Earthbag Dome Living

Well, it’s been 5 months since we moved into our Earthbag dome. So we decided to update you on how we are progressing. Work-wise, (i.e. finish mudding the interior and finishing the exterior) it’s been a really cold and snowy winter, so we haven’t made much progress in these areas. And the soil we’re using for the process, even though it’s under a tarp, is still frozen solid.

But we are happy to report that we haven’t been cold this winter due to the fantastic properties of using scoria in our sandbags. And we are also 3-4 feet below ground level.

Our potbelly stove heats the dome really well, but unfortunately, our Vogelzang Railroad Potbelly Stove is a piece of poorly manufactured junk. If we may rant for a moment… it should be called a “Pot Metal” stove,  made in China. It started to fall apart after the first 3 months. This isn’t a post about the stove, but we feel we should mention the poor craftsmanship for anyone considering buying a Vogelzang stove for themselves… DON’T DO IT!

The Ash Door was the first part to break off at the hinge…

No way to get this welded back together… pot metal.

There is no seal around the Feed Door. We bought a length of fiberglass gasket to cement around the door, but then the door wouldn’t close properly. So we skipped this.

Next item that broke was the Shaker Grate. This broke at the hinge.  So we have it resting over the middle hole.

The first thing we noticed when we used the stove was… a gap between the Feed and Burn Chambers. Seems it wasn’t sealed before being packaged and shipped. Annoying, but it wasn’t critical that a little stove cement couldn’t take care of. Notice the change in color also? Don’t know what that’s all about.

All in all, it heats our dome, and we hope it holds up until Spring. We plan on buying a new stove for next winter, and use this one somewhere else. We don’t recommend this product to anyone. I sent an email to Vogelzang’s customer service and, of course, received no reply. Must be the shame of an inferior product, I guess.

And, we bought this online, so we didn’t have the opportunity to look it over in person… lesson learned.

Okay, enough ranting.

Our solar panel setup is functioning well. We were fortunate enough to find 12 Volt 100 AMP batteries in excellent condition for $45 each. As opposed to spending $250 each. Our set up is simple, but we’ll have to expand when we get the addition two solar panels sometime this year.

We’ve been able to cook using the potbelly stove and our Coleman Camp oven on our Camp Chef Explorer Two-Burner Stove. We acquired another three burner stove with an oven, but we haven’t hooked that up yet until the kitchen is complete.

And eventually we’ll be using Biogas instead of Propane. The Biogas digester will be set up this summer. We’ll keep you posted on this experiment.

My wife has perfected her Batter Bread recipe…

Delicious Oatmeal Raisin Bread! We pulled out the Wheat Grinder and attached it to a makeshift stand to grind our own wheat.

So, after 5 months of living in our Earthbag Dome, we love every minute of it. And it’s only the beginning. Once it warms up, we’ll be able to finish the final coating, plus we’ll have time to build our Pit Greenhouse a few yards away. We got our seed order and plan on having a great garden now that we don’t have to spend the entire summer building the house, like we did last summer. We’ll be building our pit Greenhouse with our own lumber on the property using a chainsaw and an Alaskan Mill… but that’s another post.

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15 thoughts on “Earthbag Dome Living

  1. This is so very exciting to read, as I’m in the beginning stages of planning my own earthbag dome house, and I too will be using scoria as I live near a volcano and it’s plentiful here.

    Just curious – what part of the world do you live in?

    • How exciting… looking at your photos brought back memories for us. We live in Montana. We added your blog to our blogroll so people can keep up on your progress. If you have any questions, let us know. Good Luck!

      • Hi there,

        I’m on my way to Montana this summer, I have family near Belt. I’m curious as to building codes in Montana for earthbag structures. I’ve been digging around the web trying to find a definite answer but it’s been somewhat confusing. Anyhow hope all is going great with your homestead and if you know of any sites that I can check about codes please pass them on.

        Best Wishes,
        Joe

      • Dear Joe, thanks for reminding us… we were just asking ourselves this morning… “Why did we move to Montana?” And one of the reasons was… No building codes outside city limits… except septic which has to be approved by a county dude. But outhouses are FREE! 🙂

  2. I’ve just recently discovered your blog and I am quite impressed. You certainly have done a lot of work. I glad to hear you are happy with your results so far.
    My wife (www.canadiandirtbags.com) and I are also earthbag builders and are chomping at the bit to get back outside and finish our dome home.
    Too bad that wood stove didn’t work out for you. We will be using a rocket mass heater for the bulk of our heating needs. Have you heard of rocket stoves? It might be worth checking out before you make another investment. Rocket stoves are an easy DIY project that are super cheap or even free if your a good scavenger.

    • We were planning to add a rocket stove as part of our build, but due to the building window time frame we had before winter moved in, (and there was only two of us building)… we decided not to take the chance. We enjoyed you and your wife’s blogs and added them to our blogroll for others to follow. Thanks for visiting.

  3. I’m glad you liked my blog – I’m really enjoying yours! It’s really a shame about your stove; I hope it wasn’t too expensive.

    My husband and I are hoping to build an earthbag home at some point in our future, though that date keeps getting pushed farther and farther back. We’re stuck in an area with strict building codes, and at the moment don’t have much hope of being able to leave the area any time soon. Still, it’s something that highly interests us, and I will be reading your blog avidly to see how things progress for you and your wife as you finish the process of building your homestead.

    I’m curious: What’s the diameter of your domes? And the square footage of your complete home?

    By the way, that bread looks wonderful. 🙂

    • Main Dome is 14′ diameter, 17′ high and around 154 sq. ft.
      The two smaller domes are 10′ diameter, 13′ high, and around 79 sq. ft.
      Combined square footage is 312 feet.
      In each of the domes the first three feet of bags were vertical because we built it partially submerged in the ground, so the ground helps support the wall. Montana’s frost depth is 3-4 feet, and our floors are for the most part below frost depth.

  4. Great site, loving all the info. what is the sizes of each dome? can we see pics of the interior to get an idea of how much living space you have and how you use it?

    • Hi Paul, We’ll be posting photos of the interior after we finish it. Right now, we’re just getting through winter with what we need for creature comforts, so space is a bit tight… which we knew. We’ll be moving the stove off to the side instead of having it in the middle of the main dome as it is now, (which will open up more space in the main dome). My wife and I had such a small time-frame to build, we were focused on getting everything closed up, livable, and able to survive through the winter months. The dome specs are posted in my reply to MW below. Thanks for visiting.

  5. Hey, I have a couple of questions: How much did you pay for the scoria? And how long did it take you from the time you started to the time you moved in? I too am on a tight building schedule; I’ll be breaking ground probably at the beginning of April and want to be moved in by about the middle of October, when cold weather hits. It will be mainly my son and I building, although I plan on also holding several work parties.

    Also, how did you guys close the ends of the bags?

    Thanks!

    • The 3/4″ scoria, (about 90 cubic yards) cost about $5k. We had two deliveries made to the property, (the scoria was trucked in from Wyoming), then we had to go into town and fill the bed of our Ford Truck with smaller (1-2 cubic yards) loads when we used up the second delivery.

      We had the foundation/footprint (i.e. hole in the ground) dug out October 2010, but we had to clean the edges and dig an additional trench to install the French drain system. But, due to winter arriving, we didn’t complete the French drain until the following Spring.

      We officially laid our first bag on July 9th (We had to build a shed first to store our stuff and that took all of June due to a lot of rain delays)

      We laid our final bag on October 8th. It was just my wife and I doing the work. We lived in our VW van from June to mid-October working six days a week, 10-12 hours a day. We were fortunate to have a friend come out for two weeks in September to help. Our location is pretty remote for the casual weekend helper.

      We closed the end of the bags with 2-1/2″ nails. We tried at first to sew the end… but then we saw our life slipping away before us, so we decide to use nails. Which worked well. We folded the ends like an envelope and used two nails to close it. We sometimes added a third nail in the middle when necessary.

      I’ll see if I can dig up a few photos later today to give you an idea and post them.

  6. I had to laugh out loud at “we saw our life slipping away.” After using the wire “sewing” method at the barn raising I went to in Colorado, I came to much the same conclusion. Glad to hear nails went well. Plus, it just seems more satisfying to be pounding nails to finish a bag – a real sense of closure, I guess.

    I’ve thought about building a shed first too, but haven’t yet figured out if I want to do that with earthbags or some other way. I’ve also considered just storing supplies under the bus I’m going to live in – not ideal, but would mean starting to build more quickly.

    Thanks so much for your very helpful answers to my questions! I’m sure I’ll have more as I get further into this.

    • We didn’t pound the nails to finish closing the bags, we literally pushed them through with our thumb… we both developed quite the “Kung Fu Iron Dragon Thumb” by the end of the build.

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