My wife and I are very interested in using compressed earth block (CEB) building techniques for the homestead we are planning in northeast Georgia. I know there are currently several manufacturers of CEB making machines, but wondered if the original CINVA Ram was still available. Also, have there been any new developments in sealing CEB walls against moisture?
The original CINVA ram was engineered by Raul Ramirez of the Inter-American Housing Center (Spanish acronym: CINVA) in Bogota, Columbia, in 1952. The name “CINVA” has come to stand for most lever action presses that make compressed earth blocks (CEBs) one at a time, whether of the original Ramirez design or something similar. One of the design features of the original CINVA ram was that it could be fabricated just about anywhere a welder and plate steel are available. Local fabrication, compact size, and manual operation have made it ideal for international development projects and owner-builders such as you.
So, where will you find one today? There are probably a few companies still making them, but the only one I know of in the United States is Fernco Metals in New Mexico. You could also fabricate your own by purchasing plans from www.dirtcheapbuilder.com. Internationally, the Auram press (made in India) is an excellent manual press.
As for sealing CEB walls against moisture, there are not any new developments that I am aware of. Most of the tried and true methods, some of which are centuries if not millennia old, such as lime plasters, have been working just fine. It’s also important to distinguish what you mean by “sealing.” Some people may refer to the application of anything from plaster to bees wax as “sealing.” I would consider a sealer as anything that protects the blocks against liquid water but allows water vapor to pass. A linseed and bees wax mix would be an example. You can make it yourself or purchase it from several companies that recommend it for sealing wood; however, some brands are much better then others. Land Ark is one company I have used successfully in the past. Standard masonry sealers will also work. When looking for a sealer, choose one that is non-toxic, biodegradable and vapor permeable.
You might also be interested in You Can Build with Soil-Cement Blocks, Pressed Earth Blocks: Make 'Em Yourself and this excerpt from The Owner-Built Adobe House.
— Dan Johnson, Midwest Earth Builders
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