Treating your own adobe or rammed earth home with a speciality water repellent like the Silox Adobe and Rammed Earth Water Repellent can be a daunting task…but you can do it. With my help, advice, and equipment (for purchase or rent), an oftentimes frustrating and stressful project can be accomplished with minimal stress.
Recently (March of 2021), a customer by the name of Bill purchased seven five gallon buckets of the Silox Xtra (35 gallons) for his adobe home. Bill is 70 years old; he sprayed six buckets—30 gallons—by himself in one day, using a manual, pump-up backpack sprayer. I was shocked.
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I have sprayed thousands of gallons of the Silox myself on customer’s homes, using airless sprayers, my favorite gasoline powered backpack sprayer, and the same manual, pump-up sprayer that Bill used. I know how physically taxing spraying the Silox can be using a manual, back-pack sprayer. What Bill did was exemplary.
I write all this to encourage my readers that if Bill could do this, you can probably do this as well if you are in relatively decent physical shape. Why I tell this story about Bill is because I remember when I transitioned from using an airless sprayer to the manual, pump-up backpack sprayers around 20 years or so ago.
Back then, I was in my early forties and thought I was in decent physical shape. After all, I was a contractor working on customer’s adobe homes and was used to demanding physical activity in all types of Tucson’s extreme weather conditions.
But after filling that sprayer for the first time with five gallons of the Silox and hoisting it on my back (a feat in itself), and then pumping that thing until I went through the entire five gallons, repeating the same process several times, I thought I had just ran a marathon…I was physically drained and thought to myself, “This is a joke!”
It took me weeks using this sprayer on a regular basis before my body was used to the physical demands needed to continually use this piece of equipment. Eventually both my body and muscles adapted to the work load required by using this sprayer, but it was never a picnic.
This is why Bill’s story, to me, is so remarkable. This gentleman recently turned 70, and I cannot imagine anyone this age putting on a full backpack for the first time and pumping six buckets of water repellent through it on the first day of use. It’s truly extraordinary.
Bill is humble. I asked him to have his son take a picture of him wearing the backpack so I could post it here on my website as a testament to his physical prowess and to show other do-it-yourselfers that they can treat their own adobe and rammed earth homes as well. I haven’t received the picture yet because I think Bill is shy and does not want to show off. But if he does text it to me, I will certainly post it.
Bill and I spoke at length a couple of times on the phone before he decided to do this project himself. He had a couple of contractors that came out to bid the project, and when he saw the estimate from one of the contractors, he decided to save a ton of money and do the project himself. The other contractor flaked out on him.
During our phone calls, I gave him some tips and recommendations for equipment he could use to do the job himself. I sell inexpensive backpack sprayers myself for customers to purchase if they wish to, but Bill decided he wanted the top of the line sprayer I used on my customer’s home…a Birchmeir. I don’t stock these because they are so expensive (around $300) and I didn’t think customers would want to spend that kind of money on a piece of equipment they might only use once or twice.
I sell inexpensive, four gallon backpack sprayers for $40.00. I’ve sold quite a few of them with no complaints. The feedback I have received from those who have purchased them has always been positive.
When Bill came over to purchase the Silox Xtra, he brought the expensive Birchmeir backpack sprayer he had purchased to do his house. I explained how to use this excellent piece of equipment and gave him some useful, professional tips on how to spray his adobe walls with it. I think this advice fired Bill up to see that he could do this job with the help of his son, and in the process, save himself a significant amount of money rather than hiring this project out to professionals.
I often spend a lot of time with customers, walking them through many of the steps required to seal their homes. We can cover all kinds of topics, depending on what kind of adobe or rammed earth home they have. This kind of personal touch and critical advice from an experienced, hands on professional like myself is unheard of when you go to a big box store or purchase a competitor’s product online. Does Home Depot, Lowe’s or Amazon have salespeople that have spent almost 30 years working on adobe homes that can walk you through all the necessary steps?
One helpful suggestion: it always helps to view a large project—like sealing your home—like a giant puzzle with many different pieces. If you look at the entire puzzle and say, “This is one big, complicated puzzle…”, you can get overwhelmed and defeated before you even begin. Take one piece of the puzzle and work on that.
For example, find the smallest wall, square footage wise, on your house. Better yet, if you have a surrounding pool wall that encloses you backyard, plan on sealing the outside of that wall first, the side facing the desert. Usually, no one sees these sections of the walls except your neighbor and these are great to practice on. They can also be challenging because often there is desert shrubbery and other obstacles you have to work around or clear before you have a clear path to work in.
You may have to trim back overgrown creosote bushes or hack down sections of prickly pear cactus that is touching the walls. Maybe there is black moss to clean off, or adobes that need repair. Sometimes there are loose adobe cap blocks that need to be reset or repaired. Each of these potential jobs are yet another piece of the overall puzzle you need to address, and if you take each puzzle piece (for example, “This morning I have to chop back the prickly pear that has grown to close to the wall…”) and solve that, a huge job becomes manageable and doable.
Early in my career, I sealed entire houses by myself. Looking back on this today, almost 40 years later, I can’t believe I did this by myself, especially because I did not have the experience, knowledge, and equipment that I have today. It’s a seeming miracle I did one house by myself when I know how much work goes into a project of this magnitude.
If I looked at the jobs as giant puzzles and worked on one piece of that puzzle at a time; it then became doable and I was able to wrap my head around such a large project. All this to say, having someone like myself that will walk you through the needed steps is a game changer and might make the difference between you having the courage to tackle the project yourself instead of paying big bucks to hire a professional to do it for you.
One tip: find yourself a helper. Bill, the 70 year old man above, had his ten-year-old son help him. (Yes, I asked him the same thing, thinking he meant his grand son…he was his biological son.) Having a helper is almost mandatory because an extra set of hands becomes invaluable in countless scenarios.
You might be thinking, “All my kids are grown and living their own lives. They’re not available to help so I’m sunk.” Not necessarily. Think outside the box and you will be surprised what ideas will come to you. Does your neighbor have a teen-ager you can hire to help you? How about your landscaper? Would he be willing to lend you a hand for a day or two? Of course you will pay him, and maybe he has some experience in using a sprayer or has other needed equipment (ladders or hand maskers, for example…certainly tools to trim branches or hack apart overgrown beds of prickly pear). You can investigate hiring a day laborer from a temp place. The possibilities are endless.
Do you use the “Next Door” app? This would be a great place to get online and ask your neighborhood if anyone is available who you could hire to help you. I’ve used this app for all kinds of help. Even Craigslist is a possibility.
Here’s another idea: say you have a good friend or neighbor. Everybody always has projects around their house they need to do. Strike them a deal and offer them something like this: you give me a few days to help me seal my house and I will give you a few days to paint your house. I’ve learned that two people working together can easily do the work of three people working by themselves.
These are just a few ideas to get you to “prime the pump” for finding some helping hands. Again, I’m big into helping homeowners take control of their home improvement projects instead of spending big money on always having to hire professionals to do tasks that we could do ourselves if we only had the right guidance and encouragement from someone who was a pro.
What about adobe repairs? Cracks in the walls? Fading whitewash? Holes where the plumbers dug out portions of your walls to fix broken or leaking pipes? These are great questions.
I’ve spent almost 30 years repairing and preserving adobe homes. Adobe repair is a specialized niche market, with niches within niches. For example, there are many different types of adobe: burnt adobe, natural sun-dried adobe, asphalt stabilized mud adobe, cement stabilized mud adobe, etc. In Tucson, the majority of adobe homes were built out of burnt adobe, the characteristic orangish, reddish adobe commonly found throughout the city. This is the adobe “niche” I specialize in.
One could specialize in repairing only asphalt stabilized mud adobe, or cement stabilized mud adobe, or, the “niche of niches” is the proper repair and preservation of historic sun-dried, mud adobe made with straw that most of us commonly think of when we speak of adobe. This is a vast and controversial topic as to what is considered proper and authentic when repairing and preserving this kind of adobe.
Then, there is the issue of other earth homes, i.e., rammed earth, cob, etc. These are niche markets within the earthen building trades of which adobe is merely one group. It is hard for one to wrap their heads around the myriad of different earthen building materials people throughout the world and history have used to build their own homes.
You can see that repairing adobe is not a simple task because each kind of adobe requires different methods, materials and techniques. Each of these “niches” may have their own specialists, and one adobe specialist may not be as experienced in the other types of adobe as he/she specializes in. And no two adobe specialists necessarily agree on what is proper and what is not, or what is a correct repair method or what is not proper.
All this to say, a homeowner who wishes to take on the job of repairing their own adobe home is in for a challenge. There are not many companies or individual craftsmen who truly know what they are doing when it comes to this deceptively complicated field of expertise. Yes, adobe can be a simple material, but it can also be complex as well. There is far more than simply going out in your back yard and digging into the ground and making your own adobes to build your dream home. Have people done it in the past? Yes, they have. Are they still doing it now? Yes, they do, and all around the world. But again, it is more complex than one can imagine.
From my decades of experience, I have to confess that the average homeowner does not posses the required skills and knowledge to correctly repair their own adobe and rammed earth homes. Though it is not rocket science, there are definite “do’s and don’ts” one must understand in order to successfully—and correctly—repair and preserve their own adobe/earth homes.
If you have little to no adobe repair needs on your home, you can successfully treat your home with a quality adobe and rammed earth water repellent like the Silox Adobe and Rammed Earth Water Repellent using the information found on this website. But if you have extensive damage and repair needs, though you can learn to repair your home yourself, prepare for a long journey into a curiously vast subject matter. If you don’t have the time or inclination to devote to this particular subject matter, it is best to hire a professional.
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