The Best Practices for Maintaining an Adobe Building

A small single-story house build with adobe bricks with a thatched roof. A cartoon female builder holding a hammer is standing next to the gable end wall wearing a hard hat and high visibility tabard. Across the bottom of the image are the words "The Best Practices for Maintaining an Adobe Building."

Adobe buildings are stylish and a great long-term asset because of their incredible architecture.

But as is the case with any structure, adobe buildings, too, are prone to deterioration. This slow deterioration process can chip away at the entire building if you don’t take protective measures.

Generally, the best practices for maintaining an adobe building involve a regular inspection. When inspecting is done, appropriate measures like repairs and other preventive measures are taken. Regular cleaning and upkeep are also necessary and should be performed as needed.

In this article, I will expand further on the measures you must take to keep your adobe building in its best shape.

You will learn how to clean the bricks, replace any cracks formed, and more.

So stay with me and read till the end to know how to handle these structures correctly.

The Importance of Regular Cleaning and Upkeep

An orange adobe house with steps leading up the wall and a small wooden window. A cartoon cleaner washes the wall.
Regular cleaning is not just a matter of appearance. It can help to identify problems early and avoid the build-up of problematic contaminants.

The importance of regular cleaning of adobe buildings cannot be overstated. Dirt, oil, and debris can latch onto the bricks, causing cracks over time. Regular cleaning can help spot minor issues early on, thus avoiding more significant problems later.

Cleaning Techniques

  • Use a broom and lightly dust the corners and mortar joints, ideally once a month.
  • Consider washing your adobe walls once a year with a mild soap solution.
  • Avoid a pressure washer or abrasive cleaning agents when washing your walls.
  • The roof can be cleaned similarly using a soft-bristled brush and water.

Patching the Adobe Brick and Mortar

When patching deteriorated bricks and loose mortar, use materials compatible with the original structure. Follow these steps:

  1. Scrape the deteriorated material: Use a trowel or chisel to remove the deteriorated material to create a clean surface free of debris.
  2. Replace with adobe mud: Mix up a batch similar to the original material. Use this mud to fill the gap in the bricks.
  3. Don’t use ready-made bricks: Avoid using them as they contain stabilizing agents incompatible with your structure.
  4. Repair the loose mortar: Remove unstable loose mortar and fill those gaps with fresh mortar.

How to Repair Cracks in Adobe Walls

Before you start repairing the cracks, properly preparing the adobe wall is essential. Follow these steps:

  • Inspect the wall: Examine the entire wall to identify all the cracks that need repair.
  • Clean the area: Use a soft brush to remove dirt and debris from the cracks in the surrounding areas.
  • Moisten the wall: Dampen the area around the crack using a spray bottle of water to help the adobe mud adhere better to the wall.

Repairing Small Cracks in Adobe Walls

A closeup of an adobe wall with cracks in it.
Repairing cracks in adobe walls can be done with a trowel or putty knife and some adobe mix. Image courtesy of WTX Foundation Repair.

For minor cracks:

  1. Mix the repair material: Prepare a small batch of adobe mix similar to your original mix used in the wall.
  2. Apply the mix: Use a trowel or a putty knife to fill the crack with the mix.
  3. Smooth the surface: Lightly smooth and clean the surrounding area with a damp cloth once the crack is filled.

Repairing Large Cracks

For larger cracks:

  1. Widen the crack: Use a chisel and hammer to widen the crack slightly. Try creating a V-shaped channel. This opens up the crack and gives you a better surface to work with.
  2. Moisten the crack: Dampen the crack and the surrounding area with a water spray.
  3. Prepare the repair material: Mix a larger batch of adobe mix, and ensure it matches the original composition.
  4. Apply the mix: Fill the channel with adobe mix, use generous quantities, and work in sections.
  5. Smooth the surface: Use a soft damp cloth to smooth the surface lightly.

Finishing Touches: Sealing and Painting Adobe Walls

Once the repairs are complete, follow them up with sealing and painting:

  1. Allow the repair to dry: Wait for the repair areas to dry. This can take a few days and depends on the size of the crack and local weather conditions.
  2. Apply a protective coating: Apply a compatible sealant to protect your wall. Linseed oil is a good option. Mix one part of boiled linseed oil with three parts of paint thinner. Use a soft brush to apply at least two coats of this mixture.
  3. Paint the wall: If desired, apply oil-based paint on the exterior of the adobe walls.

How to Protect Adobe Buildings From Water Damage

Heavy rain falling on a house roof and water draining off away from the walls.
Excessive rainfall must be dealt with to avoid water damage.

Examining the Causes of Water Damage

There are several factors contributing to water damage:

  1. Excessive rainfall: Heavy or prolonged rain can saturate the adobe material. This can lead to erosion and structural weakening.
  2. Poor drainage: Insufficient drainage systems can cause water to accumulate near the building’s foundation. This can result in moisture infiltration and damage.
  3. Insufficient roof slope: The roof’s pitch plays a significant part in directing water away from the building. If the roof has an insufficient slope or is damaged, the water can pool on the roof’s surface.
  4. Clogged gutters and downspouts: When these get clogged with debris, such as leaves, twigs, or dirt, water can overflow back up onto the roof.

Implementing Preventive Measures

  • Install gutters and downspouts: Properly installed gutters and downspouts help direct rainwater away from the building.
  • Improve drainage: Ensure proper drainage by installing French drains or other drainage solutions if necessary.
  • Weatherproof windows and doors: Seal gaps around doors and windows with weatherstripping or caulking to prevent water from entering.
  • Perform regular inspections: Inspect your building for signs of water damage, such as cracks, erosion, or mold growth.
  • Monitor interior humidity: Use dehumidifiers or other moisture control methods to maintain a stable indoor environment.

How to Maintain the Structural Integrity of an Adobe Building

Adobe buildings can remain structurally sound for years with proper care and maintenance. Consider the following tips to keep your adobe building in excellent condition:

  • Check for foundational issues: Regularly inspect foundations, floors, walls, and ceilings for signs of structural damage.
  • Inspect exterior walls: Examine the outside of your building to check for signs like cracks, erosion, or water damage.
  • Repair cracks and gaps: Repair any cracks or gaps as soon as you spot them. Minor hairline cracks can be ignored, but anything bigger should be tackled immediately.
  • Address water damage promptly: If you notice signs of water damage in the interior or exterior, swiftly take action to prevent further damage.
  • Manage vegetation around the building: Keep trees, shrubs, and other vegetation away from the building. This is to reduce moisture accumulation and protect your walls.
  • Seismic retrofitting for earthquake-prone regions: If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, investing in seismic retrofitting is a good idea to protect it from potential damage. Minimally invasive techniques used in seismic retrofitting can ensure your house is stronger and well-equipped to handle natural calamities.
A worker repairing adobe plasterwork with a trowel next to a window.
Repairing adobe plasterwork. Image courtesy of A Nova Floresta.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you don’t feel comfortable inspecting and maintaining your adobe building, seek professional help. Sometimes, the problem is too significant for you to handle alone. While hiring a professional can make your wallet lighter in the immediate term, in the long run, it will pay off.

These professionals can inspect the overall condition of your house and advise on any necessary repairs. They can also suggest ways to increase energy efficiency or ensure your building follows updated building codes.


How Long do Adobe Buildings Last?

Adobe buildings can easily last for decades when given the proper maintenance. Adobes are made from high-quality, sustainably sourced materials designed to be energy-efficient and long-lasting. You must take extra precautions if you reside in a high-humidity area with lots of precipitation.

How do You Protect Adobe From Rain?

Adobe bricks, in general, do not dissolve away in rainwater. But over time, the mud material used in these bricks can disintegrate if they are repeatedly in contact with rainwater.

To counter this problem, regular maintenance is critical. Newer bricks are even more vulnerable when exposed to rainwater.

Homeowners must ensure they take care of any cracks and do the patching work as necessary.

When the structural health of the building is put at the forefront and problems tackled as soon as they arise, adobe houses can easily be protected from potential threats posed by intense rainfall.

Final Takeaways On Maintaining an Adobe Building

To summarize, adobe houses are solid structures that can last for centuries. However, you must take precautions to ensure these structures last to the best of their abilities.

Regular cleaning is the first step to ensure your adobe house is looked after. When standard cleaning isn’t done, it can give rise to a host of other problems.

Next, you need to tackle problems like cracks in the wall as soon as you spot them. You must also tackle roof, door, and windows issues to ensure water doesn’t seep into your house.

You can keep your structure in excellent condition with the abovementioned practices.

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