Doing the beams for the extension

We’ve been spending a long time in the woods, finding and marking straightish Oak and Chestnut trees to use as beams.

Both of us hate cutting down trees, so we’re trying to choose trees which are too close together or badly placed and we don’t always agree, so we move on to another area in the wood and start again, tying coloured wool on to those which we think are suitable.

Finally, after a lot of looking, discussing and feeling sorry about cutting live tress, all the beams we need have been cut and stacked next to the house. One by one we strip them of their bark, then plane them down to clean them and once they’ve been cut into the main beam we level them out to provide us with a flat surface for the floor.

We've cut all the wood for the extension from our land, a third of the main roof beams are now in place.

All this takes ages and people keep asking us why it’s taking so long. It would be so much easier to just go out and spend 6,000€ on buying the wood…

The extension is almost ready for the chainage then the roof

We’ve been working on the house, filling the floor with bottles for insulation and packing them down with clay to make it solid. We need a bit more rain to wet the clay so that it sinks into place and we can walk on it without falling over.

Fabrice has finished putting the blocks up and the whole thing looks amazingly square and straight and very boring. We’re still looking for a window for the front and hoping that we’ll find something ideal and in proportion with the rest of the building or we may have one made especially. Some more small windows spaces can be cut easily out of the bricks later but we’re still looking for nice ideas for them too and the walls provide us with shelter.

Bourrou, hardworkinghippy, extensionWhen we did the last part of the house we had to make temporary wooden windows covered with thick plastic, it was really uncomfortable working on the inside and being blasted by the wind. I used those windows later as covers for seeds in the garden.

Before we go any higher we have to screed the floor and let it dry so that we can move the scaffolding around easily inside to put up the roof and start building the tower.

This is the cement drying…

self-build, Bourrou, Vergt, hardworkinghippy, bioclimatique, eco-construction

It’s like waiting for a cake to come out of the oven ! We’re dying to take the shuttering off to see what it looks like, but we must resist and just get on with something else.

In the meantime, the insulation for the floor is coming along and it should be ready for a screed soon. Fabrice has won on that one, I wanted to do an adobe floor, but maybe in a room where I’ll be dying yarn and slopping about with lots of water it’s not a very good idea. 🙁

The frogs start croaking around 4.30, the noise is wonderful. In the video you can see the bloomin’ mess at the back of the house too !

The weather’s been perfect for building and gardening…


Spring 2007 1…so we’ve been outside catching up on some work.

I’ve been gardening & prettying up the goats after the shearing. We sold one goat on Sunday to a Vet who lives in Nantes and three more this morning to a lady who lives about an hour from here. She’s just sent me a photo of her goats in situ and their accommodation is a palace compared to here! They looked relaxed and happy and I’m sure they’ll be looked after.

Getting on with the garden’s a real priority, we’re very late this year and I think for the first time in ages I’m not going to be able to grow our plants all from seed. All the beds are ready for planting, but that was thanks to the mulch put on last year and the chickens scratching the earth and nothing at all to do with me. One of the best things about permaculture is you can leave nature to do her work while you get on with yours.

We’ve also been working on the house all week, mostly Fabrice alone, because the bricks are heavy and I find it difficult to get them up higher than my shoulders.

Kitchen totem 2We’re going to build a Russian stove (Or a Rocket mass stove) in the main room, hence the long delay in getting the bricks up. I want a clean, warm room and the closed stove should reduce the amount of dust in the house and heat it without having to go out a lot to get wood.

It’s amazingly dusty in the “phase 1” house at the moment from the fire, woodstove, building and the clay all around our building site. The four dogs never wipe their feet either.

The house extension is advancing slowly but surely. This upright beam had to have it’s own foundation, next to the foundation for the stove. In this photo, Fabrice is taking the shuttering off the big upright beam which was poured last week.

self-build, Bourrou, bioclimatique, construction, ecologique, poele de masse, Vergt, auto-constructionIn this photo the shuttering is being prepared for pouring the main cross-beam. We wanted to be able to see through the length of the whole downstairs room, so we need to build a very solid structure to house a mass heater which we haven’t designed yet and support the two floors in the tower.

cross beam shuttering, BourrouEverything went according to plan, nothing moved. So far so good.

Once the structure is solid – in about three week’s time – we can start going higher so that we can get the roof on the single storey part and start working on the inside – even if it rains. That way we’ll save a lot of time and be a lot more cheerful !

Please leave me a discrete message if I get really boring about all this building stuff…

The foundations for the Russian stove (poele de masse) and the uprights are done

The weather’s been great.

We’ve been getting on with the extension and I’m doing my best to tackle the garden between major jobs;

We’ve done the foundations for the stove and shuttered and poured the uprights for the supporting walls for the upper two bedrooms.

The stove will go between the two uprights in the photograph.

We’ve coated the bottom of the walls a fine cement mix then with bitumen up to ground level to keep out the damp. The drainage pipes are in place too and we’ll connect them up tomorrow.

Winter solstice light in the kitchen.

Winter solstice light in our home made kitchenThe light in the house has been amazing over the past few weeks with the winter sun coming right in and bathing the floors with colour and warmth.

The winter solstice (The day this photo on the left was taken.) was a real treat to see just how much heat and comfort can be had from the sun inside a house on a very cold day.

The new cover on the terrace is working just as I planned, Fabrice cut the Acacia tree at the back of the house right back to let in more light, I’m so pleased we didn’t destroy it when we were digging out the site. It gives a lot of shade in summer and it smells lovely when it’s in flower.

The angle of the shaded part and the clear covering are doing what they’re designed to do – allow the sun into the house to warm the floor and furniture in winter and keep it out in the summer.

Building the terrace for optimum solar gain in winterThe photo below shows how passive solar works. After the wonderful sunny spell, we’ve had some much-needed rain. So, for the past week or so, we’ve been planning the extension.

We’ve designed the back kitchen, which I’ll use to dye my wool and where we can cook the pigs’ and dogs’ food and we’ve made a few decisions about seating and working areas. We’ve changed two windows (We’ll change the plans once we’ve chosen the windows) and completed the design for the layout of water, heating and staircases.

We’re still working out how to get the maximum of natural light into the extension. The solar orientation isn’t as good as the original part of the house. We need a lot of light for working with the yarn and it’s so cheerful when the house is light and warm in the middle of winter.

Adding an extension to the house.

House extension going upNow that we’ve finished the terrace around the East and South part of the house, we’ve started to build the extension. This will give us more space (finally!) for storing our fleeces, sorting and packing and enough room for me for knitting in comfort. We’ll also use the room for seminars and workshops.

Building phase 11 at Sourrou Bourrou

Now that we’ve finished the terrace around the East and South part of the house, we’ve started to build the extension. This will give us more space (finally!) for storing our fleeces, sorting and packing and enough room for me for knitting in comfort. We’ll also use the room for seminars and workshops.

The tower above the main part of the house will have two extra bedrooms.

Using bottles as insulationThe stone cladding will be added after the walls have dried and once the roof is on we’ll insulate the interior with straw, goat and sheeps’ wool.

In the original part of the house we used straw bales under the floors for insulation. This works well, but for the extension we’re using a layer of empty bottles which should provide us with a good sound surface and the insulation values should be about the same.

Starting to build our house.

This blog was born only a few weeks ago, but we’ve been building our house for seven years and one day I’ll get together all the photos, notes, drawings and ideas that we had while we were building and put them on a website. …One day.

The ideas for the house at Sourrou began about 14 years ago when Fabrice and I were living in the cabin and negotiating buying the land here. I’ve always been interested and involved in building and renovation and one of the Open University courses I did to develop that interest was Design: Processes and Products. (T263) The course content was invaluable in structuring my ideas about the “Perfect House”.

Fabrice is a qualified stonemason and like me, is fascinated by sacred architecture, building techniques and the harmony in nature of buildings and objects. So although we come from different worlds our ideas merge and our skills are complementary.

Straw bale wall in the sheep shedMy original idea was to build the house in straw. When I broke that news to Fabrice, I was surprised when he said “Great!” and showed me his sheep shed where a straw bale wall had been built more than 30 years before by his grandfather – unrendered and still in good condition.

So eventually, the difficult and very stressful negotiations for the land right next to the cabin (How lucky is that!) came to a close. We got the CU and the Mayor got his hectare with the springs on it (but that’s another story…) We then applied for planning permission for the house which would be in straw, off-grid, built for solar gain, using basic geometric principles, with materials sourced from our land or nearby and as energy efficient as possible.

That all sounds pretty sensible to me, but I suppose my appearance and the way I have of rabbiting on about things that I find fascinating give the impression that I’m a bit of a hippy and the original flowery plans which I drew up (Complete with French spelling mistakes!) didn’t go down at all well with the Mayor or the local planning department.

Getting planning permission took almost 2 years of refusals, reapplying, waiting for results, redoing the drawings, and referring again and again to my “bible” at that time from the collection Concevoir et Construire : Les plans de votre Maison.

Finally, planning permission was granted and we started work.

There are some photographs of the building process in this link:
Construction of the first phase of our house at Sourrou

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