An Emphasis On Environmentally Friendly Construction Keeps Soledad Canyon Earth Builders Booked Solid
by Melissa St. Aude Las Cruces Bulletin
Pat and Mario Bellestri of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders build a different kind of house. Using a centuries-old rammed earth technique, the Bellestris build homes that are beautifully Southwestern yet environmentally friendly.
The concept of the rammed earth house sounds simple – set up forms and fill them with dirt – and the ancient technique has existed for centuries. It is used throughout the world and became popular in the United States during the late 1700s and early 1800s. As new construction techniques were developed, the rammed-earth style of building became less widely used.
Rammed-earth walls are built by tampering a mixture of soil – 3 percent Portland cement along with 6 to 10 percent moisture content. With a skid loader the soil is dumped into the forms, put in lifts of seven to eight inches, then tamped down to four to five inches with pneumatic tampers. The forms can be stripped right away. For each day that passes, the walls become stronger, Mario said.
“It’s less labor intensive building method,” Mario said.
The homes have thick walls – usually about 18 inches thick. Combined with energy-efficient doors and windows, the homes block out more outside noise than most homes.
“I like to show these houses on a bad weather day, when it’s windy and raining outside, so that you can get a sense for how quiet these homes are,” Mario said. “It’s hard to describe how quiet these houses really are.”
Building a solid, quiet house with thick walls is one thing – making it beautiful is another and that’s where Pat steps in.
“I take the house to paint, and then turn it over to Pat,” Mario said.
To make the home beautiful, Pat says she stays true to the Southwestern style. She said that the style of home the company builds makes decorating easier.
“With this style and the thick walls, we get unique curves that flow,” Pat said.
Soledad Canyon Earth Builders also maintains a crew to work on each building project.
“While the trend in home-building has become not to have a crew on staff to keep cost low, we have our own crew so we do our own trim and finish,” Mario said.
When Barbara and Irv Ross decided to relocate to Las Cruces from Nebraska several years ago, they researched several area builders to have a new home built. They settled on Soledad Canyon Earth Builders.
“I knew when we met Mario and Pat that they would build a quality house for us,” Barbara said. “When having a home built long distance, it’s important to be comfortable with the builder – you have to trust. With Mario and Pat, we were very comfortable.”
“They have integrity – they care about their customer and they put out a qualitative home,” Irv added. “I like their approach to building a home that is comfortable and also integrates in with the environment.”
Because of their approach to customer service, along with their honesty and integrity, Mario and Pat often befriend the clients for whom they build homes.
“We have a busy social schedule with our clients,” Pat said. “We stay in touch with them.”
The couple started building rammed-earth homes in 1983, when Mario built a new home for his family. He had attended a course at the University of Arizona where he learned the technique and began building soon after. When he finished his own house, he was asked to build a similar one for a friend, and a new business was born.
Soledad Canyon Earth Builders now constructs six custom homes a year, and Mario said that business is good. So good in fact that he has a waiting list and expects business to stay steady for years to come.
As technology improves and building environmentally-friendly homes gains popularity, Mario said, Soledad Canyon Earth Builders expects to stay on the cutting edge providing energy efficiency at its best.
The builders have won several awards for their innovative designs and adherence to the environmentally friendly building. In 1997, Soledad Canyon Earth Builders received the “Builder of the Year Award” issued by the Las Cruces Homebuilder’s Association and in 2001, they earned a Las Casitas award for New Mexico’s Best Green Custom Home. Last year the builder was issued an award by the Dona Ana County Historical Society for creating hoes that “adhere to regional architecture.”
Mario is also involved in the community having served as president of the Las Cruces Home Builders Association as well as on several committees. He has also served as the president of the New Mexico Home Builders Association.
But for Mario, building homes is more than simply construction.
“It’s rewarding taking a client’s dream for a home and turning it into reality,” Mario said. “That’s the important thing.”