House designs for Italian winters

Pat H
09/10/2009 - 05:19

If you had an opportunity, what aspect or design of your house would you change to cope with Italian winters?I am not talking about the obvious, more insulation etc but changes that would make living easier. 



 not many Italian properties seem to have decent porches... it makes sense to me to be able to junk wet and or muddy clothes out of the wind and rain... so have basically done that on our house...on the back door not the front... existing buildings allowed me to create a place thet keeps the wind from blowing in the our doors seem to be open all year round anyway for dogs... and inside a couple of more doors so if or when it gets really freezing the dogs are let out through a series of doors keeping the heat insidethe other point about the back area is that it is open one side and allows you to eat outside virtually all year long cause even when we get snow when the sun comes out its very warm... i cannot see the point personally of living here and spending all days in doors... and even though we use it all year round the second kitchen attached to the back porch/covered area allows us to cook with a wood cooker... which is very cosey in the winter... is not in the main house not the problems of smells and dust ...wood is stacked close by so apart from the inital stacking not really having to move it much... we also have an indoor pizza oven and grilling firplace in that area... it just makes it all so much more frindly feeling when the weather is dismal... one other thing about winter living here is air... all Italians ...well all that we know air the house every day...throw open windows and let at least an hours air get in...  generally early morning...  its a good move to do this because one its nice to have fresh air...the other thing is that often houses dont have any air bricks... again ... i have put them in our house to allow circulation...but otherwise this is about the only way of keeping damp down....  slightly worrying when you see fuel bills... but thats another story.....finally i would say to make sure you have a life here...sitting around in some areas we vist is depressing... you always seem to find them sitting in clouds of mist or streaming rain...  whatever you do start getting out... build up friends and go and have coffes... cahts... whatever .. i know for some its difficult.. we are lucky in the sense that we always have school runs to do and evening activities you have to push yourself to go out and about even when not the best temps or you have to clear snow... to get to the car... you can fall into an easy life in front of the TV or computer here very easily... grow stale ,stagnant and fat on the lack of interest and activity... have seen it happen with a few people that have moved here... and they are just too depressing to seems for them one long complaint of woes... efforts get rewarded to my mind...and learn to love the elements... Italy is full of exterems ... and i enjoy them all from boiling heat to snow blizzards... it keeps you alive.. and to me its a joy of living hereso really no rules... i think you have to just realise that for many that are here with no fixed schedule..retired say ...that life here in winter is or can be as cold and wet as the uk... wetter in reallity if you look at say annual rainfalls in places like Tuscany... build a network of good friends and things to do... leave room in your house for doing these things...dont convert every spare inch into smart living accomodation....  and to my mind choose carefully where you buy a house so that you get the max of the best weather in the winter season... because a south facing property on a slope with clear views...not only feels warmer... it makes your life feel warmer too  sorry my general type of waffle...  but it was an intriguing question... and not sure how many times i thought i had finished before i did... but it is quite interesting to see how many people just give up after a winter here in Italy...  and its true this is a question way beyond heating and insulation... good question

In reply to by adriatica

Not waffle at all. Very interesting. The porch is an excellent idea and I have also wondered myself why more Italian houses don't have one. How is your back area designed? Is it a roofed "porch" with one side open? I would love to see a picture if it is not too intrusive. 

There's a reason for tiny rooms and small windows in old houses - they are easier to keep warm in the winter.So although I wouldn't say keep all your rooms tiny - I would try to ensure that doors/curtains etc can be used to convert the glorious large living room which is perfect for a hot summer's day into a cosier area for winter hibernation.Shutters on all windows to keep the cold out.  But open them on sunny days to take advantage of the warmthMake sure any heating system is fully adjustable, so you can turn off rads in all but essential areas.  keep doors into non-heated rooms shut.If possible, design one room where you can eat, cook and sit.  That way you have to heat only that room in the winter and just make a run for it up to bed. Alternatively (and taking up adriatica's theme of an active social life) - spend all day in the bar by the pellet stove!

In reply to by Annec

wise words Anne, when I  read all the threads here on green energy solutions, solar, photovoltaic, geothermic, wind turbines, heat banking systems, I always think of  the farmers around here who invariably live in enormous 300 sq metre plus houses, but spend the entire winter in tiny kitchens with a cosy fire and a telly.  My nearest neighbours live exactly like this, they are in their seventies, the open fire has a back boiler, they coppice their own wood, they also grill their meat on it. I have been there when the extended family have visited and they all happily squish into the space. This frugality along with the ancient Fiat Punto van outside might give the impression of poverty, but rest assured the Mercedez and Lamborghini tractors are in the magazzino. Despite this it's a good example that one of the most effective and underrated ways of reducing your carbon footprint is simply to reduce your expectations.

 i would have mentioned the bar... the bar being my favorite institution here in Italy... but thought better of it...  i can spend hours there ... reading newspapers... sampling their produce... i think you might have nailed this question on the head a house next to a bar and you can save on just about everything...  and be part of life here

Anne and John must be mind readers. I would love a porch to put down outdoor shoes and wellies, before you come into our tiny hallway (would like a large hallway) and then fall down the step into our kitchen, which is as Anne descibes, a room 14x14 with a wood burner, an armchair (for the cats) and is a place in winter where we cook, eat, read, do crosswords and entertain. It has internal shutters on its small window, and as it is slightly below the level of the terrace, it is cool in summer as well.I sometimes think that a large open plan space would be good, but the heating bill would be huge and anyway we spend as much time as we can all year round outside,on the land or on the terrace. (where we have just built a huge woodpile, against a hedge, so its only a short dash to get it when the weather is bad...which it will be again....sorry!)A

presuming one makes all the normal adjustments to your good quality double glazed windows with shutters,think about decent insulation in the roof and if it's not an old house the walls too,think about reasonable heating systems that are feasable in terms of cost.don't open up traditional small old windows to get "panorama windows" as some do, this is just an enormous heat loss and we don't spend time sitting indoors looking outdoors anyway.dont break down all the old internal walls to make designer style open plan houses it just doesn't work and will cost a fortune to heat,in fact you never will.i know people who did this they spend their time in a one room+kitchen up stairs which they can heat because they can't afford to heat all the open plan down stairs,like other people who put in a costly underfloor system in an open plan place which procured them a 1.500 euro gas bill in fifteen days!wear clothes..we put on increasing layers of clothes during the year and start shedding layers as the weather gets warmer... keep internal doors and shut them after you go thru ( remember your dad saying "this house is not a stable shut the door" adriatica says it's not as simple as just buildings it's about how you live..don't expect to be able to heat rural buildings to the habitual temperatures i witnessed in the uk where you can wear a t-shirt inside in winter..put up with 18-21° it's enough actually.

I have to agree with all what has been said, particularly by Anne and Adriatica. Open floor plans have never been a priority for us in Italy. Depending on the area where you live, in general they do not suit the climate. On the other hand, porches, verandahs and loggias are very useful as they integrate the house with the outdoors giving you extra liveable space that can be used even in extreme weather conditions. I would not try to replace existing small windows with large ones, in our case, this was never an option as the building is very old and classified, meaning that you cannot touch it; however, we put a large mirror that reflects the view of the river through one of the windows and the results were great.  Insulation and double glazing are essential and a great investment and, as Anne points out, shutters and curtains also help a lot.

I hate being indoors in the winter if I don't have to be but I do need to make a living and that involves working at my work table at least for 5 hours every da', even if I'm using the computer ( I do have to use it for reasns other than this forum believe it or not!) here in Cornwall my hands are like ice blocks by lunchtime on a cold day so if you are still working and must send emails etc etc for a couple of hours everyday you need an office space that's quiet and warm so don't forget this when you are doing the plans!Maybe iusing a screen to enclose a corner of the main room will be enough.Being up a mountain is glorious on a spring or summer day but in the winter I hardly see them as a thick cloud covers the higher peaks.So possibly not a place to live all the year round.If you have small children it might not be practical to use just one room in the winter - I know children don't feel the cold ! If you can make sure its safe for them to play outside in an enclosed whatever the season that's going to help too!Its amazing how a covered and sheltered area can feel warm even when there's snow and ice around.I don't really agree about the windows- my mum's house is a modern 70's design in Essex with huge 'picture windows' - double glazed and the house is so warm during sunny winter days just heated by the sun alone - you dont need heating.Our house is old and we have kept original window openings but if I could create a brand new eco house I'd use passive heat more - by having some large areas of glass .If windows are sealed and properly double glazed with shutters that can be closed at night then surely they can only help with the heat in the house?

 Italian houses are unhealthy & expensive places to heat .Have one beef about the windows here, there are no top openers. So in the winter months you can't have a window open.Pilch says it's regs in the U.K that all windows have trickle vents. The Italians don't seem to understand the concept of "air flow" in the house. I know at mia zia's house on a particularly hot day whilst lunching alight breeze blew up, loverly, and instantly the patio doors were shut ,we were sweltering, they said, "Oh vento", will make you ill!  So had to suffer without any air at all. A friend of ours stuffa would not burn correctly, and another friends open fire here smoked.....reason no air flow.Do Italians think that in Summer we need all windows and doors open and in Winter everything shut....Personally, in the U.K we always slept in winter and summer with a window open.I know most Italian houses I have visited suffer from damp, a real concern for me, it's not a concept they understand. They do not put in any damp course when building their houses, so, consequently dampness is drawn up through from the ground and most cantinas are cool but damp...maybe a reason why they live on the second floor. We are in the process, finally of putting up our log cabin and we are going about designing our foundations, can we find any DPM, Damp Proof Membraine, it's a very tough, blue plastic, heavy gauge sheet designed specifically for insulating concrete floors and foundations from moisture in the surrounding soil. They just don't use it. Pilch just recently has been speaking to the builders here about the benefits of using plaster as a covering on internal walls instaed of sand & cement and steel mesh. Not only when renovating old houses does the use of sand and cement intonico, and the accompanying techniques make the interior of a charming old farmhouse as aesthetically pleasing as your average concrete box but that coupled with lack of ventilation in winter all moisture generated by bathroom, kitchen, & just breathing stays in the air and in the furnishings. Plaster removes that excess moisture and holds onto it until the moisture content in the house drops sufficiently for the moisture to be transferred back into the air. That "damp" feeling so often experienced in Italian houses is very rare in the U.K. Comfort levels in the U.K. are much higher, with a greater sense of warmth & well being.  Secundo me.Sprat

 Thanks for that Badger, but its not what I'm after. Look at this---- are larger sheets at cheaper prices from other UK suppliers but approx £0.50 per metre is not a bad price to pay to effectively block moisture ingress into the foundations & ground floor of a building & it's specifically designed for that purpose.Pilch 

In reply to by pilchard

I am always amazed to see how much this kind of dampproof membrane has degraded if left sticking out from the wall. It is brittle and breaks  very easily after a few years. I  wonder if this is a factor of the sun or if it is breaking down below the concrete as well

My husband had a damp-proofing business in the UK and uses the black bobbly plastic on a roll for underneath floors. Works fine. We now have a nice dry cantina floor. You can buy the same stuff as in your link in any good builder's yard but it is on a massive roll and you buy it by the metre. It is clear and not blue which night be putting you off. He always says that it is perfectly possible to eliminate damp here (unless you actually have water dripping into the house and even then you can fix it) BUT it has to be done while you are renovating the house. A lot of people let the Italian builders do their stuff (which as Pilch says is use a lot of concrete and not bother about damp proofing) and then a couple of years down the line, when the plaster has blown off the walls say "what can we do about it?". I am sure you won't want to hear the answer, which is strip the walls back and apply special damp-proof plasters (very expensive but they do the job), then wait for it to dry fully before you paint or do anything. Very messy and not attractive whilst you wait for it to dry. He says the best solution for underground spaces is a membrane that also goes under the floor with a proper drain but this means no exposed bricks or stone. A lot of blown plaster here is not due to damp but salts from the urine that has seeped into the bricks and stone. This is very difficult to resolve but can be achieved with certain products although if it's really bad then dry lining is the only solution. So says the OH. I agree with the loggia/porch comments and not having open plan properties. I wish we had a hallway. We have a tiny house (which sometimes drives me nuts due to the lack of space in winter) but it is heated by having the thermostat on it's 3 (yes - just 3!) radiators set to 15 degrees and lighting the stufa in the living room. It is toasty warm and in fact we sometimes have to open the windows to let the heat out! In summer we use the garden a lot more so don't notice the lack of space so much. We also have enormous cantinas so that helps with the lack of storage. The roof is insulated and we have double glazing which is a must really. Either that or very thick curtains like I had in my cottage in the UK (it was listed so we couldn't touch the old leaded windows). That worked too and made it very cosy. I was brought up in a house with no central heating so am very good at shutting doors (as Sebatiano says) or as my husband says "put t'wood in t'oil"!!

 damp proof in the sense of UK type mebanes between foundations and above ground habitable areas do not exist in 90 % of Italy because it is against standard seismic regulations to have a contious gap beteeen the structural part of the building that holds it in place in the ground and the main structure above ground...  so its simple...there are alternatives...presume badgers links aim at these but to my mind the most favorable in old buildings is the excavation of the ground floor area and the type of igloo/egegg box shape inserts whhich allow continous air flow via a rasied floor and vents to the outside of the building...  howvere walls will still have a problem as regards being directley attached to the ground...solved by sveral solutions depending on the site... french drains to take and ground water away from foundations... very cheap and easy to do, second skins as in walls that are retaining and non structural holding back hillsides away from habitable areas and leaving an air gap between main house and retaining wall... generally in blocks or reenforced concrete...  again not that expensive but loads of work to dig out the channel... and the wall is then lined with waterproof materials .. best a resin mix of some sort than either tar paper of plastic lasts forever...leave cantinas and work areas on the ground floor as such and leave the single galzed badly fitting doors etc in place... best ever solution if you have little money and very effective as you then have virtually no work to do... have plenty of useful space and no damp in the first floor living areas...  damp rises i think about 1 meter 20 sure its around that but someone will correct me if im wrong...  however by leaving old fashioned not well sealed fitments in the area damp is less likely due to internal areas having plenty of air flow and no high diference in ambient temps..steel mesh caging internally with a sand cement mixture is generally used when there are structural problems regarding the building and even if used the finishing coat providing you wish to pay for a finishd build is plaster ... what most Italian builders will do is offer this solution in any case because its the quickest and cheapest method... otherwise removing plaster back to stonework and repointing comes at a cost several times that and most people already think restoration costs are high... most geometras , architescts and builders will love you for increasing window sizes...  because this is very quick work...knocking out walls and the  rebuilding of openings and new lintels offers very high profit on materails and labour...  and has no advantage in terms of heat retention ,insulation or whatever in regards to living in the house... windows... anyone fitting new windows will have the opportunity of getting double action units which both hang from the side (standard) and from the bottom...  a simple twist of the handle allows windows to be opened in either sense.. the bottom hinged option used to allow a trickle of air in from the top of the window;.. these as far as i am aware have been around for years...  although they cost more and to my mind best limited to one in a living area and in all bathrooms and kitchens... if cost is a problem...  i think most problems arise for people because the rules are different and solutions not the same... generally for reasonably sound reasons... Italy has decidedd on seismic rules that reuire building to be pinned securely to the ground... italian rural buildings were and still are designed with non habitable areas as the first floor...  and if you change this then you are adding problems if you do not take measures to ensure that this method of creating an air gap is not replaced externally by keeping damp and mositure at a distance from the building... people when they buy houses to my mind see uninhabited ground floors as cheap areas to rebuild and think they have got a bargain on a 200 m sq building with 100 m sq not used properly...   just by adding electrics,windows and doors and replastering...  most Italians know it will be chaeaper and more comfortable to start a new build than to convert areas never intended for human habitation... in a sense they are only right because they already most probably own the new land to build on there are methods as i suggested above to remedy this...  and they are just a few...

Underfloor heating, is probably about the best system to use in a average insulated renovated Italian house ( roof insulation and double glazing ). The disadvantage is the initial warm up time and the higher installation cost for the system. Because of the type of heat that is produced, then normally it is recommended to have the room setting at around 19C. Heating temperatures for thermal requirements are usually based on room temperatures of 20C. I would be interested to know the open plan floor area, insulation levels and the heating setting for Sebastiano's friends. E1500 is a phenomenal amount to pay for 15 days. As regards to open plan, we are here, lounge, rear hallway and kitchen, underfloor heating, with only roof insulation and double glazing and with all rooms heated, we still come well under the sum above for the whole year, others with the same system are in 250 - 300 sq mtr properties are also between 1500 - 2000 per year for heating and hot water costs.With regard to porches etc for wet wellies, we only have a small hallway, but when we redesigned the house, we made a utility room off the hallway specifically for that purpose, but then, that was relatively easy due to the original layout of the house. 

 Adriatica, in reply to the first paragraph of your last post; talking about use of a Damp Proof Membrane to block moisture rising into the building from the surrounding soil. Now, I am not a Civil Engineer, Geologist or Seismologist but I can tell you that although a  DPM can be used in a number of ways the way I have been referring to is to create a barrier between soil and concrete foundations. Used in this way there is no compromising of the structure as one rigid entity. I do not claim to be an expert in this field and certainly seismic regs are new territory to me, so if there is something I'm not getting here, and you appear to have the knowledge and inclination to share it, could you please elaborate further. I certainly don't want our little log cabin tobogganing down the hill on a plastic bag the next earthquake we get .Pilch

 in the classical uk sense means a membrane running around the top of the foundations at a certain level above ground level... from memory its sort of two brick heights.... this stops water risng through the walls and into the house because the level below the membrane generally has an air gap or a plastic sheet under the whole building protecting it from rising damp.. unless these mebranes allow moisture to escape outside of the building through the below membrane foundation / brickwork it makes little sense because you are virtually containing water under the building and adding moisture content into or below the walls...  in the uk a normal underfloor membrane will be allowed to finish outside the walls... here it can be done ...but only between in new builds the skleton columns or in old building it would have to be in conjuction with strenghtening of the existing walls to take into accout the crack you are makingi would think i wooden structure on a concrete base would best be built on blocks with supports mounted on bolted steel feet... allowing air to flow under the building and basically negating all need for a traditional type of membrane... your geometra will most probably have given you the right type of cement thickness, the type of guage of steel and if any areas need to be supported by deeper supporting columns below ground although weight wise that would be suprising...  i would then if worried about the look cad the area bewteen woodeb building and concrete base allowing plenty of air brick or ventilation spaces...its basically a mobile home without wheels ...and they would raely have membranes underneath because they are off the ground... so i would look at those steel brackets you can get here which hold large columns of wood... and fix your wooden home to that sort of thing using wooden columns and steel brackets...water will not travel up through the steel into the wood...indeed hence into your home... air below will allow the structure to breath and cladding around the base will keep out cold air... anyway they are my thoughts on how i would approach it...of course a geomtra will have to tell you how many steel plates ... .

Adriatica's comment:QUOTEwindows... anyone fitting new windows will have the opportunity of getting double action units which both hang from the side (standard) and from the bottom...  a simple twist of the handle allows windows to be opened in either sense.. the bottom hinged option used to allow a trickle of air in from the top of the window;.. these as far as i am aware have been around for years...  although they cost more and to my mind best limited to one in a living area and in all bathrooms and kitchens... if cost is a problem...UNQUOTEis absolutely right.In our mill, the previous owner had all windows replaced by these new ones, made of PVC but a perfect imitation of wood and double-glazed. They are simply fantastic. I agree that they are expensive, however, you will end up saving lots of money as they require no maintenance and allow for great insulation and easy ventilation.Money well spent.

 No Adriatica, a DPM is one thing, what you are referring to is a "Damp Course". In the UK they used to be slate, then bituminized felt & now heavy grade plastic. It's laid on top of the first couple of courses of block or brick & are slightly wider than the wall they are providing a damp course for. DPM is a vast, tough sheet of plastic laid over the compacted rock & sand before the concrete foundations go in. Its drawn up at the sides to isolate the foundations from the ground.In some rare cases, where there is something solid like rock etc just below the surface, a lightweight structure like mine can be supported on block on concrete pads as you describe. A mobile home, just like a caravan, will have a frame that maintains its rigidity, preventing twisting & can be rested on blocks or even it's own wheels. The Log Cabin I'm getting will rely entirely on what's underneath it fo it's structural integrity. Unfortunately most soils & subsoils do not have the ability to support any kind of structure in the manner you describe without problems. The subsoil in our area is deep clay over tufa &, were I to follow your recommendations, all the windows & doors would be jammed shut within a year due to the shrink & heave clay soils are famous for. One corner of the building might slowly rise as the moisture content increases & another possibly drop from drying out resulting in a slight twist to the structure. A solid steel reinforced concrete pad, properly engineered, is the only solution I've heard of & sitting it on a DPM will block ingress of moisture to the underfloor timber cavity. Cats can be skinned in a variety of ways, each having it's plusses & minuses, but this is the method that, on balance, will be best unless a Civil Engineer can tell me otherwise. Gala Placida, did you know that your UPVC windows can probably have closeable trickle-vents installed at very little cost & disruption & are well worth thinking about.Pilch

 i think i also mentioned your membranes...under concrete and that they should continue through walls and onto the outside... in general on new builds that how it works i belive your plastic sheet gets welded to the damp course... and the whole piece mebrane and course are one...  plastic membranes below concrete floors  with buildings with no damp most Italian buildings lead to accumulation of water within the walls and rising damp problemsas regards your concrete slab i also said supports would or could be built onto this... (sorry if that wasnt clear)ie if those supports go the way you describe it would mean that your concrete base is not doing its job... as regards the concrete base and a membrane below that  its obvious to me at least that if you choose to lay a membrane beneath you are relying then on it to be held in place by its own weight...if you are saying your soil is unstable and there is no solid base i would have thought your geometra that is doing the tech specs for your the gauge of steel and the concrete mix quality and depth would have called in a geologist and they would be talking drilling our holes to add in concrete piles...  of course this works out quite costly...the drilling rig and the steel and concrete needed to build the piles ...but if you are saying your ground in so unstable it will at least provide you with peace of mind...then if you read carefully my suggetsion is to mount the building on steel plates bolted into the concrete i see very little reason that this will not work unless your wooden building has no structural work below...if thats the case i would have beams stretched between plates and build it on top...  but really its your building and your choices..  and am sure it will all be fine the way you are doing it

 pat sorry no photos ... i suppose could get one sorted... basically our house is into the side of a hill so rear ground floor of house below ground ...with a second wall behind providing an air gap between soil and house walls...this second non strucural wall continues for another 15-20 metres beyond the house and was an area used by the previous owners for animals and junk...well junk mainly ...the roof had collapsed and stopped about a metre from the house ... a sort of lean too .. although larger than most i guess aboutt 70 m sq... i replaced all the wooden beams that were rotten put in extra beams as supports and then re roofed...  restored the old kitchen that was out there also... so from the back door of the main house there is basically a 50 m sq covered area open to the south which leads then into a second kitchen...   so its an ideal place to sit and eat or whatever... and when it rains a good place to shrug out of damp clothes... the dogs like lying there too...they can keep an eye on things without getting wet.. used wood panles for the roof on the beams ... and then felted... eventually will add on roof tiles... but at the moment am too busy...the other way i guess we are lucky is that our roof runs out for at least a meter beyond the walls... so its pretty well always dry around them... but i would like to put a porch on the front door... again time is the problem... my thought is to build a low wall  a meter or so in front of this door and then with wood columns put a piched roof above the door...  the front door is east facing and the back door west... both of them suffered from debris blowing in...leaves and such... back area is solved by placing the low wall in front of the other door i would hope that most stuff will get blown away from the front door...  

In reply to by adriatica

have only just caught up with the forum - sorry I mean community lol - since our recent trip to Italy.  Although we don't live in our house all year we designed it with the intentions of using it all year round.  We have an open plan kitchen, dining, living room but we also have a small cosy sitting room with working fire place - in good weather it is a tv / play staion room, in winter it is warm and cosy.  We have underfloor heating throughour with each floor separately controlled so we can heat just the ground and middle floor if there are only 4 of us.  We have a rear porch - this is on the back of the house and was designed as an external access for the downstairs loo so that wet children didn't drip through the house en route from the swimming pool.  The rear porch though is a great place for shoes and coats and through the downstairs loo is the boiler room with hot water tank which although well lagged is a warm room for drying wet clothes after skiing.  We also have the tilt / open windows (on the top floor the low windows only tilt for safety)chris 

House designs for Italian winters.It's actually a very interesting thread this cos I reckon the vast bulk of Italian houses could be improved in so many ways to combat cold & damp.Considering that most of Italy has hotter summers & colder winters than the UK. You'd think that the concept of the "thermal break" would have gained some currency. I mean, they recognize that double glazing works & they are prepared to spend quite generously for it but they then go for uninsulated walls, floors, roofs etc. Sorry, the thread started by saying to forget thermal insulation but how can you? OK then, forget SIP's panels, forget cavity wall construction, forget insulated dry lining.Both in the UK & here in Italy they used to glue the stone & brick that they built houses from together with lime based mortar. Across the 20th century Portland cement gradually became the norm. Whereas in the UK we continue to this day to cover our internal wall faces with plaster,  the Italians have moved on to sand & cement "intonaco". Sand & cement is far less water permeable than lime mortar & plaster mixes so it would be easy to asume that it's better at keeping the damp out but, short of  there being serious water ingress probs like failing gutters, downpipes & rising damp, that impermeability actually is counter-productive. Assuming that the external fabric of a building is modestly weatherproof  the majority of moisture & damp related problems originate from moisture created INSIDE the house not outside. Cooking, bathing, breathing: all the moisture these processes create remain in the air & are partially absorbed by the furnishings, bedding etc. With no ventilation grills in the walls nor trickle vents in windows, across the cooler months, when windows & doorsare closed to keep the heat in, the air becomes more & more moisture laden. With uninsulated walls covered with cold non-permeable sand & cement the situation is exacerbated. Plaster finishes, which are lime based, extract moisture from the air to a pretty incredible degree, up to 40% their own weight, & release it when the ambient moisture content of the air & ventilation allows. Result: a natural & automatic regulation of humidity/damp in the house. If the living accomodation is ground floor or partly buried in a hillside then all of the above applies with the addition then of the incorporation of an effective DPM: not a damp course but a DPM. (See previous post)Porches, pergolas & loggias are great. they keep much of the fierce heat of summer out & as well as the severe cold of winter. They do that because they function as a thermal break. I love the concept of extracting heat from the subsoil in winter & it's cooling effect in summer from the "ground source effect". Ground temperatures remain fairly stable throughout the year so that the ground is warmer than the air in winter & cooler in summer. Any living accomodation situated on the ground floor will benefit from this effect & will offer a far more comfortable space to live in provided there is a DPM. Many Italians hibernate during winter into a smaller number of rooms or even a winter appartment. Shame they can't convert a bit of the cantina.Another way of dealing with the Italian winter could be to stay in the UK for a few months. What with global warming & increased cost of living here, & apart from the more profound cold in Italy, there is no longer much difference. Oh, I forgot, Christmas is better inthe UK.Pilch