Jump to content
Green Blog

The Environmental Benefits of Sod Houses and Earth Building


Using sod or other earthen building materials to construct a shelter is a set of techniques that goes back millennia. It has also appeared in many countries and regions including Africa, Europe, the Middle East, China and India.

Historical Sod Building

Icelanders are especially known for their skill in building sod houses, which they generally covered with a cob roof. The Icelanders quickly realized that sod, which was easier to find than wood, could be more durable than stone, when used correctly. Native American tribes in the Southwest also built shelters made of sod, as did later settlers in the region. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave settlers lots of cheap land, which means they had plenty of turf to work with. Many North American pioneers made bricks out of the sod, which was so dense it was hard to cut. That density made it a strong, durable building material.

Like Iceland, the Southwest had little in the way of trees, so settlers had to use something else for building materials. Sod was readily available and had the added advantage of superior insulation. A sod house kept people warm in the winter and hot in the summer.

Building Techniques/Materials

Cob is a building material that can be made from sand, earth, clay, water, and some kind of fibrous or organic material, like straw. Cob has been used in dwellings all over the world. The mixture would be ladled onto a stone foundation is layers. Workers would compress the cob by walking on it. Cob houses date back to prehistoric times and are still built today.

Rammed earth is a building technique for constructing walls. The builders make a damp mixture of earth, gravel, clay and sand and pour it into a mold or frame. Cement, asphalt or lime is added to the mix as a stabilizer. The material is then compressed, either by hand or with a machine. When the wall is dry, the frame is removed. Sod or turf typically consists of tough grass that has a very thick root structure. Typically, the sod is cut out of the earth is strips and then piled on top of each other to form walls. Sod houses are inexpensive but can be vulnerable to rain damage.

Wattle and daub is another ancient technique that dates back 6000 years. It involves making a lattice out of wood strips called a wattle and then filling it in with the daub, a sticky glop made form a combination of any of the following: sand, soil, clay, straw or animal dung.

Advantages of Sod Housing

Sod and other earthen buildings have a number of advantages. They are comparatively cheap and easy to build. An expert from a local sod company in Atlanta says a well-built sod home can last for years before needing repairs. Although flooding danger can be a problem in some cases, earthen buildings are fire-proof or at least fire-resistant. The walls can be around two feet thick and are therefore strong and durable. They can resist insects and earthquakes and can hypothetically last for generations.

Environmental Benefits

In the 80's and 90's, as people became more concerned about their impact on the environment, sod and earthen houses became popular once again. These are the perfect “green” buildings--sod houses don't contribute to pollution or deforestation caused by the manufacture of building materials. Nobody has to mine for the materials used in the structure and no power tools are required to complete the frame. Building materials that come from factories are often treated with harsh chemicals, while sod is not. The materials all have local origins; nothing is imported from thousands of miles away, which saves on transportation and fuel costs.

Sod and other earthen buildings have their advantages. They may be considered somewhat exotic in wealthy nations, but they are actually very common in developing countries because the materials used are both cheap and readily available. For builders on a budget looking for inexpensive, sustainable building materials, sod and earth bricks are some of the best out there.


Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue. We use cookies and other tracking technologies to improve your browsing experience on our site, show personalized content, analyze site traffic, and understand where our audience is coming from. To find out more, please read our Privacy Policy. By choosing I Accept, you consent to our use of cookies and other tracking technologies.