Monthly Archives: September 2013

Day 7: Finishing touches

Today is our last day in Romania – our flight home is very early tomorrow morning.

It hasn’t been particularly warm over the last week and last night was no exception so the floor we laid yesterday had not completely set. Fortunately it was just about solid enough to walk on with wooden boards laid on top so this didn’t hold us up too much. We have progressed really well and, apart from allowing some time for everything to set, the house is very close to being habitable. Most of the work planned for today was optional extras, with the exception of fitting the front and two internal doors which was Richard’s priority.

I spent most of the morning cutting and attaching angled braces between the joists and diagonal beams supporting the roof to provide extra resilience. Meanwhile Nick and AJ added extra boarding into the loft space to reduce drafts and turn it into a really useful storage area. Simon continued plastering the internal walls, a job which will be finished by some local volunteers once we have left.

After our last lunch in the village hall, most of the team started work on rendering the external wall at the front of the house – this is not absolutely necessary but provides a nicer finish for painting. The local team will do the same to the other external walls at a later date.

The family have no running water in with their old or new houses. Having seen the amount of time and effort it takes them to bring barrels of water to the house, Nick offered to buy guttering and a water butt to collect rainwater for use on the crops etc. Therefore, for the last hour or so, we concentrated on attaching the guttering to the roof and building a raised platform for the water butt to stand on. This small project will make a huge difference to the family’s everyday lives and will almost certainly become a standard part of future house builds.

Day 6: Laying the floor

With just two days left before we leave Romania the focus is now very much on prioritising the work that is left so that we can get the house as close to being habitable as possible.

This is the first time that plasterboard has been used for the ceiling in one of these house builds. To reduce costs, the joists that it is attached to are further apart than they would normally be in the UK and we had some concerns about it sagging in between. To solve this, Nick, AJ and I started the day by fixing lengths of wood along the joins to give it extra support, and coincidentally provide a nice rustic feature ceiling!

For most of the afternoon it was all hands on deck to render the internal walls, which involves attaching a 1cm layer of sand and cement (affectionately called ‘muck’) to give a smooth finish. A group of local people had joined us to help out today, so at one point there were 17 people on site – most of us crammed inside the house working on the walls.  The English and Romanians have very different rendering techniques! While we tend to use a hawk (a square plate that can hold a pile of muck) and trowel to push it into the wall, the Romanians use a small bowl to literally throw it. Both techniques have their advantages, though the latter tends to make a lot more mess! Meanwhile, Simon and Richard were putting the final layer of plaster in the bedroom that was rendered a few days ago to leave a smooth, paintable surface.

By about 4pm all of the walls had been rendered and it was time to start work on the floor. A layer of stones had been laid a couple of days ago so all we needed to do was add a layer of muck to provide a smooth finish. The aim was to get it all finished today so that it can set overnight and not delay any work tomorrow. Other than Nick and AJ who were finishing off the floorboards in the loft, the whole team were working on the floor. We got into quite a good rhythm of Ady mixing gallons of cement, Sam wheeling it into the house, me shovelling and Richard, Stuart and Simon laying. By 7:30 all three rooms had been finished and we were on our way back to the hotel for dinner and bed.

Day 5: Building relationships as well as houses

The first group of us arrived on site at the usual time to continue working while the rest enjoyed a brief Sunday morning lie in! As we were only working until lunchtime, we set ourselves a target of finishing the roof and ceiling. Nick, AJ and I were back on the plasterboard again and finally got it finished, 18 pieces and 350 screws after we started! The rest of the team got the roof finished with the exception of one corner which will need to be completed once the old house has been demolished.

We headed back to the hotel for lunch, which we ate in the hallway on the first floor because a wedding reception was in full swing in the main restaurant! We then decided to visit the families living in the houses that have been built by Grassroots over the last two years. The first was constructed using an almost identical method to this year’s so it was really good to see what we’re aiming for. Since the team left, the family have made it into a really nice home and seem very happy there. The house that was built two years ago is owned by Olivio (who came to help with the plastering yesterday). When it was built they were about to foster two children so the church decided to build them a larger house with two floors. As it was a larger job, the English team completed most of the structure before handing it over to a local team to finish. Since then Olivio has spent a lot of time decorating it himself.

We drove straight from Olivio’s house to the church in Monari (the village where we are building the house). Although the visible purpose of our trip is the house, Grassroots also places a big emphasis on building relationships with the local people, and attending one of their church services is one way to do that. The church is Pentecostal with a small congregation of around twenty-five people. Morning services last for three hours but we chose to go to the 6pm service which is just two hours long! When we arrived there were only three people there, but as the service got underway more people drifted in as they finished tending to their animals and other daily chores, including the mother and grandmother of the family we are building for. We were very lucky to have Ady with us as he translated everything that was said, though singing hymns in Romanian was quite challenging! We stayed for half an hour after the service to talk to the villagers, who couldn’t stop saying how grateful they are for the work we are doing in the village. They certainly made us feel very welcome.

Back at the hotel we had another late dinner, much of which was the leftovers from the wedding. The food has generally been good at the hotel, and served on big platters for everyone to share. Romania is a big meat eating country but they have been very accommodating to me with a special  vegetarian option each night. The speciality seems to be deep fried cheese which I have had a number of evenings already!

Day 4: A pitched roof, polystyrene and plasterboard

My first task this morning was to finish boarding the top of the house with AJ and Sam so that we had a platform to start working on the pitched roof. The emphasis of the project is very much on keeping costs down where possible and reusing old material, so this particular job turned into more of a jigsaw puzzle as we tried to match the sizes of various timber to create a solid floor with minimum waste. I then spent some time securing the wooden frame for the roof to the walls and preparing the front of the house for plastering by attaching angle beads to the corners. Throughout the morning the team carried in buckets of the stones that were delivered yesterday to form the base of the floor.

Today we had two local people joining us to help with the build – Augustine and Olivio, whose house was built by Grassroots two years ago. Both are experienced plasterers and spent most of the day working on the interior walls. Meanwhile half of our team worked on the roof while the rest of us started on the internal ceiling. This involved first attaching a layer of insulating polystyrene underneath the joists followed by sheets of plasterboard to provide a paintable surface. Adding the plasterboard turned into a very time consuming job as we had to carefully measure and secure each piece to ensure a tidy fit. Nick, Ady, AJ and I all have very sore arms from holding up and screwing in boards for about 4 hours straight! We worked well into the evening after sunset and by the time we left over half of both the roof and ceiling had been completed.

Overall the building work is progressing well, though we are all very tired and there is still a lot to do! Tomorrow is Sunday when, traditionally, no work should be done. However, we have consulted with the people of the village and decided to work until lunchtime. Half of the team are also opting for an extra hour in bed, but the rest of us will be up at 6:45 again!

Day 3: Starting the roof

We were back on site by 8:30am today with a first priority of finishing the walls. My day started in exactly the same way as yesterday – sieving sand with AJ and Martin to make the cement.

The house is actually being built on a slope, so one end is higher than the other. AJ and I spent the next hour or so building a wooden platform along this edge of the house so that we had a more stable base for the ladders. For the rest of the morning we were all concentrating on finishing the exterior bricklaying and pointing.

After another lunch at the village hall we started laying the foundations for the roof, consisting of a thick wooden frame lying on top of the walls with nine joists running across it. Any large gaps between the wooden frame and brickwork were packed with broken roof tiles to provide extra support before being filled with cement. One of the more complicated problems we encountered is that the foundations of the new house were laid in a position that slightly overlaps with the roof of the old house. Consequently we have had to carefully remove parts of the old roof so that we can put the new one in place.

Work has been fairly constant since we arrived with breaks few and far between – the general feeling amongst the team is that we would like to get as much done as possible before we leave Romania. There was however a general pause this afternoon while we watched the daily ritual of the cows walking home. Most of the small farms in the village do not have a suitable area for their cows to graze so they are taken up the hill to a dedicated field each morning. As the sun starts to go down the cows walk home en masse, apparently of their own accord, each finding and returning to their own house.

My last job of the day was to start laying boards on the top of the house to form the floor of the loft area which will be used for storage. By the time we left the building was really starting to look like a house for the first time.

Day 2: Building the walls

Everyone was up before dawn for a 6:45am breakfast. After a quick stop off at the builders’ merchant we were back on site by 9am. The main aim for today was to get the walls built but the forecast was very wet so we were all hoping that this wouldn’t slow us down too much.

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A large pile of sand had been delivered but it had a lot of stones viagra 100mg pills mixed in, so my first job was to sieve it all so that it could be made into cement. AJ, Nick and I also constructed a ramp to allow easy access into the foundations and then followed the bricklayers around pointing (filling the gaps in between the bricks with cement). During our short lunch break we walked to the village hall where an outside caterer had prepared chicken and vegetables. Fortunately our hotel provided me with a vegetarian packed lunch in advance!

The afternoon was filled with more of the same – mixing cement, laying bricks and pointing. We worked until dark, by which time we had laid almost all of the exterior walls (including 5 windows) and the beginnings of the interior walls. We stayed for an extra hour to wait for and unload a large delivery of wood which will be used to construct the roof before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Everyone is already very tired but pleased with progress so far – fortunately the rain wasn’t quite as bad as we’d expected!

Day 1: Our first visit to the site

It was a very early start this morning for everyone on the team. We all met at 6am in the check in area at Luton airport ready for an 8:30 flight to Cluj Napoca. The team consists of 10 volunteer builders including 11 year old Archie who, in addition to raising the sponsorship required to fund his own trip, raised enough money to buy all of the materials required. Two other members of the team will be assisting the local church by visiting children in some of the poorest families in the area.

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After lowest price generic viagra the three hour flight we were met by Jacob who is the local church minister. He selects a family who are in desperate need of a new house and organises the build from the Romanian end. We drove in the heavy rain for two hours to a village called Bistrița where we are staying. The Hotel Don is basic but much more comfortable than I was expecting! We stayed long enough to have a quick omelette as a very late lunch before heading out to the village.

After another half an hour driving we turned down a very muddy track, and there was no doubt about which house we would be rebuilding. It is a miracle that the old house is still standing, with many of the walls badly cracked and warped under the weight of the roof which it turn has started to sink in places. Despite the lack of sufficient shelter or warmth, there is a very real chance that it will collapse during the winter. The site of the new house, which will have two bedrooms and a small kitchen, is just behind the old one. Other than the concrete foundations that have been laid in advance by local builders, we had been left a large pile of bricks and a lot of work to do! Even though it was 6pm and raining we got started straightaway by cutting down a tree that was overhanging the new site and moving the new materials away from the foundations.

Back at the hotel we discussed the build in more detail over dinner and then got an early night ready for another early start tomorrow.

I’m off to Romania

I’m off on my travels again, but this time it is for a very different kind of trip. I’m spending the next week in Romania with a charity called the Grassroots Trust, who are sending a team out to build a new house for a family of six. Their current home is on the verge of collapse and they do not have the resources to build a new one. Even though there is a good chance that we won’t finish the work in the short time that we have, it sounds like it is going to be a very busy and hard working experience! Grassroots also have a blog that will be updated with our progress – you can find it at