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Main House

It has been a while …

It has been a while since we last posted on our blog. Winter is normally a quiet time of year, we tend to hunker down and nest over most of this season. But, things have been happening.

Firstly – what seemed like a lifetime ago … and it felt like it took that length of time to finish – we had the ardoise roof replaced. After delays in obtaining the zinc ridge, the roof was finally crowned at the beginning of October 2010. We are totally water tight for the first time ever in this house! The finishing touch is our wonderful copper cockerel weathervane.

Finished Slate Roof with Cockerel

Water Tight At Last !

Our friendly farmer delights in telling me, every time I see him, that he looks at our cockerel every day to see what the weather is going to bring. He finds it amusing that we don’t see the girouette ourselves unless we are down the garden or visiting him and he always ends by saying “he doesn’t sing very well does he?”.

Now the next step. Insulating the vast space upstairs and plasterboarding it, ready to convert the area into various rooms.

Well, the first step was to move all the boxes and furniture out of the main grenier and into the lower back portion of the roof. It took me over a day and at times my language was quite colourful – especially after I had banged my head for the umpteenth time on the low doorway into the back. I was amazed at the number of boxes we had – two countries, two houses – now all in the back roof – it just swallowed it all up!

Empty Space

Notice the empty floor !

Great – now lets get the workmen in. Wrong. Preparation needed.

All the wonderful old oak beams were covered in decades of dust and grime. I sent Adrian up to the highest ridge beams to deal with them while I dealt with the lower down ones.

Adrian up in the ridge

Don't look down !

We used thick nylon brush wheels attached to a drill to clean off the surface without too much damage being done to the wood. After burning out one drill, purchasing a new one, only the beams which will be partially covered by plasterboard were now almost ready.

Clean Brushed Wood

The True Colours Showing Through After Brushing

Next step, and not my favourite at all – spraying all the beams with a toxic chemical to kill off any wood boring bugs. Dressed in old jeans, t-shirt, shower cap, goggles, mask and rubber gloves – I sprayed the whole inside roof area from top to bottom (gravity helped here!). I needed to stop frequently to demist my goggles as the spray showered down on me and to pop outside to gulp lungs full of fresh air. Everywhere got a good soaking and it was amazing to see how many dead shield beetles and other insects collected on the floor over night. This wood will not need treating again in our lifetime-  neither will I – I will be able to sleep well at night knowing I won’t be attacked by woodworm!

Final stage – almost – the beams which will be partially covered by the plasterboard needed a coat of something. Having researched for the right finish and product – tins of tinted wax were bought and Adrian was again sent up to the highest beams to paint on the wax while I did the remaining lower down ones.

Feeling like Daniel Larusso from The Karate Kid – wax on wax off – the beams were totally transformed.

Finished wood

The True Beauty Of The Oak !

Now can we get the workmen in? – Nope – electrics need putting in place for the lights.  We spent a day planning where the lights would potentially go and Adrian once again scaled up to the very ridge and drilled through the main beams to hide the cabling.  We have thought of every combination of lighting set up for the landing and our bedroom and couldn’t quite agree on the guest rooms so put in a variety of options just in case.

Electrics for Lights

Difference between prepped and unprepped oak beams.

Now – the workmen are in and the insulation and boarding is going up – watch this space …

A New Outlook Continued …

The original windows of the house were in such a poor state – draughty, fragile and covered in thick, dark, ugly brown gloss paint, that their replacement was inevitable.

The upstairs windows were the first to go.   Looking back – 29/12/2007 – OMG how time flies!


All change up top

We’ve been on radio silence for a while but don’t equate silence with idleness! Quite the opposite. It’s been a long time coming but a new roof is underway. Thanks largely to the catalyst of Tempete Xynthia back at the end of February.

So, from February to July…. how does it take so long.

It took three weeks to even get someone to come out. Of course several hundred thousand other people also wanted a roofer.

Then one joker didn’t even get up on a ladder to have a look, just walked around the garden and had a look from a distance. His quote? €70.

Finally, a competent guy, did a proper survey, actually had a look at the damage, gave us the bad news. It needed replacing. The storm had pulled up the laths from the chevrons… so whilst the roof was on the house it wasn’t actually, you know – really on. Just sat there. New slates and stainless crochets were the prescription.

Then we submit a claim to the insurance company. They’re deluged. Our claim is so large they need to send along a specialist assessor/engineer. The wait time for this guy? Another month.

He turned up, spoke rapid fire double-quick Parisian engineer talk. His verdict… yes, you need a new roof. One hour later, one coffee and my best french negociating hat on and I sign up a deal with the company. The cheque will be with us in ‘a few days’. A few days turns into almost 4 weeks. Further negotiations with the roofing contractor and we strike up a deal.

Can we fix a date? ‘Impossible’ because he can’t forecast the weather of course and then there is the small matter of his vacances en Angleterre. To go and see Mark Knopfler and drink English Beer! Heroic!

The down time allows us to start the search for a new Girouette – a weather vane. The old one had mostly rotted away and all that remained of the grisly hunting scene it depicted looked a little forlorn. Find a company that do beautiful hand made Coqs up in the Loire valley. That’ll be the best part of €1000 please sir! The search continues. Two visits to local artisans turned up not much else. One guy sold some that were from italy – €477 and another made them but wanted €800, maybe. If he could be bothered. Thanks but no thanks. A quick scout on ebay and we turned up a magnificent magnificent fella and a snip at €129! Pics to follow soon.

So, work commences in the middle of June and it’s all very exciting. Until midway on day two when we learn that the wood which the storm had pulled away from the house was not really salvageable. Despite numerous prior assesments of its condition. The next day new wood arrives and is laid and over the course of the next week the back face of the house is complete. It turns out that the structural state of the exterior walls wasn’t up to scratch so I stepped in to repair them. Not the easiest of jobs and it cost me 34 man hours of my time over a couple of weekends. 1m3 of sand and 350kg of lime. Heavy work having to mix, lift, shift, carry, lay granite and remortar the old blockwork in but a once in a lifetime chance to fix it all. I’ve got some heinous lime burns on my arms as there was nothing for it – working up on top of the house in 32 degree heat was a killer. I’d never been so exhausted in all my life – it was brutally punishing.

And now, this last week a lot of the finer detail that we’d paid for starts to appear- a ‘Nantaise’ style set of guttering is all hand cut, laid and soldered up. New zinc is shining and it’s starting to look really good.

Removing the old gutter has revealed a pretty architectural detail of the house that was previously hidden so I’ve spent my third weekend up the scaffolding drilling out, polishing up and repointing the ancient terracotta bricks and canal tile that acts as the fascia that’s crowning the house.

The new roof is 3/4 on now and looks fine – it’ll never be perfect of course as it’s gone onto an old house but it’s been a long time coming… another week from now and we should be all done.

I’ll update with pics when the job is finished.

Snowy Day

Sub zero temperatures have been with us for a few days with last night dipping to a chilly -9. We had a smattering of snow but nothing quite as spectacular as the great ice storm of 2006.

The place does look pretty in snow… and I don’t need much of an excuse to take some snaps!

A photoset of a snowy Bellebouche

There’s a shiny belle with a shady bouche, there’s more where that came from – click the photo for the full slideshow.

Now… hot coffee, dunky biscuits and more logs on the fire are required.

A new outlook

Making the most of the Christmas downtime I turned my hand to a little carpentry, stone masonry and wildlife conservation. All in an afternoons work!


When one door shuts ……

….. it opens again !!

New Door
We now have a door for the hole in the wall. It doesn’t have a permanent handle at the moment. We are waiting until we have fitted the other 5 doors upstairs so that we can have matching door furniture.

Door Drop
Also, we need some steps made because if you walk through the door there is a 1 metre drop the other side !!

A New Opening

We have started to do some major structural work to our house to create the home we can picture in our minds eye. To get the ball rolling, before major major work can be done – we need to create new bedrooms upstairs in the large open space.

The first bedroom we will complete will be our own master bedroom with ensuite bathroom. The only problem was, a huge stone wall between the bedroom and proposed ensuite. Adding further complications, the new ensuite is also on a lower level than the bedroom so it was time to bring in an expert.


Spot the difference ….

37 Buckets No Buckets

Well, at long last – we are now waterproof and have 37 spare buckets !!!

Three new Velux windows allow the evening sunlight to draw beautiful orange,red and pink patterns across the inside walls. Now the real work can start – insulation, new floors, new partition walls, heating, doors – the list seems endless….

New Rays From an Ancient Sun

With a quick look back over the last few posts I seem to have neglected to mention that work continues apace with renovation and restoration. We’ve a new bathroom underway including wall underpinning, casting a new floor for underfloor heating and right now we (finally) have someone in working on the in-need-of-some-attention roofing.


Eau Eau Eau!

One of the things that’s persistently nagged at me a little is how to deal with our waste or ‘grey’ water.

We have a giant roof area too that.. at the back of the house at least… gave us a torrent of rainwater down a gutter, stopping 4ft from the ground and spurting out onto a wall… nicely eroding the pointing and making the inside wall damp! To complement the look we also have a 2m2 halo of moss on the wall brought about by the perfect moss-growing conditions!

So, last year I bought a small (300l) water-butt hooked it up to the main downpipe and that allowed us to at least cache some of the rainwater that would otherwise be lost.

So, it’s a start but big things are afoot with all of this so here’s the plan.

  • Dig up giant hydrangea.
  • Install 2x 15 litre ‘regards’ in hole left by former plant. These will allow me to plumb in all manner of subterranean pipework
  • Dig up concrete terrace that was inconventiently in the way of the uber-plan. Bah.
  • Lay new network of pipes enabling us to install new bathrooms, seperate septic and grey water systems.
  • Dig giant hole in ground to cache 300l of grey water in subterranean tank.
  • Rig a network of pipes to catch any rainwater overflow from the roof into it’s own over-ground water butt and for this to overflow into the grey water tank. This will give us 600 litres of storage at the house.
  • Rig the grey water tank with an autonomous pump (with float switch cutoff) for trickle irrigation for the orchard, herb garden and cut flowers.
  • Rig the grey water system with an overflow that will feed directly into the land-drain – so should the system reach it’s 600l capacity (storm surge or sustained heavy downpour) then the excess will be taken down to a proper drain field.

Phew. Sound complicated? It’s not too bad and I hope some pictures will help explain things as we make progress.

All of this will deliver us plenty of benefits

  • A new downstairs toilet and shower room.
  • The capability to have an upstairs loo, and bathroooms and a bath
  • The capability to save all of our grey water from hand basins, showers, bathrooms
  • Stop the rainwater totally knackering the back of the house and localised flooding/damp
  • Feel good factor from knowing that we’re doing our bit environmentally and money saved.

Our water consumption last year was 145m3. A significant chunk of this went on watering plants and flowers I know… so this year my goal is to significantly reduce this… it’s not so much the cost but also the environmental waste of just letting the rainwater go nowhere and letting the grey water just vanish… it can all be put to good use. Also, I’d hope that the savings will in time show a reasonable return on investment. As ever more posts and pics to follow.

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