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Things to Consider When Buying a Historic Adobe Home

Founded around 414 years ago, Santa Fe is America's second oldest city. It comes as no surprise then, that a great deal of the buildings, from historic downtown shops and cafes to many of Santa Fe's residential homes, are incredibly old. The culture and history that survive in thick, ancient, adobe walls and powerful, supporting Vigas is breathtaking. Owning a Santa Fe home older than you is a great gift, however, it is important to know a few things before owning an old adobe especially about how to care for it and preserve its charm.

How an Adobe Home is Made

Adobe is made from a mixture of clay, sand, silt and other fibrous, organic materials to keep the adobe from cracking while being cured. Water is added to this soil mixture and shaped into bricks. It is at this point they are left to 'air' cure, a process that must take place in arid climates. Usually this takes about two weeks, after which, the bricks are ready to lay, always onto a waterproof foundation of stone or concrete. After the bricks have been laid, they are usually coated with a layer of adobe.

Thick adobe walls are incredible at mediating the high and low temperatures of the day throughout the year, and after the sun sets, adobe homes will continue radiating heat for hours into the night. Typical adobe flat roofs are also made out of the same mixture that is pressed atop a wood framework. This framework usually consists of large support beams called Vigas that lie atop the walls and then across the Vigas lie smaller wooden beams called latillas. Brush is added on top of the latillas and finally adobe is laid. Flat roofs work great in dry climates with little or no snow. In more recent times, adobe flat roofs have been made a little differently, incorporating a slight slant for drainage and a waterproof membrane.

Considering Your Adobe Flat Roof

Because Santa Fe has an elevation of 7,500 ft, there is much more UV exposure from the sun than there is at sea level. Also, living in the high desert comes with extreme seasonal temperature alternations. Santa Fe also gets a mild amount of snow in the water and rain during monsoon season. When looking at buying an older adobe home in Santa Fe, a very important procedure will be to have the roof inspected by a local, certified roof inspector who is very familiar with flat roofs. It is also important to have the conversation about what you can expect if/when the roof needs replacing. There are wonderful products are out there that can guarantee you a much as a 50-year life expectancy on your new roof.

Knowing Your Walls

Adobe walls breathe and weather changes causes expanding/contracting, which heavily speeds up deterioration. Because the surface of the adobe is fragile, mud plaster, lime plaster, whitewash, and stucco have been used as surface coatings. When deterioration occurs it is first and foremost crucial to determine the reason for deterioration and correct it, before making any repairs. It is important to talk to an adobe preservation specialist, architect or some other professional adapt in adobe preservation and stabilization. Deterioration may be cause from structural issues which may involve foundation, poor design or inexact construction. Other causes include, water or wind related issues, insect/pest infestations, or previous poor restorations that utilized incompatible materials.

Your adobe walls may need re-stuccoing or patching/replacing of adobe brick or mortar. It will be important to match color, texture, and material composition as closely as possible to that of the original. Since there is wood structural support within your adobe home, there is also the possibility of it needing replacement due to rotting or termite infestation. Again, this is something you will want a specialist for, as historic adobe homes are fragile ecosystems that need careful consideration when restoring.


It is important to monitoring small cracks, sagging, bulging, and water or pest damage in your home. Having routine roof inspections is an excellent idea as well as having the mechanical systems checked, such as making sure none of your pipes are leaking or deteriorating. The key is in the preventative measures you take and catching problems early on. Imagining your home is like an ancient living creature and you are providing it with regular checkups at the doctor is a wonderful comparison.

Historic Preservation

One last thing to address, which my or may not apply when looking to boy a historic Santa Fe adobe, are the building restrictions. For example, in efforts to preserve the archetypical characteristics in the downtown district of Santa Fe, the Historic Preservation Society formed. When looking at a home in that district of town, one should learn about what is and isn't allowed in terms on any remodeling projects they might wish down the line. It might go as far as to dictate the design of windows you intend to install. You might also encounter an HOA or even a rejection from city development and planning that comes down to aim of preserving Santa Fe's historical adobe homes.


Historic adobe buildings are part of the history, culture and charm of Santa Fe and the Southwest and they make beautiful, unique homes. Old adobe is unique in the sense of being built with purely natural and organic materials and the high desert subjects it to extreme highs and lows in seasonal temperatures. Adobe walls expand and contract with weather conditions and snow can sit on a flat roof for weeks at a time. You may end up owning a home that is over a hundred years old and it is important to treat it with the care and close observation of a relic so ancient.

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