Category Archives: Renovation

Windows and Doors

The windows and doors were made by a carpenter in a nearby village who specialises in windows.  They are made out of local chestnut and are incredibly beautiful, as well as super-efficient. There are chestnut shutters on some of the windows, but not all of them, only where necessary.

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The south-facing floor to ceiling doors will eventually open out onto a large terrace.  We had hoped to have louvres fitted in between the glass, so that we could block out the sun in the summer and so that we aren’t putting on a show fro A Ponte at night.  However, they are prohibitively expensive, so we have to find another solution.  At this stage of the game, every penny counts!

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In Spain they love yellow expanding foam.  You see it all over the  place, even on traditional buildings. Expanding foam contains Isocyanates, such as MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate), which are chemicals that react with polyols to form polyurethane. They can also cause skin, eye, and lung irritation, asthma, and chemical sensitization when absorbed through the skin or inhaled.  They leach out over time into the building.  We have limited the use of hazardous materials as much as possible in our house, whilst having regard to all the other issues – like waterproofing for example. In this instance Mateu was very strict with Javier, the window man, to ensure that no ‘espuma’ was used.  The windows have been nailed and wedged into place and the gabs will be filled with cob.

Some of the windows had to be hand-cut into the chestnut pillars and Javier did a beautiful job on this too.  It has been a great pleasure to work with people who are masters of their craft and I think that they have enjoyed working on such a beautiful project too.  It is still quite rare to build a house like this in Spain. It is not that it is more expensive to build, but it takes a bit longer and people just don’t seem to bother about beauty.  Mateu told us that there were probably only about 50 natural homes in the whole of Spain!

The gap in between the two chestnut lintels has been filled with gypsum, to form a lovely curve that is in keeping with the organic style and theme.  We haven’t gone for the extraneous decoration that you see on many cob houses, it can be very beautiful, but I prefer the honesty and simplicity of beautiful, natural materials, unadorned and worked with skill.

The house is upside-down, by conventional standards.  We have designed it with the living room, dining room kitchen (and a bathroom) on the first floor, with views from every aspect.  On the ground floor are two guest bedrooms and a bathroom, plus and office and store room.  our bedroom as two sets of french doors looking to the north and the east.  There is a very special arched window in the living room, from which we can see the sunset crescent.

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Laying the Foundation for the Cob House

We have finally started on our house renovation and hoping to get enough done before the rain sets in.  We’ve done lots of clearing, laid foundations and dug a huge pile of clay for the cob.  It will be mixed with straw from our field and local sand.  Our neighbours can’t understand why we want to build a house out of mud!  Most of the houses around here are made from stone and part of our house will be stone too, but we want bigger windows for more light and we want the house to be reasonably warm in winter, as well as cool in summer.  We’ve spent weeks chipping off old cement mortar that covered the stone and didn’t allow the house to breathe and the smell of damp has finally gone – even with most of the walls and roof gone the old part of the house still smelled damp.  Eventually we dug out most of the clay floor and laid gravel to go under the limecrete floor.

The foundations are 60cm deep and there will be 50cm of stone on top before the cob starts.

The access to the house is down 500M of dirt track and not accessible for large lorries.  The first guy we ordered concrete from said he couldn’t get his truck down the track so we had to find some one else.  Dean and Kiki then had to go down the track and cut some of the branches off before he would come.

The track is also slightly higher than the house and that’s why it was so wet and damp.  We’ve put a lot of effort into drainage further up the track, opening up old and digging new ditches, as well as into waterproofing the vulnerable part of the house with lime cement and EDPM.  The whole house has been raised too.

The House

The finca came with three buildings.  The main house is in ruins, with only half the walls and roof still standing.  We had originally thought that it might be better to knock it all down and start again, but the paperwork and permissions fot that are complicated and much more expensive.  So we’ve decided to go for restoration, at least in name.  We’ll be keeping part of the old house as storage/cellar and adding a new wing which will be the main living area.  The house will be mostly stone and in keeping with the local style, but better insulated, as these stone houses are freezing in winter.  We will also be making it as ecological as we can manage.  This year is mostly planning and we will start the build next year.  Having the cabin to live in while we build the main house takes a lot of pressure off.

Back and side barn and destroyed end of house

We tore down the red brick barn in this picture.  It wasn’t a very safe or well-built structure and we used the bricks for hardcore on the road.  The other stone building is very well built.  We’ve put new doors and a roof on that and are using it for storage.  Eventually, we’d like to make it into a workshop/office space.

 

Half-way house