Posted by: lianadevine | 30 August 2011

What a Week it Was!

We started the week with a chalk line on the floor and vague notions of how we wanted our classroom/office and bathroom to end up.  Monday, this became the cutting line, to remove the existing brick floor to pour a cement foundation that would support the heavy adobe brick walls.  Since we hoped to preserve the brick floor in the classroom and entry, Calvin was very particular how the cutting and excavating was done, even modifying the angle grinder and demonstrating proper technique for a clean cut.  Our first deliveries of cement and gravel arrived, the trucks driving in through the gaping hole in the front wall.

Cruz Azul, of course

Drive-In Cement Delivery

Calvin and I realized we needed to map out the plumbing and electrical in order to get supplies and be one step ahead of the workers’ needs.  Don Adan busted out the bathroom floor with a Hilti gun while Leo and Giro made rebar forms for the castillos and cadenas.  When the work crew left at 7 p.m. Monday I felt like it was too late to cook anything so we ordered pizza and veged out for the night – but we considered it had been a good day’s start.

Tuesday began early when the sand truck showed up just after 7 a.m.  As we were about to drive into Oaxaca to meet Alex, the adobe delivery arrived, so our departure was delayed a few minutes to direct traffic, snap a few pix and admire our expensive cow-shit and dirt soon-to-be-wall material.  At Ferretubos, Calvin and Alex ordered the plumbing supplies and PVC pipe while I browsed the tile and toilets…and paid the bill.  The day ended with a cement outline – the cadenas – of where the walls would be.  Wednesday’s excitement was seeing the first adobe laid, after much discussion about how to tackle the curved bathroom wall.  The 22x44cm adobe blocks needed to be trimmed into a wedge shape, which Calvin pitched in to do with his circular saw -Alex’s angle grinder wasn’t cutting it (pun intended!). With Don Adan and Calvin both cutting block and Giro mixing up batches of cement, Maestro Leo got the whole area blocked out to the level of wall plug-ins.  Alex arrived back at the end of the day with boxes of tragaluces to make our glass block bathroom wall.  Thursday morning, we noticed that the heavy rain the night before had given our baby wall a natural weathered look, which we quite liked.

the natural look

Naturally Weathered Adobe

Calvin spent Thursday as an electrician, laying in the conduit and Friday he was a plumber, hooking up the bathroom drainage system.  I was just the go-fer.  More discussions took place as Leo got the walls tall enough to start with the tragaluces; on Calvin’s suggestion rebar was welded into place to act both as a spacer and as reinforcement.  Saturday’s challenge, then, was to get the first row of glass block in, evenly-spaced, level and with the proper curve.  The first attempt didn’t satisfy Calvin’s sense of esthetics, but Alex and Leo were good about taking them out and trying again, after Calvin realized that the wire form he had made to reinforce the future “windowsill” was at the proper curve and measurements only need be taken from it to get the curve right.  Leo earned his beer and again proved why he deserved his Maestro title.

We had warned Alex and the crew that Calvin was demanding, so they have been careful about cleaning up excess cement on floor areas we want to protect, making sure each block and wall is square, level, straight and true, checking with us if anything is in doubt and have been really accommodating if something isn’t quite what we had in mind.  Calvin is a perfectionist and he wants our house to be up to his high standards while retaining its Mexican character.  So he’s come to realize the odd-shaped adobe blocks can’t all be perfect, though the mortar holding them together will even up any errors.

Leo earns a beer

Maestro Leo earns a beer

We were satisfied with the first week’s progress – the walls are about 1/3 of the way there – but personally, we found the week stressful in having to make decisions on the fly, hastily running out for supplies, actually putting in a 10 hour workday on somebody else’s timetable.  We’ve never built a house before, though many of our friends and family have; our armchair experience up to now has clearly not prepared us for the realities.  We want to enjoy the process but find we are always trying to forecast which aspect of the project will pop up next and hopefully be prepared for it.  We realize we are woefully unprepared, though we thought we had been scouting supplies, equipment and furnishings all along.  Now when we’re down to the nitty gritty, we find we have to know whether the bathroom lights will be mounted on the wall or hang from the ceiling, we have to have definite dimensions for the talavera sink we’ve long admired but not yet purchased, because making the vanity depends on it.  Those of you who have been here, done this will laugh at our predicament but I encourage you to encourage us with some constructive construction comments.

One more thing I want to mention in the early phase of our building: it’s typical for construction projects in Mexico to have a name that goes on the plans, the building permit as well as a sign on the completed house. I’ll quote from my printed-in-full-colour-at-horrific-expense e-book Build your Home in Mexico by Ed Kunze, “It could be as simple as Residencia de Sr. y Sra. John Smith, or more descriptive, as to identify the spirit of the home. A few examples of names that took on the owner’s perception of the home’s character are: House that Sings (Casa Que Canta), Blue Sea (Mar Azul), Arches (Los Arcos). It is a good idea to start thinking about a name for your ‘proyecto‘ as soon as you start thinking about the layout.  Choosing the name will either come very easy to you, or it may take on a life of its own.”  To that end, I propose the provisional name “Casa Calma” because calma (pronounced CAHL-mah) is Spanish for calm AND in the ever-popular acronym style of Mexican names for things (Pemex, for Petreóleos Mexicanos )…Calvin’ name becomes CalMa. Muy lista, ¿verdad? Comments?


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