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Building with Adobe as a Cost-Effective Solution for Home Construction?

Posted by Austin Brentley on October 30, 2012
Building with Adobe as a Cost-Effective Solution for Home Construction?

Building with adobe is a tradition that dates back millennia. But in Santa Fe, the material has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to growing awareness of adobe’s unparalleled cost-effectiveness in home construction. Adobe (or mud brick) homes are hardly a recent innovation, with many of the world’s earliest civilizations constructing entire cities out of this easily sourced material. Adobe has always been popular in home construction, especially in Santa Fe—a region renown for its aesthetically Southwest-style architecture.

Part of adobe’s popularity stems from the material’s low environmental impact. With growing demand for greener, more responsible construction practices, many Santa Fe homebuilders have embraced adobe due to its minimal carbon footprint. After all, the primary inputs are locally sourced sand, clay, straw, and water.

In addition, adobe can help improve the property value of your home, especially when fortified with stucco exteriors and natural materials in a style that has come to define Southwestern architecture.

But aesthetics and environmental considerations aside, adobe’s growing popularity can largely be traced to the material’s unparalleled cost-effectiveness.

What Does It Cost to Build Your Home with Adobe?

As with any home construction project, the exact costs vary depending on the size, location, and orientation of the house. But standard prices for completed adobe homes are comparable to what you would pay for insulated concrete forms, which typically fall somewhere in between less expensive 2×6 frames and much pricier stone alternatives.

Adobe bricks are usually sourced and produced locally, allowing Santa Fe homebuilders to dramatically reduce transportation costs. In addition, the energy required to fabricate adobe bricks is significantly lower than what is needed for traditional “Eastern” bricks—2,000 Btu compared to 30,000 Btu.

These two factors help explain why adobe remains so popular in much of the developing world—regions where cost is often the sole consideration in new home construction.

But don’t let this fool you. Cheaper inputs don’t necessarily translate to lower quality. In fact, adobe enjoys a number of advantages over many other building materials, which helps explain why it remains the preferred home construction material of many Santa Fe homebuilders and area residents.

Building with Adobe—Maintenance and Longevity

Adobe is traditionally made using a combination of clay, sand, straw, and in some cases, emulsified asphalt or Portland cement. When properly mixed by a trained Santa Fe homebuilder, adobe’s compressive strength allows it to support extremely heavy roof loads in addition to being highly resistant to harsh weather conditions.

That so many adobe homes from the Pre-Columbian era are still standing is a testament to the material’s endurance. The contrast is especially stark when you compare Santa Fe’s indigenous architecture with the oldest, historic buildings in Boston or Williamsburg, nearly all of which have undergone centuries of successive renovations.

The Energy Saving Benefits of Building with Adobe

Adobe’s thermal mass makes it a very energy efficient material. During the colder winter months, the clay and sand compound absorbs energy from the sun, radiating heat throughout. And during the warmer summer months, this same material stores the leftover coolness from the previous night.

Operating on a 12-hour cycle of passive cooling and solar heating, adobe can dramatically reduce a homeowner's reliance on expensive AC units. In a time of volatile fossil fuel prices, the economic benefits of adobe’s natural temperature control are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. And as electricity prices continue to rise over time, the energy savings you enjoy will rise proportionately.

Is Adobe the Right Material for Your Climate?

It’s worth noting that adobe is not ideal in all environments. But in regions like Santa Fe, the material’s numerous benefits become amplified. The Southwest has easy access to low cost inputs, helping to make construction affordable. And with its hot, arid climate, Santa Fe is ideally positioned to harness the energy saving advantages that adobe provides. If you’re working with clients wanting a new or remodeled home, adobe can offer environmental, aesthetic, and cost benefits.

 

Austin Brentley is a born and bred Washingtonian who has spent the last 9 years traveling the globe. Through his adventures, he has witnessed both the indescribable destruction of the planet as well as the growing international grassroots movement poised to halt climate change and restore Mother Earth to a gentler, greener time. Having recently completed his MBA studies at the University of Nottingham, Brentley is anxious to lend a hand to sustainable initiatives, applying his business training and experiences towards the rapid deployment of solar energy and other renewable technologies.

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