Thursday, October 16, 2008

Removing the wall

With sections of the dividing wall removed you can see that the ceiling is of a block and beam construction. 

This exposed section allows you to see the orientation of the beams and whether or not they present an obstruction to the cable run for ceiling mounted lights. 

The damage to the ceiling evident in the photograph also meant that plaster work would have to be repaired to unify the ceiling in the combined rooms.

Tile removal

The wall construction is of a waffle style of brick tile, easy to cut with a trowel whilst laying them, and allowing wires to be fed through the chambers making up the waffle. A strong render was applied over the brick tile before the ceramic tile was applied using a ‘dot and dab’ technique. 

If you look at the pattern of tile adhesive marks on the cleared section of wall, you will see that the material has been applied as a dot in each corner and a dab in the centre very much like the pattern on a playing card such as the 5 of spades.  So if you are faced with the removal of a single tile to effect a repair you should follow this procedure.

  • Cut through the grout lines around the tile.
  • Strike the tile to be removed at the mid points on each side.
  • Remove the broken pieces of tile.
  • Use a small chisel to remove the dab of adhesive in the centre.
  • Now remove the dots at each corner carefully avoiding damage to the surrounding tiles.
  • Brush out the debris from the void where the tile was removed and ensure the floor / wall is level.
  • Fix the new tile using dot and dab method.
  • Grout the joints.
  • Admire your handy work.

Los tubos

The presence of pipe work ‘los tubos’, just beneath the tiled surfaces confirmed that a toilet and bathroom suite of some sort had originally occupied this space. 

Our design meant that the toilet would be relocated to the far end of the new bathroom; though the relatively easy access afforded by the under build would allow us to connect to the original water and soil pipes. That would save some time and a little money.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A different perspective

The dividing wall between the old pantry and the utility room presented us with two possibilities, by retaining the wall we could site a W.C. in the pantry; and place a shower cubicle against the other side of that wall and a wash basin between the shower and the window, separate rooms An alternative layout was to demolish the diving wall and brick up the door of the pantry creating one larger room which would provide enough space to put in a full bath and shower. We toured the DIY outlets measuring the units on display as well as sourcing the materials, and decided that we would take the single room approach to installing the bathroom. 

Now it was time for demolition to begin, we were fairly certain that the dividing wall between the two rooms was non-supporting. We had opted to employ the same firm that installed the heating and other bathroom suites and they confirmed that the wall was a non-supporting structure and could be removed. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


When we returned to the thoughts of updating the utility and pantry we began by measuring up the spaces. It was in the process of drawing a scale plan that we had examined evidence of pipe work concealed in the walls and floors of the two adjacent rooms. 

It became quite evident when we looked into the void which is the under-build of the house; that the waste and water supply pipes were still in position from what had been a ground floor toilet in the space where the pantry was presently located. There was also a water supply and drain in the utility room which had been utilised by us for the washing machine and dishwasher.

 A ground floor toilet was an obvious improvement on the current layout in our eyes; even better a ground floor bathroom was now a possibility. It had potential as they say. 

Another fine mess

As a temporary fix we decided to clean up the old utility room by painting the tiles white. Carol, having watched far too many ‘television make over shows’, was eager to take responsibility for the painting task. She also decided that she should paint the pantry which was almost as badly decorated as the utility room. The chosen paint contained a toxic mix of paint and glue, and the fumes it gave off badly affected both of our respiratory systems. The result of this ‘makeover’ was that we had a clean looking if still shabby pantry and utility room. It was obvious that new shelves and storage units would be a waste of money if we didn’t change the tiles. 

We would live with the reality of what we had for the time being; though that sense of acceptance of our situation was tested, when I stored a tin of black paint in a box on the top shelf of the pantry, only for the paint to spill and form a huge black stain on the newly painted walls. Design feature it wasn’t

Monday, October 06, 2008

That was then....

Only four years ago large retail DIY stores were unknown around here, recently our choice has been expanded. In those earlier days there were many ‘designer’ or ‘boutique’ style suppliers of bathroom and kitchen fittings, keen prices however were much rarer.

It was whilst pricing materials for one our earliest projects that I set out on a quest to find sanitary ware and shower fittings. I had already selected the Roca Giralda model toilet I wanted from a brochure and knew that it would be widely available. The shower mixer I wanted was not so common, that was a ‘Grohe’ mixer unit with a thermostat control and one of their higher priced models.

On entering one particular establishment the guy on the first counter took me to a display of the items I wanted to purchase, none were priced. Quite reasonably I thought, I asked Counter Guy for the price of the unlabelled products and which, quite unreasonably I thought, he was unable to tell me. Instead he instructed me I should go to a first floor office and speak to a Technician. Counter man placed the products back on the shelf and pointed me towards an industrial style stairway which allowed me to climb to Technician world. The Technician operated a computer and had a catalogue of products with their specifications. Not particularly technical I thought but maybe I was just nit picking. El Technico printed off an electronic version of the catalogue pages he referred too, and then used his yellow highlighter to highlight the product price including a 25% discount. This I considered was only marginally more technical, though he in fairness seemed quite pleased with his own work. Having then agreed a price for two of the ‘Grohe’ shower mixers, I pulled out my wallet to pay them, but I was again thwarted in my quest because El Technico was unable to take payment for them. Instead I was directed to Cashier world in an office down the corridor. If you are still with me you will not be surprised to read that La Chica – Cashier Girl could not accept credit card payment so my remaining cash was handed over, in return for a receipt which I had to take back to El Technico who in turn sanctioned Counterman, down in the warehouse below, to supply me with my goods.

Now we have modern retail units with longer opening hours, extensive displays, transparent pricing and self selection of merchandise, and far greater customer choice. I know where I’ll be shopping.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Somebody should do something!

If there was one particular room in this house which cried out for attention it was the so called “Utility room”. Our or rather their Utility room was located on the ground floor of the house and it was adjacent to the kitchen on one side and a small walk in pantry on the other side; though with so many recent demands on our budget it had slipped down the list of our priorities. Decoration in the utility room was bizarre. Though neatly tiled, the walls of the room was displaying what can only be described as the odds and sods of left-over, blue coloured or patterned tiles from the previous owners of the properties many projects of long gone days. In the corner of the room was a precast concrete sink with an integral washboard.

 After expressing astonishment at our Gaudi-esc tile patterns, our kitchen supplier had told us that the sinks were an old favourite of Spanish ladies; and that even younger people were installing them in their properties whenever they had space. Personally I think that was just one of many points he stretched, others included the timetable for the kitchen installation and an estimation of when the small unfinished details would be completed. Still we persevered and alls well that ends well. So we decided not to break the sink, it would be useful in the garden or stable area we thought, it was after all big enough to bathe a small cow in. 

 The ‘Paleters’ (builders) who had installed the steel frames required for the double glazed windows, were absolutely delighted when I press-ganged them into helping me carry the ‘Spanish ladies favourite’ from the house to the stable


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brimming over.

The pool renovation appears to have paid off, here it is shown full of rainwater collected from the stable roof. I doesn't rain often here but when it does, it does! At least it now water tight and we can begin to think about pumps and filtration.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Additional building work

Sorry, I am busy supervising the renovation of a laundry room into a full bathroom. All garden updates will take place in November.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thats entertainment!

After living on a building site for almost a year with only a few music Cd's for company, following the burglary in which our television had been stolen. We have succumbed to the lure of the satellite dish, and a whole new world has opened up for us. Maybe not, Carol has now located all the television soap programmes and has taken command of the remote control.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Feel the Heat

Winter time in rural Spain can be surprisingly cold. Even houses just a few years old do not have insulation incorporated in the fabric of the building. Tiled floor surfaces which are so pleasant on a hot summers day can be a nightmare in winter.

Our house came with a half built chimney in the lounge which is single storey, the previous owner told us that the chimney was functional which it wasn’t. During the cold spell of last winter; the construction workers employed on the house renovation would open all the doors and windows to let the dust out whilst they worked. As the days passed the nights were getting colder and colder, and I had to sleep fully clothed and with two Nordic quilts on the bed.

I bought firewood and built a fire to try and take the chill of the room and prevent it from becoming damp. The fire looked fine and the heat it gave off was lifting the room temperature by a few degrees it was almost comfortable. Having solved one problem I needed to address the next issue which was hunger. I was living without a kitchen and eating breakfast cereal and sandwiches everyday was becoming a chore. It was nearly11pm and I knew that if I rushed I might just make McDonalds in Figueres before they closed. Fast food not very wholesome but at least it was hot, problem solved I felt warmer already.

As I drove back home, I noticed that the wind was getting stronger with each passing moment, and in the course of my short journey a full blown Tramontana had developed. Opening the door to the villa revealed a new problem, the house was now filled with smoke. The embers of the fire were extinguished to stop it compounding the problem. The Tramontana had prevented the smoke rising up the chimney and instead the fumes spilled into the living quarters.

Tramontana or not I had to ventilate the house and so had to open all the doors and windows. I stood outside learning all about wind chill for what seemed an eternity. Finally at 2am I was able to secure the house and retire to bed for another miserable night.

The house has come a long way in a year, and we now have an inset wood burning fire, it is unspectacular but functional and efficiently burns such firewood as we have.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Taking the plunge

The steps have been given two coats of black metal forge paint, the treads are non slip. Getting into the pool is easy enough but getting out is a little harder, I'm thinking about a boat ladder that would hang over the side wall but will have to look into how that could be anchored.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Pool painted

The pool after two coats of paint looks better than we hoped for, tommorow we will give it a third coat.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pool progress

These simple tools and a lot of elbow grease are working wonders. With a little luck and fair weather which doesn't seem to be a problem at the moment, painting should be possible soon.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Pool renovation

The algae killer was hard to find everyone tries to sell a large container of pool wash at 40 € a time. The one we needed cost only 2€ and was very effective although it took two days to kill off everything. After the chemistry it was time to scrape off the dead algae and then scrub the walls with a stiff brush. Another powerwash and once dry the pool should be ready for painting, thankfully it will be blue not white!

Saturday, September 02, 2006


This is a fossilised cat I found while clearing out the debris in the pool, I have added it to the compost heap. Catastrophe for the cat but no idea how, when or why it was in there.

Clearing the pool

Monday, August 28, 2006

Stable completed.

Final coat of paint applied and it's time to put the climbing plants back in.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Stable and pool

Once rendered we were able to paint the stable, workshop and pool exterior. The diference it has made is incredible.

Although the pool needs a lot of work on its interior before we can think about using it we believe the work will be well worth it. Paco says the concrete is sound, so we will clean off the algae with a purpose made chemical. Then we will remove all the loose paint and dirt with a power washer before painting it.

It will be too late in the season to think about filling the pool but it should provide welcome relief from the summer heat next year.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blue sky

On another day with a clear blue sky trhe Villa is looking well. The weather forecast often shows cloud around the Pyranees however our area must have more blue sky days than the rest of Catalunya.

Friday, February 17, 2006

It's all in the wrist!

Paco has triumphed once again! I was sceptical about the amount of material available to him, although I had scoured every bit of the garden to rescue fragments of the 'piedra'.

Always confident of the result, Paco has even surprised Christian with his workmanship. He has effortlessly worked the un-yielding material around the curve of the stairway.

Once the mortar is dry the excess will be brushed away with a wire brush, before the surface is sealed with a silicone based sealant. I will add that to my list then!

Later still

Once the workers leave the site, I sieve the sand heap and fill two barrows full to the brim. I have placed a large board with pieces of 'piedra' on it within an easy reach of the steps. When you are paying by the hour it is important that the 'artiste' is not kept waiting.

West side story

Paco and Christian have tiled the exterior of the steps to the east and west terraces, underneath the tiles they have matched in the 'piedra'.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Further steps

The steps at the kitchen door at the rear of the house were a big problem, but Paco extended them to the corner making them more useful and tidier at the same time


The steps at the front of the house have been tiled to match the interior tiles, the entrance is therefore much improved. Designed to curve to the left the steps posed a few problems for Paco as he worked on them. Keen to show his mastery of his craft he will render the sides of the steps; and he suggests that if I can find enough fragments of the 'piedra' he will also match the steps to the stone on the rest of the house. He might be showing off now!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


A simple coat of white paint transforms the wardrobe interiors. They are fairly large and solidly constructed, but like the rest of the inbuilt furniture dated and need to be replaced. Because of the design of the house replacement bedroom furniture will probably also be built into the same spaces as it occupies at the moment. The location of the windows and doors in each room somewhat limits placement of cabinets.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The stable

There is a stable block for three horses plus storage. Constructed from concrete block with pine beams to support a roof lined with pine. The roof is finished in corrugated asbestos sheeting which as well as leaking; sheds rain water into the plunge pool which adjoins the rear elevation of the stable.

The elevated water tower will eventually feed water through an irrigation system to the land. At the base of the water tower is a workshop.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Water, Fire and Air

Water Posted by Picasa

High in the mountains, to the untrained eye, the reservoirs appeared to be nearly full though down on the plains farmers were becoming increasingly concerned; the lack of rainfall and the rising temperatures did not bode well. These were the early days of Spain’s longest ever drought and forecasts about dwindling supplies in the long growing season, proved well founded.

Driving thousands of kilometres through this dry and dusty landscape, between the coast and mountains; stretching from Malaga in the south and Girona in the north east. The effects of the drought and what some regard as the creeping desertification of Spain were all around.

The contrast between the care free tourism on the Costa’s and the agricultural workers inland struggle was quite marked. Parched soils were difficult to work, the crops, grass and woodlands tinder dry. Water restrictions were being brought forward in an effort to conserve the continuity of supplies. The summer temperature soared to record levels and with no prospect of rain till autumn all that remained was to watch and hope.

Autumn came and went without significant rainfall in turn followed by yet another dry winter. The land was suffering and crops were threatened; and when in the following spring the long overdue rains did not materialise there was a growing sense of crisis.

Water tensions arose between regions who accused each other of wasting a national resource. Claimed efficiency in local methods of watering crops were contrasted more profligate methods in other regional Autonomies of the Spanish domain. The people of Valencia marched through the streets demanding that water be piped from the River Ebro to fulfil their needs; whilst their Catalan neighbours resisted those demands citing environmental issues as their chief concern for doing so. The Government planned to construct more coastal desalination units, they would take years to complete and people wanted water now. Property developers continued to constructed acre upon acre of housing all centred around thirsty golf courses. Villas with un-licensed swimming pools which could never be filled were built on demand.

Then disaster struck, nightly reports of fires consuming huge tracts of land estimated at up to 300,000 acres. Families and whole communities destroyed by the all consuming flames, 11 rescue workers dying in their particular battle against the raging inferno.

A disaster that was compounded by the carelessness and sometimes the criminality of people. Barbeques were held in high fire risk zones, despite participants having to scale barriers signposted with the fire warnings. In other cases blazes were started deliberately.

Firefighting helicopter

Friday, June 17, 2005

The tile patterns

The tile patterns are fairly simple 33 x 33 cm tiles laid in simple rows but with an inlaid border of herring bone effect tiles of 15 x 33 cm. The three larger areas of the ground floor would have a central panel surrounded by the border tile. The inset panels would also be offset to the main body of tiles thereby giving a variation to the rest of the rooms.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

One step forward two steps back

Our expert ‘instal:lador’ has worked his magic and everything within the bathroom is in position. The expert is looking vacant again, something he is very expert at!

When he was measuring the walls for the placement of the pipes, he had removed from the bathroom the very cabinet that was now causing the problem, and put it in an adjoining room. Despite advice from myself and his colleagues that he should simply draw around the cabinet carcass making a template on the wall. He told us this was his work and that he knew what he was doing. Our expert then walked backwards and forwards between the bathroom and bedroom taking measurements from the cabinet and transferring them to the wall where the cabinet would be fitted.

On examination of the situation he has identified the problem, that the cabinet case obstructs the connection to the water supply for the taps. His solution is that he will cut out a large hole in the cabinet, thereby weakening the cabinet but allowing him to connect to the water supply. In order to get this proposal past me he tells me about the situation, but does so by speaking German to me.

It is often said that the most powerful word in any language is ‘No!’

And so it was. I had to say ‘nein!’

Now I was insisting that he corrected the pipe work, retiled the wall and fitted the cabinet as it should be. As usual the extra work he caused was done by others, this is how one often recognises the expert.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A little light but a long tunnel!

The bathroom fittings were all on site and ready for installation. The fitter ‘istal:lador’ looked over them

“Do you have a crane?” he asked.

“No, why do we need a crane? There are three of us here”.

“But they are very heavy!” he complained.

And so it was that, I ended up carrying everything that was required for the following days work up the stairs. I placed everything in position so that the placement of the sanitary ware and cabinets could not be confused.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Slow progress

Arrived 10pm to find that the two bathrooms have not been installed, and that the tiling on the first floor is only partially completed.

Rather than removing the door architrave the tiler has cut round them by nibbling at the tile with pliers, the black grout and the broken edges look awful. Tommorow he will have to refit those tiles, come what may.

Had to put a make shift bed in the lounge; this will be my room for the next couple of weeks. There is a toilet down in the underbuild which is also the garage, what luxury! To make matters worse I will have to battle with those creatures of the night which inhabit that space, despite my best efforts to remove them.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Time management

The work is going much slower than I planned or could imagine, and with the weather getting hotter having to bathe in a plastic basin is a nightmare that has gone on too long. I have decided to go back to England for two weeks, a chance for the 'paletta' to crack on with the tiling. And for me it is an opportunity to get clean again.

Salvador Dali painted his clocks with distorted faces. In the heat and dust of Spain that is what happens to time here. At least to an outsider that is how it appears. In reality construction work is hard work exacerbated by the endless carrying of heavy materials and equipment. Add the heat and the draining effect of energy levels is soon apparent. The 'siesta' is an integral part of the body recovering its capacity for further strenuous endeavours.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Reform of the Bathroom.

There are two bathrooms which need to be reformed; the ensuite and the family bathroom.

After removal of the sanitary ware the next task is to retile the two rooms, after first removing the old tiles.

With only three days to complete the work before the tiler wants to start work it is looking like an impossible task. We therefore decide to get the builders in once more.

In the photograph the bath has been removed and the brick and tile base it sat in has been demolished. The tiles on the walls and every spot of the adhesive holding them on had to be removed by hammer and chisel. Even the mechanical hammer could not cope with the mortar and tile adhesive combination.

As soon as the builder rips out the two suites the tiler calls to say that he is behind on his present job and therefore will not be able to start work for ten days. This means that we will be without the two bathrooms for at least two weeks. With the weather getting hotter by the day this is news we do not need.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Materials to go!

The Materials for the Bathroom have arrived. We have decided to replace the two Baths with large shower enclosures.(80 x 120mm) The rooms each have good water pressure and with the capacity of the boiler invigorating hot showers should soon be possible.

The tiler is ready to start work as soon as the old bathroom suites are removed.

Shopping for materials is a strange experience in this country which still thrives on patronism if not nepotism. You the customer are not King here. You are not expected to show around for the required parts and materials. 'Installadors' and 'palettas' instead order on your behalf and collect the discounts they can negotiate with suppliers. 'Discuento' is still the first word learned by most Spaniards.

When you pay a visit to the large hardware suppliers your prospective purchase has three distinct elements.

First the 'Technico' will search his computer to ascertain if they can supply you with the correct part , he will print off a spec sheet and price the goods and add the IVA tax at 17%. He will then give you a discount of 10% if this is your first visit maybe 15% if it is a subsequent order.

Second the goods will be checked over by the counter assistant with your help.

Thirdly you now go to the office and pay a clerk for the goods and receive your validated invoice.

The process always seems like an exercise in job creation.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005