Let’s take a closer look at some of the features of these houses.
My main goal has been to reduce the cost of housing, while also making them sustainable, easy to build and livable. The easiest way to cut costs is to build small, so almost every design is less than 1,000 interior square feet. (All measurements here and on the plans are always expressed as interior measurements.) Most plans are in the 400 to 900 sq. ft. range, with 500 to 800 sq. ft. being the sweet spot. If you have a large family and need more space, there are some plans over 1,000 sq. ft. The most economical plan (and largest) in this category is the Habitat Earthbag House at 980 sq. ft., plus unfinished basement.
As far as house size, I’ve tried to return to the sizes prevalent 50-100 years ago, when an 800 sq. ft. bungalow was perfectly satisfactory. People didn’t feel deprived or poor in these houses. In fact, 800 sq. ft. is spacious in comparison to many houses around the world. Our current attitude of larger is better needs to change to meet the reality of dwindling resources, lack of affordable housing and global climate change. Not only are small houses less expensive to build, they’re also easier to clean, and have lower utility and maintenance costs.
I’ve tried to offer a wide range of sizes and styles, because everyone wants something different. Over time, I’ll add more plans according to the feedback I receive. And keep in mind, these plans are just suggestions. They’re not etched in stone. It’s not that difficult to stretch things this way and that.
Please note: many construction details such as dimensions and patios are not shown on preliminary drawings.
Cost: This is probably the most common question of all, and at the heart of everything I do: How much do earthbag houses cost? It’s sort of like asking how much does a car cost. Well, it depends on the size, features, construction details and how much work you are willing to do (versus paying contractors). The short answer is it can cost as much or as little as you want.
As explained on the Introduction page, a small, simple house made of natural building materials could be built by a DIY builder for about $10/sq.ft. This assumes doing most everything yourself and using the low-tech building ideas listed on this site and my other sites. (I have five websites at this time, all on low cost, natural building. They are listed in the menu on the right.) And just to be clear, $10/sq.ft. doesn’t include things like land, building permits and utility hookups. Note: it’s much easier to build this way in rural areas with minimal building codes.
A great deal of thought has gone into the kitchens presented here. Years ago I was a National Kitchen and Bath Association certified designer, and have applied this training toward all of my projects. The key to good kitchen design is an efficient work triangle, which all of my plans have. In general, food moves from the refrigerator, to the sink, to the stove and to the table. There is adequate work space between each area for chopping, mixing and so on. Even though these are small, affordable homes all of the kitchens are quite spacious and very efficient.
Cabinets: All cabinets shown are standard sizes – 24” deep base cabinets, 12” deep uppers, except for the 24” deep cabinet above the refrigerator (not shown for clarity). Standard sized cabinets make it easy to add all sorts of organizers: roll-out trays, spice racks, towel racks, recycling bins and so on. I love 24” pantries, and these have been added where space permits. Space is provided for Lazy Susans in corner base cabinets. Don’t settle for standard quality Lazy Susan hardware, it won’t last. Insist on heavy duty hardware, which is only slightly more expensive. You can run the plumbing to the kitchen sink behind this cabinet. Consider adding LED lighting under upper cabinets to brighten the kitchen and reduce eye strain. Add task lighting above each main work area. For attachment of cabinets to earthbag walls, embed wood nailers between rows of bags. For example, you could place 1x4s at several heights to match your cabinet sizes. Adding horizontal 1x2s to the outer edges of the 1x4s makes it easier to screw in cabinets. Another option is to build your own cabinets to save money. One approach is to build the cabinet sides, partitions and countertops, add curtains and finish them later. This allows you to move in sooner. Open shelving can be used instead of upper cabinets to save money, although this tends to collect a lot of dust.
Kitchen appliances: Some plans call for apartment-sized appliances, which are slightly smaller than standard. Energy efficient refrigerators, often slightly smaller than standard, will work perfectly. In most cases cabinets can be adjusted slightly if you want a full-sized stove. Some plans provide space for a dishwasher, but not all. Add a good quality exterior vented range hood above the stove to remove smoke and excess humidity. A few designs call for undercounter washers and dryers. Space is at a premium in small homes, and this is one way eliminate a laundry room. And, of course, you could replace these appliances with cabinets if you prefer. Again, these are just suggested layouts.
Countertops and sinks: Standard sizes are used throughout. This makes it easy for everything to fit correctly. Tile countertops are highly recommended for their low cost and durability. One option is to mix and match different colors and designs. I’ve probably seen thousands of countertops (and built quite a few) and the most beautiful countertop I’ve seen was done this way – a colorful mosaic of tiles obtained for free or at dirt cheap closeout prices. (The owner is an artist.)
Common plumbing wall: Most designs consolidate the plumbing on one 2×6 plumbing wall to reduce plumbing runs and save on materials and labor. In almost every case the kitchen sink is strategically located to save on venting. That’s one less vent and one less hole in the roof.
Linen closet: A small closet is shown next to the bathroom. This could be modified to fit brooms, etc. Wood doors or curtains could be used.
Coat closet: Added where space allows.
All baths are standard 5 feet wide except 1-2 plans where the size had to be reduced slightly. This enables a standard bathtub (recycled or new) to fit without modification. Recycled tubs are very inexpensive and can last for decades. I like bathtubs because you can soak or take a quick shower. An efficient on-demand water heater can be added above the bathtub. Most vanity cabinets are 21” deep by 30” to 36” wide. A few are longer. A few baths have pedestal sinks, but I much prefer a vanity cabinet with countertop space for setting things. A medicine cabinet, of course, can be added over the vanity (not shown). Extra shelves can be added over the toilet. A window is provided for daylighting. This saves turning on lights during the day. Tile is ideal for the tub surround, floor and countertop. It’s easy to find good prices on small quantities of tile – just ask for closeouts or go to yard sales. Also, invest in a good, quiet bathroom fan to vent humidity to the exterior (not the attic).
Floors: I recommend floors made of earth, stone or recycled brick. You can save a lot of money and resources this way in comparison to wood framed floors. Tamped earth floors are my favorite. Here’s a good article on tamped earth floors by Frank Meyers.
Plaster: Most people use earth or lime plaster on earthbag houses. Some use cement plaster, but it’s best to use plaster that allows moisture vapor to pass through the wall. Use wide roof overhangs if you live in a rainy climate.
Wood stoves: This serves as the heating system in virtually all my designs. A few designs have space for installation of radiant floor heat (another excellent choice). Because these houses are small, most can be heated with a smaller than average wood stove.
Windows: All windows are standard sizes. Most windows are 24”, 36” and 48” – the most readily available sizes – and which are often on sale. Be careful using recycled windows. Most older windows are not energy efficient and could cost you more in the long run. You’ll notice window and door openings are curved. This creates beautiful openings that enhance views and allow maximum light to enter. Square openings are easier to build, but they result in primitive “tunnel” openings that look crude in comparison.
Doors: Exterior doors are all 36” wide. Most interior doors are 28” or 30”. It’s easy to adjust these sizes slightly to meet standard metric sizes.
Closets: Closets have been carefully placed between private and public spaces to buffer noise. In some cases they are placed between bedrooms for added privacy.
Closet doors: Some plans show curtains. This is another way to save money and resources, and speed the construction process. It’s also a great way to add color in your home, but you could use wood doors, of course. If you do use curtains, I encourage people to build standard sized openings to make it easy to add wood doors at a later date. Also note, always use wood doors on closets with water heaters to reduce risk of fire (and meet code, of course).
Furniture: The furniture layouts are merely suggestions. I’ve added furniture to make it easier to visualize the final home. Showing the furniture is important in small homes to make sure everything fits as planned. Some furniture, such as benches, can be built-in to save money. For example, instead of buying a sofa and end tables, you could build these out of earthbags and earthen plaster. Add pillows and you’ll have comfortable furniture for hundreds of dollars less than store bought, and it won’t offgas chemicals and fall apart in a few years.
Computer desk: With the proliferation of the Internet, I have tried to add at least one desk in every home (this is highly unusual in small house plans). I work online and understand how the Internet is vital to many homeowners. Some plans have large desks for home-based businesses.
Many features such as solar panels, solar water heaters are not shown and can be added according to individual needs.