Nader Khalili and Cal-Earth Institute, engineered by P.J. Vittore
SuperAdobe is a building system traded by CalEarth that uses sandbags filled with moistened earth and arranged in layers or long coils to build walls.
SuperAdobe is a building system developed by CalEarth that uses long or short sandbags filled with moistened earth and arranged in layers or long coils to build shelters or landscaping retaining walls. Strands of barbed wire are placed between each layer of sandbag to act as both mortar and reinforcement. The system is free to use for non-commercial construction and the bags are available for purchase.
Global. Most appropriate for use in arid and desert environments but can be built in cold or wet climates with additional considerations. See frequently asked questions.
Super adobe bags cost between USD 990 – 1,035 for 1,000 yard roll depending on width of bag. Barbed wire and other required tools must be obtained separately. 250 and 500 yard rolls are also available.
Another source that promotes earthbag construction is EarthbagBuilding.com, a resource of information provided by Kelly Hart and Dr. Owen Geiger. They share methods from multiple sources but do not sell bags.
The product and system can be used by untrained individuals because the construction requires no expensive equipment and is flexible and fast. It is possible to build alone or as a group and for all members of a household to participate.
Sand bags are made to order. Barbed wire, shovels, tampers, soil, and water are other materials that must be obtained elsewhere.
Superadobe is a patented system (U.S. patent #5,934,027) that is available for non-commercial use and requires a license for commercial use.
Users can obtain SuperAdobe bags by ordering them online and having them shipped anywhere in the United States. For projects needing shipment outside of the US they provide a list of earth bag manufacturers from around the world. Users can also obtain training from CalEarth in earthbag construction (see Technical support section).
Size of the component
List of primary materials in the component
List of secondary materials in the component
Measurement, calculated in hours, of the component’s resistance to fire
R value associated with material/product
The compressive strength of the component, measured in megapascals
List of suitable climates for use of this components
Bags come in widths of 14, 16, 18, or 20 inches and lengths of 250, 500, and 1000 yard rolls. The earth bags are synthetic, low UV (ultra-violet) resistant and degradable. Recommended use of four-point, two strand, galvanized barbed wire. Recommended use of stabilisers such as cement, lime, or asphalt emulsion mixed into the earth for more permanent structures. Recommended use of plaster or exterior finishes to protect structures from erosion.
Educational blue prints are available for purchase for USD 500 for the “Eco-Dome” Design. Otherwise users can build any way they like with the materials though are encouraged to follow the general construction methods outlined by CalEarth. A training manual for a simple emergency sandbag shelter can be found here. Books and e-books about earth-bag construction are also available for purchase.
It is unlikely that repairs are needed (see Lifecycle section), however bags can be purchased in small lengths should sections of a structure need to be rebuilt.
Though the full lifespan is unknown, some of the earliest earth-bag structures that CalEarth constructed have been standing for 20 years.
Manufacturer performance targets include structural safety, fire-proofing and insulation, flood resistance, and ease of building.
Calearth claims that performance has been vetted for structural integrity and fire resistance. Academic research has tested quality of ventilation.
An article by Nader Khalili and Phill Vittore outlines some of the early testing performed on the product. Plans of prototypes were examined by the Hesperia Building and Safety Department in consultation with ICBO. Live load tests were performed by Inland Engineering Corporation. UBC (Universal Building Code) compliance was tested by Southwest Inspection and testing.
Calearth describes the Superadobe system as being a very safe method of construction because there is no need for large equipment. Workers may be exposed to regular dangers of a construction site that include working at heights and with sharp tools and materials (barbed wire, saw to cut windows, etc.).
Calearth also provides a combined workshop for Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) in collaboration with Midwest Permaculture, previously offered a course in the construction of a high-efficiency masonry heater, and offered a ceramics apprenticeship.
Canadell, Samuel, Comprehensive design method for earthbag and super adobe structures. Materials & Design, 2016. 96: p. 270-82
Zhao, Ziling., An Energy Efficient Building System Using Natural Resources–Superadobe System Research. Procedia Engineering, 2015. 121 p. 1179-85
The blueprints available for purchase come with structural calculations that can be submitted to a building department for permission to build. The SuperAdobe houses are accepted for permits in several states including California which has the highest requirements in the US for resistance to earthquakes. See frequently asked questions.
Manufacturer cites UBC and California seismic codes as evaluation criteria.
There are international workshops for interested individuals outside of the United States.
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