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Super Adobe vs Hyper Adobe vs ??  RSS feed

 
Kevin Young
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I just built a super adobe wall--a mix of 3 parts sand to 1 part clay, a bit of water, dumped into a "continuous sandbag" tube. The tubing fits over a section of 7" duct like a long, scrunched-up sock. On the end of the duct we had a funnel (we used a 'cone of shame' that they put on dogs after surgery). Small buckets of the mix were dumped into the funnel and fed into the growing superadobe tube. Each course was tamped down, then a strand of barbed wire was placed before the next course was laid. The bottom two courses were filled with just gravel instead of the sand/clay mix to protect better from moisture.

My question is whether anyone has tried hyperadobe, which uses mesh tubing (like they bag potatoes or onions with) instead of the sandbag material. In hindsight I wish I had used this, as I think applying plaster would have been simpler. Also, the material is stretchier and seems easier to work with.

Another question: has anyone used any sort of mechanization with earthbag building? The mixing was long and laborious. The filling went pretty quickly.

Last question: Does anyone have experience with earthbag building and another green building technique like cob, adobe bricks, or straw bale? I'm interested in comparisons from people who have tried multiple techniques. I am inclined to build a small, round structure at my house out of superadobe with the leftover material I have, but I would love to find a way to speed up the process a bit.

Our wall was for a desert tortoise enclosure on the campus of Arizona Western College. I am attaching a picture of the wall before the plaster.
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Super Adobe wall for tortoise pen
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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High Kevin,

I am a professional builder in traditional and natural modalities...I also have a background in exotic animal husbandry (especially herpetofauna) so love what you used this for! The tortoises will love there new home I am sure.

I think there is probably a lot of research that could (should?) be done around your questions, as most of the answers (including my own) are probably very subjective. I will share them anyway, and you may draw your own conclusions, and/or ask other questions.

I think a great deal of the current trends in "natural building" are not much more than modern attempts at "reinventing the wheel." Ever since the IR (industrial revolution) we as a global culture (especially in the "first world") have lost touch with traditional modalities of living, including architecture. This culture is a also wrapped in the mindset of "consumerism" and of "lowering skill sets." The later is because so many skill sets have been lost, and/or businesses can't make money if they can not sell something and use unskilled "dependant labor forces" to make whatever it is they are trying to sell...In your case a "bag," to put cobb into, and maybe tools to make it "productive" for unskilled to use it. I have built with "earth bag," have seen the open mesh (too stretching) types used, and have followed the developer of the system since the beginning. It is a fascinating process, applicable perhaps in some places with the need for expedient shelter (disaster relief? maybe) with only limited resource (you still have to ship lots of bags, and someone has to make and buy them.)

From my observation, traditional methods always seem to be superior, and it is more about "the culture," of "reinvention-experimentation" that these "alternative methods" come about. Traditional modalities on the other hand have been with us for millenia, are well tried and proven, and when employed next to the "new wheel" seldom does the "reinvention" excel or perform as well as the original-traditional in the "big picture." In your case, having an experienced traditional Adobe Artisan show you what to do and work with you would have probably created a wall just as fast, with less "purchased materials," and I would suggest it would last longer and be more natural, and repaired-alter when, and if required.

So, in general, look to the vernacular for whatever system you are considering first before trying an alternative.

Regards,

j

P.S. say hi to the torts for me....

 
Sean Henry
Posts: 74
Location: Louisville, KY Zone 7
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If you have access to the equipment It might be quickest to use a cement truck. Load the materials in have it mix it up then adjust the proportions if needed now use the shoot to pour into the bags. I believe some have the ability to hook up a 5" hose to pour the cement (Adobe) into basements if it has that the truck would not have to be moved as much.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Sean, et al,

If you have done this, or been there when it has been done, please share more. The issue with this method is you are making more a "clay slip" than an actual cobb, or related adobe matrix. The only successful "mixers" I have seen are "auger" based types, and some "paddle" plaster mixers work well.

Regards,

j
 
Kevin Young
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:having an experienced traditional Adobe Artisan show you what to do and work with you would have probably created a wall just as fast, with less "purchased materials," and I would suggest it would last longer and be more natural, and repaired-alter when, and if required.


Finding that person may not be easy, but I guess there must be someone in the area (I'm not aware of anyone). I guess we could have made all our own bricks, which would have been interesting. We spent $1,000 (including shipping) for the 6,000 ft roll of polypropylene. The sand and clay were free, and the labor was volunteer student labor. We built two large pens, each with 150 ft wall, and we still have about 1/3 of the bag material left.

We ran into problems with getting stucco to stick. I was trying to learn about natural plasters, but the facilities department of the school became anxious that they would have a mess on their hands and hired a professional lathe and stucco crew to cover the wall. I was disappointed, since the professional crew used a lot of cement in the stucco mix, but they did a very nice job and they were very fast, so in the end I was pleased for the help (and pleased that facilities covered that cost--it was expensive!). I was also pleased that the stucco crew really liked the wall. We built a lot of curves into the wall and it looks like some sort of sculpture.

Interesting that you found the mesh too stretchy. I would still like to try it sometime.

You only mentioned adobe. Why not cob for this application? Would that have been faster or slower than making bricks? With all our student labor I wonder if cob would have been the ideal since many people could work in several places at once (though our bottleneck was always the mixing, never the filling).

Sean, a cement truck would have been nice for mixing and filling! I didn't even consider that, but it would have sped things up significantly.
 
Kevin Young
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:I am a professional builder in traditional and natural modalities...I also have a background in exotic animal husbandry (especially herpetofauna) so love what you used this for! The tortoises will love there new home I am sure.

Yes, the tortoises are loving their new home! I spent a lot on native plants from a nursery in Tucson and the tortoises snack on them like popcorn! I hope I can grow things faster than they eat them!

How did you become a professional builder in traditional and natural modalities? Does this mean you are like a starving artist, or is there high demand for the sort of work you do? I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this building experience and would like to do more, but I don't know of any builders in my area using any sort of traditional or natural building techniques. Since I don't have a construction background I don't think I can just claim to be a builder. I am going to try a mud oven next, and if that goes well perhaps I can at least become a mud oven builder!
 
Sean Henry
Posts: 74
Location: Louisville, KY Zone 7
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Sorry I have not tried it or seen it done I should have stated that in my first post. It would be easy to test I can see in the pic a small cement mixer that could be used for a test batch to see how well it will mix. I believe that to get it to work it would need to start with a dry clay then add the water when the dry ingredients are mixed.
 
Kevin Young
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Sean Henry wrote:I can see in the pic a small cement mixer that could be used for a test batch to see how well it will mix.

We did try that small electric mixer and found it to be more trouble than it was worth--mixing in small batches in the wheelbarrow was quicker and more thorough. However, a large truck could have an advantage over our small batches. By small batches, we added 3 gallons sand, 1 gallon clay, mixed well with hoes, then repeated 2 or 3 times until the wheelbarrow was full. We then used our 1 gallon buckets to "feed the worm," which went about as fast as we could scoop. Some people just use road base, which just needs to be moistened. That would have saved time for us too. Our clay was a waste product washed out of the materials for making cement. The cement company gave us a large load of it (delivered for free). It was wet, sticky, and very heavy!
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Sean,

I thought perhaps you had a different experience. I wasn't clear (apologies) I am stating that this method does not work at all, except to mix dry ingredients. You can not add water tot eh mix when using a regular OPC mixer, as this will just create a large "ball," unless you "over add" the water, thereby creating a "clay slip" or "slurry." Neither of which has any value to this form of traditional architecture.

If a "mechanical" method is sought, to date, the only effective ones are auger, paddle, or "treading" with heavy equipment (TIKO.)

Regards,

j
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Kevin, et al,

I am a bit confused, if you are in the Arizona area, there are many suppliers and even your "yellow pages" you have an "adobe contractors" section... This is just one of many you should have found before starting such a project. They would be glad to of helped... How was this "tortoise corral" planned for, and by whom? (Sorry if it was you, no offense, but a staff supervisor should have given you the info-data I just did.) If you have any other projects like this, PLEASE PM me and put me in touch with the supervising staff...I would be glad to share guidance.

I am sorry you ran into issues with the plaster, that is very regrettable. Perhaps in the planning stage for the next project, the entire project will be better considered logistically and the proper methods vetted and sourced. You should not have to much of an issue with this OPC stucco in a dry arid desert location, yet many of the OPC stuccos have only limited life spans before requiring intervention (as do all plasters) and they cost much in money and toll on the environment. I would check to make sure they did not use any toxic emulsifiers in the mix, as the AAZPA is very regimented about what can be next to animals inside vivarium and natural enclosures I have designed.

How did you become a professional builder in traditional and natural modalities?


Super long story, starting with a pseudo traditional apprenticeship from 14 till 23 year of age (on and off) with Old Order Amish Barnwrights (Timberwrights which mean traditional timber framing.) My upbringing and heritage did the rest in the area of traditional skill sets - life skills of many types.

Does this mean you are like a starving artist, or is there high demand for the sort of work you do?


No, not at all, timber framing, and other modalities of traditional building can be quite lucrative if you get into the right market, have the skills, and do work others cannot (or don't) do. Your area has many Adobe contractors, and in the past I have worked with a few. (I have family in Tucson and Phoenix. I also lived in and around the Cochise Stronghold of the Dragoon Mountains.)

If you like this, do some local research on "traditional - natural building," and I will answer any questions I am able to.

Regards,

j
 
Kevin Young
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:I am a bit confused, if you are in the Arizona area, there are many suppliers and even your "yellow pages" you have an "adobe contractors" section...

Well, not in our yellow pages. I am in Yuma, AZ which is much smaller than Tucson and MUCH smaller than Phoenix. We are 3 hours from Phoenix, 4 hrs from Tucson so not easily serviced by specialty contractors.

How was this "tortoise corral" planned for, and by whom? (Sorry if it was you, no offense, but a staff supervisor should have given you the info-data I just did.)
No offense--it was me, and I certainly charged into this with limited knowledge. I received a $10,000 grant from AZ Game and Fish Dept for a "schoolyard wildlife habitat," so the grant was meant to cover the walls, native plants, irrigation, pathways, and seating. We are a small college, so there was not much in the way of supervisory input until they noticed that I was drastically changing the look of the courtyard--then I had plenty of (uninvited) input.

I guess if we had made our own bricks adobe would have been cost effective, but based on the price of bricks from the website you linked to we could not have afforded to build the wall from purchased adobe bricks (300 ft of wall, about 3 ft high). The other reason I chose superadobe was I wanted a lot of dramatic curves and I thought it would be easiest to use the earthbag building. Plus I wanted to involve students as much as possible and this looked like a technique we could do ourselves (and it was). I wonder if cob would have worked and if it would have been better than superadobe.

I am sorry you ran into issues with the plaster, that is very regrettable.

I thought so too--it took away from the spirit of what we were trying to accomplish. I don't know all that went into the mix--nothing toxic that I saw. The crew had done work at Sea World before, so perhaps they were familiar with guidelines for animal pens. My main concern is that the fill had loosened up a bit as it dried. We only used clay and sand, no cement, and the mixing and tamping were not always consistent (volunteer unskilled labor has its tradeoffs). The wall is solid, but I do worry about getting big cracks over time. Here is a picture of the finished result:

traditional building can be quite lucrative if you get into the right market, have the skills, and do work others cannot (or don't) do.

Glad to hear it!
Thanks for your willingness to answer questions and help. Sorry I did not find this forum sooner, but I will know for next time.
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Amanda Bramble
Posts: 35
Location: Cerrillos, NM
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I built a house with Earthbags, using individual bags not tubes. After reading this I have two comments:
It would be a lot easier to find an appropriate soil to get delivered rather than mixing it yourself. One great thing about earthbags is that you can use a wide variety of soils. I think as low as 10% clay will work fine. Our soil has a lot of silt in it- but also maybe 10% clay. It's not ideal, but worked fine. We would pour water into the top of the piles and let it soak in overnight or so to get a 10% moisture content, more or less.
We mixed in a lot of straw in the mud mix for the first coating of the bags. We would just fill in the cracks between the bags and let that dry and harden before covering the face with the next coat.
Having done earthbag, cob, and adobe building, I like Earthbag best for core wall construction as It doesn't take much water or mixing. But it does take a lot of tamping and time! Great for volunteers. Of course when i can find salvaged adobe bricks that goes way faster.
 
Kevin Young
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Amanda, that's so awesome that you have an earthbag house! I have not tried individual bags, but I imagine using the tubes saves a lot of time since you can just keep filling for long sections. I agree that getting a mix delivered would have been much simpler--I think I would just have ABC Road Base delivered for a future project, as the filling part was quick for us. I did not find the tamping difficult, but we did have a lot of volunteers.

If I understand correctly you did not use lathe at all--just straw with your mud. How has your plaster held up? Is it covered from the elements or fairly exposed? I was trying different things, but the facilities department did not believe I could get a lasting coating without lathe and cement-based plaster.

Have you seen the compressed earth brick (CEB) machine on Open Source Ecology that can spit out thousands of bricks per day? I wonder if this is a better solution than earthbags, adobe, or anything else: http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/CEB_press
 
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