On August 5, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos, Council Member Tom Largo and staff members from various Community departments such as Community Development, Cultural Resources, Engineering and Construction Services, Housing and others were invited to tour three homes that have been built using adobe brick. The purpose of this was to educate key Community staff in the feasibility of adobe brick as a reliable building material for use in the Community.
Salt River Materials Group (SRMG) Vice President of Quality Assurance Jeff Hearne and FHP Builders co-owner Greg Hartman led the tour. FHP Builders purchased Old Pueblo Adobe, an adobe block manufacturing company, and SRMG has an agreement to provide a traditional alternative building material as an option for use in future homes and other structures both off and on the Community.
“Old Pueblo Adobe /FHP Builders has an agreement with SRMG to buy all the applicable materials they use in their block-making and construction business in exchange for an area on one of our production sites to fabricate the adobe blocks themselves, currently at the Dobson facility off McKellips,” said Hearne.
Adobe Brick Homes
The home tour took place in Cave Creek, where everyone got a firsthand look at adobe bricks being laid at one home under construction. The group saw the electrical wiring and water pipes, how the windows were going to be placed, and the overall process of building an adobe-brick home.
The second home was almost complete. Once the tour participants stepped inside, they felt a noticeable temperature drop; it was 112 degrees outside and about 10-15 degrees cooler inside, thanks to the insulating properties of the adobe bricks. (The home had no air conditioning yet). This home in particular was environmentally friendly in a number of ways, including using a number of reclaimed objects such as doors, wood and fixtures as building materials. This recycling of existing materials keeps them out of the landfill and added a rustic feel to the home.
The third house was Hartman’s house, which he built in 2005 for his family. Hartman led the tour through the home and showed the group things that he was able to do with some modern upgrades, such as using drywall and wood frames for closets and dividing rooms throughout his home, but still leaving most of the adobe brick exposed.
Adobe Building Process
FHP Builders’ adobe homes are built from stabilized adobe blocks, each measuring 12 by 16 by 4 inches. The walls are 16 inches thick, with an minimum insulation R value of 22. FHP seeks to design and build homes with high-quality materials and special sensitivity to complement the surrounding landscape rather than dominate it.
The adobe block is made of materials from Community land and forms a cultural connection to the way traditional adobe construction was done in the past. The bricks are made from native soils, sometimes amplified with an organic additive to make them more durable. The clay used in the process is actually left over from the material that SRMG and Salt River Sand and Rock use to make concrete mix.
“What we’re trying to do over time is to make adobe block completely out of material waste or byproducts,” said Hearne.
While honoring the past, FHP engineers its bricks to meet modern building code requirements for contemporary construction.
Adobe Brick Benefits
“Adobe bricks offer the same advantages today as they did centuries ago, being cool in summer and warm in winter,” said Enos. “The Community is looking to a more sustainable, ‘green’ direction in our future, and adobe [as a building material] is perfect for those reasons.”
Although adobe bricks are more expensive than regular bricks, and the labor-intensive nature of working with them adds to construction costs, the environmental benefits and lower heating and cooling costs will help home owners who use this material to make up that difference over time. And not to mention the long-lasting durability of an adobe home, something the O’odham people have used for generations.
“One thing that attracts people to the material is that it is familiar to us culturally—in the past, our houses were made out of mud. It is something that feels very comfortable to us,” said Enos. “If the price [of adobe brick] was a lot more predictable or in reach, I think we would see an explosion of adobe home construction in the Community. A lot of our people, especially older people, they don’t want anything fancy or huge, they just want something quiet and peaceful. It is so fitting to our environment and it gives me the feeling like going home again, but actually it’s the home coming back to us.”