How To Reinforce Earthbag Walls Using Intertie Studs

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The Need, The Crisis, And The Solution

When two of our earthbag walls under construction were blown flat by the Big Bad Wolf , my wife and I knew we’d gone from a general awareness of the need for reinforcement of straight earthbag walls to a full fledged crisis. With the wind still howling like a demon unleashed, Pam struggled to get her shock under control while I scrambled for a couple of hours to sort out the mess, add some bracing to the walls that hadn’t fallen, and begin the restacking process. Later in the day, I had to drop her off at her son’s to grab a quick shower and then run to Home Depot for a load of building supplies. By that time, my gut was cramping big time from a lack of food and an excess of acid.

Not a good day.

Still, nothing happens without reason. I believe that firmly. In this case, one result of the fallen walls was a major wall design change. Instead of continuing to stack more and more earthbags until reaching maximum wall height, the last fifteen inches or so would be done in wood, what I came to term top-framing.

Long before the top-framing was completed, I had a plan which would produce astoundingly strong walls. Earthbags or no earthbags, nothing would ever knock those walls down again! The plan involved utilizing the roof trusses to “top-anchor” wall studs for a most unusual studwall that would run inside the earthbag walls themselves.

First, a sill board needed to be anchored to the concrete perimeter foundation blocks. Once this was done and trusses installed across the wall tops, it was time to break the rules.

Step 1: A stud was cut on an angle parallel to the top of the truss and long enough to go not just to the ceiling (like a “normal” stud would do) but actually through the ceiling.

Step 2: Two angle braces were nailed to the sides of the stud at the base.

Step 3: The stud was then nailed directly to the truss at the top and via the angle braces to the sill board at the bottom.

Step 3: The stud is then nailed directly to the truss at the top...

Step 3: The stud is then nailed directly to the truss at the top…

...and via the angle braces to the sill board at the bottom.

…and via the angle braces to the sill board at the bottom.

Overbuilding

Step 4: Add two hurricane ties linking the stud to the top-framing. While this is probably, overkill, so be it. Better a few extra dollars worth of hardware than more walls going horizontal…especially after we’re living inside those walls.

 Add two hurricane ties linking the stud to the top-framing.


Add two hurricane ties linking the stud to the top-framing.

Step 5: Double up on studs if you have a particularly vulnerable spot in the wall. This was needed at a location right next to the south facing window in what will become my bedroom. My own carelessness during construction resulted in an inward bulge that really needed help. In fact, the studs could not be installed “straight up”, the lean was so pronounced. I’ll cover this “canted wall” later by building my wardrobe right there: When the door is opened, it will be possible to see that the back inside wall of the wardrobe isn’t vertical. But other than me, who’ll be shoving shirts and jackets aside to notice?

The one point where "double studs" were needed.

The one point where “double studs” were needed.

Exterior view of the inward bulge. Right next to the upper portion of the window casement, things are not really pretty.

The Overall Plan

When all is said and done–especially done–everything about these walls will look and will be hunky-dory. Inside, the added studwall will be filled with standard R-11 insulation. Outside, concrete stucco will be applied and used to fill in the gaps. The overall effect will be monolithic in nature, able to laugh at wind and weather.

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