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Ancient Technique May Provide New Solutions in Affordable Housing


It’s no secret that the housing market in the Chippewa Valley in western Wisconsin is on a shaky foundation. Skyrocketing home values are pricing out many younger and first-time would-be buyers, causing them to stay longer in an already inflated rental market. Others are choosing to look further afield to surrounding communities with longer commutes, a prospect few are excited about. Longer commutes require more gas station fill-ups, which hinder the Eau Claire community’s goal of establishing itself as a model sustainable Midwestern city.

Today, local start-up Earth Origin Construction is hoping to chip away at both of those problems with an innovative new building technique called SuperAdobe. SuperAdobe draws its inspiration from ancient adobe and rammed earth buildings. Using this technique, anyone can quickly build a home with just hand tools, inexpensive polyurethane bags, clay, and earth sourced on-site. By eliminating the use of heavy machinery, concrete, and lumber from the construction process, these homes drastically lower both the cost and carbon footprint of a home.

To create a strong and durable building material from these simple ingredients, earth and clay are mixed with water and used to fill the polyurethane bags. These are tamped down and left to set, becoming hard like a brick over time, but without the necessity of a high-temperature furnace or oven. In order to optimize the strength of these earthbags, Materials Science senior Greylan Larson used instruments in the Materials Science and Engineering Center at UW-Eau Claire to find the best composition of earth and clay from local sources to create the strongest mixture to use as building materials.

By optimizing an age-old technique for modern times, Grey and Earth Origin have set their sights on both the environmental and affordable housing crises right here in the Chippewa Valley. Earth Origin is currently working through zoning variance processes to allow the construction of these low-cost, low-carbon alternatives to traditional homes. They hope to build their first home in 2022 and make Earthbag homes available to the public in coming years. “Earth Origin creates sustainable practices by integrating natural materials with modern technology. We believe every builder, everywhere, should be striving for exactly that,” says Dana Larson, founder of the company.