WHAT IS SOLID EARTH AFRICA’S CONCEPT?
Adobe house built with mud blocks
A way to get better health, save money and protect the trees
SEA works to strengthen the individual household by introducing sustainable adobe mud-blocks as the preferred material for building new houses. An adobe house includes wood saving stove and chimney. Adobe houses can be built by trained persons and the building technique is the combination of Chika House and Cement Hallow Block which, like an adobe house, also could be plastered with chika. Adobe mud block is simply mixture of fermented red clay, straw and water.
An adobe house uses ⅓ as much wood as a traditional chika house, yet costs no more than a traditional house. It can also be built to look like a traditional house which, like an adobe house, is also plastered with a mixture of chika. Chika actually simply means a mixture of red clay, straw and water, the same material used to make mud-blocks.
If properly built and maintained, an adobe house can last 2-5 times as long as a chika house. Some of the most important benefits mentioned by adobe homeowners, especially women, are that adobe houses are more comfortable and healthier to live in. Because the exterior walls are massive earth, mud-block houses are cooler by day and warmer at night. Night-time temperatures during the winter drop down to between 5-10°C. And because an adobe wall is airtight, there are less draughts in the house.
WHY ADOBE INSTEAD OF WOOD?
Ethiopians today are no different than anyone else. They dream of owning a better house. One that looks more “modern”. And just as important, one that lasts longer than the one they are living in. The traditional chika house has become very expensive. In a few areas of Ethiopia, a lack of wood and stone has forced people to build mud-block houses. The truth is that, today, this way of building has very low status. Only the poorest are willing to live in such old-fashioned houses. Wood houses are associated with greater status. And concrete and steel houses, though not affordable for those living in chika houses, are nonetheless seen as a huge step up. SEA wants to renew the adobe-earth house tradition, improve it and make it modern. We are convinced that high-quality adobe houses, with beautiful and modern designs, can meet the housing needs of most Ethiopians. Adobe can be used to build very simple and inexpensive houses. But adobe can also be used to build luxury houses!
THE ADVANTAGES OF AN ADOBE HOUSE
So why should ordinary Ethiopians choose to build with a largely unfamiliar new building material? Because an adobe house has many advantages:
Costs 30% less to build than a chika house
If properly maintained, will 3-5 times longer than a wood house
Is more comfortable and healthier to live in because the exterior walls are made of massive earth, and are therefore cooler by day and warmer by night
Airtight walls mean no drafts during cold winter nights
Protects the land from which people get their food because it uses much less wood
WHAT ACTUALLY IS ADOBE?
You can also check out this local training camp in Challiya, Ethiopia.
HISTORY OF ADOBE
Adobe houses have been used for thousands of years in other parts of the world. Already 10,000 years ago people were building shelters using earth in various forms. There are examples in the Middle East which date back to 8000 BC. One of the most impressive earth structures is the Great Wall of China. Throughout the world thousands of earth buildings more than 500 years old are still in sound condition. And people are still living in them!
It is estimated that as much as half the world’s population—approximately three billion people on six continents — currently live or work in buildings made of earth. Many assume that adobe is only used for housing in poor rural areas. But there are examples of airports, embassies, hospitals, museums, and factories, as well as high-end houses in Hollywood that are built of earth.
The Wood-Saving Household (WSH)
In addition to the adobe house concept (shelter) there are two additional key household functions (cooking & lighting). Together this represent SEA’s wood-saving household concept:
Transitioning from wood-intensive traditional chika houses to more sustainable adobe houses.
Moving from cooking food on an open fire to using a wood-saving and clean-burning cook stove.
Replacing an open fire with off-grid solar panels to provide light after dark.
Taken together, this means that, in the long run, an average family will be able to increase its living standard by saving money and energy used to get wood while at the same time making an important contribution towards protecting the remaining forests. The adobe house is a starting point for household improvement. Because it lasts much longer than a traditional house, families save a lot of money which can be used to invest in other home improvements. One of the keys to success is making a commitment to saving money. The improvements illustrated below provide different benefits. For example, the chimney and wood-saving stove are linked to better health and also to saving trees.
Improved wood-saving cooking stove
In Africa, wood-as-fuel accounts for two thirds of all energy used. And about half of this wood is used for cooking.Traditional cook stoves are often nothing more than several rocks that support a cooking pot over an open fire. This method of cooking requires at least two times as much wood as the adobe cook stove. Notice that the three different hobs are interlinked so that the firewood used burns more efficiently.
In addition to the environmental gain of such a design, an adobe cook stove—when combined with a chimney built into the exterior wall – gives another important health benefit, particularly for women. Together they reduce the amount of indoor smoke and thereby the direct cause of two of the most prevalent household-related health problems—lung diseases and eye conditions.
- reduces women and children’s work load because they don’t need to spend so much time and energy finding wood for food preparation
- protects the land from which people get their food because an adobe cook stove uses less wood
- gets indoor smoke from cooking food – the direct cause of two of the most prevalent household-related health problems for women and children, lung diseases and eye conditions—out of the house
Household lighting based on solar energy
Nightfall comes early in the tropics. Traditionally light comes from a fire which also serves as a social focal point for the household. Even though the evening fire isn’t fueled by firewood but more often by dead leaves, twigs and even cow dung (biomass), the total amount of CO2 produced represents a significant impact on the global environment.
- An inexpensive solar energy and lighting system produced in China doesn’t cost more than 1,000 Ethiopian Birr.
- Such a system provides light so children can do their homework in the evening
- A solar panel can also provide electricity to charge a cellular phone and other small appliances
For ordinary Ethiopians currently living in chika houses, the potential savings of a wood-saving household, in terms of money and wood, are obvious! The savings for the environment are perhaps less obvious, though equally real! The figure above illustrates the impact that the wood-based house building tradition has on Ethiopia’s remaining forests. It also shows the huge potential that introducing adobe has in terms of environmental protection.
ADOBE’S LONG-TERM POTENTIAL
SEA’s vision is that an adobe house can become the center of a wood-saving household. Focusing on, documenting, adapting and marketing wood-saving households is SEA’s contribution to reducing deforestation. In the long-run, a wood-saving household can also transform a house from being a consumer product (just expenses) to becoming a household-based “economic development project”. These micro development projects are designed, implemented and funded by ordinary Ethiopians who believe that an adobe house is a good financial investment. With 60-70% of Ethiopians living in wood houses, the number of potential ”beneficiaries” of SEA’s adobe concept is over 80 million people! We prefer to call them adobe self-builders. A self-builder is someone who both builds and pays for their own house. These are SEA’s real partners! They are the real implementers of the adobe concept! Through a longer process of reflection and community conversation – often facilitated by trusted community leaders—these people gradually become convinced that building an adobe house will lead to a better standard of living for their whole family.
Once built, their adobe house can become a hub that makes it possible to invest in a number of other home improvements. Since their adobe house lasts much longer, money they would have used to keep replacing a chika house every 3-10 years can be used for other priorities. Improvements like a latrine, solar lighting and a rainwater harvesting cistern make life easier, healthier and more environmentally friendly. Wood saved means money saved. But it also means that every adobe household is a more environmentally sustainable household. Each wood-saving household is a mini environmental protection project. The carbon foot-print such a household leaves on our planet is significantly reduced.
We think that with new know-how, and with the experience of building a new kind of house, adobe homeowners can become the real experts in what we hope will become hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of small household-based development projects.
People can access wood-saving know-how in many ways– through local craftsmen, private contractors, vocational schools, grass-roots government agencies, churches, and other community groups. One of SEA’s major roles is linking these resources together. Together these very different stakeholders are SEA’s most important resource! And they are all home-grown in Ethiopia. Ethiopians, in fact, have most of the resources needed to build a better future for themselves.
Potential 2 million new houses per year
So, what is the potential for building adobe houses? Let’s use some statistics:
- Current population is 106 million. Out of this, approximately 70% is living in a chika Estimated 5 persons per household make these approximately 15 million households.
- The total volume of houses is then calculated to 15 million. If in average a chika house lasts for 10 years (that is optimistic), we have a potential of 1.5 million houses that need renewal.
- In addition to renewal of houses, the current population growth of 3% per year gives an additional 0.5 million houses.
- In total, this gives a total potential of 2 million houses per year.
Using this potential will make a huge impact, not only for the individual, but for the total environment.
RECOMMENDED SOURCES FOR FURTHER READING
More adobe information:
The adobe building system is well described on: http://www.adobebuilding.com
Be convinced about the performance of adobe: http://www.adobebuilding/education.html
Information about material: http://www.adobebuilding.com/Education/green%20building.html
Information about design: http://www.adobebuilding.com/Education/green%20design.html
Advantages of earth building: http://www.solidearth.co.nz/earthbuilding-advantages.php
Different aspects on adobe in Ethiopia:
Famous adobe buildings:
Nice pictures and information:
A number of books and handbooks on adobe are available. Here are some:
Examples of adobe around the world: Many pictures and videos can be found on the internet, just try to search for adobe, adobe house, adobe construction, adobe blocks, earth building, etc.
Adobe buildings around the world: