How to Add Modern Amenities to an Adobe House – Mod Cons

An electrician wearing white gloves installing an electrical consumer unit. There are circuit breakers with orange switches and bundles of wires behind. Along the bottom of the image are the words "How to Add Modern Amenities to an Adobe House - Mod Cons." In the top right is a cartoon of a small man holding a huge pen and ticking off items on a list on a huge clipboard.

Like traditional houses, eco-friendly homes made from sustainable materials like adobe need mod cons for easier and more comfortable living.

However, incorporating these amenities into an adobe house can be challenging due to structural considerations, thick walls, and high thermal mass. That’s where learning how to add modern amenities to an adobe house comes in handy.

Before adding modern amenities to an adobe house, you must be sure they won’t compromise its structural integrity and thermal mass. Moreover, you must do so in a manner that doesn’t introduce excessive moisture — otherwise, you risk turning your adobe bricks into mud.

So, what is the best way to add mod cons into an adobe house for comfortable living?

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss how to add modern amenities to an adobe house. From electricity and plumbing to modern heating and cooling systems, I’ll take you through every step of the way.

Let’s get started!

How to Add Electricity to an Adobe House

A man's hand is holding an electrical cord with a plug on the end in front of an adobe wall.
Installing electricity in an adobe house can be done, but you need to know how to do it correctly to avoid affecting the structural integrity of the adobe walls.

Adding electricity to an adobe house requires careful consideration to maintain the wall’s structural integrity.

Adobe houses are made with sun-dried mud bricks. Therefore, they’re not as hard as fired bricks, concrete, or steel. Consequently, drilling electrical lines requires special tools and techniques to keep the wall intact.

Follow the steps below to add electricity to your adobe house without compromising its structural integrity:

Expert Advice: Consult your national and local electrical code before adding electricity to your adobe house. This is necessary to comply with the law and keep your family safe.

Step 1: Get the Necessary Materials and Tools

You’ll need the following to add electricity to your adobe home:

  • Conduits
  • Screwdriver
  • Cable clamps
  • Masonry bit
  • Plywood pieces
  • Wire connectors
  • Wire strippers
  • Electrical boxes
  • Pliers
  • Hammer

Step 2: Create an Electrical Design and Plan

Like any other construction project, you want to have an electrical design and plan beforehand.

The electrical connection design for an adobe house should detail the following:

  • Entry criteria: Will electricity come in from the roof, an exterior wall, or the foundation?
  • Electrical load requirement: Consider the number of rooms, appliances, lighting fixtures, and other electrical appliances you’ll be using. This will help you determine the number of outlets in the house.
  • Grounding: This is a crucial safety measure to protect your household from electrical shock. It should be done by a licensed electrician.
  • Reception and distribution: Determine your wiring throughout the installation and the location of the main switch and energy meters. It’s advisable to install energy meters at a height where it’s easy to note the meter reading. However, they should not be installed below one meter (39.37 inches) from the ground to protect them from water.
Electrical design plans are laid out on a desk. Some are rolled up, and others are laid flat. They show wiring layouts and components.
It’s essential to design electrical wiring layouts carefully so you know the system can handle the expected load safely.

Important Considerations

For an adobe house, it’s recommended to have the electrical lines come into the building through or underneath the foundation. This will avoid weakening the adobe walls.

Furthermore, it’s essential to use a conduit to prevent moisture seepage and electrical shocks.

Regarding the location of the outlets, a good rule of thumb is to ensure that each point along the wall is within 6 feet (1.83 meters) of an outlet. You can achieve this by installing electrical outlets at most 12 feet (3.66 meters) apart.

Since appropriate lighting is vital in the kitchen, you need more outlets and fixtures. Ideally, you should have an outlet every 4 feet (1.22 meters) along the counter work area. This makes it easier to plug in several kitchen appliances at the same time.

Step 3: Drill the Holes in the Wall

It’s time to make holes in the wall for the electrical wires based on your plan.

When drilling adobe walls, use a masonry bit one size larger than the conduit. This is important to prevent any damage from occurring when inserting the wires or conduits.

Furthermore, you should avoid vibrations as these will weaken the wall.

Step 4: Decide on Appropriate Wires and Boxes

Copper wires are the best choice for adobe homes because they’re more corrosion-resistant and carry higher voltage.

The best wire sizes for adobe houses are often 12-gauge and 14-gauge, but you must consult a qualified electrician to ensure the correct size is selected.

As for the electrical boxes, choose those that fit the size of your conduits. They should also hold at least two outlets.

Step 5: Install Wires and Electrical Outlets

An electrician wearing protective gloves installing electrical wires in a conduit.
Take care not to damage the walls when installing electrical wires in conduits.

The first step is to install the electrical boxes. Start by screwing pieces of plywood in the hole to hold the electrical boxes. Attach the electrical boxes to a piece of plywood and secure them with cable clamps.

Next, connect the wires through the conduit to the electrical boxes. A thin-wall rigid conduit is preferred for adobe walls as it has the right shape and is not too thick to damage the walls.

Use a wire stripper to strip off a few inches of insulation at the ends of the wires and connect them with butt connectors.

Finally, insert electrical outlets into the electrical boxes and secure them with screws. Make sure to ground everything properly to avoid accidents.

It’s recommended to mount receptacle boxes for adobe houses approximately 12 inches (0.30 meters) from the floor. Switch boxes should be about 54 inches (1.37 meters) above the floor.

Step 6: Install Electrical Wiring and Fixtures

When it comes to wiring, start with the main switch.

For a smooth process, run your electrical wires from the service panel for each circuit overhead, ensuring to drop between each switch and receptacle.

Mount the switches and lighting fixtures once the wires have covered all the boxes and receptacles. Screw everything in place.

If your adobe house has a flat roof, you can run the cables on top of the roof sheathing for overhead lighting. However, the wires should run below the insulation to protect them from rainwater.

Step 7: Test the Electrical Connection

After connecting everything, it’s time to test your system. This is where your ammeter comes in handy.

Start by turning on the main switch and then checking each circuit with the ammeter.

The ammeter should record a continuous circuit if everything is connected properly. Otherwise, it means there is a problem with the wiring. Inspect further to identify the issue and fix it before proceeding.

Once satisfied with the results, switch off the main power and cover any exposed conduit with grout for safety.

A photograph of an electrician holding a multi-meter in front of a consumer unit ready to test the electrical connections.
Testing the electrical connections is vital to ensure the system functions correctly and is safe.

Step 8: Final Touches

Finally, you can add modern amenities like USB charging ports, extensions, and smart outlets to make your adobe house more functional.

You can also install a dimmer switch to create the perfect ambiance in your home.

How to Install Plumbing to an Adobe House

Plumbing is another complicated task when it comes to adobe houses. The complication stems from the fact that water is the worst enemy of adobe.

Any slight water leakage in your adobe house walls can cause severe damage.

That said, how can you install plumbing into your adobe home without compromising its structural integrity? Read on to find out.

First, you want to avoid water pipes and plumbing drain lines running through your adobe walls as much as possible. The pipes should run underneath the building into the house.

A good rule of thumb is to have the pipes running below the frost line in your area to prevent freezing and bursting.

With that background knowledge, let’s look at how to install plumbing into an adobe house.

Step 1: Determine Drain Flow Into and Out of the House

You first want to locate your city water and sewer lines to know your plumbing system’s flow direction.

The best way to locate these systems is by calling your city government’s public works department and asking for the water and sewer system maps.

Once you know the flow direction, start planning your plumbing layout based on that information.

Step 2: Dig a Trench and Install the Drain Pipe

A photograph of a dark gray four-inch pipe installed in a sloped trench. The exposed soil in the sides of the trench is very sandy.
When installing the four-inch pipe in a trench for your drain, ensure the slope of the trench is at least 2% to ensure decent flow.

Dig a sloped trench towards the sewer pipe or septic tank from your adobe home’s foundation.

The trench should have a minimum slope of 2% to encourage good flow. This means lowering your drain pipe’s height by ¼ inch (6.35 mm) for every foot (0.30 meters) of length.

It’s recommended to bury your drain pipes between 18 and 30 inches (0.46 and 0.76 meters). However, if you’re in colder climates, dig 5 to 8 feet (1.52 to 2.44 meters) to get the pipes below the frost line.

Install a four-inch (101.6-mm) PVC drain pipe in the trench and ensure it’s at the same level as the sewer line or septic tank.

Connect the main drain pipe at each end with couplings for easy interlinking with distribution pipes from the house to the sewer line.

Once everything is installed, fill the trench with soil.

Step 3: Install the Water Supply System

From the city’s main water line (or your preferred water source), connect your house water main (¾ inches (19.05 mm) or larger) PVC pipe through the foundation.

Run the main pipe through the flooring and have it come to where water is needed, like bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room, for connection with distribution pipes.

Step 4: Install the Distribution Pipes

Usually, you’ve seen that distribution pipes run through the walls in traditional houses made of concrete. However, this can be catastrophic for adobe houses.

The safest way to install water distribution pipes in an adobe house is to start by building a conventional stick-frame wall between two rooms that require water. In this case, the dividing wall between these rooms is made out of stick framing.

Finally, run the PEX water distribution pipes through that stud frame wall and then out to the adjacent rooms.

Once the distribution pipes are in place, connect them to the house water main supply pipe.

How to Incorporate Modern Heating and Cooling Systems in an Adobe House

A white mini split heat pump head unit mounted high up on a white wall. A white stuccoed ceiling above the head unit has a vent in it.
Mini split heat pumps are a great way to bring both heating and cooling to a modern adobe home.

Due to the unique characteristics of adobe as an eco-friendly material, it can be challenging to incorporate modern heating and cooling systems.

However, if you live in areas with extreme temperatures, you can’t avoid installing these systems in the house. On that note, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Determine your heating and cooling needs: Determine your heating and cooling needs based on your climatic conditions and the size of your adobe house. This will help you choose an appropriate system.
  2. Choose a suitable system: Different types of HVAC systems are on the market. However, the ductless split HVAC system is ideal for adobe as it doesn’t require a lot of drilling through the wall to install large ductwork.
  3. Plan the installation: Work with an experienced HVAC professional to determine the ideal location without compromising the integrity of the adobe walls.
  4. Install the system: Working with an HVAC expert, install the system based on the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure the vents, registers, and air handlers are in the right place.
  5. Test the system: Once the installation is complete, test the system to ensure it’s working properly.

How to Incorporate Modern Appliances Into an Adobe Kitchen

As already mentioned, adobe houses are highly susceptible to moisture damage. Therefore, you must be extra careful when installing modern kitchen appliances. Here are some tips to help you get this right:

  • Dishwasher: Install the dishwasher at least a meter (39.37 inches) from the adobe wall to allow for ventilation and moisture control.
  • Refrigerator: Place a sealable waterproof barrier between the fridge and the adobe wall to prevent moisture infiltration.
  • Stovetop: Ensure all electrical connections are up-to-code and the stovetop is placed at least one meter (39.37 inches) from the walls.
  • Color Palette: Since adobe houses feature warm, earthy tones, use a color palette of deep browns, neutrals, and terracotta to align with the style.
  • Cabinet integration: Opt for custom cabinetry that incorporates the appliances seamlessly to maintain adobe aesthetics.
  • Countertops: Choose kitchen countertops that complement modern appliances and adobe style. For instance, go for countertops made from natural stone, such as granite or quartz.

How to Maintain the Traditional Look and Feel of an Adobe House While Adding Modern Amenities

A brightly-colored room in a traditional Moroccan adobe house. The walls have strong geometric patterns, the doorway and windows are arched and patterned rugs adorn the floor. The seats are covered in brightly-patterned fabrics of red, orange and green. The ceiling has beautiful exposed wooden beams.
Traditional adobe houses are often decorated with geometric patterns and bright colors, especially reds and oranges.

Adobe houses are unique, with a historic charm that can be distorted through upgrades.

While adding modern amenities to an adobe house is crucial, here are some tips to maintain its traditional look and feel:

  • Maintain the architectural design: Ensure the architectural design is maintained while adding the amenities. For instance, if you want to install modern windows, go for those with curved edges. Such windows compliment the rounded adobe corners as an element of the Santa Fe Style.
  • Install natural-looking amenities: When buying materials for your modern amenities, go for natural options like stone-based countertops, wooden floors, and terracotta tiles to maintain the earthy look.
  • Keep the walls intact: When adding amenities like plumbing pipes and electrical systems, run them inside the stucco (adobe plaster) walls. Doing so protects the original adobe walls.
  • Utilize natural light: Use natural lighting to maintain the vintage charm of an adobe house. You can achieve this by installing larger windows to let in more natural light.

Final Thoughts On How to Add Modern Amenities to an Adobe House

Adding modern amenities to an adobe house requires planning to maintain the home’s structural integrity and traditional feel.

When you embark on this journey, pay close attention to your adobe walls and protect them from moisture. This is the only way to ensure the house meets building code standards and is safe for human occupation.

Ensure you consult qualified professionals to get the correct design, installation, and certifications for this work. This will ensure the systems perform as expected and you avoid any nasty surprises.

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