Stones, concrete and a lot of dust

We discovered a "Fake Wall"There were a lot of things I did not take into account when I was writing that our floor in the first level will be ready last weekend. I was a way too ambitious!

As always in an old house, a lot happens on the way you can’t see in advance.

E.g., when removing the rest of the old floor, we found a fake wall and had a 2 sq.m area with about 20 cm of concrete. This alone took half a day to remove it.
Before we could demolish all parts of the old floor, we also had to build a frame for the new staircase to the upper level which means putting in a new beam (dig the wholes and close it after placing the beam).

Christine and her hammerAnd then, the demolition of the two old staircases was not done in an afternoon. Another three old beams needed to be removed as they were cut when the staircases were built-in. Huge wholes were left, at least one we could use to place a new beam but for two other beams we had to make new wholes.

A neighbor passing by among all the dust, said it looks very pharaonic 😉

RubbleFinally, we needed one day to bring all the rubble to the dump site, 4.5 tons!
Since today, we saw and lay the rafters so that we hopefully tomorrow start to put the floor fill on our 75 sq.m first floor.






What happened during the last two weeks?

It’s really a stressful time for us as we need to work a bit for real money in our company , organize our household (yes, it’s necessary to clean the house from time to time, wash clothes, buy some food stuff) and do this restoration work. There is not much time left to write in detail about our activities, therefore, just a short summary of what we did in last two weeks:

We went public Today we went public :)and we

  • ... another floortook out 75% of the floor in the first level (7 trailers of debris!)
  • placed four new beams there
  • cleaned four old beams
  • removed the old plaster from the facade at Grand rue
  • built a cage for the staircase from level two to level three and finished the floor at third level
  • started restoring the first old interior door (it’s going to be beautiful!).

Tomorrow we will finish the sub floor at first level and remove the rest of the old floor. At the end of next week we would like to have the floor on that level ready.

Let’s see if we can keep our schedule.




The roof

When we bought the house it was clear that we need to renew the roof. The roof was built in the traditional manner, with terracotta tiles. Over many years water penetrated some beams, the rafters and walls and it was in disastrous condition.
What we didn’t know was how should we repair it. So we asked several people, looked at several houses, searched the web with the result of being more confused at the end.
Of course, we wanted

  • to make it as sustainable as possible by using traditional materials
  • keep the old Genoises
  • as cheap as possible
  • to have it water proof.

When looking at the roofs around us, we saw roofs covered in the traditional way with old or modern tiles and roofs covered with patterned Ethernit plates, looking like old tiles. We already did a roof with traditional tiles few years ago and know how much work it is. Therefore we were captivated by the idea using Ethernit plates. I checked the material descriptions and ask at local DIY superstores for prices. All in all, it would have cost about 11,000 € on material for our roof of 88 qm!
A bit discouraged, we reflected about the possibility to use our old tiles as this would reduce the costs dramatically. So we did! On the roofFirst, we untiled the smaller part of the roof, cleaned those tiles which were not broken and replaced an old, rotten beam, repaired another one and placed two new beam between them as the distance was too large.
Also, we built a Mezzanine in 2.50 meters height to be used as storage later but also to be able to reach the roof from inside as the room all together is a bit more than 4.5 m high.

On the smaller part of the roof we put new rafters on the beams and covered all with planks, a tar-bitumen foil and then replaced the tiles. The bottom tiles we fixed with screws, the upper one’s with lime mortar.
It took us about two weeks, interruptions because of heavy rain and wind caused some interruptions.
Taking the tiles down, cleaning them, bring them up again, mix the mortar and bring it to the roof, place the tiles: we were exhausted and the outlook of having to do the bigger part of the roof was not really funny.
After another heavy rain we looked closer to that part of the roof and it hasn’t got that many leaks than the other part, the beams were still o.k. and the tiles seemed to be not that old and in a very good condition.
Living on the edge :)In parts it looked more like a seedbed so we cleaned it with a Karcher first and then reinforced the rafters, mortar the loose tiles and replace the broken ones’. Also we had to replace the dormer window and to remove the old chimney. In particular, I cemented about 500 of the 1.144 tiles. I was nearly living on the roof 😉 and I enjoyed it somehow. It was warm and sunny most the time and the view from there is just spectacular.

A difficult part was the roof ridge as the two parts of the roof arrived in different heights now, so we had to be creative again: we placed a tailor cut plank in the middle and filled the interstices with lime mortar and protect it with lead. After, I cemented the ridge.
The work was done just the day before it started raining again, and it is water proof!

It was a lot of work, we spent a lot of time but saved a lot of money.






Old tiles

tilesI am cleaning old tiles, tomette, terracotta, cement tiles, glazed tiles, different seizes, tiles we found inbuilt in walls, on the floors we have to renew or simply on walls. All together, I already cleaned about 50 sqm.
It’s not an intellectual challenge, its physical. I feel every muscle in my arms, from my hands to my shoulders, it’s even hard to write on a keyboard after hours of cleaning.
My work place is an old wooden chest we found in the house, it’s perfect because it is even, I can perfectly lay down a tile with one side on the wooden frame and hammer away the 5-7 cm thick layers of plaster and/or gypsum with my chisel.
cleaned tilesSome people told me that I need to lay the tiles only in water for some hours and all the plaster and gypsum will be removed, but that’s not true. I tried it, put some tiles in a tub with water for a week. The water was a bit limy and the layer on the tiles got muddy which to remove was a big smearing.
While removing the layers of plastic, paper and cartons from the floors, we found some journals from 1964! I guess this is the younger part of the house, some terracotta tiles must be much older as they are handmade and look very old.
The only challenge I face is to stay motivated, to not throw all away, to bear the dust and smells of the last 70 years. Well, that’s a mental challenge 😉 However, I always remind myself how beautiful they will look when cleaned and laid on the new floors.
There is another effect: I can think about my intellectual work, e.g. about the methods and content for the e-commerce workshop I have to give for the family business project end of March, or about this blog entry.



A natural floor

We thought we emptied all, but during the last weeks we took more plaster of the walls, removed some layers from a floor and thus, generated another 2,5 tonnes to bring to the dumping ground. Amongst some very old asbestos tubes, which to dispose was quite expensive.
floor patchAfter all, we started to build a new floor in the third level. We want to be sustainable, re-use old materials if possible and if we need to buy new material, than it should be as natural as possible.
So then, we thought of building the floor with hemp, as this is light, natural, antiseptic and a good insulation against temperature loss and noises. A bit of research was necessary to find a company selling it and we were wondering why it’s so difficult to get this kind of stuff. However, we bought it at and here is the recipe:

  • 10 parts hemp fibers,
  • 3 parts sand,
  • 2 parts air lime,
  • 2 parts gypsum,
  • water and of course, a mixer.

You need to find a measure, we used our bakery bowl 😉 to have always the exact proportion. The hemp fibers needs to be the first in the mixer, with a bit water to let them swell a bit, than add the sand, water, lime, water, gypsum. Mix all until you get a pulp, not too liquid, not to strong, something like mashed potatoes.
floorYou have a bout 15 minutes to bring it onto the floor, than it’s set. The whole floor dries for several days, depending on temperature and humidity of your environment and it smells when the lime carbonation starts.
To finish the floor, you need to cover this layer with air lime-sand screed, which can be done immediately after placing the first layer with the hemp fibers.
Both together will be a perfect underground for tiling with old or handmade tiles, e.g. terracotta tiles.



A new beginning

So, the house is empty now.
All the stuff which was inside we brought to the waste disposal sites, all the little walls are removed and now, we can see clearly damages on the beams, roof and the outer walls, can make plan how to continue.

Balkenkopf (timber beam head?)We have to renew the roof, this we knew from the beginning. Also, this we discovered while emptying the house, some of the beams under the roof are damaged by water infiltration exactly there, were they lie in the outer walls. To exchange them is not only a lot of work but also very difficult to realize as they are about 7 meters long, heavy and need to bring up 12 meters! As they are not damaged by termites, it might be possible to keep them. After searching the web we found two solutions:

  1. blaze repair plates
  2. replacement of the rotten parts with resin

An architect confirmed that any repair might be better than replacing a beam. It might be impossible to find old beams from the same wood, in particular in this length. When using new wood, we might risk future problems as the wood is probably dried chemically and will move during the next years until finally settled.
Let’s see what the specialists recommend us when visiting the house.

Despite of this, we need a scaffolding. We’ll probably buy one as renting costs about 100 € per day. It seems to be possible to get one in our size for about 2000 €. Finally, we have to redo 4 facades and buying might be the economic solution.

Information were to find a scaffold are very welcome!




Old interior walls

IMG_3063We removed a lot of interior walls, which, according to some village people who know the house since a very long time, were made in the nineteen sixties.
We found it totally fascinating that these walls were made with cut stones from the Garrigue or partly with terra cotta tiles, put in a lot of gypsum. They were very thin, but heavy.
Anyway, we broke down all of them and reuse the stones in our garden. The tiles we have to clean and then we’ll reuse them in the house 😉




First step – emptying the house

Première étageDuring the last four weeks, we emptied the house as it was full with a lot of stuff: old, rotten furniture, rubbish, bottles and other undefinable things. Usable items we gave to Emmaus, all the rest we brought to our nearby dècheteries.

Along with this, we also broke down all the internal walls (there were up to 6 rooms on one level!), removed the gypsum paneling on the beams, dismantled installations, ovens, tapestry and floor coverings. All in all, we filled one big container with old stuff and about 60 trailers à 600 kg with plaster, gypsum, bricks, wood and dirt.

We got a containerThe cave, the first and the second level are empty now, the last few gypsum paneling will be gone this evening 😉

And than, we need to empty the attic, still full with rubbish. We want to have this be done until the end of this week so that we are able to measure, plan and draft the plans for the future apartments.




About the 22 Grand Rue project

This house in Fitou, France, probably dates back to the late 17th or beginning of 18th century and has been built in the shape how it appears nowadays.
It is, as many other houses of that decade, built with stones from the Garrigue and plastered with lime mortar. The house lies between two streets, the main street of the village and a smaller street, mainly used by pedestrians. Therefore, it has two entries, on in the back for people only and one at the front, for the trailers and tractors, because as so many people in the village, the owners were farmers e.g. winemakers.

The previous owners divided the formerly big rooms into smaller places as sometimes four generations lives under the same roof. These changes have had not a deep impact on the original structure, as the walls of the rooms could be easily removed.

We are restoring this house and creating three independent apartments.
December, 3rd 2012 we got the keys.
The three apartments will be available June July August 30th, 2013. … Well, it’s ready, when it’s ready:) stay tuned!
You can rent them.
Have fun reading the story and see you soon 😉

Tine and Hagen