Adobe Brick

The Arizona Republic

        Few neighborhoods around the country are as comfortable dressing their homes in adobe brick as the ones here in Arizona. The sand- and clay-based brick gives a home an authentic old-Mexico look that has endured for centuries. 

        That doesn’t mean modern building practices can’t make adobe brick look even better and hold up better over time. 

        My friends at Marvel Building & Masonry Supply in the valley gave me some great advice about adobe brick that I want to pass along to you. Here goes:

1. Much of the adobe brick from Mexico is put together without cement stabilizers, so it’s not as durable as the stuff that’s made in the U.S.A. In fact, building codes in Phoenix and Tucson say it’s not stable enough to use as a “structural” product, so you can’t build your house with it. Still, if you love the authentic look and made-in-Mexico label, use the product for decorative uses--for skirting round the bottom of your stucco house, for instance, on a perimeter wall or as a surround for an outdoor fireplace.

2. Even adobe made with stabilizers can suck the moisture from your mortar, which makes it less likely to adhere. If you’re laying adobe bricks with mortar, dip each brick in water for a few minutes first or hose the bricks down as you’re building to keep them hydrated. A damp brick works more easily with mortar.

3. Mix bonders into your mortar to keep it hydrated for longer. The more hydrated your mortar, the the longer it will take to cure and the stronger it will be. Marvel makes a product called Marvel Bond that includes polymers that you can add in liquid form to the mortar.

4. Apply a penetrating sealer to the adobe-brick structure to add a bit of stability and ward off erosion. Before you apply a sealer, let the bricks dry completely. Applied to wet bricks, the sealer will trap the moisture and could cause efflorescence—that familiar white stain you see on so many masonry homes. Adobe bricks without cement stabilizers need the sealer more than those with them, but sealing is good practice either way. The drawback: You’ll need to reapply the sealer every few years as the sun and weather break it down.

5. Avoid using adobe bricks around water and chemicals—like on pool ledges or as a backdrop for a decorative waterfall or fountain in your yard. Constant contact with water can erode the material. 

        Adobe bricks give a home an authentic Mexican flare, but they’re more than just nice-looking. Because they’re made from earthen materials, they’re extremely energy efficient. Their thermal properties can keep your home cooler during our hot summers, and that can add up to savings on your air conditioning bill.

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to  Rosie Romero is an Arizona contractor who has been in the Arizona home building and remodeling industry for 35 years. He has a radio program from 8-11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3), from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson, and from 8 –11 a.m. Saturdays on KAZM-AM (780) in Northern Arizona.

Rosie and Romey Romero, Every Arizona Homeowners Best Friend
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