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Frequently Asked Questions

 

GENERAL

1. Can I hire someone from Cal-Earth to build a dome for me?
At this time we do not offer a service for personal projects. However, we may be able to put you in contact with past apprentices who have since built successfully. Arrangements would then be made directly with the builder, not through Cal-Earth. Cal-Earth is first and foremost an educational and research institute, although we hope to be able to provide this service at some point in the future as we continue to expand and grow.

2. Can I visit or stay at Cal-Earth in one of your domes?
No, at this time we only allow workshop participants to stay on-site during their course of study.

3. Do I have to make a reservation/pay to come to the open house?
No, open house is free to the public and no reservation is necessary. We have a potluck during Open House so if you would like to participate, please bring a dish, otherwise the suggested donation is $7. For more information see the VISITING CAL-EARTH page.

4. I live in another country; do you have a long distance program or other workshops in other countries?
Yes. We are currently developing our international workshop program. Any ongoing workshops are posted on the international workshop page.

PRODUCTS

1) What products should I buy first if I want to learn more about how to build a Superadobe structure?
The best resource to begin learning about building with superadobe is the book: Emergency Sandbag Shelter and the DVD “Eco-Dome”, both available in our PRODUCTS section.

2) I live outside of the US; can you ship bags to me?
Due to the weight of the superadobe rolls, it is not cost-effective to ship them internationally. We are in the process of compiling a list of bag manufacturers in other countries so we can guide you to the nearest manufacturer to keep the costs down for your project. If you find a local bag manufacturer, please forward the information to us so we can assist others in the future. Please CONTACT US for more information.

3) How do I download the downloadable film I purchased?
To access your downloadable film do the following:

  1. Go to the Cal-Earth products page: http://calearth.org/shop/index.php
  2. Click on "My Account Log In" in the upper right corner
  3. Sign in with the user name and password you created
  4. Download the film in your preferred resolution.

4) Is there a discount or wholesale price for purchasing large amounts of product?
There is a discount for large orders. Please CONTACT US for more information, as the discount depends on the amount of items ordered.

5) Do you have materials available in other languages?
Unfortunately we currently do not offer any of our books and DVDs in other languages. We are currently working on transcribing all our DVDs to have them translated and subtitled in multiple languages. We hope to have this completed during 2010.

WORKSHOPS

1) What's the difference between the four-day workshop, the week-long workshop, the extended workshop, and the long-term apprenticeship program?
All of the same Superadobe topics are covered in the four-day and the week-long workshop. For a list of topics covered, please see What exactly is taught during the workshop? below. However, in the weeklong workshop participants receive more hands on training as well as masonry instruction. In addition, during almost all week-long workshops participants will build an emergency shelter dome in one day.

The extended workshop and the long-term apprenticeship programs are designed for students who really want to become skilled Superadobe builders and instructors. These programs will prepare you to confidently take on building and teaching projects anywhere in the world. The fee is determined on an individual basis and arranged with our site director, Ian Lodge, based on many factors such as your skill level, desires and goals, and desired/required length of stay at the institute.

We always recommend that you start first with a workshop. This enables you to get a feel for the institute and it also allows us to get to know you. Following the workshop, a discussion will take place with the site director if you would like to continue in an extended program or as a long-term apprentice. Keep in mind that your workshop fee will be applied to your extended or long-term apprentice fee/agreement if you decide to participate in one of these programs. Each student is different and therefore the length of the long-term program is determined on a case-by-case basis. It can range from a few weeks to a year or more.

2) If I pay my $200 deposit and don’t get accepted, do I get a refund?
Yes. If you are not accepted because there is no space in a specific workshop, you may also choose to transfer your deposit and hold a space in a different workshop.

3) If I am unable to attend my workshop can I change to another workshop or get my deposit back?
If for some reason you are unable to attend the workshop you registered for, your deposit may also be applied to another course that same year if you notify Cal-Earth at least two weeks before the start of a course.

If you wish to withdraw completely and cannot reschedule, $100 of your deposit will be refunded (to cover the cost of the study materials sent when you registered) if you notify Cal-Earth two weeks prior to the start of the workshop. Any cancellations within two weeks of the workshop will not be refunded. The full amount of your deposit will only be returned if for some reason you are not accepted to the program.

4) What do I need to do to sign up for the workshop?
There are 2 things you need to do to apply:

  1. Fill out the official Cal-Earth application
  2. Pay the required $200 deposit

Once your application and deposit are received, we will contact you regarding your acceptance and further workshop details and instruction. Both items must be received in order for your application to be reviewed.

5) What kinds of scholarships are available?
Most of the scholarships that are available are work exchange scholarships starting at a 25% reduction in tuition. This generally requires the scholarship recipient to work at Cal-Earth for 1-2 weeks prior to the workshop depending on the scholarship amount. The Cal-Earth Board of Directors will review your application and letter to determine any scholarship on a case-by-case basis. It is best to apply well in advance of the desired workshop if you plan on requesting a scholarship. The work will include a variety of duties shared by our on-site apprentices and determined by our site director.

6) What determines the cost of the workshop?
Included in the cost of the workshop is a full set of educational Cal-Earth books and DVDs, some meals, and all materials necessary for building. Cal-Earth is a non-profit organization that functions completely from workshops and donations with a small amount from sale of books and DVDs. We try to keep the cost as affordable as possible and we offer scholarships during each workshop. If you are interested in attending but cannot afford to pay the full tuition, please indicate this in your application essay for admission. We try to find a way to support all participants with financial need as space and funding allows.

7) Can I stay on the site during the workshop?
Short term accommodation at Cal Earth is offered in our emergency shelter domes, at no additional cost. Historically, these small structures were built in order to explore and demonstrate emergency shelter possibilities and are, as such, unfinished, rough and raw structures. As they are emergency shelters, they are subject to the climate. The structures may or may not be waterproof or insulated depending on when/why they were built. Anyone wishing to stay in these structures must understand their condition and plan accordingly by bringing weather appropriate materials needed for comfort. We do not provide bedding, mats or any manner of camping equipment. Please be self-sufficient, realistic, and plan properly. In addition, you are welcome to bring your own tent and camp on-site. There is no electricity in the domes but the main house on-site has electricity as well as a full kitchen and bathroom with shower. There is also wireless internet available if you would like to bring a laptop. After you are accepted you will be contacted to arrange your on-site accommodations if you choose that option.

8) What exactly is taught during the workshop?
The following is a list of topics taught during our workshops; for more information please visit our Workshops page.

Topics Covered:

  1. The principle of the arch
  2. Superadobe basics
  3. Soils practicum and discussion
  4. Super-adobe with stabilized earth
  5. Plaster workshop with stabilized earth
  6. Learning to read blueprints, elements of design, placing windows and doors
  7. Contrasting domes with vaults, vaulted roofing system, dome geometry
  8. Site planning, orientation, simple solar passive strategies
  9. Compass theory and application
  10. Waterproofing, foundations

9) Do you have a sample schedule?
Here is a sample week-at-a-glance from a recent workshop. Each workshop differs slightly but all topics listed in the above question will be covered.

Day 1 Day 2
Greetings and Introduction
Tour of Campus
Film “Earth Turns to Gold”
Principles of the Arch
Superadobe Basics
Film: “Natural Materials”
Soils Practicum & Discussion
Superadobe with stabilized earth
Plaster workshop
Day 3 Day 4
Film: Designing with Nature
Blue prints, contrasting domes & vaults
Foundations, site planning, orientation
Simple solar passive strategies
Vaulted roofing system
Dome geometry, compass practicum
On-site work
Real-life building experience at Cal-Earth
Plaster and waterproofing techniques
Window & door placement
Day 5 Day 6
Self-study/rest
Building with brick
Cal-Earth on-site project
One-on-one participant interviews
Closing and discussion

10) Will I be able to build a dome once I have completed a workshop?
Our workshops provide students with the fundamental skills to build a dome. Every student leaves with the hands-on experience and supplemental materials to guide them through their first project. A successful project, of course, will depend on the individual and we always recommend starting with something smaller and then moving on to larger structures. After completing a Cal-Earth workshop, you will become part of the larger Cal-Earth community and can always send questions to our instructors as well as to the Cal-Earth forum, which all alumni are part of and provides a useful resource for technical questions and advice.

TECHNICAL

1) Do these buildings work in wet and/or cold climates?
Although generally and historically associated with arid, desert climates, earth architecture and specifically super-adobe construction is as suited to cold and wet climates as any other type of construction. With regard to water issues it is necessary to properly waterproof the building and this is achieved in a multi-elemental approach which is discussed and demonstrated in detail during our workshops and training sessions. The question of water is not so much how do we protect the building from water but rather how do we harvest the resource of water from the building!

With regard to cold temperatures there are a variety of approaches which can be employed so as to maximize the heat energy used to make the building comfortable and then to retain that heat energy — regardless of the source of that energy — once captured in the walls and mass of the building. With earth architecture you are not heating the air; you are heating the walls and slab. Through insulating the exterior of the building the heat energy is captured inside the building just as the heat energy inside a car is captured when the car windows and doors are sealed shut. This topic is also covered in our workshop sessions.

2) How much does it cost to construct one of these buildings; how much does it cost per square foot?
Costs vary considerably. Material costs are typically very low indeed while labor costs can be more significant. If you are building in another country then the prevailing labor rates may be less or more than those of your native country. The amount of labor you need is, of course, related to the size and scope of your structure. The larger the building, the more expensive it becomes on every level. The number one cost-saving approach as well as the number one criterion for ecological responsibility is THINK SMALL! Simplify. Costs and budgeting are discussed during our workshops and training sessions or can be explored through consultation with one of our instructors.

3) How long does it take to build?
The construction schedule depends on how large the project is and how much labor is available. There are optimal numbers of personnel if the project is to be built without any kind of mechanization. The rate at which the mix is produced dictates how fast a project can go. The optimal number seems to be 7 persons where one or two are making mix and the remainder are split into two groups laying two bags at the same time. From past experience there are some fairly predictable estimates as to what can be achieved: 1) Three reasonably-fit persons can work very efficiently laying 100 linear ft of bag per day. 2) A double eco-dome (see web-site under "buildings and designs" can be built in just 10 weeks. (This is bag work alone - and it is estimated that all finish work will take about the same amount of time.) There are, of course, time-saving techniques which are discussed during workshops and training sessions.

4) Can I use "natural bags"?
So-called "Natural" bags can be used if a small amount of lime or cement is added to the earth to stabilize the earth from water erosion. Note: Most natural bags have, in fact, been treated with pesticides so that insects are deterred from eating through the bags and destroying the grains, rice or products inside.

5) Can I build a Cal-Earth structure underground?
Building a structure underground can be done, to be sure. Building/living underground (below-grade), however, brings special considerations which may need engineering input. Whether engineering help is sought or not, there are unavoidable added complications to making any kind of house work underground. Therefore, although it is likely to be possible to build a super-adobe house below ground, the thrust of Cal Earth's work so far has been directed towards on-grade applications (as well as for lunar and planetary designs).

6) How do these buildings work with plumbing and electrical?
Considerations for plumbing a super-adobe structure are mostly the same as for a conventional building. Pipes can be placed below the foundation and under the slab. They can also be placed on, in, or under any one of the lower super-adobe coils, subject to the particular directives of the building department, the indications on the blueprint, or the recommendations of a qualified plumber. Typically a short PVC or ceramic pipe/sleeve is placed on top of a super-adobe coil at, or near, the place where you want your sink, (for example) to be located. And then later on the plumbing pipes are poked through this sleeve and ran up the walls by cutting small vertical channels into the super-adobe bag. If lines are to be run horizontally then they may be placed in the earth and directed wherever they need to go before the floor is completed. (We generally do floors last — which allows for placement of pipes even after the structure is finished). There are many super-adobe houses built where a plumber was simply subcontracted to come in and do the work. Again, there is little difference between plumbing a super-adobe building and plumbing a conventional structure.

It's the same with bringing in electrical cables. Generally a conduit is used through which the electrical wires are pulled. The conduit can run under the slab and foundation and stub up (poke up) into every room where electrical is needed. Branch circuits can then be ran within each room using the contour of the bags to bury the flexible conduit. It is always recommended to use conduit so that maintenance of wires can be managed easily. The junction box can be inside or outside the house subject to site considerations, design considerations, personal preference and building regulations. There are options in terms of how electrical and plumbing are brought into the building. If you are not sure what your plumbing and electrical needs and plans are going to be you can still go ahead and build and then bring in the services later.

Please contact us if you have any further questions.

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Superadobe technology (sandbag tubes and barbed wire) was designed and developed by architect Nader Khalili and Cal-Earth Institute, and engineered by P.J. Vittore. Superadobe is a patented system (U.S. patent #5,934,027) freely put at the service of humanity and the environment. Licensing is required for commercial use.
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