Know your proposed budget.

Quite often we are asked for suggestions on a particular project. While we have always got some great ideas, we also need to know your budget for the project. There is no point in any contractor coming up with a design plan, only to be told it is too expensive. It is much better to give your contractor a budget and see what your money can get you. People seem to be hesitant about setting a budget and or sharing it. But realistically, that is the only way you can get a proposal that meets what you expect to spend.

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Our latest project at night.

Simply night and day

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Need great art for your home?

Once in a lifetime, you come across talent, that cannot be ignored. That is the case with Joel Rios. I have personally been buying Joel’s art for more than 2 years. Both of my homes are decorated with his talent. But he keeps creating fantastic paintings and charcoal works of art. I just grabbed his latest work, The terracotta painting, as it spoke to me. He is a fantastic artist that deserves more exposure, so this is the sole reason, for this post. He is an artist of exceptional talent. To review some of his wonderful work visit him at https://www.facebook.com/artstudiojoelrios His works are fantastic and deserve recognition.

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Damaged paint on mamposteria or block walls.

imagesThere has been lots of discussion lately on expat forums, about the damage that occurs to paint coatings in the Yucatan. This damage can usually be seen in the bottom 1/3 of the walls. Peeling paint, plaster falling off or even fungus or mould growing are all symptoms of the same issue, water in the walls. When talking about mamposteria or block walls, they both have one thing in common, a binding cement that holds the rock or block together. Now there are newer waterproof cements, but almost all of the homes in question were built with older cements that absorb water, like a wick. There are three basic ways water can get in a wall – from the outside on unprotected surfaces, from the top down filtering through cracks or exposed surfaces and from the bottom up. The first two are pretty easy to fix, a good exterior paint on the outside walls and a impermeable coating on the roof and other topside surfaces. The hard part is stopping moisture from wicking up the wall from the ground, after the wall is made. I am sure a method probably exists to waterproof a foundation after the fact, but I do not have any experience with it.

Lets look at the composition of a typical foundation on an older home here in the Yucatan. Most of the Colonial era homes were build on a foundation of limestone rock and a limestone based cement. This is where the issue actually starts, as limestone is porous and can absorb moisture from the ground. Even new homes here are build on a limestone foundation, for the most part. On new buildings it is easy to put a vapour barrier of plastic, damp course, or a tar coating on the concrete top edge of the foundation, to prevent water from wicking. But that was not done on most older homes in the Yucatan. So when the rains come, water starts wicking into the walls at the foundation level. 120px-AusblühungenAs the moisture gets drawn in to the dryer higher part of the wall, it brings various ground salts with it. And as it rises it also starts to evaporate, but since the inside walls of a house are usually coated with some form of plaster and paint, the water is trapped and eventually causes the coating to fail, this is why the damage is usually restricted to the bottom of walls. The trapping of moisture can also create problems with mould and fungus growth. You may also notice a very fine soft crystalline formation coming out of your paint or wall coating, that is usually Calcium Hydrate being brought to the surface as the moisture (acid) in the walls slowly bleeds it from the limestone and cement. The technical term for this is Efflorescence. Eventually, after many many years, the binding cement may fail, which can be seen on many old neglected structures in Merida, where the cement in the walls just seems to crumble.

The question is how do you stop this from ruining the paint on your walls. The answer is, it is not easy at all.  If you buy an older home, traditionally vapour barriers were not used. You can put sealers on the walls, but you run the risk of trapping the moisture in the walls and maybe make a good breeding ground for mould or the moisture may build to a level where the wall coating fails anyhow. There are also coatings on the market, that open up the pours in the paints to allow the moisture to evaporate quicker, thus saving the paint. I have also heard of people drilling holes into the walls near the ground to let moisture escape, but I have no experience with this process. There is no easy answer other than prevention in new homes.

There are a few things you can do to make life a little easier however. Paint the lower part of the wall a different colour. This means you do not have to paint the entire wall when the time comes. Some people put a pattern on the lower part of the wall, to hide the effects as well. Then of course there is alway wainscotting to hide problems as well. If the exterior of the particular wall is uncoated consider a coating to prevent excess water penetration from the outside to the inside.

Or accept the fact, that it is just part of life in the Yucatan.

Another pool finished

Another nice, bright and refreshing pool with water cascade, just got finished in Merida Centro, complete with storage bodega and new terrace.
cool and fresh

Water should stay on the outside

The last few days has brought this up again.

Aerocretos de Mexico

images-2 As anyone on the north beach of the Yucatan knows, this week has been windy and wet and not normally so. But, I have also heard lots of people saying, my windows leak, my door lets in water, my roof leaked and so on. But then they go on to say but we are ocean front and that is normal. Sorry folks it is not normal. A properly built home, should not leak, PERIOD! I understand the floors here are tile and the buildings block and concrete, so even if it gets in, it is no real issue, but it should not happen, water should stay on the outside, in anything short of a hurricane.

I will start by talking about doors. Which seems pretty simple, but it is not. If you have a wood front door, sooner or later you may have issues, as the wood shrinks when dry…

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Hurricane season starts June 1

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Todays weather forecast show a tropical wave forming just off of Venezuela and tropical waves can form cyclones. Since the strongest ever recorded Hurricane in May (CAT 4) just occured in the pacific, it may serve as a warning or timely reminder.

No one wants to have a hurricane visit their area, but they are a fact of life in the tropics. Traditionally, the North coast of the Yucatan has generally been a safe place to be. Due to the geography of the area, which tends to see storms follow the Yucatan channel or lose strength as they cross land. However, there have been a few notable exceptions such as Glibert and Isadora, that did huge amounts of damage. The one good thing about hurricanes is you can see them coming for days and have lots of time to activate your plans. You do have a plan don’t you?  Here in Mexico, once a storm reaches certain proportions and is predicted to hit this area, on the North Coast of the Yucatan, an evacuation order will be given. Once given, it is mandatory that you leave, it is NOT optional. You need to do your own homework, to find out where the closest evacuation shelters are and make sure you know how to get to them. For people who have pets, the problem becomes much more difficult, as the shelters do not allow pets. If you are a pet owner , you will need an alternate shelter for you and your pets. Now is the time to canvas friends, to see if they will allow you to bring your pets with you, in the event of an emergency. Remember, you may be stuck there for a week or more, under not so nice conditions, so tempers of both you and your pets might get frayed.

When a hurricane strikes it is not just a case of high wind. Hurricanes also bring massive amounts of moisture and humidity levels skyrocket. It could be 35+ degrees and 100% humidity for days on end, with no electricity for fans or A/C. Anything you get wet, will never ever dry, clothes, pills, papers, NOTHING! Plus mold and mildew will run rampant if unchecked. It will not be pleasant, to spend a week or more in a damp environment, exposed to mosquito’s nightly, along with your wet dogs. The only way to keep your sanity is to be absolutely prepared for the worst and make sure you have a way to keep everything as dry as possible. If you have an alternate place to stay inland and you have a generator. Make sure you have extension cords and spare fuel, also fill your cars gas tank and have a syphon hose. A modern car has 45 or so litres of fuel which can power a small generator for 4 or 5 days of reasonable use. So having a syphon hose handy is a good idea.

Below is a list of suggested items to have handy in the event that a hurricane does arrive. But, even if you head to a friends house or shelter and then return home, you will still need to be prepare. You may be with out power for a long period, if transmission lines are down and there is a good chance your beach home and more likely its contents maybe substantially damaged. Remember, no power means , no city water and fuel stations can’t pump gas, stores won’t have cold storage, etc. Like the Boy Scouts say “Be prepared”.

Here are recommendations on what to do before a storm approaches:

— Use hurricane shutters or board up windows and doors with 5/8 inch plywood. Make them now before you need them!

— Bring outside items in if they could be picked up by the wind, place screws in your tinaco lid, as they tend to fly away.

— Turn the refrigerator to its coldest setting in case power goes off. Use a cooler to keep from opening the doors on the freezer or refrigerator.

— Make sure your cisterna and Tinaco are full and you have 5 or more Garafons of water available.

— Make sure your vehicles fuel tanks are full and you have spare fuel for a generator, also have a siphon hose

— Have an evacuation plan.

— Learn the location of the nearest shelter or nearest pet-friendly shelter. This is a big issue for pet owners in the beach areas.

— Store important documents — passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, deeds — in a watertight container.

— Have a current inventory of household property.

— Leave a note to say where you are going.

— Contact relatives and let then know you maybe out of touch for a week or more.

— Unplug small appliances and electronics before you leave.

— If possible, turn off the electricity, gas and water for your residence.

Here is a list of handy supplies:

— A seven-day supply of water, a minimum of one gallon per person per day.

— Three days of food, with suggested items including: canned meats, canned or dried fruits, canned vegetables, canned juice, peanut butter, jelly, salt-free crackers, energy/protein bars, trail mix/nuts, dry cereal, cookies or other comfort food.

— A can opener and eating utensils

— Flashlight(s) and candles.

— A battery-powered radio.

— Extra batteries.

— A first aid kit, including latex gloves; sterile dressings; soap/cleaning agent; antibiotic ointment; burn ointment; adhesive bandages in small, medium and large sizes; eye wash; a thermometer; aspirin/pain reliever; anti-diarrhea tablets; antacids; laxatives; small scissors; tweezers; petroleum jelly.

— A seven-day supply of personal medications, in waterproof containers.

— A multipurpose tool, with pliers and a screwdriver.

— Cell phones and chargers, laptops are handy if the Wifi in Merida’s parks is still up and running.

— Contact information for the family.

— A hammock setup, for each person, as a bed is almost useless in high humidity and will never dry.

— Extra cash.

— Mosquito netting or mosquito coils

— A map of the area, as familiar routes my be closed due to downed trees or other debris.

— Pet supplies.

— Wet wipes, showers may not be an option.

— Insect repellent.

— Rain gear.

— Duct tape.

— An extra set of house keys.

— An extra set of car keys.

— Household bleach.

— Toilet paper in zip lock bags or the handy single wrapped Costco rolls.

— Paper cups, plates and paper towels.

— DRY, Charcoal and matches, if you have a portable grill. But only use it outside.

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.

Water heaters in the Yucatan

imgresThere has been a lot of discussion on several on-line forums about water heaters and problems. Most of the information they discuss is correct in some details, but completely wrong in others. There are 4 ways to heat water here, solar, electric with tank, gas with tank and gas on demand. Solar heating is a subject all to itself and electric heaters here are too costly to run. So I will talk about the other two.

Tank heaters are pretty basic and just about every home in the USA or Canada has one. Cold water comes in one line filling the tank and hot water exits via another line. The tank is heated by a burner of propane underneath just like boiling water for spaghetti. Except in this case there is a thermostat to control the water temperature. When the water temp drops the thermostat opens the gas and the pilot light turns the burner on, keeping the water at the set temperature. Pretty basic and simple, you will also see a big bolt on top of the tank, this is a sacrificial anode. The anode is designed to corrode first, rather than the tank, but I would be willing to bet no one has ever checked to see if it is corroded beyond serviceability and the tank is corroding instead. You also have a drain tap on the side. This drain is there to de water the tank and get rust and scale particles out. This should be done at least once a year.  If you open the drain and only a trickle comes out you have waited way to long and the bottom of the tank is full of debris. The problem with tank heaters, is they keep a store of water hot ready to use at all times. This take a lot of propane over the course of a year and the bigger the tank the more it is going to burn.

It is on demand water heaters that create most of the confusion and they are made to look like tank heaters a lot of the time. Which really confuses things. An on demand heater ( Linea de Paso) is a series of coils or other method of allowing water to pass through, while a propane flame heats the coils or flow through device. In the USA or in Canada homes that have these systems are pressurized and as such for the most part have a pressure sensor in the unit. The pressure drops when you open the hot tap and the burner lights off, heating the water. However, and this is important, in the Yucatan, most Mexican homes do not have pressure water and rely on gravity for water pressure. Therefore, most units here are not activated by a pressure drop. Bosch being the exception and do require pressure and need a special pump to supply it. They are the exception not the rule. The rest of the units rely on a temperature drop to turn on the burner. A TEMPERATURE DROP!!! They are controlled by a thermostat. If you have one and do not believe me, leave the hot water tap off and go play with the thermostat. Dial it hot and it will light off.  Dial it cold and it will shut off. Notice it worked without a pressure change. That is because it is controlled by a thermostat. But the thermostats need careful adjustment. Say you set the thermostat so that it turns on when the water drops to 25 degrees C, as it passes the coils. The thermostat does not have temperature markings, so you won’t actually know the actual temp. But say it is 25 degrees anyhow. Now think of a nice sunny day and the exposed water lines on your roof and how about your tinaco if it is a black one. The water maybe warmer than 25 degrees to begin with and the boiler will not fire up. You may want hot hot water for some reason but you are not going to get it. The on demand systems are not designed to give you scalding hot water, when you want it. They are designed to give you enough hot water for normal applications like washing dishes or having a shower. In fact if they are adjusted right you won’t need the cold tap. Sure you can dial the thermostat up, but what you don’t want to happen is for the plates or coils to get so hot that the water turns to steam when it passes through. Sure it will be hot but the evaporative process will leave a lot of saro behind plugging things up.

Speaking of saro (the build up of minerals in the heater) the easy way to figure if the build up is an issue, with a demand system,  is water flow. If the hot flow hasn’t change then things should be fine. If however, the flow is reduce, it is probably time to flush all your piping with a mild acid solution, as your hot water lines will also be plugging up. Remember half the diameter, results in 1/4 the flow. Water lines from tank heaters also get a build up of saro and need to be cleaned as well.

Water should stay on the outside

images-2It is that time of the year again and we will start getting  panic calls. My windows leak, my door lets in water, my roof leaked and so on. When we ask when was you roof last sealed, quite often the answer is gee I don’t know. You should know and you should check your roof on a regular basis, to make sure there are no cracks forming.  A properly built home, should not leak, sure water may blow under the front door. But the roof and walls should be secure. Obviously, I understand the floors here are tile and the buildings block and concrete, so even if it gets in, it is no real issue, but it should not happen, water should stay on the outside, in anything short of a hurricane.

I will start by talking about doors. Which seems pretty simple, but it is not. If you have a wood front door, sooner or later you may have issues, as the wood shrinks when dry and swells when wet, creating a loose fit or a tight fit, season depending. In the old days, when fishing boats were made of wood, they had to keep watering down the insides of the boats, when they were hauled for repair, to avoid shrinkage. You can imagine the problems of putting a dried out wooden boat, back into the water, as it takes a few days for the wood to swell to normal. Well, your door is no different, it sits in the beautiful sunshine for weeks and then suddenly needs to seal against the rain. It simply is not going to happen, it is going to leak.. Then there is the issue of the floor under the door, if it raises ever so slightly as it goes inward as it should, a door will bottom out before it gets fully open. But since we want water to run out of a house and not into a house. It should be sloped and the door needs to be a little bit off the floor, to accommodate the rise in the floor. That is why the bottom of your door, should have a good rubber sweep. It keeps the rain out, as well as a lot of bugs. But they harden over time and need to be replaced, every so often. The best door to use here is a metal skinned one, they don’t shrink or swell. They are very secure and never need painting, unless you want a pink one. They can make a very good seal as well, if you use self adhesive foam weather stripping on the closing edges of the door jamb.

How about windows? If they are wood you will have the same issues. A properly fit and caulked aluminium window, will not leak no matter how hard it rains. Proper windows have drain holes at the bottom outside of the casement and the outer raised lip is lower than the inside raised lip. Rain can never rise up high enough to go inward before it spills over the lower lip if the drain hole get plugged or overcome by rain volume. I have a seaward window, that looked like it was being hit with a fire hose the other day and guess what? Not a single drop inside. A proper window makes all the difference. Sliding glass doors are actually big windows, so the same principals apply. Proper caulking and manufacture and they will not leak.

Since for the most part when it rains here, it is accompanied by strong winds, all your windows and doors should have an awning over them, concrete ones are simple and cheap and there are various aluminium or tile styles too. It just adds a little rain protection by itself, but there is a hidden advantage, if you have aluminium hurricane shutters. Even in the hardest rain and driving winds you can leave windows open, with the shutters closed for air circulation. If the top of the shutter is close to the awning, no rain can get on top and the shutter itself is the barrier. Sliding doors are a little bit wetter, as the rain can bounce off of the ground up under the bottom of the shutters. But, I simply put flat plastic panels at the bottom of the screens to prevent splashing. The shutters have the added advantage of being a great theft deterrent, if you happen to be away, as well.

If you are having water get into your house when it rains, you shouldn’t and it is not too difficult to prevent. If you need serious help give us a call.

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