Xativa House Restoration 7

Diesel Dust and Dineros

In the last part of this series we looked at partition wall design and bathroom specification in a town house in Xativa, belonging to Alan and Pauline Higgins. In this issue we focus on works to the attic room and windows:-

Alan’s comments:-

The top room had a sloping and uneven floor (such rooms were normally used to hang hams to dry or perhaps store the family’s huge paella pans) it had never been used as a room to live in. This again had the ‘Arlitta’ floor levelling system and an old, too low, banister was taken away. This large room (8 metres x 5metres) we had always visualised as the owner’s special ‘lounge’ – or it could be a library, a music room, or entertainment room. We wanted to enlarge the window –that had the potentially wonderful view of a pretty ‘Ermita’, part of the old town and even some of Xativa’s amazing castle. Fortunately this was possible with the existing huge wooden beam reaching across much of the back wall. With the opening enlarged the main roof could be reached more easily and our builders used six men – some on a scaffold system and some standing in the room to remove the tiles, mix cement etc. With the exposed wooden roof joists and high ceiling this room looks rather like an English barn conversion living room. We decided to use wood laminate flooring as a change from tiles. A new black iron banister with oak handrail completed our idea for this gorgeous room. Like the entire house this room has countless power sockets and a TV/telephone point.

Surveyor’s comments:-

Repair or re-roof?

Most old town houses have these attractive open attic spaces, which of course, are ideal for transformation into proper living space. While they were often used for drying of foods the common existence of pots and pans at this upper level should ring alarm bells for would be buyers. It is unlikely that many occupants would store  paella dishes 3 floors from the cooking area, unless it is close to a terrace located paellero, the real reason these attics often contain pots and pans is a leaking roof. Given the infrequency of rain in Spain, many pots located under drips will cope with a downfall and then most of the collected water will evaporate away in the heat, therefore when you view a property, the pots and pans lying around in the attic may well be dry, but that doesn’t mean that the space is always damp free. Look for white stained drip points on the roof timbers, above the pots to confirm that the roof covering has failed.
Fortunately, Alan and Pauline’s roof space was pan free and timbers were quite sound, though they needed properly treating to arrest low level insect attack, the existing roof structure had stood up well to the test of time. Roof timbers should be assessed in the same way as all structural timbers in the property, remembering that it is the hidden, as well as exposed areas of the timber that need proper inspection, (as the hidden area is usually where the beam gets it’s support, and insects like to tuck into the timber). Drill testing of beam ends is highly recommended to assess their stability (See previous Inland Trader articles for detailed information on timber assessment and insect attack). In this case beam ends were good needing protection via treatment only, which meant that the majority of the main roof only needed re-covering.

It is a common vision for most buyers of older properties to expose and restore timber beams but unless the quality of the existing timber structure is assessed prior to works (and preferably property purchase), this idea can turn into a headache when buyers realise that the timbers within the structure they have bought are too far gone to retain. For this reason the condition of timbers and the roof structure formed a major part of the initial survey, such that Alan and Pauline knew before they even made an offer, that they had to allow for expenditure on the roof covering and treatment of timbers throughout.

‘A room with a view’

While many attics have roof top views of the surrounding town, Alan and Pauline’s choice of property was one notch above the rest. The rear window looked out to the Ermita and castle walls, set on the hills overlooking Xativa, which is ‘THE’ main feature of the town and this room could be a major selling point as well as a pleasure to use for the occupants. Buyers in Paris prefer the properties with views to the Eiffel tower, in London It’s Tower Bridge, if your town or even village has a great feature or land mark and you can turn it into a view from your purchased property, you should give yourself a property investor’s pat on the back. Unfortunately there was only a small window opening such that unless you stuck your head out of the window, you would only see a fraction of the potential view, but after quick inspection of the structure above, I was happy to encourage Alan and Pauline to get rid of the non structural infill wall (opening up the majority of the rear area beneath a substantial and sound timber beam), to make room for the installation of a panoramic window. As well as adding light to the room, the view could now be enjoyed from a  seated, horizontal or standing position just about anywhere in the room. We all quickly painted the picture of enjoying a glass of wine, listening to our favorite music and taking in the floodlit view from this room on a barmy summer night. The panoramic window feature was definitely ‘in’.

Window choice

Alan’s Comments

Fortunately in the front of the house some of the original wooden windows were in good or refurbishable condition. We had to have two new large ‘balcony’ windows for the two main bedrooms – these are metal and double glazed but have a wood effect finish. We would have done this anyway – but it was a council requirement. All other new windows: on the staircase, kitchen and bedroom are again metal double glazed units but in white apart from the French windows from the dining area into the courtyard.

Surveyor’s comments

As with structural timber, many buyers are under the illusion that they can restore existing timber windows and doors, when often only a few timber elements of the property can be salvaged. Inspection for rot and most importantly insect attack is therefore important. Wood worm is common and if termites are active in the property, the visually evident attack is often just ‘the tip of the iceberg’, poor lighting in these town properties can also help to ensure that active insect attack is unnoticed by many buyers.

For authenticity, it would be great to be able to replace timber with timber, but it’s not just the rot proof features of aluminium windows that make them a more viable replacement choice. The powerful Spanish sun plays havoc with all varnish and timber treatments such that regular retreating will be required (every two years, even if the tin does say 7 years guarantee), especially where sun exposure is higher. At high levels this can be difficult and expensive work.

The great thing is that apart from very close up inspection, the aluminium ‘timber look’ is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing and apart from very minor heat related movement, they won’t warp. The only slight reservation I have (which is very much long term) is the likelihood that over many years the printed coating may lose it’s key and the colour may fade. aluminium does oxidise (be it very slowly) and strong UV affects nearly all materials over time. While I understand that most manufacturers provide guarantees and have carried out extensive testing, I think the day will come when these types of windows may also need some cosmetic attention, however an undercoat of the right paint with a grained effect over, would require little more effort than re-treating a timber window, such that the aluminium timber look is still my preferred choice for modern specification.

Two panes are better than one?

Double glazing is always worth the money if you are replacing windows anyway. The only time it can become uneconomic is when perfectly good single glazed units are replaced, as the increased thermal insulation and hence reduction in heating costs, will rarely compensate the existing owner for the expenditure involved. As many Spanish windows also incorporate ‘persiana’ blinds, the true need for double glazing can be over exaggerated here in the hotter Spanish climate. It’s actually the draft from the poor seals of older windows that most people notice, rather than the reduced thermal properties of the glazing itself. The added bonus of sound insulation is however also an important consideration in town living  and therefore privacy and tranquility must all be taken into account when choosing window types. If profits were irrelevant, double glazing is the definitely the better option, but if you do your calculations, you may wish to opt for buying in an extra load of logs, or tank of oil each winter and adding some draft proofing, before spending thousands on replacing good single glazed frames with double glazed units.

Don’t forget the option of tempered, frame free, fixed panes. These are great for exposing views, but unfortunately only practical on lower levels (e.g. 1st and ground floors) for ease of cleaning, hence, while a fixed pane would have been the best view creating option, more practical casements were used for the attic room. Ventilation requirements should also be considered before opting for fixed panes (solar reflective glass can help to cut down room temperature), but in the right window opening (especially old stone) the almost invisible effect is impressive, sympathetic to older structures and gives an up market feel.

Most older buildings may be subject to some aesthetic control especially on front elevations, so always check that any changes you make (e.g. timber to white) are in keeping with the local town hall controls.

Stair balustrade

As is often the case, a safe balustrade and hand rail needed to be added. Never risk leaving a stair well unprotected, they really are death traps! As mentioned previously in this series, for child safety balustrade spacing should be no more than 100mm.The new balustrade added the finishing touch to this attractive new livable room.
All mod cons

Do not skimp on power sockets. Most of your electrical costs will involve circuit boards and wiring to different levels, once you have power, or a circuit board to a level, it’s worthwhile making sure that wall lights and ample sockets are included. Think ‘TV, Satelite, Digital, Play

Station, Hifi, PC, phone charging etc’. Ideally any room should have sockets in each corner e.g. 1 single, 1 double, 1 triple and 1 quadruple if possible, and a mid wall socket may be called for depending on the layout. Try to locate sockets as discretely as possible e.g. hidden by a pillar (your electrician will go for the easiest option, but it’s worth paying an extra hour of labour and a couple of meters of cable to get the socket in the best location). A phone outlet near the triple socket will  be appreciated for computer use and a TV aerial next to the quadruple will allow for logical usage options. Also, remember that most modern ‘walk round’ phones require a socket to power the base and charging units, so ideally all phone outlets should be accompanied by at least 1 socket. When it comes to wiring, accommodating multimedia is much appreciated by both buyers and tenants of all ages. In Spain, school children are regularly directed towards the web as part of their school project research and globally ‘Silver surfers’ (retired users) now make up over 50% of private web traffic.

Wood Laminate Flooring

The timber laminate floor helped to reduce weight on the floor beams and was quicker to install than tiles, plus it helped to enhance the feel and warmth of wood in the attic room. This type of flooring is ideal for higher level floors (be careful on the ground floor as even very slight damp will cause the floor to ‘blow’). It should also be avoided in Kitchens and bathrooms (though there is a more expensive type available for this purpose) and finally, the Spanish would probably be put off by this type of flooring on ground and even first floor levels as they do like to have a good mop round. It’s a good feature to include in attic rooms and bedrooms, safer for kids (consider for play rooms), it’s warmer to the touch and makes the room look bigger.

The completed room achieved everything Alan and Pauline had envisaged. Time and money spent here added considerable value and versatility to the property.

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 2005


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