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Dirt, Cannonballs and Walls
Another renovation update...
I feel like beginning this post by quoting Dickens, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” While Denise cruises along saying, “It will get done”, I count the days we are behind schedule. Renovating a 100+-year-old building in Portugal is not for the faint of heart.
I last updated you on the 12th of July. At that point, the guys were still wielding sledgehammers. As we were going to be gone most of August, I had scheduled a meeting with our builder and architect for 26 July. Of course, I had visited the site several times each week1 and had noticed that they had started knocking holes in the ceiling/roof on either side of the central beam. The day I visited with Ana, our architect, I learned she had recommended to the builder that we reinforce the beam further. He agreed, and on the day we visited, they were inserting U-shaped rebar from above and below and tying them together. A few days later a plywood box was constructed around the beam.
During that visit, we also learned that the foundation on one side of the building was missing. We will be fixing that…our neighbors can thank us later.
At the end of the meeting, I explained we would be back for a week near the end of August. Both Ana and I understood the builder to say that that would be perfect. The demo would be done and we would be ready to confirm the placement of the walls.
As it turns out when we returned José and everyone who worked for him was on vacation. WTF…I was flummoxed. While vacationing on the Spanish coast José returned Ana’s call and asserted that he had told us this week wouldn’t work. As Ana is Portuguese, I doubt it was a translation problem. She also knows that fighting about what was said will not accomplish anything…so we waited.
And so we Wait
Of course, while they were on vacation I was not. Above you see the condition of the house upon our return. Pillars and beams had been installed to support the ceiling/roof. The wall separating our future kitchen from the courtyard had been demoed as had the wall that will open our bedroom to the courtyard. The plywood trough that had surrounded the beam had been filled with concrete.2
I also noticed that 2/3 of the tile floor had been removed. While I wasn’t sure what the next step was, I was fairly sure we weren’t ready to map out the interior walls. When José returned from vacation he assessed the progress. In three weeks, we would be ready to take the next step. To me, that seemed like we were three weeks behind. I asked if he could put more men on the job…no he didn’t have any more men to offer.
I also asked why they had not completely demoed the wall above. The plan called for a glass panel so we could create the illusion that the kitchen extended into the courtyard. Ana and I learned that the structural engineer had inserted a new support column (you can see it above) where the window should have been. This will be what I suspect is the first of several design compromises.
28 Truckloads of Dirt
Over the next 3+ weeks, the two men demoed the floor and dug down 18”. They also dug even deeper trenches and installed new sewage pipes. Junction boxes like the one you see below lead from bathrooms and kitchen to the front of the building leading to the main sewer line.
I also learned that we would not be ready to meet again as planned. After excavating a plastic liner would be installed, then rebar and the first 4” layer of concrete. While I was frustrated, angry, ticked off, and a bunch of other adjectives I should not say…there was a bright spot. During the excavation, they unearthed 3 cannonballs.
Perhaps these are from a long-forgotten skirmish with Spain. Perhaps they were brought with filler dirt from Castro Marim. How and when they got into our house is a mystery to us. We have considered taking them to the antiquities department of the city, but fear they may be confiscated. Educated guesses, thoughts, and recommendations are welcome.
As they filled each truckload they placed a chalk mark by the door. In all, they hauled off 28 truckloads of dirt. They then had to haul back some to fill in the trenches.3
You are Looking at the Wrong Plan
The guys had promised me the first layer of concrete would be done by Segunda (that’s Monday, 19 September). I called Ana, “Can we meet with José on Wednesday?” I got a return text … Wednesday, 14:00. I stopped by on Segunda and about 1/3 of the floor was still dirt. I texted Ana. “You better push it back a day.” She replied, “Okay, Thursday is better for me.”
As luck would have it Denise and I decided to circle by on Wednesday. It is a good thing we did. José and his men, hoping to save time during the Thursday meeting, started laying out our brick walls. I quickly realized he was working off of an old plan. Fortunately, the cement had not set and he was not angry. We knocked over the errant bricks and I provided him with the most up-to-date plan.
Last Thursday, 22 August, Ana, Denise, and I met with José. The wall between the guest bath and the library/den will need to be moved 10 cm to the right to insure there is enough room to meet the handicap regulations. The wall between the library and dining area was also off by 35 cm…he will correct both.
As we met his two workers were installing the foundation on one side of the house and installing the wall between our dressing area/bathroom and the courtyard.4 Had we not wanted our sliding doors to go into the wall when open, we could have left the original 18” thick wall. I am not sure exactly how much this important detail (for me) adds to the cost. 💸
If you are used to American construction you may have noticed things are a bit different here. Yes, the interior walls are brick. That means they are thicker. They are also far more soundproof. You may also note that we have not “closed the house up”. The exterior of the house, including windows, will be one of the final steps…even after the plaster finish has been applied to the interior walls. Also, the holes for the skylights have not been cut. Instead, they wait until the glass arrives. I find this very weird.
José says we should meet again in three weeks. At that point, we can do final measurements for kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures.
I’ve marked my calendar for 13 October and 20 October. And both dates are in pencil.
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Next Week: a cartoonist and a queen, and are we exporting the wrong things to Portugal?
I try to mix things up…some days pastries at 08:00, an occasional lunch at 11:30, or beers at 16:00.
Fun fact … all concrete is mixed on-site. To fill the trough they erected a tripod on the roof and attached a pulley and rope. Buckets of concrete were then hoisted up to the roof to fill the plywood form.
Our builder has been doing construction in VRSA for 30+ years. He knows everyone in the city, the building department, etc. Instead of a dumpster, he positions his large panel truck in a parking space across the street. When the truck is full his men dump it somewhere and return to the “roped off “spot. The way they protect the space with large water jugs and crime scene tape remind me of people in South Philly placing lawn chairs in “their space”.
Note: these are two different guys. Don’t know their names yet but the lead bricklayer I learned is from Romania.