Learning Uruguay

Every day brings ????

This old house

Posted by urufish on June 20, 2007


I’ve never seen this show on TV.  I’ve only heard the title.  The title seems appropriate for this post.  If this content is at odds with the TV show, I’m sorry.

 I wasn’t going to write any more.  My toothache beckons Tylenol extra strenghs, but I just finished reading Mike’s recent post, http://www.amavericko.com/2007/06/house-problems.html and I cant leave the laptop until I comment on it.  I would have commented on his site, but it is so funny… really, really funny, I felt a serious comment would be like disrespectful. 

This is going to be short.. just touching on a few things that Mike mentions, to make sure no one out interprets his ‘rant’ as an argument against buying a property here and to add credibility to what you will think is just his bad luck.. it aint. 

First off, all of the problems he described are because the person who renovated that house, didn’t do it to fix it up.  They did it to make it look cute.  From Mike’s many problems, you can tell the renovation either didn’t address existing problems or it was so poorly thought out, the modern renovation caused dozens of problems by itself.  If Mike (or anyone else) were to buy an old house, his architect would have gone over the place with a fine toothed comb and picked out those problems, and others Mike hasn’t seen yet, lurking behind a wall or under a floor. 

No one buys a house here without having ‘their’ architect check it out first.   Up north, we use home service experts who do this.  In Uruguay, we use architects.  Would you buy an older house without a home inspection?  Of course not.  Would you rent a house without one, of course you would.  As Mike said, better to pay your way out of a lease than get stuck owning a disaster. 

The part about the drain pipe isn’t an isolated instance.  On top of my very expensive condominium building, they drain the entire roof with 3 pipes.  None of them are particularly large.  Each section is separated from the other.  Do you know what happens when debris blows into one of those drains.   One or more light fixtures in the penthouse become showers.  Who’s the moron architect who puts a single point of failure on an upscale apartment building roof?  Well, it’s not in the building code. 

Hey Mike..  you’re not alone buddy with the showers that slope away from the drain.  I have asked this question over and over again…  And to add insult to injury, I have paid my hard earned money for 3 bathroom renovations and none of them slope properly.  In my most recent master renovation, I figured I had it made by putting in a bathtub instead of a shower… guess what they did… they sloped the tiles around the bathtub away from the bathtub… now I have a 2nd story squeegee job.    Gotta hand it to the albanils here, they are consistant.. all of them. 

Most Uruguayans use electric heating in houses.. Gasoil (diesel) in apartment buildings in Montevideo.  Electric in Punta del Este… they dont have natural gas out there in the boonies.  We installed a modern gas boiler to heat the house and provide hot water to the taps.  I was worried about gas too.  Never worried about it back home but here, yes.  Because ours is a central unit, tucked away in a room in the basement, we vented the room to the outside just in case something happens to the pilot light.  

Mike’s complaining about his master circuit breaker popping.  It’s a new service and I’ll bet it’s picking up a leak to ground.  I had that in my apartment.  Changed out the master breaker for one with a much great tolerance.  The downside is if you stick your hand in a socket, you’ll get a nasty buzz before it trips out.  Better that than coming home to a warm refrigerator.  Maybe the owner will fix it for the new renter.  Too late for Mike.  He’s going north for the winter.  Wow..  Never heard that one before.  We’re upside down now. 

The following images are courtesy of Santiago Tezanos, a local architect who wanted to share this information with us.. 

option-1_1-large.jpg  option-2_1-large.jpg  option-3_1-large.jpg

Dear Irv,

Attached please find three self explanatory situations of membrane and surfaces.

option 1: an open air terrace, with a drain, over another terrace. Membrane going “up the wall” on the left, and a “french door” window opening on the right.
option 2: is a rooftop edge (azotea).
option 3: is a typical wall/window situation. Exterior is to the right, interior to the left.
These are not “generic” details but specific details from a project by my office, so some issues might be very particular to the project, therefore solved in specific ways (such as a drain in that position). However, any of this details should be easy to build by any local albañil.


25 Responses to “This old house”

  1. Brazzie said

    Another common problem to add to your list is beach houses with no water trap (I’ve see this in city homes as well). House renovation in more remote areas are usually done by a guy that says he knows how to do it, but whose qualifications are dubious.

    I’ve seen many, many houses in which the waste watter is connected to the sewer pipe with no water trap. This means that the whole house stinks of sewer. And running water does not solve the problem. The only solution is have stoppers in ALL sinks and then remove them when you want to use the sink.

  2. urufish said

    In the new house, they didn’t use traps. They use something hydraulic. Some kind of ball that closes up the pipe so smell doesn’t come in. After a week in the new kitchen, the place stunk. Called the plumber in and he said one of the trades took the ball so there was nothing to stop the smell. He put in a new ball and the smell mostly went away. We still get it now and then, which tells me that the trap is idiot proof and the ball thing isn’t.

    You’re right about beach and other remote areas. For the first 10 years we were here, we had local ‘guy’s do eveything. Except for the first U$S10K we wasted, we were lucky. Most things worked out OK and those that didn’t either weren’t important or they fixed them. Our last fiasco was a very wide cortina on the main window on the mountain house. It keeps coming off its tracks. The company that put it in supposedly is out of business – due to unhappy customers.. When the weather warms up, I’ll take a day, and take it apart myself to see what they screwed up. Then hire a better company to install it properly, the 2nd time.

  3. You are so right Brazzie,

    My house on the island of Itaparica started to smell after an ex mother in law had a local pour concrete in the kennel area. I wish I had been there to supervise. Unfortunately he covered the pipe that is the escape for the septic system, so the stink came in to the house via the shower trap in the bathrooms. The gas had to find a way out. Result: Concrete must be broken and new escape pipe installed in kennel area. The same woman hired an idiot “locksmith” who did a hack/machete job on the doors to install the cheapest/crappiest door locks inside the house because my ex/wifes brother liked to take his girlfriend to the beach house for “romantic encounters.” They wanted to lock to door to the guest bedroom since I have hired help who might disturb them. Oh yeah, I paid the bill for the crappy install. A couple thousand dollars down the toilet. It appears my ex wife’s mother who arranged the whole thing was skimming 50% of all expenditures for herself as a commission.

  4. IBMike said

    The funny thing about this old house is that it’s owned by an architect and he’s the one who designed the renovation! The circuit breaker only tripped four times yesterday. I think Urufish is right, it needs to be replaced. If something you plug into a wall causes a short it shouldn’t trip but main breaker. It should only trip the sub-breaker that supplies that outlet. Oh well.

    I’m definitely not telling people to stop buying real estate in Uruguay. Just if you do buy, be careful, very careful. Urufish, I haven’t seen your house yet but from what I heard you did a top-notch job in renovating and that’s the way to do it. Either find a place that has already be renovated by somebody who cares, like Urufish, or buy something that is ugly but structurally sound and renovate it yourself.

    I’ve lived in cities and neighborhoods in North America where people complain about building codes and having to get a permit for every little renovation. Well, here you can see plenty of examples of why building codes, permits, and inspections actually do make life better in the long run. 🙂

    Over the past month I tagged along with several people who were house hunting here in Montevideo. We were looking at houses in the US$180,000 to US$300,000 range which, for here, is pretty darn expensive. Most houses, no exaggeration, had signs of water damage in the ceilings or walls. Whenever we’d ask about the water stains they would say something like, “Oh, that was the neighbor’s pipe that broke. They fixed it but we didn’t want to re-paint since we’re selling the house anyway.”

    There are many things about the real estate biz here that are “just different” than my experiences buying and selling properties in the US. First, before listing the place, I’d fix every little cosmetic detail and I’d have to fill out a disclosure form listing any known defects. In the US if a Realtor is going to show my house I take the dogs and leave. Before I leave I turn on all of the lights in the house and maybe leave some soft music playing. A couple of the properties I sold I never even saw the people who bought the places. Here, almost always, the owner is home. Sometimes with the kids and the dogs. The owner tags along during the tour of the house (not always, but it’s pretty common). For the most part they don’t “prepare” a house to be sold. There are some exceptions — people who bought a place, totally renovated it, and are flipping it. Those places really stand out because they’re just gorgeous compared to the average house on the market.

    Also, whenever you see a house here all of the lights are turned off. I asked a couple of Realtors about it and they said that people want to see how much natural light a home gets. Personally, I don’t like looking at dark rooms but that just be one of my quirks. 🙂

  5. urufish said

    For you technical folks out there, modern master circuit breakers are made to be sensitive to leaks. A leak is defined as current flowing to ground or to anywhere else but where it’s supposed to go. If you have a water leak in a wall or ceiling fixture, current will flow through the water because it’s a conductor. The circuit breaker detects this and will trip.
    In Uruguay, as Mike points out, wall and ceiling leaks leaks are common. IMHO, I think most are NOT from neighbour’s pipes. I think we all know why a seller would say that. But I have no idea why we see so many water stains. It could be because we get a ton of rain, hard driven, but so does many parts of Florida, and I never noticed water stains in my places there. A lot of them come from humidity. Because a lot of homes dont have central heating, houses are very humid in the winter. Almost no one insulates here. So you’ve got cold walls, and warmer, humid air in the room and voila, condensation. I’ve even seen this in apartments with losa.
    Anyway, getting back to the leak. There are two kinds of master circuit breakers. Sensitive and not so sensitive. I believe the sensitive kind trip at something like 100ma. A little humidity or condensation in a fixture, and you’ve got 4 trips a day. The other kind, the one we put in afterwards, trip on something like 1 or more amps. I never read the box. But it’s a big difference. We had rain come through our kitchen fixutre a couple of months ago, enough to fill a bucket, and the power didn’t trip off.

  6. Santiago said


    As a local architect, being asked by friends to go with them to see the houses they are buying, I am absolutely fed up of seeing all those “leaks” that Urufish and Mike mention. Never, ever think that they are a “neighbours pipe”.

    Roof and wall leaks, together with humidity due to internal condensation are the “top” problem in houses in Montevideo (I’d say 80% of houses and many many apartments have this problem).

    The problem with buying the “gorgeous” recently renovated houses Mike mentions is that many times these “renovations” are just simple paint that covers wonderful leaks, fungi, etc.

    Best wishes,

  7. urufish said

    Thanks Santiago. I agree with you 100%.
    If you re-read what I wrote above, slowly, you’ll see the ‘NOT’. Over the last 25 years, on several properties we’ve renovated, I’ve only seen one pipe leak, and it my own toilet, leaking into the roof of the garage below. (the tank – not the bowl!!!).
    However, we have seen on more than one occasion, water penetrating a wall, owned by a neighbour, but exposed, where the neighbour has done something he shouldn’t have.

    Since we’re on the topic, dont forget osmosis. Underground water coming up from below grade, demonstrated by peeling paint and effervescence at the bottom of a wall and in many cases, crystalization, growing out of the wall, like miniature, horizontal stalactites.
    (forgive my spelling… just too darned lazy to look these up… you know what I mean anyway 🙂

  8. Santiago said

    Hi Urufish.

    Osmosis causes exactly that, what we call “humedad de submuración” or more commonly “humedad en los cimientos” (foundations humidity) is extremely common and you can see it a lot in very specific areas of the city, especially in lower parts or basins of old or canalized old streams.

    Water is persistent and insistent. Water is the one and main factor attacking constructions in Uruguay, from below, from above or from the sides (a whole topic would be to talk about water leaking through the windows, either windows closing wrongly, or leaking through the joints of the window and the wall). An added issue is the fact that there is always wind, so rain (and the associated water being pressed into the building, will come even from bottom to top, defying gravity!).

    I enjoy your blog a lot, have read it for a while, but found an issue in which I could provide some opinion! 🙂

    Due to the photos of your house I found that we are close neighbours as well. I lived my childhood 2 blocks away from your house, in Ellauri, and I am now living 2 blocks further “up” (and 5 storeys up as well!).

    Best wishes,

  9. Santiago said

    Correction: read “moisture” where I wrote “humidity”.
    “Humidity” is Spanglish!

  10. urufish said

    Your opinion is highly valued. I have worked with 4 architects since we started buying property in Uruguay.
    I remember the first purchase, the house on top of San Antonio. I use this as my baseline to judge other foreigners buying property in Uruguay. I knew nothing. I liked it so I went to the inmobiliaria and made a verbal offer and they said OK.
    I trusted that everyting was OK because where I come from, you cant sell a house with a any kind of problem legally. Here, I know you can do whatever you want to do.

    Over the years, I learned how Uruguay works. Now, whenever I see a house or apartment I like, I say to the real estate person/dueno that my son must also approve of the house and he comes back with me. Of course, that is my architect.

    When I looked at this house (the one that was the restaurant), my architect told me that I should replace the entire electrical, pipes, sanitaria and heating system. He gave me an approximate cost within 24 hours to remodel the house to my standards (he knows my requirements). Then, I could make the decision to buy or not because I knew what the total cost would be. His 24 hour estimate was 95% correct.

    Over the past few years, he has taught me many things about the construction here and I have taught him many things about the construction in Canada (I was a builder for a couple of years). Now I know a lot about house and apartment construction in Uruguay and one of the those things is the diffrent kinds of water. This house is almost 90 years old and there was every kind of water problem possible here. The very good news is that every one of those problems was fixed, not painted over. These repairs were not difficult or complicated. One roof was in terrible condition and had to be totally removed and replaced. But the other 3 roofs were in good condition, so we put several coats of waterproof roofing paint on them which we will replace every 5 years. Windows were reseated and caulked with silicone. We put insulated cortinas on all the old windows, to moderate the temperature and to keep the rain away from the windows because as you say, the rain here comes down, sideways and up. Better if it never makes contact with the window at all. The water coming up from the ground was minor and we did not want to break the wall because it was common to the neighbour, so we treated it, put plastic on it, strapped it and put drywall over it. The only place we had water was the neighbours wall which is in their backyard and they keep breaking holes in it to put wires in it for a remodeling. When they’re finished, they will paint the wall in 2 coats of waterproof paint and we will fix our side.
    I know understand how walls are made, how 90 year old foundations are made, how the sanitary system works, how plumbing inspectors work, how electrical functions, how UTE puts in new services, how albanils do all the different things they do including sculpting mortar, parillas, estufas, locks, etc. It was a good learning experience doing a renovation of this size. When we finished, the renovation cost the same as the house.. but as a wise man once said to me, once the money is spent, it’s what is left that counts because it will be there long after you stopped crying about how much it cost.

  11. Santiago said

    You probably know more than 80% of architects and builders here! haha!

    There is an issue here (probably in other places as well). Once people have a house, when they want to do a renovation, they will prefer to hire a builder directly, trying to avoid the architect’s fee. Then most of the things you see around, if they have been renovated at some point in the past, they will have probably been renovated by a “builder” (i.e. from someone who just knows how to lay bricks, to some very highly skilled and very professional REAL builder).

    That comment favours the architects, of course, and its biased.

    BUT, now comes the comment against the architects (ouch!):

    As usually people tend to hire “a builder”, architects have become, in many cases, just a “luxury builder” with sub-contracts (so as to be able to compete in the same market). Then the architect, instead of charging his fees correctly, just “marks up” on the cost of everything, because he has the thought (unfortunately correct in most cases) that if he shows a separate “architect fee” to the client, the client will rush away.

    Who is to blame for this? Everyone in the trade, but very especially architects themselves, and the school of architecture as it has a whole way of thinking of what the architectural practice should be and passes it from generation to generation.

    As you know, the local market for architects is very small (or there are too many architects), so it is possible that an average architect will make his living mostly by renovating kitchens, bathrooms, and, if lucky, whole houses.

    That’s why architects tend to become “luxury builders” with all the attached problems mentioned above.

    In the *correct* architectural practice, the architect should create your renovation project, and conduct the construction process, done by appropriately selected builders and tradesmen, but being the architect and independent actor in that scene, and especially and actor that defends the interests of the client.

    Nobody thinks of sharing a lawyer with the counterpart during a trial. But everyone considers that the architect can have interests in both the client and the sub-contracts, builders, tradesmen, etc.
    It is a very complicated issue! And architects have not learnt (in general) to deal with this.
    Being even more general, there’s no “business oriented” thinking in Uruguay in general, so things end being like what you have seen all around town when looking at “old houses”…

    Does this have any relationship with the slopes in the shower being wrong? Yes! A proper renovation project would indicate the slope clearly (in the blueprints), and the builder would be under a contract to deliver exactly what is presented in the blueprints, and the architect would be patient and enough oriented to detail as to check EVEN THE SLOPE OF THE SHOWER (which, as you know, is a very important issue). Why should the architect care? Because he defends the interests of the project and the client, and if the slope has to be done again, it’s not a financial burden for him, because he charges his fees independently.
    In “real life”, as the architect is involved *financially* in the renovation, even if he/she detected the problem with the slope, it won’t be re-done (cost), and even the builder will not be made responsible for that. A simple example shows you the very core of the problem.

    Perhaps I’ve gone a bit off-topic, but it’s a vicious circle that leads to the results that you see.

  12. urufish said

    You’re not off topic at all… In fact, you should be writing this in the southron blog, where many more people will see it. It is important because it shows the foreigner the ‘core’ of the building industry here.. so they can understand why things happen..

    You make an excellent point in describing the Uruguayan architect as a builder. In Canadian terms, a more appropriate description would be a general contractor. The person who hires the trades and supervises the daily activity and uses none of his money in the process.

    Working outside Uruguay, in bigger economies, or as you say, ones with a lower ratio of architects to customers, you see a clear delineation, a perfect separation, between architects and GC’s/builders. In a previous life, I built several custom homes. At no time did the architect EVER do anything more than draw up the plans. His fees (20 years ago) were U$S225/m2. That includes 2 meetings with the client/builder, and 2 trips to the site, at foundation and framing. The architect we used specialized in large, custom homes. He did 12-15 a year at an average of U$S15K a home. I’m sure they’re doing much better now.

    When we did our first reno, we did it Canadian style. Paid for the plans and had a GC do the work. The finished product was OK but I attributed that more to luck than design. The subsequent projects were always done by the architect, plans to keys.

    Everyone who has asked me for my opinion on purchasing a property here, I always tell the same thing. Before you buy it, make sure you have a trusted architect check it first. His job is almost as important as the Escribano’s.

  13. Santiago said

    I am an avid reader of Southron’s forum, but still haven’t posted long texts, people are so knowledgeable in the forum (and all comments so interesting) that I am still afraid, ha ha!

    Incredibly, locals buying property mostly would not ask an architect to see the property. The “important thing” here is the Escribano. People know that they might become financially liable of other’s hiding things (that’s why the Escribano kicks in), but no one think that construction issues will become financial issues as well.

    As almost all of my office’s work is abroad, people here (even friends) “don’t understand” what is that I do. Their thought “you cannot do architect work on the other side of the world”, as they are actually thinking of what an architect does here. Their thought would be “you cannot do general contractor work on the other side of the world” (!). As you say, there is very little difference (or no difference at all) between an architect’s actual work, and a general contractor’s work in Uruguay. It’s a pity for architects. It might be because of the small market, but ALSO because of the attitude of us architects.

  14. gaberoo said


    I wish you would comment on the Southron forum so your useful comments would reach a great many people (though I’m guessing a considerable number also read this blog) interested in buying houses/apartments in Uruguay.

    “Roof and wall leaks, together with humidity due to internal condensation are the “top” problem in houses in Montevideo (I’d say 80% of houses and many many apartments have this problem).”

    What do you attribute the roof and wall leaks to? Poor design (by this I mean houses with additions done by do-it-yourselfers without the aid of an architect)? It is,like you say, endemic to Uruguay.

  15. Santiago said

    Hi Gaberoo,

    The other day I was telling Irv that there are so many knowledgeable members of the Southron forum, that many times I need that one further comment would be irrelevant, but I will round up these comments and post them.

    Concerning the leaks, I would (personal opinion only) attribute them to a combination of factors (as most things in life):
    1. poor execution (i.e. poor attention to detail, especially in any kind of joint)
    2. poor maintenance (i.e. not considering that EVERYTHING has a limited life-span, so membranes, etc., need replacement after several years).
    3. and above all, the way the construction process is organized (see comment above on the architect’s role) which leads to things not being considered as they should be. In MY opinion, this is the one and foremost issue that leads to leaks and other endemic problems in the construction field.

  16. urufish said

    I agree with Santiago… with a slightly different order…

    In my limited exposure here, (limited compared to someone like an architect), the vast majority of leaks are roof leaks, maintenance related. Either the lifetime of the membrane is long past OR the membrane is damaged and easily repaired but NO ONE is checking it on a regular basis. Both happened to me on my house in Piriapolis.

    When I bought it, the membrana was 15 years old. It was a sloped roof, with no tiles. The ceiling had many damp spots and fungus, from leaks. We stripped the roof to concrete and refinished it, topping it off with colonial style tyles. 5 years later, it leaked around the chimney. Why?

    When they they put the membrana around the chimney, they simply melted it on to the chimney bricks. This is what Santiago means by ‘poor execution’. We use ‘flashing’ up north. Here it’s a different technique, which the bozos who did my roof either didn’t know or were too lazy to do it the right way. Santiago, in case Gaberoo doesn’t know (or remember) how this is done, I would be honoured if you would explain to him how membrana is brought up around a non-metal, vertical protrusion, (eg. a chimney or claraboya protruding through a roof).

    Interestingly enough, when we do new construction, especially when it’s ambitious (like this house), my architects always caution me that although nothing should leak, to check the house after each heavy or windy rain. In this house, we had 4 leaks.

    (1) skylight… we recaulked it and it went away.

    (2) a heavy leak into ceiling of a bedroom. It took us 3 rains to find this one. There was a vent pipe on the roof (from the old construction) that was cut off in the new construction but was never capped off on the roof. Every time it rained, it went striaght into the drywall ceiling. Because it was next to a skylight, we kept recaulking the skylight. When we cut a hole in the drywall, we saw daylight. That was funny.

    (3) Water coming in under terrace door. This is #3 in Santiago’s list. The house was originally a one story. The 2nd was added later. This door was originally a window. We took out the window and put in a door. To our surprise, we found that the floor inside the house was lower than the outside terrace.
    When the water drips down the door, a little wind and gravity will take the water in and down. We didn’t want to remove the door and replace it with a new watertight frame with sill. Instead we used a Uruguayan trick. We put a gutter on the bottom of the door on the outside, close to the floor.
    The water drips down the door and is directed off to the side where it runs away from the door. The only time it leaks now is if there’s a very strong wind from the north. This happens occasionally, but 25 years living on San Antonio has taught us to live with wind driven water. We just mop it up. Remember, most floors here are ceramic. There’s no damage. Just a little inconvenience.
    In our mountain house, (posted this a while ago), with a really big rain, water would enter the house on the upper part of the slope and run through our bedroom out the lower part of the slope, like a miniature brook.

    (4) Somehow, in the construction process of the main terrace, where the membrana comes up the wall (properly done), there must be a small tear, because in the last 3 months, we see an area of the stairway wall on the other side of the terrace that’s starting to bubble. I have 2 options. We can tear up the terrace and refinish the membrana, OR, we can paint it with waterproof paint and wainscot over this area as part of resurfacing the stairway. The leak is so small, I may decide not to rip up the terrace.

  17. Santiago said

    Hi Irv,

    Is there a way of posting an image here? An image is worth a thousand words!


  18. urufish said

    No problem. The images are now posted at the end of the original post.
    The bottom line is that a common, waterproof method of bringing a membrana up something like a chimney, is to break into the wall, 4-6 cm around the chimney as far up as as you think the water may ever go (backed up drain) and then 4 cm higher than that. You draw the membrana up to the top of dug out area, melting it to the wall with a gas fired blowtorch. Then you replace the dug out area of the wall, filling in with mortar, then painting. When the water runs down the wall, even if it penetrates 1-2cm, it never gets behind the membrane. Up north, we flash, by placing galvanized metal (or sometimes plastic) on top of the course of bricks, which catches the run off and penetrating water, directing it to the surface of the wall or flashing, so the water doesn’t percolate into the structure.

  19. Santiago said

    Let me insist in adding significantly more than “as far as you think the water may ever go”. Water will always go further!

    Also, a “babeta” of Galvanized metal does the trick as well. (see the drawings above).

    BTW, I will hire Urufish as works director in our next construction project here!

  20. gaberoo said

    You both should start something in Uruguay. Do you know how many people need competent service down there? I’m sure you do, though what with all the “new” taxes raining down on people/businesses, you may end up “flooded” in bills.

  21. Debi fm Memphis said

    Please tell me that you two guys are going to get together very soon to start your own business! My husband and I are seriously hoping to retire in Uruguay. We will seriously need your advice and knowledge in assisting us in purchasing a home (that will not deplete the sum total of our retirement savings due to repairs that we didn’t realize would have to be done)! The information in this post was terribly important. I am confident that many, many potential homebuyers would greatly benefit from your expertise! By the way, if you need an administrative assistant for your newly formed business, I’ll be there in a flash!

  22. urufish said

    Hello Debi.. The post was almost a year and a half ago. In that time Santiago’s gone on to building more hotels overseas and I spend my days working on projects for my old company up north. But I still keep my hand in construction. 3 apartments and 2 houses are a full time, part time job. Always something happening.

    You wouldn’t want to be my admin assistant. Mine cried a half dozen times a year when I worked up north. I’m probably a little too O/C. But I’m harmless if you dont work for me 🙂

    When you make your way down here, say hello. By then, maybe by then we’ll be 100% leak-free.

  23. Debi said

    Thanks so much for the reply. I know it had been a long time since the blog I replied to. Surprised that I got an answer! So, I just have one more question and then I won’t bug you anymore…. Is it insane to have a home built in Uruguay? Really difficult to find a reliable contractor? Not cost effective? I’m just wondering why you didn’t take that route rather than renovating an old house. You sound like a fellow who really looks at all of the angles before taking on a project, so I’m thinking you must have considered that and determined that it made more sense to take the renovation route.

  24. urufish said

    The simple answer is that we were able to find what we wanted with renos. The more complex answer is unlike up north, we didn’t want another ‘wondrous’ life down here. The custom homes we built up north really were ‘dream’ homes. Indoor pools, steam rooms, 3+ car garages and toys everywhere. Here we wanted to live in the world, not above it. We wanted to get back to the values of our youth. As simply put as possible, family and friends over fantasy.

    There are lots of foreigners that bring that life here–mostly to the Punta del Este area. Apartments with infinity pools. Huge 20,000 square foot sprawling bungalows sitting on its own mountain. Manhattan style luxury penthouses. We could have gone that route too.

    If your tastes are down to earth and if you take the time, you can find a reno down here that will give you what you want without having to find a lot and go through that arduous process of detailing everything you want and hoping you dont forget something (I made 2 of those that still piss me off – even with a reno). It’s faster. It’s more econonmial. And if you’re a city person (like we became) and you dont believe in burning money, it’s the only way to get a truly, great location. Lastly, in a country where nasty surprises are the rule, not the exception, reno’s are the perfect antidote.

  25. Hi Emma,I don’t want to sound moralistic, but covering up a problem is never a good idea. So adding top soil over problem soil will not fix things. If you use plants that don’t agree with clay in your top soil, they will probably suffer from the excess water, because the clay will trap the water, and they will start to really suffer when their roots reach the clay and they can grow anymore.So you have to use plants that like clay. Have a look at our page on clay soil plants.Do your neighbors have similar problems? If your whole sector is built on clay soil, it may be hard to deal with the excess water. If the problem is more localized, then it could be easier to fix. You need to help the water flow away, as explained on our page on lawn drainage. Making the soil more permeable might help.If all else fails, then you could go for a rain garden. Bear in mind that you can grow plants in a rain garden.Good luck to you,Nicolas

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