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Concrete is strong in compression and the best way to take advantage of this property is by building structures that are inherently self supporting and don't need a lot of iron reinforcing. Since most building here in Mexico is with concrete, it is easier to let your imagination go wild. Local builders have been working with ferro-cement, styrofoam panels, plastered straw bale, and soil-crete. I have had the most success with light weight concrete. Light weight concrete differs from heavy concrete by it's use of naturally light weight materials (aggregates) such as pumice (volcanic stone) in place of the sand and gravel used in ordinary structural concrete mixes. It only weighs half as much.

Not all concrete is ugly, hard, cold and difficult to work with. There exists a whole range of light weight concretes "which have a density and compressive strength very similar to wood.They are easy to work with, can be nailed with ordinary nails, cut with a saw, drilled with woodworking tools, easily repaired . We believe that ultra-light weight concrete is one of the most fundamental bulk building materials of the future." A Pattern Language

The stuff I use is right in the middle of the chart.

Light weight concrete is about one half the weight of hard structural concrete. It can be mixed from a variety of light weight aggregates including vermiculite, perlite, scoria, and pumice. Some form of suitable aggregate is available most everywhere in the world. Our locally available aggregate here in San Miguel is a type of pumice (espumilla or arenilla) which we typically mix 8:1 or 10:1 (by volume) with cement for walls, and 5:1 for roofs. Most lightweight concrete has a good R-value and is a good insulator of heat and sound. It is used as soundproofing in subway stations. It has tremendous sculptural possibilities and is ideal for monolithic, wall-roof construction.

I feel that we need more intelligent building systems. I'm looking for a home that lasts 200 years, that you can maintain and remodel easily, and that uses mostly locally available, abundant materials. Light weight concrete fits the bill here in Mexico.

For more information on light weight concrete see:

US Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation

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