Roofs of the Yucatan

There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to roofs in the Yucatan. There are basically 4 types of common roofs here, they are Palapa, Mamposteria, Loza and Viga with Bovedillas. All have their benefits and draw backs and I will go through each type, but the one thing they all have in common, is replacing a roof is expensive.

IMG_3689Palapas, are pretty self explanatory, they are the traditional method of building a roof in the Yucatan. Upright posts, support a series of beams, set at a steep angle. Onto these beams are laid an overlapping sequence of palm leaf or grass thatch. The roof needs to be steep to allow the water to flow down over the top of the thatch, rather than sitting on top and dripping through. This was an ideal way in the old days, to make a roof that could breath and still flex under strong winds. When the worse case scenario happened and your roof blew off, it was just a matter of going out and gathering the materials to rebuild it. It is still quite common to see palapa roofs as outdoor shade areas or in traditional looking buildings. Several large restaurant chains here still use them to retain the old world charm. But like many things, they have their drawbacks. The thatch does not last forever and needs to be replaced. It also needs to be treated for bugs as thatched style roofs are nice nesting spots. The support poles need to be made of a very durable hard wood as well. Otherwise boring beetles and other wood pests will soon bring the roof tumbling down.

IMG_0282Mamposteria, is also a very old method of building a roof, but it is a solid structure unlike a palapa. Mamposteria roofs last a very very long time, but not forever. Mamposteria is simply a jigsaw puzzle of larger stones fit together over beams of wood or in some cases old railway ties. The stones are fitted and cemented together and then coated in the same cement like compound to provide a tough and durable surface. There are lots of Mamposteria roofs in the Yucatan that are well over 100 years in age. Mamposteria roofs are fantastic in tropical climates due to thermal mass. Thermal mass ensures they heat up slowly and cool slowly. So during the day they are slow to radiate heat into your house. Then at night they release the heat over the course of the night keeping a room at a constant temperature, more or less. The problem with Mamposteria is two fold. They are extremely difficult and expensive to repair, if they can be repaired at all. The other problem is the wood support beams. Most are made of a very good and rot resistant wood. But over time they do break down and can be attacked by termites. once the wood is affected it has to be replaced, but it is holding up the stones and cement. Since the stone and cement is like a jigsaw puzzle, if one piece is removed or fails then the rest will follow it, much like a house of cards. If you are buying or renovating a house with mamposteria roofs, do your homework and any sign of termites means you could be in trouble.

IMG_0871Loza roofs are a little more modern, in that they are probably less than 80 years old. Loza is simply a rebar reinforced thin concrete roof. The problem with Loza, is it relies on the rebar for its structural strength. If the rebar rusts far enough, it will fail, as the structural integrity is lost. Common signs of rebar failure or rust is a bulging spot on the ceiling. There are methods of engineering support in the event of the rebar failing. But it is not cheap and involves building columns and beams to support the roof from the bottom. It can be made to look like an old colonial mamposteria roof and can be made to last a lot longer as well. But it involves making holes in floors and building the proper structure. Like the one pictured. Note, the loza is above the new beams built to support it. You do not want to be under one of these roofs when chunks of concrete come raining down.

30032010312The most modern of the roofs here, are Viga and Bovidilla. Vigas are a rebar reinforced beam that spans a gap like an upside down T.  Bovidillas are specially shaped cement blocks designed to be dropped in between the vigas, which are spaced roughly 16 inches apart. Once the basic structure is in place it is coated with a layer of concrete on top and coated underneath as well. This type of roof can easily be repaired as needed over time. Bovidillas are also available now in Styrofoam to save wieght and give insulation. But they require special care to insure they don’t flex and cause cracks in the finish.

The one thing all of the above roofs have in common, even a palapa style, is maintenance. Roofs need to be treated, resurfaced periodically and sealed to prevent moisture intrusion. Failure to do proper maintenance, is not a cost effective idea as sooner or later, it will fail from neglect and require a very expensive replacement.

If you have concerns or questions about your roof, just give us a call or send us an email.

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