12 Mar, 2011 @ 23:22
1 min read

The house that Paco built!

ALL this rain and flooding we’ve suffered over the last two winters has really exposed the frailties of building methods down here in Andalucía. 

Not only have roads collapsed, public buildings leaked copiously and the drains not coped, but houses, both old and new, have suffered water ingress and rain damage.

Hardly surprising really when you look at local building practices.  Have you ever seen a cavity wall, a damp-proof course or lead flashing?  No, me neither.

In normal weather circumstances it doesn’t matter too much: it rains, buildings get wet, the sun shines and the buildings dry out!  But when we get sustained wet weather for as long as we have over the last two years, the whole infrastructure gets exposed.

It’s a real shame, not only are travel and transport disrupted, and people’s health and welfare affected, but our pretty whitewashed towns and villages end up looking decidedly mouldy and uncared-for.

Paul Whitelock

Anglo-Welsh, born 1950. Two children (b. 1983 and 1987). Retired school inspector, and former languages teacher. Living in Serrania de Ronda. Re-married 2010. Freelance writer, translator and interpreter.


  1. It amazes me how many people complain about the damp but dont do anything about it.

    I suggest start by ordering some guttering. Despite what the builder tells you the water runs back under the over hang and down the walls. Guttering is a great start to curing a lot of issues.

  2. What about rising damp Francis? Guttering is never going to sort that out, and when you have a house build on a single slab, with no damp-proof course or anything similar you’ll always have rising damp. They can’t build to save their lives here… not to mention the ubiquitous arquetas which mean that drains never drain properly and houses always have a nice whiff of something not so nice…

  3. I had a direct email from a reader re my piece: “Why be so negative and put it in the press for all to see, we need to be positive to get Andalucia back on track and everybody will benefit.
    My house in on a small finca behind San Pedro and believe it or not I have cavity walls with polystyrene in the cavity, warm, dry and no damp.
    Kind Regards”
    (I’ve left his name off in case he doesn’t want it made known)

    This was my reply: “Thanks for your email. I’m sorry you felt I was being negative, which wasn’t my intention at all. In fact I go to great lengths to show Spain, and Andalucía in particular, in a positive light – please see my other Olive Press blog articles and my own blog. There is nothing I hate more than the stereotypical ex-pat complaining about everything in Spain and banging on negatively about the Spanish and – lol – their inability to speak English!
    “However, there are certain things that are not good, eg Telefonica, Endesa, the Spanish postal service, Ryanair, town hall corruption, and, yes, building practices. And they need to be exposed and their faults publicised. It’s no good looking at everything through rose-coloured spectacles, something I am frequently accused of incidentally, because I’m so positive about this country and my life here.
    “I don’t really think that a little article about the bad weather and the damage caused to buildings, roads, etc, will put anyone off Andalucía.
    “I’m glad you have cavity walls and polystyrene – presumably this was done to your own spec and not by Spanish builders. I was just saying that I’ve never seen it up here in the mountains, but I stand corrected.
    Best wishes”

  4. Paul,
    the only country that uses cavity walls is the UK – why – because the face bricks absorb too much water.

    Go to Oostende in Belgium and take a look at the seafront apartment blocks. They use glazed face bricks and a waterproof finish to the mortar.

    In the Netherlands they use what are effectively engineering bricks and waterproof silversand jointing.

    Polystyrene cavity filling has been shown to be a very bad method and leads to homes full of mould.

    I’ve said it before, get in touch with Xella International, they have a base in Granada – excellant thermal and acoustic insulation. Have your home built off the ground and use a DPC. Use a crepi thrower and a waterproof rendering and guttering – no problems with damp penetration – cooler homes in summer and much warmer in winter – a no brainer really.

  5. “However, there are certain things that are not good, eg Telefonica, Endesa, the Spanish postal service, Ryanair, town hall corruption, and, yes, building practices.”

    Or in other words just about everything one needs in order to live peacefully and happily in Spain lol.

    Sure, the weather is nice for 3/4 of the year and the people are friendly, and the views are nice, but that all gets a lower priority after you live here for a while and need to use basic services and get things done. Then it gets hard.

  6. Stuart
    Your comments about insulation methods are interesting, but, of course, most of us don’t build our houses from scratch.
    Out of interest, in Germany and Luxembourg they glue the polystyrene batts to the outside of the wall and then render it – seems to work. In Scandinavia they have successfully used wood for centuries, of course.

  7. Good point, Fred, but there are, of course, plenty of companies and organisations that work perfectly well and a long list of other positives about life in Spain, which is why some of us are very happy living here.
    Let’s see: Orange,Vodaphone, HitsMobile, Spantel, Iberbanda, Yacom, Yoigo, Jazztel (ie any telephone company other than Telefónica); Iberdrola, Aqualia, Repsol, BP, CEPSA; easyjet, Monarch, Jet2, bmibaby, Air Berlin, Tuifly (ie any low-cost airline other than Ryanair); the ITV, car repair workshops; TVE, RNE; the Policía Local; cultural activities … the list is endless.
    Positives about Spain? The three things you mention are very important, ie the weather, the Spanish people and the scenery, but there are also the slower pace of life in Andalucía, the ‘live and let live’ attitude here, eating breakfast in a busy bar with local workers, the evening paseo, the tradition of tapeo, the quality and variety of fruit and veg, the cost of living in general, nattering with Spanish neighbours about the weather and the state of the economy, being treated with kindness, respect and trust by the locals, knowing the local cops and the bank manager, relaxing in the pool after a hard day’s work, and, of course – and you’ll like this, Fred – not having to wear socks from April to October!

  8. Thanks Paul
    I was going to put up a similar post on good things in Andalucia. So I’ll just add to your list. In Granada, which isn’t short of problems, we have a vibrant cultural life, with loads of brilliant free events, really nice, old fashioned bookshops,free literary magazines (Mercurio), good theatre at affordable prices, and great respect for writers.
    P.J. Brooke

  9. Paul,

    Some valid points there, but also some inaccuracies. Not everyone has a slower pace of life in Spain as you suggest. Many expats are juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet. Perhaps you are talking about the retirees, or retirees with small jobs on the side? I’m sure the Spanish are working less hard, I mean half their working day is breakfast and lunch lol.

    The cost of living has become much higher in Spain in recent years, especially for essential services like electricity and gas. Then there are the IBI rises, water rates and such like – all have risen significantly.

    Many of the companies you named actually have abysmal customer service. Vodafone was on the ‘worst company of the year’ list for sucessive years, so I don’t why you have that in your list lol. Iberdrola are more expensive than Endesa and are two peas in a pod (they were going to merge them both remember). Iberbanda have whole complaints forums dedicated to them. The trains are good, but only the well-off can afford them; the prices for long-distance travel are ridiculous.

    As for the ‘live and let live’ attitude here, I don’t think that applies to the tens of thousands of people who have been worried to death about the legality of their homes of course. Spain is not all pleasant.

  10. Paul Whitelock,
    in the internet age there is simply no excuse for not knowing the best building practices nor what materials are available for construction. Why is it only the Brits who don’t know that to convert an old building is always far more expensive than building from new.

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