You don't have to be mad to do it...But it seems that we just might be.
Latest. This is what we've been doing during 2011-12
Well after a very tough year in 2010 things started to look up in 2011. With some financial and physical help from family members we really felt we were starting to get somewhere. We managed to finish building the partition walls upstairs and then it was time to choose which of the next jobs was the most important according to our finances and the materials we already had around us. Of course, electricity had to be high up the list. Mostly because you cant think about rendering walls until that's in place. We were still living with long extensions all round the house but we managed to get all the lights connected using the builders supply
On the subject of electricity. Here in Spain you can't have a private connection until you have a piece of paper called the 'Licencia de Primer Ocupacion' (first occupation licence). You can't get that licence until you have a certificate from the Architect to say the building is complete and, according to our Architect, you can't have that until EVERYTHING is done And that includes tiling the bathrooms etc.
The only option was to continue on a builders supply. BUT you can't have a builders supply if you don't have a building licence. Our building licence expired in December and we were faced with being cut off just before Christmas.
With none of the finishing touches done we tried to get what the architect suggested which was a minor building licence. But eventually, with a lot of help and advice from the town Architect the local council granted us a major works licence based on the original licence. So now we have more time to get finished. There was a bit of ritual humiliation where we had to make a declaration explaining exactly why we hadn't got finished in spite of our previous licence having had an extension. Fortunately the words 'financial crisis' seemed to work for them.
conduit and recessed back boxes dug out before the rendering. Our rendering guy prefers us to do the boxes after, cos it is less work for him. I prefer it this way for the same reasons!
channelled out first fix wire. Each room has a junction box near the ceiling, dropping wire to the switches and sockets. You can do all this work yourself legally, the architects plan will tell you what cable to run and to where.
and all the way around to the front door. A qualified sparks has to connect the faceplates to each switch/socket and the main fuse box, but that is it.
Fitting a meter - a deep hole with its centre at about eye level.
so deep it comes almost into the house through 2 skins of brick and a cavity
meter cabinet and fuse box fitted, next we need to run cables between them. These are dug into the wall and rendered back over.
Now last time I saw that, it had been in the bathroom for 6 months.
And is that a good sign?
Ah, yes upstairs plumbing ... now I see.
Upstairs toilet. Sink, shower and bidet to follow.
Too tricky to render, too concrete to screw to, baton wood too expensive to mention. Sigh.
So I screwed up dozens of batons, and the wife glued bits up around the ring beams so we didn't screw into those.
Marking the beam locations to screw into later, so much better than guessing.
Plasterboard lift, not at all pricey compared to killing yourself trying to get it up any other way.
Hammering the screws in cos the power screwdriver battery was flat
A little finishing strip to make up the gaps, then plasterers tape over the joins and white paint.
Messy. So incredibly messy. Take my advice, just do this *before* you move in if possible. The render is flung at the wall trowel by trowel, and ends up everywhere within a 3 metre radius too. They use rebar held onto the wall just by flinging more render at it, fill the gap between the two bars and scrape it flat. Then leave it a while and smooth it off with a sponge. Spray down gently a couple more times during the day to keep it curing properly.
First wall in the first room on the first night.
frames for the electric plates on the first wall
Round to the second and third wall
and painted! It looks like a real room in a real house for the first time.
and onto the bathroom. Did I say it was messy?
A what? It used to keep the serious water off the bottom of mud walls, now it is more decorative.
start near the bottom with a level. We had to work around the builders mains supply in the snaking red tube.
tile adhesive rather than mortar
ready for a decorative line. We marked the top level line by taking the golden ration 1.6:1 at the centre of the wall from the pavement to the window ledge. Always good.
followed by a knotwork bit and a tile strip behind it. Likely to put a little more marble up at the side to finish off and water-seal it. Or even terracotta tiles all around the inside of the door frame.
And now, the story from the beginning
Here we go ...
The Early Days: 2004
Then 18 months of talking and deciding, whether to repair or rebuild.
Back in 2004 we thought we could just about afford a really run-down house, probably with no roof, and one day restore it ...
This is an open plan kitchen
The back building doesn't look so bad from outside
But the little building next to it is mostly gone
The front building has birds nesting inside
More open plan kitchen
Oh, yes the back building was kinda missing a roof
But we had a well
With it's own dead rat
And quite an open toilet - bit unconventional
The house was the little white one on the corner where all the locals left the dustbins
In the bedroom were the items left by the old lady of 105 years of age
But the roof was looking dodgy even here
And the back terrace had crumbled
Life in the Rental.
During our first couple of years of owning our Spanish wreck, we were pretty much just waiting for things to happen. But we spent some time getting to know our new pueblo. Visiting as often as we could. In our second year, just after the house got demolished and while we were waiting for various permissions we spent 10 weeks in Campofrio trying out living and working there. By the time we had to leave we knew we didn't want to. we were both nearly crying at having to say goodbye. Even though some of the things we were learning about Spanish life still seemed a bit strange to us. :-
It´s strange but true that each country smells different. Spain especially so. Whether it be the different perfumes chosen by the cleaning manufacturers, the unmistakable aroma of Spanish loos with their little bins full of used toilet paper in the corners (a throwback to the times when plumbing used to be inadequate to carry tissue paper). Or just the pine, oak and dry or wet earth depending on the seasons.
Sometimes here after rainfall the air smells distinctly of eucalypyus. A couple of days ago we had an unexpectedly heavy summer rainfall and the aroma was distinctly earthy... But not English earthy. More the difference between almonds and toasted almonds...still almonds but ´toasty'. It´s not so different here. Our wet earth has a 'formerly scorched' smell.
Our rented house when we arrived was full of lavender 'air fresheners'. Being a bit asthmatic I rapidly cleared them all into a little plastic bag and shoved them to the back of the bathroom cupboard so I could replace them when we leave.
Over the next few visits the reason for them became apparent. First of all I thought it was me, and decided on a several showers a day approach. After all the smell seemed to occur only in the corner where I sat in a low seat nearest to the parts of my body most likely to whiff a bit. Last visit I finally cracked and moved the sofa to find the smell was at its strongest in the back of, and on the floor underneath it.
There seemed to be patches of mould and whitish patches too. Again this pong which was most like the smell of golondrina (swift) guano.
I´d smelt something similar before in a crash pad, so I put it down to damp. With the sneaking suspicion that there might be rodents involved too though I hadn´t seen any droppings. So I washed the chair cover, scrubbed the floor and hoped th pong would go away..... It didn´t.
When we returned this time the smell was there again. If anything it was worse. There were also some strange orange drips and drops on the sinks and some drizzles down one of the pelmets. The thought occured to me that it might be lizard urine. Sure enough, one night in bed mr Frank saw one of the critters scuttling around the ceiling above the window. Behind the sofa was damp again and the floor had the same sticky encrusted appearance. When I washed the floor edge where the old sofa stood I noticed a lot of tiny ants under the edge of the skirting tiles. Lizard food perhaps.
'Iggys', as we call the lizards, get away with it. Partly because they aren´t interested in my chocolate biscuits, partly because they´re so cute, and mostly because they´re rather partial to mosquitos which in turn are rather partial to me.
So, out went the uncomfortable floor height sofa. In came a cheap but much more comfortable 'off the floor' version and regular washing of the floor. They aren´t, after all, interested in sofas per-se', just in dark corners. No cushions in dark corners...no iggy stink.
Yesterday I cleaned the front yard, ready for Fiesta. The central drain the Spanish yards all seem to have wasn´t working properly so that all the detritus swirled round my feet. I tried to turn the tap off but made the mistake of dropping the hosepipe which then turned round and soaked me. Wherever I danced it followed. When I eventually turned the damn thing off I had to wade back into the 'bog of eternal stench' to retreive my broom, brush away the top layer of water out into the street and take the top off the drain.
Then I had to take a years worth of swallow droppings mixed with lizard piss out of the drain hole. My Puma sandals which aren´t the most feminine but are the only ones I posess at this moment and which I´ve already had to wash once in the first fortnight here (using listerine mouthwash to try and disinfect) now smelled of a cross between wet dog and rotting seaweed.
Having sat in the bidet overnight drying out from their second full body soak they still reeked.
I´ve put them in the washing machine and given them their own wash cycle and pegged them out in the 32 degree heat. A fairly mild scorch for this week. I still don´t hold out much hope. There´s still the faint faint aroma of 'Labradorwrack' which no doubt will be back to it´s full intensity when mixed with the 'low note' of Englishwomans sweaty foot.
Maybe I´ll have to relent and buy a pair of spanish cutesy sandals.
2006 demolition, a big pause, and 2009 construction starts
After asking the experts and locals for about a year, we decided the old buildings would cost more to repair than to replace, and we had little money as it was
So one february the old buildings just disappeared
And some little men came to make good the walls with the neighbours
And a very nice architect started measuring up for the design of a nice, small, cheap new house. And it stayed that way for nearly two years until ...
CHRIST! what is that? That is not a small house the wife, it's bigger than the the Victorian merchant houses you great twonk!
And with a lovely lightwell running up the centre of it
How in god's name can we afford this?
Yeah, it's huge and it goes back a LONG way
This far in fact, about 7mx14m plus a little extension at the back
Bringing Cars To Spain
Don't think that a car is a car. If you take one to spain, it is nothing more than an impenetrable nightmare of paperwork, not a car at all. Buy one there, just don't bother trying to take a perfectly good one with you.
First you need to travel miles to pay someone to make a technical spec for the car - he photocopies it and misses out loads of detail from the V8 document
Then you take that miles away to the MOT (ITV) place, they charge for the MOT of course and they copy the document again and charge for that, again with less details and then send you miles to the traffic division
there the woman at the information desk tells you to queue an hour for counter 8,9 or 11. Not 10. No. Then that counter tells you to go to the information desk for a form. The information desk charges you, then sends you to the payment counter who tells you two other places to go to pay two other things.
The first of the other places looks up the details for ages, because the technical bits are missing, so keep your old V8 for them then. Then he sends you away to the bank to pay. Then you come back to get it stamped.
The guy also tells you he is sure it would be harder in England. Actually, my car was accidentally registered as German when I bought it (god knows ...) and one 2 minute trip to the DVLA sorted the lot, all payments in the one place. Still ...
At this stage we took a break from it for a few weeks.
The second place is surprisingly near, surprisingly easy, and surprisingly cheap, something like 39 euros for a years car tax at your local(ish) town hall.
Right, all the way back to the main office, another long queue, this time different counter numbers, then they take all your details (all thos ehard won pieces of paper) and also your V8 (make sure you have a copy in case an earlier stage fails). And then ... they tell you your new number. Of course, you then have to go hunting for somewhere nearby to make the plates. And find they attach a slightly different way here than the ones on your car, but rest easy - victory is yours!!
Get yourself a real bargain knockabout, err, runabout from some dodgy garage in a back street near the coast. We went down to Malaga to see four different cars. There was only one as far as we can tell, all with different photos and specs sure, but when it came to it there was just one battered wreck in a fix-up garage, and at least 3 sellers for it. The whole street was full of fix-up garages. The car had clearly been written off years before and left to rot in a ditch somewhere. Cars live on the roads and die in ditches here.
Probably safest to get a new car really, that has guarantees at least. Choose the colour you like. Then, to save upset when you get it home, specify a "Seville Piant Job". This means get them to hammer the crap out of it in random hard to reach places and scratch it all down one side. This really is compulsory in Andalucia, so if you don't get it done at the show room it will only cost you time and money later.
The Drains In Spain Stay Mainly On The Smelly Side
Ever wondered why spanish bogs smell, and why they have toilet paper in a bin instead of flushed? The answer is more horrifying and stupid than you could think.
(A conversation with self-appointed drainage specialist Daphne Robins)
There will be diagrams to follow, but words like U-bend and external venting (you know, that pipe that goes up outside from the sewer to roof level) won't be included, unfortunately. Great big pit of water and shit under a hatch in your living room would be, if we had let them anyway.
Oh, and the phrase "you must clean it out every year or else" would have been in there too.
(A technical diagram of how to put a small cesspit in your own front room)
DR: "sounds sooooooo civilized... so you've opted for that, instead of the lovely flush ones...?"
No, they still flush, it's just instead of having a tube going outside, they want it all to collect under the living room floor. We keep saying no, that will smell, and will keep saying it until they understand the idea a bit better. They dont seem to do that in the rental house here, why would we want it we say.
DR: "so, really, it wouldn't be much different if it flushed directly on to the living room floor (as opposed to UNDER the floor)?"
not quite, their idea is that it kinda uses the pool of foul water to stop the smell of the drains coming back up, but it only backs up into the living room if you dont clean the shit out every few months. Err ...
(The stinking pit from hell, why would you want to put your sofa next to this?)
DR: "so every few months, you roll the living room carpet back, pull up a few floorboards, and bend down and scoop out the poop with your bare hands, right??"
Why yes, and "No way!" I just don't see any other way to clean out a square hole with an uneven finish
DR: "mmm...that's where you have to pick at it with your finger nails..."
DR: "don't forget to replace the floorboards afterwards - you don't want to roll the carpet back, and then find you're knee deep in living room floor..."
At least they dont do floorboards or carpets - solid concrete then tiles, presumably for this reason!
DR: "ah! always wondered if there was a GOOD reason for using such expensive natural resources... at least it keeps your feet dry..."
Yes, they used about 1.4m depth covering 100m2 of solid concrete for a two storey house, then as much again to build columns, slab & roof. Our eco-footprint would look a little like a t-rex stomped through town. They really love concrete here, everything is made from it - shelving, sinks, everything.
Well, it's nearly built ...
This was my own self build project, that greenhouse took about two solid days of mind numbing work, taking apart things to put bolts back in that weren't clear on the diagram, and still no idea how the windows are meant to hold in. Anyone got the same one and has an idea?
Back terrace looking through to the front
This is a stair skeleton, you tile the front side in a pretty pattern and the top in a plain slab
We started painting just to make it feel less like we were tens of thousands of pounds away from actually putting in windows, doors, electricity, rooms, floors err - did I miss anything? Oh yeah, water and a massive 3mx4m skylight
Our little house with it's shiny roof seen from the hillside
And the front ready for doors and windows. Gulp!
Finance: So. What happened in 2008/9?
I had been weathering the financial crisis until then with my business actually doing rather well and Frank getting enough contracts for reasonably healthy wage. So. in 2008 we agreed with our new builders a fixed contract to build us the 'casa en bruto' A simple build without any frills like windows, doors, electrics, or even rendering. This was so we didn't overstretch ourselves....we thought! Our bill was going to be around 55 thousand Euros. which converted to around 35 thousand pounds at the time. This we felt sure we could manage with a back up plan of selling the house if things got sticky. Unfortunately they got even stickier than we could possibly have imagined. As the financial crisis deepened loans were hard to find and expensive. The plan had always been to get a self build mortgage but the chances of that had already disappeared . And inevitably things cropped up which needed doing to the walls connecting with the neighbours and it was decided to do the rendering to the external walls and lightwell while the scaffolding was up and so we started chopping down an already simple build even further. Removing non essentials like the fireplaces and a couple of internal walls to keep the bill within it's original limits. Then the pound started to drop. We watched in horror as the pound dropped from 1.47 euros to the £ suddenly it was 1:1! This meant our expected 35 thousand pound bill was suddenly 55 thousand Euros. OK we thought. We'll put the English house on the market and get a smallish bridging loan to keep the builders happy. That would do it. After all, our house was worth a lot more than we paid for it a year before.
But, of course, house values had dropped dramatically. Even on our little house it wiped 20 to 25 thousand off our possible asking price, meaning the amount we could make, though it could finish paying the builders, was suddenly no longer enough to cover our loans and bills. At the same time Franks contracts disappeared. A couple of his customers didn't pay him even ... added to that, Chinese and other far eastern companies began to copy everything I did, often within days, and took my customers by offering similar designs to the nail art market at a fraction of the price. Even though the quality didn't compare ... neither did the price and customers, faced with the recession accepted the cheaper copies. My business also halved almost overnight. The Spanish house was worthless as it was so couldn't be sold and in any case we still had the builders to pay.
There was no other solution. We had to move all our goods and chattels to Spain and get ourselves into the house as quickly as possible even though it was totally unfinished.
Fortunately the house sold quickly though cheaply! We paid the builders off, packed everything we could get into 3 of Britannia's box trailers and arrived in Spain with only just enough money to put the windows into the house to make it waterproof. This took several months in the wettest winter we had ever experienced. And we started to build the internal walls ourselves with whatever money we could scrape together or were given by generous relatives for building materials. We were still struggling with bills that we still had in England, trying not to, but sometimes being forced to dip into credit cards to keep going. But already learning to live a much more frugal life than we had previously.
By summer 2010 we ran right out of money for rent and had to move in to the box of bricks which was our house. This was our lowest point. If it had been the 'A place in Spain' programme it would have been where they put the famous phrase "This isn't the way it was supposed to be".
the builders have left
Well, they do when you run out of money ... They did all the structure and external walls, and left us with all the internals to do
So out with the bricky and away we go
an impressive first week
Routing a groove on the front door, they were quoted as 2000 Euros here, so we got some secondhand ones from England and made them fit.
The last brick on the first wall
All the downstairs finished
Thanks to some serious muscle power from the back-end team!
Cheap, light and easy to use - wish we had thought of them earlier.
So, Spain is lovely all year round, the old folk in our village say they have only seen snow twice in their lifetime, and it never rains for very long.
That lake seems very full
and so does the one where our garden used to be
What? Snow? For an hour anyway
Then back to the rain, this reservoir is so full
It has a streaming waterfall where it is venting the excess
So with all this rain and misery we turned our thoughts to heating
Yes, this year it has to be wood
In a tiny little stove really only good enough to cook chestnuts because we don't have walls around the living room yet
Still, look what the council brought to us ...
in handy chopped up logs
but longer term something more, well, warm is the answer
what are you doing with the black dancefloor?
ah, underfloor central heating is it
lovely .. but isn't there something missing?
Oh god it hurts ... which bit? ... all of me!
The pipes have to be covered with 8cm of concrete, we couldn't afford a wagon of it
so we whacked it all in by hand. At about 2m2 per day and two days rest between each session it took months to do the kitchen, living room and landing.
spiderman and the lightwell
But finally some good news, spiderman came with the doors, windows and lightwell
Some on a trailer like this
and the rest like this
but we still had the windows bricked up
while I started smashing the place up, they started lifting the roof in place
Looks like it fits
just some scary welding and sealing to do. We went for laminated glass, but should have got it double glazed as well
The downside is how stupid birds can be if they try to get out of it
With lots of family over to see the progress the plumbing wasn't up to much
Not sure he is enjoying that cold shower so much
her maybe less so
so the guest were invited to rig up the bath / shower themselves
The guests also didn't think much of the sink and dishwasher
so we upgraded them after they left
Electricity seems to be a messy job here
Suited up like an extra from the X Files
spending my days in clouds of horrific dust
to cut holes in the walls we just built so they can stuff electrical cables in them. I went off this idea pretty quick and changed to plastic conduit in the upstairs. Apparently that is just as good they say. Hmm, infinitely better I say.
Downstairs was pretty simple most of the way, but getting mortar and bricks upstairs soon turned out to be *really* tiring.
So I queued up like someone at the Christmas sales for a winch. At Lidl. For an hour before opening in the rain and fog. At least it hid the shame.
And what a beautiful winch it is. It does up and down. No crying, no backache, no tiredness. Love it.
and started to see walls going up
And soon we moved out of the kitchen, leaving a kitchen
of two halves
What else do you do when you dont have the money for a walk in fridge? Build a pantry.
I bloody love my pantry me!
Here she realises which one is going to be her room
Shelf by shelf of 5 inch cooling concrete
higher and higher with the added benefit of all the bathroom walls coming up as it goes
Cheers. A topping out party for the smallest room with a roof.
Health And Safety
health and safety
Of course nothing would be complete these days without a man with a clipboard asking how easy it is to fall to your death in a building
So me and "gun show" here (well, less me than it seems and more my wife) put up the balconies outside
Railings for the terrace
brick columns with rebar inside and a concrete inner
Slaved over a hot drill for ages to make tiles for
the balconies inside
4m solid reinforced concrete lintels - 3 guys in straw hats underneath and one guy with a bit of rope pulling up. Safe. This is how the professionals do it here, or career criminals as health and safety would have it.
Safety? Well he has a ladder. And a mandate to run bits of wire wherever he wants (yes that is elctrical supply he is about to tangle with in the black cables running across)