Stabilizing Adobe

Stabilizing Adobe – easier said than done!

Adobe has been a long-used building material in New Mexico. As noted before, many adobe structures are weathering away, because lifestyles have changed and people no longer have the time to spend on the required maintenance.

Adobe is beautiful, and many ways have been and are being tried to create more stable adobe. This adobe wall shows two things – the adobe bricks are not placed on the ground, but instead on top of a cement foundation, and the wall is “capped” with something other than plain adobe. The goal of the former is to prevent absorption of water from the ground. The goal of the latter is help slow down the weathering of adobe from rain, wind, etc.

stabilizing adobe
Modern Adobe Wall

When we take a close look at that stabilized wall, however, we see that the adobe bricks are gradually weathering away, in spite of stabilization efforts.

stabilizing adobe
Modern Adobe Wall

As I have noted many times before, weathering adobe walls are commonplace in the New Mexico landscape. In spite of my awareness of this, I was surprised a couple of weekends ago when I turned a corner at the Biopark and saw this image:

stabilizing adobe
Wall with Supports

Those are some major supports being used to keep a wall standing! Here is another view of those supports:

stabilizing adobe
Wall with Supports

This close up view of what was covering the wall looks like stucco with cement and/or asphalt, the kind of covering that possibly kept the underlying material from breathing. I suspect the wall supports were added after this covering failed to stop the “melting” of the underlying wall, although at this time I do not know that for a fact.

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Patched wall cracking

Adobe is beautiful. It is “natural.” It blends into the landscape. It is “dirt cheap.” Those are just some of the reasons to love adobe as a construction material. But, and this is major, adobe requires constant maintenance.

“Mudding” an Old Adobe House

Mudding an Adobe House

As I have said many times before, preservation of true adobe structures requires regular and time consuming maintenance, something for which many owners of adobes have neither the time nor money. I have also talked elsewhere about the community effort that goes into maintaining the Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, New Mexico.

Corrales, New Mexico is geographically contiguous with Albuquerque, but it is its own Village with its own unique history, governance, and pride. Main Street, Corrales, is lined with adobes – businesses and homes – in various states of repair. It is charming, and the Village intends to keep it that way.

In 2012, the Corrales Historical Society and Corrales Main Street, with the hard work of volunteers, teamed up to “mud” or replaster with adobe the old Martinez House, which sits right on Main Street in Corrales. This house is not made of adobe bricks, but rather of terrones, which are essentially squares of sod. It is closely related to adobe. The traditional mud plastering is the same. The Martinez House Project is described in detail by Mary Davis in Corrales Historical Society Newsletter.

This is the north wall, and you can see the state of the adobe. For those of you not familiar with the use of color in New Mexico, blue is frequently used in the wood and other trim of adobe structures.

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This is the east wall of the Martinez House, and you can see that it sits right on the street. It has already had one coat of mud plaster applied, and Daniel Esparza is smoothing it and adding a little more plaster.

Martinez House
Daniel Esparza “Mudding” the east wall of the Martinez House

Before any “mudding” could begin, a formula for how much of what kind of earth and straw would be right had to be determined. Then, the ingredients had to be prepared and mixed.

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