Mud Walls = Mighty Fine Living

This adobe rehab project in the back room at Casablanca took about nine months, from August to May, and spun off the bonus endeavor of installing a french/curtain drain along the exterior wall to help divert moisture away from the adobe (stay tuned for a future post). In the end, we are pretty happy with the results that addressed years of neglect and water intrusions and put us one step closer to having a more functional space. Read on to see the transformation!

The purpose of this room is to be a convertible office/bedroom on the east side and a laundry/utility room on the west side. The laundry configuration actually came about first as part of the bathroom renovation project when walls and water/drain lines were moved. Since those interior stick-framed walls for the nook in this area were finished out (complete with cedar closet), we had the washer back online pretty quickly and air-dried laundry on the sun porch while the dryer was disconnected. That being said, this whole phase of work really accentuated the downsides of trying to live in a construction zone and required a great deal of attention to the adobe rehab (more training and more training required).

West side before

With the laundry nook configured, it was next a matter of replacing old with new on walls, floor, and ceiling. All around both sides of the room, the old finishes were taken off the wood framing – multiple layers of fiberboard paneling was peeled off the walls and ceiling.

Already an improvement

From there, the old cement-based plaster and water damage was revealed, including some of the wood plank floors. I rewired the wall outlets and closed in the timber walls with drywall next to make some room and give some finished edges to work towards.

The floors were pretty easy to address with some basic wood framing, a la simple deck-building.

In order to move ahead in repairing the adobe, however, it’s important to know why – how the walls were originally constructed and how they were supposed to be in the first place. This book, Adobe Conservation: A Preservation Handbook, has been an invaluable reference in moving these projects at Casablanca forward. It explains how natural building materials like adobe bricks need to breathe, and how if mud walls are taken care of properly they can last for eons. Modern cement-based materials like stucco keep moisture trapped in the walls and end up causing big problems with cracks and failing finishes.

With the walls exposed, it was just a matter of prep by scaling (sanding) off the rough faces and brushing away the loose dirt before mixing and applying the new mud plaster.

Following the same process as what was used to start the bathroom rehab, I used screened native clay dirt from the (mostly) the same site at Sahalee and mixed in parts of play sand, water, and chopped straw and threw handfuls at the wall with a thwap! This continued layer after layer for months…

When enough leveling coats of mud were added to build up the surface to a nice even plane, I worked on smoothing everything out with a few different finishing techniques.

The laundry nook had a little different specialty finish because of it being a ‘wet area.’ After the natural mud plaster went up to even things out, the final layer was a mix of sand, portland cement, lime, and water – the same as what was done in the shower. A quick swipe of watered down white latex paint on top made it good enough for the low visibility area.

Once the adobe walls were put back in order, it was time to get busy on finishing the drywall and putting up the new ceiling tiles, trim, and fixtures.

West side after

Another must-have reference for earth building is Clay Culture: Plasters, Paints, and Preservation by Carol Crews. Her recipes will be used to put on the final white alize finishing coat over the natural brown earth plaster.

Ready to see what happened next? Read Part II to see the east side transformation…

East side before