Business & Economy

Superadobe, cheap construction technique becoming popular in Mexico

By Mariana Gonzalez-Marquez

Guadalajara, Mexico, Feb 1 (efe-epa).- Jessica and Salvador decided to move to the Mexican countryside and live in a house they built themselves using so-called “superadobe,” an environmentally friendly material and a technique that they are now teaching to anyone who wants to live in a more ecologically sound manner.

Houses made of superadobe can weather bad storms and even powerful earthquakes because of their structure, EFE learned from Jessica Romero, who along with her husband Salvador Montaño runs the Igloo Kokolo environmental learning center in Ribera de Chapala, in the western state of Jalisco.

“Besides being quake-proof … we’re using the earth we have available, although one can add a little cement to make it more resistant,” she said.

Superadobe was created by US-Iranian architect Nader Khalili and since the 1990s the technique has spread all over the world as an alternative to traditional houses and in places that have suffered some kind of natural disaster.

Construction is done with plastic sacks filled with earth, sand or some other material that can be acquired from the spot where the house will be erected.

The sacks are piled on top of each other in a circle reinforced with barbed wire to provide stability until a dome is formed. One can also use other materials to cover the walls and provide texture to them.

On the walls, one can use bottles or chunks of glass so that light can enter the structure and, simultaneously, those materials can be reused rather than just thrown away. Or, one can use wood to make the frames of bona-fide windows and doors.

In making the kitchen and dining room, the roof can be made out of palm branches or some other natural material found at the construction site.

The technique helps the structure to be weather-proof, saves on electricity and also has a low environmental impact, since it’s not necessary to excavate to lay a cement foundation.

“What we like a lot about this technique is that anyone can get involved in building their house, which is how our grandparents did it. Everyone can take part in the work … The whole family can participate and help in the construction of the home,” Romero said.

Building structures out of superadobe allows people to build their own homes from scratch without requiring any architectural knowledge, and the houses are ready in one or two months and at very low cost, Montaño said.

“The cost of these structures depends on many factors and it’s hard to give an approximate cost but it’s much more economical than traditional construction, between 30 percent and 50 percent,” he said.

When the couple left the city 12 years ago they decided that Salvador would put into practice what he had learned in getting his sustainability degree and they began their hands-on work.

First, they created the environmental learning center where they lived for a time and then they got the idea to teach others how to build this kind of home.

So far, they have helped to build homes in nearby communities near Chapala and also in the local Wixaritari Indian communities in northern Jalisco.

Juan Diego Olera, the owner of a goat farm near Chapala, told EFE that with the Covid-19 pandemic he had to suspend the tours he was organizing to show people how the animals are raised and what products they provide.

Now, he wants to build houses in open areas close to nature so that visitors can return and visit the farm. The superadobe houses provide a good option for achieving this goal, he said.

“We see that many city people are looking for open, isolated spaces out in nature and our farm is ideal for these kinds of activities. What we want to house people in is something very unique, special, very sustainable and ecological and so we’re studying these techniques,” he said.

Olera said that having this kind of houses available is the best option amid an environmental crisis since they have the least impact on the environment.

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