Green Building in Taos
Taos has become an epicenter for Green Building on our Earth. This is partly due to the historic influences of the adobe built Taos Pueblo, the amenable weather, and the enthusiasm of forward-looking builders who have dared, and our daring to use creative and sustainable thinking in their concepts and designs. Green building is a way to use natural materials, many of which are found in the Taos area, in order to live more naturally, leaving as few footprints as possible on Earth.
Adobe has been used for eons in many cultures around the world. It consists of about 15 – 30% clay mixed with an aggregate of chopped straw, dirt, and water, then usually shaped into bricks and allowed to sun dry. Adobe has the ability to be built in a square, rectangular, or circular form. It does need mud or plaster coating in order for it to be more weatherproof. It is an excellent mass material, holding the heat and coolness well.
Taos is well-known for its many adobe-built homes and commercial buildings, including the Taos Pueblo, with a range of architectural style from Pueblo-style, to Spanish Colonial, to modern revivals, including recent unique designs. It is fun to wander around Taos looking at the myriad adobe structures.
Dome buildings have been built from the beginnings of human history starting with simple dome-shaped huts to the magnificent domed cathedrals, mosques, and public buildings from Roman to modern times.
The most well known modern concept is the Geodesic Dome promoted by Buckminster Fuller. If you look around Taos, especially out on the mesa, you will see quite a few geodesic dome homes as well as sustainable greenhouses. Geodesic domes are the only man-made structure that is proportionally stronger the more it increases in size. It is made with wood or steel struts, into triangles that form into a series of great circles. Construction costs, especially if building from scratch can be higher due to the many hours needed to construct the individual triangles, however kits are also easily obtainable.
Earthbag Domes (sandbags) are quite strong, hence the use of them in flood control. Plus, they resist all kinds of weather. Traditionally they were made of burlap bags, but for rot-resistance, polypropylene bags are now more commonly used. They have the advantage of not being rigid and so can be built up into domes, vaults, and arches. Many “natural looking” and creatively shaped homes have been built using this method, which was first adapted and used by the architect Nader Khalili who is familiar with Middle Eastern architecture.
Taos is the “true home” of Earthships and visitors often make it one of their destination stops to go to Michael Reynolds’ compound and study center just past the Gorge Bridge where his Earthship Biotecture business and study center is located. Earthships can be anywhere from simple to elaborate and quite elegant. They are basically earth-sheltered buildings made of tires filled and rammed with earth, usually arranged in a horseshoe shape. Windows are placed on the “open” side of the building and create wonderful passive solar heating. Like traditional adobe homes, the roofs are heavily insulated. Many earthships use other ecological or green concepts, such as water catchments, composting toilets, and indoor gardening with recycling of grey water. They are labor intensive to build, however that is perfect for those who want to build themselves.
Pumice-crete is a masonry material used for building the walls of residential and commercial buildings. It is a locally produced green building material. The raw materials are found within 200 miles of Taos.
Using a volcanic stone called pumice combined with Portland, cement walls are cast on the building site. Pumice-crete walls provide excellent thermal performance and structural strength in one material. This wall system perfectly matches the adobe styles of building, which feature thick walls and plaster finishes and custom woodwork.
Being a low-density concrete material, pumice-crete walls are fireproof and require little maintenance once completed. Pumice-crete buildings are naturally warm and easy to heat in the winter and stay cool in the hot summer months. No additional insulation of the walls is required as the pumic-crete itself is and excellent insulating material. It is a masonry material so, like adobe, the thermal mass stays cool in the hot months. Pumice-crete buildings require no active air conditioning systems to keep a building cool in the summer and are perfectly suited to passive solar design for warmth in the winter. Efficiency of construction and excellent performance are why over 300 buildings in the Taos valley have been constructed using this building system.
For builders who are looking for great building performance, structural integrity that is adaptable to many architectural styles, and a sustainable building material, Pumice-crete is an excellent choice. For more information, visit www.pumice-crete.com
85% of a Rastra building block is made of recycled, post-consumer polystyrene waste combined with Portland cement. Think polystyrene cups mixed with cement. The blocks are a standard 10” thick by 15” high by 7.5 feet long, that go together like pieces of Lego or Lincoln Logs. The advantage over some of the natural building materials, such as adobe, is that it can be built as high as five stories. Finished buildings are typically stuccoed on the outside and plastered on the inside.
Another benefit of Rastra Blocks are that they are highly flexible and can be shaped into gentle curves, rounded corners, and free form designs, often creating fantastic and whimsical buildings. Like with Earthship designs, glass blocks and bottles can by placed in walls for extra light and artistic effects. In addition, the thermal mass of the concrete provide extra insulation and fireproofing.
A Taos resident was overheard singing about how her home was strawbale! Strawbale has become popular all over the southwest, especially in Taos. It has wonderful insulation and is easy to use in construction. Care does have to be taken to ensure it stays dry to prevent rotting, hence both inner and outer plastering. A post and beam construction with strawbales used as fill is the most common non-load bearing type of construction. Strawbales as the main load-bearing material can also be built and here is where you can see those lovely extra thick walls. It is a superior insulation material.