This is an in-depth look at adobe homes, the history behind it, their advantages, disadvantages, how to build them, and some frequently asked questions.
The art of using adobe mud for the home building has been around much longer than you may have thought (1200 CE to be precise!). Using earthen materials to create a home (if you live in a dry climate that is) is highly beneficial for yourself, and for the planet.
If you’ve ever visited Taos, New Mexico, you will have visited an entire town built from adobe. This method has stood the test of time, and it looks gorgeous to boot!
Today we’re going to look into what exactly goes into adobe mud home building: adobe ingredients, how to use it, who uses it and where, and why you may want to as well!
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An adobe building is classified as a structure created by earthen and organic materials. It’s the absolute earliest form of structured shelter building known in all of human history. Adobe is Spanish for mud brick, and its life starts out as exactly that. Mud mixed with other organic matters, and turned into bricks and dried.
The composite materials are regularly earth mixed with water and some sort of fibrous material. The soil composition itself needs to contain sand, silt, and clay in order to enable a sturdy and correctly textured adobe brick.
According to James Garrison in Adobe – The Material, Its Deterioration, Its Coatings, “the most desirable texture of adobe mud is 15% clay, 10% – 30% silt, and 55% – 75% fine sand”.
Turning Mud Into Bricks
There is no standard size or shape for adobe bricks, as those details vary from each culture and country. Although it is important to choose a size that won’t take forever to dry, and won’t potentially crack for being too wide or heavy.
Along with all of the softer materials just mentioned, something like dung, straw, or some other fibrous organic material available in your vicinity, must also be added to the mixture before allowing it to dry. The fibrous material will act as a very efficient binding agent and prevents uneven drying or shrinkage. The straw will also act as a kind of foundation in the brick to minimize cracking.
A Little History
Before the 8th Century, it is said that Puebloan people would build their adobe homes handful by handful, or basketful by basketful. When the Spaniards invaded, they introduced the practice of adobe brick making and that practice has been employed from 8th Century BCE onwards.
Before THAT even, adobe mud was either poured or puddled. Remember when you were a kid and you’d be at the beach with your family and come across sand that plopped in the most perfect way when it was wet? Puddled adobe is the exact same concept.
Of course, with both of these methods the addition of a fibrous agent wasn’t incorporated until the bricklaying innovation, so imagine a giant ceramic bowl-shaped home.
Turning Bricks Into Homes
Indigenous people of Southwest America, Mesoamerica, and the Andes have used adobe mud to build their homes for thousands of years. And that has not really changed. With a method so affordable and durable, there isn’t much reason to switch. The practice is found also in eastern Europe, Spain, South America, the Middle East, Western Asia, and North Africa.
The reason for the popularity of adobe homes is that they are incredibly durable in harsh, dry climates. They are impressively resilient against earthquakes (when properly reinforced) and other natural disasters, and for those reasons, some of the oldest buildings in the world are made from adobe mud and are still standing.
Adobe mud is spectacular for its thermal mass. This means that it’s a great storer and conductor of heat. Adobe homes usually don’t have too many windows, and the reason for this is that the larger and wider the adobe wall, the more heat from the sun it will absorb (radiation). This heat is stored in the walls during the day, and when the temperature inside the building grows colder at night, the stored heat will then dissipate inside to keep it warm.
It’s good to note the adobe homes are usually very simple structures. They commonly have one floor (no basement), a flat roof, and simple rounded interior walls. Anything more complex would require a proper foundation. The concept starts out simple, but it can be adapted into something incredibly creative and complex.
They are the most appropriate choice for dry and harsh climates, as they are a home that completely regulates its own temperature. This will end up saving you heaps of money for not having to control the heating and cooling throughout the year.
Adobe mud is also awesome because it’s organically harvested and doesn’t create any waste. It’s extremely affordable, very easy to work with, and this type of building is available to anyone no matter their economic capability.
Adobe homes just look really cool! These homes look wonderfully rustic, unique, and they take you away from the standard shapes of squares and rectangles of modern-day architecture. (If you’re interested in weird architecture, check out our article about Earthships!)
How do you build an adobe home?
The cool thing about the adobe is that it doesn’t require a particularly crafty person to get the job done. However, here are a couple of companies on hire who would be happy to make it into something stunning: Adobe Builder, Arizona Adobe Company.
What are the benefits of an adobe home?
The materials used to create unnecessary waste, creating them is a very simple concept, and they’re impressively money saving in terms of heating and cooling costs.
What are the disadvantages of an adobe home?
It really depends if an adobe home is what you’re looking for. They’re not fancy or enormous and don’t commonly have many rooms. They aren’t incredibly insulated, and they are restricted to dry climates.