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TEG Newsletter - Issue #21We have news for you!



Earthbuilders’ Guild Honors J.Paul Taylor 1920-2023

It was a sunny winter day in Mesilla, New Mexico. Pat Taylor, TEG member, walks us through the family home. The adobe home located in the heart of Mesilla. Pat’s dad, J. Paul Taylor lived in that home for many years. It is now part of the Museums of New Mexico as a State Historic Site. Mr. Taylor who was 102 years old was gone that day. He was in Santa Fe at what would be his last meeting of the Museum Board. We missed his presence that day. He passed away less than a month later on February 12th. The adobe home will be available to be shared with generations to come. The home is testament to the beauty, the historical significance, and the cultural beauty of what he and his family left to us – the people. As adobe lovers, we honor J. Paul Taylor and his family for their part in preserving adobe buildings.


 

TEG Certification - Spring 2023



The Earthbuilders’ Guild is pleased to offer members of the earthen community another opportunity to show the world their adobe knowledge!


Two levels of certification are available thru TEG: the Adobe Proficiency Certification and the Adobe Fundamentals Certificate.


Adobe Proficiency Certification Exam: Both the written and the hands-on portion of this exam will be held June 10, 2023, at New Mexico Earth Adobes in Albuquerque, NM. The deadline for applying is May 31st, 10 days prior to the exam date.


Adobe Fundamentals Certificate Exam: The written portion of this exam is given online, and the practical portion on June 10th, at NM Earth Adobes. The deadline to complete the written portion is May 27th, 2 weeks before the practical exam, and the deadline to apply for the exam is no later than May 17th.


Quoting the TEG website:


“Certification is a voluntary program providing recognition of one’s professional knowledge through a process of examination and review of experience and educational qualifications by adobe construction professionals. Recognition is given by the Earthbuilders’ Guild to those who (1) meet the eligibility requirements for admission to the examination as set forth in the application, (2) successfully complete the examination.”


Please check the website for objectives and benefits, and for further information.



 

TEG Tour – March 2023

La Luz del Oeste – Albuquerque, NM



For our ongoing series of Earthen Tours, The Earthbuilders’ Guild visited La Luz del Oeste. La Luz is a planned community on the west side of the Rio Grande close to the bosque and west mesa in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It began construction in 1968. It is a community of 96 adobe homes with acres of undeveloped land that surrounds the homes. In 1978, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division listed La Luz as Site No. 539 on its Registers of Cultural Properties in the State of New Mexico.


To quote from La Luz website “As V.B. Price, Albuquerque journalist, has written, “La Luz is the most important cluster development in New Mexico and perhaps the most beautiful one anywhere in the country.” La Luz was the first solo commission of now internationally renowned and award-winning architect, Antoine Predock. His design respects and follows the contour of the land, offering both privacy and a sense of community. Gently meandering streets lined by low adobe buildings nestle close to the land as sculptural forms, terraced and descending to the bosque and the Rio Grande below. Communal plazas, fountains, and walls broken by gates lead to personal gardens. La Luz’s design creates tranquility and separation from the dizzying pace around it and is one of the reasons La Luz continues to draw new residents from all over the country.”


The La Luz Landowners Association, graciously hosted our Tour of over 30 people. In the three-hour tour we were able to learn about the property and its history, visit several of the homes, tour the grounds and ended with a video of the early construction of the project. Another true adobe treasure in New Mexico.


Visit TEG’s website for news on the next TEG Tour. Usually held every other month in various places around New Mexico.


Pat Martinez Rutherford - TEG Board Member


 

An Owner-Builder’s View from the Top of a Northern New Mexico Mountain



After the Romans gave us concrete, people began to leave their farms and move to the cities where our collective consciousness grew. Ideas spread rapidly, and by the 1800’s we were full swing into the Industrial Revolution where one machine could all of a sudden do the work of 100 men. And pretty soon, highways were connecting all of our cities that were rising from the ground with steel and glass and more and more concrete.


Drywall, 2x4’s, and fiberglass insulation became the new standard. The cheaper and faster, the better. This mentality has become our new reality.


But is faster better?


Is cheaper better?


Our lives are now saturated with technology and artificial intelligence and more information in a day than our ancestors would see in an entire lifetime. A friend recently told me that it feels like we are living like gods.


Need a ride? Push a button. Want a gourmet meal? Fly across the country, find love, connect with friends, be entertained, learn anything about anything…all with the push of a button.


So what happened? Why is our thumbs and minds getting tired from pushing so many freaking buttons? We are speeding through a non stop information highway with express lanes going straight through our brains during every hour we are awake! Is there an end to this digital revolution or are we just getting started? When is enough, enough? What are we forgetting? What are we missing these days? I think a lot of us can sense at a very deep level that something isn’t right, even though we are living like kings.


My grandfather used to say, “God isn’t making any more dirt.” What he said was simple, but profound, and it has taken me 40 years to realize what he was saying. Take away our buttons, and machines, and comforts, and what do we have left?


So many of us have forgotten about the most important thing: Each other.


We are forgetting what real community feels like. We are forgetting to put the screens down and look up at the stars. We are forgetting that God has given us everything we need on this perfectly designed planet that has been given to us to take care of.


Add a little water to dirt, and you create mud. Stuff this mud into a wooden form, add a little sunshine, and a single brick is created. Repeat this enough times, you can make enough bricks to build a shed, a house, a village…..a community.


In the early 1900s my great great grandfather found a piece of land in Northern NM. This dirt, these rocks, the trees, and the Pecos River that runs through it is untouched wilderness. The fossils preserved in the stones remind us that this place was once under the ocean. The arrowheads on the ground tell us stories of the Natives that once lived here.


This year, with our little backhoe and dump trailer, we have excavated and transported over 2000 tons of dirt and gravel to build a road to get to the top of the mountain. This place has been used by my family to raise cattle, catch fish, gather firewood, and create memories for 6 generations.


We built a bridge across the Pecos a decade ago. Five years ago we drilled a 400 foot well. Last year, I trenched a 1200 foot ditch to transport the water to the cliff’s edge where the house is going to be built. And this year, we are finally making adobes! My dad just turned 72. My whole life he has talked about building a house at the ranch, and we are finally going for it after being in my family for over a century.


I have learned so many valuable Life lessons already through this time consuming, back-breaking process that I have fallen in love with.


We have forgotten that God isn’t making anymore dirt….and how wonderful it is to work with... and the community that this mud can form. The very same dirt we all came from, and will return one day. No artificial intelligence. No screens. Lets stop pushing so many buttons for a second, and all get our hands dirty again in the NM wilderness. Will you join me?!


Joshua Montoya - TEG Board Member


 

CEB Certification, Part 2

Discussion of constituent materials


In my last article (TEG Newsletter 1/23) I described four specific issues that should be addressed if TEG is to offer a CEB Certification test. These four are materials understanding, machinery understanding, operations understanding, and expertise availability. This current article focuses on the materials used in CEB manufacturing and how to establish the criteria for demonstrating an understanding of these materials. I would like to note that for the purposes of these articles I will use the term “CEB” to avoid confusion, but please bear in mind that the addition of a stabilizer creates what we call a “CSEB”, a compressed stabilized earth block. Also, please note that I am not a geological specialist, and some of the claims I make in this article are based on empirical rather than educational knowledge.


Primary materials


There are four primary constituent soil materials used in the manufacture of CEB. These are clay, silt, sand, and aggregate. The addition of a stabilizer does not alter the use of these primary materials but can be thought of as a fifth material with its own influence on the CEB. Simple enough, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Having seen a number of different CEBs from various makers, it is apparent that most makers use the materials on hand and, with a bit of luck and determination, make some level of credible blocks. There are some makers, however, that have made blocks that are totally inadequate for use as a structural component of a home. There are a wide-ranging number of potential reasons for these failures, but at least one major group of failures involve the primary materials.


Having a deeper understanding of what each of the primary materials brings to the party is essential if the block maker needs to adjust the mix ratios in order to solve production problems that are a result of the materials. The four different primary materials can actually be grouped into two categories: clay and stone. The clay is essentially the binder (not stabilizer) for the stone materials, which are the silt, sand, and aggregate, so we can group these by their function within the matrix of the soil materials. Having knowledge of these groups of materials will greatly aid in producing acceptable, credible blocks.


Clay is the magic by which earthen materials come to life, so to speak. What this implies is that clay is the most important ingredient in the matrix of materials. The study of clay is referred to as Clay Chemistry, with good reason. Clay behaves in unique and specific ways that are incredibly useful for our purposes. The small size of the particles, smaller than 0.002mm in diameter, and their unique mineral structures give clay materials special properties. These properties include cation exchange capabilities, plastic behavior when wet, catalytic abilities, swelling behavior, and low permeability. Obviously thoroughly understanding and leveraging these properties is beyond the scope of this article, but I urge anyone interested in doing so to delve into this with enthusiasm because you will become a valued resource for others in the earthen community. There are three main groups of clay which include kaolinite, montmorillonite-smectite, and illite. Knowledge of these clays and which of the properties they are dominant in is beneficial and can mean the difference between poor and excellent CEBs. That being said, the requirements for CEB certification should include a passing knowledge and understanding of the clay types and what sort of problems they either solve or introduce.


Stone is the other primary ingredient and performs several key functions within the matrix. The two that we are most interested in is the addition of compressive strength via particulate locking and void filling so that the density of the produced block is consistent and also does not have potential weak points leading to breaking. What type of stone, the size distribution, and the ratios of the different sizes in the matrix can deeply affect the quality of the produced block, especially the physical dimensions and characteristics of each general size distribution. Generally speaking, most stone elements are going to be fairly related as far as what type of stone, such as granitic, basaltic, or limestone to name a few. Usually this will not be a major issue unless a type of stone is used that has a strong chemical reaction to water or the stabilizing agent used. Size and physical characteristics will almost always dominate the considerations for usage in CEB production so a quick detailing is in order.

  • Aggregate. This is physically the largest of the individual particles that are commonly used in CEBs, with sizes ranging from 5mm up to 25mm. While these numbers are open to engineering debate depending on the reference source, what is not debatable is what function they provide to the CEB matrix. As individual elements, aggregate provides both volume filler and strength. The physical characteristic that is most important is whether this aggregate is “river” (meaning smooth, tumbled, unbroken stones) or is “minus” (meaning crushed rock to a certain size along with smaller rock particles from the crushing process). The so-called minus material has sharp, or at least not smooth rounded, edges. This is extremely important since it provides greater surface area for the clay binding necessary to a well made CEB.

  • Sand. This is the middle size of the particle mix, with sizing from 0.05mm up to around 2mm. Sand is the intermediate filler that provides the bulk of the void filling, being able to surround the larger aggregate and add even more surface area for the clay binding. Again, the most important characteristic of the sand is that it be crushed (or “sharp”) rather than smooth and rounded, but not at quite the same importance level as the aggregate sharpness. Nevertheless, when at all possible, stay away from smooth sand.

  • Silt. This is the smallest particle of stone, with a size of 0.002mm to 0.05mm. This material can often be mistaken for clay particles due to the extremely small size and how it behaves. This material is essentially a filler for the smallest voids and acts to a lesser extent as a strengthener, although it still does this beneficially. It is not necessary to be too selective about this material since it is generally entrained in the larger aggregate and sand components, and again it provides even more surface area for the binder to work.

The ratios of these materials are not set in stone, pun intended! Rather, it is a judgement call by the block producer given the availability of materials. It is important to note that the most important ratio is the amount of clay that is used relative to the stone materials. If you had no clay at all, the pressed block would simply decompose the moment that it is ejected from the compression mold since nothing in the rock materials has any binding properties. It would simply be a pile of damp stone mix. When the clay is introduced, especially when not clumped, it mixes between all the stone materials and becomes the binder holding these stone particles together. If there is too little clay then the matrix will have low binding strength, and if there is too much clay the matrix will be too plastic to make a strong structural block. As part of a CEB certification, perhaps demonstrating the ability to create a workable matrix by using constituent materials to make a block which could then be tested to determine the accuracy of the created matrix. This would not be an easy thing but could be achieved after some focused effort to create a methodology for carrying out this part of a CEB certification.


Stabilizing materials


The last matrix component that isn’t water is the stabilizer component. This is still, and I believe will continue to be, a topic of discussion and contention among CEB manufacturers. This is not because there is a wide range of stabilizing materials to choose from, which there is not, but because the ones that are readily available have relatively important differences in the way they interact with the primary materials. The two most widely used stabilizers are Portland cement and powdered lime. Both of these materials have a spectrum of sub-types, but luckily the manufacturing of CEB does not require any of the exotic varieties of either of these two widely used materials. There are other materials that have been successfully used, perhaps not on an industrial scale, but act as sufficient stabilizers of the CEB. These can include fly ash which exhibits a pozzolanic effect in the presence of lime. The use of stabilizing materials is often debated since a stabilized block is essentially the same as a non-stabilized block with the same relative strength but having the resistance to moisture that can quickly degrade or even destroy a non-stabilized block, sometimes in a matter of minutes.


The CEB certification should include the ability to describe the various stabilizers, what effect they have on the primary matrix, what amounts should be used for the most beneficial effects, and why there is a difference between stabilized and non-stabilized CEB.


Additional material considerations


One of the most common questions about CEB is whether or not they contain organic materials similar to the often-used fibrous organic materials in adobe, cob, and even rammed earth. Most CEB block makers decline to add these materials for one reason, which is that CEB is the most densely packed earthen product and any imbedded organic material can have a shrink-swell pulsing effect that can, over time, cause the CEB to degrade. Additionally, the primary materials are sufficiently bound, and then additionally stabilized, such that the mechanical benefit of using these fibrous materials is not needed. There have been tests of inorganic fibrous materials such as fiberglass, carbon fiber, blown polyethylene among others, but again, while adding an undeniable general strengthening, these are not needed and can add an exorbitant cost to the produced blocks. An understanding of what effects non-mineral additives have on CEB should be demonstrated as part of the CEB certification.


Another consideration is the salt content of the primary materials. These salts are usually a standard NaCl or halite type of salt, but there are also chemical derivatives of other minerals like calcium and magnesium. Salts, in heavy enough concentration, cause all sorts of problems with the various chemical actions that both the clay and the stabilizer provide. An understanding of the deleterious effects of salts on CEB along with a knowledge of how to determine the presence of these salts in the primary materials should also be demonstrated.


Water is perhaps the simplest material that is used in CEB and might even be thought of as a transitory material since it does not contribute strength to the block. What it does do will be explained more in the Operational article in several months but suffice it to say that what provides are two extremely important functions, first as a chemical activator and initiator of desirable reactions, and second as a physical lubricant of sorts for the matrix to come together during the block pressing operation. As a material consideration, the water source should be examined for the presence of deleterious materials such as the previously described salts. The presence of these materials in the water, generally speaking, will only affect the chemical function, but that is enough to cause serious and unacceptable problems if not remediated. Understanding of what roles water plays along with how to determine the usability of water sources should be a part of the CEB certification.


Final thoughts


Many of the issues, concerns, and considerations of the primary materials along with the stabilizers have a downstream affect on the quality of the produced block. Therefore, understanding what is needed to create a successful matrix of materials at the point of preparing this same matrix is crucial to the overall success of block making. Having a defined set of material-specific qualifying test elements to the CEB certification process is therefore warranted and should be the foundational basis for becoming a certified block maker.


M. John Jordan; TEG Board Member-at-Large; President, Paverde LLC


 

Rocky Mountain Natural Building Conference Announced


The Natural Building Alliance has announced its 2023 Rocky Mountain Natural Building Conference will be held on October 20 – 22, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. The event is expected to be similar to past conferences. Consisting of classroom-style presentations and round-tables, “mainstage” keynote presentations, and outdoor workshops and demonstrations.


A call for presentations, discussions, or workshops has been issued, with proposals around the theme Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future due on May 14. More information and the full call for proposals can be found here.


Ben Loescher - TEG Board Member


 

2nd Austrian Earthbuilding Conference



Adobe in Action was lucky enough to get a ticket for the (standing room only) 2nd Austrian Earthbuilding Conference which took place in Vienna, Austria on March 24th at the Architekturzentrum Wien. The conference was organized by NETZWERK LEHM (The Austrian Earthbuilding Association) and had a strong focus on designing and building with unstabilized earthen materials.


The majority of the presentations were held in German (see the full program here) but the keynote lecture was held in English by Silvia Devescovi from Cycle Terre/France and can be viewed here:



Kurt Gardella - Adobe in Action Executive Director & TEG Board Member


 

Santa Fe Community College

Adobe Program Updates


The new Adobe Preservation Certificate Program at SFCCwill begin accepting students in the fall of 2023. Here are direct links to the updated adobe certificates and program maps in the college catalog:

  • Adobe Certificate: https://catalog.sfcc.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=9&poid=2746&hl=Adobe&returnto=search

  • Adobe Certificate Program Map: https://catalog.sfcc.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=9&poid=3242&hl=Adobe&returnto=search

  • Adobe Preservation Certificate: https://catalog.sfcc.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=9&poid=3246&hl=Adobe&returnto=search

  • Adobe Preservation Certificate Program Map: https://catalog.sfcc.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=9&poid=3241&hl=Adobe&returnto=search

The Spring 2023 semester is just about over but registration is now open for the summer 2023 semester (including a CEB Construction class taught by TEG board member John Jordan). More info can be found here.


Kurt Gardella - SFCC Adjunct Faculty & TEG Board Member


 

Earthen Legends


TEG has begun a project of compiling bios/stories of those people who have contributed to our industry over the years. We are interested in receiving bios from anyone who can add to our library of knowledge in a salute to those who make up the history of earthen construction. Send your submissions to theearthbuildersguild@gmail.com.


Criteria for submissions to Earthen Legends:

  1. One whose profession was in the field of earthen construction – building homes, commercial buildings, adobe making, rammed earth, compressed earth blocks, scebs and manufacturing of materials and products used in earthen construction.

  2. In the field of education – teaching earthen construction

  3. Authors on the subject of earthen buildings/materials/architecture.

  4. Architects, engineers, and designers of earthen construction.


 


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