Aug 08-Feb 2009

In June 2008 the builders had excavated some of the site, and put foundations in the wrong place (they said it looked OK). Next they dug out more earth (two feet deeper, as agreed with our architect) and put the foundations in the right place . The original sketch had been for a 5m by 16m structure to include a single bedroom apartment, an adega (a room for making and storing wine) and a garage for the tractor. But when I drew detailed plans it quickly became clear that any apartment needed to be bigger than I’d allowed, so we made the building longer. In discussing the roof structure with José, I pointed out that a pillar inside the car port would not be convenient; he agreed to make the building longer and suggested enclosing the car port, requiring even longer foundations. They started building in late July, then promptly stopped as August is a month’s holiday.

The building method here is different from that in the UK; they make a timber mould of the whole structure, put steel reinforcements in the mould, then fill it with concrete and leave it a few days. After removing the mould, they lay breeze blocks to fill the gaps. If you (the bricklayer) don’t look carefully at the plans, you end up with a concrete pillar where the bedroom window should be, so you make the window where it will fit. Then the boss (me) comes and points out that the built-in wardrobe has to go there, so you have to brick up the hole and make another where he will accept a window. And so on.

We sometimes ate a barbecue lunch on the patio with the builders – in close-up Adelino, José and Mario. Happy days!  They would bring a five-litre carafe of wine made by a friend or relative, and we would all drink some and rate it. On the left is the boss of the business, Jacinto (Hyacinth)! Not really, a jacint is a hard semi-precious stone.

Delivery of polystyrene roof insulation.

What started as a tractor shed became a building with a double-slope roof, double garage, and double-insulated apartment.

The bathroom materials were easy to choose – we went into Spain and in a town called Valverde del Fresno (green vale of the Ash tree) we ordered lovely warm beige kitchen tiles, beige and green for the bathroom, and an ivory bathroom suite; Luís took us out for coffee at a café with a green shaded terrace.  All was tiled by the end of November, but the bath wasn’t delivered until January.

The kitchen corner in mid October, late November, and end of Jan09.

José made beautiful ceilings in all three rooms of the apartment.

Unlike in the UK, water doesn’t just arrive in the house. Ours comes from the dual boreholes system that we installed over a period of six months last year. It is soft water, untreated, straight from the rock. It is stored in a 1000ℓ (220 gallons, one metric ton) tank in the loft. It has to be, as the supply is only 80ℓ per hour. However, when we first tried the bathroom tap the flow rate was too low; the pvc pipes used are less than 1/2” internal diameter, so we had to go and buy a pump to increase the pressure. Off to Fundão where we discovered a shop where a man would come out to advise us.

The choice was a €200 basic pump where the pressure would vary a lot, or a €660 stainless pump with five turbines. In due course the man arrived at the quinta in a brand new BMW. Janet rang the builder (as we arranged) so he could come over and discuss what would be best. The guy made it clear that we needed the expensive pump, and if it were his place he would extend our system with an extra tank in the roof and a split irrigation tank for the garden, and so on. He would do an estimate for us, to include the extra materials and labour. Then the builder arrived to discuss our needs. The water man spent two minutes saying it was all in hand and ten minutes admiring the builders new lorry before zooming away in a cloud of dust. José said “I don’t like him.” and advised us to look around and get other prices. The next day we visited one of our tractor shops and they helped us choose a good system – total price €200 complete, and José’s man installed it.

So there we leave the apartment, lacking windows and doors, unfurnished but looking promising, and bearing little resemblance to the tractor shed and simple bedroom and bathroom that was planned. You’ll see in the next blog how it looks when its done J