The Southwest Solaradobe
February 2004 Newsletter
It's been quite awhile since we have generated a newsletter to our far-flung
subscribers. We do appreciate your patience. Read on for coming changes
that will transform the newsletter into a more comprehensive monthly.
First, we are posting
a brief about Southwest Solaradobe Classes coming
up: For more details, please visit our web site at http://www.adobebuilder.com If
after visiting the site, you need more help in picking a class, e-mail
us at firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone 505-861-2287. Starting this year, SWSA will be working with members
of The Earthbuilders' Guild to compliment its instructor pool.
More details about TEG in this newsletter.
- April 2/3/4
Earth Block (and Traditional Adobe) class - San Antonio, TX.
Regardless of where you plan to build with "CEB", this class
will bring you up to speed about the soils, the
pressing machinery and the code as well as coming code changes for Traditional Adobe. Our host
is Lawrence Jetter of Advanced Earthen Construction Technologies, in
He and Joe Tibbets of SWSA will instruct. Bring
your soils for testing at class. Two days inside with lecture, slides and handouts.
for pressing & laying block and building arches. Taught
in lay language through the process, step-by-step. We've been visiting
Antonio for several years now, and our "grads" are
raising walls around South Texas. Handouts and reference book.
The Low-cost Earthbuilding Workshop-
Albuquerque, NM area.
saving bucks and proving that a stout Earth home does not
have to be expensive! This is a planning class for those who don't
of the custom bells and whistles. Raise your Adobe, Compressed
Earth Block or Rammed Earth home at reduced cost. If you are in a cold
area, incorporate passive solar design at no extra cost (hint:
passive solar has no moving parts). To help get you into gear, two
ft. plan sets come with the class- one for an adobe, one
for a R.E. home. The objective: build it better
than code on a budget of $39 per
square foot or less. $295 single/$498 double. An inside class,
altho' lengthened lunchtime tours are planned.
- April 30/May
1 & 2
Standard, all-around Earthbuilding class -
Albuquerque, NM area.
always do a class in May, when the weather is (usually) nice for Hands-on
day. If you want a good overview of the "big
Adobe, Compressed Earth Block and Rammed Earth, this is your class.
Two days in the classroom, one day hands on with the tools, materials
and machinery, as we build walls and arches. Bring your soils for testing
at class, along with old clothes and a camera. Options
explained for all degrees of finish from "plain Jane" to
super custom. Step-by-step through the process in lay language. Stress on passive
solar design for those building above 4000' elevation. $295 single/$498
double. Handouts, plan sets and reference book included.
- May 16/17/18/19/20/21/22
Hands-on "Rustic" class
using Adobe, Compressed Earth Block and Rammed Earth- Bosque, NM area.
(Orientation Sunday 3 pm and then
all week to-Sat. 3 pm) A mostly outside class to help you towards becoming
proficient in the three main Earthbuilding methods. Adobe vault/dome
hands-on included. Touring, lots of instruction, and plenty of time
building with safety in mind. You are expected to participate and get
dirty. Warm weather, rustic conditions. Works out to less than $80
a day; less if you split costs with a buddy. Taught
to Code in lay language. Handouts and the Earthbuilders' Encyclopedia on CDROM (for
Mac & PC) included. $475 single/$790 double. 10%
Discount for past "grads",
including those who attend one of the earlier classes above (please
e-mail email@example.com for details) Class limit of 15.
New Book of Interest: Gibbs
Smith Publisher in Layton, UT has just released a valuable 460 page
photographic collection of vernacular architecture from around
the world, titled, Built
by Hand. The authors are Yoshio
and Eiko Komatsu (photographer) and Bill
and Athena Steen. It's available on our website
is discounted there. It's not a construction handbook, but a good photographic
reference for decorators, green builders
and designers. The accompanying text explains old, empirical traditions
of building and usages of natural materials from Europe, Africa, Asia,
the Américas, India, the Middle East and some island nations.
the Code Wars coming to an End? After several years of bureaucratic incompetence
and political shenanigans, it appears that New Mexico may be settling
down to implement the 2003 International Residential
Code. The Construction
Industries Commission, in Santa Fe, which makes decisions regarding
NM's statewide building codes, has set a July
1, 2004 date of implementation. A "grace period",
during which one can use either the old or new code will extend for
6 months from July 1. We all hope that
New Mexico will get the IRC2003 code on the books this time around.
It contains important "upgrades" for
seismic design for Adobe and Rammed Earth as well as a beginning new
code for Compressed Earth
Earthbuilders' Guild ~ Much as a result of frustration about the code matters above,
the formation of TEG, or The Earthbuilders' Guild has continued to
progress. As a businesspersons' league, members pay monthly dues, and
have begun to a strategy that will offer regional Earthbuilders some
clout on code matters, while promoting Earthbuilding
formation of TEG comes late for Earthbuilders, who have enjoyed a good
span of business, without significant competition. The "custom adobe" had already evolved over
previous decades to a high degree of finish by the mid-1960's. In 1965,
the typical custom adobe already incorporated good foundations and
bond beams, carved wood work, custom plasters and tile, viga and latilla ceilings, nichos, bancos and
more. A 2500 sq. ft. custom Adobe in a good neighborhood went for about
$39,000 (Albuquerque North Valley
1965). Customers expected the bells and whistles and would pay
for them. During
the 1960's and into the 1980's, "custom Adobe" became the
perceived norm as to
what an Adobe structure was. There was no such thing as the "ordinary
adobe"! Or at least, such projects
went unnoticed. When contractors became good at custom work, they went "high
end" for better profit margins. You can't blame them, but they
often ignored customers with more humble building plans. Only a few
Adobe contractors specialized in small projects. This situation is
still in effect in 2004 (and presents an opportunity for the right
that same 2500 sq. ft. custom, contractor-built adobe varies from $90
$125 per sq. ft. in the same neighborhood.
build a nice Adobe themselves at half the cost above? Yes, if you acquire
the skills, the tools, the materials and good
help. Prepared owner-builders
and owner-coordinators are still putting up attractive homes in the $35
to $55 per sq. ft. range (not counting cost of land), if the
entail too much custom work. The big contractors will deny this, but they
can be done. If you really talk to them- you'll discover that they too,
look for the chance to try a smaller, more efficient Earth design.
Back to a little
history, relating to TEG. During the period 1975-1985, a "practical,
green building period" did get started. After the Arab oil embargo
of '73/'74, Passive Solar became "all the rage", and many
lower cost, effective designs were established. These were the years
when government agencies, and professionals in the Southwest engineering
and building community got down to the nitty-gritty's of how Earth
walls worked, thermally speaking. During this period, Rammed Earth
and Compressed Earth Block (CEB) began to join Traditional Adobe as
earth-wall choices. Less emphasis went into custom extras and more
into practical solutions. But after 1980, the "energy crisis" was
seen as over (another perception mistake). Builders returned to the
more energy-wasteful designs demanded by their clients. Bureaucrats
in Santa Fe and other regional centers closed down solar information
offices. Budgets to print and dispense research results to the building
community were cut or dissolved. No wonder that by 1990, a new generation
of builders and consumers were "missing out" on the basics
of mass or solar design.
By about 1995, Adobe, CEB and Rammed Earth had become just one "category" of
choices along with a half-dozen allegedly 'green' options. Bale, Rastra, concrete-filled
foam forms, and many "hybrid" wall systems are nationally promoted
and they do compete.
to the future with TEG- The
original TEG founders came out of the code committees for Adobe, CEB
and Rammed Earth that began in the late1990's. Rather
than have three separate committees, we merged into one. And the "one" became The Earthbuilders' Guild. To date, the membership represents Texas,
New Mexico and Colorado. Once formation is complete, TEG will make
the call for memberships from Arizona, California, Utah and elsewhere.
If you would like a hard copy brochure about membership categories
in TEG, write The Earthbuilders' Guild, POB 3494, Albuquerque, NM 87190
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, providing us with a snailmail address
and a little about your objectives.
change and improvement in the Newsletter is coming soon! It may not be a surprise that we
have decided to move this newsletter from SWSA to TEG. In this transition,
it will change from a free to a paid (on-line) electronic newsletter.
TEG will also have a new website, with the address to be announced
soon in SWSA's next (and last) newsletter. As a TEG member, SWSA will
also contribute to the new newsletter.
Miller of http://www.webstantaneous.com in
Albuquerque will be TEG's electronic designer and web host. Judy has
attended TEG meetings to evaluate our requirements. She has created
a colorful and ergonomic format for the site and the newsletter. After
several discussions, we decided on $25 a year for 12 electronic issues.
We will have company news, code news, research news and individual
project news in the newsletter from a variety of our members. Marcy
Child of Earth Block, Inc. in Pagosa Springs, CO. will
be our TEG newsletter editor.
Adobe Builder #11 has been published by SWSA and is now available as part of Backpac
#3 on our web site. It has articles on the new CEB
code for NM, Mud
Plasters and Underfloor Radiant
Heating. A noteworthy article covers
Alan McGaffin's new Compressed Earth Block home near Houston, TX.,
and the first of its kind in that rainy area. Alan purchased a smaller "red" machine
from AECT of San Antonio and produced his stabilized block on site.
He expects to finish the approximately 7000 sq. ft. home sometime this
A Compressed Earth Block Machine by A.E.C.T. of San Antonio,Texas. Model series
5000,also commonly known as the "brown" machine. This is the premier
compressed soil block machine built by A.E.C.T. The machine is in excellent
working condition. The block counter on the machine reads around 15,000 blocks
made. The hour meter on the diesel power plant reads around 100 hours run time.
These are very low numbers, and this is reflected in the great shape the machine
is in. Selling price is $67,000.00. For additional information contact owner;
R. Davis Garrett at (512) 407-9924 or mobile at (512) 228-0521.
Thoughts about the Bam Earthquake in Iran and Pre-code buildings-
One can only lament the loss of life and property resulting from the
recent 7.0 earthquakes at the ancient city of Bam, Iran. But it is
likely that some
people knew the danger- an ancient city built before seismic codes. The Industry
term for this situation is "pre-code". That means a structure that
was built before the application of modern building codes, especially in respect
to seismic design.
Newscasters, ignorant about earthen construction, were heard to say, "Well,
they were just mud buildings." But the earth walls were not the real cause,
although many of them were built too high in ratio
to their thickness. Most
of the structures in Bam had no unifying foundations or bond
beams as required
today in U.S. and other codes. Roofing timbers were
not tied down to resist uplift forces. In many cases, walls
fell outwards and heavy roofs came down on occupants. There
is also something to be said about the intensity of such quakes, another
example being the1978 quake in China, estimated at 8.0 on the
Richter scale. In that shake, people were killed by being thrown upwards
against their ceilings. Any sort of construction suffers in a quake of such
But properly designed
earth walls can survive large quakes. The design philosophy is to build
the structure with the idea of saving lives first- that is, build it
so that occupants can exit, because doors do not jam or walls and ceilings
do not collapse. The Peruvian government has been a leader in such
low-cost, seismic reinforcement for ordinary adobe structures, using
green materials such as cane and bamboo for in-wall reinforcement,
and other low-cost attachment systems that villagers can afford. Perhaps
TEG can eventually follow with some research in this important area.
Today, in the U.S.
Southwest and many other world areas, there are still plenty of pre-code
earthen structures around. A few are historic structures
that have been seismically retrofitted. Their importance justifies
Many structures built before 1950 had only packed stone foundations
and no bond beams. The romantic idea of purchasing and "fixing
up" any old masonry structure- adobe or otherwise, should be viewed
through the clear lens of whether it has a sound, reinforced foundation
and reinforced bond beam and good attachment systems. Keep
in mind that it will usually be more expensive to retrofit a pre-code
seismically, than to build a new one to code.
SWSA can recommend
a seismic engineer who can design a safe earthen structure or help
you to retrofit an old one, if you are in an active seismic zone. He
is Dr. Fred Webster, P.E. of Menlo Park, California. Fred specializes
in seismic design for Adobe and Rammed Earth, and is one of the leading
world authorities in this specialty. To communicate,
e-mail him at FAWebster@aol.com or ring 650-321-6939 in California.
good book for Cold Weather builders: How about efficiencies of 85-90%
from a wood-burning
masonry stove? Enter the manual Russian
Fireplace Demonstrations and Workshops by Jay S. Jarpe, research engineer, May 1981. This approximately
90 pp. manual ( 8 1/2" x 11") covers the design, construction,
and thermal performance of European masonry stoves
known in Russia as Grubkas. In 1980, an innovative New Mexico mason, Robert Proctor,
constructed eight of these stoves in Community and Senior Citizens'
Centers at Taos, Nageezi, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Willard,
Roswell and Silver City, New Mexico. Elevations ranged from 7000' to
3500'. Efficiencies ranged form a low of 86% at Silver City to a high
of 89% at Willard. These are much higher efficiencies than can be attained
by the most metal stoves available on the market today.
Today, readers are
familiar with these stoves as advertised in the back of magazines such
as Fine Homebuilding or This
Old House. They are often imported and
they aren't cheap. The shortfall is that it's
not easy to find anyone that knows how to build one, or to find a set of plans to build one.
With this manual, you'll find all of the thermal documentation as well
as the plans. Moreover, there are figures plotting temperature changes
over time in all eight stoves constructed. The text gives the builder
plenty of direction about placement of rebar, type and strength of
masonry mixes and pitfalls to watch out for.
Sections and elevations
are provided at ½" = 1' 0" and cover 25 pages. These
include details of foundations, steel placement, damper assemblies
and the design of the front door (3/16" hot rolled steel) and
the important air inlet ports. 12 pages are dedicated to graphs plotting
heat flow through the stoves over time. The text is straightforward
SWSA will sell the
manual in a 3-ring notebook for $26 at our website http://www.adobebuilder.com/grubka-european-masonry-stove.html. The
price includes priority mail to the buyer.