Jan 26, 2009

There's electricity in the air

Our utilities, electric, water and gas, have been an integral part of the build; integral in the design of course, but also integral in the walls and ceilings with the lines running through or inside the concrete block walls. In my drawings, I tried to anticipate where every light switch and plug should be, and where every water outlet and drain worked best.
This is one of those situations where a lifetime of assumptions that things simply work because they do, has to meet the reality of it being designed and built it to work that way. Flick a switch and a light goes on. Hit the button on your computer on and it springs into service (usually). Step into an elevator and the doors close and open somewhere else.
Not that we are building a skyscraper here, but each light has to find its way back to a switch in another location.
Fortunately, we can run many of the wire legs in stiff plastic conduits along the outside walls and on the concrete roof of the bodega/baño. Then they go down to the appointed outlets inside the block walls through flexible plastic conduits.
Mexican wire is all single strand and so I am running multiple wires throughout. We only have 30 amps to work with and so I am dividing up the three main items, the water pump, the air conditioner, and the washing machine in different 15 amp circuits. Some of the conduits get very crowded.
It sounds simple when I think of it, and even as I write about it, but the final result is a sort of maze.
Fortunately, I have my building buddies Bob and Dale to help. We all visit each others’ sites and talk things through. Those guys have more experience than I and have been very helpful. My cousin Gerald was down here visiting and spent a couple of afternoons on the job as well.
I was pleased that I had gotten most services where I wanted them but still missed a couple.
I had to bang new openings for the bathroom fan and a couple more plugs, and was feeling quite done when I realized that I hadn’t created the passage for the dryer vent. Another 4” hole in the wall, along with the dust and detritus.


The final stage in the tiling floors and walls and counters, is the boquilla (grout). Once again there are several places to shop, with different brands, and colours - but not very many.
We had a range of ideas of what would look best in the different rooms, counters and walls. We ended up buying a couple bags, about $7/ea., to try out and again we had help from our neighbors who had some left over grout.
I set out a work table with mixing cups and remnants of tiles and made some samples. One choice was easy Mostaza (mustard) looked best for the bathroom walls and counter, holding the yellow, red and blue tiles together.
For the main floor tiles, we were hoping to introduce some green, but nothing we tried looked right. We tries some red, but again, no. I mixed this red with various proportions of green to make browns and this looked better. So I was dispatched into town to bring home something that was between “this and that”. I found Caoba (mahogany) that hit the mark, and just in time as it went on that day.
For the kitchen counter, I was back to my mixing board and came up with an olive that was 1 part green with 2 parts mustard.
We think it turned out well, but I think that is part relief because another stage of construction, another mess is over.

Jan 19, 2009

Tile Tales

Tiles are going in this week. Yay! Suddenly, the whole look is taking shape. A long time coming, and a lot of rough water under the bridge.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the building is the selection of the tiles we are using in the palapa. They are so permanent.
Some basics first.
The whole floor is being laid with ceramic tiles. For us that is about 60 square metres (650 sq feet). The bathroom walls are getting tile, another 18 M2. The bathroom counter and the kitchen counter are both covered in tile. Then there are the decorative tiles added to the mix.
There are numerous tile stores in Playa, as well as three places that sell the rustic hand-painted Mexican televera tiles. There is also a large televera tile store in Cancun as well as a selection at the Home Depot.
We started looking months ago. We were advised that if you find something you like, you should get it as there seems to be an unreliable supply. Of the five main tile stores in town, a couple have crates of tile stacked around the store or stored in the back. The others have single tiles in racks, or on display boards. Often the lighting is poor, so it is difficult to know exactly what you are seeing. It seems that our eyes too, become programmed to be seeing some, and missing others. Like when you buy a brown jacket or a blue car, and suddenly you are seeing brown jackets and blue cars that weren’t there before.
We checked them all out and then on the second go round, we found a floor tile we liked. We paid a deposit, and were told it would be here in 2 weeks. Close to a month later, the tile arrived from the warehouse in Mexico City, but when we went to pick it up, something was wrong. It didn’t seem right.
We checked it against the sample and sure enough, they had sent the wrong colour. Aiyee! After some debate, we got our deposit back and started again. Over and over, we made the rounds of the tile stores. Now we were restricted to finding some thing that was in stock. We even bought a couple of single boxes to take home and look at on site. Finally we settled on a tile and it was delivered just in time.
The bathroom is another story.
The baño all started with the sink. Hand-painted sinks widely available throughout Mexico. Very bright and colourful, they are all made in Delores Hidalgo, in the Mexican interior.
At Joben, the televera store in Cancun, we found another style of these sinks, finer detail in the painting, and in the style that sit on top of the counter. We found one we liked, and then proceeded to look for tiles that would go with it.
We eventually started carrying the sink around with us, holding it up to various tiles to see the match. Besides the wall tiles, there is an opportunity to add some colour with trim. For these we were back to the televera shops. Choices, choices.
Suddenly the guys were ready to install. A couple of quick trips into Playa and away we went. They need a few more of the decorative colour, so I scoot into town first thing in the morning. Oops, they ran short of the solid blue. Another quick round-trip. And then it was time to get the tiles for the kitchen counter and backsplash.
In four days last week, we made seven trips into Playa and Cancun, to many tiles stores and including a warehouse in Puerto Moreleos, and I think, I hope, we are set.
And now it is time to choose the grout -- more colour choices, and only days to decide.

Jan 11, 2009

Details, details

Now that the new year has kicked in, our crew has been making progress daily with a bunch of smaller details.
But first, when our guys show up around 8 am, each day starts with the morning ritual desayuno cómico (breakfast comedy). They gather in a circle and bring out their food, and talk and laugh. I think it is a great way to get the day going. It is common knowledge that this indigenous population is warm and friendly, and easily given to laughter.
Then they amble over and carry on with the long list of finishing touches. The stucco is almost complete, and Susan and I put on a coat of sealer in the bodega. It is a milky white solution, not very opaque, and looks like a very bad coat of paint.

My oddly designed windows turned out to be a bit of a challenge getting the glass blocks to sit in balanced rows. I had purchased a bag of plastic spacers. I brought them out and as we all looked them over, it became apparent that my windows with the glass blocks all offsetting on the previous row would not work with the square corner spacers. So it was back to the basic methods of setting each row slowly, one block at a time, using pencil lines and two levels, adding the white cement, then adding some more, tapping the block this way and that, until each was in the desired position. It seemed to take a while, but the final result is very good.
I finalized the drawing of our kitchen. The meseta (little table/ counter) is also made of a concrete slab hung along the wall and supported at the ends by concrete blocks. I illustrated my basic idea with a few stacks of blocks and some construction boards. That is Susan feeling out the new space.

Tonight as the day faded, I took this pic of the front windows - a couple of eyes looking out on the world.