Saturday, December 27, 2008

Adobe Conference 2009

My partner, John Corcoran, will be presenting a paper at this year's Adobe SW Conference in El Rito, New Mexico. John's paper will be on our personal experience of getting  through the approval process  for an adobe house without insulation on the exterior walls and built on a rubble trench foundation.  As outsiders to  New Mexico we thought of these traditional practices as integral to building with adobe, and came to adobe building perplexed at seeing new adobes covered entirely with  sprayed urethane insulation, wire lath and concrete stucco.  Lucky for us and lucky for all New Mexicans, it is legally possible to  build a snug warm house in the traditional way.  Come to John's talk.

The desire to build an adobe house without additional wall insulation came from both a personal and philsolphical place.  We were determined to avoid  toxic  and non-renewable materials wherever possible.   As artists, aesthetic considerations were at the forefront; quite simply, we wanted to build a soulful house made of earth. We wanted to work under the premise of honesty in materials and allow adobe to be adobe: to go beyond its known and quantified properties and to experience what it  was to live in a house made of mud. 

As knowledgeable builders we did not come to the question of not insulating the walls blindly. We knew of the energy advantages of having R19  in your walls face to face with the only .34 per inch of adobe. But  adobe had what is called the effective U-Values which were measured and codified by the Tesuque Thermal Project; great thermal mass. And for me, which was most convincing, was the experiential evidence of the comfort of living in a solar-oriented adobe house with a well-insulated, modern roof. Fortunately, through careful consideration of the house orientation, window placement and size, as well as maximally insulating the roof,  we were able to comply with the New Mexico Energy Conservation code and build the house we wanted.

 Unfortunately what was most disturbing in this process was a telephone conversation I had with a man who owned a "green"  cellulose insulation  company here in Santa Fe. Without getting any other details about our house  other that that it was adobe and that we were not planning to insulate the exterior walls, he refused to sell us insulation for the roof cavity.  He didn't want to discuss or even consider what we were doing.  In his mind,we were wrong and he was right.  It was rather heart breaking to be thought so ill of  especially by someone who was ultimately on the same "side" as us.

 As we all wrestle with the question of global warming and our addiction to oil, I think we must rely on our own  instinctual and experiential knowledge as much as in scientific and technical information. For us, building small  and living simply was equal part in our decision making. To live in a small house, we knew it had to be beautiful and sparse and that, for instance, though a fireplace might not be considered "energy efficient," for us it would be our winter heart: a place to  gather, to read, share a  evening meal or play a game. In essence what I am trying to address here is the importance of knowing yourself  and family when building a home, and as great as Hers  and Leeds are for our commercial  and developer-built buildings, they may not be the right bench mark for us as individuals. 

Incidentally our south,west and east walls are laid at the 14 inch direction with another 2 " of plaster while our north walls are double 10" walls with a 2" airspace with 2" of plaster, and our roof is insulated to R 40.

For more on rubble trench

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some great links to learn more about adobe and the people we learned from

It seems a bit odd that I have begun a blog about Adobe building with a recipe for oil paint but I guess that is in part the nature of a blog as my introduction each day is moved further down the page. I will skip around with information I have to share just as you will  skip around the blog  and internet looking for the information that may be helpful to you.

Today though, in an effort to start at the beginning, I wanted to share a little background on how John Corcoran, my partner, and I  came to learn how to  build with Adobe and some  background information on us.


John Corcoran, my partner in life and building,  and I came to New Mexico to build a small house of Adobe. John has built many homes as a contractor and on his own. He is a graduate of Goddard College in Vermont , a school that had a great program in the early 1970 where students studied home building and where he built his first home as a senior  thesis project. The experience I brought to the table was as a house designer, and as someone who spent most of her waking hours in and around the home, thus had a lot to say about a homes design and flow. This house is the third house we have built together as a team. 

On arriving in  New Mexico and as the closing on the land we wanted to purchase took a longer time than we had imagined, John and I set out to learn everything we could about adobe.

We took field trips visiting such notable historical adobe structures in and around Santa Fe and Taos:

Taos Pueblo


The Martinez Hacienda 

The Rancho de Taos

The  Ranchos de Los Golindrinas

The Acoma Pueblo 

Georgia Okeefe's Abiquie Home 

We took country drives  and  fell in love with all the small adobe villages along the Pecos River. 

We read everything we could get our hands on:

John perused  the used bookshops of Santa Fe  finding numerous out of print titles while I perused the Santa Fe    Library southwest section and  the internet. 

good used bookshops:  Gunstock Hill Books   308 N. Guadalupe                                        

                                           Nicholas Potter Books  211 East Palace


We read Ed Crocker's monthly "Understanding Adobe"column in Real Estate Guide of the Santa Fe New Mexican, and all his back columns we found on his internet site. 

We met:

Quentin Wilson the Head of Adobe Building Program at The Northern New Mexico Community College in el Rito New Mexico, an inexpensive hands on college program to learn adobe building.

And joined his yahoo  International adobe chat room, a must for anyone serious about adobe building.

Through this chat room we met  and became good friends with two invaluable player in our Adobe building: 

Simone Swann, Adobe Alliance 

Claude Hayward the guy who with a team of guys from Anton Chico put up the  adobe block and built our fireplace,  

And  I took a weekend plaster and alis paint workshop with Carole Crews where what I learned gave me complete confidence to to take over the entire plaster job inside and out on our home. 


We attended the Adobe Association of the Southwest  conference in el Rito and met people from all over the world truly passionate about adobe. There is another conference coming up this May 15, 16 and 17.

If you take the time to follow all the links I have created above and get out and drive the New Mexico countryside I whole new world will open up to you. I am only sorry I didn't discover adobe sooner.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Homemade Oil Paint


I used this paint to paint our outside window trim. I wanted to paint them to add color to the house, if you call white color, and to give the wood more protection from the elements. My thought and hope is is that the white painted wood will  weather beautifully, never peel and as I used titanium dioxide as the pigment it will be further protected from the sun. Titanium dioxide is the sun block ingredient in expensive natural sun screen. I can see giving the wood an occasional re- oiling if it warrants any care. 

 For years I have been looking for something to paint and/or stain wood to give it that look of an old northeastern house or barn faded with time. 


I used this paint to paint our interior doors.

I used the same recipe but used the walnut oil/citrus thinner combination to preserve indoor air quality. I combined a grey earth pigment I purchased  from earthpigments with the titanium dioxide I purchased at the local ceramic supply company The walnut oil may be purchased online at libertynatural or bought at your local health food store, the citrus thinner at bioshieldpaint


1/2 cup boiled linseed oil or food grade walnut oil 

3T pigment more or less to taste

1/4 cup turpentine or citrus thinner

This paint has long drying times, here in New Mexico it is dries to touch after 48 hours. Here you can add a second coat if desired.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

More about me

My interest have always revolved around home and simple living. This was my play as a child and  has been my work as  an adult. I am a 47 year old mother of a grown child and a child still at home. Living around and amongst beauty has always been paramount to my life. When most people my age were concentrating on careers, I was planting gardens and learning about foraging for wild foods.  Throughout the years I planted many gardens both professionally and for my family and co-designed 4  homes in New York's Hudson Valley. It was only in coming to New Mexico and building with adobe, cob  and earthen plasters and paints that I  began to feel fully encaged and cable in the structural aspects of the building process. Unlike conventional building methods and materials adobe and earth building allows you to control the rhythm of the process and involve very few if any power tools. For a woman with children  and with concerns broader than what  is right in front of me,  this method of building is perfectly suited.  This is not to say I haven't been  dependent on my partner John Corcoran, an individual completely competent in all aspects of building, but for me I have taken a great leap in my abilities and independence in discovering earth building. 


Everything I know about Adobe and earth building I have learned since 2006. I have learned the craft through many helpful adobederos, through books and through the trial and error of getting my hands dirty. Fortunately for me I like things that are handmade, I like worn-in blue jeans and wonky ceramic pots. I also like the machine edge and the modern and the juxtaposition of old and new, soft and hard. But as I get older and I choose to live in a smaller house I find I like to surround myself with objects that are made by hand, that speak of the hands and the spirit that went into  their making.

I tell you all of this by way of an introduction because I believe if you embrace this thinking you are already well on your way with adobe building. There are many theories on why living in an adobe home brings such a feeling of well being, including the idea of living within the walls of something that has been thoroughly embraced by human touch.  And so as you build, celebrate the imperfection of adobe and of yourself, remember the beauty  and soulfulness you find in that handmade wonky ceramic pot.

In this blog, a first for me, I will share with you what I have learned, I will connect you to the people, books and websites that have guided me and my husband John as we built a small adobe home in northwest New Mexico.  It is my hope to gradually build a site that  will include photographs , recipes and  how to essays.  Just as my adobe work is full of imperfections, so too is my writing.   Enjoy my misspellings, misuse of words and run-on sentences.