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TEG Newsletter - Issue #13


Permits for the First Adobe Home in California in 15 Years Near Approval

Loescher Meachem Architects and Verdant Structural Engineers are collaborating on what is expected to be the first new adobe building permitted in California since 2005. Located in Pioneertown, California in a high seismic zone, the structure uses double wall construction and post-tensioning techniques to exceed California's stringent structural design and energy code requirements for masonry structures. Construction is expected to begin in June.


Ben Loescher - TEG Board Member

 

SCEB Research at Sandia National Laboratories (cont.)


I mentioned in my last article (Feb, ’21) that it might be my last installment, depending on the outcome of yet another request for grant funding from the New Mexico SBA. I am happy to report that we successfully petitioned for funding to complete both the structural testing and the ASTM E119 fire resistance testing. As I also mentioned in my last article, both of these tests had failed due to deficiencies in the test setups and not due to our product failing. Well, it seems that the NMSBA had a sympathetic ear regarding our plight. There is one important difference with the funding approach this year, however. We could not ask for further funding with the consortium of companies that I had brought together for the past three years of research grant funding. The NMSBA has specific rules and guidelines that prevent it from being able to continue funding for that type of approach beyond a certain amount of time for the same group of companies. In discussions with the NMSBA and the Sandia engineers, it became apparent that we could focus our approach to the extremely specific testing we need and have just one company petition for a research grant. This type of funding is limited regarding the amount of funding, but we decided that the best approach was to have one of our companies, EarthTek LLC, ask for the maximum funding for a non-urban NM company, which is $40K, in order to complete the fire resistance testing, and another of our companies, NeoTerra LLC, ask for the maximum funding for an urban NM company, which is $20K, in order to complete the structural testing. We received word in early March that our requests had been successful and that the funding is secured. I will be reporting more details of the testing approaches and outcomes in the coming months.


Since there is no interesting test information yet, I thought I would digress from the usual reporting and do my best to explain why I have pursued this testing so doggedly. It is because I deeply believe that one of the most vexing problems with the acceptance of earthen construction is that builders cannot assure their customers that the materials used in the construction of an earthen home or structure have been independently proven as being reliable. This is definitely not to say that these materials are suspect, rather that we have had to rely on the subjective opinion of a builder, whose experience hopefully gives them the ability to know the difference between a poor product and a stellar one, or as the saying goes, “the difference between poop (can’t use the actual word) and shinola”. This was an old euphemism that indicated that there are some products that look the same, feel the same, etc., but that have dramatic differences between them. Objective testing and the resulting establishment of standards remedies this problem and allows builders to be able to say with confidence that the products being used in their construction projects meet definitive standards and should provide the customer with a reliable and trustworthy structure for years to come. Likewise, establishing standards through testing allows manufacturers of earthen masonry units to have a stable and achievable target in terms of the desired attributes of their products. In becoming knowledgeable and experienced at manufacturing SCEBs, it has long troubled me that no matter how hard I try or how much I want it, I cannot claim to have achieved my own desired goal of producing an earthen block that meets a qualitative standard accepted by the construction industry. It is not because I don’t know how to, instead it’s that there is no standard that exists. The dimensional lumber you buy to frame a house, or the concrete that is poured for a foundation, or the pipes and conduits used for utilities all have standards, based on objective testing, that have to be met to be sold. Not our products. This is why I pursue the testing. Once we build enough of a data set, we can determine what the standards should be, how to determine if a product meets that standard, and reap the rewards of a buying public that sees our products as a “no-brainer” instead of a “no-standard”. Please understand that these sentiments and opinions are my own and are not endorsed or accredited by The Earthbuilder’s Guild, of which I am a Board member. I express the above based on my belief that it is possible to move earthen construction into the commodities domain instead of the just the specialties domain, and the way to do so involves having the ability to objectively prove credibility.


John Jordan - TEG Board Member


 

Testing must be both focused and rigorous. This is the test CEB press that the Sandia Labs engineers constructed to help us test our blocks back in 2010. Notice that there are six heavy bolts on each corner, for a total of 24 bolts. Each time we tested a formulation for various attributes, we would need to remove each of these bolts in order to free up the block inside. It took quite a bit of time to make and test over 80 blocks. John Jordan - TEG Board Member


 

The test CEB press loaded with yet another batch of material. The press block is placed into the opening at the top that you can see and the entire structure is put into a fantastically accurate hydraulic test ram which you can see at the bottom of the block press. It is 12” in diameter, can press up to 1 million psi, and can detect differences down to 1 psi. We got our money’s worth! John Jordan - TEG Board Member


Various test blocks lined up and curing prior to the destructive testing regimens that gave us our most valuable data. They pressed all blocks to within +/- 1% of the same pressing forces using the test ram in the previous image. These are a set of blocks where we varied the ratios of the raw materials along with the type of materials and lastly the amount of moisture. It takes a while to tease out the meaning of certain indicators but our patience and perseverance yielded some findings that have allowed us to dial in our block production, at least as far as the quality of the blocks. The Sandia geomechanical engineers on our project were seriously jazzed to work on this project with this material! John Jordan - TEG Board Member


 

Next Earthbuilders’ Guild Certification Exam


Photo credit: Helen Levine

The next Earthbuilders’ Adobe Proficiency Certification exam is scheduled for June 05, 2021, at New Mexico Earth Adobes in Albuquerque. For more information on the exam go to theearthbuildersguild.com and click on the link on the home page.


TEG is designing a second exam for those who have the education, but not the experience, to qualify to take the Adobe Proficiency Certification exam—we will post the information as soon as the work is completed. Keep an eye on the website!


Helen Levine - TEG Board Member

 

An Update on Recent Activities at Adobe in Action


Twenty-one students are currently working their way through Adobe in Action's third online class of 2021 - History & Basics of Adobe Construction. After completing a series of soil tests and making a 1-brick abobe form, the students are getting ready to complete their final projects - mixing up a larger batch of mud and making some tests bricks. Our next online class - Foundations for Adobe Structures - will be starting on Monday, May 10th and still has a few spots available.


Adobe in Action is celebrating its 10th year of offering online classes in 2021. The full 2021 class schedule can be found at https://www.adobeinaction.org/event-calender/. 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. More info about Adobe in Action's Owner Builder Support Program can be found at https://www.adobeinaction.org/how-owner-builder-support-works.


Kurt Gardella - TEG Board Member


 

SFCC Adobe Construction Program News


With the Spring 2021 semester coming to an end, the SFCC Adobe Construction program is getting ready to offer a brand new class on the topic of Compressed Earth Block Construction for the 2021 Summer semester. We are hoping that at least some of the instruction will be able to take place on campus/in person so that the college's CEB machine can be put to use. Here are some details about the class:

  • Course: Compressed Earth Block Construction

  • Description: An introduction to compressed earth block (CEB) and stabilized compressed earth block (SCEB) construction techniques from around the world. This course examines various compressed earth block manufacturing methods, including the use of small and large forming chambers and manual and engine power as well as block stabilization techniques. Topics also include the design of compressed earth block walls that accommodate windows, doors and utilities.

  • Format: Blended (50% online + 50% live instruction)

  • Online Dates: June 7 to July 31

  • Live Dates: Saturday & Sunday, July 10 & 11 and Saturday & Sunday, July 17 & 18 from 9am to 4pm each day

Full details about the Adobe Construction Program at SFCC can be found at https://www.sfcc.edu/programs/adobe-construction/.


Kurt Gardella - TEG Board Member


 

An Update on Earthbuilding Activities in Germany


In early April, I shot a short project documentation video for a team of earthbuilding contractors who have begun building straw bale homes which also incorporate large amounts of earth as thermal mass. Since it is very challenging to meet energy conservation requirements in Germany using exterior earthen walls, these earthbuilders are using a post & beam straw bale technique for all exterior walls but still getting TONS of earth into the homes (literally) by constructing most interior walls out of dry-stacked adobe infill blocks as well as finishing ALL interior and exterior surfaces with earthen plasters.


Even though the video is narrated in German, check out the dry-stacked adobe infill technique they are using at https://youtu.be/V5FvZcrIlJU?t=376.


Kurt Gardella - TEG Board Member


 

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 at 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 theearthbuildersguild@gmail.com.


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: www.theearthbuildersguild.com


 

Request for Photos


TEG is in the process of revamping our website. We are seeking photos to use on the website. If you have photos representing your work, earthen construction, or earthen buildings we would welcome them. Please include a description and credit the photographer if available.




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