Adobe has transformed from a material of necessity into a material of choice in building and remodeling. Once a distinguishing feature of a poor man's home, today adobe is the preference of millionaires.
Although adobe is an affordable material, Scot Shapiro, CGR and owner of Creative Construction Company in Albuquerque, N.M., says that there are several factors that can increase the cost of an adobe addition. Such factors include the integration of plumbing and electrical systems into the adobe, as well as the construction of expensive finishes, such as wood windows and beams. Also, a finish on the inside of the adobe wall is up to twice as expensive than a conventional plaster finish because of the wall's unevenness. Adobe can also be a difficult material with which to connect an addition to a frame house. Shapiro says it is not an easy material to use in remodeling, and it can be dirty.
Still, there are reasons why people continue to use adobe as their primary building material. "The adobe look is very popular, especially in the southwest," Shapiro says. "People use different materials to try and recreate the look." Adobe also has a high solar storage capacity, which is why it is utilized most in warmer regions. Although warmer climates moderate heat gain, adobe can be still be used in other weather. Almost any soil will make usable adobe bricks, and straw can be added to clay that is prone to shrinkage cracks when it dries.
The adobe absorbs solar energy throughout the day and re-radiates it at night--an attribute that is especially beneficial in the winter. For further insulation, consumers can construct a vented or un-vented Trombe wall. This wall is coated with a dark, heat-absorbing material and faced with a single or double layer of glass. The glass is placed from about 3/4 to 6 inches away from the masonry wall to create a small airspace. Heat from sunlight passing through the glass is absorbed by the dark surface, stored in the wall, and conducted slowly inward through the masonry.
To protect adobe against rain, consumers can order it with either partial or fully stabilized asphalt emulsion, which makes the adobe either water-resistant or completely waterproof. Adobe buildings are also fire resistant, unaffected by termites, and are good sound insulators.
Earth masonry codes are in place for municipalities that allow it. In Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, codes are designed to maintain earthquake resistance. "The codes are not at all a problem for building with adobe," Shapiro says.
For further information on adobe additions, consumers can contact the Southwest Solar Adobe School, or any of the numerous adobe builder associations, adobe manufacturers and home builder associations.