08 October 2009

Closing Out The Construction Trades

Yesterday morning Hans drug out a hose with a sprinkler attached and watered the lawn across the road from me. I was mortified. Of course Hans did not know that by doing so, he was undercutting one of the major themes of my blog here. I did not explain that to him.

I wrote that off as attributable to the fact that Weber Tennis Courts is an entirely unusual facility and therefore requires unusual maintenance features such as dragging the clay surfaces of the tennis courts in the early morning hours and. . .watering the lawn occasionally. That was the first time I had seen a sprinkler in México.

Oops. Come to think of it, I guess they did water that little lawn around the pool over there at the Siesta Hotel.

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I can finish up the discussion of the concrete and the plumbing quickly. I have spent too much time on it already. However, it is an important subject because of its larger meaning.

I am talking about the construction of middle class and lower middle class street homes. The wealthy here are like the wealthy anywhere, boringly well provided for. The more wealthy, the fewer economic constraints on construction methods and the less ingenuity required. Boring.

The homes I am talking about are essentially concrete boxes with solid concrete walls. As I have already hinted, it is not just the plumbing for the kitchen sink that is buried in concrete of the house that Steve and his family are renting. All of the plumbing is buried in concrete. There is no frame finished off in plaster and lath. There is no frame finished off with plasterboard and dry wall. It is solid concrete.

I pondered the ramifications of this with Steve. If a leak develops in the plumbing in one of these walls, in order to find the leak and repair it, one has to knock out concrete walls to get at the plumbing. When Steve first got here, he rented a small house over in one of the tougher barrios in town. He tells me that it is not uncommon to have wet walls, either on the interior or exterior because of a small leak that is not worth repairing. I find that fascinating.

Now one could theoretically hang the plumbing on the exterior. In fact this is done in special circumstances such as upgrading an ancient structure. Remember the Hotel San Francisco in Real de Catorce. But there the exterior plumbing was hung on the inside walls of a courtyard arrangement. If you were to hang plumbing on the outside of these houses I am talking about, setting aside the aesthetics of the thing for now, that plumbing would disappear in the night.

This all has to do with economics. The assumption underlying everything, not just the plumbing buried in concrete, is that very cheap labor is available. Conversely, the materials necessary to construct in some other fashion are very expensive or in many cases simply not available. For example, plywood in San Miguel de Allende is priced by the ounce like gold. Only an American would even think of using plywood for something here. Frank has to travel to the Home Depot in Querétaro to get plywood, and even then it is outrageously priced.

This is why the plumbing for that sink is not boxed in with plywood in some fashion. It is cheaper to pay some guy later to chisel out the concrete to get at the plumbing than it is to box it in with plywood in the first place. And of course problems might never have developed.

I am wondering if the very fact that the plumbing is buried in concrete actually reinforces it to some degree such that fewer leaks develop. I do not know. I am ignorant about that sort of thing. However, I very much doubt that. Pipes will split or break and joints will degrade regardless, I think.

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Subjects like that are so boring to everyone else and so fascinating to Frank and me. Sunday night we walked up to watch the grand finale fireworks. As I mentioned before, we love to note interesting—interesting to us—quirky facets of the construction around here. Why did they do it that way? Does it work? Even if it works, how odd that looks!

We laugh a lot of course, but we do not “laugh in a bad way,” as Fabien would say. We laugh with delight. At one point it got quiet, and I was moved to make some general statement about the matter.

“It's all. . . .,” I hesitated trying to think of a word.

“It's all fabulous!” Frank said.

“Yeah, Frank, it's all fabulous,” I replied.

I am confident that both Frank and I intended the very same thing with that strange statement. Part of the thought was something like this.

“If plumbing buried in concrete works for the Mexican people, then fuck it. It more than works for us.”

As for the larger meaning of all this, I have not the faintest idea. I lied about that. I really have no idea what any larger meaning might be.

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I have not yet photographed the inside of that house that Steve, Frank, and Allyson are moving into. They are still in a mess there. Steve is bringing furniture from his home in San Diego out of the storage facility here. It is a long process.

When they are done and in, I will photograph the house. There are very interesting oddities in shape as well as in size of the various aspects of the layout. It is a three-story affair with the roof available for lounging in addition.

Again, it is a delight to explore.

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By the way, the whole subject of renovation, repair, and maintenance of all the buildings in the central district of San Miguel de Allende is complicated by the fact that the whole central district is denominated an historical site. It is protected both by the federal government of México and by the United Nations through treaty. I do not know a lot more about that, but I mention it now because I do not think I have mentioned it before. I do not know, for example, whether or not you have to go to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York to get a building permit in order to repair the plumbing in one of those buildings.


Ruth said...

Engenuity not only solves problems, but gives the rest of us something to ponder on. My dad was the king of the mickeymousers when it came to putting stuff together. I think you'd get a kick out of the fixes on this website.


Señor Steve said...


That is an excellent site, Ruthie. I am so happy you found that!

Of course I have all my Bookmarks neatly categorized now, having some time on my hands for a bit between road trips. I put it under "Research."