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What would you do? 3ha/7.5 acres + BIG old stone house

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 118
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Partner and I are currently considering taking the plunge from urban apartment living to a permie homestead.

Mostly in our area this involves some land + a BIG old stone farmhouse that is considered a historical monument and it's highly regulated what you can do with it.

I'd love to get your ideas on the latest one on my radar screen. First let me tell you what I want:

-Keep my day job in business -- I will need the money!

-Perhaps this property could hook in to my present business by running occasional week-long courses there, even involving overnight stays, so a B&B thing is a possibility.

-Not drive myself crazy. This is important. I'm middle-aged and am not going into anything wide-eyed. I love permie-ing but low-maintenance and low outside labor needs would be key. That's a lot of land for two part-time people. And not sure about the possible hassles of a B&B biz.

-Make the property generate money in some way - rebuilding the house will cost a fortune.

-Be able to escape once in a while for 3 weeks, so maybe I could get the neighbor to watch my chickens/ducks, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't milk my cow!

-With some horticulture beds, a chiampa?, maybe plant some vines (good wine can be made locally), and a bit of a food forest, I'm done. The rest of the land can be devoted to any smart use.

-In the house since there's loads of space I'd have an everything workshop -- wood, maybe a RMH iron forge!, ceramics, painting...

OK, so here's what there is to work with:

-Ourselves, city folks with some gardening skills and not much else but we catch on quickly

-3ha (7.5 acres) of mostly grass used to graze sheep lately. 12%ish slope, and steeper near bottom edges. South-southwest orientation. Clay soil. Zone 8b-ish. Gorgeous.

-Big 300-y.o. historical stone house. Maybe 600m2 (6000 sq ft). Needs new roof immediately and total gutting. Must keep big thick stone walls and can't make changes to the (3-pitch peaked) roofline or facade. There is over 400m2 of roof!

So my big questions are:

-How can I generate money from the land in a low-maintenance, fun, permie way? While I do my day job.

-How on earth does one go about gutting an enormous 2/3-storey old stone house and doing a permie rehab? Of course, we will hire people, it's way too big for us to tackle, but what kind of people, and what should they be doing? All I really know is that old stone houses need to breathe, humidity in the buried parts of walls is often a problem, and big roofs are BIG. And expensive and heavy. And I should insulate. With something.

OK, throwing it open to whatever briliant ideas, book/website recommendations, or whatever, that you lovely people have... Thanks!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9458
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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How exciting! Can you post a satellite view of the land?

What I would do is first of all try to design a complete permaculture system for the land. You have a nice bit of slope so you can probably do a lot. Put in some ponds! Make the gorgeous even more lovely and productive.

Don't "animal-up" right away. If you must have some animals, stick to something small and flexible, like chickens.

The house is so big you could have part of it for your own house, part for shop, part for visitors. Can part of it be given a new roof right away but wait on the rest?

How to make money: Is there LARPing in your region? Can you build a LARP camp? http://www.permies.com/t/52839/plants/LOTR-Nerds
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 118
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Hi Tyler,

It's bedtime here, I will see if I can get a decent pic soon, but a satellite view would be pretty straightforward: pretty much rectangular green patch with a house in one corner and a road along one side. It's much more exciting in person. Satellites flatten out the very hilly terrain here and the contrast between your satellite-fed imagination and reality on the ground is usually huge.

I think what I really need is a business plan or two, but things that are fairly low-key. I think the permie design would have to come afterwards as then I'd know what I'm designing for.

I appreciate your advice on the animals. I have to remind myself constantly that I don't have to do everything at once.

The whole roof, unfortunately, has to be done really, really soon, including new beams to hold it up. I think the basic structural part of the renovation would have to be all done at one, then perhaps we could fill in details over time after that.

Your LARP suggestion made me laugh! I had to look up what it even is. We don't have anything like that here (that I know of!). I had no idea there was a debate about whether elves ate potatoes! My goodness I need to get out more often. You're certainly thinking out of the box, thanks! That's the kind of thinking that will be necessary to make this fly. Horticultural activities are permitted too

I suppose the bigger issue is actually the house renovation. If I could get that done well for a reasonable cost that would make the deal do-able...
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9458
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Thanks, Dave! The main total permie design thing I see needing to be done first of all is water harvesting earthworks, so you can start collecting water for your ponds. And that's just a matter of figuring out some contours and making some swales.

Water may not be a big issue in that region, but it sure is here, and if I knew back when what I know now, I would have put a lot more resources into water harvesting earthworks on contour. Don't make my mistakes!

Examples of water harvesting landscapes:

http://geofflawton.com/videos/cold-climate-permaculture/

https://vimeo.com/158306671
 
Rus Williams
pollinator
Posts: 142
Location: Zutphen, The Netherlands
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books forest garden
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Edit: Sorry, I didn't see that you were in the Basque country. It's probably not cold enough to worry about wall insulation.


My house has single brick walls, which is not too warm in the dutch winters. I put Voorzetwanden in. (translates weirdly as before-putting walls).
Essentially it's an interior stud wall (wooden frame) made from 75x50mm (3x2) timbers, fixed about 50-100 mm (2-4 inches) away from the from the inside wall.
The wood frame is insulated with rockwool (batts-type) insulation with a plastic sheet on both sides, and gib/plasterboard/ sheetrock on the inside face.
Crucially one of the sheets needs to allow air to pass through it while being water proof/ resistant. (which side depends on your climate)

For me in my northern climate because the inside of the house is more often warmer than the outside due to heating, (and only rarely is is warmer out than in) I want to keep the warm air inside with the first vapour barrier (the sheet of plastic) because moist air holds more heat, and stop that going into the cavity space we created between the two walls.

The breathable sheet of plastic/ membrane inside the cavity stops the wood frame and insulation from getting wet due to condensation.

You'll need to ventilate the cavity by drilling through the outside stone wall at the top and bottom of the wall to make little air gaps for the air to flow, preventing moisture and mould on the inside of the cavity.

As a bonus its also super easy to put the wiring in the walls as you can do that in the timber frame.

Now, like most things, there are pros and cons to this solution, but it's a widely accepted solution.

It's also quite easy to do for a diy person if you can measure and cut to a millimeter.

How many carpenters does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one. Any more and they'll be arguing in the dark about the best way to do it.
 
David Livingston
master steward
Posts: 3000
Location: Anjou ,France
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I would find a good builder and by that I mean one you can trust . One who will give you good advice not one who will suggest the cheapest way of doing things that will only last a few years but one who will do something that will last pulling a new roof is difficult work
I have done up an old stone building ( 1815 ) and usually they are built to last
My only other worry would be what the regulations say about changes for room size ? plumbing? and disabled acess ?
Lastly is this a good location for tourism ?

David
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 118
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Water may not be a big issue in that region, but it sure is here, and if I knew back when what I know now, I would have put a lot more resources into water harvesting earthworks on contour. Don't make my mistakes!

Examples of water harvesting landscapes:

http://geofflawton.com/videos/cold-climate-permaculture/

https://vimeo.com/158306671


Thanks, Tyler! I thought I'd seen every one of geoff lawton's videos, and had seen the first but not the second, obviously I need to dig more! I love the Bill Mollison quote at the beginning of that video (Zaytuna Farm Tour, part 2) -- especially "architects don't know how heat transfer works in buildings" (1972) -- I would love to understand how this works myself! How do you make a huge old part-underground part-hugely-exposed old stone box work thermally like a fine-tuned machine?

As for water and earthworks, I'm all over the ponds and swales idea, hopefully we can make it a mini-Krameterhof! But honestly, before I begin, I want to know what I'm doing with the land. All food forest? Vineyards? We have plenty of water around here except in a very unusual year. But of course with climate problems, we need to plan for unusual years. Our enemy every year is long stretches of cool, humid weather that lead to powdery mildew and late tomato blight reliably every year in October and November if not earlier.

One idea that attracts me is earth-bermed greenhouses with different climate zones, one Mediterranean (i.e. drier and a bit warmer than here) and one tropical (a lot warmer), and maybe even a desert one. Powered by good design and a RMH each I suppose. A mini Eden project? Without plastic? Oh, dream on, Dave! I need to pay for this stuff! So I guess I better stick to more "practical" money-makers for the moment. But if anyone know of ideas that would make greenhouses like this pay for themselves, please let me know!

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 118
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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@Rus, thanks for your advice! That sounds like a great system! And the idea of being able to do some of it myself appeals as a money saver. Yes we do insulate here in the Basque Country! The climate in Northern Spain is more similar to yours than you might think! I do have fairly mild winters where I am, -7C would be an unusually cold winter night and many winters go by that don't get below -3 or -4C. I want to insulate for as close to zero energy as possible.

We usually have 2-5 weeks of really hot weather a year, spread from late June to late September. There can be a few cool, rainy days anytime, and the occasional August floods! The weather is quite variable in every season. But over the course of the year, I think cool and humid predominates. So perhaps my membranes will face the same way as yours!

BTW, do you happen to know where I can read up on those magic membranes that allow air to pass through but not water vapor? Because one partially buried wall does already have a humidity problem which they've tried to work around by covering it up with a metal plate and sticking a wood-burning stove there. I think the buried walls may need to be dug up/around and treated in some smart, breathable-yet-impermeable way from the outside as well as doing something like you're describing from the inside. The west-facing wall is enormous -- 4+ storeys high and 10-12m long, and totally exposed to what for us is the warmest sun of the day. Perhaps the membrane on this wall needs to face the other way?

One concern I have with the method you describe is the resulting thickess of the walls. They are already (just a guess) around 50-60cm thick (20-24"). This would add, what -- another 20cm total? Not bad in principle except for the (small, traditional) windows. They could be set 80cm (32") into the wall! That's a long way to reach to open the window! Any workarounds you know of?

Thanks for your ideas!
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 118
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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David Livingston wrote:I would find a good builder and by that I mean one you can trust . One who will give you good advice not one who will suggest the cheapest way of doing things that will only last a few years but one who will do something that will last pulling a new roof is difficult work
I have done up an old stone building ( 1815 ) and usually they are built to last
My only other worry would be what the regulations say about changes for room size ? plumbing? and disabled acess ?
Lastly is this a good location for tourism ? David


Hi David. Yes, I suppose I need to start inquiring around about people who've had good luck with eco-renovations. There are LOTS of renovated old stone farmhouses around here, but almost all have followed the reinforced concrete model that is almost universal in local building. Builders tend to be good but not economical. The eco-building market has gone from close to zero to very big very quickly, lots of new players and not many references, but I will start putting my feelers out.

The regulations here cover the exterior, and really, except for regular building code things (I think interior pipes must be some form of plastic gick, for instance, grrr...) you are free to do anything you want with the inside. I would completely hollow it out and start over, setting aside all the 300-year-old oak beams and planks to see what parts are good and how they can be used to dress the place up later on. Part of the beam and support structure I might be required to re-create for historical purposes, though no way they are going to be bearing the load of the roof, I think it's time for them to retire from that duty now.

Plumbing should be straightforward if I hollow the place out.

Disabled access is a great point. There are a good number of green/rural tourism places in the area, all are old farmhouses like the one I'm describing, and I don't know of any with an elevator, for instance. Which is strange because virtually any public place here nowadays is required to provide proper access. Maybe there's an exception for small country cottages? But OTOH it might be a good differentiating factor for a rural B&B in the area. It might pay off. I will start looking into it.

Yes, this is a decent area for tourism. It's midway between San Sebastian (lots of general and foodie tourism), Bilbao (Guggenheim museum etc), some small beaches, and the Rioja wine country. All about an hour's drive away or a bit less. This area itself is quite mountainous and beautiful and good for road and mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers and general eco-tourists. It's also quite close to some busy industrial towns. So the market might not be huge but it is certainly there. In the vicinity of the farm we're looking at I believe there are two rural B&B type places already up and running, so ways to differentiate the place would be great. Permaculture Paradise? or my courses? or disabled access? or our three-climate greenhouses? Or a walk through the (as yet unplanted) vineyards? I don't know.

How much work is a B&B business? I wish I knew!

Anyway, thanks for your advice!
 
Derek Brewer
Posts: 113
Location: Hatfield, PA
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This sounds a lot like the series: It's not easy being green. I'd highly recommend you watch season one and consider the amount of work and expense you're about to undertake. It's a fantastic adventure, to be sure, but definitely consider all the angles.
I'm in a stone farmhouse originally built in 1850 on 14 acres. Thankfully our house was largely renovated, but we still struggle with some things (like heat!). It's going to be at least a year before we get our permaculture designs complete. We're also constantly playing the balance game of home repairs and new "stuff", like garden beds. The best advice I can give is to look at the list of what needs to be done to the place, and think if you can reasonably do (or pay for) the work in the time-frame you are looking at. I also wouldn't count on the place turning any kind of profit for at least 5 years. Sure it's possible, but plan for the worst case to be sure you don't lose your home.
 
Rus Williams
pollinator
Posts: 142
Location: Zutphen, The Netherlands
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https://www.roofingsuperstore.co.uk/browse/pitched-roofing/timber-frame-wall-breather-underlay.html
is where you could start for the membrane.
THere are 2 sorts of moisture barriers, a cloth type one, brand name tyvek and a plastic one.
The plastic is not uv proof and shouldn't be used on roofs, the tyvek is uv proof and is for roofs (it's also is quiet in the wind)

The buried stone walls could be coated with a rubber bitumen paint. Coupled with a drain/ gravel ditch running around the outside this can work quite well. Basically you need to get the moisture away from the walls as quickly as you can.

For where you are the vapour barrier would probably go on the room side, and the moisture barrier on the cavity side. It's not humid enough, I don't think, where you are to do it the other way around. BUT BUT BUT please check. I'm certainly no expert for the warmer parts of our planet.

This renovation sounds huge actually, and could take a year, or even more! Labour costs on that alone will easily be above 50 000 and more likely towards 100 000. If you don't listen to anything else, listen to this. It'll take longer, and cost more than you expect/ budget/ plan for. This is because we change our mind as we go, we come across unusual problems, and we always forget something, or something goes wrong in an earlier stage of the build.

Also getting a 80% green build is pretty do-able. Its the last 20% that can be enormously expensive and often adds uncertainty/ risk to the build. This is not a bad thing per se, but something to go into with wide open eyes.

Put in the plumbing/ cabling/ conduit for rooftop solar and rooftop hot water. The cost is minimal and saves a bunch of hassle later. Also run empty conduit to obvious places in case you want to add cables later.

Depending on your roof, you can use solar panels instead of roof tiles, which is useful if your tiles are old, crappy and hard/ expensive to find.

And yup. Thick walls. Longer arms? Remote control? Small children who love to climb?
 
A. Ana
Posts: 9
Location: Cantabria- España
chicken food preservation forest garden
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You are so lucky!!! we in cantabria the only one we get similar almost no see the sun!!
you are happy with your arquitect? our architect ask 7mil for proyect of the first 300m2 to rebuild and she ignored us while the preproject... (erro volúmenes, nos cambio toda la distribución por algo que no tenia ni puto sentido  y "olvidó" que fosa séptica ya no es legal, con lo que no se si fiarme; recomiendas el tuyo? es mucho mas caro?)

already know what fabaceas tree you go to grown in the fruit zone? i dont know where know fast wich one can do the work in zone 9.



(iron forge!!! como mola! i want neighbour who do irn forge!!!
 
Charli Wilson
Posts: 271
Location: Derbyshire, UK
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Old houses really need to breathe. I'd want to insulate the house massively, look at hemp batts or wood fibre and lime plaster, all vapour permeable so the stone can continue to breathe. We did this to a section of our house (mine is only a mere 120 years old though), and I wish we'd done that to the whole thing- controls the damp, great air quality and the lime moves with the house- whereas the gypsum plaster and plastic insulation doesn't, and it cracks. Old houses were built to move a bit through the seasons. Go for air-tightness as much as possible (you want air exchange, but controlled air exchange versus random draughts), and as much insulation as you can fit in (the more insulation you have the less heating you will need, its a one-off cost).

As for land.. fruit trees, no matter what you'll have wished you planted fruit trees earlier. Well not just fruit trees, but any trees. Plant straight through the grass with a mulch of a few large sheets of cardboard, and cover in compost or manure- usually keeps the grass at bay long enough that the tree roots can start to get established. If you want to heat with firewood maybe look at coppice willow as an idea. If you want to get trees on the cheap them maybe start with some rootstock, start propagating your own and grafting your own fruit trees.

Ponds! Every homestead should have a pond. Swimming, water, ducks, can stock with fish for future food security, etc. Ducks on a proper-size pond are pretty low maintenance.
 
A. Ana
Posts: 9
Location: Cantabria- España
chicken food preservation forest garden
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sorry but my english is not good enough for this.

google traslation

With the semi-underground walls there is not option but drainage ditch
1. To dig around (if semi subterranea cava around the pair of walls that are under the ridge, if not therefore the side from where there are indications of streams to divert them),
2. retaining stone wall,
3. cover the trench so that it does not fill with snow (or your children fall) with ridiculously large and expensive slabs,
You may not have sufficient depth of foundation for the drainage ditch and that you touch deeper ... so much fun!

To us they have recommended that we do NOT happen to fill the stone walls whole (just the enought so that no rats live inside, not wind and those things) and that we do not use cement because its Capillarity is going to be terrible moisture.

Lift the entire floor of the interior and excavate at least 20cm to put pebbles and drainage underneath (ours is that it was never home but yours is surely better done and need not ...).

Mud plasters are supposed to be good for letting the walls breathe and for regulating indoor humidity (which will also be good not to subject too many expansions and compressions to the wood - the better wood that has grown in a similar climate, bring pine "Ecological" of Catalonia is to subject it to dilations until dangerous, so we have been told.

In the ceiling we thought to put cork, But many people are putting wool with borax, which is already a big improvement over traditional heather.


Go telling us how you are solving it! To us be able to use your knowledge ... any idea of  solutions​ s​impler / economical / diy  NOS INTERESA

suerte

and fabaceas zone 9 (plus licorice!)

https://permies.com/t/62227/Nitrogen-Fixing-Species-Agroforestry-Systems



 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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