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Renovating our house in France
January 2010

Roof blog 2006


July 2009. The scaffolding arrived (thank you Olivier) and Jean-Pierre and Perry got to work, building it up against the north side of the house. It has been a long-standing plan to remove the cement that was applied to the outside walls some 40 years ago. It stops the walls from breathing, so the inside of the house is humid. Since the original walls are made of earth and set on the ground without anything in the way of foundations, they draw up water. Since that cannot escape to the outside, it appears on the inside. Salpeter crystals break through and leave stains, mould grows and items such as books suffer.

The plan was to remove as much of the cement as possible from the outside, then replace it with chalk (chaux) which breaths and allows moisture to escape. Easier said than done.

we begin removing the cement
Perry bought two percussion drills and he and Jean-Pierre attacked the walls. Some came off in big chunks, a lot in small chips. Either way, it was very hard work for the arms and shoulders, for seven days in the hot sun.

rat tunnels in the walls
In the north wall we found a series of rat runs and nests. They are now filled with chaux, so hopefully we have cut off nearly all entrances for them to return.

removing cement
Once all the cement was off, we could see that the right side of the house had been built first, in stone. Well, stones in mud. To the left of the front door the wall was made of earth. It was often the case that families built one room on top of the the other, next to the barn. Then as the family expanded, they added two rooms on the other side of the front door. The whole first floor walls are half timber with a clay and straw filling.

Since the damp would escape within the first few metres, we decided to leave the cement layer on the first floor walls. They were very well fixed and hadn't blown (because they were not suffering from damp). That done we then nailed rolls of chicken wire over the whole house. 200 square metres of it. This acts as a holdfast for the new chaux.

mixing cement
Nine tons of sand and almost two full palettes of chaux were mixed and shovelled into wheelbarrows, then shovelled again up to Jean-Pierre, who then scooped it up with the projector and spread it onto the walls. The first few days were hell, but it got easier.
Perry got fit, fast.

south wall
The south wall revealed all sorts of surprises. Hidden pipes, electric cables and
colombage (half timbers). It was in too bad a state to clean up and so we covered it
again with chaux.

shovelling chaux
Teamwork! We had hired a large compressor to pump the chaux through the projector.

pile of rubble
All the cement we took off is now outside the studio at the back of the house. We plan to use it for the bed of the terrace that we'll be laying some time in the future. But first the barn roof needs replacing...

building shoulder
Once the chaux was dry, we started building a skirt around the house from local stones. The fields here are full of smooth rocks of all sizes, so we had free material which was mortared with a special breathable chalk product. This allows moisture to escape yet keep saltpeter from coming to the surface and leave stains.

bricks and stones
We used old chimney bricks which are much harder than ordinary bricks. These were originally made by grinding down normal bricks into a paste and firing them again, making them incredibly hard and able to withstand the heat of a chimney.

almost finished
The bricks were used to trim the skirt around the house. Note the two ventilation holes.
In October 2010 we're going to add the second layer once we have the colour we want.
That's the plan at least.

A bientôt.

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