There’s growing interest in lightweight bag fill materials as alternatives to more labor intensive soil-filled earthbags. While lightweight materials such as scoria, perlite, etc. are not as stable as tamped earth, their higher insulation value and labor saving advantages offer tantalizing possibilities for certain designs, locales and site conditions.

Making samples using vetiver/clay.

Making samples using vetiver/clay.


We’re currently investigating vetiver grass as another lightweight alternative fill material. Vetiver grows abundantly in tropical regions. It provides valuable erosion resistance in the rainy season, and can be cut in the dry season and used for thatch, or combined with clay or lime to make blocks or earthbags. Useful properties include natural resistance to termites and moisture. “The leaves of vetiver are coated with wax, and have a unique scent that repels insect and fungal attacks.”1

Vetiver is tough stuff and will grow over head high. This quote from Wikipedia explains why vetiver works so well to control erosion. “Unlike most grasses, vetiver does not form a horizontal mat of roots; rather, the roots grow almost exclusively downward, 2–4 meters. This makes vetiver an excellent stabilizing hedge for stream banks, terraces, and rice paddies. The close-growing culms also help to block the runoff of surface water.”2

You may be familiar with straw/clay – a lightweight mixture of straw drizzled with a slurry of clay. Straw/clay is typically used between post and beam or studs. It has just enough clay to hold it together so it provides maximum insulation. The mix we’re testing is quite a bit denser because we want increased bearing capacity. We want the blocks and bags of vetiver to be load-bearing: to support the load of the entire wall and a lightweight roof. This is achieved by adding additional clay and packing the mix tightly into the form or earthbag. In summary, our vetiver/clay mix should have greater termite and rot resistance and greater bearing capacity than straw/clay.

Useful tips: Mix large batches on tarps or in pits once you’ve determined the proper ratios. Use dry vetiver grass chopped into pieces approximately 8” (20cm) long. At first, add thin clay slurry with enough water to soften the grass. Then add a thick mix of wet clay. Soaking for a few hours or overnight will improve working properties, but is not required. Mix well and pack tightly into forms or earthbags. Forms can be most any size. Ours is 10”x14”x6” high. (24cmx35cmx15cm high)

We haven’t tested vetiver/lime yet because lime is not available in our region. We hope to buy some on a trip to a bigger city in the near future. And, we’ll be adding vetiver videos at YouTube very soon.

1. Other Uses and Utilization of Vetiver by Narong Chomchalow and Keith Chapman
2. Wikipedia: Chrysopogon zizanioides


Comments

Vetiver/Lime and Vetiver/Clay — 15 Comments

  1. The leaves of the vetiver has no smell. But the roots has a very good strong smell. Will it be as good to use the roots with the clay insted/addition to leaves?
    If so is it the same ratio, same lengh, same isolation results?

  2. Hi friends this is dilip from south india. i have read your article on using Vetiver for construction. i was really excited to know about this method & im very muche interested in knowing more about alternative ways of construction with less/no pollution & wastes using Eco products. recently i have came by a post, using water hyacinth to make bricks. are there any ideas to make Compressed bricks using Clay, Paddy straw, vetiver, Water hyacinth, Husk. please let me know here or through mail (dilip.ecoactivist@gmail.com)

    • Lots of people are making bricks/blocks with natural materials like these. The basic principle is clay is the binder and the plant material is the fiber. Coconut husk is a good fiber. Sometimes lime and other materials are added. Sometimes they’re compressed. People have been doing this for thousands of years. There’s not too much detailed information. You’ll have to experiment with your local materials to see what works best. This is fun to do.

  3. Better stick with vetiver, or “elephant grass”. Maybe “Johnson Grass” in the U.S. Pine straw or rice straw might work. Don’t purchase the materials. Almost every region has its own version of a tough, springy, material. Buying imported materials is almost as bad as buying manufactured materials and negates your whole purpose.

  4. Hey guys,

    Just a quick question for you about this process, could grass clipings 4″ to 8″ long from mowing your lawn be used as a substitute for the vetiver? I’m thinking that grass clipings are very abundant and a cheaper option to buying vetiver grass. Perhaps, a person can mow his own lawn for the building materials of their future home.

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