Kalgoorlie residents to trial 'rammed earth' houses

March 14, 2014 by Anika Rodgers
The project, based in Kalgoorlie, will assess the practicality of using rammed earth housing over steel framed houses. Credit: Jared Tarbell

Houses made out of soil, water and lime are becoming a viable and environmentally-friendly option for remote communities of Western Australia.

Daniela Ciancio and Chris Beckett, from the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering at UWA are working on a project based in Kalgoorlie to assess the practicality of using rammed earth (RE) housing over steel framed houses.

"When you are in the middle of nowhere and you want to build a house you have to transport the materials to the , you have to send to the site and you have to provide accommodation for the people," Dr Ciancio says.

"If we use rammed earth then we can use the material available on site because it's just earth. It saves a lot of costs," she says.

RE is raw soil mixed with water and compacted into formwork to create strong free-standing structures. To increase the stability of RE it can be mixed with .

"If the earth that you are using is very rich in clay, then you can add lime. Clay, lime and water when they're mixed together—they react in a way that is very similar to the reaction of cement," Dr Ciancio says.

"It will work like glue binding together and making the materials stronger."

Dr Ciancio and fellow researchers have been conducting tests to determine the optimium lime content (OLC) needed to make RE more durable against the elements.

"Too little amount means that you don't get enough strength, too high amount and you get up to the maximum strength. You can keep adding lime but it won't improve the materials," she says.

RE uses thermal mass, removing the need for artificial heating and cooling. In places that are hot during the day and cool at night the RE will absorb and trap the heat from the sun, releasing it out again at night.

Fellow researcher Dr Chris Beckett says once the houses in Kalgoorlie are complete, families will live in them to test how effective they are compared to other housing.

"We know these houses will work better than the current transportable options."

"The material is cheaper, the maintenance costs post-construction will be lower because there will be fewer machines operating. For example they won't need to use air conditioning all the time," Dr Beckett says.

Dr Ciancio hopes the research will encourage local communities to get involved with the building of their own home.

RE is already widely used. Restaurants, wineries and houses have been built using RE in Perth, Margaret River, and Broome in the Kimberley.

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More information: D. Ciancio, C.T.S. Beckett, J.A.H. Carraro, "Optimum lime content identification for lime-stabilised rammed earth," Construction and Building Materials, Volume 53, 28 February 2014, Pages 59-65, ISSN 0950-0618, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2013.11.077.

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5 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2014
Would be interesting to see how stable these constructs are against sudden shocks (i.e. earthquakes). Or prolonged exposure to water (limited flooding). If they crumble apart/collapse then that might be an issue.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2014
Would be interesting to see how stable these constructs are against sudden shocks (i.e. earthquakes). Or prolonged exposure to water (limited flooding). If they crumble apart/collapse then that might be an issue.

Also, how does this material hold up in cold environments --is it susceptible to mechanical weathering via freezing/thawing?

Lex Talonis
not rated yet Mar 14, 2014
Why do people have to make such blindingly stupid statements....

Like "Oh my god - building them in flood prone areas.."


Rammed Earth housing is one of the very OLDEST of construction techniques in the WORLD...

You don't build them in flood prone areas - or land liable to innundation, and Australia is relatively free of earthquakes, and even less so - major ones.

And single story RE houses, are relatively SAFE, even in earth quake prone areas.

Freezing and thawing? In Kalgoolie? It's fucking desert.

They build rammed earth places in Mongolia - The Himmerlayas, Patagonia etc., - you idiot.

In essence, the RE houses are not being trialed, as they have been built here for hundreds of years....

What they are trialling is rammed earth houses, with the optimum LIME to sand and clay ratio.

When that sets up, especially if kept kind of damp for a while when it's first rammed up... that will be a most excellent building material.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Mar 14, 2014
The ONLY reason why rammed earth buildings "decay" is where the walls are exposed to weather, they are eroded by rains - but regular rendering and patching takes care of that.

And the old buildings - abandoned long ago - fall into decay and the termites eat out all the framing, and the sheet iron roofing goes, and the more the rain gets to the walls, the faster they erode.

However the lime additive should more or less halt that, more or less indefinitely.

RE buildings have been used for like 12,000 years....

There are many buildings that are centuries and millenia old,

5 / 5 (1) Mar 15, 2014
Why do people have to make such blindingly stupid statements....

Sometimes I wonder that too. Then, I guess flaming is the second oldest form of communication on the Internet.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 15, 2014
Apparently, it's been used in a number of places around the world. Not sure how weather will affect it though.

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