So it’s the end of August and we’ve been living here for 5 months. I can reveal with a sigh of relief that we have in fact started working on the house! Hurray! Cheers and applause all around! Here’s what we’ve been up to…
We found a supplier of natural hydraulic lime with which to make lime mortar. This is a great alternative to Portland cement because it has a smaller carbon footprint, it is breathable and although it’s got strength like cement, it’s softer than the rock around it. This means that if there’s damage to the stone wall, it’s the mortar that suffers, not the stone, and the mortar can be replaced a lot more easily. With our newly appropriated lime, we have started pointing parts of the house. This involves removing the old mortar between the facing stones, replacing it with new lime mortar then brushing it before it dries to make it look nice. The first batch we did at the back of the house came out with the stones all coated in white lime powder that can’t be removed unless you use an acid wash. So the next batch inside we have been doing with a slower but much less wasteful method that leaves the stones beautifully clean. The finished effect is lovely and some of the work is quite relaxing, but it is very time consuming and there’s still loads to do.
We have ordered our windows and front door, which will hopefully fit beautifully into the gaps in the walls when they arrive in a month or so.
We have decided how to rebuild our front wall on the first floor, which is currently a holey mix of latticed wood filled with stone and cob. We’re going to take it down and replace it with a wall made of thick insulating bricks which will then be rendered with lime mortar. The new doorway will be a normal height (we are both eagerly awaiting a future that will be head-smash free – at least upstairs) and the windows will be bigger and higher too.
About a week ago, we had the materials for this new front wall delivered. Ivan from the local building supply store brought them to the field above ours, then the neighbouring farmer / builder / handyman Duran brought them to the back of the house on a tractor and trailer. He brought the tonne bag of sand first. They laid out a tarp behind the trailer, then simply raised the trailer to allow it to cascade off the back and spill its contents all over the tarp. Then he brought two pallets of bricks down (total weight about 1.2 tonnes). As he was reversing down the hill, he shouted to Ivan “It’s not going to fall out is it?”, to which the reply came calmly “I’m not sure”, followed by sliding and crashing and rolling of bricks down the hill. Well that’s one way to get them off the trailer! Luckily the bricks seem pretty tough and surprisingly few got damaged. I couldn’t stop chuckling to myself about the ridiculousness of it – the big pile of bricks strewn down the hillside with bits of plastic packaging and broken pallet sticking out.
Dave has been rescuing our little barn from its green tomb. He’s been clearing ivy from the walls and roof and is now in the process of removing tiles, putting down corrugated waterproof sheets, then replacing the tiles on top. This is a temporary measure to try and stop the whole thing falling down from water damage before we get around to dealing with it.
The roof works on our house are scheduled with Duran hopefully for September, although these things tend to start later than you expected and go on for longer. We’ll see what happens, but I feel (at the moment) that it can be done before winter.
So after months of trying to get things off the ground, it’s all sort of happening at once. There’s a lot to think about. Even when we’re just meditatively pointing the inside walls, we need to remember things like where to leave space for wiring, plug sockets and light switches. We’re also trying to get our residency application off the ground, which is proving to be as difficult, time-consuming and bureaucratically ridiculous as expected. We still have to apply for a permit to do the roof. And every day we have to do all our normal life stuff too – Dave goes to work 3-4 days a week, we have visitors, we have a garden to tend, we have a puppy to look after, sometimes we allow ourselves time to go climbing or I do yoga or we go and meet people. We have all that normal stuff to do that takes up so much of our time. I’m not complaining – I like that stuff. But the expectations are constantly getting re-evaluated and deadlines move further into the future as it becomes obvious that they were always unattainable. So who knows… maybe we’ll be in the house this winter… maybe our tent will have to see us through a few more frosts!