Putting the Earth in Earth Day


by April Magill


Dirt is a healthy building material, and buildings are made with earth, clay and mud all over the world,

including walls, floors, paint and plasters. They are not restricted to arid climes nor washed away by the

rain. Adobe and rammed earth are among the first known building methods in the world, dating back

7,000 years. Earthen buildings exist on every continent but Antarctica in every kind of climate, including

monsoon regions. When properly built, earthen structures are extremely durable and stand the test of

time. There are even 200-year-old rammed earth structures in South Carolina that are still in great shape.

Earthen buildings such as adobe, rammed earth, compressed earth block and Hempcrete structures are on

the rise once again, appearing in Dwell magazine or Architectural Record.


According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the construction industry contributes more to

landfill waste than any other industry, and buildings consume more energy than anything else globally.

People are rapidly developing chemical sensitivities and sick building syndrome due to the toxic chemicals

and off-gassing found in most new construction. The many positive benefits that earthen homes have to

offer are quickly being recognized by those working within the building industry as well as the end-users

that desire to live in a healthy building with a minimal carbon footprint.


In contrast to static, often toxic, one-size-fits-all modern-day wall systems, earthen walls are living, breathing, organic and dynamic systems. Much like

our body or the plants growing outside, earthen walls shift and change in response to the sun, the shade, the winds and the micro-climate of which it is a part.

When designing buildings made of earth, these structures are considered a product of their environment, versus an inert product disconnected from its environment.

Earthen buildings eventually return to the ground from whence they came, with very little waste created in-between.


Benefits include rot-proof/mold-proof, termite-proof, fire-resistant, flood-resistant, breathable (interior stabilization of humidity and temperature levels),

superior thermal performance, durable, low-maintenance, lower lifecycle costs and low carbon footprint. Clay soil uses easy-to-learn DIY techniques that

can be applied to a new or old conventional home for interior finishes such as clay paints, plasters and natural floor finishes, as well.


Building with dirt is also fun. Working with the community to sculpt a mud oven is an experience unlike anything else. It is empowering to take such a simple,

everyday material like dirt and turn it into something so beautiful and useful.


April Magill is an architect, natural building consultant principal of Root Down Designs. She is hosting two upcoming Natural Building workshops in Charleston. For more information, visitRootDownDesigns.com/workshops/workshops.