Earthbag Home Under Construction in City’s Central West End

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Back in July we wrote about a non-traditional residence being built in St. Charles. That container home is nearing completion and should be featured on a certain cable network soon. But a home under construction in St. Louis City’s Central West End may raise the bar for DIY homebuilding.

The earth bag home at 518 N. Newstead has been under construction for several months, drawing curious neighbors and passersby. Owner Zachary Kraft purchased the former city-owned lot and has spent weekends filling bags and layering up the walls of his soon-to-be home.

Once the structure is complete, the outside appearance will be similar to any stucco covered home. And while rare in Missouri, earth bag homes are more common in other locales where what has become traditional building materials are scarce or prohibitively expensive. Still, regardless of available building materials, earthen homes are known for their energy efficiency and low cost.

The structure of the Newstead home should be completed in a few months, with the exterior stucco finish then being applied. For many, it’s a challenge to envision the completed project, but judging by other examples, the result should be quite different than its current appearance.

You can learn more at earthbagbuilding.com and watch a recent Fox2Now segment here.

518 N Newsteadimageimage image imageimage image image image imageimage image520 N Newstead

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  • Kathleen

    I have been watching construction with great interest, and can’t wait for the open house! We have such a housing crisis in St. Louis (not unique to our area) due to the cost of both housing and the energy needed for that housing. If a good system involving great energy efficiency and sustainability can be demonstrated, then that could be a great help to so many. Maybe habitat for humanity could look into this. Best wishes for the homebuilder!

  • Kevin

    This structure “if you can call it that” is a horribly constructed piece of crap. I have been watching this project for over a year and have seen the neglect with the methods of construction. I am highly disappointed with the City officials whom have left this farce continue without ending it immediately. Millions of dollars have been invested in high end structures around the literally corner on Washington Blvd. and millions more around the corner on Olive Blvd. to only have this piece of crap sit unattended there for 2 years!!!! I am sure the future owner had good intentions but if you cannot afford or have the will power to finish your project in a timely manner then you must forfeit your right to build this house.

    • hey kevin you ever built your own house?

      It takes time and if you have ever built your own earth bag house it takes twice the time. The material used is not conducive to winter construction and if you know much about St. Louis weather you can’t pour foundations or bond beams, or cement floors in wet weather so with that in mind it’s going to take a longer time to complete.

      All of that said I got the building permit in Dec 2014 started building in July 2015 and will be finish this year 2017 so real construction time has been about 2 years of building when STL weather permits.

      if you google search time to build your own house on avg its 18months. Sorry your desire for expensive gentrified real estate is not satisfied with my house but that was not the intent.

  • chicov

    Just noticed this is being built with individual bags. Would have been better if built as Super Adobe and the continuous tubular sandbag construction. Fewer breaks in bag and filler would have made for a stronger structure.

    • Super adobe is an option but i bought the bags from United Bags off warson rd. in st. louis county. I did this because 1) its was easier 2) i support local companies and did not find any local companies that sold super adobe.

  • chicov

    Instead of cylindrical, it might have been better to be built as a dome. That way it could be covered in gunshot concrete and plant a green roof. Would be hardly noticeable from the street. As a cylinder the covering could be stucco, but also could be other materials. Planters could be built in to walls and various types of gardens would be possible. Even Pampas grasses could hide the structure. I think looks could creatively be changed to suit a variety of taste palates. Filling the bags is a time consuming process but could proceed more quickly if a team were to help. I would suggest concerned neighbors volunteer to help, thus providing a modicum of input on final appearance and the actual completion of project.

    • Chicov domes at this radius 32′ would have been too high and to heavy to build with bags. Also the construction expertise for such a dome would be much more expensive than planned for such a small 900sqft home. The covering is Portland/lime/stucco. It is a strong roof and could easily be convert to a green roof but will probably use just white paint as a study showed it to be just as effective at energy conservation.

  • John

    I support innovative and unique construction, but sustainability and aesthetics are important. I’ll be interested to see the final product and if it is well maintained over the long term. If it adds value and architectural character, I’m okay with it. If it never gets completed and continues to be an eyesore, it should be scrapped.

    • i agree, but it s a work in progress so lets see how it turns out.

  • baopuANDu

    I live a few blocks away and am pretty sure, if memory serves me right, that “construction” has been going on for well over a year. It’ll be interesting to see if/when it ever gets finished but it is definitely taking a long time and, from talking to neighbors, seems to be devolving into speculation that the builder is a few footings short of a solid foundation, if you know what I mean. Gossip aside, I hope it ends up well done.

  • drhowarddrfine

    My first thought was, OK, as long as it looks like a regular house, it doesn’t matter what hidden material is used. Then I saw the book cover and thought, OMG! How ugly awful!

    • Heather James

      You can make it look however you want. The end result is a stucco-covered house with thick walls. Stucco is slightly out of place in St Louis, but thick walls are not.

    • Guest

      Lol…”ugly awful”…? I think that house on the cover looks wonderful! I see the creativity, thought and craftsmanship that’s been put into it. I’d take it hands down over the horrible McMansion architectural messes typically seen built in exurbia in the last 40 or so years, of which the construction industry has become an industry that sorely lacks good architecture and craftsmanship…IOW all cheap and fast cookie-cutter…for the sake of nothing but profit.

      Heather James, excellent points!

    • it might not be like the books “honey house” on the cover as we are mixing a standard building with a creative one so well see how it turns out.

  • Framer

    Jeez…tough crowd.

    Guys, this is a construction site; it’ll look much better when finished. The vines are growing on a secondary structure which is not connected with the home itself. I drive by often, and I assure you progress is being made, but keep in mind this is a do-it-yourself project being done by the homeowner in his spare time.

    • drhowarddrfine

      Will this house look like the one on the book cover?

      • Orodwen

        Well, when finished it will be an adobe roundhouse with south-facing windows to utilize passive solar to hear during the winter. The thick walls provide thermal mass, which will help keep temperatures more stable year-round.

      • nah sorta but not really. it is round but will be white and blue we are going for a Moroccan type of color scheme.

        http://www.timetravelturtle.com/2015/03/chefchaouen-morocco-blue-city/

    • RyleyinSTL

      Judging from the pictures some of the sand bags are already succumbing to the elements. I think there’s some concern that this project may stay half finished.

    • I work on it Mornings, evenings, weekends and i hire out work during the week. Its moving along.

  • RyleyinSTL

    Interesting idea. My parents built a stackwall (sometimes called Cordwood) home in the 80’s and 90’s so I’ve got an affinity for alternative building materials.

    However this construction sight looks abandoned, no? In one picture I can see vines growing on the structure and it seems to be overgowen with weeds.

    • Orodwen

      It is in a part of the city where a lot of buildings have fallen into neglect, and some torn down, like where this house is being built. No landscaping will be done until house is completed, or nearly so, do I’m guessing the lot will look like this until next year.

      There is a small, abandoned outbuilding, right next to where the house is being constructed. That is what the vines are growing on, not the house being built. Missouri climate and flora are such that the British Special Forces used to go there for jungle training.

  • joeymegatron

    Looks terrible