Another big lot of changes

Well a lot has happened again in the last few weeks, in my last post we had just got the plastering finished and were moving towards the finishing stages.

The first thing that happened next was all the pipe work and the conduit goes in for the electrics and plumbing. This is all don in a completly different way than in the UK, pipework is done in a single straight run without any joins, and all the electrics are run through plastic pipes. All this is laid across the floor and up the walls in what looks like total confusion.

So the blue ones are for water and the black ones are for electricity.

All the pipes lead into a central manifold in the utility room.

Once everything is in place then the whole lot is covered in two seperate layers of concrete, first a coarse mix then a thin compacted level layer on which we will put the floor tiles.

With the floor in place other stuff can happen, the doors and the windows were completed some time ago and have been in storeage, with the floor in the carpenters can move around without the fear of damaging any electrics and pipes. So all of a sudden we had floors and windows.

This is looking down from the front door.

This is one of the downstairs bedrooms with the door out to the garden.

This is the upstairs bedroom.

And this is the door to the garden.

Putting the windows in has really made a change to the outside of the house.

This is looking up at the kitchen windows.

I have been very busy on preparation for the next stages which will be tilling the upper floor and getting the wood ready for the ground floor. We are trying to use as much material from the old barn as we possibly can. The way things are working out we will actually recycle the entire building. Before the building was knocked down I removed all of the floor planks and beams that were safe to take out without the building collapsing. The floorboards have been in storage for the last year but now it was getting near the time to start work on them. They looked terrible, nails all over the place, woodworm, rotten patches and smelled pretty foul bearing in mind cows had been shitting all over them for about the last three hundred years.  This is probably not an exaggeration, lots of the nails holding the planks down were medieval handmade iron nails which are probably from around the 1700’s.

So I had to thoroughly jet wash and de-nail them, a process that took about two weeks. They were then transported up the road to the local carpenter who put them through his machines to plane them all down to the same thickness. The results are fantastic.

These are now ready to go down, and work will start on this in the next few days.

More soon. Cheers




Progress, at last

I feel like things are really starting to move now, since my last post, about six weeks ago a lot has happened.I finished all the internal insulation, got all of the electrical conduits and distribution boxes in, put a base coat of cement on all the walls and ceilings and generally prepared everything for the builders to move back in.

They got stuck into the final plastering and as you can see below things are looking pretty good.

This is from the front door.

And this is from the other end of the room.

This is the main bedroom upstairs, with the equipment room to the right and the ensuite to the left.

The steps going downstairs.

This is the second bedroom, which is a large double.

And this is the other bedroom which is two singles.

And the doorways between the two.

And just to finish off, a nice picture from last weeks walk. Tata for now.



Been a while but…….

I have the excuse of being ridiculously busy. The builders handed the house over to me about four weeks ago and it has all been a bit mental since then. In order to keep costs down, certain parts of the project are to be done by me, and the part that I am doing now is all of the internal insulation, cutting in around all the windows and openings, cutting conduit for the electrical systems into the walls and ceilings and plastering all the insulated walls and ceilings ready for a final coat which will be done by the boys when they return in two weeks. Thats a lot of work, which is why I have been a bit slack on the blog front.

Anyway here are some pictures.

The outside looks pretty much the same, but some of the finishing work has been happening, here you can see the new stone sills going in prior to the windows being fitted.

And below you can see the outdoor area is built and the recycled stone sills have been cut and put in to make the door frame for the entrance.

We wanted to keep a very minimalist interior and so went for a very unusual design, the roof has no visible structure, but is held together by two massive steel reinforced beams that run along the top of the walls and are held together by a steel rod with a barrel screw in the middle.

The inside is starting to take shape, this shows the walls with the 10cm insulation panels. The walls have so much insulation in them that if you lean against them they start to warm up and it feels like someone left a hot water bottle there.

The insulation panels have to cover all exposed brickwork that is external, the panels are 1 meter long by half a meter wide and are stuck on using a special adhesive cement, holes are drilled through and plastic expanding bolts are driven through the panelsand into the walls and ceiling.

Doing the walls is not too bad, but the ceilings are a very tricky, balancing on top of a ladder holding a panel in the right place while wielding a massive kango hammer drill and sledge hammer are not good for the back,

The electrics are cut into the walls and insulation which can be seen running down the staircase.

Conduit and switch boxes set into the wall for the 2 way light switches.

The panels have to be cut to shape around the door and window openings.

Once the insulation is all in place, then plastic mesh is fixed over all the surfaces and more adhesive cement is plastered over the top, this gives a suitable surface for final plastering.

So, so far downstairs is nearly finished ready for plastering, we have two weeks to finish the insulation, plaster the surfaces and install all the conduit for the electics for upstairs, which is just about doable. The windows are started next week and in two weeks the builders move back in to do the final plastering and external rendering. At the same time the electricians and plumbers move in to fit the central heating and solar water panels.

Once the electrics and plumbing are in place I move back in to fit out the two bathrooms, kitchen and lay all the floors.

Thats all for now.


Winter stuff

Tried out something new recently, snow trekking. This is basically walking through the mountains of the Apennines in winter using snow shoes. We have had a good dump of snow recently, not too much around the house, where it has been falling as rain, but above a 1000m it’s been falling as snow.

The depth of the snow varies depending on the strength of the wind when it falls, in places it is just a few cm deep, but in others it’s almost waist deep.

Plus you get different types, there is the wind blown loose powdery snow which you sink straight into, and other places where it is frozen solid into sheets of ice. You cant get across this sort of terain in ordinary boots so you need to where snow shoes which you strap on and which allows you walk.





A (very) cold walk in the mountains

The geography of Italy produces some very interesting results, it is widely considered that the food of the region is very much tied up with its topography. Much of the country is covered in mountains, like where we live, which is part of the Apennines. Living in or near mountains means that you are close to a range of climates, all very near to each other.

If you think of northen flat land food, you find things like hearty stews, with slow cooked meat, potatoes, onions and carrots. The sort of vegetables that all grow within the same climate, because when the land is flat, the climate is the same everywhere. When you live near mountains, then you have a massive range of food at your fingertips because every 100m up you go you lose a degree in temperature. So at the lower down you have olives and lemons, as you go up you have grapes and fruit trees, then up to high woodland where you find mushrooms, and up on the high pastures where you find sheep and goats where they make cheeses. All need very different climates and temperatures, but all found very close to each other, and so thats why Italian food is simple, but very dependent on a wide variety of good quality ingredients. The food here is just a reflection of the topography.

After you have been here for a while you start to realise that there is another layer of complexity that is also in play. One oddity I noticed some time ago was the temperature difference between the two ends of the San Bernard Tunnel, that joins Italy and Switzerland across the Alps. Having driven back and forth a few times, you start to notice that the Swiss side is a lot colder than the Italian side, and we are not just talking about the people. It took me a while to realise its because the Italian side faces south and the Swiss side faces north, so the Italian side gets more sunlight in winter and so is warmer. This is an effect that is impossible to miss under the right conditions, I have before wound my way up the Aosta valley from the Italian side in bright sunshine only to pop out the other end of the tunnel into a freezing cold blizzard in Switzerland.

This effect can also be seen in our own valleys here in the Apennines, but with another twist, the spine of the mountains here run north to south with the valleys running east to west. The sides of the valleys here are steep, which means one side often faces due south with the other side facing due north. In the summer, when the sun is high both side get a lot of sunshine, but in winter when the sun is low, the side facing north may not see sunshine at all from about October to about March, and boy do they get cold.


There is a wonderful road that joins Forte di Marmi on the coast to Castelnuovo, our nearest town. At weekends it is a delightful drive through stunning mountains up to the top of the pass with views of the sea. From there there are lots of fantastic walks through wooded valleys and dramatic drops. But the first thing you notice when you get out of the car is the temperature, bloody freezing. It has been quite cold this winter, we arrived at the house on the 20th of December and every morning so far we have woken to a thick frost, at night temperatures drop to around minus six or seven, with day time barely getting much above zero.

But the start of our walk was on the side of the valley that gets no sun at all and it was well below what we get at the house, when we parked up the car was reading minus eight and as we headed off into the woods it got colder and colder, I could tell by the numbness in my ears and nose we were going through patches in the minus twelve to minus fifteen range.

As mentioned before, the mountains produce very different climates as you go up and down, and the vegetation you walk through reflects these changes, so on the lower slopes you walk through sweet chestnut, then up through mediterranean oaks, followed by pines, then tall thin beech trees.

Walking conditions were quite difficult it had snowed a few days before, followed by a slight melt then a big drop in temperature, Everything was covered in ice, even quite large streams had been frozen solid.

But as we walked on we started to move to areas where the sun had been reaching the ground and things started to warm up a bit.

Eventually coming out at the top in the middle of a field outside an old farmhouse where we stopped for a well earned picnic in glorious sunshine.

Then it was back home and fire up the outside oven for some fresh baked piza.

I spoke too soon

I was a bit premature with my last blog, turns out there were a couple of things that had to be added. Namely this, which is the safety line anchor point for when someone is working on the roof. This is a new legal requirement for roof design.

Everything is now good to go, and here below is the roof all ready to take the cement which will arrive tomorrow.

Roof construction with bars before cement



Mid December, just before the roof is cast

Been a little while since I posted anything so there has been a lot of progress in the mean time.

Wall construction in wet weather

Conditions deteriorated somewhat after the floor had been cast, but the boys just got on with it. Working in the rain under umbrellas.

Steelwork going in to create the structure of the roof support

The walls went up pretty quickly, and work soon started on forming the roof.

Wooden boards going in to support the casting of cement

Wooden formers were put into place to aid the placing of all the roof beams. Because the house is in an earthquake zone the construction has to be massively strong to resist being shaken apart. One of the main features is a reinforced earth quake ring that sits under the roof, constructed from reinforced steel of a massive size.

Steel beams running the length of the house

Into this ring various elements are added including some of the woodwork.

Wooden inserts set into concrete beams that support the guttering

Wooden formwork supports the central roof beam while side beams are added.

Tiles and steel beams being supported on wooden formers

As the roof structure progresses, the build has to be supported from underneath.

Forest of bracing to hold up the structure of the house before being covered in cement

The interior is going to be very minimalist, but one feature will stand out, it is a massive steel bar that crosses the living room that braces the two sides of the house.

Steel beam which crosses the room half way to brace the sides of the house

With everything nearly in place it is almost time for the final casting of the roof cement.

What the view will look like from the house

The next floor goes in

In a similar process to creating the ground floor slab, wooden formers are used to create the shape of the next pour of concrete. The outer ring of reinforced cement is shaped by many pieces of wood, used in place by a multitude of fixings.


Below the wooden structure shapes the steps which will create the access to the lower level. Steel jigs hold the wooden boards together to stop them from separating under the pressure of the concrete.


With everything in place the cement mixer arrives, this is equiped with a pump and a very long delivery arm so it can reach right across the house.

Lorry with an articulated arm delivering cement.

Like before, first the main beams are filled and worked to make sure there is no air in the structure.


With the beams done, the finishing layer can be applied and the whole structure, all the way from the pergola, to the far end of the house is finished in a single layer.




featured image

Late October

Well the boys are storming along, they are now at the level of the next floor up. The preparation now needs to be done to get ready for the next ring of reinforced steel that goes in at the first floor level. In addition to the top of the wall.



The ground needs to be prepared in order to cast the concrete base for what will become the pergola at the entrance to the house.

And the layout of the house is becoming clearer.