Earth & Ecobrick Building
Together we can build our greenest visions.
Building with earth and ecobricks is simple, inexpensive and fun. With enough ecobricks and the right local organic materials you can build anything from a simple garden bench to a park, to a structure.
The simplest application is to lay Ecobricks horizontally in cob mortar. The result is a thick, sturdy construction. The cob mortar must cover all the ecobrick to protect it from UV sunlight (with the optional exception of the cap’s surface and colored bottom of the Ecobrick). Thus protected from UV rays and the elements the brick will last pretty much forever.
Click to expand the steps below for building a simple earth and ecobrick bench.
What's Best to Build?
We recommend starting small with your first ecobrick build. Gardens are ideal! In so doing, you can put our ecobricks to use, involve everyone in the construction, minimize costs (no need for engineers) and learn the core principles of earth and ecobrick construction through experience.
Fact is, Ecobricks make beautiful gardens where we can sit, play and eat. We call them Food Forest Play Parks. Given that most of the plastic we stuff into our ecobricks comes from food packaging, building gardens that grow non-packed food, is pretty apt! This space are created by curving lines of bottles that are laid horizontally. The resulting mini-walls, make great benches and garden bedding walls. Oh… and you can run around and play tag on them too!
Food Forest Play parks are ideal for schools. Teaching children to grow their own food is categorically the most valuable skill we can impart to the next generation. Self-sufficient personal and community food production (as opposed to giant mono-crops) is essential for preserving the Earth’s biosphere. Because earth and ecobrick building is so low cost, and the technique below so easy, students and youth groups can take charge of the full project– from making the ecobricks, to designing the space, to building it. This creates a sense of pride and ownership that is hugely empowering. Best pf all, the earth and ecobrick technique you will learn is indefinitely scalable– these are the same fundamentals used to construct houses and buildings.
1. Soil test
With your chosen earth, make some pancakes! That‘ right, mix small
quantities of cob with varying ratios of your local sand and clay (don‘t bother with the binder for this). Make pancakes of about 3cm by 15cm. Try different rations, like one part sand, two parts clay. Lay out a mix of different rations (i.e. 1:0, 0:1, 1:3, 1:1, 3:1) on a board. Let them dry in the sun and out of the rain. After two or three days review your pancakes. Choose the ratio
that doesn‘t crumble easily, nor which hasn’t cracked. Once you have found the sturdiest ratio, you’re ready to apply this on a larger scale.
2. Setup a safe working area.
3. Plan and lay your draft foundation
4. Dig out your foundation
5. Lay the cement foundation
6. Lay the Ecobricks down
7. Mash your cob mixture
Mix your cob to the ratio that you discovered was best in Step 1. Use buckets to measure each part. Dump the buckets of sand and clay onto a large tarp. Add your organic binder (straw, hay, coconut fibre, etc…). Use your feet to mash and mix the cob. Add small quantities of water as you go to help the mixing (but not too much or your mix will be too soupy).
8. Make Cob Balls
9. Lay the second layer of Ecobricks
10. Apply more layers of cob
Keep adding layers of bottles and cob! We find that benches are good with two or three layers of bottles. For walls, add a row of iron bar at every 5th layer of bottles.
11. Apply the outer protective coating
- Add cement to your cob ratio so that it is 20% of the mix. Mix in the same way as before. Apply to the outer layer of the
- Paint on a clear acrylic water proofing paint.
- Paint on a layer of fresh cow dung combined with 10% fine clay.
- Paint on a layer of lime render.
12. Finishing the top with cement and broken tiles
Use broken tiles to make a pattern on your bench top. Lay tile out on a long board first into the desired pattern. Have the pattern ready when laying the cement for the bench top. While the cement is still wet, press the broken tiles half way into cement. Once semi-dry, use a trowel to cover with a layer of fine cement (1:4 mix). Use a wet sponge to continually wipe clean.
Caution! Using cement to build with Ecobricks can cause big problems in the future. When your structure comes to its end and must be moved or broken down, the cement is stronger than the PET plastic. The cement rubble will rupture Ecobricks! This means someone in the future will have a big mess to clean up. It is best minimize the use of cement and maximize the use of cob for your Ecobrick mortar. This way, Ecobricks can be safely removed and reused. Over and over again!
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An Introduction to Bottle Building
For a comprehensive introduction to the the theory and techniques of bottle building, download our free, open source construction guide.
Ecobrick cob constructions are fueled by the magic of collaboration. Projects will require hundreds of ecobricks. Invite and inspire everyone in the community to partake in your green vision! With one clear green space vision, the entire student body, the parents and the teachers can unite. With everyone submitting one or two ecobricks you’ll be ready to build in no time. With many volunteers on hand to mash mud, you’ll be able to construct in no time!
Earth and Ecobrick Building is ideal for constructing simple garden spaces – playgrounds and what we call ‘food forest play parks‘. The Ecobrick and Earth Building techniques can then be extrapolated for wall and structure construction.
The Earth Building technique can completely cover ecobricks, effectively securing them indefinitely in the construction. This keeps them safe from UV light and other forms of degradation. After 10, 20 or 100 years, when your structure comes to its end (as everything eventually does) the ecobricks can be extricated undamaged and fully repurposed.