adobe house

What Is An Adobe House? Characteristics, Examples, Sustainability

If you’re based in the Southwestern United States or are simply an architectural enthusiast, you may have heard of the term adobe, which builders use to create a unique-looking adobe house. 

Manufacturers make bricks traditionally using earth mixed with organic materials and water and baking them in the sun. However, today, they make modern building materials for adobe homes with other components like lime, asphalt, and cement to make the house stronger and maintain current building codes. 

Adobe houses have an ancient look and are well-suited for hot and dry climates. But what exactly do adobe-style homes look like? Read on to learn about its characteristics and sustainability.

Related Read: Cob House, Natural Building - Eco-Friendly Materials & Techniques

What is an adobe style house? 

adobe house with blue door
Photo by Sheila Sund on PxHere licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The word ‘adobe’ refers to a building technique also called Pueblo-style homes. Adobe is a dried mud brick made from earth and organic materials, including sand, clay, straw, etc. Manufacturers mix these earthen materials with water before drying them in the sun. 

Builders then use adobe bricks to build iconic traditional homes. You can find the building materials used for adobe-style homes in dry and harsh climates like Southwestern North America, the American Southwest, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. 

Brief history of adobe houses  

While adobe houses are popular in the Southwestern United States, let’s take it back to where it all began. Adobe homes and architecture take their deep roots in the Middle East as far back as before 5100 BC1.

An adobe house is famous in desert climates where the ancient builders created building materials using organic materials. These regions didn’t have enough wood that builders could use. So, adobe was a popular building material. The adobe home material could absorb heat during the day and slowly discharge it into the interior of the home at night, making the home cool and comfortable. 

Originally, adobe-style homes were circular. However, they have evolved into the rectangular-shaped adobe homes that we see today. 

One recognizable adobe structure is located in Taos, New Mexico, at the Taos Pueblo. People attribute traditional Adobe-style homes here to the Pueblo people, which is why Adobe-style homes are also called Pueblo-style homes. 

Over the years, they have evolved, paving the way for Pueblo Revival or Santa Fe-style homes. This style of Adobe house is constructed out of timber frames with the exterior walls finished to give the home a clay look. Builders make these exterior walls with stucco material to mimic traditional Adobe walls. They have flat roofs with rounded edges made with modern materials rather than adobe mud. 

Characteristics of Adobe Style Homes 

adobe style home
Photo by daryl_mitchell on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Adobe-style houses come with prominent features that make them truly unique. Here are some major characteristics of adobe style houses: 

Adobe brick

Builders make adobe bricks by mixing mud, water, and straw. They then leave it out in the sun for several weeks to dry. Once the adobe bricks dry, the builders use them to construct walls. Straws are great binding agents to help strengthen the bricks. 

Thick walls 

An adobe house typically has thick walls with high thermal mass, which helps provide insulation from cold and heat. The adobe walls may be thicker in hot and dry climates, while colder climates may have thinner ones to allow for better warmth and light. 

Flat roof 

Adobe roofs are typically flat roofs with rounded edges, which protect the home from extreme weather. Thanks to the flat roof, you can collect rainwater to use for other purposes, making it a sustainable housing option. The rounded edges provide resistance against strong winds and storms. 

One or two story buildings 

Many adobe homes are one- or two-story buildings without a basement. This is because adobe walls have low structural strength. To access the second floor, you must go through the back of the main floor. The windows are small and constructed deeply into the wall.  

Interior features 

Adobe homes have unique interior features, including wooden beams which support the ceiling of the home’s interior. You will also see concrete flooring and tiles that help cool the home on hot days. 

Also, adobe-style houses usually have a fireplace in the interior living room. 

Examples of Adobe Style Houses 

example of an adobe home
Photo by MottaW on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Here are a few Adobe-style house examples in the world: 

1. Kit Carson Home

Located in Taos, New Mexico, the Kit Carson Home is a historic building that is now open to visitors as a museum

Constructed in 1825, this adobe home housed Carson's family and holds an array of mid-19th-century artifacts, including an adobe oven, photos, and other historical pieces.

2. Talavera Mexico Adobe House

What’s unique about Talavera is that it combines both traditional and modern elements. While the house uses traditional elements like mud and straws, it also uses modern elements and finishes like stainless steel home appliances. Talavera is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

3. San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier is a Spanish catholic mission and popular tourist destination well known for its beautiful architecture and carvings. Located in Tucson, Arizona, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of a historic landmark in the United States. 

4. Casa de Estudillo

Casa de Estudillo is a beautiful traditional adobe-style architecture located in San Diego, California. Constructed by the Estudillo family in the 1800s, this adobe home was one of the finest. Today, it is open as a museum and depicts the family and their culture and history. 

5. The Great Mosque of Djenné

Located in Djenné in Mali, West Africa, the Great Mosque or  Djenné Grand Square is one of the most classic examples of a traditional adobe-style home. Its walls come in adobe brick and wooden beams to support the roof. The mosque features Islamic and traditional African decorative styles. 

Builders first erected the Great Mosque in the 13th century, but the building has undergone many restorations over the centuries. 

Are adobe houses sustainable? 

adobe house
Photo by Larry Lamsa on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

An adobe home possesses certain features that make it sustainable.The use of local durable materials reduces the cost and emissions that come from moving and making building materials.  

Thanks to the thick adobe walls, the home is protected from harsh weather. During the day, the walls absorb heat, which cools the home’s interior. During cool nights, when the temperatures drop, the wall releases heat, which creates warmth. 

This means you won’t need air conditioning or heating when temperatures fluctuate, reducing energy consumption. You can adjust the thickness of the walls to suit the climate within the area. So, the walls may be thicker in hot climates and thinner during colder climates. 

Adobe houses have flat roofs that catch rainwater that people can use for other things, making them a sustainable option for our environment. 

Final Thoughts On Adobe House 

Is an adobe house your dream home? Well, Adobe Homes is not only unique but also sustainable. Thanks to its insulating properties, you can save energy and reduce costs you would otherwise use for home appliances like air conditioning and heating. Also, your adobe home can stand for many years with proper maintenance. 

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Llonto, A. C. M., Grieseler, R., Heller, A. R., Kelley, A. R., Rumiche, F., Sandweiss, D. H., & Viveen, W. (2021). The earliest adobe monumental architecture in the Americas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(48).

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