TEG Newsletter Issue #2

TEG Tour – Taos Pueblo July 2018

Taos pueblo was constructed in a setting backed by the Taos Mountains of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The settlement was built on both sides of Rio Pueblo de Taos, also called Rio Pueblo and Red Willow Creek, a small stream that flows through the middle of the pueblo compound and is their water source. Its headwaters come from the nearby mountains.

Taos Pueblo’s most prominent architectural feature is a multi-storied residential complex of adobe – built probably between 1000 and 1450 CE, according to the Pueblo’s website Inhabited for hundreds of years there is still no electricity, running water or other utilities.

The Pueblo is the essence of adobe construction. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960. In 1992 it was designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

For a complete description of the Pueblo visit their website: taospueblo.com  And if you have not been there be sure to put it on your bucket list. It is rich in culture and a true example of adobe construction.

Be sure to keep an eye out for TEG’s Tours which are announced on our Websitetheearthbuildersguild.com In September we will be in northern New Mexico and in November we will be in Hillsboro/Kingston, NM (southern New Mexico).

Pat Bellestri-Martinez 

Home Energy Ratings 

We all know that a properly built earthen home is comfortable – after all it’s been done for thousands of years.  Now the energy efficiency of homes built with earth can be compared to just about any other material with a tested R-value and the results reflect what has been known since prehistoric times.

The accepted standard is a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating, which compares the rated home with the same home built to 2006 IECC standards.  One big advantage for earthen homes is the ability for the mass walls to absorb heat (or coolness) and redistribute that into the adjoining interior space when the outside temperature changes.  A properly oriented building using passive solar design takes full advantage of shifts in seasonal solar gains, but when that’s not possible or desirable because of views, lot design, etc., the benefits of mass walls are still evident in the rating.

Many rebate, tax credit and green building programs require a HERS rating as part of the energy efficiency criteria. Certified HERS Raters can be found at www.resnet.us

Jane Whitmire

SCEB Research in Sandia National Laboratories (continued) 

The SBA-funded research project described in the previous newsletter (May, 2018) continues to move forward with some interesting results, some good, some bad.  One unanticipated situation is that the scientists/engineers at Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) and the company researching the adhesives hopefully suitable for bonding compressed earth blocks (CEB’s) both desire to test for baseline results, while I desire to get real-world use results since that will determine whether we commercially pursue any solutions found.  This was an unanticipated condition in that we may not be able to determine my desired results before exhausting the research funds.  Still, I had to ultimately agree with the more knowledgeable and experienced team members since understanding the fundamental concepts and data points will provide a more justifiable basis for moving things forward than a one-off solution that could be too fickle to be easily tweaked for broader uses.  So, we are proceeding with testing of bonding agents that include varying compositions of adhesive as well as varying thicknesses of the bond line.  As the testing progresses, we expect to have results that will serve to demonstrate the utility of bonding the SCEBs together.  We are hoping to have shareable results somewhere in the late fall time frame so stay tuned!

 John Jordan 

Adobe in Iceland?   

Adobe in Action Co-Director and TEG Board Member Kurt Gardella attended a 4-day turf house construction workshop in Iceland in May 2018. The workshop took place in the Northwest of Iceland in the area of Tyrfingsstaðir, Skagafjörður. The course instructor – Helgi Sigurðsson of Fornverk ehf – guided the group through the reconstruction of a stone foundation and turf walls of a typical Icelandic sheep farm building. The course was organized by BYGGÐASAFN SKAGFIRÐINGA – Regional Folk Museum.

Each morning began with the group walking to a lower area of the farm to cut turf blocks from a wet field using sharpened shovels and a special undercutting spade. Turf blocks can be cut in a variety of shapes and sizes but we cut clamped blocks which are fairly large and triangular in shape. While in the field we also cut strips and turfs using a turf scythe. These thinner and longer pieces are laid longwise or crosswise between the courses of turf blocks in order to tie the blocks together (similar to mud mortar in adobe construction). The wall construction techniques we learned focused on double-wall turf block construction with a special focus on dry-stacked stone foundations. A sound stone foundation is the starting point of any quality turf wall in Iceland due to the wet climate. We ended the workshop by constructing a simple gable roof frame out of recycled timbers. This frame was finished with a layer of turf strip “shingles”. Further layers of turf strips will be added by a future workshop group.

Kurt Gardella wishes to thank the workshop organizers and instructors in Iceland for their hospitality (traditional lamb meals) and patience (English translations of all topics covered). He also wishes to thank the Santa Fe Community College Adobe Program for covering his workshop fee.

More information about Icelandic turf houses can be found athttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_turf_house.
More information about the New Mexican method of building with turf/sod blocks (terron) can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_structure#Sod_or_turf.

Picture credit: Bryndís Zoega
Reference: “Building with Turf” by Sigríður Sigurðardóttir. English version by Nancy Marie Brown. This book can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Kurt Gardella

Adobe Proficiency Examination

Are you hoping to show prospective employers just how experienced you are in adobe construction?  Or perhaps you’re a contractor, wishing to show a client that you are proficient in building with adobe? Or you want to hire someone to build your garden wall or adobe home and want to be sure that someone knows what he or she is doing…

The Earthbuilders’ Guild offers a Basic Adobe Proficiency Certification, comprised of a written exam and a hand’s on practicum.  These exams, designed and reviewed by adobe experts, are designed to show the applicant’s skill and comprehensive knowledge in the field of adobe construction.

TEG will hold the next series of exams in Albuquerque, NM, on September 21st and 22nd of this year.  Please visit our website for additional details and registration. theearthbuildersguild.com

Helen Levine

Swan House Update

Over many years the Adobe Alliance has held workshops a few miles outside of Presidio, Texas, constructing a beautiful adobe compound of soaring vaults and domes. In creating the various structures of the Swan House, Simone Swan, TEG member and the principal of the Adobe Alliance, was strongly influenced by the technique and style of architect Hassan Fathy, with whom she apprenticed in the 1970’s.

Due to passing time, weather, and the nature of the materials used—unamended adobe and earthen plasters—a few of the domes require restoration and the application of lime plasters to further protect them.

Work on the Swan House is scheduled to begin on October 1st.  For those interested in participating, please see TEG blog for more information. 

Photo Credit: Richard Levine

Helen Levine

Update from Colorado Earth – Energy Performance Testing and We are Hiring! 


Housing is a major public health issue. The United Nations once estimated that 10 million people worldwide die each year from conditions related to substandard housing. Our Team intends to address this construction issue by validating a durable, economically and environmentally sustainable wall system that can be utilized in greater capacity today. 

Earthen walls have proven themselves capable, having already provided safe and comfortable shelter for thousands of years. These homes, when properly built for the climate and environmental hazards, address the need to manage moisture risk and conserve energy consumption, while minimizing maintenance requirements and life cycle costs.   

The Smithsonian Magazine recently celebrated their 40th anniversary and to commemorate the event, shared 40 things you need to know about the next 40 years. Number one on their list of “major changes” was that “sophisticated buildings will be made of mud.” Despite the fact that earthen construction has been in constant use for over 10,000 years, modern building materials and industries have led the front for testing and building science advancements. There exists a lack of adequate empirical confirmation that substantiates what has been shared anecdotally for thousands of years – earthen homes keep people warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.  

For our testing purposes, Stabilized Compressed Earth Blocks (SCEB) will be used to research how moisture and heat transfer through an earthen block home that will be built this summer in Castle Rock, Colorado, USA.  In parallel with the testing, our Team will develop a calibrated model of the thermal performance of earthen construction that will be used as a test bed for vetting design solutions.

We hope you can help us obtain this useful data by supporting us to obtain the necessary sensors and equipment to install in the wall.  Our Team will monitor heat and moisture changes within the wall and on the interior surface of the exterior wall over the course of a year, and then work to improve the energy efficiency software programs.  

Unlike many products today, the price of soil is not tied to the price of oil. Stabilized earthen walls are impervious to water damage, fire-proof, insect-proof, bullet-proof, and can be built with minimal training.  Additionally earthen walls have the unique ability to absorb and adsorb water vapor, unlike traditional wall systems.  Our Team is ready and willing to learn more through applied research, and share this knowledge with the construction industry for the betterment of our environment, health, and economy.

Our mission will be to disseminate the performance of earthen wall systems so that energy savings can be realized worldwide.  We hope you help us!

Click here to visit our GoFundMe site.

Also we have some exciting upcoming projects in Colorado Earth and are looking for help!  Please contact lisa@coloradoearth.com or jim@coloradoearth.com for more information.  Send your resume!

Lisa Schroder 

TEG Members are welcome to send in articles for our next newsletter.  Please contact Pat at teg@theearthbuildersguild.com for more information.

Education in Earthbuilding

Are you interested in expanding your understanding and knowledge of building with earth?

Perhaps looking for volunteer opportunities?

Take a look on our website under the Members’ tab or on the Directory for more information on who, what, when and where!

And keep an eye on the TEG blog for additional classes and projects going on in the earth-building world.



October classes thru Southwest Solar Adobe School

Our 3-day Fall class has been posted at www.adobebuilder.com – it will take place Oct 19, 20, 21, 2018 (Friday-Saturday-Sunday) at Bosque, NM. Emphasis will be on Passive Solar Design, Drafting and Hands-on. There are 7 places left as of August 18. It’s a rustic, countryside class for laying adobe, pressed earth block and testing your own dirt in Adobe International’s pressing machine. Visit adobebuilder.comand note the vertical line of brown buttons on left side of your screen. Pick the 4th one down from top and click on “class descriptions”. Scroll on down the page for details (registration at bottom.

Swan House Slated for Restoration

Restoration begins Monday October 1st on the Swan House, the seat of the Adobe Alliance, located 10 miles East of Presidio, Texas.  Due to unprecedented rain and other factors there has been damage to various parts of the structure.  The restoration will require rebuilding one large vault, one small one, avoiding disasters here and there, and plastering the compound with a lime mix.   This should take a few weeks.  Experienced adobe people are needed for this project. If you are interested in participating in this work, or in helping to raise needed funds please contact me, Simone Swan at 505 988 2828 or swan@adobealliance.org.”

photos courtesy of Richard Levine

Authentic SW

Adobes is Arizona

Olivia Garcia the daughter of David Garcia, from Arizona lays the beginning of the ninth course of adobes on her 9th birthday as part of the Hogan Adobe build on the Navajo Nation north of Winslow on David Johns site.  The adobes were ordered from New Mexico Earth and Kirk Higbee a Board member from Adobe in Action consulted on this project.  Mike Lopach, also a Board Member of Adobe in Action, volunteered this weekend, July 8, 2018 building the Adobe Hogan.

May 2018 Newsletter

TEG Newsletter

We have news for you!

TEG Social – May 12th 4-7pm     

May is a terrific time to gather outdoors for a barbecue with friends and associates from the earth building community.  Not too windy, not too rainy, neither too hot nor too chilly—usually—no guarantees though, this is New Mexico we are talking about!

Experience has shown earth builders never lack for things to talk about; topics are as endless and varied as there are opinions on the best way to build, well, anything!  The Earthbuilders’ Guild is putting it to the test again for our 2018 Spring Social, on Saturday May 12th at New Mexico Earth Adobes in Albuquerque, 310 El Pueblo Rd. NE.  Burgers-both beef and veggie, beer, and good conversation! 

Please join us from 4pm to 7pm for what will be an interesting and enjoyable afternoon.  RSVP to he_levine@msn.com, or 505-898-1271, no later than Tuesday May 8th.  We look forward to seeing everyone!

Helen Levine  

 Highlights from Earth USA 2017 Conference

Earth USA 2017 was the Ninth International Conference on Architecture and Construction with Earthen Materials initiated by Adobe in Action. The formal conference took place from Friday, September 29 to Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. Earth USA 2017 indicated a wider field of interest than previous conferences and includes adobe, rammed earth, compressed earth block (CEB) and monolithic adobe (cob). Any material or method that uses clay as a binder was considered. The 2017 conference was attended by approximately 130 people representing 14 countries. Earth USA was honored to welcome Bruce King as our keynote speaker for the 2017 conference. Bruce’s keynote presentation – The New Carbon Architecture – was open to the general public free of charge. Conference activities included:

  • three days of podium presentations and poster sessions on topics related to the current state of architecture and construction with earthen materials
  • a Friday evening Speaker Meet & Greet for all conference attendees sponsored by The Earthbuilders’ Guild
  • a Monday bus tour to local earthbuilding sites of interest in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico (with stops at Fort Union National Monument, an adobe church restoration project in Mora County, and short stops in the villages of Tres Ritos, Vadito, Peñasco, Chamisal, Trampas, Truchas and Chimayo)

The next conference – Earth USA 2019 – is being planned for October 18 to 20, 2019 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The call for abstracts will be opening in August 2018. More information can be found at www.earthusa.org.

Kurt Gardella 

Escondido Adobe Home Tours    

 While adobe construction is often associated with the inland Southwest areas of New Mexico and Arizona, adobe enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that entire neighborhoods of adobe homes were built in San Diego County, California in the decades after World War II. Every spring for the last seven years, the San Diego Adobe Heritage Association has conducted tours showing the full range of these residences, from 19thcentury ranchos to astonishing (and relatively recent) adobe mansions.

Responding to increased housing demand after the war, entire adobe neighborhoods were built by developer/builders in the areas around Escondido. The most famous and prolific of these adobe builders were the Weir Brothers, whose ranch homes combined traditional rancho elements such as wagon wheels with contemporary contemporary open planning that was becoming popular in Southern California.

This year’s tour featured five houses constructed between 1951 and 1980 when the remarkable two story Muchow adobe was built by George Patterson. Patterson, who held court in the adobe’s sitting room, built some twenty adobes homes, and witnessed both the boom and in adobe construction in California to its decline in the 1980s. And while changing building regulation was responsible for the exit of the industry, it was not seismic issues that were the cause – Patterson remarked that it was actually prescriptive insulation requirements (later reformed) in early versions of California’s energy code that effectively ended adobe construction in the area.

The SDAHA has already begun planning next year’s tour, which will be held on March 24, 2019 and will feature homes in Pauma Valley. See adobehometour.com for additional information and details.

Ben Loescher 

Earth Blocks Used to Help People in Haiti     

Jim has been working to bring SCEB technology to Haiti with Mike Neumann and Partners in Progress of Pittsburgh since 2009. The citizens of Deslandes were presented with options for their new school buildings and the first one was built of Stabilized Compressed Earth Blocks in 2009 to 2010. It was constructed with local labor and with local materials. Nearly all building materials in Haiti are imported, making them very expensive in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Training courses were provided. The first class had nine students, the third had 54, and as a result, significant employment has been provided. Three school buildings have been completed and our trained crew is now building houses for those who need them in Deslandes.
We are excited to be taking on another classroom building in Savanette Cabral, down from the mountain towards the sea. It has been our goal to provide a traveling crew to go with our donated Ital Mexicana machine (thank you, Francesco!) to other parts of the island. This is the year!

Jim Hallock

Saving the Southwest Vernacular           

“Saving the Southwest Vernacular” was the title of TEG member Anne Galer’s presentation to the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation at its annual conference in Tucson in March. The AHLP is an association of architecture and cultural landscape preservation professionals from the US and Canada. Anne’s presentation discussed how the current national and international preservation systems — such as the National Register of Historic Places — exclude everyday vernacular buildings from the protections they provide. She offered examples (some from TEG members) of how local jurisdictions and individuals are working to save old adobe homes, village stores and other parts of our Southwest landscapes.

Ann Galer

Happenings from Colorado Earth            

Colorado Earth is a new facility located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Golden, Colorado.  We launched in May 2018 and haven’t been bored since.  We are excited to share our plans for this summer… a couple of scheduled workshops, a 3000 sqft home to build in Castle Rock, and more adobes and earth blocks to make this coming season!  Our workshop scheduled in Golden, Colorado will be a unique opportunity to be part of the construction of a small structure from foundation to finish plaster, including a barrel vault for the roof.  Come visit Jim and Lisa in action in Golden, we’d love to see you there.

To learn more about Colorado Earth visit www.coloradoearth.com

Lisa Schroder 

Thinking Outside the Blocks – A Sandia      National Labatory Grant and Study on CEBs

I have come to believe that looking for answers to questions such as I faced when I started down this dirty path is not for the faint of heart. Earthen material is both wonderful and, at times, maddeningly elusive in terms of simple solutions.  A little too much hydration and you get block extrusion, a bit too long in the hopper and the mix won’t flow correctly, too much round aggregate and you get poor material distribution, too little pressure on the ramming stroke and you get poor edges, and on and on and on. If you think outside the blocks, you can start to answer these questions using available resources that may not be immediately apparent if you stay within your comfort zone.  Get in touch with the Small Business Administration (SBA, where we are currently the recipient of a $30K grant to once again get technical assistance from SNL for a potentially game changing mode of block bonding), the MEP, your local Universities, and other organizations whose mission is to help you solve your particular problems. Once you think outside the blocks, you can begin to see the manufacturing world from the very heart of these same blocks!

John Jordan

Spring 2018 Updates from Adobe in Action    
Owner Builder Support News

For 2018 Adobe in Action is supporting two different owner builder projects – one in the Silver City, NM area and one in Abiquiu, NM. The Silver City owner builders are putting the finishing touches on their adobe walls and getting ready to install a wooden bond beam. Together we have developed a new adobe wall to bond beam attachment method where geotextile straps are embedded in the mortar joint and wrapped up and over the wooden bond beam and fastened tight. Keep an eye on the owner’s project blog for some photos documenting this technique very soon. For the Abiquiu project we are currently helping the owner with his building plans (via our online project consultation system) and hope to have a permit in place for breaking ground on the foundation in June. Visit our website for more information on getting your own adobe project supported by Adobe in Action.

Education News
Our 2018 online course sequence is in full swing. Six students are working their way through the current History & Basics of Adobe Construction course – collecting and testing soils and getting ready to make some first adobe test bricks. The next course in the sequence – Foundations for Adobe Structures – will be starting on May 14th. In other education news, check out our new podcast series called Mud Talks. In the series, Board President Quentin Wilson talks about the power of adobe as a building material and guides you through the process of building your own adobe home. You can listen and subscribe to the podcast here.

Adobe in Action is a New Mexico-based 501c3 non-profit organization. We support owner builders with the planning and construction of their adobe homes. We promote adobe home building and ownership through education and student-based field support.

Kurt Gardella

TEG Tour Highlights in Corrales, NM         

In conjunction with our bi-monthly Board Meetings we arrange a tour of a local site.  It can be a private home, a historical property, a construction sight….any earthen property of interest to TEG board members, members and guests.  The tour on March 24th took us to a private home in Corrales, New Mexico constructed of rammed earth.  The architect, Efthimios Maniatis was our host.  TEG member, Mike Sims was the rammed earth contractor on the home. 

Pat Bellestri-Martinez

The Armijo House                        

The grand and iconic two-story adobe Nestor Armijo House* in Las Cruces, New Mexico has been undergoing careful stabilization and rehabilitation for several years as a part of a collaborative community process. The original home was built between 1865 and 1867. The project has revealed new information about the history and building chronology of the house. Saving the building has required state of the art adobe stabilization techniques and innovative engineering solutions, along with application of traditional materials.

When preservation efforts began in 2009, the west side of the building was in a state of near structural collapse, presenting very significant structural challenges. The building was suffering from:

  • Systemic weakening from structural modifications conducted in 1914 and 1980
  • Longterm water issues from ongoing leaking landscape irrigation
  • Concrete patches, collars, sidewalks, and cement plaster retaining moisture and driving salts
  • Extensive and unnecessary interior HVAC trenching undermining interior adobe walls
  • Inadequate grading
  • Shallow eaves with ineffective gutters

Preservation contractor and TEG Member, Pat Taylor in consultation with project engineers Fred Webster and Sonya Cooper sought to stabilize and support the structure in place, using established basal wall stabilization best practices and careful adobe wall reconstruction. Concrete was carefully removed from around the building as stabilization progressed, including sidewalks, concrete collars, and concrete patches. Cement plaster and elastomeric coatings were also removed, and were replaced with permeable mud and lime renders. Original materials were used throughout, including unstabilized adobes, mud plaster, and lime plaster.

It is home to the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce.  Visitors are welcome during Chamber hours. 

Eric Liefeld

TEG Members are welcome to send in articles for our next newsletter.  Please contact Pat at teg@theearthbuildersguild.com for more information.

Earth USA 2017

Adobe in Action came through again!  Earth USA 2017 lived up to its name.  Countries from around the world and the US were represented in presenting curren work, studies, and projects, all earthen related!

Auroville Earth Institute Newsletter 1-2017

Auroville Earth Institute Newsletter 1-2017

Southwest Solar Adobe Classes, spring 2017

SWSA spring classes: Both are different than in preceding years. The first is a drafting class to be held in Albuquerque on Earth Day weekend, April 22/23. We can accept those interested in drafting for Adobe, Compressed Earth Block or Rammed Earth. It is special in that for the first time, SWSA will work with the 9 drafting students registered long before the April class date to help them develop their designs. The objective is to finish each student’s floor plan and four elevation drawings before class, delivering them on April 22. These critical 4 drawings are essential in meeting code for your plan set. This a class for those who are ready to get their drafting out of the trench and onto the road towards the building inspection dept. and a building permit. Expect to suffer a few brain cramps in the effort, but SWSA can help you with options, the code and what has to be on drawings. Needless to say, this type of class will require good communication twixt SWSA and each student, starting immediately after registration. If you’re in a seismic zone or will require an engineer’s stamp on your plan, consider that the engineer will ask for the same scaled four drawings, produced from our class, to be able to work with you.

The second class is three days in late May and takes advantage of the Memorial Day weekend for the third day. Dates are Saturday, Sunday and Monday, May 27, 28 and 29. The 3 days allows us to stage a combo Planning/Hands-on class for Adobe and Compressed Earth Block out here at our country field site. Students last year liked the idea of seeing and handling actual “adobe stuff”, tools and walls while doing their planning. It’s very handy to teach the planning inside our adobe classroom, then step outside to actually build some of the features discussed. Check out the detailed schedule at www.adobebuilder.com

Auroville Earth Institute Newsletter 11-2016

Auroville Earth Institute Newsletter 11-2016