Do you know what a rammed earth house is? Imagine if you could build a house with walls that were strong, natural, and affordable. If you can envision that, then you should be able to wrap your mind around the beauty of rammed earth natural building techniques.
Rammed earth construction isn’t new. Today, the building technique is not as fashionable as it was a few thousand years ago. However, due to renewed interest, it seems earth structures are emerging as the latest home design trend.
Rammed earth homes feature walls formed with high pressure to compact a deep mixture of damp earth, sourced from local sites.
The walls increase strength as they dry and their high thermal mass helps absorb heat during the day and release it at night. Due to daily temperature variations, the process reduces the cost of heating and cooling.
Rammed Earth Buildings
Take a look at these stellar examples of rammed earth buildings.
Designed by De Gouden Liniaal Architecten in Belgium, this example of modern rammed earth walls is an observation tower at the Maasvalley Riverpark Nature Reserve. It was the first public building in the Benelux Region to use rammed earth.
The former gravel extraction area needed a tower for visitors to experience the entire Negenoord landscape, so the architects used learth, clay, and gravel excavated from the Maas area.
The surface of the thick walls will erode, highlighting the gravel mix, which includes clay, ochre-colored earth, and stabilized with lime. Building over a temporary frame, the rammed earth structure took seven weeks to build.
Sparrenburg Visitor Center
Max Dudler Architects felt rammed earth would be the best material for a new entrance to the disparate elements that are left of the ancient Sparrenburg in Bielefeld, Germany.
Rather than echo a historical era of the standing structures, the new rammed earth building puts a contemporary spin on the site that ties together the structure.
The remarkable appearance comes from the striations of color and texture in the wall that evoke the materials found in the ruins of the castle, blending the past and present with new construction methods.
Rammed Earth Homes
Casa Caldera is more of a shelter than a traditional house. Situated in the Canelo Hills in Southern Arizona’s San Rafael Valley, the home blends with the landscape to have a minimal impact on its surroundings.
Constructed from poured lava crete, the walls have a color that subtly contrasts with the vegetation and changes in quality as the light shifts throughout the day.
Pioneered by Paul Schwam, the building material is a mix of pulverized lava rock called “red scoria,” along with cement and water.
Indoor Air Quality
Rammed homes offer superior air quality as they don’t rely on central air or heating. You’ll never have to worry about toxic dust particles flying circulating through your home. The cost effective homes also produce low greenhouse gas emissions.
The designers relied on construction methods that used semi-fluid material which is rammed into a mold, similar to rammed earth construction methods.
This rammed earth home in Monterrey, Mexico looks like it almost melts into the ground. Designed by Tatiana Bilbao, the Los Terrenos home sits in a residential area comprised of forested highlands.
Earth architecture is all about creating a thermal mass. Its layout was meant to mimic the surrounding landscape, with the main room overlooking the trees and most of the bedrooms built underground.
The combination of the rammed earth walls, rocky landscape, and organically built stone walls create a very natural presence for the home on the outside and a natural, relaxed vibe on the inside.
Jalisco Summer House
Fulfilling the client’s desire for a low-maintenance summer residence, Tatiana Bilbao Architects designed an angular structure formed from rammed earth walls that echo the color variations in the nearby mountains.
This example is from Chapala Lake in Jalisco, Mexico. The rammed earth house features cube-like components that offer beautiful views while shielding the interior from northern winds.
It’s not uncommon for aggregates to be used instead of earth. Sometimes you’ll see plywood forms applied to parts of a rammed structure. Either way, rammed earth can contribute to energy efficiency.
By using materials from the surrounding area for the walls, this construction technique helps the building blend with its surroundings in a very complementary way.
Great Wall of Western Australia
The longest rammed earth wall is in Western Australia. The design from Luigi Rosselli Architects is a 750-foot long wall that zig-zags along a sand dune and 12 homes with soil roofs.
As you can see here, rammed earth requires the same attention as any building unit. The home units here, meant for short-term accommodations for cattle workers, feature a 450-mm-thick rammed earth facade and living space that is set into a dune.
The design makes them cool in the hot weather and is a departure from the corrugated metal shelters used in the region. The wall materials include iron-laden, sandy clay, and gravel from a nearby river.
The serene landscape surrounding this vineyard house near Montijo, Portugal led the Blaanc Architects to design a residence that minimally interferes with the landscape. The resulting rammed earth structure holds all the common living areas and features a long terrace.
The earth walls are also thermally efficient, creating an interior environment that is cool in the summer and mild in the winter. Market research has proven that natural air is healthier than what is provided by central air systems.
Earth structures adhere to building codes just like any other structure. Construction made use of earth with high sand content from the estate itself as well as from a location 30 miles away.
This design features rammed earth walls with fiberglass mesh in between the layers, creating continuous layers without vertical joints.
Low Embodied Energy
The design also uses doorframes constructed from laminated wood that serve as braces and part of the forms used to create the rammed earth walls.
This warehouse is a geometric design that sits atop a landscape and is constructed from rammed earth. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron for the Ricola Company to serve as an herb center. The building materials include local sources from Laufen, Switzerland.
The company’s commitment to the environment made the choice of rammed earth a logical one and the loam walls are visible both inside and out.
Lower Carbon Footprint
Reducing a carbon footprint has become a major concern among younger generations in the US. Prefabricated earth elements feature clay blocks, marl, and other materials. Trass mortar in every eighth layer of earth guards against erosion.
Rammed homes are ideal in colder climates. The homes offer a greater source of natural heat. One thing that makes this easier is how the homes are self-supporting but connected to a load bearing concrete structure.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
How Much Does It Cost To Build A House From Rammed Earth?
The “Global Model Earthship” costs roughly $225 per square foot for construction, but don’t forget the cost of construction blueprints, which cost an additional $10,000.
Does Rammed Earth Need Rebar?
Rammed earth walls require rebar in high seismic activity areas. Adding cement to soil mixtures low in clay can also increase the load-bearing capacity of rammed earth structures.
Is Rammed Earth Stronger Than Concrete?
Rammed earth walls are much thicker than concrete walls which makes them more effective at controlling indoor temperature fluctuations.
Does Rammed Earth Need Waterproof?
Rammed earth is durable, but needs protection from rain and moisture. In Australia, for example, rammed earth walls do not require additional waterproofing except in exposed conditions.
Are Rammed Earth Walls Load Bearing?
Rammed earth walls are excellent for load bearing, which reduces the need for structural supports. This can help reduce building costs and provide architectural possibilities that other materials can’t.
Is Rammed Earth Termite Proof?
Why are the rammed earth walls termite resistant? Due to the materials and construction process, rammed earth walls are “termite resistant”.
Rammed Earth Conclusion
Rammed earth houses may be the future. When your home has a rammed earth wall, you’ll save money and receive better protection from outdoor weather. Although rammed earth construction has come a long way, it’s still in a development period. Applying thermal mass to home construction purposes is not easy.
When you think about it, rammed earth construction, as a building technique, has been around for thousands of years. Rammed earth homes built over three hundred years ago are still standing today. That alone should tell you everything you need to know, especially about insulated rammed earth walls and cold climates.
The most basic kind of rammed earth housing reduces overall emissions and can add significantly to a local environment. Experienced builders know the benefits of rammed earth, so reach out to one of them should you have any serious questions.