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TEG Newsletter Issue #2

TEG Tour – Taos Pueblo July 2018

Taos pueblo was constructed in a setting backed by the Taos Mountains of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The settlement was built on both sides of Rio Pueblo de Taos, also called Rio Pueblo and Red Willow Creek, a small stream that flows through the middle of the pueblo compound and is their water source. Its headwaters come from the nearby mountains.

Taos Pueblo’s most prominent architectural feature is a multi-storied residential complex of adobe – built probably between 1000 and 1450 CE, according to the Pueblo’s website Inhabited for hundreds of years there is still no electricity, running water or other utilities.

The Pueblo is the essence of adobe construction. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960. In 1992 it was designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

For a complete description of the Pueblo visit their website: And if you have not been there be sure to put it on your bucket list. It is rich in culture and a true example of adobe construction.

Be sure to keep an eye out for TEG’s Tours which are announced on our In September we will be in northern New Mexico and in November we will be in Hillsboro/Kingston, NM (southern New Mexico).

Pat Bellestri-Martinez

Home Energy Ratings

We all know that a properly built earthen home is comfortable – after all it’s been done for thousands of years. Now the energy efficiency of homes built with earth can be compared to just about any other material with a tested R-value and the results reflect what has been known since prehistoric times.

The accepted standard is a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating, which compares the rated home with the same home built to 2006 IECC standards. One big advantage for earthen homes is the ability for the mass walls to absorb heat (or coolness) and redistribute that into the adjoining interior space when the outside temperature changes. A properly oriented building using passive solar design takes full advantage of shifts in seasonal solar gains, but when that’s not possible or desirable because of views, lot design, etc., the benefits of mass walls are still evident in the rating.

Many rebate, tax credit and green building programs require a HERS rating as part of the energy efficiency criteria. Certified HERS Raters can be found at

Jane Whitmire

SCEB Research in Sandia National Laboratories (continued)

The SBA-funded research project described in the previous newsletter (May, 2018) continues to move forward with some interesting results, some good, some bad. One unanticipated situation is that the scientists/engineers at Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) and the company researching the adhesives hopefully suitable for bonding compressed earth blocks (CEB’s) both desire to test for baseline results, while I desire to get real-world use results since that will determine whether we commercially pursue any solutions found. This was an unanticipated condition in that we may not be able to determine my desired results before exhausting the research funds. Still, I had to ultimately agree with the more knowledgeable and experienced team members since understanding the fundamental concepts and data points will provide a more justifiable basis for moving things forward than a one-off solution that could be too fickle to be easily tweaked for broader uses. So, we are proceeding with testing of bonding agents that include varying compositions of adhesive as well as varying thicknesses of the bond line. As the testing progresses, we expect to have results that will serve to demonstrate the utility of bonding the SCEBs together. We are hoping to have shareable results somewhere in the late fall time frame so stay tuned!

John Jordan

Adobe in Iceland?

Adobe in Action Co-Director and TEG Board Member Kurt Gardella attended a 4-day turf house construction workshop in Iceland in May 2018. The workshop took place in the Northwest of Iceland in the area of Tyrfingsstaðir, Skagafjörður. The course instructor – Helgi Sigurðsson of Fornverk ehf – guided the group through the reconstruction of a stone foundation and turf walls of a typical Icelandic sheep farm building. The course was organized by BYGGÐASAFN SKAGFIRÐINGA – Regional Folk Museum.

Each morning began with the group walking to a lower area of the farm to cut turf blocks from a wet field using sharpened shovels and a special undercutting spade. Turf blocks can be cut in a variety of shapes and sizes but we cut clamped blocks which are fairly large and triangular in shape. While in the field we also cut strips and turfs using a turf scythe. These thinner and longer pieces are laid longwise or crosswise between the courses of turf blocks in order to tie the blocks together (similar to mud mortar in adobe construction). The wall construction techniques we learned focused on double-wall turf block construction with a special focus on dry-stacked stone foundations. A sound stone foundation is the starting point of any quality turf wall in Iceland due to the wet climate. We ended the workshop by constructing a simple gable roof frame out of recycled timbers. This frame was finished with a layer of turf strip “shingles”. Further layers of turf strips will be added by a future workshop group.

Kurt Gardella wishes to thank the workshop organizers and instructors in Iceland for their hospitality (traditional lamb meals) and patience (English translations of all topics covered). He also wishes to thank the Santa Fe Community College Adobe Program for covering his workshop fee.

More information about Icelandic turf houses can be found at More information about the New Mexican method of building with turf/sod blocks (terron) can be found at

Picture credit: Bryndís Zoega Reference: “Building with Turf” by Sigríður Sigurðardóttir. English version by Nancy Marie Brown. This book can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Kurt Gardella

Adobe Proficiency Examination

Are you hoping to show prospective employers just how experienced you are in adobe construction? Or perhaps you’re a contractor, wishing to show a client that you are proficient in building with adobe? Or you want to hire someone to build your garden wall or adobe home and want to be sure that someone knows what he or she is doing…

The Earthbuilders’ Guild offers a Basic Adobe Proficiency Certification, comprised of a written exam and a hand’s on practicum. These exams, designed and reviewed by adobe experts, are designed to show the applicant’s skill and comprehensive knowledge in the field of adobe construction.

TEG will hold the next series of exams in Albuquerque, NM, on September 21st and 22nd of this year. Please visit our website for additional details and registration.

Helen Levine

Swan House Update

Over many years the Adobe Alliance has held workshops a few miles outside of Presidio, Texas, constructing a beautiful adobe compound of soaring vaults and domes. In creating the various structures of the Swan House, Simone Swan, TEG member and the principal of the Adobe Alliance, was strongly influenced by the technique and style of architect Hassan Fathy, with whom she apprenticed in the 1970’s.

Due to passing time, weather, and the nature of the materials used—unamended adobe and earthen plasters—a few of the domes require restoration and the application of lime plasters to further protect them.

Work on the Swan House is scheduled to begin on October 1st. For those interested in participating, please see TEG blog for more information.

Photo Credit: Richard Levine

Helen Levine

Update from Colorado Earth – Energy Performance Testing and We are Hiring!

Housing is a major public health issue. The United Nations once estimated that 10 million people worldwide die each year from conditions related to substandard housing. Our Team intends to address this construction issue by validating a durable, economically and environmentally sustainable wall system that can be utilized in greater capacity today.

Earthen walls have proven themselves capable, having already provided safe and comfortable shelter for thousands of years. These homes, when properly built for the climate and environmental hazards, address the need to manage moisture risk and conserve energy consumption, while minimizing maintenance requirements and life cycle costs.

The Smithsonian Magazine recently celebrated their 40th anniversary and to commemorate the event, shared 40 things you need to know about the next 40 years. Number one on their list of “major changes” was that “sophisticated buildings will be made of mud.” Despite the fact that earthen construction has been in constant use for over 10,000 years, modern building materials and industries have led the front for testing and building science advancements. There exists a lack of adequate empirical confirmation that substantiates what has been shared anecdotally for thousands of years – earthen homes keep people warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.

For our testing purposes, Stabilized Compressed Earth Blocks (SCEB) will be used to research how moisture and heat transfer through an earthen block home that will be built this summer in Castle Rock, Colorado, USA. In parallel with the testing, our Team will develop a calibrated model of the thermal performance of earthen construction that will be used as a test bed for vetting design solutions.

We hope you can help us obtain this useful data by supporting us to obtain the necessary sensors and equipment to install in the wall. Our Team will monitor heat and moisture changes within the wall and on the interior surface of the exterior wall over the course of a year, and then work to improve the energy efficiency software programs.

Unlike many products today, the price of soil is not tied to the price of oil. Stabilized earthen walls are impervious to water damage, fire-proof, insect-proof, bullet-proof, and can be built with minimal training. Additionally earthen walls have the unique ability to absorb and adsorb water vapor, unlike traditional wall systems. Our Team is ready and willing to learn more through applied research, and share this knowledge with the construction industry for the betterment of our environment, health, and economy.

Our mission will be to disseminate the performance of earthen wall systems so that energy savings can be realized worldwide. We hope you help us!

Click here to visit our GoFundMe site.

Also we have some exciting upcoming projects in Colorado Earth and are looking for help! Please contact or for more information. Send your resume!

Lisa Schroder

TEG Members are welcome to send in articles for our next newsletter. Please contact Pat at for more information.

Education in Earthbuilding

Are you interested in expanding your understanding and knowledge of building with earth?

Perhaps looking for volunteer opportunities?

Take a look on our website under the Members’ tab or on the Directory for more information on who, what, when and where!

And keep an eye on the TEG blog for additional classes and projects going on in the earth-building world.

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