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Solar Adobe School - Learn about Adobe Construction, Adobe Home Building, Adobe Bricks, Green Building, Rammed Earth, Pressed Block Construction, Earthen Construction, Adobe Drafting.

SWSA Classes for Fall 2015

SWSA’s 2 ½ to 3-day weekend Planning/Drafting Class for late October is posted below. It will have room for 10 students. Last chance to become “plans aware” if you intend to spend the winter months getting those working drawings done.

Interested in a more efficient fireplace? We wish contact info from those interested in a Rumford fireplace workshop near Walsenburg, Colorado, summer 2016. Mason Jim Buckley will instruct. Email us if you wish to be on the “interested” list.

An Albuquerque Adobe by Ernesto Aragón, Lic. Contractor, showing exposed deck and vigas. Their placement, sizing and attachments are shown on the Roof Framing Plan, required by code.


1. Plan Boot Camp~ 2 ½ days of Planning & Design
Adobe & Compressed Earth Block

October 23 pm (optional) and October 24/25, 2015
Albuquerque, New Mexico

A simple isometric drawing of a buttress by Joe Tibbets. This type of 3-D drawing clarifies the dimensioned floor plan, so that the builder quicky grasps the concept and main features. Our class will be held in the Taos Room, Courtyard by Marriott in North Albuquerque, New Mexico. SWSA’s Marriott representative is Raylene Dorame at 505-823-1919. When you register, we will send you a local facilities list, map and Albuquerque info.

Start Early
Limited to ten students, this fall’s Planning Class is for those who want to kick-start the drafting for their Adobe or CEB home. We know that you must draft within a budget and that you- or your contractor, must obtain a building permit based on your drawings. Know-how can make it an enjoyable exercise, but you are still preparing a legal document. The obvious advice: start early. It can take from one to 2 years to go through the process.

About stock plans
Perhaps the highest hurdle along the path to building that Adobe is the scarcity of plans, or working drawings. While plans can be purchased readily for stick-built homes, the custom nature of Adobe means that documents for them tend to stay in private hands. Plans for smaller, less appointed adobes are available through a few sources, if you can be happy with a stock plan. Stock plans are much cheaper, but invite change. Most will look at a stock plan and say, “I’d like to enlarge this room here and shrink that one there”. Before long, that stock plan has become a custom drafting call.

Once plans are advanced, a scaled model can catch potential mistakes on the real home.Hidden Crafts folk
Drafting services for Adobe or CEB are seldom advertised. These specialty drafters are kept busy by adobe contractors in interest centers such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Tucson and Phoenix. Hiring that AutoCAD grad can be fruitful, but are you prepared to mentor a fledging drafter who has no idea how adobes are built and doesn’t know the applicable codes? Do you know how they are built? Do you know the codes?

When you are the drafter
Two scenarios often develop when design services are out of reach. The first assumes that you are the drafter, but will acquire the know-how about adobe codes and construction methods. If you already know how to draft, whether by hand or machine, you have an advantage. The learning curve for Adobe construction takes time but is not difficult.

When you are not the drafter- Qualifing a draftsperson
The other scenario assumes that you will not be the drafter, but will learn adobe code and construction. You need to know if that drafter or architect, eager for your business, does know Adobe as they claim. That is, you are qualifiying someone before hiring them. A variation on this is to bring your draftsperson or designer to class with you. Many will be happy to add a feather to their design cap  

Teaching this class and our Schedule:
2 to 2 ½ days is not a lot of time to orient you for planning and drafting that Adobe or CEB home. But after four decades of teaching Earthen construction, SWSA has evolved a fairly effective method. Here’s how it works:  

October 23 Friday afternoon- 2-5 pm
Optional “Loosening up” session

An autocad type drawing by Jeff Epler showing dimensioning on the California Bungalow Adobe plan.If you can arrive in time to spend Friday afternoon at the 2-5 pm session, it will cost you no more. This an informal period to meet, look at your sketch or plan and determine if it can work. Keep in mind that to obtain a building permit, you may have to give up cherished ideas that could be structurally dangerous or inefficient thermally. Brain cramps may set in after realizing that your original design must change! If you are challenged artistically, not to worry- bring a simple sketch of what you “think” you’d like to build. It doesn’t have to be to scale, just a room layout. Photos or snips of favorite homes in your desired style are helpful. Perplexed about whether it will work in your climate zone? Do you have some application of Adobe or CEB that seems extraordinary? If so, we invite you to attend this optional afternoon. 

October 24 Saturday
1. Identify and learn critical construction points (all day)

8:00am - 11:30am and 1:00pm - 5:00pm (lunch tour 11:30am -1:00pm)
You’ll receive a free set of plans for an Adobe home (also works for CEB) to keep and use in class. On your Floor Plan and other sheets will be printed 12 circles, each designated by letter, such as “A” or “B”. The 12 circles are located over the critical construction points in the typical Adobe or CEB home. For example, the fireplace will be circled and also, an arched entryway. Over the hours above, we will visit each and the instructor will teach you how they are built using sketches, illustrated handouts, PowerPoint and show-and-tell. The handouts will be keyed to correlate with the circled construction points on the plan.

October 25 Sunday
2. Find those Code References

A scaled  section under an Adobe wall. Sections of each different wall type are required. 8:00am- 11:30am (lunch tour 11:30am – 1:00pm)
Often, you must enter the code number referring to what you drew on the plan. This helps the plans examiner at the building department when applying for your permit. The examiner is reminded that your drawn construction scheme is allowed in the code. This can also be necessary when making notes about energy use. To qualify for energy tax rebate programs, you must show where in the code justification exists for what you drew. For example, in the New Mexico Energy Conservation Code, wood burning masonry fireplaces are required to have gasketed (sealed) doors. But if you design a home that trumps the energy code requirement by at least 20% (which many solaradobes do), the door requirement is waived. (note of interest: Most Adobe fireplaces are sculptured or rounded and flat, gasketed doors will not seal).

On your plan set, the 12 circled construction topics correspond with code reference numbers in the plan margins. Many of these are from the IBC (International Building Code), or its sister book, the IRC (International Residential Code). They may be important if you will build in an area unfamiliar with Adobe construction. 

3. Drafting Practices

1:00pm - 3:30pm
Plans that are confusing or hard to read will kill the morale of a crew. Expensive time can be lost. You are responsible for a good layout and dimensions that are clear and consistent. Line weights and the fonts used can be critical to clarity. Mistakes are possible regardless of the program used. Yes, it is possible to have too many dimensions on a plan (unnecessary dimensions), leading to troubles on the building site.

The instructor will present a basic floor plan on a large presentation pad and the class will work together to dimension it. A few mistakes will be set up on purpose so that you can see how they can happen- we will then correct them.

Class will review the sheets typical on a set of plans and point out the common drafting pitfalls. Included will be:

  1. Floor Plan
  2. Foundation Plan and Foundation Sections
  3. Elevations
  4. Sections for Wall, Whole House and Fireplace.
  5. Roof Framing Plan including trusses
  6. Electrical Plan.
  7. Energy Calcs (also necessary with a solar plan).
  8. Plot Plan

4. Software and other Options

3:30pm - 5:00pm
Instructors Epler, Ortega and Tibbets suggest different solutions/softwares, pointing out the pros/cons about them. Do options exist for drafting your project without breaking the bank or violating a software license requirement? Expensive software isn’t an option for one-time drafters building one home. But if you anticipate going into business, a software lease may be worth it. A plan option also means choosing the type of drawing to use, such as an isometric depiction of a detail. This type of 3-D drawing lends itself to simple non-scale sketches, whether done by hand or via software such as Sketch-up. Students who are already working with a program they like are encouraged to contribute their thoughts. Jeff Epler will bring in his current work on Plan 900, SWSA’s new adobe starter home that offers an expansion plan to 1500 sq. ft.

Raúl Ortega works on an isometric drawing for an Earthen garage using a Sketchup program. Related design aids:
While a computer program can show sun and shade precisely, a scaled architectural model is cheap to build and handy in identifying tight areas around walls and roof that will be hard to build or maintain. Models are handy to use on site. Turn the model east or west to see what changes in relation to trees, bluffs or other sun obstructions. We’ll have a model at class and take it outside for a demo. Set yours up on December 21 to see what will happen on the real house. Class looks at the solar angle requirements to see what must be clear to the sun path around your home to make passing that energy code easier.

5:00pm - End of Class - Certificates of Completion handed out.

About lunch time tours: They are necessary to clear the head after several hours of inside studies. We consider them to be part and parcel of the class. Our location is close to adobe homes, businesses and supply facilities. We will arrange a caravan tour to a few ready for a visit. Bring your camera. Lunch is on the fly- bring your own or we can supply a burrito of choice. 

Cost: $355 single/ $586 for two registering together (web site adds state tax to these figures).
Class Capacity: 10 students
Included materials:

  • The Earthbuilders' Encyclopedia CD (save the $43 on-line price)
  • 98 page reference manual which includes the NM Earthen Building Materials Code. for Adobe and Compressed Earth Block.
  • Miscellaneous illustrated hard copy handouts.
  • Complete Adobe/CEB Plan Set (save the $100 plus on-line price).
  • Hard copy of the NM Residential Applications Manual.  
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