Natural Building Blog

Earthbag Building & Other Natural Building Methods

Road Base: My #1 Choice for Bag Fill Material

Road base is a mixture of clay and gravel used in road building throughout the world. As an engineered material designed to withstand extreme loads (trucks and cars), you are assured of good working properties for earthbag building. While site based soils are less expensive and require less transport, the working properties are unknown and so you will want to do a series of tests to determine the best clay to gravel ratio. With road base, no additional tests are necessary and you can begin building right away.

Moisten road base slightly before filling bags.

Moisten road base slightly before filling bags.

Road base is typically very inexpensive, largely because the mixture is just clay and gravel. With huge quantities needed for road building, many suppliers are available to meet demand. That often means a truckload can be delivered to your site in short order from a nearby gravel pit.

Road base is a uniform mixture without clumps of clay or large rocks. Using road base eliminates digging for soil on your land, thus preserving the natural beauty of your site and freeing up your time for building. And since it is delivered by truck, you can have it stockpiled around your house just where you need it to minimize labor. Road base excels in compression, and therefore is ideal for dome building. It dries almost rock hard, creating incredibly strong walls. You can use the same material under your house to raise the building site.

Note: road base is a generic term and the mixture may mean different things in different places. Ask for a clay/gravel mixture as used in road building (not just sand/gravel). You need the clay portion, which acts as the binder.

If you live in cold climates, then consider using lightweight fill material such as scoria, perlite or vermiculite for high R-value and ease of use. See Insulated Earthbag Houses for more information.

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13 Responses to “Road Base: My #1 Choice for Bag Fill Material”

  1. gordon says:

    i am stacking the bags now im in my second run. its hard to keep the walls perfectly level ,however, its not super far off. Maybe, a quarter inch or a little more in some areas. I think i might be able to correct them on the higher runs. should i be worried? my bags are going to be primarily all gravel and 8ft high

    • Owen Geiger says:

      That’s close enough. For gravel bags, it’s important to keep the walls very close to vertical so they don’t bow and become unstable.

  2. Gordon says:

    The structure is planned to be a 16×16 so the walls will be 16ft long. I can do 8ft it’s my first home and I can live with that and add a reciprocal roof for extra height thanks so much.If I bought 4ft rebar and drove that into the bag walls every 4ft would I be able to make them 12 ft then? Or would that actually compromise the structure?

  3. Gordon says:

    I have no clay available but I have lots of foundation gravel and silt available. I am on a very low budget. Already have bags. I tamped some bags for a foundation with just the sandy foundation gravel. It seams pretty solid so far but I’m only on my second course. The rocks in the gravel are mixed sizes some small some big. I also have silt available. I have polyurethane strapping and barbed wire and LOTs of gravel could I just make strong 12ft walls out of tamped gravel and use the barbed wire and strapping to support the walls? This is my first earthbag home.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      The walls are only 12′ long? Don’t go over 8′ high and you’ll be okay. Make sure to keep the walls vertical as you go. Plaster the walls as soon as possible. If UV rays break down your bags in 2-3 months then the whole thing will crumble apart. Also, no need to tamp the bags hard like when compacting clayey soils. Just tamp lightly to settle the contents.

  4. Chris says:

    What about using acrylic polymers for soil stabilzaton both within the earthen housing structure itself and outside around the yard and around the village to build stabilized earthen waals, embankemnts, drainage, etc.

    Also there are now very high quality products to create hydrophobicity within various soil types that eliminate the oils ability to absorb water. These products are a new wave of technology that takes the place of lime, flyash, cement, etc.

    I have tons of info on this stuff if it is of interest to others.

    I can be contacted at chris@dirtglue.com if desired.

    Good luck with he good earth!

  5. Chris says:

    I’m guessing that terminology is different from region to region. I called a hauler AND a gravel yard in my area in the Midwest and neither of them was familiar with the term “roadbase”. They seem to refer more to size of aggragate and presence (or absense) of stone dust. Around here you order “53′s” for your driveway, if you want a mixture of gravel as large as 1.5″ down to dust. If you want mostly dust, it’s “quarter-minus”, i.e., gravel no larger than a quarter inch, along with dust.

    Most of the stone operations locally are limestone quarries. I’m asuming the “fines” or limestone dust from these can be used the same way? In fact, the code-approved dome house in Berea, Kentucky seems to have used this same material. But I wonder if it would be as applicable in plaster or cob mix as the roadbase you’re referring to. I guess I would have to get some and do the mason-jar test to find out…

    • Owen Geiger says:

      No doubt it goes by different names. Ask for the mixture that’s used to make roads. Road departments typically use a clay/gravel mix. The clay holds the gravel together like glue. The gravel is actually a carefully screened mix of a wide range of aggregate sizes for maximum compaction.

  6. Owen Geiger says:

    More advantages of using road base: You can use the same material for floors and earth plaster. I even hear it’s good on pancakes… just kidding.

    Tamped earth floors: http://www.grisb.org/publications/pub11.htm (this is my favorite method for making floors)

    Earthen plaster: screen out large aggregates or buy it pre-screened to save labor. Need to make some compressed earth blocks (CEBs)? This is the material to use.

  7. Dustin says:

    What about the exact same thing, but with concrete/cement added?

    Would the embodied carbon in the cement, if used in a 10-15% ratio, provide enough added longevity/durability to justify itself?

    Same question, but in an environment with a LOT of precipitation, tropical zone, etc?

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I would use lime instead of cement. And yes, I think it makes sense to use stabilized soil in rainy climates to protect against moisture damage, especially for domes. (And/or consider adding a roof over the dome in high rainfall areas.)

      Edited to add: Most houses with wide roof overhangs (= most of my designs) the lime or cement is NOT needed. Just wanted to make that clear.

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