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Adobe houses can last 2,500 years, such as…

Adobe is one of the oldest building materials in the world. Though it has ancient roots, it continues to be used across the globe today. Some people still make adobe bricks and construct their homes using traditional methods.

Adobe houses can last for thousands of years when well maintained, kept dry, expertly built, have a strong and waterproof foundation, and are located in dry climates. “The Oldest House” is more than 350 years old. The Citadel of Bam, Iran is over 2,500 years old.

What Is The Oldest Adobe House in The World?

According to most historians, the oldest adobe house in the world is located in the U.S. state of New Mexico. Referred to simply as “The Oldest House,” the structure at 215 East de Vargas Street in Santa Fe was constructed in 1646. However, it was built on a foundation that has been dated all the way back to 1200 CE. Initially an Indian pueblo, Spanish settlers claimed the home several times.

A photo of the The Oldest House below.

Adobe houses
Thomson200 / CC0

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The citadel of Bam, Iran, or Arg-é Bam, in Kerman ProvinceIran: The world’s largest adobe structure, dating to at least 500 BC

Throughout its history, the house on de Vargas Street housed members of various Plains Indian tribes and soldiers’ families and even served as the home of the Spanish Territorial Governor for a time.

The Oldest House was occupied until the 1920s. Eventually, it was turned into a museum, and it can still be visited today. Visitors enter the site through a modern, 19th-century addition on the eastern side of the structure.

Read and watch Air and me making adobe bricks here, waterproofing them here, construction advantages and disadvantages, how many bricks calculator, are they fireproof, and the 10 best anchors.

Scott Boyd

From there, they traverse a hallway that takes them back to the oldest part of the home. It’s decorated with a variety of artifacts so that visitors can more easily envision what the home might have been like hundreds of years ago.

To provide some context with regard to just how old this house is, consider that the Mayflower had arrived in North America only 26 years before and that Sir Isaac Newton was just four years old at the time of construction.

Scott's adobe building
I had a lot of Portland cement left over from the foundation so I used it for the mortar

What is the Oldest Adobe House in Mexico?

Mexico has a particularly long history with adobe construction. Ancient civilizations like the Maya, Aztecs, and Olmecs all are known to have used adobe when building a wide range of structures.

Not only were the private homes of these civilizations built with adobe but also religious structures and other main public buildings were constructed with adobe.

One of the most famous examples of this is the Mayan-built pyramids at Teotihuacan, which date from around 200 CE.

While not exactly homes, these adobe pyramids are nonetheless impressive and a major tourist attraction found about 25 miles from Mexico City.

Ales Kocourek
Ales Kocourek / CC BY-SA (source)

What is the Oldest Two-Story Adobe House?

While it is not necessarily the oldest two-story adobe house, the Rancho Petaluma Adobe is certainly among the most impressive examples. It was built in 1836 in Sonoma County, California, and is the largest Monterey Colonial-style home in the U.S. You can visit the Rancho Petaluma Adobe today.

It’s in the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park and has been designated as a historic landmark at both the state and federal levels.

Scott teaching local children how to make adobe walls
My helpers for the day!

When Was The First Adobe House Built?

Historians believe that people around the world have been building homes with adobe since the eighth century BCE. Although the word “adobe” is Spanish, the earliest roots of the word are traced back to an Arabic word which means brick, “al-tob.”

What Is Adobe?

Adobe, which is a Spanish word meaning “mudbrick,” is a material that is used for building homes, churches, and a variety of other structures. Consisting of soil and a variety of other possible organic materials, adobe has been used all over the world and is one of the oldest building materials.

Adobe buildings may look quite similar to buildings made of rammed earth or cob. Frequently, adobe houses are built using bricks. These bricks are formed in a relatively small size so that they dry quickly, which is known to prevent cracking.

Once the bricks are dry, they can be assembled into a structure, most often using an adobe mud to bind the bricks together.

How Strong Is Adobe?

While you might think that buildings made from a combination of earth and hay or other organic matter might not be durable, this is not the case. In warm, dry climates, adobe houses are the ideal choice. In fact, many of the oldest buildings in the world were built with adobe, attesting to just how strong these bricks are.

Some examples of these buildings include the San Miguel Mission, which is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was built during the years 1610-1628. Another spectacular example is the Taos Pueblo. Historians believe that this dwelling may have been inhabited by the Pueblo people continuously for 1000 years.

One particularly large example is Arg-e Bam in Iran. The city at Bam may have been established sometime around 224 CE. Although many of the structures are now ruins, some of Bam is still standing, once again demonstrating adobe’s durability.

However, time has shown that adobe does not perform well when put under the strain of earthquakes. Modern architects and engineers have learned to reinforce adobe buildings to help protect them from this problem.

Scott build bamboo hooks within the walls for a hammock
I buried bamboo in the bricks to make hooks for hanging items, including hammocks for break time

Where Are Adobe Houses Likely to Be Found?

In addition to the southwestern corner of North America, it’s possible to find buildings that are made of mud bricks in South America, North and West Africa, Western Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Spain. In fact, indigenous peoples in many of these areas are known to have used adobe for construction purposes for several thousand years.

The Puebloan people of Mexico and southwestern North America used to employ handfuls or basketfuls of adobe in construction projects until the arrival of the Spanish.

These early explorers introduced the indigenous people to the concept of brick making. Evidence suggests that the Spanish began using adobe bricks as early as the eighth century BCE.

What Materials Are Used to Make Adobe Bricks?

Considered a composite building material, adobe bricks consist mainly of earth mixed with water. An additional material, frequently straw or dung, is mixed in with the earth. Usually, the earth is a natural mixture of silt, clay, and sand. The straw or other additional material is used to bind the brick together and to ensure an even drying process.

Many modern makers of adobe bricks will add Portland cement or emulsified asphalt as a stabilizer. This makes for even stronger and more durable building material.

In fact, Portland cement can be important for waterproofing purposes. Latin American countries tend to add fermented cactus juice to the mixture when they want to promote waterproofing.

How Are Adobe Bricks Made?

Traditionally, the mud mixture is pressed into an open frame made of timber. The most common brick size used in North America measures 10 by 14 inches. Once the bricks are set up in the frame, the frame is removed.

The bricks will dry for a few hours, then be turned on their edges for the rest of the drying period. Some manufacturers swear by slow drying in the shade to help prevent cracking, and a full month may pass before the bricks are considered ready for use.

TIP: Follow my step by step guide here to build adobe bricks.

Drying many different sizes and mixtures to test strength experiment
I learned the hard way to not pour adobe mud on straw!

Adobe Construction

Adobe houses frequently are built on foundations of stone or red brick. These provide added stability. The adobe walls themselves are very thick and sturdy, allowing them to be load-bearing. In traditional construction, the roof frequently is flat and made of wood. It’s not unusual to see a ladder projecting through the flat, wooden roof, as this space was used for living.

In a more modern era that brought railroads to the American Southwest, it began to be common to see other types of roofs on adobe houses because trains could bring in additional building materials.

Once an adobe brick wall is in place, it is usually covered by an exterior siding. This material frequently is a mud plaster made of similar materials as the adobe bricks or lime plaster, though this tends to crack more.

Other siding alternatives include whitewash, which is a combination of clay, water, and ground gypsum rock and stucco, which is a more modern innovation that is made of cement and requires wire mesh to adhere to the adobe bricks.

The Future of Adobe

With people all over the world still using adobe to build their homes and other structures, it seems clear that adobe is here to stay. Some of these people continue to use the traditional materials and methods while others are seeking innovations to make adobe stronger, more durable, and more attractive than ever before.

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