Rammed Earth and Adobe
Rammed Earth is All About Endurance
There’s a timelessness about a house built with raw earth, which is not surprising since building with earth is truly prehistoric. However, rammed earth is very contemporary. In fact, still today, over half of Earth’s population dwells in earthen housing.
Rammed earth is a technique for constructing foundations, floors, and walls using compacted natural raw materials such as earth, clay, lime and gravel. It is an ancient method that has been revived recently as a sustainable building practice. The process of creating walls is done by ramming, or compacting, earth into forms that create straight sturdy walls. Various types of earth can be used to create striations in distinctive hues mimicking natural earth formations. Rammed earth techniques create beautiful thick walls that won’t contract and expand but surface cracks may occur, adding additional character without any compromise to the structure.
This building technique has a long history. Parts of the Great Wall of China were built using rammed earth around 2,000 years ago and they are still standing today. Examples of earthen homes can be found on every continent except Anarctica. French and German immigrants originally brought the practice of rammed earth to the United States, and it became very popular once the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues instructions on how to build an earthen home. The practice began to fade during World War 2, but builders began to resurrect rammed earth construction in the 1970’s due to its sustainability and energy-efficiency. Rammed earth homes are very popular in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, California and Colorado.
Benefits of Rammed Earth Include:
- It’s regional (making it easily attainable), natural, durable, strong, provides excellent thermal mass, load bearing, natural, and of course, recyclable.
- Fireproof and characteristically substantial, giving them the ability to withstand tornados and hurricanes far better than a traditional stick-framed home.
- Relatively low-cost-after all raw earth is abundant and practically free. Well suited for solar heating and cooling.
- Beauty, practicality, quiet and a distinguished sense of place.
Adobe is probably the most familiar of earthen building material and has most of the same advantages as rammed earth and cob. Like the others it replaces the use of scarce resources like wood and the material is generally locally available. Adobe, a time-honored building method in the American Southwest, has also been utilized around the world throughout the centuries.
Amazing what can be done with a pile of earth.
Earth turns to gold in the hands of the wise.” – Rumi
For publications and workshops: Please visit rammedearthworks.com
Project Spotlight: Benton’s First Rammed Earth Home
PSE was proud to provide the structural engineering for the first rammed earth home in Benton County, Oregon. Dave Wills was inspired to build his earthen house after seeing church missions that were constructed in the 18th century near his childhood home. The walls of his home were created using earth from a nearby quarry, a small percentage of Portland Cement, small amounts of color pigments, a special acrylic sealant, and his own labor.
This home was featured in 2 articles by The Corvallis Advocate. Check them out for all the details how Dave constructed his home!