Sandbags – How To Fill Them and What Types to Use

When filling a sandbag at least two people, ideally three should take part in the process. All people should wear gloves to protect their hands as some sandbags are treated with chemicals to make them last longer. One member of the team should place the empty bag between or slightly in front of their widespread feet with a flat back and arms extended. The opening of the bag is folded to form a collar, and steadily held for the other person to shovel in the sand. Sandbags are commonly filled completely with sand, this is incorrect. The sand bags should be filled no more than two-thirds full to allow effective shaping and wall building.

The person holding the bag should be standing with bent legs and keeping their back straight to prevent future back pains and keep their head as far away as possible from the hovel to avoid the shovel missing the sandbag and cutting the face of the bag holder.

If the bags of sand are filled with too much sand then they could be too heavy to lift and can cause injuries after a prolonged exposure to sandbag work. Leaving room in the bags means that the sandbags can be maneuvered to form a tighter seal from the flood water.

Ideally, to speed up the operation more people should be involved. Two people will be able to fill more sandbags if they have a third helper handing the bag holder the empty sandbags from the bale of sandbags and then taking the filled sandbags when they are done. If the filling of the bags is being done near to where the flood is happening then a line of people can be formed and people can take the filled sandbags from one person and pass the filled sandbag to the next person and so on, forming a constant stream of sandbags on the wait to their destination.

Sandbag Placement

Before making a wall of sandbags, it is essential that any debris from the area if removed. Fold the open end of the unfilled portion of the sandbag to form triangle. If tied sandbags are used, flatten or flare the tied end.

Place succeeding bags on top, offsetting by one-half filled length of the previous bag, and stamp into place to eliminate voids and to form a tight seal. Stagger the joint connections when stacking lots of sandbags on top of each other. Stacking three high is the maximum recommended for single file walls of sandbags, if you require a wall of sandbags higher than three sandbags, the pyramid method is essential to build a foundation large enough to support whole sandbag structure.

What Type of Sandbags to Use

Hessian sandbags are the oldest and most common sandbags, constructed from woven jute material in a bag measuring approximately 13” x 30”. Hessian has been used and is still being used for its biodegradable qualities. Hessian sandbags will disappear naturally into the ground over a short time period which is why they are used by many for their disappearing qualities. Because hessian breaks down it is not advisable to use this type of sandbag for continual flood defense surrounding a river as they will probably break down before the flood comes.

Polypropylene sandbags are more useful for a permanent flood barrier as they do not degrade from the ground and weathering, however sunlight will break down the plastic material. It has been known for a polypropylene sandbag to completely disappear after two weeks of extreme sunlight exposure. For this reason is it advisable to build the wall using the polypropylene sandbags and then cover the wall with black sheeting to protect the sandbags from the sunlight.

Also, a heavy duty polypropylene sandbag does exist which has a UV stabiliser added to the material to reflect the sunlight. This makes the bags last longer, but does not make them invincible, it would still be recommended to cover the heavy duty polypropylene sandbags with black sheeting to protect the life and functionality of the sandbags and save you from having to replace them all.