Below Grade Garage Gotcha

So, we’ve written a few times about ‘bonus projects‘ and this part of the Casablanca renovation was full of them. The main issue here was that water flowed freely into the garage under the door because the whole house was built below grade. With about 80 years of settling in place and modern road improvements out front on the highway, we were about three feet below the crown of the road that shed water directly over the unfinished driveway into the large opening. Add the fact that this is the north side of the house so any accumulation of rain and snow would not melt/dry up in any kind of hurry. The result was pooling water inside cracking up the concrete pad and soaking into the adobe walls behind the cement-based plaster, causing ‘adobe muerto,’ or adobe death, according to my invaluable guide, Adobe Conservation: A Preservation Handbook. Read on to see how we confronted the reaper…

We definitely needed to move forward with this work before the next monsoons rolled in so we contracted with someone from out of town to pour the new concrete slab just before Memorial Day and got busy on the demo of the walls and floor.

Water and sludgy mud just rolling on in from the outside and settling in on the inside.
The ‘adobe muerto’ is evident here with the water damaged stucco. Adobe structures need to ‘breathe.’ Cement-based stucco plasters prevent the transpiration of water and air through the natural walls so water is trapped inside and degrades the brick structure below the plaster.
Water damage ran the entire length of the west wall inside the garage
This illustrious idea from the former owner to drain incoming water in the middle of the floor out through the wall with this cutaway pipe finally met it’s demise.
The water had actually helped to bust up the concrete and plaster so we could tear it all out in just a weekend with hand tools.

Decades of neglect…

With all the rubble moved out, the contractors came in to prep and pour. There is much more to this part of the story, but I am not at liberty share the gory details at the present moment. (Un)trained eyes might have something to say… Feel free to add your comments!

Bonus project: Half bathroom!
After the contractors left

Once we had the pad poured (such as it was) and plumbing taken care of (thanks to the rework of our very dear Hermanos Cubanos), Carey picked up the trowels again to repair the interior adobe walls on the east side of the garage which had been over-saturated for decades. A pretty standard operation here, but many of the original bricks near the floor had crumbled badly and needed a little added reinforcement of small rocks to build out to the flat plane of the finished wall. I also had to fill in the giant holes left behind around the new pipes.

Nortenos know how to do it right!
Um, digging below the frost line to install the drain is a novel idea

Once the mud was laid in on the walls layer by layer, it was on to the finish coat of a lime-mud plaster mix to meet up with the leftover stucco. As long as there is a breathable apron at the bottom of an existing stucco wall, the air and moisture exchange works well enough to preserve the adobe.

And, just a quick reminder of where we started from…

Read on to see what we did on the exterior in Part II!