Our New House in Spain

Followers of this web site will know that Liz and I own 3 acres of land and an old farmhouse in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Andalucia region of Spain, near the south coast.  We are fortunate to live near another English astronomer, Tony Angel and his wife, Ros.  Our house is at an elevation of 1210 meters (3,932 feet) above sea level which makes for nice clear skies.

During 2004 we engaged a local building company to carry out the first phase of the rebuilding work, which included demolishing a derelict part of the property and building a new, one-bedroom house adjoining the old part.  This was phase one and the new section has a kitchen, toilet, double bedroom and en-suite bathroom with shower.  Phase two involved re-roofing an additional area to provide a garage, internal storage room and an additional bedroom (the old kitchen).  This work was completed in April 2006 and we moved on to phase three, which involved demolishing part of the old house, installing new strengthened floors and a terrace, re-roofing what was left and building our observatoryThis was the most complex part of the project and for this we needed a project manager.  This is where our friend Tony Angel stepped forward and volunteered to supervise the building work.  In fact Tony did much more than that, recommending and working with the builder, sending us hundreds of pictures of the work, and generally we have to say that none of this would have been possible without him.

Phase three was completed in June 2006 and the observatory is now fully operational.  The excellent fibreglass motorised dome was built in the UK by Pulsar Optical and we are delighted with it.  The house is almost totally self-contained, using water from our own spring and power from a substantial solar power system.  We hope you enjoy the pictures and would be delighted to welcome you to our astronomical retreat in the sun.  It's been quite an adventure.

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On this map of Europe you will find Spain at the bottom left corner. Andalucia is at the bottom near to Africa The house is approached along a dirt track and is about a mile from the nearest asphalt road This photo, taken during one of our first visits to the property, show the central portion which was derelict Although the main roof was sound, a lot of the rest of it was derelict
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Bulldozers were used to clear a space large enough to build the new house Here is the old part with openings into the old building And the new structure is built alongside the old.  Here is the house under construction And here the main part of the house is nearing completion
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The house taking shape as seen from our favourite vantage point on the main track And here is the main room of the new piece, comfortably furnished, with a large, solid table and all "mod cons" And the fully fitted kitchen has already produced many lovely meals Colder winter nights are warmed by our log burning stove
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Our snug bedroom is just the right size, and the far doorway leads to the en-suite shower room Our first builder stands in the doorway leading to the part of the house we call "phase 2" During this next phase we concreted the floors in part of the old house, including the central store room And the garage - it has made a huge difference to the house to have a bright, welcoming area instead of dirt and dust
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The roof beams in what is now our second bedroom have been lacquered We built concrete block bases for beds and a local carpenter cut wood covers in situ With mattresses fitted and a few homely comforts it makes a nice guest bedroom In the garage are the storage batteries and rectifiers and inverters for the solar system
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Fed by solar panels on the roof which together produce a 1.5Kw system - the batteries charge at around 500 watts when it's sunny A 2.5KW generator for charging the batteries and running the house during cloudy days And a large capacity charger to limit the power fed to the batteries from the generator The white cube in the previous pictures is our water tank, now fully enclosed to stop it blowing off the roof in storms
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New garage doors have been fitted to keep out the irritating wood boring wasps and other flies Now to phase 3.  First step was to remove the old llano roof and start the work of demolition. The observatory is now where they're standing Exposing the old wooden timbers made lots of dust and seemed precarious work Two of the men built on site the former for one of the major reinforced concrete beams which will go in the house
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While Lizzie studied her nutrition theory papers on the patio in the Spanish sunshine The foreman, Jose, was an amiable gentleman who seems to understand our Spanish and who did a superb job for us He was also invaluable for keeping the neighbours informed about progress and plans and for resolving a few disputes Here the roof has been removed and we are taking the walls down to make a terrace on the south side of the house
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On the other side we have built a new roof and upper "terrace" for astronomy as well Now the new concrete supporting beams are installed for the lower terrace floor Followed by concrete blocks to form the base of the floor Then steel reinforcement is added and a cement screed is applied.  This is  followed by plastic sheeting and more cement
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The half completed floor is strong and this will be a nice terrace for summer evenings. The same procedure is used on the roof of the old house A plastic laminate layer ensures the roof is watertight, and we installed posts and rails up here, and finished it off with small lights Access to the roof is via a traditional Spanish staircase, here under construction, illuminated at night And in the day time
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Here is the hole in the floor for the pier, shown from the room below the observatory, which we call the "pier room" and from above, taken as the observatory walls were being built Here the observatory really starts to take shape.  The lower part of the wall, with access door from the terrace and a window.  The base of the telescope pier is in this room And in a later stage of construction, showing the pier in the centre and the space for the dome
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The roof is reinforced concrete, and the dome sits on an intermediate plastic layer to prevent leakage.   We dug a big hole for the pier, digging until we reached solid rock Then we took some steel reinforcement and made a support structure in the general shape of the pier and poured lots of concrete The whole structure comes up through the hole in the observatory floor, but without touching the floor to avoid any vibration
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The pier is capped with a thick metal plate which has been drilled and tapped for the telescope base to be attached (see later) After much expense and worry the dome finally arrives from England and Jose attacks the crate with a hammer The pieces were scattered all over the roof of the house while we figured out how to put them together First was to assemble the base ring and wheel assemblies and make sure they were completely level
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Then the dome itself was assembled, complete with shutters, and left to wait on the terrace while the observatory was prepared The base rings were lifted carefully onto the roof And large holes drilled for the fixing bolts The dome rings were then raised, concrete placed underneath, and the rings then lowered onto the concrete and levelled
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Then the dome was finally lifted into position by four sturdy guys (one a little short of height) And settled onto the wheel ring in it's final resting place The Spanish way of keeping water out is to put a top layer of "Capo Fino" on the concrete/laminate roof And the finished house and observatory now look great, here seen from the top of our access road
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Power for the observatory was taken direct from the main battery complex in the garage and the conduit buried on the roof And Emilio the electrician also wired up a switch so we can run the house off a generator if needed Inside the observatory we have built a wooden platform to allow us to reach the scope, which mounted quite high up Holes are drilled and tapped in the steel plate on top of the pier
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And the NJP mount and telescope fitted, plus all the bits and pieces.  Polar alignment was simple and the scope is rock solid The C14 looks great, peeping out through the slit in the dome and Canopus is very effective on the open upper terrace All in all we are very pleased with the observatory
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We have a patio which will be used for sleeping extra people in summer, and we are going to grow things up and over the vertical posts We have reinforced and relined the old water overflow tank in the garden to make a plunge pool, constantly filled from the spring It makes a very refreshing plunge pool on hot days - if a little chilly at first dip Our vines are doing really well after we pruned them in April, and we are expecting a good crop this year
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And we have made good friends with our neighbour, Francisco, who keeps an eye on things when we are not there The views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains from the top of our track continue to be breathtaking And cloudier days create a really moody effect, making the distant mountains seem very dramatic One exciting feature of being so high is that the clouds sometimes wrap themselves around you as they pass by
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Here are some of our young grapes Lizzie loves to eat our yummy figs, straight from the tree And cherries - we have five trees and the cherries taste really good To give a little flavour of the place at night, here is a sunset........
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That's it everyone - we're done!
and a moonrise - A beautiful harvest moon ------ This is the cave from where our spring water comes, tasting really good The Spanish stars shining bright above the roof of a friend's house nearby...........and Scorpius hanging over the almond trees  

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