Building with Adobe: Adapting to Climates

Adobe is a strong, simple building material made of moistened dirt and straw. It works well in wet or dry climates. It is traditionally used in hot climates but can be adapted for colder areas, as well.

Before you begin mixing your adobe, you need to do some prep work. First, you need to decide how you will use it to build. You can use bricks or sculpting techniques.

Cold Climates
In colder climates, bricks won’t allow you to build in an insulating manner. They keep a house warm through a cold night, if they were warmed through a hot day. In the same way, they will constantly suck warmth from your home when winter days and nights are always colder outside. You’ll have to add some kind of insulation inside or outside of your walls.

If you build with bricks, this may mean coating the walls in an insulator. You loose most of adobe’s thermal benefits in warmer weather, but you still have a simple house built for almost nothing in materials.

If you build with sculpting techniques, you can add your insulation to the wall as you build. There are a few ways to do this. One is to build two adobe walls with space between them, and put your insulation in that middle space. Another is to build cans or bottles filled with air or an insulator into the walls. For more information about this method, research Earth Ship building techniques.

Either way, the most important point of insulation is still the roof. You could live in a tent and additional roof insulation would make a noticeable difference. Make the roof insulation a top priority.

Dry Climates
In dry climates, adobe is a cake walk. About the only problem you may run into is keeping it moist enough to work with while you’re building. It will dry out easily, weather you oven or sun bake it.

Hot Climates
Hot climates are also conductive to adobe building. You won’t need to worry about insulating anything more than the roof. Adobe’s thermal abilities will keep you warm on cold nights, easily. Just be sure to build in plenty of doors and windows to create comforting breezes and let the heat out during the day.

Humid Climates
Humid climates can be tricky for beginners. It is unlikely that you will be able to sun dry your adobe. If you build with bricks, it’s not so bad. You’ll have to bake them. There are a number of traditional and modern ways to handle that.

If you want to use sculpting techniques, you’ll have to use more than just adobe. You can build the majority of the building with oven baked adobe bricks. Then, you can sculpt the details with another substance. Perhaps concrete or Portland cement would be satisfactory?

On the up shot, once you finish your adobe building it will be very stable. Adobe’s strength peaks at about 60% humidity. Remember, they used this stuff in the rain forests of South America – not just New Mexico.

Sources:

http://www.eartharchitecture.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe

http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/adobe.htm

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