It’s the question I love to hate. But I’m asked it a lot, and I understand. People want a ballpark figure before they decide if such a house is for them. The truth is, you could spend a thousand dollars on an earthbag house, or a hundred thousand. It depends on many many things. So before you zip over to that contact form to ask me, read on.
(A cost breakdown of our last earthbag build in Turkey 2016, is below)
1. What type of earthbag house are you building? A ten-bedroom castle, a school, a shed?
2. Are you paying for manual labour? Or do you have volunteers?
3. Which country do you live in? Are materials cheap there? Are skilled workers such as carpenters expensive in your country?
4. Are you a perfectionist? Or are you fine with a few lumps and bumps?
5. What kind of roof are you making? The roof is the most expensive part of the build.
6. Are you building a round house (less expensive and stronger) or a square structure? Post and beam? (The more wood in your build, the more it's probably going to cost).
7. Are you trying to build to code, or are you winging it?
All these factors are going to impact greatly on how much your house will cost. So, the short answer to “How much does it cost to build an earthbag house?” is “I’ve no idea.”
How can you estimate the cost? I decided to publish a breakdown of the cost of the 5.5 m diameter round house plus bathroom, we built in our earthbag building workshop in Turkey last year. (Thanks to Baykal for keeping a record of the figures).
But there are a number of things to take into account.
1. This was Turkey. As you will notice, some things are very inexpensive, others not so much. If you are in the UK the labour is going to look incredibly cheap. If you are in India, it's going to look expensive.
2. We used some of the earth from the site and some with a higher clay content was shipped in (roughly half and half).
3. We used more lime than you are ever likely to due to odd climatic conditions in our region. Thankfully lime is as cheap as chips in Turkey. In fact, now I think about it, per kilogram it's cheaper than chips!
4. At the time of writing, most of the exterior and interior plaster work had been done, but the floor hadn’t been laid and the bathroom was only half completed. The roof will receive a thick layer of clay on it too. So extra costs will certainly occur over time.
5. With the exception of the roof, the house was built almost entirely with volunteers and course participants.
Cost of the earthbag round house without roof.
Note: We estimated that if we had made a simple living roof as on my own mud home without employing a carpenter, such a roof would cost about 1000-1500 USD. In which case the total house price would be nearer to $3000 USD.
One thing I’ve learned is this: No matter how much you calculate and research, be prepared for your budget to be blown. For some mysterious reason (quantum physics? The illuminati?) all construction seems to cost twice as much as you estimate. Things take longer than expected. Other things go wrong. It’s just like that. So allow some nice wide margins in your budget. Or end up like me, and have to step back into the daily grind for six months to earn the money to finish.