The reality of renovating in Mexico…

July 6, 2016

We’ve done five big renovation projects at our house over the years and I have learned a lot along the way. At the top of the page is our finished sala fresca, with its seven new roof beams and new paint. Looks a bit better than it did in my previous post on the project, wouldn’t you say?

Are you curious about what it’s like to renovate an older home in Mazatlán? Here are some of my observations, and a few photos of our new columns and roof. The four new columns are only visible from the outside, and they match other concrete columns in our home. The roofing material that we removed from this room was old (very, very old) tejas (roof tiles) and in order to save time and money we replaced them with preformed metal roofing. (We were thrilled that there were no strong rains until after the roof was on, too!) The roof is really only visible from the upstairs rooms in our house and looks fine to us.

New columns in brown against the house.
New columns in brown against the house.

Most teams of albañiles (concrete workers) work from 7:30 or 8 am to 5 pm. They’ll take a half hour or hour lunch, which usually includes a nap. We’re lucky that we have una cochera (garage) so each morning when they ring the doorbell we give them the clicker so they can load things in and out and come and go without having to disturb us. At the end of the day they leave the clicker inside, ducking under the door as it closes. If you don’t have a garage or a separate entrance, they will need to mix their sand and gravel in the street and cart it in by the bucket or wheelbarrow.

Another view of the new columns against the house.
Another view of the new columns against the house.

Albañiles drink a lot of coke. They also make a lot of dust. The dust is just part and parcel of cement work, but making an attempt to tarp areas off, put down tarps or sheets of cardboard, covering windows, etc. will help. When they are spreading the concrete – depending on the application – it might splatter so have them protect the adjacent walls & windows or be prepared to scrub it off with muriatic acid.

I believe Méxican machismo (male chauvinism) is alive and well in the albañiles I have known. They don’t like to be criticized by a woman, ever. (Ha ha, does anyone?)They don’t want to sweep (women’s work) or put down tarps (why me?) or put away ladders at night. I could go on and on, but that is enough on that subject. We have had one fabulous crew work at our house, bossed by an albañil I would have back in a heartbeat – but sadly I think Eusabio was one of a kind.

The new metal roof as seen from upstairs
The new metal roof as seen from upstairs

Albañiles work hard, and in our climate it is mind boggling how long they can work doing the most strenuous work in the hot summer sun. Concrete is mixed in the street by hand, loaded into buckets and hand carried up ladders to the roof or wherever it’s needed. Over and over and over! The maestros (foremen) can do cement and tile work that would blow your mind – take a look at how they incorporated the new columns into our back patio! They even had to match the tile and it all looks seamless.

All work here seems to take a long time and makes more dust than you can imagine. Even painting is dusty work as salitre (wall cancer) needs to be repaired before putting on fresh paint. You’ll also paint more often than you do up North – my son in the US is about to repaint his house after something like 15 years and we feel lucky to stretch our exterior paint to three years. And yes, there are fabulous painters here who prepare the walls, paint carefully, and don’t drip all over. They even move and replace your furniture!

When we have workers here I get nostalgic for my mornings spent walking along the malecón, with leisurely breakfasts listening to music. I know the dogs missed taking their time with their business in the back yard. When workers are here most days I skip the walk so that I can get the dogs fed and their business done before the workers come. Then we need to put up baby gate barriers to keep the dogs out of the way, and walk them in the neighborhood for the rest of the day. Either Paul or I need to be home at all time in case of questions or whatever. So no lunches out for us! Thankfully Picantón delivers.

Be sure to think ahead and shut off fans and shut windows when you figure out what they will be working on for the day. I forgot our kitchen window open once when they started up a jackhammer right outside and the dust cloud that entered looked like Mt. St. Helens! Forgotten ceiling fans will spread the dust faster than you can imagine.

Bird's eye view
Bird’s eye view

If there’s an electrical component to the work, I’d recommend on those days not even turning on your computers as they will shut off the power without telling you. Spare yourself the frustration. That is if they actually MUST turn off the electric. We think most electricians here consider it a bit sissy to turn off the power – we’ve seen them test a wire with a wet finger, jump with a jolt, and then laugh!

Most large projects are paid for with a portion at the beginning and a couple of payments along the way. Be prepared to carry around a lot of cash as that’s the way everything is done here. Don’t forget that the 15th and the end of the month are paydays so the banks have huge lines – you don’t want to get stuck in one of those. We also write out in Spanish “Withdrawal of xxx pesos, please” so that we don’t have to say a large amount out loud – the bank tellers are behind glass and you end up having to shout so the whole room knows you’re going to be walking out with 30,000 pesos! ($1,633 USD) We bumped up against a couple transfer limits from our US bank to Mexican bank and had to resort to US bank cash machine withdrawals a few times, so thinking ahead is important. We found out a few days ago but haven’t checked into it yet that Intercam has returned to its old process where you can take a US bank check in to their office in the morning and have it put in your Mexican bank account that afternoon. We’re happy to hear they’ve reinstated the process!

If you’re happy with the crew a nice thing to do is to buy Cokes on Saturdays or to hire a taquiza (catered tacos) when the job is finished or anything in between. Oh, by the way, the crew works six days a week – with Saturdays usually until 1 pm.

If all this sounds a bit intimidating and well, dusty and dirty, rest assured that when it all seems to be getting on your very last nerve you will turn around and they will be almost finished. This project took six weeks from the first wall bashing to the final painting. Some days there were three or four people working and some days many more. I have to admit that my neat freak tendencies make this kind of work difficult for me but it really is like childbirth – a week later I don’t really remember the pain. And I have a nice new roof and my wall won’t fall over, too!

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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Your place looks AMAZING!!!! Sure would like to know who you worked with for the constuction! Lemme know!!



    1. Done just in time for the big rain.
      Felicidades. Looks great and worth it.
      Wonderful account of the process.

    1. It all looks terrific, Nancy! Thanks for posting for us nosey people!

    1. It’s absolutely lovely. I have never had a problem with workers in Mazatlan. Your 6 week project would have been 3-4 months minimum in the US! And the work is top-notch. The painters who did both of my houses there not only laid down tarps, cardboard, etc, but washed all of my windows when they were done, “just in case” some paint splattered on them…though we never saw one drop!
      You would not believe how happy I was to see Mexican workers show up to install my pool here in AZ!
      Congratulations on the completion of your project. Beautiful.

    1. I had a full service construction company in the USA. We would not do renovations in residences if the people were on premise for many reasons. Breathing the dust is
      extremely harmful and it is impossible to keep the dust down and the place clean enough for people to be living there. You are a great trooper to have lived
      through 6 weeks! Hopefully you wore masks when there was dust in the air!

      Place looks great!

    1. A great read, wonderful that it’s over. What great result.

    1. It looks lovely Nancy. Now the four of you can get back into routine and once again enjoy your wonderful home.

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