Building with Adobe and Costs per Square Foot, Continued

In my last post, I misqwindowandvigasuoted one of our contractors regarding cost to build a very basic adobe (depending on location). Rather than $160 per sq. ft., the corrected figure is $120 per sq. ft. An additional quote to build a more custom adobe near Ruidoso, NM came in at around $135 per sq. ft. from another licensed contractor, but could end up being more due to a few extra features the client is likely to add. So if you’re planning to build and trying to keep sq. footage costs down to a basic level, what are some things to avoid?

An easy one is to keep floor levels the same height throughout the house. Every step up or down means more foundation work, leveling and rechecking. Another is to reduce the number of corners and turns in the home. Every time you turn a corner, masons must slow down, check their leads and reset their lines. Another easy one is to ask yourself is if adjacent living spaces need to be separated by a door. If not, an arch will do, look good and raise the attractiveness of the home. Plus, passive solar heating and cooling are aided by open floor plans.

Still another is to run the tops of most window and door roughbucks up to the underside of the bond beam that by code must be installed on every earthen home. Using standard window heights, the builder can save the cost of lintels by using the bond beam as the lintel above most doors and other openings.

One saver that most don’t realize is that an exposed, fully stabilized adobe or pressed block wall is cheaper to build than an unstabilized or semi-stabilized wall of the same materials that is covered with plaster or stucco. Plastering is not cheap. Plan your smooth plasters to go where they are traditional, such as around kitchens and bathrooms or areas that will be cleaned or tiled. Darker adobe walls can be painted with slurry of light colored dry wall compounds or mud slips to lighten up a room (don’t use vinyl-based paints). Keep in mind that electrical in exposed adobe walls must be run within the coursing- no gouging or channeling is advised, as aesthetics are important with exposed work.

My next post will continue on the theme of Expanding the Starter Home.  Stay tuned.

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3 thoughts on “Building with Adobe and Costs per Square Foot, Continued

  1. I have to wonder why the cost isn’t even cheaper really. I mean, perhaps start a co-op with CDL drivers and poor old Detroit, Michigan with all those vacant houses with windows, wood and fixtures? Just move it South, “waste not want not” sort of thing. And with the off-grid solar power wars going with fossil fuel power companies in the news of late, why not whole communities with their own power grid, underground, out of sight.

  2. I read the cost per square foot discussions with interest. I was the owner/builder of a 2000 sq ft passive solar adobe just outside Magdalena back in 78. I started in 78 and we moved in in 1980. When I calculated the total costs (land/well/elect service, materials and labor for the electrician and plumber and various helpers) for my tax returns I came up with about $45,000 or a bit over $20 a ft. Those were definitely the good old days. When we had to move I sold the house for 65,000 and thought I had done well (wish I had been able to keep it). In the late 90s I saw the house advertised in NM Magazine for $250,000. The new owners have made many improvements and the house should last many/many more years.

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