Xativa House renovation Part 8

In the last part of this series we looked at works to the attic room and windows in the restored Xativa town house, belonging to Alan and Pauline Higgins.
In this issue we focus on the results of good planning and works to the main living room:-
Once structural works, remodelling of floor layouts, lining and plastering of walls and ceilings, bathrooms and kitchen fittings were all complete. It was time for final internal decoration and works to the main ground floor living room and entrance area, which had effectively served as a store and workshop throughout the project. The end of the tunnel was now in sight!

Alan’s comments:-

The reception room had been a builder’s yard of bags of cement, sand and tools for many months. At last with everywhere else finished, this room could receive attention. One side was given a new ceramic brick surface – as the existing wall would have taken much more time and work to ‘make good’. It was also decided to replace the lintels in the middle of the room and above the ‘French windows’ that lead to the courtyard. The original fireplace was beyond repair and was reformed – in a neutral style. Conduit was recessed for the electricity, telephone and co-axial cables and even a water ‘stop-cock’ fitted before re-plastering was done.

Surveyor’s comments:-


Failing to plan = planning to fail

Alan and Pauline had carefully chosen experienced (and fortunately) very organised, tidy builders. They had also viewed other similar projects the builder had completed in the town, before appointing him. The builders had followed a logical schedule of works, such that they effectively started at the top of the property and worked their way down. This now resulted in an easier final works stage, and a much more enjoyable and satisfying overall experience for Alan and Pauline. In addition to this, by living just half an hour away in non-rented accommodation, they had a home to live in throughout the project. Most of the house was now relatively clean, even livable, and all hands could focus on the main ground floor room and later the front external elevation.

It cannot be stressed enough, just how important good organization is for any project.

In larger projects constructors and project managers use critical path analysis to work out the best date order of works. While on smaller projects complex calculations are not needed, a decent schedule of works in the form of a ‘Gantt chart’, is essential if financial, time and labour resources are to be used to best effect. Anyone can produce a Gantt chart and though it is best left to a good builder or professional to prepare one, a lesser builder may not even know where to start, so it may fall to you to do the planning and organisation if you want to avoid delays, additional costs etc. Also, if you intend to live in the property during works, you will need to take account of maintaining liveability throughout the project e.g. cooking / bathing/ toilet and sleeping facilities.

Many divorces have been kicked off through a dream home restoration or self build project being very badly planned, so take this task seriously if you’d prefer to be together on completion. A few nights in a hotel and some meals out is cheaper than the potentially disastrous effects roughing it for too long, while careful planning can also help to minimize the need for this alternative accommodation. If necessary consider a caravan (space permitting) but most importantly, be realistic and get organised! While the man may be prepared to make do with the ‘romance’ of a sleeping bag and camping stove, the rest of the family may well disapprove. If you are going to do some ‘camping’, try to plan it for the dry warm summer months. Those that live here know that it can get very cold in winter, making summer the best time to make do without windows, or even a roof.

Schedule of works Gantt chart quick guide:-

If you have a computer and the right software you can do this using MS Excel or MS Project, or create a simple table in MS Word. Otherwise simply carry out the instructions below using pencil and paper.

Take a large piece of  paper ideally A3 size (smaller projects can be squeezed onto A4), turn it on it’s side i.e. portrait format and draw lines across, spaced at about 7mm, now draw a vertical line near the left hand side, about 7cm into the page, making a margin, then divide the rest of the page up into vertical evenly spaced lines, you can have as many of these as you need depending on the length of the project. A long project e.g. over months, would be divided into weeks e.g. week 1 –25 (25 vertical lines) with the beginning of each month also marked along the top of the page (ideally also a thicker line at this point). A short project e.g. 1 or two weeks would be divided into days with the beginning of weeks marked.

Now write down a list of all the key tasks involved in the project e.g. Stripping off roof, treatment of timbers, chasing in electrics, tiling of floors etc. Even if you are just fitting a bathroom it will become a long list.

Now comes the critical bit. In writing the list you should quickly realise that the order in which tasks are carried out is very important and that any one task can have an effect on many other tasks on the list e.g. You don’t want to carry out any structural or stripping out works over a newly tiled floor as it could be damaged by falling materials, scaffold etc. You cannot tile and fit the bathroom until the water and electric supplies, drainage outlets etc are all exactly where the fitter needs them.

In Spain this can be even more critical because many tradesmen effectively protect the work of other trades by sticking to their specialist field. E.g. the plumber might need the builder to first make holes for the new pipes. While in the UK many trades people will happily take the work for themselves, there does seem to be a certain level of work sharing ethics in Spain, which, while frustrating for the client, does help to make sure everyone can still earn a living. Add in a responsibility ‘who?’ column if required.

Once you have your list of works tasks, you can now insert them down the left hand margin of your sheet, try to do this in as logical order as you can (fairly good order at this stage helps the chart flow better).
Example ‘Gantt’ chart:-

Attic works

Finally work out (with careful consideration) the required date order of tasks and shade in the corresponding area of the chart (using pencil, or a letter e.g. ‘x’ denoting each day), indicating when the task occurs (some tasks may occur on the same days, but consider if trades can work freely in the presence of others before overlapping). If you are living in the property it is normally better to produce more than one chart i.e. one for each room or floor level, sub dividing them into smaller works tasks.

By the time you have finished marking in the date on which each task should best occur, you will probably have to delete and reposition a few items, but with a little fine tuning you will end up, with a schedule of all works, such that you can quickly see when each item needs to occur within the project period. This also allows you to get your builder, plumber, electrician, decorator and materials etc. ready in good time (give everyone a copy of the chart if necessary). As the project goes on, you will also be able to see if planned items are starting to run late which will no doubt result in a later completion date. It’s a fine art, and even if  you have a fixed contract price for an all in job. If no one draws up a schedule like this, delays will occur, money will be wasted and the quality and functionality of completed elements may suffer.

Alan and Pauline’s builder, was what every larger building company boss should be, ‘a manager’, such that while others got their hands dirty, he kept the project well organised.

Saving money

If like Alan and Pauline you are lucky enough not to have to do the planning and organizing of the main project, you can make yourself useful, and essentially save money by becoming a forager and ‘gofer’. There is often no need to spend top money on all materials/fittings if you make time to look out for bargains or items such as old doors etc that might even have been dumped, (many of the unique/character items are not in the shops). Rastros can be a good source of items, also look out for other refurbishment works. Double glazing and door manufacturers/fitters are removing existing windows and doors every day, look out for them and ask the owners what they are doing with the old windows etc. Shopping around (if you don’t work) can also reduce final costs significantly. Owning a small van or pickup during the project, will also allow you to get pounce on good deals and get them to site, without having to trouble the builder. There is no room for snobbery when it comes to making money in property development. If it’s decent stuff, salvage it and if it serves a purpose, drive it. Yes you may get caught ‘skip diving’ by the couple you had dinner with yesterday, but you’re going to make more profit out of property development than they are this year!

At the latter stage of the project, most people will now recognise how the builder works and what is involved with each task, for this reason, works to the last room are normally a lot less stressful than works to the first. In town houses, the ground floor living room, given it’s location, is normally one of the last stages of the project and often mirrors the works and style throughout the house. Except that, this is the level usually most affected by damp, such that some lower wall lining and tanking may be required as well as the addition of a sub floor damp proof membrane (see last issue of IT for ‘Dealing with Damp’ info).

Fire options

Fire places (normally also located in the ground floor front area) may well need some structural attention or simply might benefit from aesthetic re-design. Remember that basic wood burners are cheap in Spain and can make an attractive and practical addition, (decent budget and heat efficient option under €500 fitted), though a new flue pipe will normally be required up to roof level. Convector type cassettes are another alternative, but are a costly (total job around €2000) option, especially if you do not intend to stay in the property. On extensive or new build works you can even add in hot air ducts to transfer heat throughout the house (even more money). Don’t expect many buyers to appreciate the fortune you’ve spent on that black lump of iron in the hole. In Alan and Pauline’s case they did the right thing in rebuilding the open fire place in an attractive but neutral style, leaving the possibility of adding a wood burner, convector fire or even wood burner with oven, in the hands of future occupants.

As for the other floors the new windows, lintels and services works were also carried out in this final area of living space (see previous parts of this series at www.inlandtrader.net for details).

In the next and final part of this series, we will be looking at final internal decoration and the refurbishment and decoration of the façade.

The house is currently for sale or rent with The Spanish
Property Shop, Xativa .
Tel 96 228 2370

Information provided by Mark Paddon BSc Hons Building Surveying. ICIOB, property purchase advisor for buyers in the Valencia region. www.surveysspain.com  962807247

NB:- Information for advice purposes only. Always consult an Architect for new works.

© Mark Paddon 2006

Additional information