Today we welcomed five new members to our family: four hens and a rooster. They quickly settled in and enjoyed the hen house and scratching around in the run. Looking forward to fresh eggs every day!
Part of the house is joined to the mountainside and so what seems like a nice connection to nature means that nature comes into the house through the form of water. Welcome to the conundrum of the 3rd downstairs bedroom damp issue. While we have improved the situation, this remains a work in progress as each winter the damp returns.
It was clear when we bought the house in the heat of summer 2015 that the 3rd bedroom had a damp problem. Given this one downside of the house we allowed ourselves to notice (while we were distracted by the overall beauty of the countryside and the lovely welcome of La Torre) we have approached this particular issue in a pragmatic way and worked through each new challenge as an education. Listening to others and reading up on the topic has given a feeling that the solution is near and not an impossibility.
The guttering was replaced primarily to allow us to gather more water but without the right downpipes in place for the 2016 spring rain we soon realised that this was also directing a lot of water into the bedroom.
Frances and I then re-planned the garden and with the help of our WorkAway volunteer Joshua who dug a nice trench we assembled a solution that we keep the draining water from the mountainside away from the wall of the house. So by October 2016 we had repaired the outside wall, lined the trench with a waterproof membrane and filled it with rocks from our land and kept the vegetation away to reduce the contact with the bedroom wall and to prevent water wicking into the house.
Having improved the outside as much as possible without separating the house from the mountain by pneumatic drilling through 2m of rock we focused our attention to the inside of the bedroom. There are some good books and on line help from people who have tackled damp issues in fincas. Armed with this and local DIY store we prepared the walls through scrapping and rubbing down, filling holes and cracks and then sealing them with a coating. We then applied a anti-humidity primer before then applying a white topcoat. The final addition was a de-humidfier ball that would both help sustain the improvement and act as an indicator of the level of humidity.
The room was damp free for one year but by December 2018 we saw moisture again although from a different place and in a different way. In many ways the issue is now less but the room cannot be used outside the summer. Our next plan is to bring in outside help in January 2019 to see if we can upgrade the solution of keeping dampness out while ventilating the room. Let's see if in 2019 we can use this room all year round.
Our two bathrooms were originally both prolific in their water use, not areas you wanted spend time in, a poor shower experience, dangerous gas water heating and an unknown drainage end point. So these were targets for initial clearance, re-design, re-fitting and new water solutions. We are very happy with both end results that are water efficient, comfortable, pleasurable, create compost and help water the garden.
The upstairs bathroom was done first and all bar the original sink have been removed and a new safe gas hot water system installed. The flush toilet now replaced with a composting toilet, the shower replaced with an elegant upgrade but with increased water efficiency, all accessories upgraded (mirror, towel rail, hooks etc.) and finished with a warm but light wall finish.
The downstairs bathroom is smaller and was originally dominated by a bath and the cold blue walls. Out came the cupboards, bath, the toilet and in went a compost toilet, shower, new cupboards and mirror and finished off again with a warm but light painting, We also added a cat flap to the window to allow that cats access to the house without going past Rex by the main door and when the window is open in the summer the cats do not believe the mosquito netting attached to the window is something that should be there!
The doors to the upstairs apartment are being both added and upgraded. Marco, our carpenter, has again done some great work with some artistic flair has added three new doors leading off from the entrance hall. The two bedroom doors and the attic door will be replaced in the new year.
The entrance hall was without a door to the main living area. There was signs of a door existing before but this had been removed some years ago and instead the lounge was exposed to the whatever the elements were in the hallway. We put up a thick curtain when we first moved in as part of our immediate winter proofing but it was always the intention to add a door to do the job properly.
Opposite this door is the bathroom and the final part of the upgrade to the bathroom has been the door. Gone now the wood worm riddled and ill-fitting door and in place a matching pine door that complements the work Marco completed in the bathroom in 2017.
To complete the hallway area the main entrance door to the apartment is also replaced with an elegant pine door with black metal studs and a Marco inspired unique metal grill. The previous door let in drafts, banged in the wind and scraped the floor when it got damp in the rain. So this upgrade truly finishes off the entrance hall and joining doors to protect from both winter drafts and summer heat. Thank you Marco.
The upgrade to our downstairs living space has progressed both at speed and with style with the local carpenter Marco Adler. Marco has installed 5 new large double glazed windows and added a well lid
The 2 windows in the kitchen have traditional external blinds and will allow coolness in the heat of summer and warmth in winter where before this room was uncomfortable when extremes of temperature occurred. The three dining/lounge windows are also double glazed with internal hinged shutters and will mostly allow greater warmth in the winter (and much less condensation) while in the peak of summer will help keep the room cool.
The well lid looks both elegant and has the dual purpose of allowing the space to be used as a shelf while also helping keep the coolness from the cisterna from coming into the dining room in winter.
Now that the kitchen grey water tank is up and running it has been planted with some mint and fava beans. It appears to work well as a seed bed as the top layer of soil is kept moist so we tried out tree cabbage and other leafy greens - some to leave and some to later transplant. The wire is for protection but it isn't as effective against snails as against goats.
The fences of the lower garden have been reinforced and several self wicking beds installed. One dug into the ground, one in the old bathtub reclaimed from the grey water tank upgrade and a third in a raised bed. After running out of water last summer these are intended to make more efficient use of less water. The lasagna beds started in June are now going crazy with borage.
To prepare for winter's arrival new double glazed windows were installed in the downstairs living room and have made a big difference as the days become colder.
Outdoor wood was stained and lots of posts added to the driveway to fence off a bigger area for Rex the dog.
Also another compartment was added to the humanure area ready to start a 4th pile.
August was construction month. Local builders came in to upgrade the downstairs kitchen and build a second grey water tank.
The main work in the kitchen was to demolish two walls, insulate, rebuild and tile. Frances did a great job repainting the walls.
The second and smaller grey water tank is connected to both the upstairs and downstairs kitchens, so now all the water in the house is reused. It is split into two sections. The first to catch bits of food and oils in the straw, then the water is sent through a layer of sand, gravel and rocks, before entering the bigger tank where it is filtered through soil, then more sand, gravel and rocks.
With temperatures soaring and the grey water tank drying up, there wasn't much happening in the garden. Fingers were crossed that plants would survive and attention was focused on upgrading the outdoor solar shower and finishing the new wood shed.
Racing the sun in the early morning we dug holes for support posts for the bamboo walls. The surrounding ground was flattened and cleared of bind weed and rocks to create a lovely cactus and succulent garden.
The second wood shed was also finished.
As a nice long spring finally turns into summer, we are receiving some delicious fruit from the courgettes planted in the Hugelkulture.
A training watermelon to grow up a trellis experiment is working out lovely, with so far 2 melons tucked nicely into their hammocks and growing at an astonishing pace.
Shade for Rex the dog's pen has been completed, and after Flor the goat helped herself to the onions and sunflowers, another gate has been added. Behind this gate 'lasagne beds' have been started - layering green and brown organic materials for planting more veggies.
Lots of chard has been planted around terracotta pots in a shady part of the garden and are doing well there, in spite of the late June heat.
A storm filled the grey water tank to the brim, drowning all the mint, tarragon and tomatoes which were growing quite happily. The top layer has now been cleaned of these dead plants and replanted with the more water loving plants from the old bath tub grey water system and the mint is making a come back.
Rex's shaded area has been completed too.
The grey water planter is recovering well.
The lettuces are loving the shade.
Here is the start of a new planting bed.
Naughty Flor our goat ate all my onions so we needed to fence off the lower planting terrace.
The watermelons are well cared for.
Frances and Barry Copping bought Xalet Pigall in 2015. They are working towards resilience and self-sufficiency.