Mud Brick Construction

We built our school's first office from mud brick. Learn from our experience, to construct buildings, small or large with mud bricks.

Course Code: ASS103
Fee Code: S1
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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BUILDING WITH MUD BRICK MAY BE EASIER THAN YOU THINK

Mud Brick Building is relatively Foolproof.  If you know how to make the right type of mud, and how to use it; even unskilled builders who don't have much of an eye for detail, can still build in mud brick! 
  • Learn to build a home, a shed, a garden room, a wall, a community building
  • Study from home, any time -100 hour self paced course
  • Course developed by people who have actually built earth construction buildings
  • ACS has been teaching mud brick construction since the early 1980's
Mud Brick Construction aims to develop an understanding of how to approach building with mud bricks. Mud brick building is also known by the alternative name 'adobe'. There are other ways of building with mud brick apart from 'adobe'. These will be covered briefly in this course. For the novice, there is not a lot which can go wrong if you choose to build with mud brick.
 
 

This is a course that can benefit:

  • Home owners, builders, property developers
  • Tradesmen, builders
  • Anyone working in the construction industry
  • Landscape contractors
  • Anyone interested in sustainability and environmentally friendly development

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope of Mud Brick
    • What is Mud Construction (Adobe, Pise)
    • Advantages of Earth Construction (Cost savings, Self satisfaction, Aesthetics, Eco friendliness, Health benefits)
    • History of earth construction
    • Pise (Rammed Earth)
    • Mud Brick
    • Wattle and Daub
    • Cob
    • Cinva Ram
    • Cement Stabilisation
    • Bituminous stabilisation
    • Mortar
    • Variations in Earth Building Techniques
    • Appropriate Soils for Earth Construction
    • Finding Resources
  2. How to make a mud brick
    • Testing and working with different soils
    • Soil Tests
    • Steps in making a brick
    • Plasticity Soil Test
    • Cake Soil Test
    • Compression Tests
    • Brick Size
    • Brick Weights
    • Moulds
    • Binding Materials
    • Mixing Mud
    • Treating Bricks after they are Cast
    • Stacking Bricks
    • Troubleshooting
  3. Planning and Site Works
    • Choosing Building Materials
    • Timber (Characteristics, Selection)
    • Adhesives
    • Plastics
    • Masonry, Bricks and Concrete
    • Insulation Materials
    • Selecting a Building Site
    • Solar House Design
    • General Principles of Building Design
    • Impact of Buildings on Health
    • Dangerous Building Materials (Awareness and factors)
  4. Legal Considerations
    • Building Regulations (Variations between jurisdictions)
    • What might be regulated
    • Types of Permits
    • Building Codes
  5. Foundations
    • Strip Foundations
    • Slab Foundations
    • Specialist Engineering Advice
    • Rock and Rubble Foundations
    • Problems to Avoid
    • Sealing Foundations
    • Other Options (Masonry pillars, timber pylons)
    • Earth Floors
  6. Laying Bricks
    • Damp Proof Course
    • Methods for laying bricks
    • Making mud mortar
    • Laying mortar
    • Bonding
    • Reinforcing Walls
  7. Doors, Windows and Roofs
    • Roofing Options
    • Thatching
    • Bark (for sheds)
    • Tiles
    • Fibreglass sheet
    • Shingles (timber or slate)
    • Mud brick domes
    • Steel sheet
    • Hessian soaked in concrete
    • Earth/sod
    • Roof Pitch
    • Roof Weight
    • Roof Gardens
    • Doors and Windows
    • Lintels
    • Fixing, Joinery and Plugs
    • Ceilings
    • Timber Finishes
    • Slab Floors
    • Supported Floors
    • Floor Surfaces
  8. Finishes
    • Wall Finishes
    • Whitewash
    • Bondcrete
    • Dagga
    • Linseed Oil
    • House Paints
    • Natural Loam Render
    • Cement Render (Plaster)
    • Latex Paint Render
    • Other Options
    • Floor Finishes
    • Applying Paints and Renders
    • Natural Healthy Paints
    • Making Lime Wash Paints
    • Problems with Lime Wash
    • Aly’s Clay Paint
    • Tallow and Lime Based Coating
    • Using Commercial Paints
    • Timber Treatments
  9. Services
    • Electricity
    • Water
    • Gas
    • Toilet
    • Working with Earth Walls
    • Plumbing
    • Electricity Supply Systems (Turbines, generators, batteries, Solar Cells, etc)
    • Safety with Electricity
    • Electro Magnetic Radiation (Managing EMR)
    • Terminology
  10. Other types of Earth Building
    • Making Rammed Earth Walls
    • How to Build Forms
    • Tampers (Hand and air)
    • Rammed Earth Construction
    • Wattle and Daub
    • Sod Buildings
    • Cob

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


This course introduces you to a range of earth building techniques;

but with the main focus is on mud brick.

 

TYPES OF EARTH BUILDING

Pise (Rammed Earth)
This involves using a moveable box like frame to build earth walls. Damp earth is shoveled between two walls of a box, then rammed to compact it. The frame is taken away immediately after ramming and moved along to the next section of the wall where the procedure is repeated. The framework must be very strong to withstand the pressure of ramming. The size of the frame depends on the number of workers using the frame at any one time.

Soil must have the correct moisture content when rammed. This can be tested as follows:

  • Squeeze earth in one hand to remove moisture.

  • Roll into a ball

  • Drop this from a height of approximately 1 metre, onto concrete.

  • If it shatters into lots of small pieces, it is too dry.

  • If it does not break at all, it is too wet.

  • If you find it difficult to make a ball, then it is too wet.

Before the form work is filled with earth, the inside of the form is painted with oil to stop earth sticking to the framework.


Cinva Ram

This is a mutually operated machine which typically produces 300m X 300m X 100m, through a process of compressing earth. Blocks can then be used as with adobe blocks. The Cinva Ram was developed in Columbia by the American Housing & Planning Association (CINVA), and is used to produced pressed, cement stabilized earth blocks. It is essentially a metal box (a mould which the earth is placed into), and a lever that is lowered to compress the earth once the mould is filled.

Soil is first screened (passed through a sieve) to ensure no particles are larger than 6 mm diameter. Next a quantity of cement is mixed with the soil. Any quantity of cement will strengthen the wall and improve it’s resistance to weathering, up to a point. It would be rare however to use more than 10-15% cement (by volume with earth, and common to use less). Once the cement is mixed, water is added to an appropriate level.

 

Wattle And Daub
This method involves building a framework of interwoven brush (ie: An open lattice like arrangement of sticks and branches) or bush timbers. The gaps between are then filled in by plastering layers of mud over the timber. You must cover both sides of the wall with mud and normally layers are built one on top of another until the brush or timber is covered. The result is a sculptured three dimensional surface which contours in and out according to where the timber framework protrudes.


Cob

A stiff mid/straw mixture is laid to outline the walls. A series of layers are placed on top of the original layers until the required wall height is achieved. A special cutting instrument is used to trim the walls. Doors and windows can be cut out of the walls and inserted later.


Mud Brick

This is also known as "adobe"; which means mud, or puddled earth. Bricks are made by mixing earth and water (sometimes with the addition of straw), and with the use of a mould; to form blocks which are then sun or air dried. Blocks can also be made by hand, without using a mould; though this is relatively uncommon. Mud brick building is the easiest and most foolproof method of earth building. Bricks can be made virtually any size, and are laid using the same mud as mortar between them.

Cement Stabilisation

As mentioned above, (with the Cinva ram) an alternative with any earth building is to add some cement to the earth being used for building. Cement can help earth to stick together to form a solid wall, and it can help improve the weathering ability; however, it is frequently an unnecessary expense. Cement stabilisation however is not new, having been used extensively in the past throughout the world.

One characteristic of cement is that it gains greater strength if it dries more slowly. It can also tend to crack if it dries too fast. These features of cement need to be considered if using cement stabilization for earth building. As explained previously, for Cinva Ram construction, cement stabilized earth needs to be dried slowly; and that may mean spraying with water after an initial period of drying, and slowing down the rate of drying by covering with moist cloth (or even wet newspaper or cardboard (This is more necessary in hot or windy weather).


Bituminous Stabilisation

Bitumen stabilized earth has been used in many houses in the U.S.A. Tests have shown bitumen stabilisation generally has no affect, good or bad, upon the strength of an earth building. It does however improve water resistance considerably. Some types of bitumen are unsuitable for mixing with earth. Bitumen emulsion is normally mixed as 5% of the total volume of the earth being used.

 

WHAT TYPE OF EARTH DO YOU NEED?

Most soils can be used for earth construction; but a soil that cotains a fair percentage of clay is usually best. If the soil has too much or too little clay, you may need to add something to make it better for the task.

 

One way of determining the type of soil you are dealing with is to ask someone who knows about soils. Anyone who has studied soils should be able to tell you what type of soil you have. You may need to consult someone such as a Soil scientist, Engineer, Surveyor, Irrigation Expert, Horticulturist, Agriculture teacher, Geologist or Mining Engineer.  Soil testing laboratories that exist in most large cities, could be useful for getting a more precise and detailed description of a soil: and these are sometimes used as a matter of course by engineers and even builders, in order to understand what is required for a building’s foundation (apart from whether the soil is appropriate for use in making mud bricks).

 

A simple way you can go about determining what a particular type of soil is:

 

  1. Place a small quantity of soil in the palm of your hand and add just enough water to make it plastic. If it doesn't stain the fingers, doesn't bind together and is gritty to feel, it is sand

  2. If it doesn't stain the fingers but can be rolled into a ball which barely adheres together, then it is loamy sand

  3. If it forms a more solid ball which can be rolled into a cylinder, but breaks when the cylinder is bent, and if it still feels gritty; it is a sandy loam

  4. If when the cylinder is bent gently, it doesn't break and if there is no feeling of grittiness, silkiness or stickiness; then it is a loam

  5. If it is similar to a loam but there is a silky feeling, and if it cannot be polished by rubbing; then it is a silty loam

  6. If the silky feeling is very strong, but otherwise it is like a silty loam, it is silt

  7. If it is like a loam, but is sticky and can be polished, it is a clay loam

  8. If it shows the characteristics of a clay loam, but when squeezed, also has a gritty feeling, it is a sandy clay loam

  9. If instead of being gritty, it is silky but otherwise like a clay loam, it's a silty clay loam

  10. If the characteristic of stickiness is stronger than anything else, then it is clay.

  11. Organic soils are ones which have a large proportion of organic matter (25% or more).  These are usually black or brown in colour and feel silky.  It is possible to get organic types of all of the above soils

WHY STUDY MUD BRICK CONSTRUCTION?

Building with mud can be inexpensive; and just as good as any other type of building; if you do it the right way. Earth constructions are really something special, and building this way can be addictive. These can be very solid constructions (There are earth buildings that have endured thousands of years). The aesthetics are something unique; and the insulation of an earth wall can be a highly desirable feature too. 
Out of all the different forms of earth building; mud brick is perhaps the most "fool proof" in some respects.

Our principal, John Mason, built our first office from mud brick in 1983. It was around 4 metres wide X 10 metres long, and used recycled materials from a scrap yard for the doors, windows and roof. The materials for that building cost around the same as the average wage for one week at the time.  Consider - Could you build a solid, insulated 40 square metre building for the amount of money you would earn in 1 week?

Mud brick can be used to construct anything that you might use normal bricks for. The photo here shows part of an inexpensive greenhouse built from mud brick. We've seen garden pavilions, spa rooms, outdoor ovens, garden seats and all manner of other things built from mud brick; not to mention entire houses, and community buildings.

You may have a particular project in mind; or you may simply want to learn and experiment with this form of construction.

 

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Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.

ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Jacinda Cole

Former operations manager for highly reputable Landscape firm, The Chelsea Gardener, before starting her own firm. Jacinda has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing, Writing and Education. Jacinda has a B.Sc., Psych.C

Maggi Brown

Maggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture

John Mason

Writer, Manager, Teacher and Businessman with over 40 years interenational experience covering Education, Publishing, Leisure Management, Education, and Horticulture. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner.
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Tutors

Meet some of the tutors that guide the students through this course.

Jacinda Cole

Jacinda has expertise in psychology and horticulture. She holds a BSc (hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psychology (Clinical) and also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the London Centre for Psychotherapy. In horticulture she has a Certificate in Garden Design and ran her own landscaping and garden design business for a number of years. Jacinda also has many years experience in course development and educational writing.

Lachlan Allan

Lachlan has experience of the hospitality, banking and utilities sectors in managerial positions in the UK. Following a career change after moving to Australia, he is also experienced in the medical engineering field where he was an engineer responsible for devices at hospital sites and laboratories

Alexander O'Brien

Alex was born and raised in Cork, in the Republic of Ireland. Having been trained in Architecture, Permaculture, Mechanical Engineering, Ceramics, Furniture Design/Construction, Sustainable building and Art,Craft and Design, his knowledge base is broad. Much of his professional work has been designing and making nature inspired spaces, creative reuse of materials, permaculture and natural ecology regeneration.

That being said, in his own words, "....my real passion is teaching. I adore sharing my knowledge and experience. Seeing students progress, and learning, that is my soul food."'

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