From time to time we answer reader’s questions.
James: I wanted to build with straw bales, but a builder friend advised me not to go with this type of construction here in Texas because of the problem of fire ants building nests in the straw.
Owen: No one building system is perfect for every situation. In this case earthbags will be better. I would read up on caliche. It’s abundant in Texas and is available as low cost ‘fill dirt.’ It contains calcium carbonate, and sets up almost like limestone or concrete. Houses made with caliche can last hundreds of years. Fire ants will not nest in tamped caliche or tamped stabilized caliche (caliche with a small percent of lime or cement).
I recommend a metal post and beam structure with tamped earthbags for your project. Get bids from companies that sell metal buildings. Look up metal or steel buildings in the yellow pages of your phone book, show them the plans and get bids. You could put up the frame yourself, but they can probably do it 20 times faster. Put the posts flush to the outside wall. Use expanded metal lath where posts and bags come together, and plaster over everything.