Americans have a prejudice when it comes to construction. Do-it-yourselfers prefer to build with wood and nails. Perhaps it's a legacy from our pioneer days, from childhood experiences with pine wood derbies, or the outcome of a strong marketing campaign by the lumber industry.

But if Lenic Rodriquez has his way, things are about to change. The Vancouver, B.C., architect has dedicated his life to developing a new masonry block system aimed at this market. His team at Habiterra Building Solutions believe they have developed a block building system that could become the preferred building material for folks who want to build their own homes and structures.

While their target may be the entry-level home market, he has a greater purpose in mind. In many areas, entry-level housing can be a simple frame structure with limited durability. “We are committed to the research and development of our construction technology as it relates to creating ecological and sustainable communities,” says Rodriquez, Habiterra's president and director of marketing and finance.

The system offers many advantages over traditional methods. It resists seismic loading, high-wind loading, and bearing loads. After workers place the foundation, they can erect a Habiterra structure in most weather conditions. Assembling the concrete block units doesn't require high-tech tools, specialized materials, or extensive training.

Rodriquez's mandate is to help communities build cost-effective, stable structures. “In many settings, our building system is an innovative self-help building solution,” he says. “We have created a system which uses technology to solve a low-tech problem.”

Safer and healthier

Rodriquez hopes to provide more than safe structures. These durable units will raise occupants' quality of life. They will reduce heating and cooling costs, as they provide a natural thermal barrier. And they are healthier because the system also reduces water infiltration to mitigate mold growth.

Habiterra is a dry-stack system that requires no mortar. Workers place the units with an interlocking woven pattern.

Once erected, installers still must place concrete in bond beams and corners to satisfy design strength requirements. The final wall is stable and its strength compares favorably with traditional loadbearing masonry walls. Once erected, Habiterra blocks can be finished on the outside and inside with any material, producing buildings which blend with the local environment and culture.

Rodriquez's system is a radical departure from traditional masonry. He doesn't believe that his system will hinder traditional residential efforts. “Most of these are self-erected projects, and hiring a mason contractor would never be an option,” he says.

Rodriquez is searching for licensees for his system. Based on the response at the Icon Exhibition in February, Rodriquez believes producers are interested. Producers found his unit design producer-friendly. The system requires a limited number of shapes, maximizing run times and reducing inventory footprints. And his molds are compatible to mix recipes using local materials.

Rodriquez has patents and trademarks in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Habiterra also have filed a request for an International Patent Cooperation Treaty, a technology protection system that is recognized in 137 countries.

E-mail lenic@habiterra.ca, or visit www.habiterrabuildingsolutions.com.