Earthen Flooring 101: Benefits & Costs

Earthen flooring is nothing more than what it sounds like – humble, natural earth compacted with straw or other fibers and stabilized with various natural oils to form eco-friendly high-quality flooring. These floors are easy to clean, comes in a variety of textures, colors, and materials. It can be installed over nearly any subflooring, it integrates well with radiant heat systems and it’s one of the cheapest flooring methods either conventional or green.

Earthen floors are picking up in popularity during the ever booming “green building” movement. Most earthen floors are laid over the top of a subfloor of tamped gravel and topped with a mixture of clay, sand and fiber. These layers can be 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick or more. The thinner layers will dry faster but require a better subfloor for strength or more layers. Earthen floors can be laid over the top of previously installed wood floors as well. The finishing generally involves a drying oil among which Linseed Oil is the most common application followed by hemp oil. Linseed is used to seal the floor and protect it from wear and tear. A final coat of Hard Oil and Wax Impregnation are also used for shine and weather proofing.

Some of the highlighted benefits include:
Inexpensive materials — earthen floors can be done from scratch to finish for around a buck a square foot
Eliminates construction waste – the excess materials can be recycled back into the landscape
Weathers well with over time if it is cared for properly
Attractive look and comfortable thanks to a slightly spongy surface, sometimes compared to the feel of leather
Minimal to zero pollution – The processing is simple and the earthen materials require little or no transport.
Up to 90% lower embodied energy than finished concrete
Low maintenance, can either be swept or mopped
When properly sealed, stabilized earthen flooring does not generate dust
Earthen flooring involves a labor intensive process to construct and install
The high traffic areas such as entries and workspaces may require additional materials for protection such as flagstone
It is more easily scratched than tile or cement
Few contractors have the experience to do earthen floors properly

Earthen flooring can be a durable, environmentally sound and inexpensive flooring alternative. The unique look and subtle aesthetics accompanying earthen floors make it a conversational piece in any home or office. Dirt is both plentiful and locally available. Earthen flooring virtually eliminates the pollution, waste and energy required to manufacture a floor. Ultimately, the bottom line is earthen floors are a cheap way to have a brilliant and unusual flooring alternative.

Although there are few local contractors that are experienced with earthen floors the sweetness of it lies in the fact that you can make your own floor with a little training and a lot of sweat. One of the keys to a good earthen floor is the proper mixture of dirt, straw, and clay. Some advocates use a variety of stabilizers such as starch paste, glues, casein or portland cement can be added for a harder floor.

9 responses

  1. just did mine in san angelo tx mixed caliche with local earth two coats linseed oil two coats polyurethane. Its amazingly beautiful I like the feeling when I walk it barefoot, I love it

    1. Juan, I am from San Angelo as well but now live in TN. My husband and I are looking to build earth friendly home. I see that you made this post about earthen floors 4 years ago. How have your floors held up? Would you still recommend?

  2. just did mine in san angelo tx mixed caliche with local earth two coats linseed oil two coats polyurethane. Its amazingly beautiful I like the feeling when I walk it barefoot, I love it

  3. I just installed a “Compressed Earth Block” floor up here in Canada. Looks great I employed a “herring bone” pattern and will be staining it Terra Cotta with a soy based stain and putting a Poly Urea self leveling finish over top.

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