I started writing my book, “Repairing and Preserving Your Adobe Home,” in 2004. It is a “how to” manual that specifically addresses the repair and maintenance needs of burnt adobe. For the first time, I am offering many of the chapters for free here on my website. Below is the Introduction:
“Repairing and Preserving Your Adobe Home”
by Roy E. Spears
copyright 2002-2016. All rights reserved.
Copying, pasting, editing, and/or sharing electronically without prior permission from the author is strictly prohibited.
In 1985 I began work on my first adobe home in Tucson, AZ. Three years prior to this, at the age of twenty-two, I had been striving to run my own business as a painting contractor. During the scorching summer of 1985, I was working part-time for another struggling painting contractor by the name of Paul Roof, the brother of Tom Roof, who owns T.L. Roof and Associates, a large general contracting firm in the Tucson area. Paul was quite knowledgeable and skilled in the painting craft, and together, while under his tutelage, we painted various custom foothill homes and dabbled a bit in the commercial realm.
I had been in the painting business long enough to know a few things, and one of them was that I did not like repainting people’s homes while they were living in them. There were a few reasons for this: one, I never enjoyed bothering people, and I always felt this was exactly what I was doing while ringing their doorbell at 7:00 a.m. wanting to get my day going. Here I was, an invited stranger, coming into their home, their private sanctuary, and although I was there to beautify their living space, I was an intruder to their daily routine and sense of privacy.
Second, it was an inevitable and non-avoidable fact that I or somebody else working with me was going to get paint on the customer’s expensive carpeting or tile floors–no matter how hard we tried not to. Somehow, paint would drip from somewhere or from someplace off one of us, or we would get paint on the bottom of our shoes or boots where it would inevitably end up on the customer’s flooring. I spent many hours on my hands and knees with a spray bottle, a bucket of water, and an old rag burning up calories in the effort to get their carpeting clean again.
Nor did I like the ever-present anxiety of the customer’s emotional response to the color or colors that we were putting on the walls in their homes. What looks good on a paint chip is never quite the same when it is rolled onto an entire room or as an accent wall in someone’s home. I never got used to that pained expression on my customer’s faces after they saw a freshly painted accent wall with a color they chose as they grimaced, “That’s not at all what I expected it to look like…!”
These and countless other reasons spoke clearly to me during those initial few years in the painting business that many aspects of the trade were not appealing or fun. Then, in 1985, things took a turn for the better.
Paul Roof had contracted out with a customer to spray a water repellent on their small adobe home located in central Tucson. Since the work was to be done outside their house, Paul and I arrived around our usual time of 7:00 a.m. Before our coffee had a chance to get cold, we had finished masking all the windows and doors and were breaking open the five-gallon buckets of the water repellent and began setting up his airless sprayer to begin spraying their walls.
We finished the entire job in half a day, including the clean up and after taking several breaks. I actually felt giddy that I did not have to get down on my hands and knees and scrub up any spilled paint. There was no overspray or roller splatter that I could see, because we did not use any painting tools (rollers or brushes) on this project that would create such a problem. Even if there had been we would not have seen it, because the water repellent, when dried, was invisible on the walls or anywhere else it may have happened to land (except unmasked or poorly masked window glass).
I saw opportunity knocking, and this manuscript is the result of years of hands on experience dealing with adobe repair, then spraying on to these adobes my own formulated adobe water repellents.
This manual is being written in the summer of the year 2000. Looking back on almost thirty years of adobe work, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I can save my readers from much of the frustrations I encountered when I initially began working on adobe structures. As a former licensed specialty contractor (AZ #130714), I bring to the field years of “hands on” experience instead of simply rehashing some information that I read in books or magazines and repackaging them in this manual. I have come to understand that one can think of themself as “adobe expert” after reading a few articles on the subject in a trade magazine or journal, or even after taking a weekend class in “Adobe 101”. This accumulation of knowledge and having limited hands on experience with the material is helpful, but I have a deep respect for those “adobero’s” who have spent many years in hands on experience with the earth.
A quick excursion through the home improvement section of any major bookstore reveals a thin sampling of books dedicated to the subject of adobe. Those on the shelves deal particularly with the proper construction methods for actually building an adobe home. Some of the newer releases are coffee table picture books brimming with beautiful photos of the many different styles of adobe homes that can be found in the United States and some Latin American countries.
Books or manuals that deal specifically and are dedicated only to the repair and preservation of these adobe homes are non-existent, which is the reason that I decided to write this one that would address these extremely important issues. Some of the books on the market that deal with constructing an adobe home make reference to repairing them, but the information given is usually limited to a few paragraphs or one chapter at best.
Those book sections that address the preservation of adobe homes usually target their methods to older, non-stabilized, sun dried adobes that are of such age they could qualify for historical status. These adobe structures have specific do’s and don’t when it comes to the proper manner in repairing and preserving them, but no book or manual that I have read in any major or independent bookstore or seen offered on the Internet address the unique needs of burnt adobe. This one attempts to fill that crucial gap, along with offering information on the many different kinds of newer adobe that has become so prevalent with those individuals seeking a return to an older and oftentimes more simplistic style of building construction.
Adobe is simple and yet complex, simple in that it comes abundantly from the earth and is one of the oldest building materials known to man; complex because twenty first century adobe is seldom made from just the “stuff” of the planet. Today, various additives are included in adobe recipes in the unending pursuit of trying to make them more durable and water-resistant. Our parents and grandparents may still be living in the adobe homes they themselves helped to build, when adobe construction was relatively simple.
Now, complexity reigns as we are forced to move away from the simplicity of this older way of building and now have to deal with myriad rules for “proper” ways of home construction, building inspections and inspectors, and the plethora of choices in construction methods, practices, and materials. As the old philosopher rightly said, “The more abundant the choices, the more difficult the decisions.”
What exactly is “adobe” anyway? This depends on whom you ask. If you call me and want an estimate done on your home, I might ask you, “What kind of adobe do you have?” Adobe is no longer limited to one specific and straight forward definition. Is your home the traditional adobe that is the sun-dried earth block dug from the ground, dumped into wooden forms, straw added as a binder, and laid up with earth mortar? Or is your adobe burnt adobe, which was, and still is, made down in Mexico and fired in kilns to give them their beautiful orange and red colors? These burnt adobes, as they are commonly called, are classified into at least two divisions: the most common, called Sasabe adobe, and the other and more reddish colored Querobabi adobe.
Perhaps your house is one of the newer kids on the block, an asphalt stabilized mud adobe, or a cement-stabilized adobe, or maybe a cement-stabilized compressed adobe. There are even natural compressed adobes with no stabilizers added, or…you can see that the question, “What kind of adobe do you have?” is no longer so simple to answer.
As a restoration professional faced with the increasing perplexities of the adobe industry, I have seen for years the need for a manual such as this one. My hope is that within the following pages you will not only find a shared respect for this ancient building material, but you will also improve and enhance your own knowledge of it. This will help you to preserve and protect one of our most cherished and important possessions: the homes we live and raise our children in.