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What is Adobe?

Quentin Wilson and Associates, specializes in solar adobe design and construction. He grew up in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico where he watched adobe bricks being made. In the fifth grade, he made miniature adobes on cookie sheets in his mother’s oven in order to construct house models for a class assignment. By age thirteen he made full-sized adobes in the back yard and ruined the grass. Later, he traveled a bit, went through the Army, and graduated eventually from the University of New Mexico with a major in physics, minors in math, chemistry, and education in 1970. After teaching high school two years and community college math for three more, Quentin moved into professional solar adobe construction in 1976 as the Project Manager and Instructor for the Sundwellings Demonstration Project at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM. He became a licensed general contractor in the State of New Mexico in 1982. He has been building homes and teaching seminars and workshops ever since. In the fall of 1995 he established and taught the full-time Adobe Construction Program at Northern New Mexico Community College. His website, quentinwilson.com, lists the course schedule and many other resources related to working with adobe.

Q: What are adobe bricks?

A: Dirt and water create mud. Mud shaped like a brick becomes a brick when it dries out. More dirt and water make mud that becomes mortar to stick adobe bricks together to create a wall. Thousands of years old is the technique. Just think back to all the photos you have seen in the National Geographic of Egypt, Peru, Uzbekistan, Chile, Argentina, Sudan, Yemen, New Mexico, Germany, Southern France, India, China, Bangladesh with the man in the flood with a sewing machine on his head, Arizona, sod in Nebraska, cob cottages in Ireland, England, Wales and run down to Sumter South Carolina to check out the Holy Cross Church. Because Scots are so cheap, castles in Scotland are built of adobe brick and veneered in stone. Actually, Germans, French and Mexicans are known to do the same. Adobe is everywhere and is part of everyone's heritage. Even Norway.

Q: What does ADOBE means or stand for?

A: Adobe soil has clay and sand in such proportions that when mixed into mud then dried out it forms a brick or a wall.An adobe brick is made of adobe soil and is sun cured on the ground. Adobe mortar may have more clay than plaster, floors or bricks. It sticks adobe bricks together to create a wall. Adobe plaster is that which uses clay as the primary binder. An adobe floor may be made of adobe bricks laid flat on a dirt, sand, or gravel base. Joints may be filled with adobe mortar, cement grout, sand or nothing. Adobe floors are more often made by pouring adobe mud over the base in one thick or several thin layers to give a monolithic floor somewhat like concrete. An Adobe home is made of adobe bricks or monolithic adobe walls. Adobe stands forever if it has a good foundation and a good roof and has occupants who give it a bit of periodic maintenance.

Q: Could you help me find some adobe soil. I am trying to build an adobe oven for pizzas, bread, meats, etc. I am having a hard time finding the adobe soil. I live in southeastern North Carolina.

A: Take a large tin cup and drive to NM border. Knock on any door and ask for a bit of adobe dirt. Everyone is in the Christmas spirit so you won't be refused.

Q: My partner and I are soon to build a house and we would like to know about the advantages of building our home out of adobe instead of brick.

A: In some cases, it can depend upon your location. Adobe bricks can be made most anywhere on the planet by the people willing to do the work (or pay someone else to do the work.) With a good foundation and a good roof adobe lasts at least as longs as wood walls which rot, steel walls which rust, straw walls which mildew and brick walls which eventually loose their mortar.

The adobe bricks can be made from your own dirt on your own site, they are dried by solar energy and the other energy input is from human metabolism. That is so green and so autochthonous as to be that which there is none greater.

You can read a book, take a class or talk to someone and within 20 minutes you will be as good an adobe mason as a professional. There are only seven parts to an adobe house so the learning curve is not steep: Foundation, wall, brick, mortar, lintel, bond beam, roof beam or viga or joist, insulation and roofing material.

Adobe bricks are heavy. The construction of a wall is brutal. Well organized with a couple of friends, the walls are up in 3-1/2 days. Not so well organized and they will be up in 3 weeks. Nine months later, you will still be trying to finish the details. Plumbing, Electrical, Heating, Plastering, Doors, Windows, Floors.. the list never ends. In most homes the wall costs are only 7 to 11 percent of the total budget so if you are trying to save money, don't look too hard at the wall line item. You have to vigorously attack each and every line item. Any extra nickel spent is compounded by all the other line items.

When you are done, the tougher the job, the more you have to look back on.

 


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