The following review first appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of Su Casa Magazine.
New Mexicans are so possessive about adobe construction, you’d think we invented it here. The truth is, as authors Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree point out, people around the world have built with mud bricks for more than 5,000 years, and earthen material for 10,000—remember Jericho? Today, they claim, half the people in the world occupy an earthen home, and with good reason. Adobe is cheap, dirt is plentiful, and building with bricks lends itself to construction by beginners—which also lures many first-time owner-builders to start laying their own walls. Further, Schroder and Ogletree contend, adobe isn’t just for arid climates, as the book’s examples in New Zealand and England attest.
Adobe Homes for All Climates aims to be an instructional manual for novices, owner-builders, and experienced builders switching to adobe or seeking to learn new techniques. Hoping to encourage and inspire, the authors include fairly detailed chapters about making and laying adobe bricks, installing lintels and making arches, putting in conduits and pipes, installing windows and doors, attaching top plates and putting on bond beams, and applying plasters and other finishes.
New Mexican adoberos, who might rightly claim to have experience with the material second to none, will find a few challenging—or at least different—approaches on these pages. The authors don’t typically insulate their adobe walls, while most New Mexicans now insulate the exterior. Schroder and Ogletree advocate an 11 ¼-inch by 11 ¼-inch by 4 ¾-inch brick versus the typical New Mexican brick of 10 by 14 by 3 ½, the thickness of which accommodates making them in a frame with standard 2x4s (which aren’t really 4 inches). Furthermore, the authors use a sand/clay mix augmented by 5 to 7 percent cement, and they only occasionally add aggregate or fiber like straw. Their bricks, however, will cure even when it’s raining—can’t do that with a pure mud/clay mix—and weather much better in a wet climate. Maybe the most dramatic difference, though, is Schroder and Ogletree’s patented “Adobe Madre” reinforcement and scaffolding system. They mold their bricks into a variety of shapes, each based on the basic square brick but with cutout holes and channels. Some look like a U, some like a square doughnut, some like a squared C. When stacked appropriately, these shapes accommodate a reinforcing steel bar, plumbing, or electric wiring run vertically through the wall. A channeled brick works with scaffold pipes, allowing you to build up removable scaffolding as you work higher up the wall. When you’re done, you slide out the pipes and fill the holes. Way cool. If you’re in the target audience—curious newbie or open-minded professional—you’ll want to add this to your reading alongside the other classic adobe books. You’ll find these on most mud-heads’ shelves: Adobe: Build It Yourself by Albuquerque builder Paul Graham McHenry Jr. (University of Arizona Press), which was the bible for a generation of new-to-adobe builders in the 1970s; the classic plan book Adobe Architecture, by Myrtle and Wilfred Stedman (Sunstone Press); Passive Solar House Basics by alternative energy pioneer Peter van Dresser (Gibbs Smith, Publisher); and the more recent Adobe Houses for Today, by Su Casa contributors and home designers Laura and Alex Sanchez (Sunstone Press). Check out Adobe Homes for All Climates by Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree today!