The Great Patio Project

by Judy King 9. July 2010 15:48

After  I grew up with blueprints on the dining room table and a contractor at the breakfast table. I made doll furniture with the scraps of sheet metal in Dad’s shop and played with the bits of wood and the piles of sawdust in the new houses where he was working. I heard numerous conversations about jobs that were taking longer and the people who always wanted him to do more “while he was there.”

Over the past 20 years, I’ve done numerous projects on a dozen different houses here in Mexico…By now you’d think I’d know how it works.

When I let my contractor in the door, I always find more for him to do, and he always thinks of much better ways to do the job – and it all takes more time and costs more money, but I’m always pleased at the end that I did it “His Way.”

That’s just the way it went a couple of weeks ago when I decided it was time to do something with the simple brick patio at my rental house. The roots of the giant avocado tree were pushing bricks making an uneven surface. I knew it would only be a matter of time until I stubbed my toe and fell.

The bid was a little more than I expected, but then in my head everything is always a little higher than I expect. In my head, grocery stores in the US are still selling 5 cans of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup for a dollar. Still, I was able to rationalize the cost. “After all,” I reasoned. “It’s far less than the cost of a cast if I fall and break my arm.” So I forged ahead.

5-bricks 6-bricks-fran

(Above:) I love watching the men as they move bricks from one spot to another. They toss 4-5 bricks from one man to another, bucket brigade-style. It takes a lot of shots to catch the bricks in midair as in both pictures above!)

A Piece of Cake Project—Right?

I imagined that they’d take up the bricks, pile ‘em in the corner, put down an inch or so of sand and put the new bricks back down – Easy.

They took up all those bricks in a couple of hours -- no time at all. With the giant pile of bricks stacked them off to one side, I was sure they’d be done in 2-3 days, max.  

1-birds

It was about then that I decided to have them take out the big clump of Birds of Paradise. They’d quit blooming because of the growth of the tree and the extra shade.  With them gone, I’d gain a little valuable patio space. Then I realized that it was also the right time to get rid of the little planter next to the laundry room – nothing grows there and it’s hard to get around that corner carrying a clothes basket.

So it started. Who know it would take nearly half a day for three guys to dig out that plant. Who knew those roots go almost three deep?

What If We Made It a Little Bigger

Next, the contractor showed up, walked around, look at the space and said, “While we’re here, what would you think of making the patio a little wider? We’ll need some more bricks, but not that many.”

I barely recognized my own voice saying, “What a wonderful idea – Let’s go for it.”

Then the digging began in earnest as the men started lowering the level of the patio. As they exposed tree roots, they hacked them out and then filled in the spaces.

Picture it…7 or 8 men in a constant parade past my desk, 5-gallon buckets of sand on their shoulders spilling a little here, dumping a little there – tracking back and forth the length of the house. On the second day I put the maid on hold and just swept up the worst of the dirt, cement and mud two or three times a day. 

2-garageMixing

Carrying Sand and Dirt Through the Living Room

Oh, did I mention that there’s no outside passageway from the street to the garden. The only access to the patio is through the house. The men had to carry all the excess dirt out through my living room and office to the truck?

And, then they had to carry all of the materials they needed from the garage back through the house to the patio. Each day loads of materials were unloaded into the garage. Every evening the garage was empty and clean so I could get the car off the street. 

3-levels4-laying-brick

Laying Bricks in Sand? How About a Good Foundation?

A day or so later with the dirt all nice and smooth, I realized that the workers were going the extra mile on this job. They weren’t just putting down an inch or two of sand. They were preparing to install a typical foundation, just as is done in Lakeside homes – a mixture of jal, sand, cement and water.

When they were mixing the first batch, it looked just like the way grandma made pie dough -- pouring water into the depression in a huge pile of dry ingredients. Three workers shoveled the dry materials from the outer edge into the wet portion in the center and kept “stirring” the pile until it was evenly mixed.

The maistro determined the levels for the top of the foundation with a system of measurements and string guidelines criss-crossing the patio area. Then the workers carefully laid and leveled brought broad bands of the mixture up to the bottom of the strings. Later they filled in the spaces and tamped, leveled and smoothed it all using a six-foot straight edge.

I’ve watched this process before. I still can’t figure out how they get the foundation leveled like that, but they do, and create  slight slopes to direct part of the water into the drain, and the rest off the edges of the patio.

7-grout Another major decision loomed when the foundation was completed. “Do you want the bricks put down loose as they were before, or would you like for us to put them down with grout between them. It will take a little longer to put in the grout, but it will take fewer bricks and give you a much better, stronger patio in the end.”

Well what was I going to say…of course I wanted it done right….right?

They were trying to work as the rains from the first pair of tropical storms came moving across our area. They always have a trick or two up their sleeves.

This time they covered the newly grouted sections of patio with plastic when they left for the night to keep all that just-finished grout from washing away.

Then when they returned in the morning, they tied their plastic drop clothes up into the tree so they could work and stay dry.

Finally Finished

And they did do it right…and they did make it both strong and beautiful. The project was costly, but well worth it all. The men worked extremely well together, were funny and easy to be around – even traipsing through the house with all those buckets of stuff.

soccer The rainwater drains off quickly, and the new patio is flush with the sidewalk – that pesky little step down onto the bricks is gone along with the step back up to the laundry.

Even better is that the elimination of those two planter beds and adding the extra couple of feet along the edge has made a real difference in the living space I now have on the patio. I’ve moved one of the lounge chairs onto the shady patio. It’s a perfect spot for reading or napping in the afternoon.

Now I’m thinking I need a bigger patio table and some new pots of plants, and …I wonder how big the project of decorating the patio will get. 

(Above:) By the way…it wasn’t ALL work for Juan Gilberto Higuera and his Little Company team of workers. There were a couple of days when they managed to spend the duration of the World Cup games focused on the TV in my living room. Thankfully the Mexico – Argentina game was on a Sunday. I would have hated to have witnessed  “the agony of defeat.”


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Brick: Lakeside’s Cornerstone, Part 7 The Roof

by Judy King 11. March 2010 16:09

Whew…who know there was so much to know about bricks? Today we conclude this Seven-part series by taking about the all important roof.

Once all the bricks have been laid in the bóvedas, the masons begin layering the upper surface, to form the top of the roof. This system has been developed over the years to create a waterproof, strong rooftop that can double as a mirador (view terrace) or the floor of the second story.

First is Lechada

The first sealer coating is a very runny mixture called lechada. The workers mix grey cement, sealer and water, and then mop it onto the top of the bóveda. The lechada (milky-looking) liquid runs into all the cracks and crevices to seal the top side of the brick and grout.

Building up the sides; Filling in the spaces

Workers make a small retaining wall two or three bricks high, all around the roof edges, and then fill in the areas between the beams with jal (pea gravel) until the roof surface is flat, and level with the tops of the arches. Next a very wet, loose mixture of jal, yellow sand, cal (powdered lime) and cement is poured over the roof until the retaining wall is full. Small channels are included in the finish work on this layer, to direct the flow of rainwater into downspouts or off the roof onto the garden and away from windows and doors.

Workers carry buckets of the jal mixture up to the roof until a layer 6-8" deep has been poured over the entire roof.

While some of you still North of the border are imagining a ready-mix truck pumping the mixture onto the roof, that's not the way it happens here. Two men on the ground continually stir the concrete mixture and fill five-gallon buckets for the other workers. Those workers carry the heavy buckets up ladders to continually pour the roof. Occasionally pulleys can be utilized to reduce the labor required for the job, and still get enough buckets of the mixture to the roof, quickly enough.

More Lechada and then the tile

Once dry, the jal layer is sealed with another mopping of lechada. Then when the lechada is dry, the masons cover the roof with 8" square flat clay tiles (ladrillo de azotea), laid on a base of concrete.

Sealing and Waterproofing the Surface

Next come two coatings of grey cement mixed with sealer and water, followed by a finish sealer. This could be a commercial product called Fester, terra cotta or white sealer—and because of the difference it makes in the way the roof repels water, you should know the difference between the types of sealers and know which your contractor is using. .

When this sealing process is done well, the job can be guaranteed for five or six years. If it is done very well, with top quality materials and best sealers, the roof should be waterproof for about  10 years, maybe longer, although due to the effects of the sun and heavy rains, a simple additional sealer coat should be applied after four or five years.

Special thanks go to General Contractor Juan Gilberto Higuera and the maestros of The Little Company in Ajijic who explained procedures to me, answered questions and provided technical information for this article.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Brick: Lakeside’s Cornerstone, Part 6 Brick Designs

by Judy King 10. March 2010 21:03

Bóveda Brick Designs
Masons at Lake Chapala use six designs when laying ceiling bóveda. Recently a crew of masons arranged bricks into these designs to give you a clearer view of the patterns and a way to learn the names of the patterns.

 

CatalanaCuña
  Catalana                                           Cuña

The Original designs

Catalana and Cuña were the only bóveda designs used in central Mexico until about 40 years ago. Catalana is named for the people in a region of Spain and Cuña is the name of the wedges driven in between the bricks to fill the spaces.


Petatillo EsquinadaPetatillo Escuadro
  Petatillo Esquinada                              Petatillo Escuadro

The Petatillos

The two petatillos reflect the herringbone designs on the opposite sides of petate, (woven rush mat). You've seen petate in the ceiling structure of other homes, and for sale along the highway here at Lakeside. It serves poor Mexicans in every phase of daily life—from covering dirt floors to being the surface on which babies are born and often the wrapping for bodies before burial. Petatillo Esquinada is based on diagonal corners while Petatillo Escuadro is more squared off.


homes-teson Tesón y Catalana

 Tesón                                                    Tesón y Catalana

 The Tough Designs

Tesón translates as tenacity, firmness or inflexibility in English—and those are good descriptions for a ceiling or roof. The remaining design combines the lengthwise rows of Catalan and crosswise flat bricks of Tesón.

Thanks to the maestros of Ajijic’s The Little Company and Contractor Juan Gilberto Higuera Rivera for their help with this series of articles. They taught me the names of these designs so I can share the information with the readers.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Brick: Lakeside’s Cornerstone, Part 4 Vaults and Domes

by Judy King 8. March 2010 17:10

Homes-form Bóveda Cañón (Barrel Vault)
To build dramatic high and long barrel vaults, the masons first weld a framework of longer, stronger I-beams onto the corona to act as the side rails of the completed vault. Next, they construct the semi-circular end pieces of the cannon-shaped vault, leaving circular openings for the skylights, which will be added later.

Using the vault's end sections as a pattern, the abañiles design and supervise the building of an iron form just one brick wide. The simple form is designed to slide in the tracks of the I-beams, allowing the workers to lay bricks next to the form in order to accurately gauge the size and curve of the arch.

As the bricks are covered in concrete and put into position, the workers drive small triangular pieces of brick called cuñas into the mortar between the upper edges of the bricks, to put pressure on the arch and add stability to the form.

Barrel vaults are called cañon (cannon) vaults are commonly designed with the bricks set on edge in the cuña design; however, the herringbone designs are a very attractive alternative. Moldings are often added to the sides of the vault to hide lighting fixtures that illuminate the bóveda. When all of the bricks are in place in the vault, the upper surface is finished in the same sequence of layers as described in the low-arch bóveda section.

San Juan Capistrano
The simple church at the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, California, is famed for the swallows that return each March, and we find it interesting because of the way the bóveda de cañón ceiling was built. After the walls were completed, the central area of the early California mission church was filled from floor to ceiling with packed earth. The Franciscans carved the shape of the bóveda in the top of the dirt, and laid their adobe mix and blocks over the arched shape. Once the roof was complete and dry, the dirt was carried back out of the church, leaving the soaring barrel vault.

finishing-cement-in-vault 13th Century blueprint
Even earlier recorded examples of the long vaulted style of bóveda are found on the Balearic Islands just off the coast of Spain. The oldest island church, a tiny rectangle topped with bóveda de cañón, was built in the 13th century, and is a remaining clue to the history of this form of construction. The islands were occupied by the Moors from the 9th century until 1235 when the Catalans from mainland Spain took possession of the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The mix of these two cultures is believed to have inspired bóveda construction.

Cupulas (Domes)
Brick domes accent many of Lakeside's dramatic rooflines. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, entrepreneur Jaime Hernandez built some of the area's earliest housing developments. Jaime added a brick cupola over the living room or entry of each of his condos and homes, adding interest and light to his home designs and popularizing the architectural detail at Lake Chapala.


You'll see a wide variety of dome designs in Lake Chapala homes.

The domes, which are built "free-hand," without any kind of guide or form, begin with large steel beams welded into a ring that sits on top of the corona. Most cupolas are finished with complex concrete moldings at the lower edge, disguising the indirect lighting that illuminates the dramatic domed interior.

Locally there is a wonderful variety of sizes and heights of domes which feature many of the same brick patterns illustrated above. Domes built with the diminishing circle patterns of the Catalana or cuña, are built by laying the bricks around and around in circles. When the design calls for one of the herringbone patterns, the masons divide the circle into quarters, sixths or eights, and begin building at these points, extending the designs up and together at the top.

dining-boveda This architectural detail is very appropriate here in Mexico where many customs, traditions and designs have been borrowed from the Spanish who were so influenced by 700 years of Moorish domination and influence. Some of the world's oldest grand domes are scattered across Spain, including the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which was started in 784 AD and is topped with a grand ribbed cupola.

Occasionally, the outside surfaces of local domes are decorated with similar ribs and ceramic tile covers the dome. While the tile adds a colorful accent to the architectural design of the house, it does not contribute to the structural value. Other popular cupola design accents include spires, top structures, windows that open for ventilation or skylights that brighten interior spaces.

One of North America's first cupolas was built between 1687 and 1720 near Tucson, Arizona. The center of the grand cupola in the church of the Mission of San Xavier Del Bac rises 55 feet above the floor. This architectural style, which some called Moorish and others classed as Byzantine, is now being termed Spanish Renaissance or Spanish Mission style.

Special thanks go to General Contractor Juan Gilberto Higuera and the maestros of The Little Company in Ajijic who explained procedures to me, answered questions and provided technical information for this article.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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