‘Tecchie’ stuff

The Site
We have about 380m2 of land, of which 51m2 is ‘Le Beton’.The plot is roughly triangular in shape with an apex pointing almost due South. The western side runs along a road. The eastern side runs along something shown on the plans as a road, but is more of a garbage-filled goat track. The third side borders a neighbour’s orchard. Access is from the South, where we can park on the opening to the goat track – used also as access by our eastern neighbour. Our northern neighbour kindly allows us to run the car up onto the flat land on his part of the origimally joined-up plot, so access is easier. Incidentally, all our neighbours are extremely kind and friendly towards these peculiarforeigners who appear to do some gardening or whatever, and don’t speak much of their language – yet (we are working on that).

View of the plot from the north, looking towards ‘Le Beton’ 

View in the reverse direction, from ‘Le Beton’

‘Le Beton’
This is the name we have given to the concrete structure a previous owner built (illegally of course) on the site some 30 years ago. It is without any redeeming features and most of it will be removed. Under Vasko’s plans the top part will be the base for the supporting columns for the terraces. We had thought we would have a problem in disposing of the rubble, but there will not be too much of it. The normal practice here is to load it all into a truck and dump it somewhere – sometimes in a municipal-approved dump site (the nearest is Niksic!), more usually just over a convenient cliff. The only benefit of ‘Le Beton’ is that it provides us with a prior structure, which showed up on the aerial photograph used as the basis for the revised Urban Plan, meaning we didn’t have to justify having a building on the site inour application for planning permission for the house.

‘Le Beton’ – side view. Pretty ghastly, isn’t it!

Overall Design
The main living areas are on two floors, the ground level being at the level of the roof of Le Beton. On this level we have the main entrance, and stairway up to the main living area on the upper floor, which has the best view over the Bay. This means kitchen, dining area, living room, and office/ study space, leading out onto a large balcony. The rest of the ground level is for our bedroom as well as 1 guest bedroom. As this is built to the maximum footprint, 80m2, this means about 60m2 nett living space per floor (wall thickness about 0.4m).

Additionally we need space for the technical stuff – mainly the HVAC unit and the back-up power system, also pumps for the water system. All of this will be in a Technical Room built into the side of the main retaining wall which is to be on the west side of the house below the main ground level. We will also have space there for wine production and storage, as well as a workbench. Anke also needs space for a big freezer and shelves for jams &c.
Parking is in the excavated area west of the retainng wall, and underneath that will be the septic tank.

About the only design requirement from the Municipality is that we must have a sloping roof, not the flat one in Elisabeth’s original proposal. It will be two-sided, sloping to the front and back. which gives more space for solar panels, and is also more traditional for the ‘Boka’. We do not need to cover the whole roof with panels – up to 5 is more than enough.


Structural Considerations
As Montenegro is in an earthquake zone (2 of Richter 4.5 in November 2012, epicentre Danilovgrad), we will have to have a shock-proof frame of reinforced concrete. This will create problems in avoiding thermal-bridges as well as the inherent thermal properties of the material. The Montenegrins are very fond of concrete; they’re also very fond of bricks. Elisabeth favours brick as the main wall material.
We have to have reinforced concrete columns, and presumably reinforced concrete floor beams, to give structural strength to the building. Reinforced concrete normally means building wooden shuttering into which the concrete is poured. I see difficulties in insulating the columns adequately and preventing thermal bridges, given the skills of workmen available here.

My original preference was to use Ytong autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks which also have pre-formed blocks to contain reinforcing bars and concrete. This would solve the problem of insulating the column as well the cost of erecting and dismantling shuttering. Our experienced builder Vasko is adamantly against concrete as the main biuldikng material because it is not suitable for the high humidity in the Boka area. Back to brick!

The outside wall is insulation. Which material is best? If it is a relatively soft material, eg Expanded Polystyrene (EPS – which is not environmentally friendly anyway!), then there will be problems in fixing anything to it. Friends of ours had enormous problems attaching door and shutter catches to EPS. I assume there is a similar problem with mineral wool insulation (eg Rockwool).

Vasko has suggested an outer cladding of stone, which would of course be great, but it is far too expensive and also there is a major problem of how to attach it safely to the insulation.


© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins