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  • Writer's pictureArt of Construction

AOC Show 129 - Compressed Earth Blocks - Healthy Sustainable Building Materials

Jim Hallock and Lisa Schroder, owners of Colorado Earth

Colorado Earth logo and website link

Jim Hallock and Lisa Schroder, owners of Colorado Earth, join us on the Art of Construction to share how they are making healthier and more sustainable homes from Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB).

Jim and Lisa take us through the process of how CEBs are manufactured, the benefits of using them over sticks and bricks construction, and what their vision of a better future holds. Don’t think of CEBs as “alternative,” and instead learn why humans have been building with them for over 10,000 years and why it’s time to start using earth blocks more widely in the United States.

Lisa is a professional engineer and architectural designer with over 16 years of experience in management, design, and construction, with a background in adobe brick construction. She is an author of a book “Adobe Homes for all Climates” on how to build with adobe bricks and holds a patent on an innovative building system that incorporates reinforcement and scaffolding into the wall system.

Jim is a builder, specializing for the past 23 years in stabilized compressed earth blocks. His passion is the expansion of knowledge regarding the benefits of earth as a viable building material. In that pursuit, he has conducted dozens of workshops on earthen construction in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Mexico, Africa, Central and South America, and Haiti. He has significant experience, in several cultures, transferring earth block building skills to others.

0:21 Introduction

1:02 Speed round, get to know Lisa

2:32 Speed round, get to know Jim

4:00 Lisa’s background - graduated in civil engineering in 1998, in 1999 went to art school for architecture in New Zealand. Documented an adobe house project for school while there, wrote a book, Adobe Homes for all Climates, met Jim in 2007.

6:04 Jim’s background - got into construction after graduating from college. Came to Denver in 1993 looking for a healthier house for his wife who has multiple chemical sensitivities. In that search found Earth Blocks. Has traveled around the world building with Earth Blocks

9:48 What are Compressed Earth Blocks? CEBs are like adobe, but adobe has a higher water content and uses forms and cures for a day. CEBs are made of screened sand, clay and a stabilizer like lime or cement and made with a machine.

12:10 How does the CEB machine work? Colorado Earth has a plant in Golden, CO that produces CEBs that are shipped around the southwest. Will also have mobile machines starting in 2019.

12:53 Francesco Piazzesi, the founder of of Echale A Tu Casa - makes earth block houses in Mexico and has a factory that makes Earth Block Machines. He's getting Colorado Earth another mobile machine.*

14:11 How do you use CEB? They do not have siding, sheet-rock, paints. CEBs absorb and release water molecules which makes the walls “breathable,” which helps control humidity and heat. Uses tinted plaster to get different colors.

17:11 CEBs are treated as a weaker concrete masonry unit. Can build to 2 stories without framing. Does need insulation in Colorado. Colorado Earth makes a double wythe wall, each wythe is 6” wide with 3” of insulation, or 10” wall with insulation on the exterior with mesh and plaster.

18:14 All the different trades needed for a traditional sticks and brick house - framers, siding installers, insulators, painters, sheet-rocks and tapers, finish carpenters. CEBs just need stacking, insulation and plaster.

18:56 Cost estimate, comparing materials and labor CEBs are cheaper than sticks and bricks

20:29 CEBs are not “new age” or “alternative building materials.” This technique has been around for 10,000 years. Worldwide, this is a common building material.

23:53 Earth Blocks are first stepping stone in Colorado Earth's Mission. They want to build the ultimate sustainable, healthy, green, net zero and local home; which would be in a model village to show a way to live cheaply, simply and healthy. Need to move towards to a regenerative way of living. Looking at ways to have a communal living area with shared tools, childcare, eating together.

32:03 CEBs are fireproof, have done testing

33:13 Issues with building codes - building codes are not set up for non-traditional building materials. Earth Blocks almost got dropped from the International Building Code. Make sure fire testing and energy testing keeps happening. Home are cool and quiet and bug proof.

37:20 CEB production - Jim and Lisa work with quarries, they use the “overburden.” CEBs are using the waste from other industry. CEB production is very clean, especially compared to cement, fired bricks and other sticks and bricks building materials.

41:37 Colorado Earth puts on workshops in Colorado, participants go through the entire building process. Last project was soup to nuts making an outhouse.

*More from Jim about Francesco Piazzesi, the founder of Echale A Tu Casa. Echale has constructed over 35000 CEB homes for "the bottom of the pyramid" (Francesco's term). They have remodeled another 150,000 homes, putting over a million low-income Mexicans in quality housing. He was up for the World Habitat Awards a few years ago. Echale made the finalist cut. Francesco is also one of the three brothers that own Ital Mexicana, a machine manufacturing factory in Mexico City. They manufacture many types of machinery but our interest is in the fact they have been manufacturing high quality earth block machines for over 30 years. When in 2009 Francesco learned that I was working in Haiti, he gave us a machine! He is now bringing his technology into the U.S. through Colorado Earth and he is, once again, supplying a complete line of equipment for us to build the ultimate "friend of the planet" show home next spring. Colorado Earth is forming a U.S. partnership with him right now so he can do business on this side of the border. We have been friends and sometimes collaborators for 20 years. It is an honor just to know him.

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