Thursday, June 17, 2010

Calabrian Hill Town Construction-Guy Talk

I thought there might be a little interest in how construction happens in a Calabrian hill town.  Di will return next week. Meanwhile I can fill in some of what she missed (due to lack of interest in tools) during the last construction update…

Based on my American experience, the biggest eye-opener is the labor intensive nature of hill town restoration work.  Few Americans would have to work as hard as the Italians here (the streets are not driveable for equipment such as delivery or concrete trucks). The best option is to use a small construction “haul vehicle” that can get your materials NEAR where you want them.  

In this image the guys are taking material from the machine. They then must climb about 25 steps to the worksite in our apartment.   
Here, they use wheelbarrows to take rubble first to a dumps site, then from a dumpsite to the machine which hauls it off.  Good use of planking, etc.  Some builders have motorized carriers on tracks to save some work.  In the States we used tracked “toters” for trail work in the forest.

Look at these pics of the blocks and rubble hauling then imagine that machine delivering 20-40 sacks of calcio or cemento which weigh 25 kg (55lbs) each.  Then imagine you are the dude that has to carry those up a bunch or stairs to the staging location….and it’s 32C (hot!) and very humid.  You get the picture.   Oh, that same strong guy gets to mix the concrete and carry it in buckets to the mason. This will continue thru the project when they mix base for tile, grout and plaster.

We mentioned our desire to remove a 30-year old plywood ceiling, then clean the beams to have that exposed beam look favored here. These were the very best beams we exposed and the rest are twisted and starting to rot (mind you they hold up our main house above!!).  

Hence, the need for steel beam reinforcing which had to be carried to the site.    This is Angelo welding plates for support under the old wooden beams.  

They have slick little welders that plug into the 220V house current.  Those original beams and wood decking support a layer of concrete capped with tile upstairs.   It was necessary to beef up the floor with steel, then put new wood beams and planks (all castegno – chestnut) under the old stuff.

Americans build houses with wooden studs.  Italians have built with stones and masonry for centuries and continue to do so since wood is not that available.  We left our wood working tools in Oregon but they would only be used minimally here anyway. The two Calabrian main players are the electric jack hammer for heavy work and the electric chisel for the rest.  

I don’t show hand chisels and hammers for the refined work. In addition to demolition, they use the chisel to create channels in floors and walls to carry flexible plastic conduit for wires, for gas hose and for water hose. They stopped using galvanized plumbing much like the US has for new construction. You chisel a course for your wires to a light fitting or switch, place the conduit and wire, then plaster over it all.

Here’s Mario preparing the wall that will be under the stairs going to the basement. They ripped out the old stairway that was nearly vertical.  He’s actually up against terra (bedrock) there in the cellar.
The workers are very talented. Ottavio here is the chief mason on our project and is very fast throwing up filler walls like this (fills in a curve in the bathroom wall where a straight run is needed for the lavabo (sink).   He was also key in discussions with the supplier for the wood burning insert that will go into the fireplace Otto will build (he was so named for being the 8th child in the family).

Just watching these guys makes me hot and tired. 

My biggest chore today was going to the bank and arranging for a Monday pickup of money to pay these folks.  The bank has changed the limit on cash withdrawals to €2000 max without making arrangements first. I should also confess that my shaky Italian got me a military style haircut yesterday. I’ve used the guy before, but was complacent in explaining what I wanted. EHHHHH  it’ll grow back.  Certo

Stay Cool, Guido


  1. Really interesting post Guido.

    I seem to have lost my builder, I don't know if he even collected the keys he asked for lol

  2. The builders certainly work hard here don't they.

    Funny about the haircut, my husband is always paranoid about having his cut too short, even if I prefer it that way.

  3. Sue,
    Hope you find your builder. They tend to show up when money gets short.
    I like Doug's hair just when he starts talking about getting it cut.
    He looks like he's joined the Marines right now.

  4. From the looks of this wood is a lot easier to work with! Interesting post.

  5. This is definitely an accurate portrayal of construction here...the boys work *very* hard indeed!

  6. Thanks for stopping by Michelle and thanks.
    Gil, wood is easier but doesn't last as many centuries.



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