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Earthbag house?

Yurt interior

Yurt interior


The last thing I would have thought when I turned 50 was to build a house. I’m not a big fan of the land, taxes, neighbors, and not being able to move when I want, it’s not really my style. Yet here I am in Bocas Del Toro Panama contemplating how to build a house for my father.

earthbag construction

earthbag construction

As you guys know I’ve been driving around Panama looking for a little slice of heaven where my dad can spend his final days. A place where he can sit in a hammock reading his kindle looking at the sea.

So many thoughts and emotions have been racing through my mind the last months. Should he be in a “home”? Is it practical to bring him to another country at this age? The truth is he loves it here. He is learning Spanish, walking, eating healthy, and most importantly dreaming BIG!

Small earthbag house.

Small earthbag house.

I have to be honest, it’s not easy these days. Dad has been in and out of hospitals three times in the last three months. However he is sharp and knows what he wants.

Fox news was killing him in the states. He was so angry about Obama, ISIS, healthcare, politics, and blah, blah, blah. It consumed his days and he walked around with more despair in his heart than anyone I had ever met. Fox also stole a lot of his money. There is a really shady company that advertises on fox selling gold at an incredible premium. Fox goes on and on about how the economy is about to collapse and they allow this company (forget the name) to take advantage of old people’s fears and sell them gold and silver way above market value. I like gold as an investment, but these guys really got him good. I just don’t know how people like that can wake up with themselves in the morning?

earthbag interior

earthbag interior

Anyway, here we are. We can’t afford a house and can only afford an apartment in an area my dad doesn’t want to live in. He hated living in Okeechobee Florida and the last thing he wants is to live somewhere he doesn’t like.

We did find him a small piece of titled property on the sea that he loves, however we need to build a small house in the next couple of weeks. Something tiny, efficient, and quick to build. I don’t know much about home construction but will learn fast.

I’m looking hard at yurts and earth-bag construction. I know I can take a derelict boat and restore it to a functioning yacht, but building a house?

To hire a local contractor here to build a house is about $60 a square foot, we have like $15 and I’m thinking about an 800 square foot house. My biggest concern is speed as I don’t know how much time my dad has, this is why I’m looking at yurts so hard. The problem with a yurt is shipping, they can be a few thousand pounds and I don’t know much about renting a shipping container to Panama but will look into it.

The other option is earth-bag construction. It’s cheap, sustainable, requires little skill, however a strong back is essential. Local non-skilled day labor is between $15-$20 a day, and skilled labor is about twice that. As I’m writing this I’m realizing earth-bag construction is really our only option.

dad.jpg_editedI am intrigued to learn how to build a house. Carla and Nacho are willing to get muddy with me on this adventure and it should be a lot of fun.’’

I’ll be sailing to Bocas from Linton in a few weeks and we will be setting up here for a while. Bocas is great for surfing, diving, spear-fishing, and sailing. Plenty of islands to explore, no hurricanes or ciguatera, my kind of place. I will bring Eleanor here after the hurricane season and get back to chartering and the boat lifestyle. There are plenty of places I can anchor 10 minutes from Dad’s place so we can keep an eye on him.

If anyone has any thoughts or experience with construction please let me know.

Peace, Love, and Mud!

– alex

Published in Alex Dorsey
Updated: August 10, 2015 — 09:33


  1. People are building homes out of shipping containers. They are 53′ X 8′ by 9′ high.
    I have seen some really nice ones.
    You may be able to get two containers for 5K dropped on site, it varies by country.

  2. Any reason not to put a boat on the property? Surely there are some good boats with bad engines withering away that could be dragged out of the sea to make a good land-based home instead?

    Best of luck to you with whatever route you choose!

  3. From what I’ve read, the tricky part to an earthen home is keeping out moisture. You know Panama far better than I, but I imagine you get some rather rainy spells down there. It seems that mildew and mold would be a neverending battle.

    What about a palapa or something to that effect? Like a raised cabin that “breathes”.

  4. The property is at the end of a small dirt road, need a 4×4 to get to it so no boats or shipping containers. I think we will focus on building a small concrete house for dad.

  5. Yurts are great. Love ’em. So much versatility.

    But cement and blocks are practical and for the most part reasonable.

    Building a home. You continue to amaze me. Isn’t life wonderful. It gives us the chance to expand our knowledge base based on necessity. It’s been a couple of years of that for me, in my life lessons. I think my head is going to pop. But it hasn’t yet.

    Continue to keep in touch and I’ll do the same. Give the family the love and continue continuing on.

    Capt. Paul
    s/v Panacea

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