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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.

Your Spring 2017 Drafting, Planning and Hands-on
Classes for
in Albuquerque and Bosque, New Mexico ~

Quick class briefs - classes 1. & 2.

1. Early-bird DRAFTING CLASS for the small to medium Adobe, Pressed Block or Rammed Earth home ~ Saturday/Sunday, April 22/23, 2017 Albuquerque (April 16, Easter / April 22, Earth Day). Complete your preliminary floor plan and 4 elevations (up to a 1700 sq.ft. footprint). Having these 5 drawings gives you a good start towards the remaining sheets of your plan set. How does it work? SWSA drafters prepare your floor plan and elevations before class, handing them to you on April 22. But you have to register early. Full description and schedule below. The class will be held at the Courtyard by Marriott in North Albuquerque (505-823-1919). Weather in late April at 5000' is warm days, chilly nights. Jacket/hat advised.

Cardboard model of Solar-Adobe at 1/4" = 1'0" scale. They are very cheap to build, handy to use on site or inside and can save you thousands. SWSA uses them in conjunction with Sketch-up software.

Methods for drafting Adobe, Pressed Earth Block and Rammed Earth structures are clarified. Dimension layouts that the crew can understand are shown, along with the use of 3-D drawings that make constructions clear. How/where to reference code standards are pointed out. A set of plans for an adobe, pressed earth block or rammed earth home (you can specify which) is included. This 2-day class is priced higher than the 3-day class in May due to the amount of custom drafting by SWSA for each student before the class. You won’t find a less expensive way to cover this much ground in less than 2 months. Power Point, show-&-tell, large sketches, tour, handouts, and lecture round out our teaching methods. Limited to 9 students. Please register by March 1.

Casting 'legoblock' adobes at Hands-on. Handy for running pipe and locking to Bond Beam.

2. The PLANNING/HANDS-ON COMBO CLASS for Adobe and Pressed Earth Block is a rustic 3-day class that takes advantage of the Memorial Day weekend to gain the third day. Held at SWSA’s practice site, 38 miles south of Albuquerque Sat/Sun/Mon., May 27/28/29, 2017. Planning and Instruction periods alternate with Hands-on periods. Class works with materials and tools for both Adobe and Pressed Earth Block. Learn standard mixes and cast adobes of different sizes. Larry Elkins of Adobe International visits with a hydraulic press and students press their own mixes. Learn stabilizers and how to build walls, corners, arches, door bucks, etc. A valuable class for gaining the know-how to properly hire help. Weather at Bosque at 4750' in late May is sunny, with temps in mid to high 80's and cool nights. Gloves, protective footwear, hat, polarized dark glasses and jacket advised. Limited to 12 students. Facilities are close by in Belén (8 miles). Description and schedule below.


Description, schedule and registration for:
1. The Early-Bird DRAFTING CLASS~

Saturday/Sunday, April 22/23, 2017
North Albuquerque, New Mexico
for drafting Rammed Earth, Compressed Earth Block and Adobe plans- small to medium home.

Working drawings are necessary for a building permit. While prices for drafting are beyond what most can afford, you can save money by starting early- at least 2 years before construction.
To get a head start, SWSA is inviting you and 8 others desiring a small to medium-sized home to attend this class. The idea is to complete the work before class (that's mostly us), developing a scaled floor plan and 4 elevations. They set the parameters and dimensions for the other sheets required.

We'll ask you to register by March 1, 2017, so that we'll have time to complete your ‘before class’ work.

Here are the steps:

1. Once registered, you'll receive a design questionnaire focused on your home. Most questions can be answered by a check mark, but a few require decisions. Making home decisions may bring on a few “brain cramps”- all part of working up a floor plan that you can afford. What style of home do you prefer (such as Santa Fe/Pueblo, Territorial, Contemporary, Spanish Colonial, etc.)? What type of roof do you favor (such as gable, hip, shed, parapets, etc.)? Which material do you prefer- Adobe, Pressed Earth Block or Rammed Earth? What will be the likely footprint of your home (in square feet)? We will accept sizes up to 1700 sq. ft. for this class. Do you have a sketch or drawing towards your design? We'd like a copy. How about rooms locations and sizes? Where to place a real fireplace or a stove?

Adobe production at New Mexico Earth2. Within 10 days of receiving your questionnaire, we'll mail you 2 copies of your first floor plan. It will be scaled to 1/4” = 1' 0” on 24” x 36” sheets. Please critique it sending a marked copy back to us by March 23. We'll revise, following your corrections, and then develop your elevations. We will have your 2nd floor plan and elevations at class on April 22 (24” x 36” sheets). If you can't send us a pdf, not to worry. The schedule allows enough time for priority snail-mail.

Is your site located in an active seismic zone, as in California? If so, an engineer registered in your home state must stamp your final plans. A seismic engineer will ask for your location, a floor plan and elevations showing window and door positions before work can begin. Assisting the engineer with your floor plan and elevations to scale should save you some dollars.

Local directions, maps and facilities in the Courtyard by Marriott (505-823-1919) area sent when you register. This is the Marriott located at I-25 and Paseo del Norte in North Albuquerque.

Saturday, April 22

8:00am - 8:15am Coffee and Plans/ notes handouts

8:15am - 10:00am Plan Review of your Floor plan & Elevations- The students’ 9 plans are viewed and explained so that all can learn. Everyone receives a floor plan from an already built earthen project.

10:10am - 12:15pm Your Foundation Plan and Foundation Sections- How to draft them with a review of what the Plans Examiner will look for. Code requirements by climate zone, perimeter insulations, under floor radiant heat, exposed stone stems, floor choices and cost comparisons. Copies of Foundation Plan/Sections drawings used by SWSA handed out.

12:15pm - 2:00pm Outside Lunch and tour with an adobe contractor (or two). Burritos, drinks (provided by SWSA) - Your questions about costs and cost savers are well applied here.

Rammed earth forming. Drafting for it echos the form work and is different than drafting for Adobe or Pressed Block.2:00pm - 5:00pm Wall Sections & Whole House Sections. (10 min. break at half-way point) A section drawing is required for each different wall in your home. Section drawings show wall profiles, heights of ceilings above finished floors, placement of rebar in bond beams, where in-wall reinforcement is set and details about wall “covers”, such as insulation and stucco. Whole House Sections are cutaway drawings through the entire home. A copy of both section types used by SWSA given to each student.

5:00pm - 5:30pm Solving problems Q&A. Class ends for day.

Sunday, April 23 - Coffee in class at 8 a.m.

8:00am - 11:00am Roof Framing Plan (10 min. break at half-way point). Most opt for a roof that is practical, sturdy, attractive and reasonably priced. We review the options that meet these criteria. Some will want a historical or more ornate roof, with vigas with latillas set in a chevron pattern. As you might suspect, they require more labor and dollars (consider one or two rooms this way). An economy roof is a regular trussed roof with sheet rock ceiling. On top, you'll find metal roofing a cost-effective and long lasting solution. If you're a parapet fan, will your parapets be Adobe, Pressed Earth block or frame? We’ll review the drafting points for them and what the code says about preventing moisture intrusion. Drafted plans from some SWSA plan sets distributed to students.

11:00am - 12:30pm Electrical Plan and PV solar. Electrical plans are an assemblage of symbols and specs intended to guide your electrician. Know your options, the symbols and where to apply them. A regular electrical plan is distributed to class as we deliver our know-how about electrical in earthen walls. PV Solar installations are becoming common. Consider how and where on your house to set up solar components- depending on whether you will be grid-tied or stand-alone.

12:30pm - 1:45pm Lunch Break.

1:45pm - 4:00pm Energy Calculations & Passive Solar (10 min. break at half-way point). Energy Calcs are required nationwide. Today, getting a building permit requires passing your energy code. True, doing these calcs is a little tedious, BUT most enjoy discovering green options that cut energy costs (always research new materials before including them in your plan). Mass walls using passive solar technologies make passing energy codes easier. An example of a New Mexico Solar-adobe home's energy calcs given to each student. We explain about how mass walls, insulation, sun, proper glazing and overhangs can cut your January winter heating bill by 60%.

Plan 1870 was built by an SWSA grad in 2012. Its combo of south glass/overhang, mass and insulation keeps interior temps in the 70's during New Mexico cold winters at 6300'.

4:10pm - 5:00pm Plot Plan. Also needed for a permit. It involves your survey plat, the locations of home, easements, driveway, septic/leach lines; water well, utility stub outs, propane tank and landscaping features. Plot plans can also display contour lines, helping to locate trees or other natural features and to establish grading. For solar design, the Plot Plan will locate your home on the property in relation to necessary sun angles and possible obstructions to sunlight. A sample plot plan handed out to class.

5:00pm end of class.

Cost: $371 one person, $630 for two registering together (web site adds NM state tax to these figures).
Class capacity: 9 students
Class Handouts: Your Floor Plan & Elevations, Earthbuilders Encyclopedia CD, Handouts and drafted sheets relating to topics, Full plan set for an Adobe, CEB, or Rammed Earth home. (specify when you register).

Register for a solar adobe class  

Description, schedule and registration for:

Saturday/Sunday/Monday, May 27/28/29, 2017
Bosque, New Mexico

Making 14 x 4 x 14" adobesThe PLANNING~HANDS-ON COMBO CLASS is a 3-day class in the country, situated along the Rio Grande. Think of it as desert scrub and trees next to the Bosque (forest) along the river. ). It's held at Bosque, 38 miles south of Albuquerque on Saturday/Sunday/Monday, May 27/28/29. We’re taking advantage of the Memorial Day weekend to gain the third day (Monday). It's a warm, sunny time of year, but there can be wind and dust. Bring gloves, hat, protective footwear and polarized sun glasses. Prepare to heft rustic materials and mix mud mortar as if you were on your own project.

Avoiding the hassles and noise of traffic of the city is welcome. Belén, with sufficient motels/restaurants, is 8 miles north of the site. The only noise pollution is the occasional Santa Fe train passing by- (be observant at the rail crossing). Expect a rustic construction teaching site with coffee, cold water, juice, shade and chairs. Also expect free handouts pertinent to what we are teaching. Local directions, maps and facilities info sent when you register.

What you can expect to learn about and class limit
At class, specific tasks are laid out (such as building an arch). Everyone learns arch instruction inside. We then step outside to build the actual arch. Instructor completes arch half way and class (now understanding the geometry and method), finishes the arch. Photos encouraged. Materials will be ready, such as window/door bucks, adobe forms, adobes, pressed earth block, mud mixes, plaster mixes, stabilizers and various tools.

Larry Elkins (black hat) of Adobe International with students during soil testing at Hands-on. Your soil can be tested for suitability, amended if necessary and then pressed into blocks or cast into adobes during class.Students study blending earth materials, casting adobes, pressed earth block manufacture, stacking, cutting, setting up bucks, laying block, proper overlaps, in-wall reinforcement, attaching electrical circuits and boxes, bond beam construction, turning corners, wall finishing for exposed work and wall prep for plaster or stucco coverings. A 9 page set of plans (24”x36”) comes with class. Details below.

Checking out the schedule/ 3-day class/what if it rains?-
The 6 main class “sections” are described below in half-days with more detail. About a three-day class~ we’ve structured the sign-up on our shopping cart for all three days (Fri/Sat/Sun). That’s the minimum it takes to cover Planning and Hands-on. Inclement weather could force us to switch one section for another. With three days, we’ll get it covered. The details are below.

Schedule ~
Saturday Morning, May 27

8:00am - 8:30am Coffee and site safety tour. Where things are. Illustrated handouts augment what we’re pointing out. We have also set up some construction features and tools for you to photograph.

8:30am - 12:30pm Soils and Adobe/CEB Manufacture for the small builder to include Site Prep., Learning about soils and Making Blocks. We’ll be outside for approximately 2 hours with 2 hours inside. Break as needed. Adobe mix ready for Adobe making, as well as a drier soil mix for Compressed Earth Block. Assorted “dry” piles of clay, sand and small aggregates on hand for blending or amending a mix. Bring some of your own soil if you are driving (we’ll test it in Larry Elkin’s hydraulic press and use it to cast regular adobes). Class will make 7” x 2” x 10” adobes used in hornos, domes and vaults along with standard and large adobes, such as the square “corner adobe” at 14” x 4” x 14” and a size used to make 32” wide walls in Santa Fe in the 1700’s- the 20” x 4” x 10”adobe block. We’ll also show you how to make “special” sizes that you might have to “create” on your job site.

What we’ll do or take note of ~

  1. Getting an idea about different ways to set up a home site for Adobe or CEB and clearances for solar gain and different adobe materials or services (inside and outside).
  2. Laying out your Foundations/Stems/Floors to code (mostly inside).
  3. Determining a suitable soil mix for Adobe & Compressed Earth Block and soil types to avoid. Using screens to prepare soils. (inside and outside)
  4. Figuring how many cubic yards of material needed to make the adobes or CEBs and the 40% rule.
  5. Understanding different methods of forming and casting Adobes (inside & out).
  6. Learning about “inserts” that can change adobe/CEB shapes for different uses, such as channels for electrical circuits or in-wall reinforcements (outside while casting or pressing blocks).
  7. Learning about tools that cut or shape Adobe or CEB in the field. Learning how to cast holes in Adobes during manufacture (outside).
  8. Rudimentary field tests for compression and modulus of rupture (some codes may require you to submit a lab report in respect to your block’s p.s.i. and modulus of rupture. Field tests can enable you to get in the code ‘ball park’ without too many lab visits at $75 per test) - (inside & outside).

12:30pm - 1:45pm lunch break - brown bag on site or drive to town (10 min. drive one way).

Saturday Afternoon, May 27

1:45pm - 5:00pm Adobe and CEB- to include Laying block to build a wall and learning to make an adobe or CEB arch. Class sets leads and strings while setting up the arch form. Door buck is set up and plumbed. We load the course and lay block. We tie into rough bucks and build the arch. The idea is to get you into mixing and using the mortar you’ve learned about while laying adobes to the string with code overlaps. At the same time, practice cutting block or adobes, turning corners and finishing the wall around the arch. Break as needed.

What we’ll do or take note of ~

  1. Go over Speed Leads and how they are made and work (outside).
  2. Set and plumb the leads at the stem corners and stretch the string and line blocks. Set up level courses (outside).
  3. Understand your bed joint options before marking your courses (outside). Electrical circuits and/or in-wall reinforcement may play a role, as may the depth difference twixt CEB and standard adobe.
  4. Learn to lay mortar on the course using the shovel (outside).
  5. Understand code overlap requirements (outside).
  6. Place adobes or CEBS on the course (outside).
  7. Set dur-o-wal® reinforcement in a course (wall ductility & seismic resistance)
  8. Learn ways to tie into door or window rough bucks (inside and outside).

What we’ll do or take note of - Building an Arch and pulling the form right away
Types of arches explained and their uses. Arches can save you money and add appeal. Also, if you want to learn to build a vault or dome, the novice starts by learning how to build an arch (inside).

  1. Setting up our arch form on a length of wall (outside).
  2. Use of wedges, centering stick and other arch tools (outside).
  3. Building the Roman arch - instructor leads by starting a 36” diameter arch (radius of 18”). Class quickly sees ‘how to’ and in due course, will finish the arch. We will pull the form right away to demonstrate how the arch locks upon itself. Learn how to remove the form (all outside).
  4. Class practices by laying more courses of adobe around the arch, which requires trimming blocks to fit and learning to tool the head and bed joints for appearance and strength (outside).

5 pm- tool clean up/day’s end

Sunday Morning, May 28

8:00am - 1:00pm Planning Session (mostly inside) General topics are: Your Floor Plan and designing for savings. Using the sun and adobe’s mass to your benefit. The axiom, “Sun and Adobe work together” comes into play. Style: most have a preferred “style” in mind- such as Santa Fe or Pueblo, Mission Revival, Territorial or Contemporary. Which is the best to carry out your ideas? Which is cheaper? What kind of wall finish or floor would be most economical or easiest to clean? Which is best for passive solar energy?

What we’ll do or take note of-

  1. Look at the Pros and Cons of the various styles & wall finishes for Adobe and CEB (inside).
  2. Where rooms can go for best comfort and effectiveness for energy savings (inside).
  3. The main 3 passive solar techniques and where to deploy them. How to determine true south and figure your sun angles. Raul Ortega’s presentation of sun angles using Sketch up software can help you see where the sun will hit different walls at any time of day or year- just know your latitude and longitude.
  4. Getting the right amount of south glazing for your climate zone. (inside).
  5. What the code says about minimum insulation levels for walls, ceilings and perimeters in your climate zone. Wall systems choices, such as single, double or double with insulated space. (inside).

1:00pm - 2:15pm lunch break - brown bag on site or drive to town (10 min. drive).

Sunday Afternoon, May 28

2:15pm - 5:30pm Main topics- Looking at stems, baseboards, floors and convenience outlets. Gain insight into how electrical systems are set up in Adobe and CEB. Go outside and set up some electrical circuits on an adobe wall section. Point out bond beam on site and show how to form up a bond beam.

What we’ll do or take note of ~

  1. Figure required stem heights, finish floor levels, door thresholds, ramps and railings.
    Floor choices, such as brick on sand, tile or Saltillo on slab, flagstone on sand, etched slab and adobe floors. Under floor radiant systems and Radon prevention. Code requirements for stems and your stem finishing choices. Drawings, slides, show and tell (inside).
  2. Set up a few electrical circuits and boxes on one of the practice adobe walls. Set up pipe (such as Carlon sch. 40), UF cable and show how to set and make up a box. Thickness of CEB and adobe bed joints requires knowing the wall finish (plastered or exposed), thickness of bed joint and whether blocks are channeled. Learn which things not to run together in the same course (outside).
  3. Go over bond beam options- what code says. Check out a typical bond beam setup with steel requirement in place. Drawings, Handouts (inside and out).

5:00pm: Site clean up- day’s end.

Loading a "qualified" earth mix into the hopper of a pressing machine. This approach to earth block manufacture does necessitate more equipment.Monday Morning, May 29

8:00am - 10:30am Stabilization of adobe and CEB. Go over recipes for preparing Portland based and emulsion based stabilizers. Do’s and don’ts. Mix up stabilized batches and cast or press block.

10:30am - 12:30pm Check out hydraulic press from Adobe International, visiting class with operator Larry Elkins

What we’ll do

  1. 1. Mix up a wheelbarrow of emulsion-based stabilized soil and cast some adobes from it. Show difference in texture and moisture content of stabilized mud mortar from that used to make adobes and pressed earth blocks. Setup a wheelbarrow of Portland-based stabilized soil. Cast adobes from it using hand forms. Also press some adobes from it using Cinva Ram (outside).
  2. Students bringing their own soil can press different soil types, using the Adobe International hydraulic machine (outside).Great chance to talk to one of the original machine designers.

12:30pm - 1:45pm lunch break (brown bag on site or drive to town).

Monday Afternoon, May 29

1:45pm - 4:30pm Review of wall types, Roof types and Money Savers (break as needed)

What we’ll do

  1. Look at your best bet for a strong, economical wall, whether of adobe or CEB. Best bets for Low, Mid and High Desert zones. (inside)
  2. Look at wall types used since late 70’s and which ones have excelled thermally/structurally. (inside).
  3. Review of attachments between foundations, wall and roof (inside)
  4. Study a historic adobe roof vs. two popular contemporary ones. Handouts of roof cross sections. Talk about parapets, gable ends and hip roofs and their respective costs and seismic resistance (inside).

4:30pm - 5:00pm Clean-up and end of class. Students load test blocks into their vehicles before departing. (Bring 3 sheets of cardboard for cushions- your blocks will still be green)

Cost: $339 one person, $676 for two registering together (web site adds NM state tax to these figures).
Class capacity: 12 students
Class Handouts: Included materials: Earthbuilders Encyclopedia CD, Handouts relating to topics, full plan set for an Adobe or CEB home that has been permitted and built.

Register for a solar adobe class  
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