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TEG Newsletter - Issue #25We have news for you!

2024 TEG Honorary Lifetime MemberHelen Levine


It is with great pleasure that the Board of Directors of The Earthbuilder’s Guild announces the recipient of this year’s Honorary Lifetime Member Award, Helen Levine. Helen is co-owner of New Mexico Earth Adobes, an adobe manufacturing business in Albuquerque, New Mexico. To get to know Helen’s story we recently posed these questions to her. Since 2011 Helen has Served on The Board of The Earthbuilder’s Guild and has contributed to its mission with true commitment. Thank you, Helen!


1. How long have you been involved in making adobes?


I started working for my father when I was 18. It was supposed to be just a summer job before returning to university in California, but I ended up staying in New Mexico!


2. What is your role in New Mexico Earth Adobes?


I co-manage New Mexico Earth with my brother Mark. There is a lot of crossover in our responsibilities; we both wear multiple hats. Basically I take care of the office—dispatch, reception, bookkeeping, etc.—and I am also general labor and equipment operator. Mark does the maintenance on the equipment and vehicles and the mixing of mud, and is also general labor and equipment operator. We jointly make decisions on when, where and how many adobes to make each day, week and year…it’s very weather dependent, so we keep a close eye on the forecasts—I liken us to farmers in our need to pay attention to the weather


3. How long have you been involved with the Earthbuilders’ Guild? In what capacity?


New Mexico Earth Adobes has been part of the Earthbuilders’ Guild since Joe Tibbets first gathered members of the earth building trades together in an effort to support the industry. I personally joined in 2011 as part of this latest iteration of TEG, working with the interim board to bring the organization back together after a lengthy hiatus. We were able to obtain 501(c)6 status for TEG, after which I remained on the board as Treasurer, which I still am to this day.

4. What is your background? (where were you born, have you always been involved in adobe manufacturing, etc.)

I am a New Mexico native, although I spent much of my childhood in California before returning to NM. I came back as a teenager to work for my father in the adobe yard, and after regaining status as a resident I studied language and music at UNM, while continuing to work at New Mexico Earth.

5. Who do you attribute your knowledge and passion for earthen construction?

I can’t really point to any one person who has influenced me more than others. There’s my father, of course, without whom I might never have encountered adobe! And my brother Mark, who has worked side-by-side with me and supported my love for mud and shared my drive to make adobes. More than anyone else my daughter Sarah, who for me embodies all that is good in our world and gives me an example and a reason to work for our future, not only for our earth-building future but for the future of our planet and the people on it. Adobe is my contribution.

In the beginning working for my father had less to do with the industry and more to do with accepting and overcoming the challenges of working such a physical job. Before coming here I had always been active but had never done such taxing labor as I experienced in the heat and sun of a New Mexico adobe yard.

As time went on and I learned more about the business and earth-building I came to understand the importance of our position as manufacturers, especially as so many of the other adobe yards were disappearing.

I became fascinated by the material itself, it drew me in—I don’t really have the words to describe the feeling, but it developed over time, and with exposure to the beauty, the artistry inherent in adobe structures and the other uses of adobe.

Even more I have a sense of responsibility to the adobe industry that has pushed me to continue, to encourage and to share knowledge—share the importance of adobe, its history in our region and how appropriate it is in today’s world.


6. What advice would you give to your younger self?


Question, don’t simply accept. Act, don’t react!

7. What is the future of earthen construction?


There is growing interest in the world on the practicality of building with earth. People are beginning to understand how well it fits as one remedy to our problems with climate change, as a method of boosting energy efficiency both in the construction phase of a building and in the longer-term use and comfort of a structure.

It is heartening to observe increased attendance in classes and seminars on earthen construction, higher membership in the Earthbuilders’ Guild, and, for me most of all, more interest throughout New Mexico in adobe production! And the phone keeps ringing…

 

TEG Tour – March 30, 2024


TEG’s spring tour was held at Albuquerque Joinery’s latest project in the Los Griegos neighborhood of Albuquerque’s North Valley.  Kenny DeLapp and Esther Fredrickson gave the approximately 25 attendees an overview of the design, permitting, and construction to date.



In the month since the tour, Nathan Demar, Erik Navarro, and Sławomir Szumanski of the Abq Joinery crew have been hard at work plastering the interiors. Our plaster of choice is a homemade earthen plaster. In this case, we purchased the dirt from our adobe supplier – New Mexico Earth Adobes – screened it, and added sand. We always do several tests first to dial in the recipe, but the New Mexico Earth dirt, being the most finely curated raw earth this side of the Sandias, didn’t require much fiddling. We use mud plaster for both the adobe walls and the frame walls. The frame walls, after hanging and taping the sheetrock, are simply painted with a standard primer with screened sand in it. We add a bit of wheat paste to the plaster to help it adhere to these smoother surfaces.



Meanwhile, Kenny has been fabricating all the exterior doors for both buildings. The house needs a front door and double patio doors, both with transoms above. The barn has two large openings for carriage style doors. The opening underneath the portal will receive a double door, but the north facing “garage” door will actually be a triple unit: a pair of bifolds plus a single active door, each secured with slide bolts. These are all being fabricated of solid pine, and will be finished with successive coats of penetrating and hard-wax oils to protect them from the sun and keep them looking beautiful.



Esther Fredrickson - TEG Board Member


 

TEG Tour – Rammed Earth Home/Project in Las Cruces, New Mexico



We will be treated to a Tour of 2 or 3 rammed earth homes/project in the Las Cruces area by builder and TEG member, Judd Singer of Villa Custom Homes on Sunday, May 19, 2024 starting at 1:30 p.m.  If you are interested in attending RSVP by May 15th to theearthbuildersguild@gmail.com.  The Tour is free to members and $10 to non-members. Payment request will be sent to you via Paypal. Details and directions will be provided once you RSVP. Please be aware that one of the projects will be down an approx. 3-mile dirt road. 



Pat Martinez Rutherford - TEG Board Member


 

MORE ADOBES FOR NEW MEXICO!


Keaton ready for the production season.

Three new yards are jumping into the mud in New Mexico, making a total of four commercial adobe manufacturers able to supply contractors and owner-builders with adobes for their projects.


In the southern part of the state TEG member Rob Taylor will be starting up the adobe portion of TAYLOR GENERAL CONTRACTING, located a few miles east of Carrizozo, NM. Rob has plenty of experience—he has been producing for his own use for some years and now is ready to branch into sales to the community.


Look for adobes to come available in May. In addition to the traditional NM size of 10x14x4”, Taylor General Contracting plans to produce an 8x16x4” and a 12x16x4” adobe in both fully stabilized and non stabilized varieties.


X emulsified asphalt stabilized


Initially adobes will be available for delivery only.


Contact: Rob Taylor 575-937-5845

Email: jrobtaylor1701@yahoo.com

Website: under development

TIERRA REAL ADOBE WORKS  will join long-time producer New Mexico Earth Adobes in supplying adobes to central and northern New Mexico. Tierra Real will be located in Belen, NM, just south of Albuquerque.



Owner Rich Castillo anticipates producing a cost-effective fully stabilized adobe in the traditional NM size of 10x14x4”, with other sizes potentially available as special orders.



X emulsified asphalt stabilized


X lime and portland stabilized, special orders



Adobes will be available for both pick up and delivery.



Contact: Rich Castillo 505-610-0193


Email: rcastillo@castilloprestress.com


Website: castilloprestress.com

In Questa, NM, Keaton Karvas and QUESTADOBE start production in mid-May. Keaton says, “Happy to help any owner-builder in Northern NM with their adobe needs!” And, look out for information on workshops.



Questadobe will also produce the traditional NM size of 10x14x4” adobe, in non stabilized, semi stabilized and fully stabilized varieties. Special horno blocks are being considered, as well.



X emulsified asphalt stabilized



Adobes will be available for both pick up and delivery.



Contact: Keaton Karvas 575-741-6598


Email: keaton@questadobe.com


Website under development: questadobe.com


 


Helen Levine - TEG Board Member


 

California Compressed Earth BlockHome Permitted


Loescher Meachem Architects and Verdant Structural Engineers have successfully obtained permits for the first home constructed of hand-made compressed earth block (CEB) and hempcrete block anywhere in California!Located in Joshua Tree, the home is designed for the couple to age-in-place. The design uses CEB and hempcrete exterior walls, passive-solar techniques to facilitate solar heating in winter and heat management in summer, and will produce 100% of its own energy on-site from renewable sources. A ground-source heat pump provides space conditioning.The client is acting as their own contractor and currently making the compressed earth blocks on-site using local soils under the tutelage of TEG Member Jim Hallock of Earth Block International. Ben Loescher – TEG Member, Loescher Meachem Architects


 

Work Continues on National EarthenMasonry Standard


Under the umbrella of The Masonry Society, work continues within the Earthen Modular Masonry Standard Committee to improve IBC code provisions for earthen masonry and provide standards for the use of Compressed Earth Block. New subject matter groups, including ones focused on Structural provisions and Material Standards were established at TMS's recent Spring Meeting, and the group expects to refine the ambitions for the near-term (6 year) empirical and engineered design provisions for low wind and seismic risk areas over the summer and fall.



Ben Loescher – TEG Member, Loescher Meachem Architects


 

Santa Fe Community College


Adobe Program Updates

The spring 2024 semester at SFCC is coming to a close but the summer and fall 2024 Adobe Construction class schedules have been released:


Summer 2024


ADOB 123 - Compressed Earth Block Construction

Dates: 06/03-07/27/2024

Format: Blended (50% online + 50% field work)

Instructors: Kurt Gardella & John Jordan

ADOB 198 - Adobe Building Practicum

Dates: 06/03-07/27/2024

Format: Blended (50% online + 50% field work)

Instructor: Kurt Gardella




Fall 2024


ADOB 111 - Adobe Construction Basics

Dates: 08/19-10/12/2024 (class meets in person September 7 & 8 and September 28 & 29, 2024)

Format: Blended (50% online + 50% field work)

Instructors: Kurt Gardella & Issac Logsdon


ADOB 112 - Adobe Wall Construction

Dates: 10/14-12/07/2024 (class meets in person October 26 & 27 and November 16 & 17, 2024)

Format: Blended (50% online + 50% field work)

Instructors: Kurt Gardella & Issac Logsdon


ADOB 113 - Passive Solar Adobe Design

Dates: 10/14-12/07/2024

Format: Online

Instructor: Kurt Gardella




Kurt Gardella - TEG Board Member, SFCC Adjunct Faculty


 

An Update on Recent Activities at Adobe in Action


Students carrying out adobe basal wall repairs at Adobe in Action's recent "Intro to Adobe Preservation" workshop taught by Pat Taylor in Mesilla, NM. Photo by Jason Martinez.

In early April, Adobe in Action once again offered its "Intro to Adobe Preservation" workshop taught by Pat Taylor in Mesilla, NM. This workshop is offered every spring and fall and has gained in popularity since Pat began offering it for us some years ago. Keep an eye on the Adobe in Action website to join the next workshop in October.


In other news, nineteen students are working their way through Adobe in Action's third online class of 2024 - History & Basics of Adobe Construction. This week the students are making their own adobe forms which will be used to make test blocks in the final course module.


Adobe in Action is celebrating its 13th year of offering online classes in 2024 and still has a few spots available in the final spring online class - Foundations for Adobe Structures. More info here:



Finally, don't miss our latest Mud Talks Podcast:


Mud Talks 24: Owner Builder Adobe Off-Grid Site Prep in Eastern Arizona


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


 

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:


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.

In the field of education – teaching earthen construction

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

Architects, engineers, and designers of earthen construction.


 

CEB Certification, Part 4Discussion of Operations Understanding


In my initial 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 operational activities inherently needed to manufacture CEB and how best to determine what constitutes the demonstrated knowledge of these operational systems. 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, I will occasionally refer to CEB as “pressed blocks”. Please note that I am not a professional operations specialist, and some of the claims I make in this article are based on empirical rather than educational knowledge.


Importance of Operational Systems for CEB production


The need to have a complete understanding of the operational activities that produce a safe, reliable CEB is arguably the most challenging aspect of block manufacturing, and therefore may be the most challenging aspect to put through a certification process. Why this would be the case is based on the concept that what often gives one company an edge over another company, when both companies are producing the same product, is that the operational effectiveness of either company becomes the crucial differentiator between them. Because of this, it may be quite complicated to arrive at a set of qualifying questions that determine whether the person or company being certified is adequately capable of producing safe and reliable CEBs.


What it comes down to is that there are a myriad number of ways that an operation can be set up to produce safe and reliable blocks. Since this is the reality in many manufacturing and production operations, from fast-food burgers to state-of-the-art electronics to baby diapers, it also means that at some level there are basic attributes that can help determine whether the producer is achieving and understands how to making safe and reliable products, in this case CEBs.


Since we know the primary attributes of CEBs that are safe and reliable, primarily the standard physical characteristics such as compressive strength, modulus of rupture, moisture uptake and release, durability under extreme hydration, and even shear strength, we can begin by testing for knowledge on how to prevent problems from occurring that cause any of these attributes to become substandard. We can break out these attributes and associated problems into broad operation categories.


As a further complicating issue, it must be understood that the volume of CEB production plays an important role in determining the effectiveness of the operations. If attention is paid to the mix for a single block and it is successfully produced, how do you ensure that this same mix is able to be achieved for a production run of 100, 1000, or even 100,000 blocks. Likewise, the other production operations that determine the quality of the final product such as correct hydration of the mix and physical handling of the produced blocks can be greatly affected by the volume of blocks produced.


Operational attributes and problems with the CEB material mix and its preparation.


One of the first attributes of a good CEB is that the block consists of a homogeneous mix of materials. The reasons why this attribute is so important were discussed in the second installment of this series; please refer to that article if you need more information. It is relatively easy to determine this attribute by visually analyzing random blocks that have been sliced through with a masonry saw and seeing if the revealed matrix is consistently homogeneous across the entire exposed face. If this is not the case, then the problem almost certainly originates in how the block mix is operationally handled leading up to the moment of pressing. If the operation relies on a created mix (using various discrete materials that are combined in some fashion to achieve the desired mix) then there are operational steps that can be assessed for their effectiveness at achieving the desired homogeneity. If the mix is a supplied mix (purchased from an outside source such as a gravel yard or pit operation) then there are operational steps to ensure that problems like settling or errors in the mix specifications are caught before the mix is used. Part of the CEB certification should include some level of hypothetical problem situations with the mix and how to both analyze and solve these types of problems.


The addition of a stabilizing (in terms of moisture resistance) agent into the mix is also part of the operational steps that should be part of the certification process. This operational step is arguably the most important step in ensuring that the block is safe and reliable. There are many methods employed to accomplish this, but the underlying requirement is the same which is that the stabilizer should be fully incorporated and homogeneously interspersed within the mix. Certification questions must be focused on how to effectively introduce and blend in the stabilizer, and they must also ask about the steps that ensure that this blending has happened correctly.


As a possible additional part of the certification process, a series of questions could be focused on describing various operational methods of preparing the mix and what some of the positive and negative issues that arise from these methods are. While this may seem a bit wide-ranging, there are generally only a small number of methods employed by most CEB manufacturers that are focused on mix preparation. Certification testing should include the requirement to describe at least one of the methods of mix preparation in specific detail.


Hydration of the mix is extremely important to the effectiveness of the actual block pressing operational step; therefore, this is one of the attributes that must be understood from the perspective of how to achieve the necessary hydration as well as how to identify and diagnose problems that arise from incorrect hydration. There are numerous methods of ascertaining the hydration level of the mix prior to pressing, and there are post-pressing indicators of an incorrect hydration level. It is best to solve this problem before the block is pressed, however. I have addressed the reasons for correct hydration in part 2 of this series; please refer to that article for more information. The operational steps involved in ensuring correct hydration should be understood, particularly in regard to how consistent the hydration level is. Additionally, the steps involved in diagnosing and solving inconsistent hydration problems should be demonstrated. Like problems with the mix, hydration problems can be stated hypothetically and the answers to these questions can be evaluated as part of the certification process.


Operational attributes and problems with machinery


The machinery used in CEB production varies both in form and in function, but the desired outcome in all cases is the same, a safe and reliable block. Setting up operations around the most important piece of machinery, the block press, gives most block making operations the ability to stay focused on the effectiveness of this machine. However, in doing so there can be issues that arise which can be missed if the operational attributes of the machinery both preceding and after the block press are not fully understood. Knowing the functionality of the block press fully will allow for determining the source of problems that may appear during the block making operations.


Many block producers are faced with the financial decision of how much and what type of supporting machinery to include in their operations. This is a challenging situation since the investments in this machinery must produce enough benefits to outweigh the costs. When introducing this supporting machinery into the operational flow, the throughput must be analyzed to determine whether this new equipment has produced the desired benefits.


When assessing the machinery as part of the operational effectiveness, the focus of certification questions should be on how each piece of equipment provides benefit, and how not using some specific pieces of equipment, such as a using a backhoe instead of a loader, can affect the overall effectiveness. These questions should be relatively specific since, other than truly unique operations, essentially all pieces of equipment (block presses aside) that are used are relatively common so that their benefits, challenges, and costs are known. On a personal note, I have looked at and talked with quite a few small and medium scale operators of manufacturing operations, and often the surest means of assessing their operational effectiveness is how they use supporting machinery in their operations.


Operational attributes and problems with human resources


One more potential aspect of operations that could be included in CEB certifications is how the human resources are utilized and what and how to determine the effectiveness of this utilization. This is, like other operational considerations, quite a subjective topic. Most operations thrive or suffer as a result of how they utilize their human resources, especially where machinery is providing just one or a few of the steps necessary to create a product. When the human elements of knowledge and experience, especially when directly applicable to the operations, are used to their utmost, it can be an extraordinarily beneficial thing. However, the reverse is true as well, with poorly trained or experienced workers sometimes delivering far more costs than benefits.


When assessing the use of human resources as an element of the operational effectiveness, the focus should be on what contributions are delivered by the different workers, what level of training should be the minimum, whether these contributions can be replicated by machinery and why or why not this should happen. In short, the certification aspect of this, while subjective, can demonstrate that the operator is aware of human resource contributions and knows how to deploy these resources for operational effectiveness.


Final Thoughts


CEB producers in many important and consequential ways face the same operational issues that other raw-material-to-finished-product manufacturers grapple with. Essentially, this aspect of a CEB certification process may be able to borrow from other certification approaches. Even so, many of the operational steps may be unique to CEB production and should therefore be uniquely certified as well.


One final issue. In the field of fault analysis, there are two main types of errors or problems. One is referred to as a “random” issue, meaning that if things are working correctly and then they suddenly change for the worse, then something has randomly gone wrong. The other is referred to as a “systemic” issue, meaning that there is a glitch in the operational setup that causes an error to be introduced and therefore the system is not working correctly. It is imperative that a certification question be asked that demonstrates an understanding of this concept and why it is so critically important to operational effectiveness.


M. John Jordan; TEG Board Chairman; President, Paverde LLC

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