Adobe is the original solar-powered building material. Sun-dried bricks of mud and straw make adobe one of the most abundant and lowest energy materials around. The wobbly walls of an adobe home hold a charm and romance that evokes the spirit of the desert of the American Southwest.
Many building departments are reluctant to approve adobe buildings, despite its long history (see below). Although all three of the major national building codes contain some provision for the use of adobe, your local building department will be wary if adobe hasn’t been done locally before. Talk with the permit office before planning an adobe home.
The History of Adobe
Adobe is perhaps the oldest building material, dating back thousands of years. Mud-brick buildings have been found all over the world, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. The word adobe can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptian word for mud brick from 2000 b.c.
The indigenous people of Central America used adobe to house themselves for centuries. When the Spaniards arrived, they improved the technology by pre-forming the bricks in wooden molds — the same practice we use today.
Adobe was an obvious choice in the rural deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, where material, skilled labor, and money were scarce. Because of the abundance of mud, adobe is often mistakenly considered a cheap material that will wash away in the first heavy rain. The realities of adobe construction are buildings that can last for hundreds of years.
The Great Depression of the 1930s brought widespread attention to adobe construction. The U.S. government sponsored adobe construction projects across the country, particularly in the Dust Bowl regions of the Southwest and Midwest. The low-skill method of forming and stacking mud bricks quickly caught on in these areas. The heat-absorbing qualities of adobe made it the perfect choice for the hot, dry climate. Many of these Depression-era homes are still in use today.
What Adobe Is
Traditional adobe building is incredibly labor intensive. Imagine digging up large piles of dirt, mixing it with clay and straw into mud, and forming it into bricks! If you’re building your home by yourself on a shoestring budget, on-site adobe may be a good option. Otherwise, all that labor makes adobe potentially expensive.
Most modern adobe homes now use premade bricks. In the Southwest, where adobe is most popular, adobe brick companies manufacture bricks and deliver them right to your construction site. Premade adobe bricks may only be available in Arizona or New Mexico, however.
Adobe brick manufacturers have made a science out of adobe production. A careful mixture of mud, clay, straw, and water is poured into a wooden frame (like a mold) and left to bake under the sun. ....read more