You guys – we are nixing the exterior stucco finish and going with paper envelopes! What do you think?

Just kidding! The term “envelope” in the building industry generally refers to “thermal envelope,” which is a combination of materials that separates interior from exterior – or conditioned space from the elements. For example, the wall’s thermal envelope consists of stucco, plywood, insulation, and drywall.

thermal envelope diagram

We are well on our way to completing the thermal envelope on all areas of the house.


Two days, two guys, two thousand square feet. They were in-and-out so fast I didn’t even catch their names. I know they came from Miller’s Insulation out of Albuquerque, and they drove back every day (two hours each way); no wonder they worked fast, they wanted to get home!

Miller's Insulation truck.
Miller’s Insulation truck with blow-in machine and loose insulation. 

Insulation is a very straightforward building element. You simply need to know which type you are going to use, and the r-value required by local building code. In Taos, you are required R-19 in the walls and R-38 in the ceiling.

If you are unfamiliar with what an r-value is, ‘r’ signifies ‘resistance’, which refers to the materials ability to resist heat flow; the higher the r-value the greater the resistance. If it warm inside and cold outside, you want to use materials with a high r-value so that you do not lose the heat from the conditioned space. For example, single pane glass has an r-value of less than 1 (almost no resistance), whereas you can get foam insulation with an r-value greater than 45.

For budget and application reasons we used a mixture of batt insulation and blow-in insulation. Batt insulation requires zero prep work (cheaper), whereas blow-in requires a ton of prep work (more expensive). However, the advantages of blow-in are substantial and therefore justify the prep work and the price. With blow-in insulation, you are able to stuff more filling into the framed cavity, creating (in theory) a higher r-value, less airflow, and better sound attenuation. Once the prep work is done it’s very easy to do the blow-in portion of the insulation. It took the guys about a day and a half to prep all the walls, and a half-day to blow in the insulation.

Measuring, cutting, and staging insulation fabric.
A layer of cloth is stapled along every stud, bottom plate, and top plate, to retain the insulation.
A layer of fabric is stapled along every stud, bottom plate, and top plate, to retain the insulation.
Insulation hose snaking through house.
Insulation hose snaking through house.
Filling wall cavities.
Filling wall cavities.
After all cavities are filled.  This sounds like dentistry.
After all cavities are filled. This sounds like dentistry.
In the more difficult areas to reach, mostly ceilings, we used batt insulation.
In the more difficult areas to reach, mostly ceilings, we used batt insulation.
Batting done.
Batting done.

To recap, insulation is just one of many layers that make up the thermal envelope. It retains interior heat, and helps to mitigate sound




The next step in assembling the thermal envelope is prepping the walls for stucco. Vallecios Drywall, is a local company that also does/did our drywall (a.k.a. rock) on the inside of the house. They are one of two stucco companies in Taos, which means they are very busy and very fast.

The entire crew’s native tongue is Spanish, so I got to sweep out my bilingual cobwebs. It was highly entertaining to listen to them banter back and forth, and I am sure they found my sorry attempts at Spanish equally amusing. Stucco is not an easy job, but they brought levity to work by constantly talking “mierda” to one another, and for some reason they all called each other “Prinso,” which I will eventually get to the bottom of.

A crew of four to eight plasterers, worked quickly to wrap the entire building in paper, followed by chicken wire (lath), and then finished the corners and edges with “esquinas” (wire corners). It took about two days to wrap the building.

To begin they used Jumbo Tex, which is a two-ply, 30 pound felt paper saturated with asphalt, that acts as a moisture barrier, immediately followed by lath (a.k.a. chicken wire, a.k.a. alambre de pollo). They used two different types of lath, one for the walls, and the other, a tighter weave, around windows, door and on the underside of roofs. The tighter weave keeps the stucco from sagging, which is important around those areas. To attach both the paper and the wire they used pneumatic staple guns to shoot “grapas” (staples) at the designated lines painted on the wire, approximately every ten inches.

Beginning with building paper and lath.
Beginning with building paper and lath. (Excuse the sun.)
Turning a corner.
Turning a corner.
Bye bye plywood!
Bye bye plywood! Notice the red lines on the lath that demarcate staple locations.
Lots of scaffolding to reach the higher parts of the wall.
Lots of scaffolding to reach the higher parts of the wall.
Detail of different mesh around doorways.
Detail of different size mesh around doorways and plaster stop at door threshold.
Esquinas for sharp edges!
Esquinas for sharp edges! 

After the paper and lath was applied, we then began the first of a three-coat system: the scratch coat, followed by a brown coat, and finally the color coat.

stucco layers
Three coat stucco system.

The scratch coat is exactly what it sounds like; a layer of cementitious stucco, in which the crew runs a comb-like tool, creating a textured surface that the next layer adheres to.

Beginning scratch coat.
Beginning scratch coat.
Scratch coat - day 2.
Scratch coat – day 2.

I am not sure why the next layer is called the brown coat because it is in fact gray. This coat is much more refined; they used a sponge float to inlay a tight plastic mesh on the surface (reduces cracking) and smooth out the texture.

Adding plastic mesh to brown coat.


Darn that rust! Brown coat finished.
Brown coat – south facade.
Brown coat – southwest facade.
Brown coat – west facade.

Lastly, the color coat; so many choices, all of them bad. I cannot for the life of me understand why El Rey has not managed to make a more modern color palette, or at least more saturated/vibrant colors. They do have another line called Parex, but it is a latex stucco, which doesn’t hold up as well as regular stucco (peels and bubbles in heat), and doesn’t allow the house to breath.  It is akin to wrapping the house in saran wrap.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 8.23.10 AM
El Rey Stucco Chart – we are going to use La Luz and Buckskin.

The owner and I decided after we were done with the scratch coat, to consider multiple stucco colors.  We noticed that with a uniform color some of the volumes were lost. So, we tested a few color options.

Color option #1 – darker color at large volume, lighter color at studio.
Color option #2 – lighter color at large volume, darker color at studio.
studio stucco color_1
Color option #1 – darker color at large volume, lighter color at studio – alt. view.
studio stucco color_2
Color option #2 – lighter color at large volume, darker color at studio – alt. view.

Each coat in the three coat system took about two-days, which included setting up the scaffolding, prepping all the doors and windows (cover and tape), and applying the stucco. The color coat is officially done, but I am saving the finished pictures for the next post – the colors are still curing.  It was imperative that we applied the color coat before the first freeze, because stucco will not cure properly in cold temperatures. It is going to dip below 32 degrees any day now.

Drywall / Sheetrock / Gypsum Board

Yet another layer in the thermal envelope.

While the stucco crew was working outside, Abel (Vallecios Drywall) hired a couple guys from out-of-town (they were that busy) to help install drywall. This part of ‘rocking’ can be pretty crude, because it can be cleaned up during the mudding phase. So Jesus, Jesus Jr., and Alberto had to cut and screw in all the sheetrock, before Abel’s mudding crew came in to the finish work.


Jesus and Alberto make it look easy, but each one of those sheets weighs about 50 pounds.
Finish master bedroom.
Finished master bedroom.

Just like plywood, there is a certain pattern of screws required by code: 12” for walls, and 8” for ceilings.

Jaime and Hector, the finish crew, were amazing. They taped, mudded (three coats), and sanded the entire house. By. Them. Selves. Well, I helped for a minute, but mudding is hard, so that ended quickly. They also did it with flare; after dipping their broad knife into the mud with their right hand, they spun the trough that holds the mud, with their left hand 180 degrees, spread the mud on the wall, and then repeated the motion. It is a totally unnecessary move, but it keeps their tools clean and makes them look badass.

Jaime working his magic on the ceiling.
Hector in the studio.
Hector in the studio covering all seams, corners, and screws.
Metal corner bead around all windows, then taped, then mudded.
Metal corner bead around all windows, then taped, then mudded.
Metal 'L' bead at the bottom of all walls.
Metal ‘L’ bead at the bottom of all walls..
Floor reveal detail.
Floor shadow-line detail.
Door jamb detail.
Door jamb detail.

Corner Windows

The corner windows, since the beginning, have been a source of uncertainty for both my dad and myself. We have had many conversations regarding what they will be made of; single pane or double, with or without mullions, how to frame them structurally, etc. But, I have to say, once they were installed, those sleepless nights were well worth it. To stand inside and look through the corner of the house, which logically should have structure, lends magic to the design, and a seamless view.

Deciding whether or not to include mullions was a decision we had to make early on, when we were ordering the window package. Sierra Pacific does not warranty, or even make a mullion-less corner window, so they made the frame and we had the glass installed by a local Glass company, Enchanted Circle Glass. Jason Padilla and his sons own and operate the business.  His sons, when they are not installing glass, are scientists and mathematicians. Very smart people.

Jason adding adhesive gasket to window frame, before installing windows.  Acts as a cushion for glazing.
Jason adding adhesive gasket to window frame, before installing windows, acts as a cushion for glazing.
Picking up the glazing.
Picking up the glazing. One side already in.
Glazing in place.
Glazing in place.
Looking out corner window.
Looking out corner window.

Interior Doors

Gil Valerio came back. It is typical for the carpenter to return to the jobsite to hang all the interior doors. There is often enough woodwork involved, that it requires their skill set to hang a door properly. As far as hanging a door squarely, shims are a carpenter’s best friend. Sometimes carpenters will hug the door to one side of the R.O. (rough opening) but that messes up the sheet rockers; they need the studs on either side of the door to nail the sheet rock to.  Abel asked Gil to center the doors as best as he could in the doorway.

Gil using his shims.
Gil using his shims.
Doors hung in hallway.
Doors frames in hallway.

That was a looooonnnnnggg one.  Thats what happens when you wait a month to write a post.

3 thoughts on “ Envelopes ”

  1. What a gorgeous house! We’re building in Sandia Park right now and your project caught my eye because we’re also doing a rusty roof. Did the La Luz stucco make it into the finished design? That’s the one we’ve chosen but I’m not sure what your final stucco choices were.


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