Category Archives: The House

How we found the house

I recently re-read our ‘list of requirements’ written when we first started looking for a house in Andalucía. The keywords were: peace, quiet, private, nature, quality, seclusion. Well, we certainly achieved that. the valley 14-5-12white lace and yellow spikes 1-7-14Many things on the list we didn’t get: for example, we wanted a garage, and we definitely wanted mains water, gas and electricity. The house was found for us in 2008 by an Andalucian property search company, after a year of viewing houses around Andalucía – from Antequera to Gaucín, Granada to Ronda. We purposely avoided the coast and any major towns, concentrating on villages and country houses.

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

I remember our first sighting of the house we were to buy. Unusually, our property searcher had not visited the house first as it was not actually on the market: in true Andalusian fashion, he had been told that the owners were considering moving. We had learnt early on in the process that looking in estate agents’ windows would not find us a house, instead our property searcher made contact on the ground with local ‘fixers’ in bars over many cups of coffee. Local gossip, a friend-of-a-friend…yellow wildflower 28-4-11So we drove one August morning down this long track, past olive trees, our excitement growing. Down the hill, around the corner, and in front of us lay this secret valley. In truth, we were sold from the first sighting even though the house most definitely did not tick the majority of boxes on our ‘list of requirements’. We didn’t want a building project – we took over one [below in 2006].

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

We wanted mains utilities, we didn’t have one service connected. We fell in love with the valley. And we have the most fantastic views, serenity, and nature on our doorstep. view from the terrace sofa 25-8-13the big walnut tree seen from the terrace 7-8-13So it is with heavy hearts that we are selling our house. For further information, click here.

5 to remember
una lista – a list
las necesidades – the requirements
el aislamiento – the seclusion
un garaje – a garage
una finca – a country house

Molinos

Wind, there’s no escaping it in southern Spain. Travel along the major roads and coastlines and you will find molinos on the hillsides. They are elegant things, architectural almost. Spain is a leader in wind and solar energy, our house is energy self-sufficient using wind and solar energy. We live without power lines. turbines in distance1 10-10-14turbines in distance2 10-10-14turbines in distance3 10-10-14Click here to read our adventures with solar and wind power… turbines in distance4 10-10-14here to read about our solar-heated water supply… turbines in distance5 10-10-14… and here to read how we live without mains water, taking our water 100% from a spring. turbines in distance6 10-10-14turbines in distance7 10-10-145 to remember
un molino – a wind turbine
el viento – the wind
eólico/a – wind-powered
autosuficiente – self-sufficient
cien por ciento – 100%

The biennial ‘spring’ clean

Every other year there is a wet muddy job to be done. Our water comes from our own spring, rather than the mains supply. Yes, it really does spring up out of the ground, or rather into a ‘sink’ at the back of house. From there it is piped into the storage tank. Every other year, we clean out the sink and cut back the vegetation.

This is before… roses and ivy 8-5-14And this is after… spring - after1 26-7-14And this is the job to get it from ‘that’ to ‘this. First, remove the pot plants and cut back the rose to reveal the sink… first, cutting back the rose 26-7-14… a look inside the sink, full and muddy… inside the spring2 – before draining 26-7-14… fix a tube to the outlet pipe to divert the running water coming from the spring… inside the spring1 - tube to drain the water 26-7-14… shift the water in the spring the old-fashioned way, with a jug, into trugs… trugs of muddy water and gravel 26-7-14… admire the clean, empty, spring… inside the spring3 – empty 26-7-14In the process, we cut back the red rose bush and discovered a wall we didn’t know was there. Not to mention the rose trunk, as big as a man’s forearm! the rose’s trunk 26-7-14wall we didn't know was there 26-7-14Click here to read more about our life, living without mains water.

5 to remember
casi todo/a – Every other year
un lavabo – a sink
la vegetación – the vegetation
un cubo de jardinería – a trug
old-anticuado/a – fashioned

Living with solar-heated water

Our hot water comes courtesy of the sun: that’s the assumption, isn’t it, when you install solar water panels? That was our romantic assumption when we installed the system.

This is true, for eight months of the year. The fact of the matter is, there is simply not enough continuous light throughout the winter to reliably heat enough water to supply a household. Even in Spain. With the best intentions, we have found it practically impossible to be 100% solar-reliant for hot water. solar water placas 1-5-13So, we have a two-fold system. From April onwards, we switch our system to solar. We have four panels, placas, mounted on the kitchen roof [above] which heat the water in the storage tank in the boiler room [below]. These placas are designed specifically for this task, and are not to be confused with photovoltaic panels used to generate solar electricity. solar water tank in boiler room 1-5-13From November, we switch the system to our gas-fired boiler [below]. boiler for the winter 1-5-13Our standby gas supply consists of 10 35kg tall bottles of bútano, butane gas, which are stored in a locked cage at the side of the house [below]. gas store 1-5-13We have a contract with a local supplier which delivers to our area twice a week, on average we need two deliveries a year of five bottles [our hob is also gas, the oven is electric]. The bottles are connected in two groups of five on a switchable connection, so one set is used at a time. We have never run out of gas, or hot water.

The placas on the kitchen roof are loved by the sparrows, who use the supports as nesting sites. So, solar = environmentally-friendly and sparrow-sustainable! And the geckos live in the gas store.

5 to remember
el calentador – boiler
el envase – gas bottle/canister
la sala de calderas – the boiler room
un contrato – a contract
una entrega – a delivery

A memorable delivery

We awoke yesterday to the layers of sound which help determine the time of year. First, the waterfall. The noise is always here but how loud is it today? How much water is falling, have there been rains elsewhere to swell the river? Birdsong is next: the general mass of sound, like the dawn chorus in which no individual song can be picked out. Third, as we awaken properly, we can hear the individual birds which tell us if it is summer yet: cuckoo, woodpecker, an oriole grunting, bee-eaters chirruping high in the sky. Mid-morning, there is another sound in the valley. The bell rings at our gate. gravel and a fallen olive 5-1-14gravel and a fallen quince 5-1-14It is the builder’s merchant from the next village bringing a truck full of gravel. This is a yearly routine, tidying the paths, smothering the weeds. Antonio the driver is always smiley and helpful, depositing his dusty load and manoeuvring his truck without hesitation in the tight space of our driveway. Hours of barrowing the gravel lie ahead of us. This is definitely a job for the spring, with lots of rests for chilled beers. gravel by the deposito 5-1-14gravel on the Almond Track 5-1-14Each year we are thankful when the delivery takes place without incident. When the first gravel was delivered, the truck overbalanced on an awkward corner [below] and threatened to tumble down into the valley. the corner where the truck over-balanced 5-1-14The driver’s side was perilously tilted, Antonio exited his cab quickly, white-faced. There was much shouting, the most animated I think I have ever seen Spanish workmen. The gravel was quickly dumped, the truck secured to a tree by a rope. Once the truck was stabilised, there was much scratching and shaking of heads, many shoulders were shrugged. How to move it? The solution? A telephone call followed by the eventual arrival of another truck, shovels, ropes, men. The memory of this drama returns to us, each year. The gravel is now deposited on the driveway: more barrowing, but level! new stone wall, gravel and fallen olives 5-1-145 to remember
un estrato – a layer
el camión – the truck
la grava [gorda/pequena] – gravel [large/small]
el conductor – the driver
el polvo – the dust

Can we pipe this spring… continued

Our new spring has been dug and is ready to irrigate the Almond Field and veg patch when the spring arrives. To celebrate the new water supply, the builder inscribed the date of construction below the lid: November 27th, 2013. the spring 6-1-14lid up 6-1-14At first glance it looks like a deep well, with a narrow lid [above]. A concrete square, it is set uphill at the side of the track, underneath oak trees and amongst the leaf litter [below]. standing on the step & looking up to spring 6-1-14Once the spring growth starts, it will become invisible from the track again. looking back down to the track from the spring 6-1-14Already water is gathering [below].  Inside it is about 2ft deep, with two pipes; one upper, one lower. One for irrigation, one overflow. water inside the spring 6-1-14Ever practical, the builder has put a small step from the track across the drainage ditch. step1 6-1-14step2 6-1-145 to remember
celebrar – to celebrate
la fecha – the date
la tapa – the lid
el albañil – the builder
un escalón – a step

Living with spring water

One of the big unknowns when we moved here was water. glass of water 3-1-14We had originally said we wanted a house with mains water and electricity supply, then we fell in love with the valley and so bought a house which had neither. I’d never had to think about water before. Turning on the tap suddenly didn’t seem so simple.

The house was not connected to either mains water or drainage, relying instead on a natural spring and a septic tank. The latter was installed by our predecessors and has worked without problem. But the reliance on water which emerged from the ground seemed a little risky to us, being mains-water raised people, especially after a series of summer droughts in southern Spain [this was in 2007].

All the water for the house, and to irrigate the land, comes from a spring at the back of the house next to the wood store [below]. This seemed a little… precarious. the spring 3-1-14The spring is an innocuous thing, you wouldn’t look twice at it. Once a year we remove the plant pots, take off the lid, and clear out the leaf debris. Apart from that it functions without any intervention from us. big deposito1 4-7-13big deposito2 4-7-13The water is piped from here into a 25,000 litre water tank, depósito [above and below] 20 metres away from the spring. We installed the tank as a back-up storage system which would allow for water deliveries if needed in the future. big deposito3 4-7-13Needless to say the spring has never dried up, we have never had a water shortage, and there have been no water deliveries. So the depósito is our equivalent of taking an umbrella when going for a walk on a cloudy day. From the depósito, the water is pumped to the house when needed. Click here for an explanation of how the water pump works. big deposito4 4-7-13When the depósito is full, the overflow is piped to the bottom of the valley and drains into the soil. The overflow from the spring’s well runs into a sink on the terrace [below] which functions as a rustic water feature. I use it principally to fill the watering can when I am watering pots in the summer. Pablo carries a flask and fills it with water from here, both Pablo and his two boys prefer drinking spring water, have grown up drinking it. We drink it also, filtered in a Brita jug. the overflow sink 1-5-13During a wet winter, it is not uncommon for a new spring to appear on the hillside. Often it is just a puddle, and nine times out of ten it dries up with the first warmth of the sun. One exception is this new spring [below] which appeared at the side of the track in May and survived the summer. Plans are in place to pipe it to use for irrigation, click here to read more. a new spring appears at the side of the track 1-5-13It is not an uncommon sight to see cars parked at the side of a busy road, with a whole family filling water bottles from a roadside spring. Spring water is highly valued here.

5 to remember
lo desconocido – the unknown
la red de suministro de agua – mains water
el desagüe – drainage
una fosa séptica – a septic tank
un fuente – a spring [water]