Southwest resident building a home using dirt

Liz Kerby has persevered in her mission to build a first-in-its-kind home despite setbacks because she believes in using one of the valley’s most plentiful resources: dirt.

“ Kerby said. “The mix of cement to earth was determined by analyzing a soil sample. It will be easy to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and it doesn’t use much wood, which of course has to be hauled here from somewhere else,” Kerby said, adding that the home at at 4242 Mountain View Blvd. will be made with a mix of native soil and 15 percent Portland cement.

Earth homes are touted as a smart alternative where other construction materials are at a premium. They also have been pitched as a solution for housing the poor and create unusual energy efficiency.

CalEarth, a nonprofit in Hesperia, California, teaches people how to build “superadobe structures.” A mix of cement and local earth is put into long fabric tubes and stacked into domes, not unlike a pinch pot on a larger scale. Temporary wooden structures are put in place to shape windows and doorways.

The thick walls provide insulation and the dome structure allows efficient circulation, reducing heating and cooling costs.

Kerby calls her under-construction home Open Arms Domes. It was designed as seven interconnected domes with a greenhouse covering the building’s south side, but the design has been scaled back.

Under the new plans, the greenhouse has been excised and construction has been moved into stages, with the large central dome being built last and the kitchen, bathroom, closet and bedroom domes going in first.

Kerby, a health coach and nutritional consultant at the Renaissance Health Centre in Las Vegas, has been living in an RV during the construction. Her home is the first superadobe being built in an urban environment, she said. Most domes in the U.S. are in remote desert areas.

Lisa Starr has lived in the Bonita Domes Project, her superadobe home in Joshua Tree, California, for three years and said she has been delighted with the experience. Joshua Tree is 200 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

“I’m not going to build another house,” Starr said. “I came out here to create a sustainable life to do my medicine work and continue as a spiritual artist, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Starr built several practice domes on her property and gave Kerby some pointers.

“I was plastering the exterior walls and it was taking forever,” Kerby said. “Lisa pointed out that I could just do rough plastering on the walls that were going to be underground, and I finished that in no time.”

Construction details — including drainage, plumbing and running electrical lines — have all been worked out by CalEarth and similar organizations. This, however, is the first time the City of Las Vegas has seen a home like this. Despite that, Kerby said, obtaining the permits and getting approval was surprisingly easy.

“I was expecting a lot of pushback, but there hasn’t been any,” she said.

Margaret Kurtz, a public information officer for the City of Las Vegas, said the city doesn’t oppose innovation.

“The inspectors still have to go out and check on things, but they’re looking forward to seeing it,” she said.

Most of the walls are nearly complete, but the superadobe dome/roof still needs to be added. She’s aware the house can’t be completed by this summer but has high hopes for next year.

“It won’t be all done by my birthday in 2018, but I’m pretty confident that enough will be done that I can get occupancy,” Kerby said. “The rest will come along soon enough.”

To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email or call 702-380-4532.

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