Saturday, September 24, 2011

Earthbag Buddies

Aly and me in her outdoor kitchen.  Photo by Mary Longe.
One of the cool things that happened this summer is that I connected with Aly B, of Building an Earthbag Home in Northern New Mexico.  We had been following each others' blogs and emailing a bit, but then one day she walked into the cafe where I do most of my writing work, and I recognized her from the photo on her blog.  Since then, we've visited each other's places and hung out for barbecue (and had a bit too much fun at the Station Bar at KTAO Solar Center one night).  She even loaned me her truck for a couple of days when mine was in the shop. 

It's been great to have someone else to talk to about all this stuff that most people don't know jack about and/or couldn't care less about.  I mean, how many people want to get into a passionate discussion about gravity-fed water versus electric pumps? (Well, in Taos, probably more than the average place, but still.)

And then the fact that she's another single woman building a house on the mesa is a major blessing.  One thing I've found since I've started my project is the need for some men to try to take charge in subtle - or not so subtle - ways.  There is a LOT more I could say about that, but I'll refrain.  (If you're a woman, you're probably already quite familiar with what I'm talking about, and if you're a man, all I can say is it's not a bad idea to watch for the tendency to talk down to women and feel entitled to take control in some way under the guise of being "helpful."  Enough said.)

Anyway, Aly and I are doing a mini-earthbag workshop together tomorrow at the Fall Harvest Festival that I'm coordinating.  It will be at UNM-Taos' Klauer Campus, if any of you want to come out tomorrow. 

Working on this festival has been a LOT of work, but I feel pretty passionate about it because the focus is sustainability, and we're offering a bunch of different free workshops on things like solar energy independence, water catchment, adobe brick-making, just to name a few.

Aly and I are going to just give a basic introduction to earthbag building in our workshop.  We'll talk about why it's a good choice for owner-builders with little or no construction experience and limited budgets.  We'll show them the basic tools, and what scoria looks like.  We'll show images of finished earthbag houses.  I think it's going to be fun!

I also think, after this festival is over, I just want to go hide in a cave for about a month :)  Well, it won't be a cave, more like an apartment that I'm moving into at the end of the month, but same difference.  It's been a very active summer for me, both in terms of the physical labor of working on the building site and in terms of organizing this festival.  And a lot of other things too.  I'm ready for a break.  I'm still hoping to get the trench finished before winter, though, and will probably have a "digging party" around the middle of October.

But for now, I've got a festival to get through tomorrow, then moving the weekend after.  Miles to go before I sleep.


  1. You are so right about the comment on men trying to take charge and tell you how to do your project. I say to them, good luck on that one; you are a woman that has taken some mighty big steps on your own, and are fully capable of continuing on your own. Helpful suggestions and taking over are not the same.

  2. Thanks for your understanding about that bit, Lou. I was a little worried some men might get offended by it, but in my experience it's the men who DON'T try to "take charge" - such as you - who don't get offended. And I have to say, I've very much appreciated your suggestions, especially because of the spirit they've been offered in.

  3. I believe there is a difference between someone trying to take charge and someone offering up experienced advice. There are times it can be confusing. Just don't let the desire to do things your way, make you discount or reject solid advice. Sometimes people get their feelings hurt or feel as if someone else wants to take over, when it really isn't the case. It may not be a gender thing at all.

    Often inexperienced builders want to do something that will not work, won't last or may even be unsafe. I personally feel as if it would be negligent of those with experience not to speak up. Better in my opinion to speak up and have a clear conscience, then see a problem and stay quiet. Not every guy wants to save the damsel. Some just offer up experience as a way of paying back and contributing.

  4. Hey, I've been meaning to ask you how much these bags of scoria are. It looks like they would be pretty pricey to me but maybe you have some kind of local source I'm not aware of.

    What hours are you usually at Wired? I would like to try and get over there maybe tomorrow or Thursday.

  5. Brad - I wrote a long response to your comment when you first posted it, but Blogger ate it. The gist of it was that you make some really good points, and that I do value suggestions offered from experience. My issue is more with the way help is offered. For example, I had someone this summer simply show up uninvited at my place telling me what he was going to do to "help" me, and this felt invasive to me. In another instance, I was given a lecture about something "dangerous" I was doing (not related to building), and when I did a little research later, discovered the lecture was composed of misinformation and exaggeration.

  6. Little House - I'm at Wired usually any day of the week between the hours of about 9:30 and 4:30 or so, except for Tuesdays, when I'm out at Klauer. After next week, though, that will change because I'll be living in town again and won't need to go to Wired to work. You can email me at, and we can exchange phone numbers; that might be a more efficient way to do things.

    As for scoria, you'd be better off asking Aly at Building an Earthbag Home in Northern New Mexico. She's actually bought some, while I haven't yet done much research into it since I'm not in need of it yet. I have, however, been told about the Red Rover mine past Tres Piedras as a good cheap source.

  7. I can understand your frustration and certainly there are guys and gals all over who believe they know more then they do. I certainly have met my share. After a life time in construction, I have encountered people of all sorts. Some can spin pretty good yarns about their abilities and knowledge. Later it is found, that their experience is limited to having read a book and that hands on is something they have yet to do. Not only does this happen with DIYs, but even some so called building professionals lack real life experience.

    I just wanted to point out that your experiences are more human and not just male vs female in nature. Consider the source of all advice. If someone approaches you about a detail or construction process, give it some thought and research it.

    My concern with much of the alternative building that I see on the web is safety. In many areas which are not considered seismic active, home builders are taking advantage of lax or no building codes. This coupled with untried designs, new techniques, new building materials and unskilled labor can be problematic.

    Some home builders because of costs try to take shortcuts or because they are in a hurry skip steps. Many place the design aspect ahead of safety or standard building practices. This type of mindset can be dangerous.

    The last thing anyone in the building industry wants to see, alternative or conventional, is a building failure. Whether it be a roof that leaks, poor drainage or catastrophic collapse, the owners lose.

    Be safe and think about what your doing. Never lose sight of the fact your going to be living in the building. Do your best to learn the skills needed to do a professional job. Better to take more time and do it right, then to have to go back and do it again.