Post and beam pallet wall for a dirt cheap earth lodge (click to enlarge)

Post and beam pallet wall for a dirt cheap earth lodge (click to enlarge)

From time to time we answer reader’s questions. Here, numerous emails have been combined and edited for brevity.

My goal is to learn to build houses with local materials in order to help people in my area build sustainable debt free homes. I’m in love with your Earthbag Lodge plan as I had previously designed one very close to that concept before seeing it. My other main goal is optimal climate control with earth and the freedom that brings.

For the lay person, such as myself, deciding whether a living roof vs. a more conventional metal roof system is best in terms of interior climate control, insulation, etc. Are the benefits of an earthen roof worth the process? A living roof seems more difficult to waterproof without the costly membrane. I have lots of dirt, juniper poles and pallets. Straw bales are out of the question as they are $10-12 a bale around here. I LOVE the earthbag concept. I’m just brainstorming a bit more as I reconsider what is available in bulk and free. Thanks for all the time. The part of Texas I live can get very cold in the winter and is very hot in the summer. I’ve been talking to several friends and really turning them on to the idea of self preservation and taking back our housing needs from the commodity black hole. Keep of the fine work!

Owen: Utilizing low cost and free materials where you live is the way to go. Even though I’m a huge fan of earthbags, you always want to consider different options and decide what makes the most sense for you. Since you have lots of free pallets and rot resistant juniper poles then consider building a double pallet wall on an earthbag foundation as shown in the drawing above. This method may be a little faster than building entirely with earthbags and use fewer bags. (I’m assuming you have access to a chainsaw and posthole auger to speed the work.)

The whole process of building a roof that can withstand the heavy load of a living roof, and the time and effort for waterproofing, insulating, making the living roof AND maintaining the plants over time, which is a huge amount of work in itself, would tip the scale for me to pole roofs or framed roofs with lots of insulation, and metal roofing to collect roofwater (super important in dry areas). I suggest a double pole roof that is supported by a post and beam frame. This would be way faster to build than a living roof. It would be low cost, owner built and provide lots of space for insulation. You can achieve zero energy housing with both systems, so my vote is for a more conventional insulated roof with metal roofing.


Earth Lodge Pallet Walls — 17 Comments

  1. I would love to make my own home with pallets! The only thing with me is I would want to go big! I love the smaller pallet homes but for me it would not work. I would love to show everyone that a big home could be made out of pallets. Any tips would be great!

    • You could build any size house you want. We always recommend starting out small on a garage or tool shed to learn the basics. Make sure you have few or no building codes. Read and learn as much as you can. This blog has lots of info and we plan to continue pallet building projects.

    • Are they so bad that no one builds with wood in your area? Pallet walls would be like wood framed walls.

      Research non-toxic termite reduction methods.

  2. Hi Owen,

    I really love and appreciate the way natural and efficient building is quickly flowing in the mainstream.

    And I’ve been pondering the questions you answered yesterday in this post.

    So, after reading the post, I did a search for more images for “building an Earth Lodge” and Lo,and behold look at all your building plans in the first page of images!,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&biw=638&bih=335&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=wTFET_vlL-Lo0QGP8YDRBw#q=building+an+earth+lodge&um=1&hl=en&client=firefox-a&sa=N&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=3266d0e002f43db5&biw=851&bih=447

  3. Hi all! I was just thinking about the stability of pallet walls. My thought was that you could drill matching holes in the solid timber that the pallet slats connect to and insert “dowel” to hold the two pieces together. The dowel could be in the form of timber or rebar. Has anyone tried this? Is it overkill? How else do you stop the Walls from bending at the joins between the pallets?

    • Most people just nail them together. In this earth lodge the posts are only a few feet apart — about every two pallets. They’re secured at the base and at the bond beam, so they’re not going anywhere.

    • Thanks, David. Great to hear from you. Pallet building is opening lots of new opportunities. Right now I’m brainstorming with Rex about pallet/juniper pole earth lodges in Texas. Great fun and very practical. He thinks these ideas are going to spread among those living in his area. Now we’re refining the design shown in my previous post to include a loft.

        • Okay, I’ll keep you posted. We’re hashing out a plan that could cost as little as $5/sq. ft. since they have free juniper poles, pallets and dirt. I love working on dirt cheap housing designs like this. They want to add a clerestory roof on my earthbag lodge so there’s room for a loft.

  4. So, Owen, do I have it wrong? My thinking/understanding was that a high embodied energy count is a bad thing when aiming for a sustainable dwelling. *confused* :-)

    • The embodied energy figure should take into account the full range from manufacturing to transport to final application and durability. Looking at it this way, metal roofing scores highly (very durable, made from recycled steel, good for roofwater collection…).

  5. I wonder, though, what the difference might be in “embodied energy” between the two roof systems? Steel sheet would surely come out worse in that discussion because of the amount of energy it takes to mine, transport, refine, transport, mold, transport, retail, transport. If I have the idea of embodied energy correct, wouldn’t all of this need to be taken into account for a true sustainable house?

    • Yes, but metal roofing scores highly in terms of embodied energy. It’s made almost entirely of recycled steel. It’s thin and so doesn’t require much steel. You can roof the whole house in one day, and it can last for decades. And it’s perfect for catching roofwater. So I would rate metal roofing more highly than a living roof with EPDM rubber membrane (which requires a stronger roof to support a living roof, etc).

  6. I forgot the gutters and some hurricane straps. Oh well, you get the basic idea. It’s just pallets on top of gravel bags with juniper posts. Super simple, super cheap.

    The double pole roof size can be adjusted to hold additional insulation.

    You could use juniper poles under the pallets instead of the box beam, and you could even replace the gravel bags with juniper poles.

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