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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's 3-day Fall Class at Bosque, NM 2017 Oct. 20/21/22

Learning construction over a 3-day weekend has its advantages- it's cheaper than separate classes- and the longer time continuum provides a better understanding about Earthen Construction. Our combo Drafting/Code/Hands-on class in late October needs three days, but unlike last spring, no holiday is “weekend attached” to provide an easy third day. So, we're attaching a regular Friday to a weekend. The two class choices are:

  • Attend all three days or
  • Attend Saturday & Sunday Hands-on only (pick your choice via the register tab).
    The dates are Oct. 20/21/22 or just Oct 21/22. There is a 30% discount when you bring a companion (holds for both classes).

The class limit this Fall is twelve(12) students. It's geared for those who need to do much of the construction themselves with the help of friends or family. With good planning and self-discipline, owner-coordinators can cut costs by 40%. That figure can be higher depending on the tools and equipment you already have, your skill levels and the quality of your help.

The three main hurdles to clear are:

  1. Knowledge of how the Building Code applies to your project.
  2. A good set of working drawings to code.
  3. Your ability with managing time and materials efficiently.

At SWSA, we will start you down a more prepared path towards that Adobe casa - whether you envision a snug, comfy cottage or a spacious hacienda. We suggest starting the learning process at least two years before acquiring a building permit, especially when other family members will have their votes in the design of the home.

Location and information ~ about 38 miles south of Albuquerque

Both classes will be held at the SWSA country site near Bosque, NM, about 8 miles south of Belén. Located on I-25, Belén (estab. 1740) is a friendly town, large enough for restaurants and places to stay. Driving time to Belén from the Hands-on site is about 10 minutes.

The SWSA site provides plenty of room for experimenting with different wall ideas and earth mixes away from the city. Your devices are welcome, but have a “mud proof” way to protect delicate items from the rustic adobe world- water, mud, cement, lime, etc. It can be windy and dusty. Old clothes are fine along with hat, gloves, protective footwear and polarized dark glasses. Bring a jacket in case of cooler weather, which in late Oct. usually means warm days and chilly nights (average first freeze is Oct. 31). We'll return email you at registration and then forward local info and maps, along with some reading material to get you thinking.

Questions answered at (505) 861-2287 or via


Class Content and Schedules

Drafting and the Code ~
Friday, October 20
Bosque, New Mexico
(8 hours and 15 minutes of instruction)

Friday morning ~

A scale model of your adobe home idea, like this Passive Solar design, will catch mistakes before the real house goes up.8:00am - 12:45pm Using the free set of Adobe plans handed out to each student, we review the sheets (below) typically required for a building permit. Students can make notes directly on their sheets adjacent to the drawing being discussed. Keep in mind that if you don't draft, you'll need this know-how to qualify your hired drafts-person. We supply hard-copy illustrated handouts to go with the plans.

This morning we will review:

1. Cover sheet Elevation
2. Floor Plan
3. Foundation Plan and Foundation Sections
4. Whole House Sections
5. Fireplace Section

We will digress at important points to illustrate how features are built- explaining the more expensive, custom options or the cheaper, straight-forward options.

12:45pm - 2:00pm Lunch break Brown bag your lunch or drive into Belén (8 miles). Friday lunch is on us if you stay on site and munch a burrito delivered by SWSA ( burrito list provided after registration). Free iced drinks, hot coffee and water on site all days.

Friday afternoon ~

2:00pm - 5:00pm We continue our review of Plan requirements, covering the following sheets:

6. N/E/W Elevations
7. Electrical Plan
8. Roof Framing Plan
9. Plot Plan
10. Energy calculations.

Students receive illustrated handouts depicting critical junctures in Adobe or Compressed Earth Block. Code rules are called out on the drafted sheets by their code book designations*. We do use PowerPoint presentations (ours are not boring).

5:00pm - 5:30pm For those drafting their own, we pass on a few drafting pointers to make it easier- (whether you are a pencil**or a software guru). If you plan to hire a drafts-person, ask for our 12 question, multiple-choice quiz. Then back home, lay it before that supposedly qualified drafter to complete (and watch the less truthful flake away).To draft well for adobe, they must 1) know the code and 2) know how adobe or CEB homes are built.

5:30pm End of day

Hands-on Class begins ~
Saturday, October 21
Bosque, New Mexico

(8 hours, 15 minutes of instruction and practice)

Saturday morning ~

8:00am - 12:45pm Farmers are good at assessing a soil to determine its suitability for agriculture, but few can evaluate a soil for Adobe or Compressed Earth Block (CEB). We'll spend a good hour looking at Clay, Silt, Sand and gravels (like crusher fines) and how to test for a “qualified” soil. If you are lucky, your building site may already have a suitable soil. But more times than not, you will be looking to amend or modify your soil. Even if you buy your adobes or CEBs, you still need to know how to make a suitable mud mortar- and it has to meet code. In traditional adobe construction, the mortar joints can easily constitute 20% of a wall.

Once you have a grasp about soils, we will make some adobes and mud mortar. Standard sizes will be cast, from the 8x4x16” California adobe to the 10x4x14” New Mexico adobe. We'll do some Cinva Ram pressed blocks at 6x4x12” as well as the 7x2x10” small adobe used for vaults, domes and hornos***. We'll use a wood ladder form, single and double block forms and metal forms that will last through your block making process. SWSA will have recently cast adobes, ready to turn up on their sides, to help you get an idea of drying times, cleaning and proper stacking.

Larry Elkins of Adobe Intl. explains pressing machine use to SWSA students.Safety first. No need to tire yourself. Students can take breaks as they need them throughout the weekend. Shade, chairs, portapotties, water & drinks on site.

Stabilization. In New Mexico, code allows you to make and build with adobe the “old” traditional way- just regular mud blocks without any additives. At the same time, the NM code also allows you to build with adobes or CEBs that are stabilized- ranging from water-resistant to waterproof. Today, most blocks sold commercially are stabilized using an emulsion, Portland cement, or Lime. In some code jurisdictions like California, all adobe or CEB work must be stabilized by code. You will learn the appropriate recipes and techniques (handouts provided). We'll mix up different stabilizing mixes and cast and press blocks from them. Ask yourself, “when on my own site, can I give good, clear directions to my family or crew on how to do this? What are the pitfalls and comparative costs? How do different stabilizers affect the color and texture of the blocks?” SWSA will have your answers.

12:45pm - 2:00pm Lunch break Bring your own or drive to Belén.

Saturday afternoon ~

2:00pm - 5:30pm The afternoon will be spent building walls. The use of speed leads or story poles are the first items to setup on any adobe or CEB site. They aren't available at Lowe's or Home Depot, but take fotos of ours and we have a drawing to give you as well. We will set them up for level courses, using mason's line, line blocks and a few other tools.

This new adobe by Albuquerque contractor Winn DeLapp shows the use of a wood bond beam.Learn how to place the mud mortar on the course and to lay and overlap the blocks to code. Cutting block and turning corners while keeping level courses are part of the learning. We'll lay up standard 10” and 14” wall sections. As walls begin to dry, practice with the Adobe Spoon and other jointing tools. Unless you will plaster a wall, you should know how to dress it up to please the eye. But if you will plaster that wall, you should also know how to leave it rough for the plaster coats that will follow (some plastering at end of day on Sunday). We'll lay in an electrical circuit, so you can see how boxes are set up, whether using pipe or UF cable.

Double adobe (or double CEB) walls interest most everyone. They are often the domain of owner-builders as contractors do not usually build them. We'll lay up a typical double adobe wall to see how adobes can easily be laid around the required steel rebar, as is common in California. We'll look at a short section of double wall with airspace in-between (for insulation), which is probably the most effective thermal wall you can build.

5:30pm End of day. Students who wish to practice more may linger.

Hands-on Class continues ~
Sunday, October 22

Bosque, New Mexico
(7 hours, 45 minutes of instruction and practice)

Sunday morning ~

8:00am - 12:45pm Building an adobe arch is a skill you can master with a little practice. Arches add interest in the home and save the cost of doors, bucks and hardware. Arch adobes are left exposed, regardless of whether the surrounding walls are plastered or not. We'll build one in a few easy steps, using form, wedges, centering stick, adobes and a stiff mud. We'll pull the form right away. If you're interested in domes and vaults, arches are a great place to start- for example, a semi-circular (Roman) arch turned 360° becomes a dome (check out our Egyptian adobe dome on site).

About 10:30am Larry Elkins of Adobe International will arrive with his hydraulic press. We will press your soil to see if it will make a good CEB. In the spring class, only one student brought a soil that without alteration, would make a good block. In most cases, the soil was either too clayey or too silty. Sharp sand is often the remedy.

CEBs have the advantage of being able to cure on a shrink-wrapped pallet, which unlike adobe, allows them to be stabilized using Lime. The use of Lime as a stabilizer is a greener process, but also more involved. It is usually reserved for larger facilities with industrial-sized equipment- ask us about it if you're truly serious. Otherwise, Portland cement works just fine.

12:45pm - 2:00pm Lunch break Need to talk more CEB with Larry? The discussion about pressing machines and soil preparation usually continues during lunch in Belén with instructors Larry and Joe.

Sunday afternoon ~

2:00pm - 5:00pm We have three hours to learn about important non-earthen portions of a home that are typical in adobe or CEB structures.

(2:00pm - 3:00pm) An important one is the Bond Beam (or “tie” beam), usually of concrete, sometimes of timbers. They are code required and their appearance on the wall depends on wall thickness and the number of courses (such as single or double). They also serve as places to set attachments for the roof, a cooler, a coach lamp, porch overhang and so forth. We'll show you how they are formed and what the steel requirement is within them. We'll illustrate a simple attachment method that can increase the holding power of the bond beam to the wall by 4X. Some codes allow wood bond beams (NM does). We'll study the artistic approach with timber (more costly, but looks nice), as well as the cheaper approach, which is just as good, structurally speaking.

Fireplace mason Jim Buckley stands on Rumford fireplace under construction at SWSA.(3:00pm - 3:30pm) The Forgotten Art of Building a Good Fireplace: if you have one, especially a good one, it builds value for the home. If you were in class on Friday, you'll know about code and drafting, but we'll go over the classroom Rumford fireplace from a building (rather than drafting) standpoint. Doing your own is feasible, largely due to the work of Superior Clay Corp of Ohio, Builders' Materials of Albuquerque and Jim Buckley, a fireplace mason from Washington state. When times get tough, a good fireplace, like a good wood stove- is felt as a survival tool.

(3:30pm - 4:30pm) Passive Solar Heating and Cooling are also survival tools, because they don't require moving parts and cost no more than the same house without them. They regulate sun and shade through calculated overhangs and the placement of windows, mass and insulation. SWSA encourages you to build Passive Solar design into your home, as it works well with massive walls and will reduce your space heating/cooling costs. So, there are at least 2 kinds of solar in the contemporary Southwestern home- Passive (for heating/cooling space) and PV(for electricity). Yes, you could add a 3rd solar type with an active solar hot water heater.

We'll review the rules for Passive solar design including the specifics for roof overhangs and percentages of south glass to heated/cooled floor area in three zones; the Low Desert (0-3000'), Mid-Desert (3000-4500'), and Plateau(4500-8000'). Using Passive Solar makes it easier to pass the energy code. If you are looking for a favorable HERS**** report on your home, utilizing Passive Solar helps. Hard copy handouts.

(4:30pm - sundown) We'll provide a rough adobe wall surface on which to apply a standard Mud Plaster as well as try out a new insulating exterior plaster containing lime and cork. Where plasters are Portland-based, learn how 17 gauge stucco netting is put up on the wall. Where lime stuccoes are used, the stucco netting can largely be eliminated, (making lime-based stuccoes “greener'' than Portland-based ones). Students can stay as late as the light holds out, but if you're heading home, class is over at 5 pm.

5pm Class ends.

* International Building Code/International Residential Code/NM Earthen Building Materials Code
** A “pencil” is a drafter who uses non-electronic or traditional means to draft.
*** Horno is an adobe cooking oven, used in most NM Pueblos.
**** Home Energy Rating System

Cost~ All 3 days: $339 one person, $576 for two, registering together (see check out).
Just Sat. & Sun: $280 one person, $476 for two, registering together(see check out).
Handouts ~ Complete set of working drawings for a NM permitable Adobe/CEB home. Earthbuilders' Encyclopedia CD, Hard copy handouts and 98 page reference 3 hole punched.

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