“Repairing and Preserving Your Adobe Home”
by Roy E. Spears
copyright 2002-2023. All rights reserved.
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The Pro’s and Con’s of Painting Adobe Homes
The reasoning can evolve in this manner: if treating my adobe home with a water repellent protects it from deterioration and is highly recommended, then painting it must surely offer an even greater amount of protection. The answer is, confusingly, yes and no.
First, my opinion on the overall subject of painting adobe homes, with specific reference to painting the exterior—not the interior. I do not think painting an adobe home on the outside is a good idea, for doing so immediately removes the unique look of adobe, which distinguishes it from all other homes. Adobe homes, on a percentage basis, are far outnumbered by other homes built using different materials. This fact, in my mind, makes every adobe home more valuable (all things being equal) than your typical frame built stucco or block home, of which Tucson and the surrounding areas have hundreds of thousands. Less adobe homes (the law of supply and demand) for sale in the market place mean that a savvy adobe homeowner can obtain a higher price for their home when they sell.
Thus, doing anything that removes the unique look of an adobe home must, in my opinion, be detrimental to the resale value of that home. We know that the housing market is driven, among many things, by emotions and a house hunter’s sense of what is valuable. A painted adobe house has less perceived value than an unpainted authentic adobe home, and painting that adobe home also takes away part of it’s perceived value and throws it into the same league as any one of a number of other typical painted masonry homes. Certainly a painted adobe home is still an adobe home, but appearances are everything in the real estate business, and painted adobe, at least in my book, detracts from the value and uniqueness of the property.
The following incident will illustrate the truth of this. In the winter of 1994, I was called by a real estate agent, Bill Newton, who worked for Tucson Realty and Trust to give my opinion on a burnt adobe home built in the “Las Cumbres Townhouse Association” (located in the area of Campbell and Sunrise). It had been sprayed with a thick acrylic-bodied paint coating—called “Tuff-Tex”—over all the exterior walls. This townhouse community had, as I recall, approximately thirty or forty adobe townhouses which all looked basically the same…a very nice collection of homes.
Unfortunately, an elderly lady who owned a home in this complex was smooth-talked by a Tuff-Tex salesman into coating her house with this thick-bodied, textured paint. Part of the convincing sales pitch was that the product was guaranteed for twenty years, meaning she would never have to concern herself about maintenance problems during these two decades. No one knows exactly why she agreed to this proposition. Such drastic changes to the outside of one’s home needed to be cleared by the townhouse committee, who, like most other townhouse associations, have strict rules governing what you can and cannot do with the exterior of your home.
The committee would never have approved of such a proposal, but this somehow slipped through the communication cracks. The deal was made, the job proceeded, and the final result was shocking to the other members of the complex. Her home was transformed from whitewashed burnt adobe into an atrocious looking light pink, thick paint job that completely obliterated all semblance of the adobe.
The community was stunned by the grotesque transformation that immediately became a lightning rod of discontent. It stood out like a very sore, pink thumb in the midst of all the neighboring adobe homes. People were incensed because not only did it look horrid and out of place, but they felt, and Bill agreed, that it lowered the property value of all the homes around it. What made the situation worse was that this elderly woman’s house went on the market to be sold, and something had to be done to make the house more salable.
Unsure of how to proceed and fix the eyesore that had become sarcastically known as the “Pink Elephant,” other contractors, including myself, were called out to give our opinions on rectifying the situation: one other company who specializes in the restoration of adobe homes and a sandblasting company.
The sandblasting contractor felt that he could remove all the Tuff-Tex with his specialized blasting equipment. My competitor and I agreed, but we also believed it would ruin the adobe in the process by scarring and chipping it beyond hope. Bill, in agreement with our opinions, dropped the sandblasting solution as an option.
Still, the great dilemma was how to fix this? Sand it off? That was not possible. Strip the coating off? That would be extremely labor intensive and cost a sizable fortune. The hazardous chemical needed to strip the stubbornly attached coating off, along with the noxious fumes, was also rejected as a solution.
An unusual possible solution came to my mind. I had started my construction career in 1982 as a painting contractor and was familiar with paints and colors. Through my reading of the process of faux painting in Europe (just gaining serious attention in the States about this time), I proposed the idea of faux painting the house and revert it back to looking like an adobe home.
Though I had never accomplished or undertaken such a project, I was convinced it would work, particularly since I had seen pictures in trade magazines of common pieces of plywood transformed by faux artists into beautiful works of exotic looking woods. If a piece of common plywood could be turned into a mahogany conference table, inlaid with stone and intricate designs, why couldn’t the “Pink Elephant” be turned back into an adobe home? I proposed the idea, and Bill seemed intrigued by the possibility; what gave the idea more merit was the fact that no sandblasting would be needed and no dangerous chemicals would be used. It would not be a dirty, messy or foul-smelling solution to the problem.
I explained to Bill my strategy for putting a sample patch on a portion of the house wall where it would not be visible from the street. This way, if the sample worked and it looked presentable, it could be duplicated on the entire house and surrounding walls. If not, the sample could be painted over to match the color of the Tuff-Tex; since the patch would be in an obscure location, the overall impact would be negligible. All parties agreed, and I began contemplating the manner in which to tackle this challenge.
The final result was nothing short of spectacular.
Subject: Exterior wall restoration
Some burnt adobe homeowners, in their desperation to find a solution that will eliminate the rapid deterioration of their homes end up painting their exteriors. Does this help? Again, yes and no. It works (but remember I do not recommend it) quite well if the following guidelines are closely followed. First, a determination must be made as to why the home is experiencing the deterioration, and if the answer is weather related (strong rains and wind buffeting the home in those areas prone to such deterioration), then painting them may be an excellent option. If the adobes themselves are just “bad adobes”, meaning that they were of a poor quality in the first place and simply deteriorated with age, painting them may also be a viable option.
If the adobes are crumbling because of over watering, poor drainage, or used in a wall around your pool or as planter boxes, painting your adobes to solve this disintegration would be a disaster. This will hasten, not cure, the demise of these problem adobes. Adobes are like sponges, and water is going to get to them in these areas in one way or the other.
Most people believe that rainwater hitting against their adobes is the only manner that moisture will reach them, which causes them to assume that painting them will solve their problems. Such is not the case, as water from below grade and at your finish grade is responsible for much of the deterioration affecting the bottom courses of the adobe walls.
Unfortunately, many homes, particularly those over fifty years old, have their adobes below the finish grade and completely covered by soil. This is a disaster waiting to happen, as water, continually being sucked up by these adobes, are not allowed by the dirt to quickly dry out and the adobes deteriorate as time passes. But these adobes, particularly those that are sitting above grade, will slowly dry out if enough time passes between rains and watering. To put a covering of paint over them will only trap moisture and compound the deterioration process.
If a homeowner insists on painting an adobe home that is currently in excellent condition, this can help in preserving the adobes. If they are having problem areas caused by severe weathering with no deterioration caused by over watering, then an excellent paint job would provide additional protection. I would suggest before painting that any adobes which are falling apart be thoroughly prepped, repaired and Siloxed. Pressure wash the house before you apply a minimum of two coats of 100% acrylic paint and your home should be well protected for years to come. After pressure washing, insure that the home has had enough time to thoroughly and completely dry out before painting.
Spray painting should not be used as a method for applying the paint unless the home is back rolled, a painting term for rolling out the paint soon after it is applied by an airless sprayer. Usually the painting crew works in a (minimum) team of two, with a spray man applying the paint and another crew member following him and rolling out the material, insuring that the paint is being forced into every nook, cranny and crevice of the adobes. Spray painting alone does not force all the paint into each of these areas, and any spot missed by the sprayer can be an entrance point for water to penetrate underneath the coating and cause damage.
Many asphalt stabilized mud adobe home owners have been alarmed at how quickly their adobe homes deteriorate so soon after being built and contrary to the claims of the adobe manufacturer. Some of them begin to rapidly deteriorate, throwing a legitimate fright into the concerned homeowner as they see their house erode before their eyes. These homes have been successfully painted, imparting excellent protection to the adobes.
Again, I don’t recommend this option, because the look of a painted asphalt stabilized mud adobe home pales in appearance to the original. I believe slightly weathered asphalt stabilized mud adobe homes looks great, reminding me of the adobes in Old Tucson and western movies. The sun begins to bleach out the darker look of the asphalt when the adobes are first made and then constructed into walls, quickly fading into a mellower color.
I recommend to new home owners to wait about six months after the walls have been laid up before they apply two coats of the SILOX PREMIUM ADOBE WATER REPELLENT (stabilized mud formulation) to their exterior walls. Afterwards, view your adobe home like any other that requires periodic maintenance. Every four or five years thereafter, apply one more coat of the SILOX to continue the protection. Following this schedule will insure your home of having the greatest amount of protection for years to come…. without the detrimental appearance of a paint job.
The discussion now turns to the interior of the home, determined by the taste of each homeowner. Personally, I enjoy the natural look of any adobe, not only on the exterior but also the interior. My preference would be to maintain the unaltered look of the adobe, regardless if the adobe in question is burnt, asphalt stabilized, cement stabilized, or natural.
The interior of burnt adobe homes rarely give a home owner any problems, except when damage beginning with the outside finds it way to the inside of the home. Burnt adobes don’t “shed” like the other adobes (asphalt, cement stabilized, or the naturals), so they require no coating or water repellent on them to maintain their appearance. The stabilized and natural adobes do shed, and this will be discussed, along with the solutions, in another chapter of this book.