We knew the terrace leaked : the sum we offered for the house – the offer that was accepted – took account of that fact. That was nearly two years ago, and with each winter’s damp and frost the bare concrete slab of the terrace can only get worse. So that’s the most important job I’ve been attending to during my two-month stay here in Navarra, at Casa Los Fueros.
The terrace is on the upper ground floor, behind the kitchen – at the same level as Calle Los Fueros. Below the terrace is the utility room, with laundry appliances, fuel store, tools, heating boiler, and the such like. The terrace is made of a reinforced concrete slab of rather indifferent quality, and – until now – has lacked any kind of protection. Concrete is porous, and where damp gets in, frost can wreak havoc. There are cracks, which are not so bad as to effect the structural integrity, but enough for very heavy rain to result in water dripping down into the utility room below.
The work – now completed – has taken four weeks, albeit with gaps due to the tiles arriving late, bad weather ; and fiestas, too – of course.
The first task was to remove (temporarily) the cast iron balustrade. The concrete was scrubbed clean of moss, grit and the such like. A notch was cut into the walls all around the terrace. Then a waterproofing membrane (with a protective fabric underneath – like carpet underlay) was laid over the concrete, the edges being glued into the notches in the walls.
A layer of lean concrete (low cement content) was poured over the waterproofing membrane that would not only protect the it, but also even-out the irregular surface and varied slopes of the original slab.
I had already been to Tafalla, with my son-in-law Ion, to chose the tiles : they would arrive in two weeks. One week later we received the news that the smaller of the two sizes of tile we’d be using was no longer available. I had by then got some familiarity with the specialist spanish vocabulary required, so went on my own to chose replacement tiles. Nearly a fortnight later, the tiles arrived in stock, and the next day, tiling proper commenced.
I had, of course, previously taken detailed measurements of the terrace and all its features, but in order to calculate how many tiles to order, I needed a laying pattern ; and that is where the calculations became much more difficult. I had devised a laying pattern which would ensure no continuous joint lines, and minimized long parallel lines. The challenge was to devize a layout which would give an impression of being random, whilst in fact being entirely regular, so that the quantities of the different tiles could be calculated with confidence.
The problem with such a complex pattern – with a big ‘repeat’, is that it is very difficult for the tiler, with his nose always close to the work in hand, to follow the pattern without continually getting confused. It was therefore my role to pick the tiles and lay them out ‘in the ‘dry : Andre, the tiler, then put the tiles into little stacks, in such a way that he would know how they should be laid correctly, and then to to start laying the tiles with mortar and joint spacers.
Once all the whole tiles – las baldosas enterras – had been laid, I told Andres he could please himself how to cut and lay the part-tiles around the edges, and on the steps. The skirtings – covering the waterproofing membrane where it is notched into the walls – was tiled only with the half-sized grey tiles.
Eventually, the tiles were all down, and the joints grouted, and then I had only to wait a few days until the blacksmith returned to reinstall the balustrade.
After adding waterproofing, concrete, tile adhesive and of course the tiles themselves, on top of the original concrete slab, the balustrade needed to be about 75mm / 3in higher than it had been previously. Replacement fixings were installed into the walls, and the balustrade – with a few minor modifications – was welded to those fixings. The ironwork is extremely heavy, the fixings are belt-and-braces strong : Ion said that the house might fall down, but the balustrade would survive intact : to which I replied that the house couldn’t fall down because the balustrade was propping it up!
So, with the tools cleared away, the terrace swept and cleaned, and the house free of the coming and going of workers, I was free to bring the plants and pots back from their temporary home on the salon balcony : and now Denise and I can think about adding more plants and pots to our terrace garden. I took the precaution – just in case neither of us can come to Navarra next Spring – of setting up an automatic watering system for next summer, so that our daughter Catherine only needs to plug it in and turn on the water.
After-thought : I’m completing this post, three weeks after returning home, and already I’m longing to return. The house, our family nearby, and the wonderful Navarra countryside (and towns and villages) have already become integral to our lives.