The first of three earthbag schools in Nepal, built by Edge of Seven and The Small World.

The first of three earthbag schools in Nepal, built by Edge of Seven and The Small World.

 

This earthbag school is in a remote village in the Solkhumbu District of Nepal.

This earthbag school is in a remote village in the Solkhumbu District of Nepal.

 

Bond beam on earthbag school in Nepal.

Bond beam on earthbag school in Nepal.

“On October 31, 2011, Edge of Seven and The Small World Nepal broke ground on a two-room secondary school in the village of Phuleli, located in the Solukhumbu District of Nepal. Five months later (following a two-month winter break), we put the finishing touches on the interior of the very first earthbag structure to be built in the Solkhumbu District of Nepal. The school in Phuleli is the first of three earthbag buildings Edge of Seven and The Small World will construct in the district.

Phuleli is a village found deep in the Himalayas, with no roads or airports within an eight-hour hike. Any material that is not available on site must be portered in by humans or carried in by mules on a narrow mountain trail that leads over a pass of 10,000 + feet.

The directive for the small school was simple: to provide two classrooms, each 15’ x 25’ with an exterior space that would give students refuge from the summer monsoon rains. The building itself is 48′ x 18′, with an additional 9’ porch on each end. The height of the earthbag walls is 6’6,” with a 6″ rebar-reinforced concrete ringbeam above. The first two courses of earthbags were filled with small gravel broken by hammer from larger stones excavated on site. The remaining bags were filled with sifted, excavated dirt, which was tested and found to be of an ideal clay-to-sand ratio of roughly 25:75.

Specific Details:
Bags: 18” x 30”. Corners were diddled and bags were sewn shut with a light-gauge tie wire.

Barbed Wire: 4 point, 10 gauge. (Barbed wire used is not the ideal gauge, but it was the only size of barbed wire available in Nepal.)

Doors and Windows: Oak. The wood used for the doors and window frames was of shockingly high quality and harvested locally. The frames were constructed in the typical Nepali manner and weigh about 300 pounds each. While they look beautiful, we will be working on reducing the amount of wood for the next project’s frames.

Plaster: Cement plaster was used with chicken wire mesh lathe. Since Nepal is in a very active seismic zone, chicken wire is required for plastering. We used a 1:4 ratio for the plaster, but for future projects will be using at least a 1:3 ratio due to the low quality of the sand and cement available. Cement had to be trekked in by mules from the larger villages of Phaplu and Salleri, and the sand was harvested at the nearest river (located about 1.5 hours walk from the site) and sifted and cleaned on site.

Foundation: Stone and cement. A stone foundation was laid with a cement plaster exterior. The floor is stone and cement. We had initially planned on a dirt floor, for sustainability and cost reasons, but it was later determined that a dirt floor would not be durable in a school environment.

Tie Beam: #4 Rebar reinforced concrete beam. Horizontal rebar for tie beam is connected into earthbag walls by 3’6″ L shaped rebar anchors at roughly 24″ o.c.

Roof: Corrugated metal with wood structure. The exterior of the soffit was enclosed with plywood due to the high winds in the region.

Built in Porch Seating: Built out of earthbags.

Paint: Whitewash. Liquid paint is very expensive to hike into the villages, so we opted for powder whitewash, which is the traditional form of painting in the region.

Labor: 33% local volunteer, 33% western volunteer, and 33% local paid labor.

The actual construction time was roughly 3 months with a project cost of $22,000. The cost of building was slightly higher in the villages than other earthbag projects have reported due to site conditions and material transportation costs. A substantial chunk of our budget was eaten up by the clearing and leveling of the site, the construction of retaining walls, and transportation of cement, sand, barbed wire. etc. to the site. Looking at building costs alone we came in at $16-$17 per sq. ft., which we are confident can be brought down closer to $13-$14 per sq. ft. with more experience.”

For anyone interested in building with earthbag construction in Nepal contact:
Travis Hughbanks, Edge of Seven, Edge of Seven Blog, U.S.A.
hugh2834 [at] gmail.com

Karma Sherpa, The Small World, Nepal

Project page with more photos and description: earthbagbuilding.com


Comments

Finished Earthbag School in Nepal — 28 Comments

  1. Hello…although our children’s home did not get broken in Kathmandu we have many friends from many villages who houses did…we also support projects tthat help empower women…it is our plan to build a community home for widows and their children.. at present we are trying to assemble a team of earth builders and volunteers to come in late September/Oct but we will be in Kathmandu next week and plan to do a reccee of some villages…if any one would like to join our project in September we would love to hear from you…we are all volunteers…each has to psy their way..

  2. Does that earth bag house can be built in himalaya ??? Is it safe from wind and snow? How much does it cost and what are the materials used for it??

    • Good question. None of the earthbag projects in Nepal have published their costs as far as I know. If you find out something please let us know.

    • The Edge of Seven organization has finished 6 similar sized projects. All survived the recent earthquake with NO damage! Locals are now asking them to help rebuild their villages with earthbags.

  3. Main question is how did the schools withstand the quake? This would be a great way for individuals to build their own houses, like Habitat for Humanity.
    If the schools held up well during the quake this would be a great way to begin the rebuilding process.If you could design a two bedroom house or larger. I have also seen houses built with bales of straw and also tires. SO many innovative ways to construct.

    • The earthbag schools in Nepal withstood the quake with little or no damage. Only one group has not reported back since it’s in a remote area with no communications. Earthbags are strong and earthquake resistant for numerous reasons — primarily because the wide walls are stable and flexible. They ‘give’ or flex during an earthquake unlike brittle materials like stone, adobe, brick and cement block.

  4. Great job. It can be done also in other part of Nepal. We will try to promote this in our area. Thanks for the detail information on it.

    • Please document your project with lots of good photos and notes, and send to us when you’re finished.

      Also, I recommend visiting one of their projects that’s under construction so you can learn first hand. Take a few workers to their project and help out for a week or so and your project will go way faster and smoother.

  5. Thank you for this post and the details! Followed the link to the blog, too, which is also very informative. I applaud all for their work on this, and like projects.

  6. It’s really gorgeous, but one question: why did they use a cement stucco? Couldn’t they have avoided the weight/expense of cement using an earth plaster, maybe with lime? They have substantial roof overhangs to protect the walls from rain. What am I missing?

    An aside comment, I feel their pain about a big chunk of the budget going to site preparation. Our land is in the mountains and cutting terraces and securing them with vetiver plantings is going to be a big part of our expenses. (Vetiver is another thing I think they could have used in this Nepal project to ease the expense and difficulty of building stone retaining walls, come to think of it.) Fortunately in our country there are government programs that assist with some of that, but still it’s not a minor thing. On the other hand, when all is said and done you’re in a gorgeous place with spectacular views, so it’s worth it :)

    • You are right about the earth plaster, it would save us a lot of money. We are considering earthen plaster for the interior of the next school but will stick with cement plaster for durability reasons on the exterior. We realize the sustainability impact and direct cost impact of this decision so let me take you through our thought process. There were a few issue that we wrestled with before making our decision to go with cement plaster:
      1. Maintenance – When you are building homes earth plaster makes more sense because there is a obvious ownership and responsibility for the up keep. Schools are a little different. There is no maintenance staff or janitor to make sure everything is in working order or good condition. Many of the schools that we see in these regions which have earth plaster are falling into disrepair due to lack of maintenance.
      2. Durability – to put it simply young children can be destructive, especially when you put 30 of them in a room together. It does not matter if you are in the USA or Nepal, school buildings take a beating. Earth plaster just is not durable enough.
      3. Monsoons. Starting in late June or early July Nepal gets hit with some serious rain for about two months. The rain is accompanied by strong winds in this region which no length of roof overhang can protect.

      After discussing the issue with the community our choice was to move forward with cement plaster. I think there is a good argument on both sides and that is why we are still considering earthen plaster inside on the next project.

      • Very good points. Thanks for responding. It all comes down to evaluating each project cases by case.

        One option is to incorporate the practice of applying additional earth plaster every year or so. This could be part of the curriculum. This could be done the last two days or so of the semester. This would help students learn the value of routine maintenance and learn to avoid damaging the walls. And chances are they will have fun with it.

      • This is amazing building you are doing in Solu area. About cement, I think there are possibilities of doing lime on the exterior and earth plaster on the interior, especially the walls. I believe that you can get lime from local sources there. As Owen says, plastering could be very fun learning activity. In fact, when I grew up going to schools in villages in Nepal, I very clearly remember doing lime painging, earth plastering each year with friends and teachers. we used to do it right before major festival, like we did with our house.

  7. Beautiful building. It’s a very substantial bond beam. I know it’s a seismic area, but I wonder if they could have got away with a narrower bond beam on top of the bags…

      • The one change that we will be doing to the bond beam on the next school is not including the buttress. It was entirely to time consuming to form the beam around all the buttress not to mention the expenses for the extra rebar and cement. Should simplify things for us and save a little money while not affecting the structural integrity of the building.

      • As per your advice in a previous conversation we are moving to a tapered buttress on the next project. Structurally it makes sense and I think it is going to give the building a more unique aesthetic. We set the first 4 courses straight and started a slow taper from there. Thanks for the link I will look into it. We do already have twine and tie wire placed between the earthbag courses to secure our chicken wire before plastering.

  8. This is such an amazing project. I’m still trying to read through their sites for the details. More info at Outlanderings.com. Click to see porters carrying 175 pound loads of barbed wire for 15 miles over a mountain pass in the Himalayas. http://outlanderings.com/2012/01/07/phuleli-school-nears-completion/

    “While the volunteers devised a stretcher that allowed two people to carry an individual bag from dirt pile to the school, barefoot Nepali teenagers, girls and boys, walked right beside them with a full bag on their shoulders.” (Kids were carrying full earthbags!)

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