Building With Dirt

Joshua & Stephanie Lewis August 01 2017, 2:12 pm

What is fireproof, bug-proof, mold-proof, soundproof and even bulletproof? It is non-toxic, insulating, renewable and almost loveable. Truly! I am talking about compressed-earth blocks (CEBs).

Quality building products are hard to find in the area of the Great River Project. Extreme deforestation has made wood scarce. If you can afford to build with wood, flying termites will lay eggs on any exposed surface and make quick work of it. Bamboo and palm leaves need replacing even sooner. To avoid such problems, people like to build with wood-fired brick. But the brick kilns take a huge amount of wood for fuel, and they fill the sky with smoke.

The lifespan of wood-frame buildings is quite short, but ancient earthen structures still stand today in many parts of the world. Earth is the oldest building material known to man, and there is an almost unlimited supply. A company called Dwell Earth is putting lots of science into bringing this ancient wisdom into the 21st century. Using hydraulics to compress a mixture of 93 percent soil and sand and 7 percent stabilizer, CEB machines produce blocks that exceed U.S. code and strength requirements for cement blocks. The blocks interlock, so they are easy to lay and reduce the need for expensive skilled labor. In a hot climate, the interior of a building made of CEBs can be up to 20 degrees cooler than that of a cement building.

AFM mission projects on two continents are already using CEB machines. The crew that my dad Arnold Hooker supervised at the AFM Pnong Project is making 1,000 blocks a day, many of them for the new AFM school that is under construction. The industry is helping students and changing lives. After seeing the CEB machine at work on the AFM Susu Project in Guinea, West Africa, the Guinean government bought 10 machines.

Emma and I are raising funds to set up block making at our project because we plan to live there a very long time and need a well-built house. In the future, there will also be ministry buildings, clinics and churches to construct as we bring the gospel to the Great River people. With a CEB machine, the sky is the limit, and the raw materials are as cheap as, well, dirt.