Archive for the ‘Building renovation’ Category

The saga of the communal building

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

It’s been a while since I posted about progress on the main building. More than 3 years, in fact. You’d think in that time it would be finished, but no …

This building – what will eventually be the communal ‘hub’ of the quinta – has presented me and those who’ve worked on it with a lot of challenges. Many more by far than anything else on the quinta. As a task master, it’s been strict and demanding. As a critique of workmanship, it’s been uncompromising. With a relentless insistence, it’s defied attempts to make do with ‘good enough’. Any work that’s fallen short – either by me or builders working on it – has been slapped back in our faces and has had to be done again. I don’t even want to think about the cost, but it’s been far more than budgeted, both in money and time, and it’s still a good way from being finished.

By turns it’s puzzled and confused me; dismayed and depressed me. For a long time I simply couldn’t understand why everything to do with it should have to be so difficult, especially when everything else was going so well. What was I missing? For nearly two years (while waiting for work to be completed and then redone … yet again …) it seemed like too much to give headspace to and I simply turned my back on it and got on with other projects.

The communal building when we first saw the quinta

The communal building as it was when we first saw the quinta

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A dining area for the wee house

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Following on from the completion of the kitchen at the wee house, the next step was to create a dining area. The terrace in front of the house on the lower level was the logical place for this – lovely views through the olive trees down to the village and across the valley, and grapes vines already planted and just asking for a trellis to grow over to create a shaded seating area. Plus it had already been identified as a fine place to sit …

The wee house dining area

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Yurt makeover

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

The yurt has been my home for 5 years now. It’s stood up to the extremes of Portuguese weather reasonably well, especially after building a porch to protect the doorway (4 years ago) and covering it with shade netting to stop the canvas disintegrating in the sun (3 years ago). It’s settled nicely into the landscape and as the gardens mature around it, is becoming less and less obtrusive.

The yurt becoming part of the landscape

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We are crowdfunding!

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

This video explains …

And the campaign is hosted here.

The vermicomposting flush toilet completed

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Last year I wrote about our installation of a vermicomposting flush toilet – a worm composting system for a conventional flush toilet – in the outhouse for the wee house. It was all ready and set to go for a good while, minus the worms, but we couldn’t start using it until we had a water supply to the wee house since there would be nothing to flush with until we did.

With the completion of the quinta’s water storage and distribution system in February, I could at last commission the system.

Outhouse toilet featuring a composting flush toilet

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A wood-burning masonry cookstove

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Ach! Where does the time go? I’m so hopelessly behind with blog posts and there are now so many pending I scarcely know where to start. I just checked the last post I made about the outdoor kitchen for the wee house and it was a year ago!

Alongside the cob bread/pizza oven I built last spring (and which is now producing fabulous food), I also constructed a wood-burning masonry cookstove. I found an open source Sketchup model online and adapted it for Portuguese fire brick dimensions.

Sketchup model for wood burning cook stove

This is the adapted model. Click on the image to download the Sketchup file and open in Sketchup (3D modelling software which is free to download). Firebricks are colour-coded for different lengths. You’ll need to be reasonably proficient with an angle grinder (at the least) to build this stove.

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Timber-framed grey water-processing greenhouse – part 2

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The last post on this build finished with the laying of the chestnut ring beam which forms the base of this sweet chestnut timber frame construction. The next part was to raise the main supporting structure.

Splitting out braces with a small axe

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A grey water processing greenhouse for the main building

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

Another of this last summer’s principal projects has been restarting work on the main building. After the salutary lesson of the badly-built balcony and trellis, this time there would be no short cuts. We started taking apart the roof of the balcony back in spring to reuse the roof tiles on the wee house roof extension, and as work continued there on the toilet and battery house, we frequently raided the balcony for pieces of chestnut timber for floor and roof joists and for pine planking. So when it was finally time to demolish the balcony at the end of May, there wasn’t a whole lot left to take down.

Demolishing the remainder of the balcony

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A composting flush toilet

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

When I first started planning the infrastructure here, I intended throughout to use Joe Jenkins‘ dry composting toilet system. Beautifully simple and easy to construct and maintain, convenient and portable, no requirement to separate urine from fæces, and an efficient composting system designed for optimum thermophilic decomposition. It’s no wonder Jenkins’ toilets have been dubbed ‘Loveable Loos’. What’s not to like?

Outhouse toilet for the wee house

Many people though are surprisingly squeamish about dry toilets. When I came across Anna Edey’s experiments with vermicomposting in Massachusetts 18 years ago for processing sewerage out of a conventional flush toilet, described on the website promoting her book, I was intrigued. The fact that it coincided with us beginning renovations on an outhouse toilet for the wee house (designed to be guest accommodation) seemed fortuitous. The outhouse was ideally situated for it and putting in a composting flush toilet for the guest accommodation seemed like an excellent idea. When we then discovered a nice old ceramic flush toilet bowl still in one piece at the local dump, it seemed to be signalling the perfect opportunity to give this method a try. Edey’s website didn’t give full details, but there was enough information for me to work the rest out for myself.

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Catch the rain

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

With the addition of guttering to the roofs of the buildings we’re renovating, it’s always been the intention to catch and store the rainwater runoff. It’s at this time of year, when the land is parched and the stream down to its bare minimum, that a few thousand litres can make all the difference. The east side of the quinta furthest from the stream suffers the most. Here it’s so dry it’s been pointless trying to establish new plantings or even dream of growing annuals without installing some sort of irrigation to support them. Long-term, the aim is to grow ground cover plants and shrubs that, over time, will increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil by adding organic material to it, and shading the soil from the harshest effects of the sun, but until we get to that point – and even when we do – water in the summer will be important.

Offloading IBC tanks - or at least attempting to

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