Adobe homes in the Southwest

St. Francis de Assisi Church in Rancho de Taos 


St. Francis de Assisi Church in Rancho de Taos


When people think of the Southwest and homes, many times they think of Adobe built homes.  I often get asked why all the homes are stucco and why there isn’t much adobe. 

I used to live in New Mexico, and know that real adobe homes are very labor intensive.  Mud bricks stacked together then more mud over the bricks to give the smooth texture we are familiar with. 

Super green, a great insulator, and the thicker the walls the stronger.  The St. Francis de Assisi Church in Rancho de Taos, well known for being photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by Georgia O’Keefe, has walls that are over 6 feet thick at the base.  The whole community comes together every year to re-mud the exterior.  The rain and snow make the natural dirt/clay walls soften and wash away.  Yes, the buildings last a long time, the church was built in 1815, and the Taos Pueblo is over 1000 years old.  Keeping up the mudding can keep the adobe standing indefinitely.

Meanwhile, stucco lasts a lifetime (not sure how many years that is) but with a fresh coat of paint every now and again, the work to maintain it is much less.

I love the look and feel of the real adobe homes, and I have been in many while living in Taos and Santa Fe.  They are a bit challenging to hang a picture on, when remodeling, taking down walls is not an option, making the stucco homes of Arizona much more practical.

Remodel – tear out complete

The first day of our construction/remodel in our town home in McCormick Ranch.  As suspected there was very little and in fact some areas had no insulation in the west wall.  No wonder the room was so hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  Adding insulation alone will make a huge difference in the comfort of this room.   

Look - no insulation!

We made great progress, the carpeting is out, all the carpet tacks, dry wall, the limited amount of insulation, the room is clean and we are prepped for tomorrow and putting in the Low E windows

Remodeling in McCormick Ranch

All of this talk of construction methods comes from me as I am remodeling my second bedroom in my McCormick Ranch town home.  This room is the west room, upstairs above the garage; so no chance of planting a tree and getting a spot of shade on that wall. 

The room has been HOT in the summer and COLD in the winter.  It boasts a single pane glass window and single pane glass sliding door, and an assumption on our part that the insulation was missing in the walls.

Our plan, remove the wall board, replace the windows with Low-E,  and replace the sliding door with a dual pane French door, and insulate the walls to the max!

Here goes our transformation!

The Basement Phenomena

Basements are rare in Arizona.  You would think that since the earth is cool, that basements would be popular and a pleasure in the summer months. 

Let’s first give some thought to basement construction.  In the great white north, you have to dig down a few feet to get below the freeze line where the water and sewer lines are located, then dig a bit further for footers, then have a few steps up to the front door so there is room for snow to pile up…

Getting the picture?

Our freeze line is only inches below the surface, builders don’t have to go far (18 inches) to hook up water and sewer.  The front door is also at ground level.  Meaning if a builder is going to dig down for a basement, they are doing some serious digging.  Our ground can be a bit on the hard side, making digging a bit of a challenge.

When builders do build a basement home, the basement is rarely the same footprint or square footage of the rest of the home.  The newer communities offering basements have them fully finished, used as game rooms, spare bedrooms, and they even have a bathroom complete with sump pump.

Arizona Construction or “How we do it here”


Arizona Home under construction

Arizona Home under construction

There are different construction standards across the US.  What consists of a standard in one area would be a poor choice in another.


An example:  In the north, the front door of your home opens inward.  This is building code.  The reason is a safety standard.  Just a small amount of snow would block the door trapping people in the home with no way out.  Head down to Florida, and building code has the door opening outward.  Again this is for safety.  Florida and other coastal cities in the south get hit with some mighty big storms and wind (hurricanes).  Having the front door open outward secures the home and keeps the door from blowing in during a storm. 

Arizona construction fits Arizona.  Over the next few posts I am going to explore some of the differences in “How we do it here”.