Recover password

The Dirt On Earthen Homebuilding

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a building material, the simple earthen bricks known as adobe have been used around the world since ancient times.

Aficionados of this building method, nonetheless, find there is still plenty to learn about how to build efficiently and affordably with earthen materials requiring few ingredients beyond dirt and water. Earthen residential building topics ranging from adobe to rammed earth will be the focus of the 6th Earth USA  Conference and Trade Fair in Albuquerque on Sept. 30-Oct. 2. The event is already attracting attendees from New Mexico to Bulgaria.

Northern New Mexico College in El Rito is a sponsor of the three-day conference, which takes place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and is both preceded and followed by a number of other workshops (see fee and workshop schedule in box). There are also two bus tours available, and visits to several pueblos are part of the tour line-up.


If you go
The Earth USA Conference and Trade Fair is scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 4th SW. It is preceded and followed by several optional hands-on workshops. Registrations for the Earth USA Conference are being taken now. In advance of the conference, visit www.earthusa.org or call Quentin Wilson at (505) 927-8171. On the days of the conference, or if you want to buy a one-day pass, tickets are available at the event site at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
The schedule of events is as follows:
■ Sept. 24-25: Adobe and Compressed Earth Block Hands-On taught by Southwest SolarAdobe School in Bosque, N.M. Cost is $255 for one person; $433 for two registering together.
■ Sept. 26-29: New Mexico Adobe Practices is a four-day pre-conference workshop to introduce students to a variety of adobe (mud brick) construction techniques used in New Mexico. Participants will work on a small adobe structure on the grounds of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The course is taught by Ernest Aragon of Adobe Palaces. Cost is $200.
■ Sept. 30-Oct. 1: A free two-day Vendor/Trade Fair (along with demonstrations and poster presentations) will coincide with the first two days of the conference at the NHCC and is open to the public free of charge. Meet and visit with vendors, exhibitors, construction contractors, educators, and other companies related to the field of earthen construction. Participating organizations include Adobe Alliance, Northern N.M. College’s Adobe Construction Department, Adobe in Action, Cornerstones Community Partnership, The Earth Builders’ Guild, Carole Crews, EarthCo. Building Systems, and the Natural Building Bookstore. Demonstrations include clay paints, finishes and plasters.
■ Sept. 30-Oct. 2: The Earth USA Conference and Trade Fair at the NHCC consists of three days of presentations about various types of earth building practices such as adobe, rammed earth, compressed earth block (CEB) and monolithic adobe (cob). Topics include historic preservation and stabilization, physical and thermal properties of materials, information about building codes and regulations, construction methods, and renovation and re-purposing of existing buildings. A three-day conference pass costs $185 (or $90 for students). A one-day pass costs $90 (or $40 for students).
■ Oct. 3-4: Two days of bus tours ($75 per day) are available. The Oct. 3 tour visits N.M. Earth Adobes, Acoma Pueblo and the historic Hubbell House. The Oct. 4 tour visits Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo), Taos Pueblo and the Adobe Factory.
■ Post-conference offerings (fees vary) through the remainder of October take place outside of Albuquerque and include Adobe Roof Design and Construction (Oct. 3-14 at Northern New Mexico College in El Rito); Eco-Workshop in Adobe Building (Nov. 4-18 in Presidio, Texas); Rammed Earth Building (Oct. 7-9 or 14-16 in Oracle, Ariz.); and Rammed Earth Hands-On (Oct. 14-16 at Bosque, N.M.).

A free trade and vendor fair is open to the public Sept. 30 and Oct 1. Attendees can meet and visit with vendors, exhibitors, construction contractors, educators and other companies related to the field of earthen construction. Participating contractors and organizations include Adobe Alliance, Northern N.M. College Adobe Construction Department, Adobe in Action, Southwest Solar Adobe School, Cornerstones Community Partnership, The Earth Builders’ Guild, Carole Crews, EarthCo. Building Systems and the Natural Building Bookstore. Demonstrations are to include clay paints, finishes and plasters, and the making of adobe bricks by hand and machine.

Adobe building “makes a lot of sense and always has,” says Quentin Wilson,one of the conference organizers and director of the NNMC adobe construction program. “And if you are interested in passive solar housing, hands down, adobe bricks are the best way to store heat in the walls of the home.”

Adobe bricks’ “sluggishness” in giving back stored heat makes it such a good building material, Wilson said.

And, adobe’s basic ingredients — dirt, water and sometimes straw — are easily and inexpensively obtained, he added.

“The building material is right there at your feet,” said Wilson. “And you don’t necessarily have to be in an arid area.”

The Earth USA conference, the first to be held in Albuquerque instead of El Rito, will feature a number of podium presentations — some by international speakers — on topics ranging from thermal properties to stabilization projects undertaken by New Mexico organizations such as Cornerstones Community Partnerships. The conference this year has attracted the likes of Saudi Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and Bulgarian architect Georgi Georgiev, who will touch on earthen building materials used in their parts of the world, ranging from rammed earth to cob.

While adobe in recent years has acquired a reputation as an expensive way to build because of the time and labor involved, the material itself is inexpensive and used worldwide. It can be made into bricks on the building site.

“Adobe is tied into all the heritages in New Mexico, whether it’s the pueblos or the Spanish that arrived with adobe as a familiar form from Europe,” said Wilson. “Pioneers as well as the U.S. Army built forts out of adobe — Fort Union, Fort Marcy and other forts up through Colorado.”

It would probably surprise the adobe builders of yesteryear that their expertise and knowledge about building with traditional earthen elements could help earn them college credits today. Indeed, the college in El Rito offers a one-year certification program in adobe construction. Students can follow up with a second year focusing on other contractor and business classes to earn an associate’s degree.

Wilson estimates that about 30 percent of the homes in New Mexico were constructed of adobe as recently as 1960. Ironically, he notes, adobe has now become a premium building material used in custom homes that are accented with the best of windows, $2,000 doors and stunning carved vigas.

Nonetheless, Quentin says, a do-it-yourselfer willing to build his own bricks, cut his own vigas or acquire used lumber, and scrounge for second-hand windows could probably still build an adobe home in the $70 per square foot range. A simple floor plan built by a contractor is likely to be closer to $150 per square foot.

AlertMe

Suggested on ABQjournal

Advertisement

TOP |