The Surprising Beauty of Rammed Earth Floors

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If you’re thinking that a “rammed earth” floor sounds like it’s made of dirt, then you’d be right.  It may seem a bit strange, but a floor comprised of dirt, gravel, straw, sand, and clay, actually has many redeeming qualities.  Once it’s been compressed, and sealed with natural linseed oil, a rammed earth floor is quite durable, easy-to-care-for, environmentally sound, and even beautiful!  Plus, it’s dirt cheap! 

Rammed earth floors have got to be the greenest flooring out there and can be done in either new construction or in renovations.  It can even be installed by do-it-yourselfers with earthen materials that are found on site, or at least locally.  Any waste materials from building this type of flooring can simply be used in the backyard garden!  Earthen flooring even helps to regulate indoor temperatures due its thermal mass characteristics.

I first saw a rammed earth floor on a recent episode of World’s Greenest Homes on the Planet Green channel.  The host explored a home in Greece whose owners had trekked in wheelbarrows full of soil to build much of the first level’s flooring.  After tamping down the earthen materials, the floor almost has the look of a stained concrete floor. The rammed earth floor is durable enough to withstand the antics of two active kids, and yet comfortable for the adults in the household.  Despite not being scratch-resistant, these floors are easily repairable.

Sources:  Ecology Action and Matternetwork

Tag(s): Green Building, Green Furnishings, Greening the Home, Greening the Office, Money Saving, The Great Green Outdoors

Comments

9 Responses to “The Surprising Beauty of Rammed Earth Floors”

  1. Daniel on December 13th, 2009 2:52 pm

    These floors could easily be made far more durable and certainly scratch resistant by adding 20-30% natural lime to the dirt mix, using a bit more liquid than usual to cause tighter settling (with a longer drying/curing time obviously) and then – assuming a radiant heat floor – running extremely hot water into the floor tubes and applying any number of natural resins to the hot floor followed by a “baking” time to harden the resin. Just as easy to repair, but not as likely to ever need it, plus a much more water tolerant surface.

  2. Mike on January 22nd, 2010 10:23 pm

    That floor is beautiful. I saw the same show and still have it on the DVR.

    Do you know of any resources for actual rammed-earth floor construction? From what I’ve seen, dancingrabbit and most other sites cover adobe floors that go in as wet as concrete and aren’t rammed.

    Daniel: how much liquid do you mean by “a little more liquid than usual”? Were you thinking just slightly more moist than the “dry” rammed-earth floor, or a lot more, as with an adobe floor? How much water is required to activate the lime?

    I’ve read enough about cracking in adobe floors that I’m growing to like the idea of damp rammed-earth.

    Any information or opinions are welcome.

  3. alan adams on March 30th, 2010 11:44 am

    I will be using earthen floors in my home and have thought of experimenting with the use of a very wet initial “pour” so that it cracks like a dry lake, then filling the cracks with a contrasting color of earth/clay waddya’all think?

  4. juan on June 4th, 2010 1:05 am

    I just made mine Mixed one part caliche one part local earth two coats of linseed oil, three coats of polyurethane. Its healthy beautiful, love consistency, color, how if feels barefoot, was made in san angelo tx, come check it out

  5. carlos de luna on December 2nd, 2010 12:12 am

    can you make crushed lime stone floors and if yes what is the mix.

  6. Sandra Pierzinski on January 10th, 2011 9:06 pm

    One of the posts mentions “assuming a radiant heat floor”- I am wondering about how to keep the tubing from being squashed by the tamping…
    Thanks for all of the ideas and info.

  7. Leonie on April 28th, 2011 10:21 pm

    I like the idea of earthern floors but how do you manage termites and allow for inspection of termites. How do you get through the council regulations?

  8. Mike on May 22nd, 2011 1:54 pm

    Hi All, Our new office is a timber frame with strawbale exterior covered with adobe made with chopped straw and our clayey glacial till that we screened. We used a similar adobe for the first pour of our floor in the basement. This pour is now near dry 4 weeks later. There is minor cracking and when I stand on it with work boots I can compact it 1″ or so with a good stomp. I am planning on running a plate compacter over it prior to the finish coat and I’m interested in peoples opinions on this. For the final coat the plan is to screen our till to 1/16″ minus, mix in fine sand and use some interesting coloured clay from Medicine Hat as our till is grey. I’m interested in other areas to get some colour as well. Thanks,

  9. Flo on August 27th, 2011 5:10 pm

    Hi,
    I’m in the UK where rammed earth floors are very rare, partly because of the climate and drying times etc. However, I am determind! Can anyone answer the queery about whether underfloor heating tubes will be damaged by ramming, and also, whether anyone knows about ramming around floor sunk electric points? Is it o.k to put heavy items of furniture, i.e sofas and chairs onto rammed earth floor?
    Thank you, your help is much appreciated,
    Flo
    Your help would be much appreciated

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