Walls, walls walls: There is always a new idea | Real estate

Homewise CEO Mike Loftin, a development genius but certainly not a builder, taught me a hard lesson about walls nearly 30 years ago.

I had just completed a mud house of my own design using a 2 by 4 adobe ladder wall system that could turn around on the long run and then sit in the middle of the run below. With a key joint, it was modern puddled adobe with a tiny amount of powdered cement added to the site earth. It was labor intensive but unskilled. It was very cheap. Forms could be used multiple times.

I brought it to Loftin in the mid 90’s as an example of how, with the equity of homeowner’s sweat, we could erect solid earthen walls cheaper than any other wall system imagined.

Loftin had heard all the walls of Santa Fe then: straw bales, pumice, styrofoam blocks, dirt, hempcrete, five-gallon buckets, used tires, wattle and daub; the list is long.

But mine was different. And cheaper.

Loftin listened to me and then told me that if one of its programs could reduce a 30-year interest rate by one point, it would have saved more money for the homeowner than if it didn’t. there was no cost for the walls.

It was breathtaking. It’s also what led me to build the best possible wood-frame houses with the existing skills of local contractors.

But our fascination with wall systems never goes away. The hottest these days are “3D printed houses”.

It’s hard to deny the call. There’s something fascinating about watching a robotic arm squeeze out gray squirts of wet cement that build up row after row until a button is pushed to stop. And then the craft is transported to the side and the button is pressed again. And so on.

OK, aside from the lesson on Loftin walls, the question is, can 3D homes be competitive with all other wall ideas, including old classic stud walls? May be. But then what?

3D printed exterior walls are just the shell of a box. And only four of the six sides that make up the box. This shell wall does not yet have any insulation, siding, windows, doors, electrical outlets and switches, plumbing pipes, drywall, paint or trim.

Most of the house remains to be built. The workers needed to build the rest of the house are the exact same people who would have built it regularly, minus the 3D crew. Except now they have to deal with a head-scratching shell of hard, flattened layers of tubular concrete.

The adjoining interior wooden walls still need to be attached to the concrete walls. The windows are manufactured to be placed in wooden frames. Electrical boxes are designed to be nailed to studs. Wires wind through holes drilled in studs and nailed to their sides. The drywall is screwed to the studs.

All challenges can be met. The Santa Fe contractors have seen them all. But they are never the cheapest. A builder’s biggest challenge is to make sure that “cheap” doesn’t mean shoddy, because wood-frame homes aren’t inherently “shoddy.”

The beginnings of the green building movement 40 years ago were all about “saving the trees,” by which we primarily meant the “virgin” forest in our minds. For better or worse, modern tree plantations and the prospect of viable slash from forest thinning in the West has changed the way of thinking for many.

Carbon-based forest products hidden in the skin and bones of a home for a hundred years or more are a good carbon sink. There is no carbon released by burning or rotting. A new tree can be planted in place of the harvested one. It’s sustainable. And nothing better for affordability can be imagined.

Kim Shanahan has been a

Santa Fe green builder since 1986 and sustainability consultant since 2019. Contact him at [email protected]

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