One of our mini reno projects

What are you waiting for?  Some times all it takes is a little creativity and imagination to turn something old and faded  and useless into something new and useful. This little Casita started out old, faded and not useful. With helpful creativity from the owners, we were able to transform it into something sparkling, new and more than a little useful. Oh and if you want to rent i,t we know the owners and they are really nice people.

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Old and dated.

 

With a major reno underway, the owners had a vision of the end product. A clean crisp and bright casita. Everything was new and improved. Old doors filled in and new patio doors installed complete with Pasta tile inlay on new terrace. Old bathroom gone and new extension build for new bathroom and shower. All new electric, demand hot water, fresh cool tile you name it, it is all new and fantastic in its layout and with an eye for detail. Even better yet,  this Casita is available for rent at Lulu and the Moon,  a stunning private new casita, with access to a huge pool.

 

Cool colours and off white tile make for a enticing bedroom.

Cool colours and off white tile make for a enticing bedroom.

 

 

 

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Bright and fresh, with new terrace

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Stunning Chocolate and tan Bathroom addition.

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Look closely for the attention to details.

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.

Water softeners, what you really need to know.

how_a_water_softener_worksAs part of our business we install water softeners, but there are some things you need to understand and think about in advance. Water softeners are used to reduce the hardness of water, which is usually a result of an excess of calcium and magnesium in your water. Calcium and magnesium, when held in suspension, create various problems in a modern household. A problem with hard water is that soap and detergent loses some punch. The soap will combine with various minerals and will not dissolve completely and you will notice a lack of foaming action. The un-dissolved soap in combination with minerals, leaves a thin layer of soap scum. This layer clings to the very surface you are trying to wash, creating a barrier to effective cleaning. Freshly washed hair, feels strange to the touch and laundry right out of the machine, is not as clean as it should be and will feel stiff to the touch. I once made the mistake of washing a shiny motorcycle, in water that was hard. The bike ended up with spots of minerals everywhere as it dried that were nearly impossible to remove.

In addition to making washing and grooming more difficult, water flowing through pipes and machinery over time build up internal scale deposits, known in the Yucatan as Saro. Shower heads clog, Washing machines get plugged up, even the inside of your tinaco will build up a layer of scale over time and will need to be descaled. This is one of the reasons you will find muriatic acid in almost every tienda here. It is used to descale various systems, but it is something you need be careful with.

Water softeners for the most part rely on an ionic reaction, with a bead medium, to remove unwanted minerals and need salt as part of the flushing process.  A bag of salt weighs about 80 pounds, so that is something to consider, if you don’t have a strong back or strong friends. Water softeners also require water pressure, so a pump will need to be installed, if you have a non pressurized system and of course a pump is a power consumer and can also create noise as it cycles. The systems themselves require space and maintenance as well, as salt will have to be added on a regular basis.

So if you feel you need to have a water softening system, to make washing and such a more enjoyable experience. You just need to think about the trade offs in energy consumption, costs and maintenance vs having soft water at your disposal.

Time to revamp an old house?

There comes a time, when no matter where you call home, when you realize you need to revamp your living space. Maybe you need a new studio office or have finally decided on a swimming pool or perhaps just a new tile floor.  When it comes time for reno’s don’t be stuck thinking about square rooms and square pools. Use your imagination and make your home stunning.  Use that big empty back yard for a new pool or maybe an outdoor kitchen. Maybe you need new skylights to brighten your home and give you a space to grow fresh herbs or perhaps you finally decide the island kitchen open concept suits your style. You are only limited by your imagination, we can help you build your dreams.

 

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be creative

be creative

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Pre-purchase inspections, worth every peso.

Its that time of the year again, when prospective buyers come to the Yucatan, looking for their dream home. Construction methods here are different than those used in Canada or the States, so you need a specialist eyes, to see what needs to be fixed and of course factor that into the purchase agreement. I am going to start out by saying, no one can see through concrete. But skilled eyes can see little details, that may be a clue to future issues. Buying a house is a big investment and no matter where you are buying, there are things the buyer needs to be aware of. Here in the Yucatan, it is no different, except of course there are no building inspectors or building codes. That is why it is important to have an inspection. Protect your money and have a little peace of mind. Little things that you may not see or perhaps think are trivial, may not be and could be expensive to repair. A pre-purchase inspection should be the final basis for your purchase offer, as repair costs need to be factored in. Most homes no matter where they are need some work, and common things like cracks in the corner columns, should not be deal breakers. They are a fact of life in concrete homes, but at the same time you need to have a cost associated to repair them properly.  But let say you didn’t see the cracks or maybe the seller did a quick fix prior to selling. That is where experienced eyes can help you avoid a mistake. There are so many areas that need a proper inspection and electrical is just one area. Does the house have 220V, is it properly grounded and no, driving a 2 foot piece of rod into sand does not ground a house. How about the plumbing? Are you planning on adding pressure pumps? Can the existing piping handle the pressure. The list goes on of things to look at and areas that can be of concern. But like I said, it is your money to lose. A Real estate agent may point out areas of concern, but they cannot be expected to be experts in Yucatan construction methods. This is where an independent inspection by professionals, with the right tools is the smart choice.

We charge 1800 pesos for an inspection in our local area and it comes with a full written report with pictures of the issues we find. That is actually cheap compared to the time required, but obviously we would like to get the repair work, if it needs any. The one thing we can’t do however is see into the concrete or do any destructive testing. But you get a professional opinion, from experienced builders  with years of experience in Yucatecan construction methods. Since we are hired by the buyer, you as the buyer get our honest professional opinion and a good idea of the costs involved to correct any issues found.

Our latest project nearly done.

Well, things are down to the last paint stokes and clean up at our latest project. This 80 + year old house has been remodelled  from the ground up. New  rooms, baños, wiring, plumbing, recreated pasta tile flooring. New beams and vigas, to support the losa roof,  yet look like old type beams. The massive front door has been recreated in 100 year old style.  We have done the works, including indoor green space and outdoor small green spaces in the back yard and near the new pool and water fall. Time to give our friend Randy Miller over at Natural Thangs a shout, to see what magic he can work with some plants and doo dads. He is the go to guy for landscape ideas.  If you want to see the finished project give us a few weeks and it will be shiny as a new penny. From renos to an old colonial to building an ultra modern beach home,  we can do it all,  just give us a shout at Aerocretos de Mexico .

Island counter top

Pintura is expensive

imgresWe get asked from time to time to quote jobs for painting and quite often we hear people respond, thats kind of expensive. Yes painting is expensive, a cubetta  is 19 litres of paint and good paint is around 1200 pesos a cubetta. But before you can paint, walls have to be scraped and patched or if the paint is peeling from a failure of the surface coating then the walls need to be fixed and primed. That all takes time and of course time is money. There is no point in not doing it right or just using cheap paint, as you will need to paint again, sooner than you think and the costs start to add up. If you are painting new concrete, the surface needs to be sealed first or your expensive cubetta of paint will disappear very fast as it sucks into the porous concrete. Just in paint alone the interior of a modest house will take over 10,000 pesos in paint and materials If the surface is new. As several coats will be needed to even out the colours. Then of course there is labour, fuel costs to get back and forth, time to supervise and try and make a profit. No painting is not cheap, but doing it right and using good materials can turn a house into a home.

Rust never sleeps

imagesFor those of you that live at the beach, this is more important than in Merida, but not quite as much as you think. Rust is occurring anytime there is an interaction; between iron, oxygen and moisture and in the tropics all abound and rust is an issue. Throw in a dash of salt and rust occurs more rapidly due to the electrochemical action. Why is this important, well the answer is simple, in most cases you will not notice the rust until the damage is already done. As an example, if you have a small rock hit your car and you do nothing about it, rust will form on the surface and most likely you will notice the reddish mark. If you have it sanded, sealed and painted it should be good. But what if that small chip is on the other side of the fender? Sooner or later when you see a little bubble on the paint and you scratch it, you most likely will be shocked, as a hole appears. The same problem occurs with rebar in structures, if it is not treated. Slowly and undetected is will start to corrode, until you start to see telltale signs, like cracks in your concrete that are swollen apart or reddish water streaks. But by then, it is already too late. Most major structural damage doesn’t show up until it is too late. Take for example a loza roof (cement, small stones and rebar) which is very common in Merida, as it was the type of roof used a hundred years ago. Structurally it  needs the rebar to give it the required strength. If the rebar rusts and is corroded away, what do you think happens to the strength? Yup, you have fragile material, that weighs a lot, over your head with no structural strength or rigidity and when loza roofs fall they usually do so after a heavy rain. But those are big examples of rust issues. How many of you folks have sliding patio doors? Ever had them get really stiff and hard to move? Most times it is because the cheap roller pins have rusted out. You can’t stop rust without a lot of hassle, so your best bet is to try and stop it before it starts. If you are building new, make sure all your rebar and and other structural iron is coated with rust preventatives or better yet galvanized. Spray light oils or grease other exposed metals to prevent oxygen and water from making contact with iron parts. If you have used concrete nails to hang pictures, coat them with paint, unless you want to see rust streaks on your wall. When ever possible use galvanized products to help slow rust, it is not a permanent problem solver, but sure helps in the short term. Most important of all if you see something in your home that you thinks is a rust stain, get it checked out ASAP. Better a fix today, than a total teardown a month from now, simply because you waited to long.

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