For members


Property: Why we decided to build our new house in Italy out of wood

Italy's landscape is dotted with stone and brick buildings, so the usual response when you tell Italians you're building a house out of wood is, 'Ma perché?'. But it's a surprisingly advantageous and efficient choice, as our project plans revealed.

If you’re hoping to renovate or build a property in Italy, you may not have considered wood as a material to realise the house of your dreams.

The novelty of the idea seems to breed scepticism, but since our geometra (surveyor) recommended it, we investigated the options and we agreed with his advice.

READ ALSO: ‘How we claimed Italy’s building bonus twice for the same property’

A geometra is invaluable in helping with the local authorities and guiding you on how best to navigate a renovation.

In his experience, using wood as the structure for a house is a wise decision as, firstly, the frame pops up in just a couple of weeks.

That’s in comparison to the roughly four months for a stone or brick structure that he says it takes – at least in northern Italy.

It’s important to point out that we are using wood only for the framework of the property and not for the walls too – it won’t look like a ski chalet in the middle of Emilia Romagna, where our property will be.

For the walls, we’ll be using a mixture of other materials including plaster board, insulation, panels and external fascias.

The speed of construction is a huge plus point, which is now essential after waiting months and months to get through the paperwork of buying the wreck and jumping through hoops to get to the project design.

Photo: Eric Cabanis / AFP

We’re also working against a deadline, as we are relying on the government’s Superbonus to build our property – financial aid introduced to help people renovate properties following the pandemic-induced economic slump.

With this scheme, homeowners could benefit from a 110 percent tax deduction on expenses related to property renovation.


Luckily, the authorities extended the initiative until 2023, but based on our experiences of how long each stage of the process is taking, we can’t fully breathe out just yet.

Aside from how quickly it will be constructed, when plans finally get underway at least, wooden beams are also something we wanted from an aesthetic point of view. We’ll be in the middle of the countryside, so a rustic appearance lends itself well to the surroundings.

Plus, using wood saves energy due to its low thermal conduction and insulation properties, meaning that it will meet the highest energy efficiency rating.

Cost also plays a big factor. Although our geometra said the cost is actually comparable between building a structure out of wood or brick, the biggest saving is when the house is built – a wooden house has lower running costs than a traditional house.

Photo: Milivoj Kuhar on Unsplash

Due to the mentioned insulating qualities of wood, houses made of this material boast low energy consumption and, therefore, low costs.

So for a house of the same size, layout of the rooms and use of the house, a wooden house will have lower energy bills than its masonry counterpart, because it needs less energy to be heated in winter and cooled in summer.

These qualities also create an ideal climate to live in all year round.

This should assuage fears of Italians who are dubious about wooden constructions, because of doubts about how they would cope in hotter and more humid weather.

We were initially concerned about wood from a cost perspective, as prices have risen sharply in Italy this year, according to reports.

Between September 2020 and April this year alone, timber prices rose by 60-70 percent. As an example, glued laminated timber, one of the most widely used, has risen from €400 to €700 per m³. And that’s the closest estimate we have to how much this project is going to cost.

Any time we ask for an overall quote, we are told it’s unknown until work actually gets underway – as prices climb in the meanwhile.

However, in our surveyor’s experience, costs of all materials have increased this year so there doesn’t seem to be a cheaper method.

All in all, considering the reasons of long-term costs, speed of installation and its appearance, building a house out of wood is the right choice for us – and it might be a prudent and well-informed choice for others building a home in Italy.

If you’re keen to buy a property in Italy, you may want to take a look at our guide to the additional costs you might not be expecting, and read up on some of the common mistakes to avoid when buying a house in Italy. See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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For members


‘It’s so frustrating’: My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

When US-based Davide Fionda embarked on renovating his mother's Italian property, he couldn't have imagined the obstacles and the timescale in store.

'It's so frustrating': My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

Building a home in Italy was almost inevitable for Davide, as he’s been visiting the same area in the Le Marche region, where his Italian-born mother grew up, since he was five years old.

Although he lives in Boston, US, and speaks with a charming East Coast twang, he’s also an Italian citizen and has long dreamed of having his own place to stay for the summer.

He began making this dream a reality back in 1997, when a barn that had been in his mother’s family for generations, in the village of Schito-Case Duca, was damaged by an earthquake.

“My mother, who had both her mother and sister in Italy, decided that it would be really nice for us to build our own new home instead of relying on family to host us each time we visit,” Davide said.

“The goal was simple. I would acquire the barn from my mom, renovate it and move in for the summers, as I’m a college teacher and can spend time in Italy,” he added.

“Simple” the goal may have been, but the project itself proved anything but, as Davide came up against unforeseen bureaucratic problems, legal hiccups and personal disappointments.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

As a former entrepreneur in his professional life, he said he’s “used to getting things done”, owning five companies and selling three.

But conquering Italian property renovation is his biggest challenge to date: “Never in my life have I had so many complications as I’ve had with this house,” he told us.

The earthquake-damaged barn. Photo: Davide Fionda

“In the beginning, I knew exactly what I needed and the costs to carry out the project. My mother was, and is still, living in the United States: the project started when she was approached by her godson, who is a geometra (civil engineer), to help her rebuild this barn.

“I started with what I could control. I sat down with an architect and we created a design. I did research on furniture and fixtures. But then the problems started,” Davide said.

His mother wanted a simple design: an open plan house with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains, spanning two floors – a ground floor and a first floor for the bedrooms.

When they went to look at the progress in 2004, he said they were “horrified” at what they saw.

Instead of windows across the front as we asked for, with views of the spectacular Gran Sasso mountains, he took the entire view with two hallways for entering the property and for the bathroom. The bedrooms upstairs were unusable,” he added.

Davide describes himself as “not a typical Italian”, at two metres in height ,and says he always looks for suitable showers and beds when visiting Italy.

It was one of the reasons building his own home was so attractive, as he could custom-make it to fit his needs.

READ ALSO: What taxes do you need to pay if you own a second home in Italy?

But when they viewed the build, he discovered the first floor had ceilings of just one metre and 40 centimetres – not liveable for most people, never mind someone with Davide’s towering frame.

The results didn’t match the renovation plans that had been filed with the comune (town hall) – they wouldn’t have been approved otherwise, as Davide discovered Italian regulations deemed this height of ceiling in a bedroom uninhabitable.

He said he grew up with the geometra and knew him well, saying they were “best friends”. However, on raising the problems with him, Davide said the building professional “refused to fix the house”, adding, “he took my mother’s money and built a house with no bedrooms”.

He said his mother decided to stop construction after spending almost $100,000 on a house that they “could not live in”, adding that they “returned many times over the years to see the shell of the building that we thought we were going to call our home”.

READ ALSO: My Italian Home: How one ‘bargain basement’ renovation ended up costing over €300K

Faced with a stalled project and unsure what to do next, Davide tried to sell the property but got nowhere. He said the “market wasn’t right” for selling it, so he considered his options for fixing the botched renovations to date.

His Italian property project has been stalled for over two decades. Photo: Davide Fionda

Then, eventually, in January of this year he decided “he was sick of looking at it and it was time to act”.

He intended to use Italy’s Bonus ristrutturazioni (Renovation bonus), which allows homeowners to apply for a 50 percent tax reduction on carrying out renovation work.

On asking for professional opinions on whether the house qualified for this bonus, he said he asked five different people and got five different answers.

In the end, he discovered it was eligible and so he could, in theory, proceed with his latest plans.


The aim is to create his mother’s original vision – an open plan space with huge windows overlooking the mountains and bedrooms on the first floor – but habitable this time.

Since the beginning of this year, however, Davide has been stuck and hasn’t made progress.

Setbacks have included trying to get a permit to renovate the house, which has proved difficult since the first geometra reportedly didn’t update the changes to the building.

This thorny issue goes back to exactly who owned the house, as Davide told us it had been sectioned off and parts of the house were owned by various members of the family.

The building headaches roll on for Davide. Photo by Martin Dalsgaard on Unsplash

“Italian law makes you want to rip your hair out,” he said.

Getting the deed in his name has been a huge obstacle in itself, as his mother wasn’t the sole owner and some parts of the land that belonged to her were never recorded.

It’s meant months of waiting while archives have been searched and deeds have been drawn up and transferred, made all the trickier by coordinating it all from thousands of miles away.

Plus, the house category was never changed to a residential one, listed previously as farmland and therefore illegal to live in.

It’s just more unexpected bureaucracy for a project that seems to have no end.

“It has been months and months of all these twists and turns, it’s so frustrating,” he told us.

“This has been a 25-year nightmare,” he added.

A partly restored, but unliveable barn for Davide now. Photo: Davaide Fionda.

Although Davide had originally planned to sort out the more practical parts of the project by the end of May, with a ticket booked to Italy to choose the windows, he’s still stuck in the paperwork part and can’t move forward.

Nothing has happened since January. Three or four times I said, ‘screw this’. But it’s not in my DNA to give up,” he said.

Although he has a strong will, the house has taken its toll on him.

Every time we go, this house stares us in the face and it’s upsetting. Family always ask us, ‘when are you going to finish the house?’ It’s a real source of heartache,” he told us.

From this point, he hopes the paperwork will be completed by August and then he can meet with the contractors to get the process started.

That in itself was a tall order, due to the construction demand and shortage of building companies Italy is currently experiencing.


It’s a problem made even more challenging by the fact that he’s based in the States and had to find a company that would apply for the credit for the bonus on his behalf.

Despite it all, he’s hopeful that he will get the house they dreamed of by next August and says he’s learned a lot about renovating property in Italy.

For other would-be home renovators, he advised people to “adjust their timeframe expectations” and expect “anything to do with land or real estate to take forever”.

So what is his secret for not giving up, despite the rollercoaster of events and emotions?

It seems he’s holding on to his vision of blissful summers in il bel paese.

“The beauty of Italy is to be, sit in a town square and have conversations,” he told us.

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.