Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Daniel Jansen


This thesis investigates the in-plane shear performance of full-scale walls made from compressed earth blocks. Compressed earth blocks are a type of masonry where the blocks are composed of compressed soil and typically dry-stacked without mortar. Prior research has demonstrated that the in-plane shear strength of these blocks falls far short of capacities predicted by conventional masonry building codes, requiring new testing to develop effective and safe designs for seismic conditions. This thesis specifically studies the effects of block type and the use of grouted shear keys at the block head joints.

Three full-scale walls were constructed and tested under in-plane, cyclic loading. To compare the effect of block type on shear strength, one wall was constructed from Rhino blocks as used by the Center for Vocational Building Technology, while another used V-Lock blocks designed by the Vermeer Corporation. Apart from differences in size and interlock mechanism, the standard Rhino blocks have shear keys at the head joints which are not present on the V-Lock blocks. To examine the effect of these shear keys, a third wall was built from Rhino blocks with the shear keys removed.

The two standard block types displayed no major difference in strength that could not be attributed to grouted area or the presence/absence of the head joint shear keys. The Rhino block wall with shear keys reached a higher peak load relative to the grouted area but experienced a brittle drop in capacity after peaking, while the other two walls exhibited an extended loading plateau after the initial peak. All walls failed with cracking and block sliding along the main diagonals, a failure mode similar to conventional masonry. Proposals are made for modifying the equations for shear capacity from the Masonry Standards Joint Committee (MSJC) 2013 code for use in designing compressed earth block shear walls.