Smart Energy Living - September 2011

Ancient Adobe Offers Hope for Future Buildings:

By: Rebecca Cantwell


     Demetrio and Olive Valdez are working to give a very old product a new life.

     On their Valle Escondido Organic Ranch near Antonito, they mine clay from the Valdez Gravel Mine, mix it and fashion it by hand into what they believe is the world’s best building material.  Each adobe brick weighs 30 pounds and, they point out, resembles the bricks of ancient Egypt that still stand after 6,000 years.

      "They are the greenest building material because they take so little energy to make,’’ explains Demetrio of the recipe he worked out through trial and error of clay, sand, straw and water. He mixes adobe in a cement truck by the gravel mine and then pours the bricks in wooden forms before letting them bake in the hot San Luis Valley sun.

      A fifth-generation resident of the Valley, Demetrio descends from one of the five families given the original Conejos land grant in what is now Colorado’s poorest county. While proud of his heritage, he also points out that his adobe  bricks should play an important role in buildings of the  future because their thermal mass allows them to maintain a cool summer temperature and warm winter temperature.

      Among their other benefits, he notes that adobe makes walls nearly sound proof, fire-proof and termite proof.

      Olive also notes that many contemporary building materials release toxins. “”We have a remedy here,’’ she says. “We hope the pendulum will swing and people will return to traditional ways.’’

      Olive married her husband 25 years ago under a tree on the ranch after meeting him on a vacation cattle drive from her Greenwood Village home. Now they share the ranch with miniature horses, dogs and other critters.

     They raised  organic cattle that yielded very low-fat beef until the drought of 2002 turned them away from livestock and toward adobe bricks.

      While the Valdez’ say not a day goes by without a call from someone wanting to buy adobe bricks,  they note that considerable education is needed so that builders, insurance companies, code officials and inspectors understand the properties of their bricks. They even had an engineering company test the compressive strength and now have a report stating that they adobe bricks are stronger than required by the 2006 Universal Building Code.  

     They also look forward to another  sign of the future: a proposed federal solar energy development zone stretches nearby. They support plans for utilizing the world-class solar potential of the land near Antonito  and Demetrio has testified in favor of the use. “”I told them that in a dry year, the area is so poor, even a jack rabbit would have to pack a lunch to get across,’’ he quips.

For more information, contact Valle Escondido Organic Ranch at

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