Building A House From Dirt

Pucón, Chile


From the main road out of Pucón I turned onto a dirt road and continued to follow it into the mountains. The road eventually lead me to the home of Jago and Lucy Pickering. Someone I met at Lollapalooza had told me about their eco home build and I wanted to come be apart of it. Jago and Lucy, originally from England, were traveling around South America with their 3 kids when they stopped in Pucón and ended up wanting to build a home there. With a small plot of land in the mountains outside of the well known lake town, they came up with the idea that they would use sustainable methods to build their new home. They researched many different methods but they eventually met a few locals who had experience building eco homes and settled on building a home out of earth bags using a process called Super Adobe.



While they build their home, their neighbor offered his cabin for them to stay in. For the past few months, volunteers have come and helped the Pickering’s build their home.  I was one of  6 volunteers and 4 fulltime workers for the 8 days I volunteered with them. The cabin where we all stayed was only a short walk through the forrest to the building site. They are building on a hill that has an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding land including a volcano. One of the benefits of superadobe is the walls are excellent insulation. The bags will capture the heat during the sunny days which keep the home cool then by night it releases the heat to warm the house. From their well positioned location they’ll have direct sunlight most of the day.


The build site

I was originally going to stay for three days but ended up staying for 8. It wasn’t easy work but it was great to work with others and learn all about eco building. We’d work from 8-12 then have a long lunch break and work 1:30 to 4. Lucy and the kids would bring fresh baked banana bread at 4 o’clock everyday. Then we’d work another 2 or 3 hours.


The large tree will be be in the center of the building and will support the roof.



Earth Bag/ Super Adobe Basic Building Process

Mix Dirt, Clay, and Chalk together
Fill long earth bags with the mix
Compress bags then level
Repeat until finished

Learn more here


Rain or shine we were filling bags. We had a few days of wet weather.


After crompressing the bags, they all have to be leveled.


For doors and windows, temporary forms are put in place and later removed. Several studs are layed between layers for the final frames to be attached to.


Between each layer of bags is barbed wire which helps strengthen to walls

Once the walls are finished they will build the roof using logs and other materials. The walls will be covered with an adobe and  then painted. We had three teams working. A team of 2 or 3people mixed the dirt, clay, and chalk. Two teams of 2 or 3 people would fill the bags and form the walls. The team of the pro-builders worked on checking the levels and building the frames for the doors and windows. We also spent a day sanding down the logs and putting a protective coat on them.


Simon (Chile), José (Spain), and Arnold (Belgium)


Jollie (Sweden), Viktor (Chile)


Peter and Romana (Slovenia)


Clementine (France), and Simon

More rainy work days

More rainy work days. Peter and I bagging.



When we weren’t working on the house, we all hung out in the cabin with the Pickering family. Jago and Lucy’s three kids, Tegan, Tate, and Jed, had endless amounts of energy.  We’d play card games, watch movies, and eat really amazing meals that Lucy cooked up. Watching movies with kids is entertainment alone. Jago raced his motorcycle in the Dakar in 2012 so we talked a lot about that experience. He hopes to return and finish the race in the future. For now he has a home to finish. The Pickering’s were such an amazing family to stay with. I would have stayed longer but I needed to continue my motorcycle journey. Thank you, Jago, Lucy, Teagan, Tate, Jed, Simone, Victor, Jollie, and everyone else that I had the privilege to work with in Pucón.



Construction Update

May 2014

As of early May the Pickering’s home is ready for the roof. Their project is becoming one of the most popular on the volunteer site WorkAway.


Above you can see the clear floor plan for the home. To the far left is the pantry and the living room. The large room where the main tree stands is the kitchen and dining area. Directly above the rooms against the hill are the bedrooms, a bathroom, and in front of it is another bedroom and bath.




  1. says

    The house must be built now. Can I see the finished version.
    In Chile there are a lot of English friendly Schools, how do you educate your kids?
    Did the recent eruptions scare the family?

    I think it is an amazing adventure, something that will stay with you for all your lives.
    Hope all goes well.

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