Adobe houses are made from mud that is formed into bricks and stacked up to build a home. Think of it like a mud igloo.
The easiest way to do this is to create wooden molds and lay them in the sun. Then, in a wheelbarrel or buckets, you mix water, soil, and straw until you get the right consistency.
You dump this mud mixture into the forms and tamp them firm. Once they're settled in, you let them bake.
A cool video where you can watch them make adobe:
Tell me that's not the coolest thing you've ever seen.
Different adobe makers use different proportions of water and straw to get their preferred consistency. Some omit the straw all together and just go with the soil. This gives it a little more mortar consistency.
Once the bricks are dried and set, you stack them to make the adobe house. Because the walls are so thick and have such high thermal mass (see construction category), the sun can beat down on them all day and they don't get excessively hot inside.
Then at night as the outside air cools, the clay walls slowly release the heat they absorbed all day warming the interior of the house so it doesn't get too chilly at night. This makes adobe houses the preferred construction technique in New Mexico and other dry desert-like areas. On the outside of the house, you paint a concrete mixture to waterproof the exterior. This concrete will keep rain from melting your house and add to the overall structure of your walls.
(Plus you can paint and color it to make your house the prettiest one on the block)
Adobe is considered environmentally friendly because it uses soil and water as the structure, has minimal tree's needing to be cut down, and if built properly, can last you hundreds of years. It is one of the oldest methods of creating shelters and some adobe homes that were built over a hundred years ago are still standing today.
Take your time and do it right, and you'll be happy you did.
Some quit clarifications between similar styles:
Rammed Earth vs Adobe vs Earthbags vs Earthships
If you've heard of Rammed Earth houses already, you'll notice there are some similarities between adobe and rammed earth. The difference is that Adobe bricks are made first and then stacked into the house. (Igloo style). Rammed earth is built straight into a house. You put the wooden forms up where you want the walls of your house to be, and begin pouring dirt slurry into the forms and packing it down layer by layer. You're not forming bricks.
Check out more about making a rammed earth house in the Rammed Earth resources.
Earthbags are a combination of rammed earth and adobe. You fill the sandbags with a mud mixture (less or no water) and then stack them into your wall and stamp them down tight. Once they're in the wall, they stiffen up over time and form a wall similar to that of the adobe or rammed earth construction.
Earthships do a similar structure but using old tires as the mold for each "brick". You lay out a row of tires, fill them with dirt, pack them down, then stack another row. The dirt settles and forms a wall much like the rammed earth, adobe, and earthbag techniques but now you have a rubber exterior assisting in the waterproofability.
Adobe homes as with most alternative construction homes do take more manual labor than a stick and frame house however so you have to be willing to put in the work yourself, or pay a team to do it for you.
Note: Because you use soil, there's always going to be a mix of sand and clay in your mud slurry. If you are having trouble getting your bricks to set, your ratio of clay to sand may be a factor. Check out Construction resources to look into troubleshooting your adobe house construction.
Adobe homes aren't perfect. They have their limitations. Humid areas, for example, don't do well to adobe houses. The mud bricks don't set properly and the house never stabilizes. If you live in a humid area, adobe houses should not be your first choice.
In locations with dry seasons and seasonal monsoons, adobe houses can work for you if you properly waterproof them, build large overhanging roofs, and ensure your house is designed to stay dry from the beginning. This means away from the floodplain and shielded the best you can with trees, fences, walls, etc.
After every rainy season, you'll need to check on your house and make repairs. Any small issue will become a big issue next rainy season.
Instead of a typical concrete exterior, you can also experiment with Hempcrete, PaperCrete or other concrete mixtures. These have added organic matter into the concrete to help with insulation, breathability, and do well to protect your home. For more information on these types of coverings, check out the Hempcrete and papercrete resources as well as the construction resources.
Adobe houses are an alternative construction style that's perfect for New Mexico and other dry climates.
Adobe homes are built to last.
Adobe homes have low cost materials.
Adobe homes take a lot of manual work.
Adobe homes require planning to get them right.
Adobe homes may take some trouble shooting.
Adobe homes don't work in humid areas.
Adobe homes require checkups and maintenance to make sure there are no issues. (every year)
Adobe homes have a lot of flexibility in their structure and design. (You can make a single story Adobe home or multi-level Adobe home if you want to put a second floor on it. You just have to plan it ahead of time.)
There are fewer experts in adobe today than historically so this is a dying art. If you decide Adobe homes are for you, be sure to scout out an expert and get their help in the design and development of your home before you jump in.
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