Bronco engineers help build earthbag homes in Nepal.
The 2015 Nepal earthquakes destroyed nearly 800,000 homes. Nearly three years later, rebuilding is still underway, with an eye toward safer construction. A team of women engineering students at Santa Clara noticed one type of dwelling survived well: earthbag homes.
Led by Tonya Nilsson, professor of civil engineering, Makena Wong ’17, Olivia Carreon ’17, and Nabila Farah-Franco ’17 analyzed this existing but infrequently utilized technology in home construction. Then a fellow engineering alumnus, Scott Hanson ’14, shared with them his experience as a construction manager with Conscious Impact, helping rebuild homes in Nepal. So along with bringing engineering acumen to bear, they invested some sweat: They traveled to Nepal and worked with Conscious Impact alongside local workers to build earthbag housing in Takure, a small subsistence farming village next to the earthquake epicenter in which one out of 245 homes survived.
Here’s how to build an earthbag home: Fill mesh bags with soil onsite and stack them like bricks to create structurally sound and well-insulated walls. Earthbag construction is simple—but it wasn’t government approved technology in Nepal until 2017. That matters; government approval unlocks $2,000 in quake recovery aid.
Building an earthbag home for Sunita Tamang, a widow with three children, also enabled the students to implement a rainwater collection system to provide the new homeowner with a steady source of water that she hoped would allow her to create a micro-business making rice wine.