Problems and pitfalls faced when building or renovating

Building and renovating houses in Portugal

Part 2

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How thick is the insulation


Problems and pitfalls faced when building or renovating a house in Portugal. 

May I share my advice gained from experience here?


There is an awful lot of illegal, unauthorized building here in Portugal.

From apartment blocks being built a story too high right down to windows being put in walls against planning rules.

Not all are done by rouges and cowboy builders. There are people in planning departments who flout the regulations too.

Things are changing and more councils are applying their controls tighter. If you are a foreigner I really don’t think that it is worth trying to get away with it as you have no well-connected friends or family = INFUENCE to help you.

In the end we all want to sell or transfer our property here and when that time comes we could do without the hassle and years of expensive frustration that can be inflicted on you for not conforming to a few simple rules.

Any Architect can tell you if what you want to build/extend can be done on your land.

Don’t expect this advice to be free as you are talking to a professional.

Once you know what you can do and the limitations you can make firm plans.


On the subject of firm plans don’t get hung up on the fine detail of a particular design until you know that you can actually build it there and that it will look right on the plot of land.

In the past I have been presented with many home drawn plans, photocopy’s of other people plans and even ripped off brochures from luxury housing developments presented to me as exactly what the clients wanted to build despite the land they own being on a steep slope or not actually big enough to site the house.

My favorite was a sketch of a couples “ideal home”. They had spent so much time working on the room sizes they had forgot to include stairs and corridors to get from room to room. The look on their faces when this was pointed out was a picture.


EVERY home or large refurbishment project changes during construction occasionally because of on-site factors but usually as people walk around the site they have new ideas and want to make changes. This always costs money so have a reserve budget!

The methods of building here are different to the UK. Not worse just different.

project manager, project managment portugal, building manager, building management, castelo construction, dampfixpt
Make sure that you construction work is project managed

We are in a warm country and insulation is only just being recognized as important. In a new home you should expect 40mm of rigid insulation. In a refurbishment builders will use thinner 30mm because it’s cheaper and is what they are used to. Insist on 40mm.

This is something that you must watch out for. Builders using their “judgement” to change specifications during the build.

It will always put money in their pocket not yours.

Your architect will most likely never set foot on the building site as far as he is concerned his work is done when the plans are approved. Which means that you have no one to inspect or control what is happening on the building site.

The insulation example above is a frustrating but fairly minor example but I have seen examples of thinner reinforcing steel being used and less of it. Which can cause massive problems to the structure in the future.

I recommend that you use an experienced project manager who provides photographs of details such as reinforcing steel and insulation as it is being put in place.


No damp proof course in Portuguese homes – If there was ever an expat bar or café conversation this is it.

I try to keep out of these conversations because it draws the “building experts” out of any social gathering.

There is nothing to stop you having DPC and damp proof membranes included in your house or renovation design. You or your project manager must be there to see that they are installed properly because your builder will have very little experience of them.

The main constraint in achieving what you want is MONEY.

Most people build bigger than they need or would have had in the UK. As a result it costs more to build and to finish.

Especially when you walk around some of the swanky tile and bathroom showrooms. Then of course there is the larger and beautifully fitted kitchen. I have seen many a man persuade his partner that they cannot live without a massive American style “man fridge” Bang goes the budget!