Last Updated on April 23, 2021 by Kim Labriola
What is adobe?
Adobe has been used throughout the world and is one of the earliest building materials. Adobe works best in dry climates, one of the reasons we see adobe homes in Tucson and throughout the desert southwest.
Older adobe is a mixture of clay, sand, water, and organic material such as straw, that’s formed into bricks then dried. In older adobe buildings the adobes were often made onsite. Adobe blocks are held together with a clay mixture that is used as mortar. The completed adobe wall is often coated with a lime plaster mixture to protect it from erosion.
Adobe homes in Tucson for sale
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Differences in modern adobe vs historic adobe
Modern adobe is stabilized with cement or an asphalt emulsion. Modern adobes are more weather resistant than traditional adobe.
Why use adobe?
- Natural, green, non-toxic material.
- The thermal mass properties of adobe are fantastic for climates with hot days and cool nights and a large temperature differential. The adobe mass moderates the temperature swings outside for a comfortable indoor temperature.
- Warm, rustic, southwestern appearance.
- Historic material.
- Acoustic properties of adobe create a quiet home.
A few neighborhoods to find adobe homes in Tucson:
What’s the difference between mud adobe and burnt adobe?
Mud adobe is not kiln fired. Burnt adobe is made in Mexico of clay. The burnt adobe is formed into blocks, allowed to dry, then fired in a kiln. Burnt adobe was a commonly used building material during the mid-20th century in Tucson.
Adobe homes require more maintenance
Potential adobe homeowners need to realize that this unique material will require more maintenance and upkeep than other types of building materials. Contractors hired to do work on an adobe home, must be knowledgeable about the material. Hiring a contractor who is unaware of the differences in the material could cause more harm and damage in the future.
Adobe in Tucson
Adobe was the most common building material used prior to the railroad line reaching Tucson in 1880. Before the railroad, wood and brick were very expensive to haul into town. Our area may not have large native trees but we do have clay and sand readily available.
Once the railroad came, building materials commonly found in other areas of the country became much more accessible and popular. Although, waning in popularity by this time, adobe was used to build the multistory Marist College in 1915 in downtown Tucson. After decades of neglect, the Marist College was restored in 2017.
Renowned architect Judith Chafee remembers growing up in Tucson in an adobe home. As a child, her mother would send her out to the backyard to make adobe bricks while they were adding on to their home.