cob Construction at Dingle Dell Cob House by Kevin McCabe

Dingle dell cob house is a beautiful homestay in the countryside of Ottery Saint Mary with the highest possible level of sustainability. It is a zero-carbon space that blends a luxurious family space with nature. It makes use of 2,000 tonnes of cob and has a meadow roof which is made of a wildflower green cover.

Advantages Of Cob Construction

  • Easily available and cheap materials
  • Can use reclaimed materials
  • Can be used to make organic forms
  • Easy to repair
  • Very less carbon emission.
  • Can also be used to make furniture

Disadvantages Of Cob Construction

  • Heavy materials make it difficult to transport.
  • Labor intensive construction
  • Requires a good roof to protect from water damage.
  • The foundation needs to be dry
  • Difficult to build during the wet season

2. Adobe construction 

Adobe blocks are mud bricks that are naturally dried. They are usually made of mud containing high clay content and straw.

  • The mix is cast in open molds and sun-dried.
  • These blocks are laid with earth mortar and plastered using a layer of clay. 
  • The roofs used with adobe buildings should have adequate eaves to prevent water damage.

Tale of earth and wood residence

A bird’s eye view of the residence
A bird’s eye view of the residence 

This residence in Thailand is built out of wood and adobe with a scenic view of the adjacent rice fields. The residence has 4 rooms, living room, dining room and kitchen, complete with a home office and a swimming pool for entertainment. Natural ventilation techniques have been employed throughout the building.

Use of wood: Wood has been used extensively throughout the building as a structural, decorative and a roofing material. The wood has been sealed and treated with oil to bring out its beauty and imperfections.

Walls: The walls are made of self made adobe consisting of local clay, sand and bamboo shavings. A water resistant outer coating made of lime and fine earth powder renders the wall smooth. 

Flooring: The flooring is made of stone tiles. 

A closer look at the features of the house
A closer look at the features of the house 

Advantages of Adobe Construction

  • They are fireproof
  • They are biodegradable and non toxic
  • They have good thermal mass
  • Thay have low sound transmission levels

Disadvantages of Adobe Construction

  • Slow building process
  • Vulnerability to harsh external factors

3. Rammed earth construction 

It is an on site construction method using compressed layers of clay and aggregates like gravel, sand or silt. Often, cement is added to stabilize the mixture.

A formwork is made of two flat panels connected together through screws. Layers of the clay mixture are placed between them. A wooden or metal pole is used to ram these layers. The color of the soil used influences the final outcome of the building. Often, different colors of soils are used to add striations to the facade. 

Vineyard House by Blaanc

The exposed rammed earth walls of the building
The exposed rammed earth walls of the building

This residence seamlessly fuses traditional construction techniques and modern design. This building is situated in the middle of a vineyard and was designed to blend with its surroundings. It consists of three volumes, with different materials and public and private spaces.

  • The earth from the construction site and from 50km away from the site has been used in the rammed earth walls. 
  • Fiberglass mesh has been placed between each layer to reinforce it. 
  • Two buttresses support the rammed earth walls. 
  • The rammed earth walls ensure great thermal and acoustic comfort inside the house. They keep the indoors cool in the summers and mild in the winters. 

Advantages of Rammed Earth Construction

  • It has a great compression strength and can be used for multi storey buildings. 
  • It has high thermal mass.
  • It is sound insulating
  • It is fire and pest resistant 

Disadvantages of Rammed Earth Construction

  • It requires manual labor
  • It has limited heat insulation.
  • It needs water protection especially near the base. 

4. Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB) construction

Here, the walls are built out of blocks made of soil and a stabilizer. A good soil for CSEB has 15% gravel, 50% sand, 15% silt and 20% clay. The most common stabilizers used are cement. Lime, chemicals and resins are also used. The mix is slightly moistened and poured into a steel press. It is then either manually or mechanically compressed.

  • Various different types of blocks like hollow interlocking blocks can be manufactured. 
  • If they are cement stabilized, they must be cured for four weeks after which they can dry. 
  • They are used in a combination with soil cement stabilized mortar. 

Group of buildings in Auroville by Auroville earth Institute

A building in Auroville made of CSEB
A building in Auroville made of CSEB

The Auroville Earth Institute is making an effort to revive the traditional and sustainable earth building methods to build modern and progressive structures. Most of the buildings have rammed earth foundations and walls made of CSEB.

The local Auroville red soil, rich in iron oxide, is used in building. As local lime quality is not up to the standards, cement is used as a stabilizer. The scrapped away topsoil is reused in gardens. The quarries are repurposed as percolation pits, pools, ponds, basement areas or play areas. Many types of CSEB have been invented here. Some of them are the square hollow interlocking block 245, the rectangular hollow interlocking block 295 and the dry interlocking 300.

Advantages of CSEB Construction

  • Multistorey buildings can be constructed
  • It is biodegradable
  • Cost effective material
  • Eco friendly 
  • Can be produced on site

Disadvantages of CSEB Construction

  • Labor intensive
  • Needs particular type of soil
  • Can be challenging to construct long spans or high rise buildings

5. Super Adobe construction

Super adobe is an eco-friendly construction material invented by Nader Khalil. It consists of short or long degradable sandbags (polypropylene or burlap)  filled with moistened earth.

  • They are arranged in layers or as long coils.
  • Barbed wires are placed between the layers of bags and act as mortar as well as reinforcement. They provide tensile strength. 
  • The soil mixture may also include stabilizing agents like cement or mortar. 
  • The finished structure is coated with a mix of soil and cement. 
  • As a finishing touch, a veneer made of small soil-cement balls can be applied. Living grass can also be used to create a green roof. 

Advantages of Super Adobe Construction

  • Makes use of soil available on site
  • Can be used to make arches, domes, vaults.
  • Very easy construction method.
  • Good thermal mass

Disadvantages of Super Adobe Construction

  • Labor intensive
  • High construction time
  • Can not build large span buildings

New Ruin in Oaxaca City by CalEarth

An external view of the house
An external view of the house

It is an Airbnb nestled in the hills, made out of SuperAdobe bags. The locally abundant clay mixed with earth, and earthbags from cattle ranchers and tortilla makers were used.

To cut down on costs, car tire rims were used as window frames. The thick walls have high thermal mass and keep the interiors comfortable. The house runs solely on solar power and is extremely sustainable. Locally sourced wood has also been used in this earthy bungalow. 

Back view of the house
Back view of the house 

6.  Wattle and Daub construction 

This type of construction involves a woven mesh called wattle coated with a natural plaster called daub. Wattle is usually made of wooden strips, reeds, vines or bamboo. Sometimes loose panels are placed in between timber framing.

  • The daub is made out of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw.
  • The daub can be applied to the wattle in one or many layers.
  • Whitewash is applied on the completed wall to increase its reflectance and resistance. 

Mud Home by Atulya K Bingham

The mud home is a sustainable home made out of various mud building techniques. The bathroom extension is made of wattle and daub. The wattle is made of a timber frame. Fresh cut hazelwood was woven to create a fence. 

Two layers of earth plaster daub are applied. The first layer is used to cover the frame and the second layer is used to beautify the facade. Flat stones are placed to give the walls some textures. The wattle acts as a reinforcement for the wall even when it gets wet. 

The wattle structure
The wattle structure
Application of the daub
Application of the daub

Advantages of Wattle and Daub Construction

  • High thermal and sound insulation
  • Light in weight
  • Sustainable
  • Has built-in reinforcement

Disadvantages of Wattle and Daub Construction

  • Labor intensive
  • Needs wider eaves for water protection
  • Might be difficult to attach services to it.

Depending on the context, the earth can be used in various different forms to make cheap and sustainable buildings. 

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6 Types of Earth Construction Techniques