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Is It Expensive to Build Rammed Earth Houses?

Written by:
Dan Martin
Jeff Goldberg/Esto - DUST

Rammed earth has a way of giving a touch of timelessness to any project. Talk of the Great Wall of China or Spain’s Alhambra, all built over a 1000 years ago but still holding up. Their versatility and beauty prove the actual worth of the rammed earth building techniques. 

The technique is making a comeback in contemporary and ultra-luxurious houses. Well, it’s hard to resist, given its remarkable sustainability. Still, the cost is a widely debated issue that could scare away some aspiring homeowners.  Let’s talk about its cost, building your home to your budget, and the inherent benefits of rammed earth. 

The Cost of a Rammed Earth House 

Rammed earth is a construction technique using natural raw materials like earth, lime, and gravel. A mix of these materials is compacted on formworks. It is then removed and dried. 

The process is labor-intensive and can inflate final costs if materials are sourced far from the site. That partly drives its high costs. The average cost of a rammed earth wall per m2 ranges from $450-$750. Yet, a brick wall costs an average of $20 or less. 

The full cost of the house will vary based on height, the thickness of the wall, house design, etc. 

rammed earth house design image © Jeff Goldberg/Esto - DUST

How to Build a Rammed Earth House Within Your Budget

     1. Use a Home Renovation Loan 

One way to afford a rammed earth house is through a loan. After getting all the approvals and the budget right, you can borrow money to construct your house. 

Some institutions may deny you funding if you’re in a market that considers rammed earth houses too unconventional. A leading renovation loans in Florida provider says a home renovation loan may be helpful. Home renovation loans turnaround quickly with no limitations, so they apply to “unconventional” construction. 

     2. Control Your Design to Manage the Overall Cost 

Like most construction, the cost of a rammed earth house depends on the choices you make. As a custom building, its price may be higher. 

Yet, controlling the costs depends on your budget and priorities to achieve your dream house. Here’s how your house design affects your costs:

     - Walls

More wall sections in your design need more filling using rammed earth. This increases costs. It takes longer to build more sections that have suitable thermal and aesthetic value.  Curved and taller wall sections cost more. Consider scaffolding, detailed soil mix, more time, etc that ramp up your costs. 

     - Rooflines

Simpler rooflines that need no angled walls reduce the required amount of rammed earth along with the costs. More complex rooflines need more angled walls raising completion time and cost. Avoid angling walls if you’re on a tight budget. 

     - Quantity of Rammed Earth

The amount of rammed earth needed directly affects the setup costs. From formworks and transportation to construction time all are increased, affecting the costs per m2. 

     - Openings 

More windows and doors need stronger lintels to uphold the material above. This will increase your set up costs because more time and equipment is needed to build walls with many openings. Apart from design elements, other factors could also affect your costs and are worth considering in your budget.

     - Site

Your site’s soil classification and location affects the costs. Poor soil means additional costs to reinforce the footing. A less reactive and firmer soil type reduces the foundation construction. Sloping sites may need additional wall reinforcements. 

     - Size   

Adding an extra room is costlier than building a larger house. Think more doors, windows, walls etc increasing the rammed earth needed. 

     - Fixtures

Your property can retain its timelessness if fittings and fixtures like plumbing, joinery,  etc affect the cost. Low-cost fittings are more costly in the long run due to frequent replacements. Do your research and seek quality, reasonably priced fixtures. Renovation home loans can also finance your maintenance. 

rammed earth buildingimage © Bill Timmerman / Studio Rick

Benefits of Rammed Earth Houses

     1. Aesthetic Value

Rammed earth houses have a natural texture that completes their distinctive aesthetic. The texture can be smooth, coarse, or craggy so it applies to various rustic designs. Collectively, the materials give a live and expressive touch to its appearance. 

     2. Durable

Rammed earth houses can withstand the test of time, literally. The Great Wall of China is over 2000 years old, and it is still intact. The old earth rammed technique has been improved over time with modern additions like cement to increase durability further. 

     3. Low Maintenance Costs

Rammed earth houses have low maintenance costs. They need no paint; both the exterior and interior can be left the way they are. Neither internal nor external walls need resealing. All you need is a water repellent sealer and dustproofer for protection. 

For a luxury makeover or a different finish, you can use a render or a paint of your choice. 

     4. Higher Resale Value to Contemporary Houses

Eco-friendly houses have higher resale values compared to their alternatives. The rammed earth technique is distinctive and has seen rising interest from eco-friendly enthusiasts.  Don’t get bogged down by your construction budget and overlook the resale value. Whether you take construction or home repair loans for its maintenance, rammed earth houses are worth the investment. 

Its exclusive qualities that are a rarity in the market will ensure that it sells out as soon as it’s listed. So, if you’re taking construction or a home improvement loan, don’t see it as debt; it's an investment. Due to rammed earth longevity, you’re assured of better returns. 

     5. Better Energy Efficiency Due to Robust Thermal Properties

Rammed earth has a high density giving it a high thermal mass. High thermal mass stabilizes your house temperature. It reduces temperature fluctuations making your home more comfortable in winter and summer. Adopting a solar design may further enhance your energy efficiency. You’ll be using less energy on your AC. 

Take Away 

Rammed earth houses can be costlier than other types of buildings. You can quickly get a cheaper alternative for half the price of an earth-rammed home. 

Still, it may not match the durability, aesthetic and sustainable properties of a rammed earth house. You can control your budget and seek a construction and homestyle renovation loan to create a high-value eco-friendly house. 

By Liliana Alvarez

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