KABUL, Afghanistan (Nov. 25, 2011) -- Adobe-style building structures are becoming more commonplace as coalition strategists see them as being better suited for the Afghan National Security Forces.

Such builds, for example, are being incorporated with the 4th Zone Afghan Border Police, Injil District of Herat Province in western Afghanistan. But that is not the only place, as they are becoming more popular across the country spurred by the deadline to transition responsibilities for security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by 2014.

At the 4thZone AFB compound, the adobe-style construction using mud/clay/straw is prevalent. This offers reduced costs and provides the Afghan National Security Forces with sustainable, locally repairable construction. The easier maintenance generates lower lifecycle costs.

The builds have many advantages and do not incorporate western-style construction, which does not offer Afghans the ability to easily repair, maintain, and save money in the long term.

"Our Afghan contractors came to us and said they didn't understand containerized builds and that they could have built a more permanent concrete masonry unit structure cheaper and in less time," explained Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Overtree, senior engineer for Regional Support Command-West. "We further looked around and asked why are we making [western builds in] a country where only 13 percent of the population has electrical power or air-conditioning?"

Afghan-style facilities and customs are not familiar to western engineers, so U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Air Force Center for Engineering Excellence and our Coalition partners initially built what they knew, Overtree said.

However, as long-term concerns are taken into consideration, this Regional Support Command initiative of adobe-style builds make the most sense for several reasons.

"First and foremost it is what the Afghans and their contractors know," Overtree said. "Prime example, we were constructing a project and were approached by the garrison commander, an infantry colonel, who told us about a problem with the Afghan mud on one of the buildings. Not only did he know there was a problem, he knew what was causing the problem and where to find the proper materials to fix the problem."

Many times the Afghans don't know there is a problem with western builds until they completely fail, and then they don't how to fix the problem, Overtree explained.

And, the Afghan-style builds are easy to maintain, using local materials and labor, even troop labor, he said.

With the Afghan-style builds, the two-foot thick masonry walls used provide a high "R-Value" which results a very low transfer of heat, Overtree said.

The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. Under uniform conditions it is the ratio of the temperature difference across an insulator and heat transfer per unit area, internet sources stated.

"In layman's terms without any form of air-conditioning, there is a 20 to 25 degree fahrenheit difference between the inside and outside of the building at the hottest and coldest parts of the day," Overtree said of the adobe builds. "This means only fans and pot-belly wood stoves are needed for heating and cooling. This is the same way the Afghans heat and cool their homes."

The buildings take advantage and match the local environment, something the West forgot 70 years ago when we discovered air-conditioning, he said.

"Prior to the 1940s, we built houses and buildings to match the environment, Cape Cods, Plantation houses, haciendas, etc.," Overtree said.

The builds are also natural bunkers with the two-foot thick walls, Overtree said. They can take multiple rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire and can easily be repaired afterward.

Additionally, from an economic view, the builds offer incredible savings.

"On average, based on comparable projects built by the US Corps of Engineers and Air Force Center for Engineering Excellence, these RSC adobe builds save 75 percent of the life cycle costs," Overtree said. "This means for the projects we have done this year using this concept, we will save over $1 billion over the life of the facilities."

Any disadvantages?

Apparently not. "That's why they have been building this way for millennia," he said.

The dividends are evident at the 4th Zone Afghan Border Police compound.

The 1,900-man compound is low energy and efficient, currently powered only by a 33 kilowatt generator, Overtree said.

Page last updated Fri November 25th, 2011 at 00:00