The Plain Truth About Pressed Earth Block

pressed earth block home, jemez, new mexico

For many years the pressed earth block industry has labored under the misrepresentation of block press manufacturers about the ability of their machines to make blocks. Yes you can make a block out of nearly any material but not necessarily a block that will be of any use. So I decided to write this page in response to some dialogue between a client and myself during a alternative technology show in Albuquerque several years ago. 

 One of the benefits of being exposed for the last 30 years to nearly everybody of consequence in the block press industry is gaining an understanding of nearly all the BS most contractors (potential block press owners) are told, The biggest in my book is "THIS MACHINE WILL MAKE BLOCKS WITH ANY DIRT" or another one "GOOD SOIL IS AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE". 

         The facts are; soil that is capable of making a block, ie. a block you can build a structure with, has to have some specific characteristics.

  1. It has to have around a 30% clay content.
  2. It cannot have any organic content.
  3. I has to have between 6 to 10 percent moisture.

        There are exceptions but on the whole this is the criteria and in New Mexico those soils are neither easily nor inexpensively obtained. All the right stuff is here all right but it is stratified and requires a lot of loader time to get it and there is never enough moisture so you have to mix that in  too. 

        In Georgia there is too much clay in Florida too much sand in Oklahoma and Texas too much of either depending where you are. 

       If you happen to be standing on a decomposed granite deposit well now you probably have some potential as long as the wind hasn't blown off or the rain hasn't washed out the clays. And then you still have moisture to deal with. 

       I was in Peru up in the Andes (decomposed granite) and we had the perfect dirt except it was bone dry. We spent 8 hours with 6 laborers hand mixing this perfect soil to make 600 blocks the next day with a machine that ran for 2 hours before we were out of dirt again. 48 hours of hand mixing plus 12 manhours of loading for 2 hours of production. In my book that is a 30 to 1 ratio and not even feasible, no matter how cheap the labor cost, for a profitable enterprise and unless you are in it for the exercise or for your own low cost home you are going to fail! 

       If we had used a loader or skidsteer the mixing to production ratio would have been around 4 to 1, much better but still expensive. 

       This is what most block producers are living with and I for one got really tired of seeing a great product and not being able to sell it because of the price tag. 

       In any industry machinery is cheap compared to labor and this is the reason alternative construction is so much more expensive for the contractor. Yet the investment in machinery is not the easiest to procure bankers want history and collateral, bureaucracies (permitting) want the status quo, nothing out of the ordinary, and customers want what their neighbors have. But earth construction is on the rise and the times are changing. 

        The machinery is available and the history is being documented and the price of energy is only going higher. 

       The demand for earth construction will only increase as well but the contractor that profits will not swallow "the big lie" and wish for dirt to be perfect but will have a system that will work. 

        If you are interested in finding that system Email me  here









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