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Thousands of years ago, many primitive societies, such as those in the Americas and the Middle East, made their homes from an easily-obtained construction material: mud bricks, or adobe. The oldest structures made from adobe date back to 8300 B.C., and there are structures made from adobe that still stand today.

In this article, we explore the advantages of using this ancient construction material for homes or temporary shelters.

Advantages of Adobe

As a material that’s been used for centuries, adobe definitely offers several benefits. Despite its “primitive” aspect, here are a few of the advantages of using and working with adobe:

  • Fireproof
  • Low-cost
  • Durable
  • Biodegradable
  • Non-toxic
  • Doesn’t require costly tools or equipment to make or handle
  • Has good insulation properties
  • Offers decent soundproofing
  • Has good water resistance
  • Repair or maintenance is easy and cheap
  • Training people to use and construct with adobe is easier, compared to more conventional materials like concrete or cement

Famous landmarks made from mud bricks like the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico have stood for 1000 years. Its thick walls are re-plastered every year in ritualistic fashion (Touropia.com/amazing-mud-brick-buildings/).

Is the mud good enough?

Before you begin to mold the mud into bricks, first you have to determine whether the mud you’ll source will hold together. The simplest way to do this is to first get your prospective mud from a source that’s withstood the elements. A good “source” would be from the top or sides of a hill, as this has already withstood rain and erosion. Once you’ve taken a sample of the soil from this “source”, roll it up into a ball. If the soil has retained its shape without crumbling easily, then this is a viable material to make into mud bricks.

What you’ll need

Here’s a list of the materials and equipment you’ll need to make your mud bricks:

  1. Soil
  2. Sand
  3. Shovel
  4. Mesh screen (20 mesh)
  5. Straw
  6. Three pieces of 2 x 4 wood: Two pieces 5 feet long and one piece 7 feet long
  7. Hammer
  8. Nails
  9. Gloves
  10. Measuring tape
  11. Hoe
  12. Bucket
  13. Kiln (optional)

Making the mud bricks

Before you go off making the bricks, check that the weather will remain clear for the days and possibly weeks you’ll need the sun to dry your mud bricks. If you’re not sure if it’s going to rain, have a shaded, dry area to dry them, or have a kiln ready to dry and “bake” the bricks.

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To make mud bricks, perform these steps:

Step 1. Collect all the soil you’ll need, and sift it through your mesh screen. Remove all small stones that could cause the bricks to weaken and crack. Sift the sand as well to remove any impurities.

Here’s what your brick mold could look like. For more bricks, simply make a larger mold, but don’t make it so large that you can’t handle it(MotherEarthNews.com/green-homes/making-adobe-bricks-zmaz81mazraw).

 

Step 2. Make the brick mold; using two of the 5-foot lengths of wood for the sides, cut the third piece into 6 lengths of 14 inches each. Nail these pieces to the two 5-foot lengths, spacing them 10 inches apart. You should have a mold that looks like a ladder that can hold five bricks, each brick measuring 10 x 14 inches.

Step 3. If you’re making a few bricks, you can use a wheelbarrow to make the mud. For a bigger project, dig a large hole in the ground to serve as your “mixing pit”; a hole 3 feet deep should suffice. Fill the hole with water, and let it drain out by itself. This could take a day, but it’s a necessary step to keep the walls from crumbling while you make the mud.

Step 4. Once the hole has mostly drained, fill the hole halfway up with your soil. Fill a bucket with water and add it to the soil, mixing it well with a hoe or shovel. Add the “binding material” of straw. Remember that for the bricks to keep together, the composition should be about 40-60% straw, depending on how sturdy you want the walls of your home or shelter to be. You can also add some sand to make the “binding” stronger; sand is useful in lowering the soil’s clay content and ensuring the bricks bind together better. Add water slowly as needed, being careful not to make the mud too “soupy”.

Instead of digging a hole, you can also use a tarp to mix the mud and straw. Dump the mud and straw onto a tarp, then “carefully” stomp them together with your bare feet (NaturalBuildingCollective.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/3-mix-cob-with-your-feet-and-add-some-straw.jpg).

Step 5. Lay your mold on a flat area of ground that has been cleared of stones and vegetation. Add the mud mixture to each of the 5 sections with your shovel, filling them completely. Trim off any excess mud carefully off the top of each mold. Using the back of the shovel, pat each brick to pack the mud in and remove any air bubbles and excess water.

Step 6. Let the bricks settle before removing the mold. Move to another dry area to make the next batch of bricks. Continue the process until you’ve made enough bricks to complete your project.

Step 7. Allow the mud bricks to dry under the sun for four days, then stand them up vertically to let them completely dry and harden. You should let the bricks dry for up to 4 weeks before using them to avoid any crumbling or flaking problems.  Sun-dried bricks can last for up to 30 years before cracking, but you can extend their durability by firing them in a kiln.

Drying mud bricks can take at least a month, but building a home from this low-cost, fireproof and weather-resistant material can be well worth the effort (GettyImages.com).

Final notes

Mud or adobe bricks are one of the oldest building materials in history. Some construction firms in the Australian outback have opted to make entire homes out of adobe, while many centuries-old historical landmarks in Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and South America made from mud bricks still stand today. There’s no reason to not seriously consider using adobe for a home or semi-permanent shelter to use when SHTF. Making mud bricks seems easy enough, but before you start, do your homework before building your structure, and you can have a sturdy, low-cost, relatively easy-to-build structure that protects you from the elements for years to come. If you’re thinking about building in an area where building codes apply, consult your state and local building codes and, if necessary, get some expert advice to make the project go smoothly.