Fabrice is still facing the red bricks of the extension with stone. It’s a long job and we need to go further and further away now to get the stones but it will look lovely when it’s finished !
The weather’s been playing havoc with our building progress. The wind’s very strong and it’s been raining on and off for a few weeks. The other problem that we have is that Fabrice is doing a lot of this work on his own. We normally work together, but I just hate heights and although I can pass things up to him from below I’m just not confident when I’m up a ladder or even standing on the interior scaffolding. I’m really ashamed of myself, and I have tried, but I just become all shaky and my co-ordination doesn’t work properly if I’m higher than about 3 metres.
Once the side of the front part of the roof is done, we’ll floor the “tower” part and work from the inside and then I’ll be able to pass the bricks to Fabrice.
This mock-up gives you an idea of how the extension will look when it’s finished.
We used the roofing sheets instead of the traditional method of under and over canal tiles because this enables us to cover the roof quickly and we can work inside when it’s raining. There’s no battening, no underfelt and not too much moving around on the roof. We’re going to put a lot of insulation up there and we want to make absolutely sure that we have no leaks and as we’re going to use second-hand tiles because they look much nicer that really is a very important consideration.
The “tile-effect from a distance” sheets were slightly more expensive than the normal red ones, but it might be while before we cover with tiles, and these are easier on the eye if we’re going to have to live with it for a while.
Fabrice has put the roof on the extension, but the sloping bit at the end is still open to the skies until we can get the right material to put under the flat tiles.
As soon as it’s completely covered we can start working inside even when it’s raining.
The mud room’s where we hang our coats and boots. It’s behind the fireplace and the hot water cylinder is in there, so it’s lovely and warm. I also use that space for drying clothes to keep them out of the way – I don’t like having wet washing hanging all over the place and we often just take things straight off the line and they’re warmish when you put them on.
The little box in the top middle of the photograph has three solar controllers and the distribution box for our wind and solar system in it, the batteries are at the back in another room safely out of the way.
One of our neighbours came round this evening after work to help Fabrice put up the roof truss. First of all they nailed the middle section to a metal post high in the air in exactly the right spot, then piece by piece moved each section into place and joined it to its neighbour – tapping the wooden stakes in one by one after the joints had been tapped into place.
They finally joined the middle holding beam just before nightfall.
Fabrice started making the roof beams last week and so far he’s finished one which will be put in place tomorrow evening with the help of a few strong neighbours. (I’ll be taking the photographs!)
He’ll make two beams like this, plus a third with a sloping side for the end of the roof. That one will be done last – after the experience of making the first two.
He’s never done this sort of thing before, and I really wanted to have them made by a professional, but it’s impossible to find a good carpenter near us who is available and Fabrice felt confident that he’d be able to do it.
We designed the “ferme” to be visible from the inside of the roof. It’s such a shame to use beautiful wood like this and hide it with insulation. This is the finished drawing and if you click on this photograph you’ll be taken to a bigger version which has notes explaining the structure.
We don’t like cutting trees down, so there were some very difficult decisions to be made about which ones were for the chop. We chose those too close to each other, ones with broken branches and mis-shapen heads and had quite a few heated discussions! You’d think it would be easy to find 40 straight Oak trees in 50 acres, but it’s not. So the task of choosing which trees would be sacrificed for the roof was a long one.
To start making the charpente, Fabrice drew the shape of the roof truss on our back terrace with great precision because that plan determines the final cuts and joints in the wood.
The next step was to choose each beam, cut it straight and rub it down.
Then each section was placed on the plan using small wooden supports under each one to ensure that there was enough overlap to cut a good strong joint.
The cutting and cleaning process took about two days and I’ve got a lot of confidence in Fabrice’s abilities as a craftman (Did you know that the name Fabrice means “Craftsman”?) but I just couldn’t resist
Section by section the joints were cut, then each one had to have the internal joints made. One thing I’ll never understand about Fabrice is how he can take so much care over his work yet he refuses to buy himself a decent saw.
So with a plastic French saw and and old chisel and hammer, the joints were made one by one then the whole thing was fitted together and we did a trial run with the metal and wooden rods in place and voila! – it looks great!
I can’t wait now for tomorrow evening to see how it looks.
…not just a “summer evening let’s get rid of all the rubbish fire”, but a real fire with wood because it was really chilly and damp. We’ve been in and out a lot to give the goats hay, to tie up fallen plants, and to check the new drainage system and it’s nice to come in and dry off in front of a cosy fire.
I love this fireplace, it’s really comfortable and cheering. Fabrice made the chimney above very narrow with an amazing amount of rocks and reinforced concrete above to act as a heat sink, then the chimney twists off centre to reduce the speed of the flow of hot smoke and trap more heat in the firebricks to warm the airing cupboard upstairs. The house stays warm for a long time after the fire has gone out.
The caldron is a kind of back boiler full of water which forms part of a closed system leading to the hot water storage tank situated in a little drying room behind the fireplace. The pipes wind round inside the tank and the heat exchanger heats the mains water without mixing with it, the pipes also heat the two radiators upstairs when they’re switched on. The system’s connected to our solar panels which heat the water in the summer on the same circuit.
The fire stays in all night if we cover it over with ashes before we go to bed. In the morning we clear the ashes away add a bit of wood and it lights well every time. We use it a lot for slow cooking and it gives a lovely wood smoke flavour to the food.
We also use our fire for barbeques, for drying out mushrooms, wellies and socks and it’s enough to heat our 168m² house in Spring and Autumn. When the temperatures really drop, we light the woodburner.
There are more details of our renewable energy systems in THIS link.
The French drains around the house are finished. The pipes are laid holes downwards then filled in with large river stones and covered with geo-textile to keep out the earth and make sure they don’t get clogged up. Fabrice has dug ditches sloping towards a small pond which we’ve dug and we’ll use that to store the rainwater from the roofs and provide a fun area for the geese to play and clean themselves and mate in. We’ll use gravity to take the water overflow in pipes down towards the goat shed and the vegetable garden.
Well made drains will ensure the house stays dry and as it’s been raining a lot it’s been useful to watch where the water goes and make sure the run-off works as it should. In the this part of France we often get storms with very heavy rain and although guttering is useful to direct water where you want it, when the rain is really heavy the gutters can’t contain the water and they overflow and sometimes bend with the weight. At this stage in the building process it’s worthwhile taking the time to get it right.
We’ve been waiting for materials, (August in France is almost in complete shut down) so Fabrice has started facing the walls with stone to match the existing building. This photograph gives a good idea of how it will look.
The back of the extension where the bedrooms will be is getting higher and higher and it’s great standing on the scaffolding looking out of the window spaces at the views into the garden and the woods behind the house. We’ve chosen the windows and got most of the doors, but we’re still deciding about the big window facing West downstairs.
We’ve dug two ponds to capture the rain water, and the new one behind the house filled up during the very heavy rain so we know the drainage system around the house works well.
In between downpours, Fabrice has been slicing and cutting and lifting the beams to support the first floor of the extension. I’m very happy about the rain really because it means that I don’t have to water the garden and our maize crop should be good if this changeable weather continues.
The rain will also help to weather the beams and make them look older, and it’s good to give them a bit of time to settle in and dry out (They were only cut a few weeks ago.) before continuing with the walls and roof.
I took this photograph from the window which will become a door leading into the first floor. There will be a staircase to the left of this door, lined with cupboards and then a door leading into the bedroom, with another door leading into a space in the loft which will provide me with storage for raw wool, dying materials and yarn when it comes back from the spinners. At the moment all the spun yarn is in the main house taking up half a bedroom and I have to store the raw yarn in the old chicken shed which is far from ideal !
It’s strange when you’re building. You can draw as many plans as you like, but you only get the real force of reclaiming land for your use when the walls start going up and you can see how things look; feel where the wind comes from, and watch how people, animals and cars move around the space.
Our front door is rarely used. Everyone come in the west side doors, straight into the kitchen and the tables under the porch all along the west wall are a dumping ground for anything that people happen to be carrying.
The result is that the entrance to our house always looks cluttered and messy with sacks of grain, tools, plants, wire, pots and pans and all the necessities of a farming life.
We have two horrible polytunnels at the back of the house which do the job of covering things we want to keep and I can see them being there for some time to come, but at least the exterior covered part of the extension will give us a dumping area and I can finally get rid of those bloomin’ tables and put them out the back and reclaim the west side with the setting sun and cool breezes on hot summers’ nights for a sitting and eating area – which was the original plan.
Musing on that, and seeing this little view from inside the extension is just enough to inspire and motivate us to put other things aside and get on with building!