house made of mud

rescuing a sonoran row house

Month: February 2015

buildin’ buildin’ buildin’

what’s been happening at the house, lately? walls, that’s what. and when it’s not walls, it’s been roof (which has also, interestingly enough, involved walls).

i’ve also been getting started on prepping the interiors (can you say scraping, anyone?), but more on that later.

for now, check out the progress!

Photo Feb 12, 11 05 17 AMrandy, taking a small phone break from working on rebuilding the wall that collapsed in the living room right before christmas.  

Photo Feb 12, 11 05 24 AMsean, his son (and our site supervisor), was helping. note the old adobes in front that they were able to re-use. they’re from the wall we took down (on purpose, for a change) in the living area.

Photo Feb 12, 11 26 46 AMup top, randy demonstrated a slight problem we were having–they need to drill into the adobes in order to put in bolts to which the concrete bond beam will anchor.

Photo Feb 12, 11 28 16 AMunfortunately, nearly every time they drilled, this was happening: the topmost adobes were so old and brittle they were cracking into pieces. Not really ideal. 

Photo Feb 12, 11 32 05 AMsince steven hess, our structural engineer, happened to be on site to discuss another matter, we had a little pow-wow about the situation. 

Photo Feb 18, 3 40 52 PMthey decided to put lag bolts into the ceiling beams rather then drilling down into the adobes. problem solved–at least on the portion of the roof where the beams are close enough to the bottom of the bond beam to make this possible.

Photo Feb 17, 4 14 39 PMand where they aren’t–they’re going to key into new adobes that will be laid on top and have indentations in them–like these, made with soup cans.

Photo Feb 17, 4 08 44 PMso, as mentioned, not only has there been wall building on the ground–but also on the roof. we have to build up the center portion of the building so that there will be a slope to the finished roof (which means it will actually shed water–what a happy day that will be!). note the little mason’s stool for mud mortar. it was taking four or five guys to supply each station. a crew on the ground ferrying adobes to the base of the wall, then two or three forming a fire-line to hand them up, then the guy who was actually laying them. and when they weren’t schlepping up the adobes (which are HEAVY), they were sending up buckets of mortar on ropes (also HEAVY). i think i may owe the guys another round of doughnuts soon…

Photo Feb 18, 3 42 56 PMwhile they were still working on the roof-wall. i love how everything together makes it look like a little pueblo on top of the structure at the moment. maybe we should just live up there?

Photo Feb 18, 3 41 36 PMthe finished “wall” on the roof. it sits on top of one of the main walls that runs cross-wise through the entire structure.

Photo Feb 19, 3 54 52 PMmeanwhile, i’ve been finding time to scout materials. we have to put something on the parapet–the top part of the roof that sticks up–so that the rains won’t wash away our new walls. we talked about doing a concrete cap (not excited) or concrete pavers (also not excited) and then i spotted some of these on top of a wall in our current neighborhood. i showed a photo to randy, who correctly (big surprise) identified them as a type of adobe that they make in mexico called san luis (or at least that’s what they call it at the adobe supply place here in town–i know, you didn’t know either that there were actual stores devoted to nothing but adobe, did you?). the san luis adobes are fired with horse manure, which makes all of the cool colors. they’re going to look amazing on top of the finished wall edge.

Photo Feb 20, 4 21 35 PMcheck the flotilla of wheelbarrows. i think they are likely winning for most indispensable tool when re-building an adobe. they get used for everything–mixing mortar, moving mortar, moving adobes, carting around rubble, picking up trash–you name it. we might have to have one bronzed one after we’re done and leave it in the yard.

Photo Feb 20, 4 22 26 PMthe wall at the back of the house that was down has been completely rebuilt–that entire left section and top is new. note the difference in color.

Photo Feb 23, 3 01 39 PMand not only did they prep for the bond beam, they also poured the first sections of it yesterday. 

Photo Feb 24, 3 33 56 PMhere it is today, out of the molds. i have to say: it looks really strong! should tied the entire house structure together nicely once they get all the way around the perimeter. then they’ll only (ha, ha) need to add another few courses of adobes on top of the beam and our parapet will be in place.

Photo Feb 22, 10 15 51 AMfinally: a quick snap of the ceiling beams in what will be our living space. that patina! sigh.

just because~a few more before photos.

not long before we started the restoration, jeff smith, tucson photographer extraordinaire, was kind enough to take some more before shots for us. not only are they gorgeous, but i love how they capture the romance of the house’s decay–the whole thing that drew us to the house in the first place. part of me would like to just live in it this way–peeling paint and dirt floors and all. sigh.

_MG_1069_©JeffSmith_2015 working image _MG_9870_©JeffSmith_2015 working image _MG_1065_©JeffSmith_2015 working image _MG_0961_©JeffSmith_2015 working image _MG_9863_©JeffSmith_2015 working image_MG_0957_©JeffSmith_2015 working image

day 20

since this is day twenty, you may no doubt be wondering just how many more days we can expect. the answer to that one, like the answer to all questions about scheduling and construction is somewhat fluid. though the schedule i have from the site supervisor projects that we’ll be done in late august, our contractor, randy oden, initially estimated the entire project would take about ten months. all of which means i’m figuring we’ll maybe be in by christmas. for the time being, though, i’m going with the ten month estimate, so about 300 days, give or take a week. that’s only 280 more to go.

speaking of randy, i was chastised yesterday for allowing the rainpocalyse post up so long without any updates on what’s been happening over the last week or so–which has been truly encouraging. after we got the site mopped up, the immediate order of business has been wall repair and building, all in preparation for getting a bond beam on the top of the walls so that we can then get a proper roof on the place.

Photo Feb 07, 10 22 14 AM

the wall on the front continuing to go up.

below is one of the many spots on the base of the exterior walls (there are a good deal inside, too) that have “basel coving”–i.e. the bottom of the wall has begun to slough away. this is usually the result of some misguided individual using concrete in an effort to reinforce the base. unfortunately, it has the opposite effect. concrete, when it’s in contact with the ground, wicks up water. and water is death to adobes. so inside the concrete they start to crumble, and eventually they degrade enough that the concrete falls away and you’re left with huge, convex areas at the bottom of the walls. not so good if, you know, you want your adobe walls to stay upright.

Photo Feb 07, 10 26 08 AM

repairs to the basel coving.

Photo Feb 10, 3 47 25 PM

another new wall going in by what will be the guest house kitchen.

Photo Feb 10, 3 37 35 PM

and the finished wall on the front!

so all of this wall building has meant that the crew has been making adobes like there’s no tomorrow. that’s what makes building with adobes so much fun–not only do you have to lay them, you have to supply them yourself as well. right now the place looks like a brick yard.

Photo Feb 10, 3 40 36 PM

adobes at the back of the house.

Photo Feb 10, 3 44 30 PM

adobes in the side yard.

finally, one of the best things about the last week and a half or so actually hasn’t been a wall going up, but rather one going down. the guys pulled down an interior wall in what will be our combined living/dining area (we considered leaving it, and having a formal dining area, but decided that simply didn’t make sense for our lifestyle, which is far more relaxed and casual). at any rate, we finally got our first glimpse of what the room is going to look like. it’s going to be fabulous–not to mention huge!

Photo Feb 05, 12 36 35 PM

the living/dining area with the wall down. we’ll salvage the cabinet at the right.

that’s all for the moment, though there’s the threat of rain in the forecast again. fingers crossed that it passes us by….


so this past weekend it rained here in tucson. and then it rained some more. and some more. and still more. it rained until the arroyos filled, and the washes turned into rivers. it rained so much they had to rescue people in sabino canyon. it rained until i thought the pool at our current house was going to overflow–which would have been a first. it rained enough to two days’ worth of  records. it rained until it felt as though it was raining directly on my brain, until just the sound of water trickling outside was enough to make me seize up. it rained to the point that i think i may never enjoy rain again.

the rain on thursday evening wasn’t so bad–by friday morning the tarping over the top of our barrio house seemed to be doing an okay job. there were definitely some leaks here and there, but nothing too terrible. so long as it stayed like that, we thought–just some light rain–even if it was extended, we might be okay.

by late friday afternoon, though, it was pouring. chris and i drove over the house around 4:30, and went in to discover a water land. there was four inches of standing water in one corner of what will be our guest bathroom. there was a spigot of water coming through the tarps and pouring into the top of what was left of the collapsed wall in the zaguan. chris got up on a ladder and rearranged the tarps to halt it, at least temporarily. there was another spigot of water flowing down the outside front wall in what will be our closet, creating a channel that was already several inches deep. in various spots all around the house the tarp was ponding–too much of that, we knew, and the weight might take out the ceiling joists. we found a scrap of lumber with a pointed end and i went around popping holes in order to relieve the pressure, though the few rain barrels and wheel barrels that the crew had left to catch water in various rooms were already overflowing. “it’s a disaster,” i said to chris.

we called in the crew. by the time they began to arrive, dark was coming on. chris had to go to a work dinner, so i ran him home then went back armed with his super-bright bike headlight. and then sean, herman, tino, elias and i spent a couple of hours going from room to room trying to get the water–which by now was coming everywhere–away from the walls. the guys used pieces of corrugated metal we had lying out in the yard to try to shunt the leaks into the middle of the rooms. we also started shoveling holes and creating channels in the lower lying sections on the west side of the building, trying to get it away from the bases of the walls before it could wick up into them. by the time we’d finished, i was soaked almost completely through, and everyone’s shoes were caked in about three inches of mud.  all in all, not the most fun i’ve ever had on a friday night.

it rained through the night. on saturday morning chris and i went over to survey the damage. the guys were already there when we arrived around 7:30, emptying buckets (herman was using a piece of metal as a sort of sluice to send the water he was bailing out a window into the yard) and putting up more pieces of corrugated. there was another wall on the front that was degrading; they added more tarps. sean went up on the roof to work on the puddles with a broom.  the only thing that would truly halt all the damage, though, we knew, was for the rain to stop.

that finally happened around 5’oclock saturday evening.  i’m happy to say that in spite of the havoc the storm caused, we managed to get most of the building through intact. we’re a bit battered at the moment–both in spirit and in actuality–but at least this morning the sun in shining and there isn’t so much as a whiff of moisture in the long range forecast.  here’s to hoping for a drought–or at least a good, long dry spell until we can get the new roof on.

Photo Jan 30, 5 00 32 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 50 40 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 52 45 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 53 34 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 55 48 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 56 04 PM Photo Jan 31, 7 26 01 AM Photo Jan 31, 7 42 04 AM Photo Jan 30, 4 53 35 PM Photo Jan 30, 4 52 30 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 54 19 PM Photo Jan 31, 1 55 12 PM

Photo Feb 01, 2 19 36 PM

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