The rammed earth renaissance


We look at the rammed earth industry, who’s at the forefront of this niche market and why we should be jumping on board.

Used in the earliest methods of building, rammed earth has been one of the most reliable and environmentally friendly building materials for thousands of years. Today, a growing interest in sustainability and ecofriendly building sees the practice in an architectural renaissance.

Main video: 
Buxton Bentleigh Director, Simon Wood, chats to Olnee's, Oliver Petrovic at a rammed earth home in Moorabbin that sold last year for just under $1.4 million.

What is it?

Rammed earth is an ancient form of building whereby a damp mix of aggregates—commonly gravel, sand, silt and clay—are rammed into removable frames (formwork) to create walls, foundations and floors. Stabilised rammed earth is a variant that includes the addition of cement to increase strength and durability. 

The finished wall can be 100 to 600 mm thick, has a very high thermal mass and is natural and earthy in appearance. 

Why should we use it?

As a building method, rammed earth is one of the most sustainable and durable materials in existence. Its high thermal mass means heat transfer into the walls is slower during the day, subsequently contributing to the heating and cooling of the home and reducing the use of air-conditioning and heating units. 

The walls are fireproof, termite resistant and can help reduce noise from busy streets. Unlike brick manufacturing, rammed earth doesn’t require firing which means no kilns, toxic emissions or greenhouse gases. 

As sustainability is a major principle of rammed earth construction, many companies use as many sustainable materials and features in the build as possible. 

Rammed earth pioneers, Olnee Constructions, a Clayton-based, family-run design and construct company, uses recycled concrete and bricks in their homes which may also feature solar power, solar water, grey water, northerly aspects, native gardens, green roofs, vertical gardens and recycled timber

Olnee founder Oliver Petrovic tells us that the style was once derided as ‘alternative’ and ‘hippy’, but has happily and passionately advocated for the building method for decades.

"We haven’t changed anything in the thirty-something years I’ve been doing it, but now we’re state-of-the-art environmental builders, so we’ve gone from being hippies to being elitist, almost.

"We were well out in front in all these things we’d been practicing and promoting: sustainable housing, sustainable materials, low carbon footprint." 

Who’s doing it?

As the technique is highly specific, there are not too many design and construct rammed earth companies around—in Victoria, there’s only a handful. Rammed earth homes in this state tend to be built with the highest  level of expertise from very experienced builders and architects.

Olnee Constructions has a particularly strong philosophy and ethos, and a set of principles they refuse to move from. 

"Our clientele are very savvy in what they want to use. When they come to us, we have a wide range of materials that are all sustainable that we like to use and some of those things are not negotiable, so if you build with us, you’re building a certain way," says Oliver.

"There are things we just don’t want to do…anyone can build anything, but there’s not many people who can build what we build.

"We have a very stringent set of procedures and guidelines and paperwork that we send our clients. It’s not about being arrogant—this is what we do. We love doing it and we don’t move away from it."

Is there a market for it?

Buxton Bentleigh Director, Simon Wood, is an avid fan of the style and has sold a number of Bayside’s rammed earth homes in recent years, but admits it can be polarising for some.

‘Six years ago we tried to sell Connie Street and it was polarising back then because rammed earth wasn’t popular, and sustainable building wasn’t as popular, but now interest has increased dramatically,’ says Simon. The Connie Street home in Bentleigh East hit the market again last year and fetched over $1.5 million.

‘People are drawn to the style because they know a bit about it and have done their research on it. Some know exactly what to expect, whereas others will look at it because it’s different and they’ll either be drawn to it immediately or they’ll dislike it and move on immediately.'

Another of Simon’s listings, in Fiddes Street Moorabbin, sold last year for just under $1.4 million. 

'The groups that came through were either icon buyers or people following the rammed earth industry, and were willing to look at Moorabbin because of the house. The buyer came from Bayside: a family who sold out of their house for a lot more, but absolutely loved the house (on Fiddes Street) and had done a lot of research on the style.'

It’s no surprise that the eco-friendly nature of rammed earth is its key selling point: rammed earth is in the top 3 most sustainable materials on the planet. Simon believes the changing world and an increased interest in sustainable building has bolstered the style of housing.

'Sustainability is becoming key for buyers. Now, people are asking about things like energy ratings in homes and are looking at ways to reduce electricity consumption. As people become more knowledgeable about this product, we’ll see more and more of it.'

Read more on the style at Your Home, and to see more of Olnee's projects, head to Olnee Constructions and Earth House Australia.

Images via Olnee Constructions