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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 Spring 2015

The economic climate for planning that Adobe or Compressed Earth Block home certainly improved during 2014 and remains positive into 2015. At SWSA we think that many hopeful builders are ready to put pencil to paper (or keypad to plotter) and begin the steps towards a finished home. To that end, SWSA offers two classes this coming spring. The first is a largely indoor Planning class in late April and the second, a Hands-on class in mid-May. The Planning class will be held at the Courtyard in North Albuquerque and the Hands-on class at the SWSA country site near Bosque, about 38 miles south of Albuquerque.

Whether you are an owner-coordinator or contractor, these classes will familiarize you with the basics of Adobe and Compressed Earth Block construction- including what the codes require on a set of working drawings. Review your cost scenarios- from spartan, economical designs to custom homes with popular Southwestern design finishes. Most who say they want “just a plain Adobe” that will save them building costs are also looking for custom touches that stay within a budget. The good news is that with Adobe and its cousins, a few artistic accents go a long way.

If you have questions about the classes below, do write us at

Double class rebate:If you register for both classes, SWSA will rebate $30 cash to single students and $40 cash to couples registering together on the first day of your second class.
Future classes not posted here: SWSA is working on a 3-day summer drafting class for August, 2015 and a Rumford fireplace workshop near Walsenburg, Colorado for summer 2016. Write us if you wish to be on the “interested” list for either one.


1. Planning class~ April 25/26, 2015 (weekend)
Tracking the 8 Basic Stages to your Adobe or CEB Home

Albuquerque, New Mexico

SWSA associate Gerry Slate checks sun angles on a Solaradobe model.This is an indoor planning class (Courtyard by Marriott in North Albuquerque) with two tours. The objective is to illuminate and explain the sequential steps for building with traditional Adobe and Compressed Earth Block (CEB) to code. This class marches steadily through the phases outlined below and students are expected to take good notes. Instructors use slides, sketches and show-and-tell, handing out hard copies of important details. The reference for this class is the Earthbuilders’ Encyclopedia CD (for PC and Mac) which is included along with a set of working drawings and various hard copy handouts.

Saturday April 25 at the Courtyard by Marriott:
(coffee on hand)

8:00am - 9:00am Class materials handouts and Site Preparation questions.
There are code requirements in preparing a site, especially in terms of runoff and flood control. Are you in a flood plain? How do you evaluate your site for Solar? Logistics are important when you are dealing with stacks of material weighing many tons. Supplies have to be placed so that they ease the work rather than block it. What do you know about the history of your site and its surrounding geology? How about the depth to water and its quality?
10 min break

9:10am - 11:30am Foundations, traditional
There’s a checklist here too. Do you need a soil test? Which excavation machinery? Options about what to do with your diggings, batter boards, perimeter insulation requirements, steel placement (including for fireplaces), use of concrete blocks versus concrete forms and monolithic pours- are they good or bad for the typical adobe? What prep for Radon elimination (if it's a problem). Use of native stone, figuring stem levels, prep-thinking for thresholds. We'll take a quick break in the middle of this long session, then start our tour.

11:30am - 1:10pm Tour combined with lunch break
We will visit an adobe facility and viga/timber supply within a few miles of the Courtyard. Return to Courtyard by 1:15. Burrito order (Casa de Benavidez) taken earlier and delivered to you as we tour (or bring your own mobile lunch). Cold drinks provided by SWSA. These tours are considered as part of the class - camera, notepad, etc. are helpful.

Plywood sun angles fix the solar cut-off point as on this SWSA designed Adobe.1:15pm - 2:00pm Rubble Trench Foundations
Resume class at Courtyard. This money-saving type of foundation was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite. We go through the construction sequence. It has become more popular in recent years due to its savings on concrete costs  for massive wall construction. But not all sites lend themselves to its use.
10 min break

2:10pm - 3:10pm Stems to Floors
Floors are closely related to your stem wall as it rises from the footing. We look at 5 popular choices and their relative costs: adobe, brick on sand, tile on slab, slab alone and flagstone. With all of these, underfloor radiant heating systems and underfloor insulation are often utilized. What is the layering sequence of these different materials as you build your floor to its “finish level”?
5 min break

3:15pm - 4:30pm Solar Considerations
Class reviews a SWSA Plan set to study how the structure was set up for Solar. Direct Gain/Greenhouse or Solarium/Trombe Wall techniques discussed along with how to plan an effective solar design that can knock 60% off your winter heating costs and help to keep you cool during those long, hot summer days. Bucks for solar, glass types, figuring sun and shade angles, percentages of square feet in south glass for differing SW elevations, insulation, roofing and more.

4:35pm - 5:30pm Review of your Plan sets
Plan sets distributed. We will page through them and answer your questions.
End of day.

Sunday April 26 at the Courtyard by Marriott:
(coffee on hand)

8:00am - 10:30am Walls
More than one adobe or CEB wall type is allowed by code. Single walls are most common, but double walls or walls with insulation between double coursing are constructed. The one you pick will probably be determined by the severity of your climate zone, cost and the wall you like most, visually speaking. Adobe and CEB can be exposed inside if desired, a money saver over plasters and stuccos.

If you expose a wall to the outside, whether of adobe or CEB, it must be stabilized to a code standard. These procedures explained and what to do on-site to maintain quality control of blocks and mortar mixes.
10 min. break

The corner Rumford fireplace in this SWSA design is an efficient heat radiator.  10:40am - 11:30am Bond beam construction
The Bond beam is possibly the most important component in a well-built earthen structure. Both wood and concrete are used to build it. Where can you save dollars? What about costs of materials? What if you want to hide the bond beam? Clarification about different bond beam configurations and their purposes.

11:30am - 1:45pm
Lunch and tour to custom adobe home. Class travels to site about 3 miles north of class. The home visit is considered to be a necessary part of the class and the owners will prepare lunch choices for us. Details and map provided before we leave to lunch. Camera, notepad, etc. are helpful. Return to Marriott for rest of afternoon.

1:45pm - 3:45pm Roofs (resume at Marriott)
There are two ways to visualize roofs: what we see looking up from inside a room and what we see on the outside. With a well designed bond beam, just about every style of roof is possible, but not all roof styles lend themselves to ease of construction or cost savings. We look at Hip, Gable, Pueblo/Santa Fe, and Contemporary solar roof styles by showing them in slides and section drawings that are included in your handouts. Discussed are deckings, vapor barriers, insulation choices, and the use of upducts, upper roof insulations, reflective barriers, soffit vents, etc. Traditional roofs, using vigas and exposed decking or latillas are explained. Green question: While a 9” diameter viga has about the same strength as a 6” x 10” beam (using the same wood), which of the two is greener in terms of BTU's expended to prepare it? 
10 min. break

3:55pm - 5:00pm Finish work and related Q&A's
Finish work involves many jobs where appearance is important as well as those where appliances are installed along with lighting fixtures, wood trim and tile. Work must be completed to a professional finish. Often, there are hidden costs. Part of the secret to avoiding long, costly hours is to 1) Contrive finish details that are simple to complete, especially where one material meets another. 2) Clearly show the finish details on your plan in a scale where drawing details are clear. 3)Train your crew on  trial areas first. For example: While laying an adobe wall that will be exposed, it is much easier to strike and finish the wall while the mud mortar is still workable. Work walls exposed to the sun first. Wait too long and joints will dry out rock hard, requiring more time and crew dollars to rework the rough mortar joints and bring the wall to a cosmetic finish.
5:00pm - end of class

Certificates of Completion handed out

Cost: $323 single/ $516 for two registering together (web site adds state tax to these figures).Class Capacity: 14 students
Included Materials: Earthbuilders' Encyclopedia CD, various hard copy handouts and Plan Set 1310 or 1576 (your choice).

Register for a solar adobe class  

2. Hands-on class~ May 16/17, 2015 (weekend)

at Bosque, New Mexico ~

SWSA Plan 1576 under construction in SW New Mexico.This class devotes the weekend to preparing Adobe and CEB earthen materials, using tools of the trade and building real walls. The idea is to teach you by doing and help you to develop a sense of heft for Adobe and related tools. Note that Saturday's class will go to 5:30 pm and Sunday's class to 4:30 pm*. Both days start at 8 a.m.

The nearest town with a sufficient choice of motels and restaurants is Belén, located 7.5 miles north on paved highway 116. Belén is 32 miles south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25. Local directions, map and list of accommodations when you register. Typical weather in mid-May is warm days and pleasant evenings. This is a rustic class in the country. Dust, wind, and insects may exist. Old clothes are best, along with hat, gloves, sunscreen, polarized sunglasses and foot protection (please, no open sandals or bare toes). You may 'brownbag' your lunch at the hands-on site if you prefer or drive into Belén for lunch. Shade, coffee, water and cold fruit juice are supplied each day. SWSA provides tools and materials. If you drive from home, consider bringing two 5 gallon buckets of your dirt for testing. Safety will be stressed: SWSA will ask you to sign a work safety release after you register.

*Travel time from the Bosque country site to the Albuquerque airport averages 55 minutes via Interstate 25. From Bosque to Belén is about 15 minutes via state highway 116.

Saturday May 16 at Bosque, New Mexico
(coffee on hand)

8:00am - 9:00am - Tools and Safety
Earthbuilders' Encyclopedia CD distributed along with handouts. Safety is discussed as we review both common and unusual tools used with Adobe and Pressed Block. Show-and-tell tour of features around the site (adobe dome, Count Rumford fireplace, different wall finishes, different soils, etc. Rather than call specific breaks, students can short-break as needed during hands-on periods.

Coffee/water/cold drinks free on site.

Laying out a 3 foot inside diameter bread-baking Horno at SWSA. 9:00am -12:00pm - First Hands-on period.
Instructors will direct students in setting up leads, preparing mud mortar, and laying adobes and compressed earth block to the string. Learn aspects of wall construction as we go along- speed leads, placing adobes, code overlaps, cutting and shaping of blocks, finishing joints, rough bucks and their attachments, electrical circuits, box attachment, in-wall reinforcement and more.

12:00pm -1:15pm - Lunch break.
Brown bag on site or drive to Belén (7.5 miles). Cold drinks and water provided on site.

1:15pm - 5:30pm - Second Hands-on period.
Continue wall construction from morning period. At mid-afternoon, change to learning Roman arch construction, something every Adobe builder should master. We will also cast 3 different types of adobes using forms on site.

Learn how stabilizers are proportioned and mixed. This is critical to what you'll have to do on your own site. Clean up tools and wheelbarrows starting at 5:15 p.m.

Class ends for day at 5:30pm

Larry Elkins of Adobe International demos his block press at class.Sunday May 17, 2015 at Bosque

8:15am - 12:30pm - Third Hands-on Period.
The morning is dedicated to Compressed Earth Block. Larry Elkins of Adobe International will join the  class and demonstrate one of his compressed earth block machines (Let's test your soil in the press). Larry, SWSA instructor and students press different blocks with Cinva-Ram and Adobe International Hydraulic Press.

12:30pm- 1:45pm- Lunch break
Brown bag on site or drive to Belén.

1:45pm - 4:30pm - Bond Beam Construction- fourth Hands-on period.
We'll get up on scaffolds and study bond beam construction and see the vigas strapped in place. Decking layout, insulation in void, electrical and how the final top roof is constructed. For those leery of heights (you'll be standing 8-10 feet off the ground), we have an actual size bond beam dummy set up on the ground for you to photograph.

Clean up of tools starts at 4:30pm. Students may want to load up a few of their test blocks to take home.
Class ends for day at 4:30pm

Certificates of Completion handed out.

Note: if truly bad weather occurs on either day, class may be moved
indoors for continued instruction.

Cost: $323 single/ $516 for two registering together (web site adds
state tax to these figures).
Class Capacity: 16 students
Included materials: Earthbuilders' Encyclopedia CD, various hard copy handouts and Plan Set 1310 or 1576 (your choice).

Register for a solar adobe class  
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