Our Building Timeline, early 2016

Two faithful sustainable-structure dreamers trudging doggedly toward the doers camp – in some of the realms of Ripples work we’ve been exploring, especially earthbag-house building, that sums us up pretty well.  What a journey this has been!  I guess you could say at least a part of it began when I was five years old… but, since this is a post about our timeline, I’ll save that story for later.  😛

If you’ve thoroughly perused our FAQ, you may have noticed that we’ve modified the original 2-story roundhouse pretty heavily.  We made this decision for a number of reasons (accessibility, simplicity, resource savings, safety, etc.), which you can explore in more depth on the FAQ (and, as always, if your questions are not, or are insufficiently, answered there, drop us a line; we’ll strive to provide answers).  This choice has made a number of aspects of our build quite a bit easier, which appeals to us earthbag newbies just fine.


One of my favorite resources in this building journey.

I am currently working almost daily on crafting what I’m calling our “Building Plan Basic Timeline and Resource Guide.”  I have (as seems to be our norm) lofty aspirations for this document.  It seeks to leverage as much of the expertise the many earthbag-building pioneers have provided, presenting a step-by-step guide for constructing our house shell (including siting, foundation, plumbing, walls, roof, plaster, electricity, water, and sewage) from conception to completion.  I owe an increasing debt of gratitude to, in particular, Owen Geiger, Kelly Hart, Tim Callahan, and Clarke Snell.  We have frequently mentioned the first two, who are celebrated leaders in the sustainable-structure movement (one of their main sites).  Callahan and Snell put together a truly glorious book called “Building Green:  A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods.”  The title is accurate; with over 1,300 pictures, and thorough text, from two very experienced builders, this is an invaluable guide.  Unfortunately, it does not cover earthbag construction, but the guidance they provide on how to think of one’s shelter, and on site preparation, has proven its worth.

This Building Plan document will provide the foundational material for our educational-center entry on earthbag building.  We’ll try and stretch our creative skills by making it more interactive than its source material (a lengthy word document), but that’s a ways down the road.  I’m just bursting with ideas for that, and it’s ridiculously exciting.  🙂

However, for now, I’ll try to stay rooted in the present.  As of today (1/14/16), I’ve almost completed the grading and foundation sections of the build plan.  Truly, these have been the most difficult parts.  Very few materials seem to exist (that I could find online) on site selection, preparation, and grading, especially for alternative structures.  Perhaps most of this information resides behind pay walls, locked away in corporate or collegiate knowledge vaults.  Or, more likely, strategies that treat the surrounding land gently are not yet the norm, so perhaps only impassioned individuals have documented them to the best of their abilities with their limited resources (oh how familiar that story sounds…).  Whatever the case, I’m treating these sections with extreme care, to ensure the integrity of our structure and its surroundings.

I plan to start in on the next part, bag walls, as soon as possible.  Once the entire document is finished, and after several rounds of editing (with minor corrective forays as I move between sections), it will be production ready, and should provide us with an authoritative step-by-step system for the entire build process.

My building-plan "creed," relaxing at the top of the plan. Not the cutest block of words around, but motivational and energizing.

My building-plan “creed,” relaxing at the top of the plan. Not the cutest block of words around, but motivational and energizing.

There’s a chance this document will exceed 30 or 40 pages, but I have some experience with building complex material.  For fun, back in 2009, I wondered how much the University of Arkansas would save if it switched from using multifold paper towels to hand dryers.  This document was the result.  I’m sure it has its growing spaces (I’m focusing a lot more on navigation in this plan), and is now outdated, but I had fun with it.  It taught me so much about the self-driven quest for knowledge, and about just how much a single committed individual can create with enough determination.  The mindset that drove this document, and many other similar internal analyses Amanda and I explore, underpins much of what makes Ripples so special to us, and, we hope, will allow it to find a helpful place in the world.

If all goes to (hopefully not overly ambitious) plan, I’d love to complete this document by March 1st, 2016.  That’s a month and a half away.  Then, if we can strive even further, why not start our house build in May or June 2016?  No guarantees, but let’s go for it.  What’s life without a big dream or two?


Notify of

1 Comment
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michele Markel

I can’t wait to read more about how you live and work off the grid . Saw the article It’s a Jungle out There in the paper today . 🙂 great encouragement- I am a former science teacher but grew up on a working farm . It was always astonishing to me how little students knew about the outdoor world

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x