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'Permifying' a large traditional house...

 
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Been lingering around here a while, mostly dreaming, but we've now finally pulled the trigger on a property in Portugal.

We were originally looking for a farmhouse - something compact and rustic - but the property we've ended up with is more of a 'country house' from about 1900 -originally built as a mountain retreat for a wealthy family from Lisbon - once quite a classy place, now in need of some TLC. Pics attached.

It's got an orchard, olive groves and vines out back and another ruined house that could end up as a barn eventually.

I already have lots of permaculture plans for the land to help us move towards food self-sufficiency, but the house... Well I am experienced in the garden, but not buildings/homesteading per se. I want it to be low-tech, efficient, at least partially off-grid, and obviously incorporate 'permie' ideas and ideals wherever possible, but I am having trouble reconciling a lot of the amazing stuff in these forums with the nature of my property. I kind of have to work with what I've got and it's different from a lot of what I've seen here.

The house is solid granite about three feet thick, with a semi-basement built into the mountainside. Main accommodation is above the basement, with wooden floors on oak beams. Interior walls are lath-and-plaster. Roof is uninsulated terracotta tiles on beams.

How would you go about 'permifying' such a house - basically unchanged since the early 1900s - in as low-tech a way as possible? The hope is for it to feel absolutely timeless.

My main ideas/areas concern at the moment:

• Heating is my first concern, as we are in Portugal's tallest mountain range and it does get a little bit cold in winter.

• Sheep-wool for insulating the roof? Has anyone has used it? Does it get damp? Do I need to bag it in plastic? I may be able to get access to trimmings/raw fleece offcuts from the wool industry here. Can I just shove bags of this behind some wooden panneling or is it more complicated than that? Should it be compressed (felt-like?), or left 'fluffy'?

• There are only two fireplaces (one in kitchen, one in master bedroom). Would an Aga that is basically always warm, combined with some kind of duct system, be able to heat the house (or at least part of it), or will I need more stoves? Would a wood powered boiler in the basement and a radiator system be more efficient?

Water is currently on grid, but we have an amazing deep well in the garden, with far superior water for free. I would much rather drink/use that. Does anyone have experience plumbing their conventional house into a well? Would I need a ridiculously powerful pump to get decent water pressure? Would I be better off just bottling a quantity to drink each day and paying for conventional pipe water, in terms of cost-efficiency vs. pumping it out of the well?

• Keeping livestock under the house to make a difference to heating? We are planning to have goats. Lots of old houses were designed to house the animals directly under the accommodation, as obviously they produce a (significant?) quantity of heat... (Naturally they will be out in the day). A worthwhile difference, do you think, or more trouble than it's worth?

• Would half-wainscotting the bottom half of the walls in wood with a layer of insulation behind be worth doing? (I don't want to panel them right to the top).

• Met a guy in the UK whose trade was fitting plastic (perspex or something) secondary glazing in historic homes. He claimed it was effective and meant you didn't need to replace historic windows with double-glazed ones. Indeed, we don't want to replace, so this is something we were considering (in addition to blanket-lined curtains, plus the already extant wooden shutters). However, a more conventional builder we know said it does not work well Any experience with such things? Can we 'DIY' it?

Any other good starter ideas for large-ish old-ish European houses? Any examples of similar projects? Tips for heating efficiency in big old drafty places without radical remodelling?
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rocket scientist
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Oh My Goodness Rudyard;
That is a very very cool old building! I like It!
And it looks absolutely nothing like I had envisioned from your text!

Although I know a little bit about almost anything I do not have much in the way of good input for you.
It is so large you have quite the project ahead of you!
Insulating with wool could work but rodents could be a problem maybe? Yes wainscoting with insulation would look great and work well.
A pump and pressure tank on your well should be easy to do. Use town water for gardening and in your orchard.
And then we come to your heating question... As the rocket mass heater guy, I suggest that one or more RMHs might be just what you need!

 
master pollinator
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Amazing.   I love seeing properties from areas of the world with such a long and rich archectural history,  as well as seeing them persist into "now" times and preserved.  That yard looks pretty special too.   I have no advice whatsoever, but thank you for posting this and sharing it here.  I hope you keep this thread updated (or new threads) as you go.  
 
Rudyard Blake
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thomas rubino wrote:Oh My Goodness Rudyard;
That is a very very cool old building! I like It!
And it looks absolutely nothing like I had envisioned from your text!



Thanks Thomas, it's a 'project for life' as my partner puts it. We're in our 30s and hope to live here probably forever, so lots of time for gradual improvement!

I so want to build a rocket mass heater but sort of gave up on the idea because of the wooden floors and lath-and-plaster construction of the walls. Wouldn't the cob be super dense and heavy? Wouldn't there be a fire risk building it on top of a wooden floor?

I also think the organic look of cob (which I absolutely love) would look a little weird in there when everything else is so... I dunno, 'formal'? At least, I can't find any examples of it in similar-looking context, but I'm all ears if anyone has any ideas. Do they have to be cob? I'm really into those Russian tiled stoves (attached) that can have beds and sofas built into them...  I just have no idea how to construct one. Are bricks and tiles an effective replacement for cob in rocket mass heaters if I want a more formal look?
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Rudyard Blake
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Heather Staas wrote:Amazing.   I love seeing properties from areas of the world with such a long and rich archectural history,  as well as seeing them persist into "now" times and preserved.  That yard looks pretty special too.   I have no advice whatsoever, but thank you for posting this and sharing it here.  I hope you keep this thread updated (or new threads) as you go.  



Thanks Heather, I hope to keep a thread running on our progress and that we can be good caretakers for this house. So many plans!
 
master gardener
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Rudyard Blake wrote:I so want to build a rocket mass heater but sort of gave up on the idea because of the wooden floors and lath-and-plaster construction of the walls. Wouldn't the cob be super dense and heavy? Wouldn't there be a fire risk building it on top of a wooden floor?

If you choose your spot carefully, if the basement floor  is solid, you may be able to build pillars to support a main floor RMH. You'd absolutely need to insulate the floor between the wood and the RMH.

What's the square footage? How much square footage do you actually need?

Generally health departments discourage farm animals near/in houses because flies spread nasty things and are pretty good at sneaking into kitchens etc.
 
thomas rubino
rocket scientist
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Hi Rudyard;
No RMHs do not need to be cob.
Things have progressed from the early days of all cob, piped mass benches, and J tube-style cores.
More popular now is all brick RMHs.  Some as J-tube style and some as Peter Berg-style Batchboxes.
Brick bells also called stratification chambers heat from the top down and vent at floor level.
They can be any shape and within parameters, any size.
Weight is a concern "maybe"  The bottom would be cement board.
The temperature at floor level is negligible and fly ash will add extra protection.
The cement board can be elevated with brick spaced underneath for maximum floor protection.
 
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Beautiful house.

For water, do you have any slope that you could work with? You could get a DC solar pump, and then when the sun is shining it would pump from the well up to a storage pond or tank, and then gravity feed to the house.

How cold does it get in winter there? You might be able to get away with just an Aga or something similar for cooking and heat, this would mean there's one or two rooms of the house that are warmer than others, so you might need something extra if your winters are extremely cold, but it works fine here in Tasmania.
 
Rudyard Blake
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Jay Angler wrote:you may be able to build pillars to support a main floor RMH. You'd absolutely need to insulate the floor between the wood and the RMH.
What's the square footage? How much square footage do you actually need?
Generally health departments discourage farm animals near/in houses because flies spread nasty things and are pretty good at sneaking into kitchens etc.



I think a pillar will be necessary.

I don't know what the exact square footage is because I don't have the plans to hand. It has 12 bedrooms - the plan is to run little alpine club/bunk house and have rooms for members to stay in, so eventually it would all need to be fairly cosy. I think we'll start off just trying to heat the bit we're going to live in though!

Animals laws in Portugal are probably not as strict as in the USA. This is an extremely rural and underdeveloped area with a strong transhumance/shepherding culture. Most other houses in the village have farm animals in/around them. I don't think rules would stop us - I am more worried about things like the amount of humidity they would produce under the house, etc. It's probably not a great idea.

thomas rubino wrote:Hi Rudyard;
No RMHs do not need to be cob.



Brill, thanks. I am going to look into making one from bricks.

Kate Downham wrote:
For water, do you have any slope that you could work with? You could get a DC solar pump, and then when the sun is shining it would pump from the well up to a storage pond or tank, and then gravity feed to the house.

How cold does it get in winter there? You might be able to get away with just an Aga or something similar for cooking and heat, this would mean there's one or two rooms of the house that are warmer than others, so you might need something extra if your winters are extremely cold, but it works fine here in Tasmania.



The land has actually all been levelled! The house has a weird side terrace at roof-height though, which would be plenty big enough for a water tank - or would that be too steep? It is a good idea.

Winters can supposedly go to around -5c at the coldest. It snows. But I have not passed a winter here yet and I am not sure how far up the mountain those temperatures ranges relate to. I am hoping to track the temps with a thermometre for future reference. It looks like a vaguely not too dissimilar temperature range to Tasmania, actually! (based on a cursory Google) although here can get above 30c in summer and I image our winters would be chillier simply because of altitude.

Thanks for your input everyone! Gonna draw some plans up for a brick RMH!
 
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