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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 Fall 2018 Drafting, Planning and Hands-on
at Bosque, New Mexico
Friday/Saturday/Sunday, October 19/20/21, 2018

Quick description:The class is slanted towards owner-builders or owner-coordinators. It is taught in a straightforward, descriptive style using drawings, PowerPoint, Hands-on, show-and-tell and lecture. Emphasis is on Code, Hands-on and Drafting for Adobe and Compressed Earth Block. The class takes place at a rustic site in the country. Classroom instruction alternates with Hands-on. Students work with authentic Adobe/Compressed Earth Block materials and tools. They learn standard earth mixes and cast adobes of different sizes. Larry Elkins of Adobe International visits Sunday with his hydraulic press. Students press earth blocks (called CEBS) using different soil mixes (you can also bring some of your dirt to test). They learn earth stabilizer recipes and how to build walls, corners, arches, and door bucks. A set of plans for a small earthen home is included at no extra cost. Facilities are close by in Belén or Los Lunas, (8 and17 miles by paved hwy.). Limited to 14 students. This class can help you to “qualify” candidates for your working crew.

Dust, insects, wind, mud and cacti will exist, but shade and cool drinks will also be on site each day. Gloves, protective footwear, hat, polarized dark glasses and jacket advised. Students will be asked to sign a release once on site. Safety will be stressed each day.

Details and schedule:

Solaradobe under winter conditions at 6300' in New Mexico.Practical Hands-on and method of teaching
Expect to heft rustic materials as if on your own project. Specific goals are defined (Example- building an arch). The class goes through arch instruction inside, then steps outside to build the arch. A further example; learn inside about laying adobe or CEB walls to code, then go outside and lay some adobe and CEB walls to code. Likewise, we can teach you the procedure for stabilizing adobe or CEB in the classroom, then step outside to mix up the recipe and cast or press some block from it. We will show you a wall construction on the drafted sheet, then turn around and show you a built example on site.
Take photos as you wish. Materials will be ready, such as forms, adobes, pressed block, mud mixes, plasters, stabilizers and various tools. Wall constructions will be to code. On site learning includes laying traditional adobe and pressed earth block. We will build a typical door rough buck, and bond beam form set up. Adobe work includes turning corners, proper overlaps, in-wall reinforcement, wall finishing for exposed work and preparing the wall for plaster or stucco coverings.

Around the site~
Being in the country means avoiding the hassles of big city traffic in Albuquerque. Belén, a small town with motels/restaurants/stores, is 8 miles north of class via state highway 116. Our only noise pollution is the occasional Santa Fe train passing by. SWSA will supply coffee, cold water, juice, shade, chairs and Portapotties. Local directions, maps, motel and facilities info sent when you register.

Your vehicle: Email us at if you have a special situation as motor homes or extra long vehicles may have to be left at the RV park. While it always seems dry, the rare rain means mud and cars with very low clearances may gain a few pounds. The first freeze at our rural location (4750’) is usually around Oct. 31, with warm, sunny days the norm and chilly nights...


Class Content and Schedules

Schedule and Registration
Friday Morning, Oct 19

8:00am - 8:20am Coffee and site safety tour. Grab a cup and walk around our immediate teaching area for a quick tour showing you the work stations and pointing out site hazards.

8:20am - 12:30pm lunch Soils and Adobe/CEB Manufacture for the small builder. Topics include Site Prep., Learning about soils and Making Blocks. We’ll be outside for approximately 2 hours with 2 hours inside. Break as you need to. SWSA will have mud mortar ready for Adobe, as well as a drier soil mix for Compressed Earth Block. Assorted “dry” piles of clay, sand and small aggregates will be on hand for blending or amending a mix. You are encouraged to bring some of your own soil if you are driving to class (we’ll test it with a hydraulic press or use it to cast regular adobes). Class will also make small 7” x 2” x 10” adobes used in hornos, domes and vaults. Forms will be ready to make standard and larger adobes, such as the New Mexico adobe (10” x 4” x 14”) and the California adobe (8” X 4” x 16”).

Using a tractor to load a qualified soil into a compressed earth block machine. At class, students can try out their own dirt to see if it might need clay or sharp sand to make a code block.Check-off list of what we’ll do:

  1. Explain about “site prep” to set up your home site for Adobe or CEB and clearances for different adobe materials or services. Some of this material will be sent to you before class to read.
  2. Show how to lay out your Foundations/Stems/Floors to code.
  3. Determine what a suitable soil mix is for Adobe & Compressed Earth Block and soil types to avoid.
  4. Look at different screens to prepare rough soils for block making or mortar.
  5. Learn how many cubic yards of material you will need to make the adobes or CEBs and mortar for your home- the 40% plus rule.
  6. Understand different methods of forming and casting Adobes.
  7. Learn about “inserts” that can change adobe/CEB shapes for different uses, such as channels for electrical circuits or in-wall reinforcements.
  8. Learn about tools that cut or shape Adobe or CEB in the field. How to cast holes in Adobes during manufacture.
  9. Rudimentary field tests for compression and modulus of rupture for adobe and CEB. Some codes will require a lab report with your plans, showing your block p.s.i. and modulus of rupture. Knowing the field tests can enable you to meet code without too many lab visits (at $75 per test!).

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

Friday afternoon, Oct. 19

1:45pm - 5:00pm Laying Adobe or CEB to build a wall and learning to make an adobe or CEB arch. Also, Setting Leads, loading the course and tying into a rough buck. The idea this afternoon is to get you into mixing the mortar you’ve learned about, and laying adobes to the string. At the same time, learn to turn corners, build an arch and finish the wall around the arch.

Check-off list of what we’ll do:

  1. Set up Speed Leads and how they are made and work.
  2. Set up and plumb speed leads at the stem corners and stretch the line using line blocks. Learn to lay level courses.
  3. Understanding your bed joint options before deciding on your course marks (outside). Electrical circuits and/or in-wall reinforcement may play a role, as may the difference twixt CEB and standard adobe.
  4. How to lay mortar on the course using different shovels and trowels.
  5. Understanding code overlap requirements.
  6. Placing Adobes or CEBS on the course.
  7. Setting dur-o-wal® reinforcement in a course (for wall ductility & seismic resistance)
  8. Ways to tie door/window rough bucks to walls. Demo of two popular methods.

Building a 36” diameter 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 to build arches.

Every student learns to build the adobe arch. This one is in an SWSA designed home at Glenwood, NM by the McClarnan familyCheck-off list of what we’ll do:

  1. Set up our arch form on a length of wall.
  2. Building the form, use of wedges, centering stick and other tools.
  3. Build the Roman arch - instructor starts a 36” diameter arch (radius of 18”). Class quickly sees ‘how to’ and 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.
  4. Class lays more courses of adobe around the arch, which requires trimming blocks to fit the curve of the arch and learning to tool the head and bed joints for appearance.

5:00pm Site clean up - day’s end.

Saturday Morning Oct. 20

8:00am - 1:00pm Topics: Your home Floor Plan and designing for savings. Using adobe’s mass to your benefit. Regardless of where you’ll build, the old axiom, “Sun and Adobe work together” comes into play. Most have a preferred “style” in mind- such as Santa Fe or Pueblo, Mission Revival, Territorial or Contemporary. Which is the best choice to carry out your ideas? Which is cheaper to build? What kind of wall finish or floor would be most economical or easiest to clean? Which is best for passive solar energy?

Check-off list of what we’ll learn:

  1. 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.
  2. Where rooms can go for best comfort and effectiveness for energy savings in a solar home.
  3. Pros and Cons of the various architectural styles & wall finishes for Adobe and CEB.
  4. Figuring the amount of south glazing you will need in your climate zone.
  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.

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

Saturday Afternoon Oct. 20

2:15pm - 5:30pm Topics: Looking at the area of stems, baseboards, floors and convenience outlets. Gain some 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. Explain the various bond beams and how to form them up.

Check-off list of what we’ll do:

  1. Figure required stem heights, finish floor levels, door thresholds, ramps and railings.
    Explain Floor choices, such as brick on sand, tile or Saltillo tile on slab, flagstone on sand, etched slab and adobe floors. Explain Underfloor radiant systems and Radon elimination. Explain Code requirements for stems and your stem finishing choices. Drawings, slides, show and tell.
  2. Set up a few electrical circuits and boxes on one of our adobe walls. Set up pipe (such as Carlon sch. 40), UF cable and show how to set and position a box. Setting the proper thickness of CEB or adobe bed joints require knowing ahead about how the wall will be finished (plastered or exposed), the type of electrical cable or pipe and whether blocks will be channeled.
  3. Go over bond beam options- what code says about concrete and wood. Check out a typical bond beam setup with a steel requirement in place. It will be ready to photograph.

5:00pm : Site clean up- day’s end.


Craft, color and tradition are factors in this viga ceiling with its hand -shaved and dyed latillas, often seen in adobe architecture. This one from an SWSA drafted NM home.Sunday Morning Oct. 21

8:00am - 10:30am Topics: 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. Press a few blocks with the Cinva (6” x 4” x 12”) using Portland cement.

Check-off list of what we’ll do:

  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 blocks.
  2. Set up a wheelbarrow of Portland-based stabilized soil and cast some adobes from it using hand forms. Also press some adobes from it using the Cinva Ram.
  3. Students bringing their own soil can press, amend and press again different soil types, using the Adobe International hydraulic machine towards a better mix. Great chance to talk to one of the regional manufacturers about how these machines work.

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

Sunday Afternoon Oct. 21

1:45pm - 5:00pm Topics: Review of Fireplaces, wall types, roof types, attachments and energy codes

Check-off list of what we’ll do:

  1. Explain what code requirements are for efficient fireplaces. Not understanding them leads many to abandon their hopes for a real fireplace. Even in the low desert, everyone likes a fireplace and they increase sales appeal (we are willing to start a fire in our Rumford on site). Understand the anatomy.
  2. Review all earthen wall types. (single, double, double with air space, double with insulated space). Drafting tips on presenting your chosen wall system to the Plans Examiner at permitting time.
  3. Review of attachments between foundations, wall and roof.
  4. Understand 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. If you are fixated by a certain roof type, how will it fit your climate and pocket book?
  5. Explain IEEC and NM energy code requirements- (it's like doing your taxes, but more interesting).

5:00pm Clean-up and end of class. Students load their test blocks into vehicles before departing (bring a few sheets of cardboard for cushions- your blocks will still be green). At least one instructor will stay on site until 6 pm to answer lingering questions.

Cost: $359 single or $610 for two registering together.
Class capacity: 14 students.
Included materials: Earthbuilders Encyclopedia CD, 50 page hard copy reference, Plan set for a small adobe/CEB home (sent before class). Additionally, all registered students will receive extensive notes prior to class via email to help them make cost/design decisions about what to feature on their adobe plan in reference to bancos, corbels, nichos, latillas, fireplaces, carrier beams and vigas.

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