New Tricks with Old Dirt
Adobe bricks are a traditional building material in the Southwest. Made with water, sand, clay and straw, adobe is simple to produce, has good thermal mass and is appropriate for arid climates. Unfortunately, building with adobe is very labor-intensive which has made this dirt-simple material quite expensive to use. Now there is a modern alternative to adobe that retains its earthen qualities at a much lower price - Compressed Earth Block.
Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) are produced with a hydraulic press using mineral soils, often from the construction site. The CEB press creates uniform blocks that are laid onto walls as they are produced, allowing for rapid construction with little movement of materials. A CEB structure can be built for a fraction of the cost of adobe due to greatly reduced labor and transportation costs.
Building with compressed earth blocks is growing in popularity in New Mexico with inclusion in the building code and its similarities to adobe. Boniface + Associates, Architects & Builders recently completed a CEB home near Santa Rosa, NM. The client pushed for using compressed earth block and the material's benefits won over architect Ed Boniface. The architect noted that due to speed of construction a CEB wall has costs comparable to a frame-wall, despite the additional cost of foundation and interior plaster. Given these qualities, Boniface + Associates now has more compressed earth block projects in progress.
So, is compressed earth block the new adobe? Possibly. CEB has the best qualities of adobe - an indigenous material with good thermal mass and it adds faster construction with reduced labor costs. CEB's may be perfect for your 'Back to the Earth" building project.
Adobe International (Compressed Earth Block Presses)
SFNMHome.com - ‘Stunning’ earth block technology employed
YouTube.com - Boniface Architecture