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Rammed Earth Homes

Rammed earth construction is an old building method that has seen a revival in recent years as people seek to use low-impact materials as well as employ natural building methods. Traditionally, rammed earth buildings were common in arid regions where wood was in scarce supply.

Rammed earth homes have walls constructed from a mixture of sand, gravel and clay. Sometimes an added stabilizer is required. In earlier times it was lime but today the stabilizer of choice is cement.

Formwork is used to create the desired shape of the wall. Damp material is then poured to a depth of between 4 to 10 inches. A pneumatically powered backfill tamper - something like a pogo stick with a flat plate on the bottom - is then used to compact the material to around 50% of its original height. Further layers of material are then added and the process is repeated until the wall has reached the desired height. Once the mixture is set the forms are removed and the wall is water sealed.

In modern variations of the method, the walls are constructed on top of conventional footings combined with a reinforced concrete base.  A horizontal layer of styrofoam can be used to provide
extra ground insulation.

  • Thermal mass: Rammed earth construction has excellent thermal mass: this means that it heats up slowly during the day and then releases the heat during the evening. This characteristic serves to even out daily temperature variations and reduce the need for air conditioning and heating.
  • Sound proofing: The thickness and density of the walls provide excellent sound proofing
  • Fire proof:  The materials used in the walls make them virtually fireproof.

  • Weak insulator: rammed earth is not a good insulator. Like brick and concrete (which also have excellent thermal mass), rammed earth must be insulated in colder climates.

Before the use of cement as a stabilizer, rammed earth buildings were best suited for dry climates with limited availability of alternative building materials such as wood.  With the introduction of cement stabilizers and weatherproof insulation for the walls, rammed earth has become a viable building material for wetter climates.

Additional resources on rammed earth construction coming.


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