Soledad Canyon Earth Builders Finish The City´s First LEED Certified Home by Bethany Conway The Las Cruces Bulletin
Featured Builder: Soledad Canyon Earth Builders
Those who spent their weekend touring the Las Cruces Home Builders Association Spring Showcase of Homes might have visited a unique home built by Mario and Pat Bellestri, owners of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders.
While 4311 Isleta may look like an ordinary house, this rammed-earth home is very much in a category all its own. According to Mario Bellestri, this is the first home in New Mexico to incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
“This will be the first one that we have done, and it should be the first one in the state,” Mario said. “It has been easier for us because we were really close already because of what we do.”
Building rammed-earth homes since 1983, Mario and Pat Bellestri pride themselves on building energy-efficient, environmentally friendly homes. Instead of using wooden framing to construct their homes, a mixture of earth and concrete is poured into large plywood forms, and then tampers are used to compress the earth. The results are homes with 18-inch thick walls that provide better insulation and protection from the elements. They can do this with any size home, and the largest one they´ve built so far was 7,000 square feet.
“It´s hard to put it into words, but lots of times people would come in (to one of their homes) and say, ´It feels so different,´” Pat Bellestri said.
After learning about rammed-earth construction at a symposium at the University of Arizona, the couple decided they had found their calling in construction. They built their first home on 25 acres in Talavera and have lived there ever since. The couple works together on every project. While Mario Bellestri does the construction, Pat Bellestri finishes the project and does all the interior design. They even finish each other´s sentences.
“We never build the same house twice, and we have built about 90 rammed-earth (homes),” Mario Bellestri said. “The benefits are that it is energy efficient, you´re using products that are very close by, it gives better security and provides better sound quality.”
The Bellestris carry their own sixman crew to do their specialized building. Some of the environmentally efficient features included in their homes, besides the rammed-earth construction, include solar panels, organic paint, tank-less water heaters and floor and cabinets made of Lyptus wood, which is grown to be harvested.
Attracting new customers through their detailed website, Mario Bellestri said that Soledad Canyon Earth Builders attracts individuals who are looking for environmentally sensitive construction.
“We spent a lot of time on our website. We probably had the first website when websites became available,” Pat Bellestri said.
“We build a lot for people that are moving here — probably 80 percent of our customers are new people moving to town. They are sophisticated people in the sense that they don´t move anywhere without checking it out. They use the web and they see our site, and in our site we try to give as much information as we possibly can,” Mario Bellestri said.
Building green structures for many years, the Bellestris are happy those around them are finally catching on to the trend. Still, Mario Bellestri said the work put into an LEED certified home is no joke.
“The reality of life is that qualifying for the LEED program is not easy. Your house has to be 40 percent more efficient than a house built to the building codes just to get accepted, and the paper work is unbelievable,” he said.
While building this green costs more than the ordinary home, with the tax credits that will be achieved through the home´s solar panels and money saved due energy efficiency, the couple is confident that the investment will have returns greater than the cost of construction.
“We basically get married (to our customers) because the process is very intense. We have a spread sheet that has to be filled out before we even begin to make the building process much easier,” Mario Bellestri said. “The saving grace for me is that I have my own crew. I am not asking someone to do something they are not used to.”
Mario and Pat Bellestri of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders have been building rammed-earth homes since 1983. In all of their homes they include a truth door, pictured here, which says, “May the strength of these walls bring warmth and comfort to those who live within them.”
This home, located at 4311 Isleta, is the first home to incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards in New Mexico, according to Mario Bellestri.