Nov 24, 2011

Playing with blocks

The bricks and blocks are going up.
As soon as the floor was set, the truckloads of blocks and more cement arrived. It seemed to be going almost too fast. I had drawn my sketches where the walls, doors and windows would go, but I wasn’t getting my “mulling it over” time.
Fortunately, I still have my councillors, our neighbors, Bob & Dale to talk things through with, and clarify a few ideas. The plumbing was an early fait accompli as the drain pipes were set into the concrete poured floor.
I like to design kinetically, so when the floor was established, I came in with some boards and big felt markers to show where the walls of the dividing section -- half bath and closets would fit.

Then came the decisions for the location of the electrical plugs and switches. With a little experience from last time, I was able to incorporate the conduits into channels inside the block walls, rather than drilling through the walls and ceiling later, and thus avoid a maze of conduits along the outer walls and roof. Already I have cut 19 plug outlets running around the perimeter of the rooms (you can never have too many plugs), and several switch places, and run the wires to the location of the sub-panel.
Each couple of hours I walk through the rooms, monitoring the walls going up and marking the openings for the 8 windows and one sliding door.
Even tonight, after our workers had gone, I realized that another light and switch was required, so will be threaded in tomorrow morning before they pour the wall headers.

I am pleased to say, that my guys, Lucio and Paulito are doing a pretty good job. They put in full days from 7 am to dusk, and are easy to talk to - as well as I can with my Spanish building terms, and otherwise they talk cheerily in native Mayan.
The best news is that so far the walls seem to be going up straight.

The Machine Age

In our five years here in PaaMul and before that our travel up and down the west coast of Mexico, we have had opportunity to observe many building sites. Actually it is hard to miss them if you are traveling through a village or here in the PaaMul park, because of the tradition and practice of mixing concrete on the ground, right out front, on the road or street. First comes the piles of gravel and sand, then the bags of cement and stacks of re-bar.
Then come the workers with their short handled shovels who portion out the ingredients in a pile and adding water, start to mix it all by hand. This works fine when making mortar, which in only needed in small quantities and are transported onto the work-site in pails, but for mixing up larger batches of concrete, even if they are mixing a large batch of sand, gravel and cement, there is only so large a mix-patch you can handle with short shovels, so it takes a while, mixing and pouring over and over again and makes for lumpy, patchy surfaces.

Well much to our surprise, two pieces of motorized equipment showed up at our build. The first was a gasoline riven thumper to tamp down the calica fill that is the base for the floor. This replaced the hand tamper and water hose technique that went on for days when we first were building the other side of our palapa floor a couple of years ago. The thumper hopped around our casita base for several hours, but it compacted very well, I think.

The bigger deal was the arrival of a motorized cement mixer. The first one any of us had seen in PaaMul and attracted a lot of attention. With a crew of four to keep the mixer going, running in and out with the wheelbarrows, and another guy “screeding” the pour, we got the whole floor done in one day. And to top it off, the floor was very level and quite smooth. The modern techniques didn’t go as far as “floating” the surface to get a finished surface such as we would have in our basements or garages up north, but at least is was quite level, and will be quite easy to lay a finished floor.
Yes these motorized tools went faster, and did a better job, but it sure was noisy for a couple of days.

Nov 13, 2011

The 3rd Little Piggy...

“The first little piggy built his house of straw. The second little piggy built his house of wood, and the third little piggy build his house of bricks...” Well you probably remember what happened. “The big bad wolf...etc.”

From that old fairy tale, let me take you through a brief history of Paa Mul. PM started out as tent camping on the beach, which evolved to a trailer park, which evolved to people building palapas for shade next to their trailers, which evolved to building bigger palapas and parking the rvs under them, which evolved to adding patios and outside kitchens which evolved to building part of the structure with cement blocks, and then to building mostly out of block. These are still all under the classic PM palapa.

This may be obscure minutia to most of you readers but bear with me.
Paa Mul is technically a “trailer park” and up to the recent past, all of PM palapas included rvs. Some of the older trailers have been here for 20 or more years and like trailer parks anywhere and especially here, these old trailers were not standing up well to the years of tropical weather. Some of these trailers have been modified and upgraded with stucco exteriors, more substantial floors, new doors and windows, etc. But underneath, they were still flimsy rvs.
A couple of years ago, PM palapa construction went through a phase of “faux” trailers, in which the trailer part of the building was permitted to be built on a steel beam frame, off the ground, with an old axle under the frame, and the rooms built from lumber and sheetrock. Quite complicated and expensive.
Then last winter a few palapas were being built from the ground up with all rooms of cement block. This is basic tropical construction -- very sturdy and inexpensive.
Last spring, we applied for a renovation permit from the office. For unclear reasons, they brought a halt to these cement block non-trailer structures.

Over the summer we found “new/old” trailer and brought it down to be our permanent home here. But as often is said here in Paamul, “Just wait, things will change”.
When we here arrived a couple of weeks ago, we saw that the all-block building had started again. This time our visit to the office was greeted with positive response and our all-brick casita construction is a go.
I brought out my plans, got a quote from our Mayan builder, David, and we are under way. We have moved the trailer across the road to another lot and will live there for the next month or so. The foundations have been dug and this morning as I sat in the loft and wrote this, there was a crew of 4 mixing concrete to pour the footings.

This “casita” will essentially replace the footprint of the trailer, with two rooms and a half bath adding up to approximately 12 x 34 feet and 8 feet tall. Being all cement and stucco, it will nicely compliment our existing rooms -- the kitchen, living, dining, bathroom and bodega.

In the interest of full disclosure, our Mexican home will be made of straw (the palapa roof), wood (the palapa posts and beams), but mainly of bricks (and tile). So I say, bring on the big bad wolf (hurricane), let him/her huff and puff and our home should stand.