welcome to emmas housethought

building update

I’m sure most of you have forgotten by now that this is a blog about building a house. I myself have wanted to forget that this is a blog about building a house. But this has all changed this week. I’m back on the case.

xisto-1

The story so far in brief:

Way back in 2007 I saw this house and wanted to be sure my plans for it would be accepted by council before I bought it. So I hooked up with a builder (we shall call him Fatface) and an architect (let’s call him Moron) and they together, via reams of bullshit, took 9 months to put a projecto de architectura together. Meanwhile I learnt Portuguese and subsequently discovered that the delay was due to Fatface telling Moron that I wasn’t going to pay. So I got on a plane the next day with the cash and knocked on the architect’s door. The project was finished that afternoon.

goat_0

The council approved the project and I bought the house. I found a new architect and a new engineer for the projecto de especialidades. The engineer said the project[1] would take two weeks and I said pigs might fly. In two weeks we submitted the project and in about four months it was approved.

Meanwhile I had been cleaning up, digging holes, removing an oven in preparation for the build. I auditioned 8 builders for the job. Only one had any idea of the house I wanted to build, as I had picked them off a site in an aldeia do xisto in the Serra da Lousã and that’s exactly the style of my place. But they would have travel time of at least an hour each way, and for this wanted to charge a premium. Fair enough. I waited, I researched, I shopped around some more.

meias-canudos

Some of the builders really made me laugh. When I explained I wanted to use meia- canudos for the roof, one showed me a straight 100 yr old tiles-on-battens example as in a shed. Believe me, I know the Portuguese for rockwool, ceiling, water barrier and even pumpkin: but maybe he didn’t. I’d take a look at jobs they’d done in stone and shout quel horreur! Awful cement mortar/ mismatched stone and styles/ uninsulated/ simply hideous things I saw. Clearly I’m not in the right area for decent builders. I will admit though, I did scoff when someone told me the project was too hard, too complicated for these guys. Mmm.

window-1

Then came in the great big ugly global financial crisis and stole half my money. The project was off, or delayed, at least until I knew what would happen next. I started the blog, hoping it might pay some living expenses. It didn’t. A year went by and I applied for a one year extension on the building licence. Still no sign of any money growing on the trees. I waited, procrastinated. I had the money to start the project but not to finish it. Even if I could finish the house there would be no one to buy it because the housing market was a dying duck.

wrought-iron

I then applied for another 6 months on the building licence and in December 2010, this expired. This is what I had been dreading. Project death. It had cost in the end about €1500 including flights and hire cars and whatnot. But mostly it cost me in time and energy and heartache.

But when the council decided not to give me another extension (even the last six months was outside the legislation) the camara’s architect and I talked about a renovation. The basic rule of a renovation is that nothing of the outside is altered. The house cannot be enlarged, you can’t change the height, you can’t use any cement structures, you can’t make new openings for windows or doors.

sheep-single

And frankly what a relief. I had been clinging onto the project for dear life, but its weight was pulling me under. Once or twice people had suggested I simplify the design, but I couldn’t see how. The project had to be ripped from my womb first. Now I had to redesign, and it could only get simpler, cheaper, and more fundamental.

door_0

Along came Penfold, the surfer, writer, illustrator, philosopher, carpenter, renovator, restorer builder. And sort of a neighbour. As we took the tour through my house of horrors his face showed the same distress of the others who had gone before. Other builders usually mumbled and agreed to send me a quote or something, and some amateur builders criticised this or that, (because criticism makes you smarter, you know). One “builder” mistook a french drain for bathroom plumbing and another, practically in tears, told me the project was too big, because I was so very small.

kids_0

But at last I was talking to someone who wasn’t overwhelmed by a need to condescend, but instead by the need to construct! Finally someone who could see what I had been trying to do but who could simplify it, under the terms of a renovation, and especially in terms of getting the project finished. He added instead of subtracted.

Brothers and sisters I have seen the light! Like all good ideas, the solution is so obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. This should and could have been a renovation all along. The new plan means that I get to do more of the work myself (good) than would be possible in a building-project.

Let’s look at the plans:

It’s massively simpler than before. All existing stone walls remain. The floors and the roof stay. No more new windows and door openings. So, anyone want to buy 68 windows and doors ripped from a french chateaux?

It’s not the house I dreamt of anymore. I’ve lost a 45m2 living room and a bedroom. It’s no way as luxurious a floor plan as I had – and it will not fetch the same sale price. It probably won’t satisfy its financial reason-to-be. But it’s do-able, and in these tough times, I’m happy just to be motivated again.


[1] An architecture project involves only the physical appearance of the house, as the name suggests. The specialised project covers the plans for water and sanitation, gas, electricity, the structure, roof, thermal & acoustics plus any additional things like solar, universal access, grey water systems, sprinkler systems,  etc.

38 Comments

  1. sophie March 5, 2011 3:33 am Reply

    Hoorah! You’re building again!! Well done! 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.pureportugal.co.uk

  2. Lina March 5, 2011 5:31 am Reply

    Courage Emma, i’m sure you will do great!

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Wendy March 5, 2011 5:45 am Reply

    LOL!!! Yes … went through a similar process myself and the building is still getting simpler and simpler by the day. At this rate I’ll end up just keeping goats in it and become a permanent yurt resident …

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.permaculturinginportugal.net/

  4. Hudson March 5, 2011 6:37 am Reply

    Woody Allen famously said that the best way to make God laugh was to tell him your plans. Glad to see that this story is still being written, and that you’re back to building!

    [Reply to comment]

  5. Ad March 5, 2011 7:10 am Reply

    I am a big fan of impossible projects, and biting off more than one can chew, but a small practical corner of my brain is cheering wholeheartedly for you. xx

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 6th, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Thanks ad… any ideas on the adega or bathroom situation? Ditching the annexe ensuite would be great, but I don’t fancy using the outside bathroom much (there’s still the medieval outside bathroom)… and the ensuite to the bed 2? But there’s no BATH!

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Elly March 5, 2011 7:47 am Reply

    Just think of all the people who are going to turn up to the housewarming!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 6th, 2011 at 12:11 am

    yes, all my dearest facebook likers! 2.500 and some… and all The One’s dear facebook friends… he has a few thousand! That’s a lot of pina colada!

    [Reply to comment]

  7. Helder March 5, 2011 9:16 am Reply

    Sorry the first project didn’t match the circumstances.
    I am also a fan of great fantastical projects, so my heart is hurting somewhat.
    But I take comfort that you will have a better possibility to finish the new project.

    Good wishes!

    [Reply to comment]

  8. Rodrigo March 5, 2011 4:28 pm Reply

    Good for you Emma. Build it then show Fatface and Moron the ropes or perhaps the noose.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 6th, 2011 at 12:08 am

    :))

    [Reply to comment]

  9. penfold March 5, 2011 9:09 pm Reply

    I definitely recognise several attributes on that list. But philosopher? I might have to think about that…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 6th, 2011 at 12:08 am

    oh shit I forgot t-shirt design entrepreneur. Oh bugger… and wedding photographer! :O

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 6th, 2011 at 9:23 am

    well think, but just dont write it down… someone might call you a bloody poet :-/

    [Reply to comment]

    penfold   Reply: March 6th, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I can milk a goat as well. Whilst my skills are being aired in the public domain…

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.papersurfer.com

  10. Isabel March 8, 2011 8:54 am Reply

    My friend the engineer will be very relieved. She was terrified of those 68 holes in your walls.

    [Reply to comment]

  11. Happy Homemaker UK March 8, 2011 5:24 pm Reply

    Wow, that sounds really frustrated. But how cute are those goats?!

    I found your interesting blog via Expat Blogs. Perhaps you would like to join my Expat Linky Party on March 19th? Hope to see you then, if not sooner.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.HappyHomemakerUK.blogspot.com

  12. Joe Ramos March 10, 2011 2:24 am Reply

    Hi Emma
    It has been quite some time since we last spoke, why don´t we speak, maybe I can help you in some way. You know I can´t get into your house because of my wheelchair, but I am sure that is you find some sexy girl friends to help you , you could make a plan to get me inside to evaluate. ( I had to throw this in to make you laugh). Anyway, I will be waiting for your contact.
    Take care my friend
    JR

    [Reply to comment]

  13. Margarida March 10, 2011 1:52 pm Reply

    Emma,

    Good that you’re persuing your dream of re-building/renovating the house!
    Best wishes from a Portuguese living in Sydney.
    Cheers,
    Margarida

    [Reply to comment]

  14. Martin March 11, 2011 8:48 am Reply

    I went through a similar painful process and decide I should renovate rather than build, the big difference was I managed to get most of the grand ideas out of the way on paper and in my head and without spending cash (the emotional bill was high). I’ve been happily renovating on and off now for 4 years in Pedrogao Grande. I say I’ve in the loosest terms as the majority has so far been done by a series of builders, I still hold out hope that I’ll get off the tread mill in London for long enough to do some of it. I’ve found one thing that does help keep the enthusiasm going is dividing the work up into easily managed chunks that you can finish and celebrate. Good luck and keep at it.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 14th, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Força Martin. Good on you. Thanks for your comment.

    [Reply to comment]

  15. Dee Hawa March 13, 2011 5:41 am Reply

    So glad that you are back on course Emma,
    keeping it simple has a lot going for it, and
    probably more potential punters when the time
    comes!
    Dee

    [Reply to comment]

  16. António March 18, 2011 2:46 am Reply

    Hi, Emma!

    I’m about to become a Moron and I have just one subject left to achieve such a title…lol (you are hilarious!)
    My name on facebook is João Antunes and I posted 3 comments on the Volfrâmio mines, do you remenber me now? 🙂
    Ok, this “Moron” is asking you what do you intend to do with that free space on the 1st floor right next to the bathroom.

    Write back

    João

    [Reply to comment]

  17. john April 11, 2011 8:24 am Reply

    Hi Emma
    You must be doing the right thing renovating instead of new build. In fact it is such a brilliant idea that we have decided to do the same in eastern Algarve. Our exploits seem to be on the same level as yours and with the help of a very sensible local well established, not flashy, normal realistic builder we have actually now got a roof on our “building”. Bit of a quirky idea came up when the builder suggested that he construct a new outer skin of blockwork instead of an internal one. Saved us loads of space inside and we get great insulation levels. Now why didnt we think of that one?
    just shows that there are solutions if you find the right person like you seem to have done. Good luck with it all and keep your hopes alive. Race you to see who gets to live in the house first.
    john

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: April 19th, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Hi John. I hope that wasn’t ancient stonemasonry you were covering up! Thanks for the luck, I’ll need that, and the race motivation I like too. Cancel everything! I’m out there tomorrow!

    [Reply to comment]

  18. Cristina April 17, 2011 2:41 am Reply

    Hello Emma, Glad to know that you are moving forward with a renovation rather than a build. Conversely, my parents built a new home in another aldeia do xisto after considering whether they wanted to renovate my dad’s family home in the centre of town. The biggest issue they had with their build was zoning but eventually it worked out (won’t go into the gory details here as it will give us both nightmares).
    The family home was sold to the town, renovated and now houses a really nice little restaurant. So sometimes these things do work out…with a little patience & a lot of stubbornness.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: April 19th, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Hi Cristina! Well, not bad to turn out as a restaurant, if you were a little casa do xisto…sounds like a happy ending.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://olivamor.blogspot.com/

  19. john April 30, 2011 7:02 pm Reply

    Dear competitor Emma
    Have you finished the renovation yet? We have a tiled roof AND the outside walls have been rendered. There are even signs of an electricity supply- well a load of cables layed randomly across the floors. Our builder is even sending us photos every 2 weeks of the work in progress though I think the men we see on the pics are actually cardboard cutouts.
    The race is on. How do we each prove that we have finished the job?
    John

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: April 30th, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Oh, erm. Well I’ve removed most of the furniture and all the stuff inside, just looking for space to put it all. Then we’ll be attacking the chimney and the ceiling. So in other words… well we havent started yet 🙁

    I’m crying now. You’ve made me cry.

    [Reply to comment]

  20. john May 1, 2011 7:32 am Reply

    Oh dear, so sorry, ignore my optimistic comments as loads of things are bound to go wrong very soon, like an earthquake or our builder going bust or the Euro exchange rate going bonkers or a tree falling on our new roof or a dose of plague centred on our house. After all you’ve been through you can’t start to wither now. Pull yourself together with a large glass of Dao and stand up to adversity. After all you are an Ozzy! Where’s that pioneer sprit, just remember how many convicts it took to make your country. Get that ceiling pulled down before breakfast, shove a child up the chimney and throw another prawn on the barbi – sorry getting a bit carried away with Ozzy anecdotes.
    Take it in bite sized chunks ( like the prawns) and don’t rush things. The weather will probably turn nasty tomorrow anyway.
    Think of natas. That’s what I do – very very often. Bit sad really.
    John

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 2nd, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Too bloody right, mate! Let’s get on with it! (I’m still getting my energy from last year’s natas… so yes, Think is all I do…) Congratulations on all your big fast work: your an inspiration and a giant to the rest of us. (nothing’s going to go wrong – who would get in Thor’s way?)

    [Reply to comment]

  21. john May 6, 2011 6:19 am Reply

    Now that’s more like it. Positive thinking – if you have to think at all. Emma, just where are you up to with the rennovation (is that enough n’s? or too mannnny) as I like to picture what state you are surviving in?
    Alas our work has not been fast as we bought our place in 2005 and the builders only started March 2011. Just a slight thorn since we last corresponded. our initial solicitor has effectively been struck off and is no longer practising in Portugal – despite her being English we have just found out that we were ill-advised and there is now scope to pursue the solicitors regulatory authority for compensation.
    So beware!
    I mentioned once before that we could write a book. Thought we had come to the final chapter but watch this space. How are you legally? The law in Portugal seems to be changing daily as the authorities try to gather income from more and more streams. For example do you have a water supply on your land? if so have you registered it? – for a fee of course!
    Onwards and upwards hopefully.
    john

    [Reply to comment]

  22. Sis May 9, 2011 11:32 pm Reply

    Maybe I can get my hands dirty when I come??? I’m thrilled you’ve found a path for your dream, convoluted though it may be!!!
    V

    [Reply to comment]

  23. Sandeep Rai May 20, 2011 4:35 am Reply

    Oh dear, so sorry, ignore my optimistic comments as loads of things are bound to go wrong very soon, like an earthquake or our builder going bust or the Euro exchange rate going bonkers or a tree falling on our new roof or a dose of plague centred on our house. After all you’ve been through you can’t start to wither now. Pull yourself together with a large glass of Dao and stand up to adversity. After all you are an Ozzy! Where’s that pioneer sprit, just remember how many convicts it took to make your country. Get that ceiling pulled down before breakfast, shove a child up the chimney and throw another prawn on the barbi – sorry getting a bit carried away with Ozzy anecdotes.
    Take it in bite sized chunks ( like the prawns) and don’t rush things. The weather will probably turn nasty tomorrow anyway.
    Think of natas. That’s what I do – very very often. Bit sad really.

    Bolton Builders

    [Reply to comment]

  24. lou May 27, 2011 3:16 am Reply

    great blog, do really mean you are selling the window and doors.? been looking every where for second hand , can not find any where. By the way your secret swimming place, nice photo, i have an identical one as there yesterday.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 30th, 2011 at 3:50 am

    yes I really will be… once I work out which ones I need, which arent many anymore 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    lou   Reply: May 30th, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    @Emma,
    please keep updated as maybe interested.
    depending on sizes ect…..

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 12th, 2011 at 4:30 am

    lou, I sure will. there are about 20 sizes… and 42 pieces in all or something ridiculous. must look at windows soon and select some…

    [Reply to comment]

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