Why Build with Rammed Earth?
Why build with rammed earth? This is a question I receive quite often. There are many reasons why building with rammed earth makes sense, and just as many why it doesn't.
Let's start with the benefits of rammed earth.
Rammed earth is solid. Have you ever been in a rammed earth house? If so, you know the almost indescribable feeling of being surrounded by 18" thick solid earthen walls. It's a primal feeling, one of comfort and safety. There is an inner knowing that inside these walls you are protected from the outside world, be that wildfires, tornadoes, or a zombie horde. You sleep better at night, you feel more relaxed when you're home.
Rammed earth is energy efficient. We thermally break our exterior walls with 2" of rigid foam in the center of the wall. This creates a tremendous amount of mass in the inner space that is an enormous thermal battery. Once the walls reach the ambient temperature of the conditioned space they hold that temperature, unbothered by the whims of mother nature. The walls have a static R-Value of R33.
Rammed earth lasts forever. The problem with modern buildings is planned obsolescence, they are designed to fail, after all, it's good for the construction industry suppliers. Siding fails, paint peels, drywall molds, and before you know it, the house you bought is being gutted and essentially re-built. Rammed earth is the oldest construction method known to man, the walls last for thousands of years. If the roof and windows are maintained, humans can inhabit that space for just as long. Buy once, cry once, you never regret quality.
Rammed earth is beautiful. In a world built with fake materials (quartz countertops made to look like concrete, plastic plank floors made to look like wood, etc.), rammed earth is a welcome respite. Rammed earth walls are real - they are organic, imperfect, textured, and without equal. There is no other building material that comes close to the wabi-sabi aesthetic that rammed earth introduces to a space. If you love real things, materials that age gracefully into their surroundings, then rammed earth is for you.
Rammed earth is a good investment, on a long enough timeline. There's no doubt about it, rammed earth is expensive, but if you factor in the longterm energy and maintenance savings, it is actually money ahead. Rammed earth is the long view, it isn't for flippers, it is for clients that understand the value in building to last, and then luxuriating as the years pass.
Why wouldn't you build with rammed earth?
Cost. Rammed earth is expensive due to the amount of time, equipment, and skilled labor that goes into the process. A build could initially cost 30%-70% more to construct with rammed earth vs. stick frame, but that disparity in cost eventually dissipates due to energy and upkeep expenses. That being said, a lender may not see the value in building with rammed earth from a construction loan perspective, so potential clients may be required to put more equity into the project.
Build time. Constructing rammed earth walls takes time. The footing systems, forms, site access, mixing, placement, ramming, form removal, post processing, and sealing are not a fast process, nor should they be. Anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time. If you are in a hurry to build or have a tight timeline, rammed earth isn't your best option. Building systems such as ICF's provide thermal efficiency for lower cost and less time, the trade-off being you are living in a styrofoam home.
Changes. When you build a rammed earth home, you are building forever. You have to consider and plan for every little detail upfront. It's no easy task to add an electrical outlet, plumbing line, window, or doorway in a rammed earth wall. Some of these changes can be accomplished in interior stick framed walls, but not all of them. If you have commitment issues, rammed earth isn't for you.
So now that we covered the basic pros and cons of building with rammed earth, let's discuss where EarthForm fits into the picture.
We can build your rammed earth house. EarthForm offers full construction services for projects located in the United States. We can act as the general contractor and build your house from the ground up.
We can construct the rammed earth walls for your project. Perhaps you already are working with a builder and want to subcontract out the rammed earth? EarthForm can work with your GC, architect, and engineer to fabricate the rammed earth.
We can provide consultation. If you are in the early stages of your project and want to discuss how rammed earth could fit into it, we are happy to act as consultants. Consultation can include but is not limited to:
- Rammed earth materials evaluation, samples, and testing.
- Tools and equipment needed to accomplish your project.
- Forming systems.
- Sealing rammed earth walls.
We can teach you how to build with rammed earth. Are you an adventurous person that wants to self-build your own rammed earth home? We get it, and we can help give you a solid foundation of knowledge so you can confidently take on your project and have professional results. Training can be conducted on-site at your location, or in NW Arkansas at our studio. On-site training is recommended so we can evaluate and offer recommendations in regards to site access and conditions, available local materials, and the order of operations to build the walls without painting yourself into a corner.
At the end of the day, you build a house with rammed earth because that is what you want. You don't do it because it is cheap, or the "in material", or because it is sustainable, you do it because you love it. I love rammed earth, I have been obsessed with it for more than two decades, and I would love to share my passion, knowledge, and attention to detail with you.