In the Bag

In the Bag

By Giannina Ong ’18

Earthbag construction is simple—but wasn’t government approved technology in Nepal until 2017. Photo by Makena Wong ’18
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.

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