Search Baja California

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Building In Mexico: Choose the right building material

Mexican contractors now offer custom home buyers many options for building materials. To help prospective new home owners narrow the choices, we’ve compiled this primer.

Adobe, one of the worlds’ oldest building materials, has recently been reintroduced to the San Felipe market. Adobe is praised for its ability to remain warm in winter and cool in summer. Adobe blocks are comprised of a combination of clay and sand. Due to its earthen composition, adobe is unique among building materials in its ability to passively cool. Thermal mass and natural evaporative cooling allow the interior of an adobe building to drop well below ambient temperatures on hot days (without additional mechanical cooling), while remaining warm during the cold days. These qualities make adobe well suited to solar homes and those who wish to reduce energy consumption with an environmentally friendly material. Homes built from adobe are highly fire and insect resistant and offer excellent sound absorption and acoustics.

Concrete block, also referred to as CMU (concrete masonry unit) is perhaps the most common building material in san Felipe today. These blocks are laid up in a running bond with steel reinforcement and concrete poured into the blocks at predetermined intervals. CMU construction is popular because it is inexpensive and familiar to local builders. Alone, concrete is not very energy efficient, however, rigid foam insulation is often applied to the exterior to add insulation and increase the efficiency. Concrete block is also resistant to fire and insects, although acoustics are generally poor. Noise travels through concrete block walls quite easily.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) are a formwork system assembled much like a giant set of Legos. After stacking, the ICF foam blocks are filled with concrete and steel reinforcement. Visitors from the cooler parts of the U.S. may recognize ICFs as the material used to build basement walls and foundations. ICFs are sold under several brand names; Rastra, Nudura, and Ice Block are available in San Felipe. These products offer good insulation and are resistant to insects. After plastering, these products also provide adequate fire protection. Rastra offers additional fire protection by incorporating cement into the composition of its foam. ICFs buffer exterior noise well, although, interior spaces may echo due the “drum” effect of hard plaster over foam.

Insulated Concrete Panels (ICPs) are sold in San Felipe as Tri-D Panel. This product is a rigid foam panel with steel mesh on both sides. The mesh sheets are connected through the foam with steel wire. This assembly is erected on site and plastered inside and out with cement. Insulation can be very good, but varies based on the thickness of the foam in the panel. ICPs can be used for walls and roofs. They are quick to erect and have good resistance to fire and insects.

Ladrillo is a multicolor fired clay brick. They are used as in-fill between reinforced concrete columns called castillos. Ladrillo provides little energy efficiency, but can be insulated with rigid foam much like concrete blocks. These bricks are resistant to insects and fire while being inexpensive.

Straw-bale construction uses bales of straw, an agricultural waste material. The bales are stacked and pined together, then plastered. Straw-bale homes have high insulation values, are resistant to insects and fire, and have pleasant acoustics. Recently, straw-bale home building in San Felipe has been in decline due to increasing costs of transporting the bales and the labor intensive nature of plastering the uneven surface.

Deciding on a building material requires careful consideration of the benefits of each material. Ultimately, the best choice is the material that meets your unique needs. A consultation with your architect or designer may be the best way to determine the most appropriate material for your project.

About the author,
Jonathon E. Spinner is the President of Adobe Block Works,
Inc., San Felipe’s original supplier of genuine adobe blocks
and custom adobe homes. He can be reached by email at
jon@adobeblockworks.com