Nader Khalili and Cal-Earth Institute, engineered by P.J. Vittore
Developed by CalEarth, SuperAdobe is a building system made from moistened earth-filled sandbags arranged in layers or long coils to build walls.
SuperAdobe is a rammed earth building system developed by CalEarth that uses long or short sandbags (filled with moistened earth) and arranges them in layers or long coils to build shelters or landscaping retaining walls. Strands of barbed wire are placed between each layer of sandbag to act as both mortar and reinforcement. The system is free to use for non-commercial construction and the bags are available for purchase.
Global. According to CalEarth, SuperAdobe is most appropriate for use in arid and desert environments but can be built in cold or wet climates with additional design considerations.
CalEarth has participated in many relief initiatives and their system has been implemented by several organizations including Small Earth and the Heliotrope Foundation’s Konbit Shelter.
SuperAdobe bags cost between 1,150 – 1,180 USD for a 1,000-yard roll depending on the width of the bag. Barbed wire and other required tools must be obtained separately. 250 and 500 yard rolls are also available.
Primary competitors in the field include other earth bag manufacturers (provided by CalEarth) and different earthen construction systems, such as the compressed earth block from Dwell Earth.
Another source that promotes earthbag construction is EarthbagBuilding.com, a resource of information provided by Kelly Hart and Dr. Owen Geiger. They share methods from multiple sources but do not sell bags.
Target implementers include untrained individuals because the construction requires no expensive equipment and is flexible and fast. According to the manufacturer, it is possible to build alone or as a group and for all members of a household to participate.
Sandbags are made to order. Barbed wire, shovels, tampers, soil, and water are other materials that must be obtained elsewhere.
To build a SuperAdobe wall system, users should lay earth-filled sandbags down and tamp each course. Between each layer, strands of barbed wire are placed to serve as a mortar-substitute and provide tensile reinforcement in the wall.
Superadobe is a patented system (U.S. patent #5,934,027) that is available for non-commercial use and requires a license for commercial use.
Users can obtain SuperAdobe bags by ordering them online and having them shipped anywhere in the United States. For projects needing shipment outside of the US they provide a list of earth bag manufacturers from around the world. Users can also obtain training (campus or online) from CalEarth in earthbag construction.
Size of the component
List of primary materials in the component
List of secondary materials in the component
Measurement, calculated in hours, of the component’s resistance to fire
R value associated with material/product
The compressive strength of the component, measured in megapascals
List of suitable climates for use of this components
Bags come in widths of 14, 16, 18, or 20 inches and lengths of 250, 500, and 1000 yard rolls. The earth bags are synthetic, low UV (ultra-violet) resistant and degradable. The manufacturer recommends using four-point, two strand, galvanized barbed wire between each bag course to add tensile strength. Also recommended is the use of stabilizers such as cement, lime, or asphalt emulsion mixed into the earth for more permanent structures. To protect SuperAdobe structures from erosion, plaster or exterior finishes should be used.
Each layer of bag should be tamped and coiled when stacking the wall.
Applicable SuperAdobe structures include structural arches, domes, vaults, rectilinear shapes, landscaping and infrastructure elements (dams, cisterns, roads, bridges, and shoreline stabilizers).
Educational blue prints are available for purchase for 500 USD for the “Eco-Dome” Design. Otherwise, users can build in any way they prefer with the materials and are encouraged to follow the general construction methods outlined by CalEarth. A training manual for a simple emergency sandbag shelter, in addition to books and e-books about earth-bag construction can be purchased online.
It is unlikely that repairs are needed, however bags can be purchased in small lengths should sections of a structure need to be rebuilt.
Though the full lifespan is unknown, some of the earliest earth-bag structures that CalEarth and alumni constructed have been standing for more than 10 years.
Manufacturer performance targets include structural safety, fire-proofing and insulation, flood resistance, and ease of building.
CalEarth claims that performance has been vetted for structural integrity and fire resistance. Academic research has tested the quality of ventilation, lighting and insulation.
An article by Nader Khalili and Phill Vittore outlines some of the early testing performed on the product. Plans of prototypes were examined by the Hesperia Building and Safety Department in consultation with ICBO. Live load tests were performed by Inland Engineering Corporation. UBC (Universal Building Code) compliance was tested by Southwest Inspection and testing.
CalEarth describes the Superadobe system as being a very safe method of construction because there is no need for large equipment. Workers may be exposed to regular dangers of a construction site that include working at heights and with sharp tools and materials (barbed wire, saw to cut windows, etc.).
If constructed using CalEarth’s recommendations, users should not have to use expensive equipment or perform any heavy lifting. Otherwise, users should take precaution when lifting large quantities of earth to prevent injuries associated with heavy lifting.
CalEarth cites Midwest Permaculture as a educational organization that offers resources for earthbag building and a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) upon completion of their curriculum.
Canadell, Samuel, Comprehensive design method for earthbag and super adobe structures. Materials & Design, 2016. 96: p. 270-82
Zhao, Ziling., An Energy Efficient Building System Using Natural Resources–Superadobe System Research. Procedia Engineering, 2015. 121 p. 1179-85
Kamal, Razia, and Md Saifur Rahman. A study on feasibility of super adobe technology–an energy efficient building system using natural resources in Bangladesh. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, vol. 143, no. 1, p. 012043. IOP Publishing, 2018.
Lushnikova, Nataliya. Approaches to Teaching Building Materials and Technologies for Energy-Efficient Sustainable Construction. Budownictwo i Architektura 15, no. 3 (2016): 53-62.
Lopez Gomez, Marco A., Nuria L. Pérez, Maria de las Nieves González García, and Alfonso C. Escamilla. 2019. CONSTRUCTION OF A SUPERADOBE DOME. engrXiv. March 14, 2019. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
The blueprints available for purchase come with structural calculations that can be submitted to a building department for permission to build. The SuperAdobe houses are accepted for permits in several states including California which has the highest requirements in the US for resistance to earthquakes.
In 2021, SuperAdobe was evaluated by the International Code Council and received ICC compliance.
Manufacturer cites UBC and California seismic codes as evaluation criteria.
There are international workshops for interested individuals outside of the United States.
In 2004, SuperAdobe technology was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
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