welcome to emmas housethought

successes and failures

I’ve just come from another baffling and futile conversation with an insurance broker who is apparently unable to cover my house and its latest improvements. Okay, small difficulty in valuating the property, given its initial age and its work in progressness. But so what? Where I come from insurers will jump at practically anything and leave it to the claims dept to refuse you if, and big if, the time comes. Instead of just dumbing it down to a fundamental cultural difference, I must know why my place isn’t interesting enough for local insurers to cover. On the Caixa website form, for example, things abruptly terminate when I enter the age of the house. Yes it’s an old house. So, we live in a forest. And I know we are in zone that’s considered by at least by Portugal Telecom to be a high default risk, I.E. it’s kinda poor. But none of these things should, logically should, stand between me and home insurance. I discuss it with the neighbours and I can divine nothing – I take this to mean no one is insured. Which is why they have a dog tied up outside? Is dog a fire-fighter? Am I confused?


Please, dear reader, if you can shed any light on this Portuguese insurance malarky, please don’t restrain yourself. I am, once again, off to hunt down satisfaction from somewhere .co.uk, where they understand this Anglo Saxon peculiarity to be prepared.

In one last post about the house building, until “phase one” is ready for photography and housewarming, let’s take a look at the good and the bad decisions made so far.


This is not an invitation for any lurking troll to lay shit on me – as does happen once in a while and always by another amateur with barely formed half ideas supposed on unfinished photos and the scraps of information divulged here on these pages. You see ladies, anyone with a dick is an expert builder, and a erstwhile blondish chick is the most easy post for the least competent of these to cock a leg. Here’s some advice for you, little boys, in return for all the “careful that wall doesn’t fall on you” type comments I’ve endured:  Expert builders do not give out unsolicited advice. They do not condescend. They work with you, not against. Real builders, just like real men, have balls, and they do not need to piss on women to prove it. They don’t need to prove anything.

As if the condition of my self esteem isn’t already quite plain, I see no shame in sharing with you where I think I wasted money or time or made things way much harder than they needed to be. I know what I am: I am a perfectionist, and I take on very ambitious projects. Arguably too big for someone who might be more comfortable with a drama-less life. I am a paradox just like any decent human being.


Let’s start with booby number one: the windows. For those who don’t recall, I bought for a bargain, a few thousand old timber windows and doors that were ripped out of Versailles or somewhere. We discussed the best way to restore them and then the financial crisis came and they shelved, quite literally, for two years which did nothing to improve their deteriorated condition. Now, for “phase one” of the renovation we only needed four windows and three doors. And just this small number drove us all crazy with the amount of work they needed and the tediousness and discomfort of the work required. And I’m sorry to say, the results aren’t impressive. Sure, they are kinda cute, but they are also warped, uneven and don’t fit into frames that were straight and built around them. They have been a total pain in the arse from start to finish. And they are still not finished.

I don’t have a solution here, because as The One said, he too would have bought the windows at the price I was offered. New windows, double glazed, are at least €350 each, so you can very easily dispense with a few thousand bucks. I can’t recommend saving money by installing them yourself either, unless you’ve had a lifetime of practice. It’s a fiddly, skill-requiring task. And I’ll stand up and say this level of carpentry is out of my league.


Scheduling. Don’t bother. Waste of time. Building is, surprising to me, an organic beast. And you are in Portugal on Portuguese time. Your timber will not be ready when you want it. You will not be able to get products you want that day from the local shop. Delay, delay and more delay. Don’t set a deadline. Just let it happen. Even when your builder is on a contract with a penalty if they run late, they will still run late.

The mess. Somehow you’ve got to get everyone who works on the site to clean up after themselves. Obviously, this is anathema to tradespeople – even the gentlemanly PT guys leave crap everywhere. If I did not have to ferret about with a plastic bag collecting flotsam almost constantly I could’ve got a lot more done – and there is always more on my job list than anyone else’s. Make it part of the work, in that half hour before downing tools there is a cleanup session. And the tools! How much gets destroyed & money wasted by inadequately cleaned tools and equipment. I neglected checking on the cement mixer for a while and now it’s irreparable. And no matter how much I laid down the law, or the ashtrays, I could still spend an entire day now picking up cigarette butts. Why am I still cleaning mortar off floors, roof tiles, window sills, when one sweep of a sponge at the end of the day would have spared me these hours?! Grrrrrr!


Let’s change the subject lest the poor reader loses the will to live. Let’s instead talk about the glory of the wood burner. I checked out makes and models and prices for a few years before this day, and so I had a fair idea of what I needed. I needed to spend more than I wanted to, that was clear, but when choosing a wood burner you can exchange kilowatts for quality. I went for a Portuguese made brand called Solzaima, which smacked of quality – it’s easy to spot: environmentally mindful, good supply of information about the product, trained sales staff. I thought I’d spend €500, I spent €800. And then I handed it over to penfold the builder who has installed his own and for others and knew exactly what I had to achieve: central heating.

Thus I spent another €1400 on installation, including a secondary fan to boost the traffic of hot air to other rooms, (in addition to the recuperador’s own fan which generally serves as radiant heat) a chimney, a major amount of floor support and a whole lot of unseen tubing.

It is worth every cent. It is as warm as socks in here, even with single glazing and drafts blowing in through every unfinished door and window. It is efficient and low maintenance and it looks sensational. It unmistakably adds value to the house. We love it.


In the same vein – the double insulation, with all the pain it took, has paid off. I already knew it would when in mid-August the outside workers were dying, we, rendering inside, were singing along to the radio. Our morning inside temperature (no fire) will be above 15º when outside is under 7º. And we haven’t even insulated downstairs yet and anyone with a rés do chão knows how cold it is down there…

Ilhamdulillah, the bath. It’s big, it’s lovely. I have no regrets on the money spent on the bathroom. Everything is big – the sink, the taps – but it works in the space. I love the floor tiles (expensive) and the wall tiles (cheap). I love the insulated water pipes (my insistence) and the strong water pressure (pure luck). And I’ll love it even more when it’s finished – door, tiling, heated towel rail, cupboard, and a damn inspection hatch door to stop the cats playing chasings under the bath…







  1. Helder January 13, 2012 12:30 pm Reply

    Ah, another great work from a favorite binary logger.

    Congratulations for the nice wood burner.
    Warming to read, Your houses cosiness reaches us readers too.

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Julie Dawn Fox January 13, 2012 8:10 pm Reply

    I hope you get your insurance sorted. Sorry I haven’t got any suggestions for you. I totally agree with your comments about scheduling and mess and disregard for other people’s property.

    When we had our bathroom done, someone even used out hall wall as a notepad and wrote a phone number on it. Even though they painted over it, you can still see the writing. And the paint they used is shiny, which wouldn’t have been a big problem, except they only went half-way up the walls and around the pictures that were hanging up.

    Central heating = best decision we ever made, too. Enjoy the toastiness 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 13th, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    love that painting technique, stylish

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  3. Mark January 13, 2012 8:20 pm Reply

    Emma, We used our bank, BPI to insure our house. It was an old shell to begin with and they just asked how much we wanted it insured for, same for contents. As the house was built we just increased the values, that was it. No forms, no questions and we pay about 120 euros a year.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 13th, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    top thanks mark

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    Richard   Reply: January 14th, 2012 at 3:45 am

    @Mark, ditto to that Emma, we have Allianz via BPI. Pretty relaxed about covering you, whatever you want : full cover for 130euro but that includes small stuff like broken interior tiles etc. No forms. Our place is rebuilt ruin algarve/ alentejo border so a little different from yours. Worth trying BPI though.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 14th, 2012 at 5:38 am

    oh excellent, thanks.

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Emma January 13, 2012 9:35 pm Reply

    Sweetie, try our insurers. They have both properties, plus the dog! Susana Carvalhana susana.carvalhana@credimedia.pt

    I battle with the insurance thing, too. Why can’t I get insurance for my stuff OUTSIDE of the property. I lost a substantial diamond from my ‘engagement’ ring which can’t replace because my previous insurers wouldn’t cover the idea that I might, actually, want to leave the house at some stage in my poor existence for a life.

    I digress. Hope you’re feeling better. xx

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 13th, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    okey dokey ta ems

    [Reply to comment]


  5. sarah January 14, 2012 12:03 am Reply

    another great post em, love the negatives and the positives……can i see a picture of your bath please, second best to actually being able to have one!!!!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 14th, 2012 at 5:37 am

    it’s a bit tricky to shoot the bath as it’s a big white blob… but for you I will clear all as yet homeless bathroom stuff out of the road and try to get a shot – be sure to check out the un-centred taps that the really excellent plumbers installed – she’ll be right mate 😉

    [Reply to comment]

    Frip   Reply: January 14th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Put someone in the bath and add some bubbles and I’m sure it will be a great shot : )

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 19th, 2012 at 12:37 am

    what, like mao? The dog? Purdey would probably do it. The One hasn’t been in the bath yet, and although I’d like to see his toenails painted I don’t think he’d agree to be the model, pretty as he is…

    [Reply to comment]

    Frip   Reply: January 19th, 2012 at 9:44 am

    @Emma – forgot that pommes don’t bath : )

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Vera January 14, 2012 6:18 am Reply

    Hi Emma! I just discovered your blog and i must admit, i am so happy i did! I am Portuguese, and i’m studying architecture, so i can relate to many of your “complains” about portuguese people. I will keep reading 🙂 if i can help in any way, let me know! Beijinhos!

    [Reply to comment]

    Vasco   Reply: January 19th, 2012 at 12:58 am

    Yes, they too complain a lot 😉

    [Reply to comment]

    Vera   Reply: January 24th, 2012 at 5:34 am

    @Vasco, agreed.

    [Reply to comment]

    Gaspar   Reply: January 19th, 2012 at 10:58 am

    @Vera, you should try Embassy work after you graduate.

    [Reply to comment]

    Vera   Reply: January 24th, 2012 at 5:33 am

    @Gaspar, i’m sorry, what do you mean?

    [Reply to comment]


  7. penfold January 14, 2012 10:02 pm Reply

    Glad to see my mission to keep the residents of central Portugal toasty during the winter months is working out.

    I hope I’m included in the ‘real builder’ category. The real man section is optional of course…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 19th, 2012 at 12:40 am

    10 parts real builder, one part lesbian and the rest I couldn’t really say – I just can’t see behind all that professionalism.

    [Reply to comment]


  8. Helder January 16, 2012 11:45 pm Reply

    I’m an insurance agent and I can tell you that you could do an insurance for your house. In the age of the building you must put the dat of the last reconstruction, that’s what the insurance companies want, not the dat of original construction. Also, is the support of the roof tiles wood beams or cement beams? is there any separation between the living floor and the roof tiles, if so, is it flame proof (cement, concrete, etc). If you want i can give you a quote with a price for an insurance for your house.

    [Reply to comment]

  9. Za Za January 18, 2012 2:20 am Reply

    Very practical.. great post!

    [Reply to comment]


  10. Dee Hawa January 19, 2012 12:50 am Reply

    Emma, how do you do it? You totally crack me up, i just love the way you write …”pithy comments” is the phrase that comes to mind! Got some of the great Iberian builder blokes down here as well, and they are nowhere nearer extinction now than 25 years ago mores the pity! Hurrah for your Penfold, a proper geezer by the sound of it! i wondered what happened with the chateaux windows … i won’t feel too back about the bog standard UPvc
    going into my little place when the time comes..
    great writing, hilarious observations, keep ’em coming!

    [Reply to comment]

  11. Vasco January 19, 2012 1:21 am Reply

    Hello Emma,

    I’m really on a wild guess here, but I think that your troubles in getting an insurance might be due to the fact that there is not a single insurance on the house itself but several types of cumulative insurances to its parts – namely, walls+contents, fire, earthquakes, etc. The fact that you live in a high-risk forest area is probably not helping at all – and you’ll have to them push a bit harder. Also, I’ve recently been told that if 2 companies refuse you an insurance the 3rd one is obliged to do it by law (you’d need proof of the other two failing you, of course). Might be worth doing some investigation on this, since I don’t know if that applies to foreigners as well.

    In any case, I would e-mail these people or call the helpline.


    Hope this helps in some way. Cheers.

    [Reply to comment]

  12. Isabel January 20, 2012 10:53 pm Reply

    Mmmm… Being Portuguese, I don’t think I have my house insured, either. I think that inside each Portuguese there is a Chinese gambler. On the other hand, maybe I should do something about it…

    [Reply to comment]

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