Serving Tucson since 1982 (520-331-4004)
If you are searching for information on adobe homes, I trust the information in this website will be of valuable assistance. Buying, selling, repairing, restoring or building an adobe home takes specialized knowledge. Call (520) 331-4004 for a wealth of information relating to the repair and preservation of adobe homes, information on repairing cracks in walls, tips on buying or selling an adobe home, along with the pros and cons of adobe water-repellents and sealers. We give free estimates. In the following pages, you will also find information on the many different kinds of adobe (burnt, sun-dried, pressed and stabilized) to choose from to build your own house, along with information on rammed earth.
Adobe homes are unique structures, with specialized needs. One misconception that many adobe home owner’s have is that an adobe is similar, maintenance wise, to a regular block or brick home. Nothing could be farther from the truth, particularly if the adobe home you are purchasing, or planning on purchasing, has a “Santa Fe” building style.
This type of home has tall parapet walls with a flat roof with perhaps a large,covered back porch and a smaller covered front porch. Very little, if any, of Santa Fe homes are protected with any kind of protecting overhang, except what you will find underneath the porches. Most of the adobes on these type of homes are exposed to the weather.
Because of this fact, that most of the adobe walls receive the brunt of the weather and are not protected underneath wide roof overhangs or generous porches, the adobes are susceptible to damage by the elements; most notably, rain and wind. Compared to a concrete or slump block, adobes are relatively soft, making them much more prone to deterioration in the elements.
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There is no doubt that adobe homes have a certain mystic surrounding them and many people desire to own an authentic adobe home for a variety of reasons. But I have seen that most people, unaware of the particular needs of adobe homes, will purchase them with scant knowledge of their unique needs.
Few homes can match the beauty, comfort and mass of a well-built adobe or rammed earth home. No other home can exactly mimic the “feel” one has when living within the walls of a solidly built adobe or rammed earth structure. Yet these homes have unique needs that a homeowner must be aware of so that these wonderful places can endure for decades…even hundreds of years.
This website is unique in the sense that I am a contractor who has spent over three decades in construction; most of these years in the restoration of adobe homes. My perspective on adobe homes is gleaned from decades of working on, protecting and repairing them from the damaging effects of water and the weather. I offer to potential adobe homeowners a perspective you might not find from a real estate agent who is simply trying to “make a sale” and probably does not enjoy the many years of experience in closely maintaining these homes as I have.
I urge my readers who are contemplating the purchase of an adobe or rammed earth home to spend some valuable time reading the many pages of information in this website. For those who already own such a home, these pages will prove to be as invaluable to your maintenance needs as the person seeking to own such a home for the first time.
The proper repair and preservation of adobe can accurately be described as an art form. There are correct methods of restoration that when properly employed will enhance and prolong the life of your adobe. There are also incorrect methods and incorrect use of repair materials that can literally spell doom for your adobe and result in the acceleration of deterioration.
For example, putting a thick coat of stucco over an old mud adobe home can be among one of the poorest preservation choices you can make. Many people have done just this, believing that it will solve their severe deterioration problems when in fact it may greatly accelerate the problem. One of the most important and critical questions when it comes to evaluating sound solutions for your adobe problems is “What is causing the deterioration in the first place?” No corrective or restoration method should be initiated until this question is thoroughly answered.
The greatest threat to adobe is when it comes in contact with water. One of the ways that water damages adobe walls is from the rainwater run-off from roofs. If your adobe home or building has a flat roof and the scuppers (drain pipes) do not protrude far enough away from the walls, the rainwater from these draining scuppers may very well “channel” down those walls with the potential of causing severe damage both to the exterior and interior of the earth walls. “Splash back” is also a common problem. This occurs when the rainwater falling from the scuppers hits the ground below and “splashes back” towards the walls. Worse yet is if the rainwater falling from the scuppers not only splashes back but actually drains towards the walls instead of away from the walls, soaking the ground beneath.
If your adobe home or building has a pitched roof and the eaves from that pitched roof do not extend an adequate distance past the walls, you encounter the same damaging scenario as that described in the paragraph above from a rainstorm. This situation can actually be worse than the one described above, for eves can extend across a great distance around the home and the falling water from the eves can affect a much greater area than the small target area underneath an isolated scupper.
Another common problem that has the potential to cause great damage to adobe walls are careless watering or over watering of plants which have been planted too close to the walls. I encounter this problem all the time and I advise adobe homeowners who have concrete stem walls of a few inches (or no stem walls at all where the adobes are sitting right on the ground) to leave at least a minimum distance of no less than 24 inches between your adobe walls and your plants; 36 inches is even better. Adobes are like sponges and they can absorb an incredible amount of water. Keeping water away from contacting your adobe walls in any fashion is the single best measure for insuring the continued health of your adobe structure.
A continuing raging debate is whether or not one should apply a “sealer” (italicized to draw attention to the fact that the word is misused) to protect adobe. This is an extremely valuable debate and should be thoroughly investigated before launching into any “sealing project” on your adobe home or building. In my repair manual, entitled “Repairing and Preserving Your Adobe Home”, I delve into some detail on this subject.
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There is no longer simple choices when it comes to choosing what kind of adobe you may wish to build your house out of. The choices between the various kinds of adobe can be quite bewildering to the adobe novice, and each type of adobe has its strengths and corresponding weaknesses. Because of these myriad of choices, there is at least the same amount of confusing choices when it comes to figuring the correct repair methods for these different adobe “bricks.”
Another important question to ask when searching for solutions to adobe problems is, “What kind of adobe is my house constructed from?” For example, if your house is built out of the “old” kind of adobe, where the actual adobes that make up the walls of your home was dug out of the earth that was around or near your house, these are commonly referred to as “sun-dried,” “mud,” or “natural” adobes. Straw was commonly added to these adobes to help control the inevitable cracking that occurs in these kind of earthen bricks.
But you may not have this kind of adobe; rather, you may well have “burnt” adobe. I discuss these different kinds of adobe in one of the chapters of my book in more detail, but the repair methods for a sun-dried adobes is completely different than the repair method for a burnt adobe.
Most people, when they think of “adobe,” think of sun-dried adobe, not realizing that this kind of adobe is one among a handful of others. I spend much time in this website discussing the proper repair and preservation of burnt adobe because in my restoration business, the majority of the homes I worked on over the decades were constructed out of this particular kind.
As technology has evolved, so has adobe. One would not think that digging dirt out of the ground and dumping this material into wooden forms to dry in the sun to form heavy slabs of earth that will then be mortared into a wall for a house can be subjected to technological advancements, but surprisingly, they are. Adobe has come a long way since the Hebrews under the Pharaohs made earth bricks out of mud and straw over 4,500 years ago.
Interestingly, the Bible records the first instance, as far as I know, of adobes being made as a building material:
“So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foreman, saying, ‘You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it…” (Exodus 5:6-8[a])
Straw, as noted above, is an important ingredient in making sun-dried adobes; it not only controls cracking, but also gives the adobes some slight tensile strength. Evidently, as the above Scripture reference points out, it was an essential element in the Egyptian adobe making business.
Adobe making has come a long way since the Pharaohs used it in their building efforts. Today, various additives are mixed with the soil, such as asphalt and cement, to impart a water-resistant aspect and strength to the bricks. Though straw was a necessary ingredient in the manufacture of adobes in ancient Egypt, advancements in soil analysis’ has evolved to such a degree that it is not necessary and is rarely used.
Though the use of adobe in construction has been around for thousands of years and is a fairly user-friendly material, it is surprising how much technical knowledge is necessary for both building out of adobe and in its repair and restoration. As I mentioned in my first paragraph, adobe repair can properly be considered an art form. This is also true of its manufacture and construction.
Since one is unable to trek down to your local Home Depot, Lowe’s or neighborhood building materials supply store and purchase adobe, it is not a material that is commonly used in building one’s home. There are few masons who are skilled and knowledgeable in the proper methods of laying up an adobe wall. Fewer still are those who know how to properly preserve and repair deteriorating adobe structures.
Because of this lack of information, adobe homeowners need to familiarize themselves with the unique characteristics and needs of adobe if they want to insure that their homes are adequately protected. This due diligence is just as important when you choose a contractor who will be repairing your deteriorated home. There are not many specialists in this area, and hiring a contractor who is unfamiliar or inexperienced in the proper preservation techniques could end up doing more harm than good.
This website addresses the particular needs of burnt adobe rather than the more traditional sun-dried adobe. This is because there is already a fair amount of information on the web concerning the history and proper repair methods of the latter and not much on the former. The repair and preservation methods for both these types of adobe are quite different.
My website also goes into some depth on flat roof repairs and coatings. This is because Adobe Masters does much work in repairing and preserving flat roofs, which are very common on burnt adobe homes in my hometown of Tucson, AZ. One of the main repair areas on an adobe home is found on the adobes that make up the portion of the home where the roofing material flashes over the adobes themselves. Repairing these adobes often requires tearing or cutting away a portion of the roofing material.
Since we spend a significant portion of our time on a customer’s roof when we repair their damaged adobes, I naturally became an expert on diagnosing and repairing flat roofs, notorious for leaks. A properly sealed roof is important in the overall strategy of maintaining an adobe home, and this site will give you some helpful information on this critical area as well.
For a quick start guide, click on the link buttons or the “Products” button above. Or, to see photos of the work we do, click on the “Before and After” photos button. There is quite a bit of information and photos…
Adobe Masters is a multi-faceted company. Our services include: crack and adobe repairs, custom white and mortar washes, minor roofing repairs and application of premium elastomeric roof coatings, foundation and stem wall crack repairs and resurfacing, stucco repairs and painting, application of premium water repellents to adobe walls, etc.
A wealth of information relating to adobe repair and preservation is found here, along with the pros and cons of adobe water-repellents. Here you will also find information on the many different kinds of adobe there is to choose from when deciding to build your own house, along with information on rammed earth