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TEG Newsletter – Issue #12

Old Dowlin Mill Update An update to a previous article that was featured in Newsletter #10:

The Dowlin Mill in Ruidoso, New Mexico is a local icon and is considered to be the oldest structure in town. It became operational as a grist mill in 1868. It was acquired by Carmon Phillips in the 1940s, and later passed onto his daughter and son-in-law, Delana and Michael Clements.

In 2017, a gas explosion caused substantial damage. For any other type of building, it would have been considered a complete loss. Fortunately for the community, the building was made from thick adobe walls. The roof was blown off, and fire consumed the remaining wood work, but the earthen structure remained.

In 2019, restoration was started by Pat Taylor of Mesilla, New Mexico. Pat and his crew made substantial progress before work was paused in the fall of that year. The project was winterized by covering the exposed walls and making sure any rain or runoff would drain away from the building, so as to not compromise the original structure, or the progress that had been made.

The next year, 2020, Pat asked if I would be willing to assume the continuation of the restoration. After a discussion with the owners, I agreed to this role. Since some time was required to finish up jobs, pull permits, and “shift gears”, it was mid-September before we got to work. While I have quite a bit of experience working on adobe buildings, for my crew, it was a whole new adventure. On-the-job training as they say, but that’s OK. There are now some new players in the tiny group of people who practice in the art of historic adobe restoration.

We picked up where Pat and his crew had left off, and continued repairing and, in some cases, rebuilding the walls. There was a significant amount of work remaining in fixing the old stone foundation and replacing the ground level adobes that had been eroded over the last 150 years. And yes, I mean replacement of entire blocks. This is done by cutting into the wall, shoring it up on either side, then re-laying a block in the hole at the bottom of the wall. This is a tedious and time consuming process, but it restores the building into its original integrity. The goal is to make this building last at least as long as it already has, and hopefully, it can last indefinitely. With continued care, it will last as long as the townspeople are willing to keep it.

By late October, we were replacing the lintels, or beams, over some of the door and window openings, with adobes laid up to full height in some sections of the walls. It was necessary to remove and replace, or re-set, some of the original adobes. This led to an interesting find. While many little artifacts have been discovered around the building, the mortar in the east wall contained several .38 caliber pistol shells. Whether they were placed there on purpose, or were laying in the dirt used to make the mud, I can’t say. But, considering the period in which this place was built, it compels one’s imagination to wander down the dusty trails of the Old West, an era that is preserved only in history books and exceptional places like the Old Dowlin Mill. Rob Taylor – TEG Board Member

Intro to Adobe Architecture & Mud Plastering Workshop

Photo credit: Helen Levine This winter Helen Levine and Joanna Keane Lopez have been offering “Intro to Adobe Architecture & Mud Plastering” weekend workshops at the adobe manufacturing yard, New Mexico Earth Adobes in the North Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The beginner workshops covered topics such as soil composition, building with a foundation, how to make adobe bricks, laying adobes, how to mix and apply mortar, how to install an adobe arch, and how to mud plaster. The workshop was held outdoors, split into two groups to maintain social distancing for Covid safe practices, and masks were required. Due to strong interest, the workshop will be offered again on various dates in the spring and summer; check for further information.

Helen Levine is co-owner of NM Earth Industries, adobe manufacturers serving the greater southwest and beyond since 1972. Helen has been working with adobe since 1978, and serves on the board of The Earthbuilders’ Guild.

Joanna Keane Lopez is a multidisciplinary artist whose work blurs the boundaries between contemporary sculpture and architecture through the medium of adobe mud. By working with materials of adobe architecture, earthen plaster and alíz (a clay slip paint) her work acts to address conceptions of sculpture in engagement with land. Joanna is on the board of Adobe in Action.

Joanna Keane Lopez Next Earthbuilders’ Guild Certification Exam

Photo credit: Helen Levine

The next Earthbuilders’ Guild certification exam is scheduled to take place on Saturday June 05, 2021 in Albuquerque, NM, at New Mexico Earth Adobes. The written exam will be held in the morning, with the hands-on portion after lunch. Come prepared for a long but satisfying day!

For questions please email us at, and for more information or to register go to:

Helen Levine – TEG Board Member An Update on Spring 2021 Adobe in Action Activities

Fifteen students are currently working their way through Adobe in Action’s first online class of 2021 – Passive Solar Adobe Design. The students are getting ready to complete their final projects – running detailed heat gain and heat loss calculations on floor plans they designed themselves during their midterm projects. Adobe in Action is celebrating its 10th year of offering online classes in 2021. The full spring 2021 class schedule can be found at In addition to our online classes, we continue to offer project support to four owner builders who have all completed our online adobe certificate and continue working on their home builds. Keep an eye on our Mud Talks podcast series for an upcoming episode on the topic of plumbing and electricity in adobe walls at

Kurt Gardella – TEG Board Member TEG Welcomes the SFCC Adobe Construction Program as a Member The Santa Fe Community College Adobe Construction Program became a member of The Earthbuilders’ Guild in early 2021. The program provides students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to gain employment in the growing natural building fields of adobe construction, rammed earth, CEB construction and natural plastering. The program also functions as a stepping stone for entrepreneurs who wish to start a business in the natural building industry (e.g., adobe brick/compressed earth block (CEB) production, bagged earthen plasters, natural insulation materials). The program also welcomes non-professional owner-builders who wish to obtain the skills needed to design and build their own adobe home.

The program is currently in the process of adding a CEB Construction course to its curriculum and hopes to be able to offer this class for the first time over the summer 2021 semester. The program received a CEB machine as a donation some years ago and is excited to begin making compressed earth blocks on campus very soon.

Full details about the Adobe Construction Program at SFCC can be found at

Kurt Gardella – TEG Board Member SCEB Research at Sandia National Laboratories (Cont.) Since my last report in November 2020, we have some very interesting information and results to report on. The goal of the FY2020 grant of $80K from the New Mexico Small Business Administration was to conduct a fully compliant ASTM E119 fire resistance test. We had thought that this would bring a high level of validation for the construction method we are exploring and testing, namely the use of an epoxy mixture to bond SCEBs. While certain aspects of the project succeeded wonderfully, there were some issues that were beyond our control that left the overall results in an indeterminate state.

I will not go over all the details of the testing here, but feel free to look at the past several TEG newsletters to read up on my long-running set of articles that have provided the background and details of this project.

First and foremost, the test failed. That is the short and precise piece of information that matters when discussing a standards test, such as the ASTM E119, which only has a pass/fail result. This is because these are threshold tests, meant to push a system, such as a built wall, to the level where it can be determined that it will either hold up under a particularly challenging set of applied forces or it will fail because it could not withstand these forces. This ASTM E119 test has four principal requirements, some of which are quite defined. In the case of the test we were conducting, the fire/heat being applied to the wall needed to be at least 1000°C (about 1800°F) on the test face of the wall, for a duration of no less than 4 hours, with an engineered load on the wall that replicates the presumed roof load that the wall would be subjected to in the real world, in our case it was approximately 9000lbs. across the 11-foot span of the wall. Lastly, once the heating phase is complete, and within 5 minutes of being complete, there is the requirement of spraying the wall with a stream of water that replicates what a regulation fire hose can spray for a duration of 5 minutes in a specific serpentine pattern. Not an easy test to carry out but certainly one that can prove some substantial and valuable qualities of both the components of the wall and how it is constructed. But it is still a pass/fail test. There are modes of failure such as buckling of the wall, fire blow-through of the wall, blow-through of the water, and several other failure modes.

We conducted the test regimen on a small (4 sq. ft.) test wall first, as described in my last article. The small wall was subjected to essentially the exact same forces as the large (100 sq. ft.) wall including the heat, roof load, time duration, and water spray. This test was an undeniable success. It was an amazing experience to watch the test since there were infra-red cameras aimed at the back side of the wall the entire time as well as thermocouple sensors in the fire box and affixed to the back side of the wall. The ambient air temperature was around 50°F during the test. During the test period the back side of the wall never climbed above 100°F and when the spray test, which was for 1 minute since it was scaled to the size of the small wall, was finished the wall was completely intact except for a small spall area about 4 square inches in size and about ¾ inch deep. From the image you can see the small damage but there was no penetration of the wall either by fire or by water. Also, the wall stayed as once piece and was even able to be lifted and transported as a single unit. Success indeed!

The large wall test failed because the burn box, which was modeled prior to the test using computational fluid dynamic modeling software, could not achieve the required temperature. The number of burners used was insufficient to get above approximately 550°C, which was consistent throughout the test period. The Sandia Labs engineers were quite disappointed and realized what had happened but once the test was underway there wasn’t an easy fix that could be made so they decided to continue through the 4 hour period. At the end of the heating phase, the Kirtland AFB Fire Department personnel sprayed the water as prescribed, accompanied by massive volumes of steam and at least 500 gallons of water. Once the water spray was complete, we watched as the wall dried off within about 5 minutes due to the residual heat still within the wall. There was literally no visible damage to the wall, as the image shows, but the test was still a failure.

When the wall was demolished the Sandia engineers pulled it down and onto a steel beam set in a sand pit in order to get it broken apart. The entire bottom half of the wall remained as one piece even after the pull down and the upper part, having the most kinetic energy as the wall hit the sand pit, broke apart in random ways that were independent for the most part from the block joints. Most impressive.

I mentioned in my last article that I believed this one would be the last in this ongoing series. However, because of the mode of failure of the test, the NM SBA folks are sympathetic to our cause and there’s a very good chance that we will get another round of research grant funding to hopefully complete a fully compliant test. If that happens, then this will not be the last article. Wish us luck!

Left: Large test wall after the heat and water spray parts of the testing. The brighter spot in the lower middle is a result of one of the burners blowing directly onto this spot. Right: Small test wall showing the tested face on the top. The small damage shown is a result of the water stream being directed at this spot for the duration of the water test. Making Adobes in Phoenix in January Brings a Community Together The community art space and studio, The Sagrado on South Central Avenue in Phoenix has begun to make adobes. The adobe making comes from a program the community art space and studio has called Design Empowerment, Empowering Youth through Design. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, youth would practice sketching walking through the community. Architects, architectural students and artists listened and empowered youth through the consciousness of design, the socialness of design with drawings and sketching. Asking why is it built this way, can it be improved, what is it saying, how would I design it, and how can we design it.

The community activity did not necessarily work through online presentations and indoor space was not possible with social distancing for safety concerns. Why not use what we have to build what we need was the solution. Outdoor space for meditation, lectures, teaching, community space and listening space all built by the community from the soil we live, work and walk on daily is the solution.

Practitioners in adobe have been sharing their knowledge and learnings building together with the community an outdoor space meeting community needs. Written by TEG Member Kirk Higbee, Phoenix, Arizona

Left: Community members in Phoenix mix soil for making adobes Right: Adobe making in Phoenix in January 2020 TEG Board of Directors Position Open The Board has an opening available for a seat on the Board of Directors. We meet 6 times a year and varying locations in New Mexico – primarily Albuquerque. Over the last year we have been meeting via Zoom. The position provides for many opportunities to network, keep informed, visit Earth building sites, (will resume post Covid) and work with committed industry professionals. Please submit your qualifications and a letter of interest to

If you have any questions, please ask. We would welcome your participation. For your perusal, minutes from our meetings are posted on TEG’s website: Coming Soon: Virtual Adobe Tour Keep an eye on your inbox for an additional TEG newsletter which will be dedicated to a virtual tour of an adobe build. The home is being built by master builder Mr. Danny Martinez of Albuquerque and is, as he says, his last commercial build which caps an illustrious career as a creator of livable, lovable homes. Here’s a little preview for you:

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