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Normandy Life

This is an account or blog of our life here in Le Deshayes. We, Jo and Jonathan Turner, moved here in October 2004. Our first task was to renovate the adjoining workshop into a high quality Gite or holiday cottage. This we managed by Easter 2005 - the next two projects, the renovation of a development house for resale and the renovation of our own house, took a little while longer! We hope you enjoy following the ups and downs of our life in France.

For details of our new very low energy house build please see our AngloInfo blog - The Plan Comes Together (click on the link to follow progress).

4 June 2014

It's been a funny old time - we finally finished the exterior of our lovely new house and eventually managed to get the groundworks man to sort out the hardcore base for the garage / workshop - but that's about it for the past couple of months. We've not lost the enthusiasm for our huge project, it's just that everything else just seems to be getting in the way. If it's not popping back to the UK to see our daughter and family (especially the beautiful Lucy-May!), it's going to the other side of Brittany to see our son or it's having visitors or it's .... well, just having to do all the essentials of life, like keeping the garden in check. So annoying, but, we're not in any great rush - just so long as we can move in next Spring!! At least we have managed to order all the specialist sealing tapes from Germany - a big saving there!! So when we finally get back to serious working we have got loads of interior work to do if the weather prevents us from working outside.

One small hiccup is that our friendly French architect has gone out of business. We were going to simply say that the new garage is a replacement for the original animal shelter that stood on the site, but as there is a new boss in the planning department in COutances, that is unlikely to be acceptable and we will have to make a new application or a major alteration to our existing approval. Either way it will require a registered Architect to sign it off, so we will have to ask around. Could delay things a little .. and to think we came over here for a peaceful life!!

28 April 2014

Well, after finishing the exterior of the house (al last!!) we are taking a breather and will shortly start to construct the detached garage. It may seem strange to stop work on the inside of the house, but we need the garage ... or workshop as it will be!! ... to move all the spare materials / tools / work bench / etc out of the house so we can have the room to start fitting the air-tight membrane and then the services. It will also allow us to finally see the inside of the house for the first time as it will be when it's finished! We have an electrical layout plan - it was needed to establish what fittings we should buy when there was a great offer at Bricomarche!! - but until we can actually get a feel for the spaces we can't finally agree the position of light switches. sockets, etc.

One amazing plus is that we managed to get one pile of plasterboard carried into the house. Considering it has been sat, covered, outside for around 18 months we were very relieved to find any of the sheets were worth having! Just three more to uncover and get shifted!

Our two beautiful grandchildren, William and Lucy-May, continue to distract - as you would expect!! William and his parents pop over regularly from Brittany and we try to get over to the UK to see Lucy-May as often as possible. She is growing fast and seems so advanced for her age - but then we would say that wouldn't we!! Her baptism was a real treat and it was great seeing all the family.

The south elevation - DONE!!

All our efforts building our dream home have been much appreciated by our French neighbours, although we are sure they think we are mad to take on such an enterprise! We are still amazed when people in the village comment on our efforts - it seems we are a good source of gossip!! We have recently voted in the elections for the town council - another small step that shows our commitment to this lovely community.

26 January 2014

Gosh - it's been so long since we last posted on our Normandy Life blog - our apologies. Our self-build house has simply taken over our lives - hopefully we can get it finished this year! The lastest photos on the Facebook album (link below) show the completed cladding, well apart from the south elevation which still awaits the porch type roof which is currently under construction! When the scaffolding was removed last November it was amazing to finally see the house in all it's glory and we are still enjoying working on our dream house.

Our grandchildren continue to be a distraction as we visit them as often as possible, although it is much easier now that our son and his family have moved to Brittany where his wife is working. While it is a 3 hour drive to see them, it is a lot better than the 20 hour ferry crossings to Ireland that were, more often than not, very rough!

William on his Christmas present in Brittany!!

This year in Normandy is an important time, both to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing and to enjoy the World Equestrian Games that are being hosted in Caen. Both events will bring loads of visitors to the area, so please don't hesitate to book your chosen weeks so to avoid being disappointed.

16 April 2013

Progress on the new house is moving apace - it is surprising just how much work goes into each element, but we have started to fix the cream cladding at last and it looks better than we had hoped! There are some new photos on the link below.

The big news for us is that our grand-daughter, Lucy-May, was born on 13 March. She and her mum are both well and we managed to break away from our build duties to visit them - little Lucy-May is beautiful and we were enchanted! While we can't see them as often as we would like, at least with Skype we can watch her grow and eventually she will get to know her very proud grandparents!

We have had some amazing snow this year in Le Deshayes - more than we have seen since the bad winter of 1962/3! For two days we couldn't get through to the new house due to the size of the drifts - some as big as 6 feet deep! As it was only a week before we went to England to meet Lucy-May we were slightly concerned that our travel plans may be distrupted, but it was okay and the trip north went well. That is until we got to our daughter's house when the snow returned and we were snowed in again!

The bookings are a bit slow again this year, but we expect the key summer weeks to be booked shortly, so if you are looking to come and visit Le Deshayes this summer please book soon to make sure you get the weeks you require. We look forward to showing you the new house build!

11 March 2013

Wow - sorry for the gap in postings. Our new house build has taken over our lives and we are struggling to do much but go to work every day!! If you would like to see the progress photos the album on Facebook is (You can access the album without going onto Facebook).

Of course life goes on here in Le Deshayes and while we are currently experiencing heavy snow and low temperatures, we nearly had a touch of Spring with lots of flowers out in the garden and at the side of the roads. Hopefully the weather will improve before our first Gite guests arrive!

One other little matter that is taking our attention is that our daughter and son-in-law are expecting their first child and our first grand-daughter! Hopefully we can give you more news shortly + a photo of course.

Hope you enjoy the photos!

28 October 2012

A good week - we managed to get the reinforcement and concrete into the footings and it looks amazing! It is absolutely spot on level so it will be easier laying the blockwork walls next week - so I'm told! The last of the materials arrive tomorrow so we'll have no excuses - well, apart from the rain that has been forecast! We will have to dodge the showers as the frame guys arrive in three weeks and we have to have a full scaffold erected before then! Real pressure at last!

A small step foward - loads still to do!

Life is pretty well based around the build, although it is good to have some regular clients in the Gite - both last week and this week. We hope the increase in bookings towards the end of this year will be repeated early on next year and we will have a busy 2013. If we manage to get the new house habitable by around June we will try and let our house for the summer months. Something to aim for, but, of course, getting the house built correctly is the priority!

18 October 2012

Well, after a hectic week when the groundworks guy got stuck into our site and made it look like a real building site (albeit a very muddy one!), we have had a quiet week waiting for materials to arrive on site so we could get on with building the foundations up to laying the ground floor. The groundworks man offered to order the materials on his trade account - much better prices than we could get of course - but he is French and missing any sense of urgency! On Sunday we have been living in Le Deshayes for 8 years so we should be used to it by now!

The past 8 years has gone so quickly - we have loved every minute (well, most of them!!) and wish that we had moved years earlier when the kids were little. But getting here still young enough to enjoy the French way of life, their wonderful sense of community and the tranquility of this beautiful corner of France is such a great feeling - well worth booking the Gite to experience it!!

Now that we have actually started the build we can start looking at the interior design - such things as light fittings, electrical layouts, furniture, kitchen fittings (maybe red doors and drawer fronts - big decision!), floor coverings - just so many things to agree on. It is starting to consume most of the days, although I guess when we get back on to the site we will have to make the decisions rather than just talk about them! Exciting!

We'll post some photos when the site looks more interesting than a mud bath!

1 October 2012

Can you believe it - the groundworks man turned up last Saturday! It took him nearly four weeks to finally show up - well, it is France! The good news is that he agreed to start digging next Monday!! Wonderful - we look to be about to start our dream home. With the frame coming mid-November we have around 5 - 6 weeks to get the foundations laid, build the blockwork walls up to ground floor height and lay the concrete ground floor slab. As they all have to be tied together for structural strength, it will be slower than laying normal blockwork and we are hardly experts - but hopefully we will have enough time and the weather will be kind to us!!

William growing up fast!!

Just to keep our feet on the ground this is the latest photo of our (not so little now) grandson! Looking like a proper little boy at 16 months old - such a poppet! We miss seeing him, and Matt and Shells of course, but the next few months will be spent getting the house exterior finished before the worst of the winter weather set in. It may seem odd starting a new build in November, but the frame will go up in a week or so, the roof on two weeks later and then it will be down to us to get the external cladding on and the windows and doors in by the end of December. Here in Normandy we have been sitting outside having lunch in December, so hopefully we will have some decent weather this year!

So now we are buying expensive equipment, like a Bosch rotary laser level, so we will be ready to get the foundations spot on before the frame erectors arrive. New toys - things just don't get better!!!

7 September 2012

Well, we finally got to speak to our French groundworks man and he promised to come round to see us. We waited in for the next couple of days and evenings, but no sign so far! As he lives in our village and his wife is a councillor, we are wise to wait for him - plus he does do all the excavations for new house foundations around here so knows whats what - very useful on your first build!

Our original Gite clients arrived today for a weeks holiday. They stayed at Easter in 2005 when we first opened and have been many times in the past seven years. It had me thinking about how we seem to have the knack of getting clients returning year after year - yet many of our friends in this area never get repeat business. Reading the visitors book it becomes clear that offering a clean, well furnished and equiped Gite, with comfortable beds and a decent welcome pack are the main requirements that visitors appreciate. Added to that this year has seen a great number of clients asking for a two course meal on arrival and then another meal during the week - now that's a pretty good recommendation! All four remaining weeks for this year are repeat clients - now good friends! Hopefully if anyone is wondering about a holiday at Le Deshayes they will be reassured that when we say it is a high quality Gite - it is!

As part of the work on the field - sorry, the soon to be building site! - we demolished the old cow shed that was getting very unstable and started to excavate for a replacement cow shed. Okay, it will have a pair of doors wide enough for a car and be fitted out with a work bench so we can use it as a site hut - but if anyone asks, it's just a replacement cow shed! Anyway - as the house budget is very small we decided to dig out for the base by hand. Fine, apart from the vast amount of walling stone that we have been uncovering. We are about two thirds through and have around 25 tons of stone already - amazing and very hard work! Some of the stones are huge and too big to pick up so we will have to get the groundworks man to move them with his digger! Watch out for loads of walls in the new garden!

19 August 2012

It has been a eventful summer - loads of rain just as in Britain, lots of lovely clients in the Gite and some momentous news for us! Our daughter and her husband visited for a few days and told us that they were expecting our second grandchild- their first child! Wonderful news. Lots more photos to add to this blog early next year!

Just to add to our workload we placed the order for the frame for our new house last week. After years of planning and aborted start dates we have finally taken the plunge and asked Turner Timber Frames (no relation!) to erect the frame early in November this year! We also placed the order with the ventilation supplier - Steve Ford at Internal Climate Systems - and expect to do the same with the windows next week. Unfortunately the French groundworks man is on his August holiday break, so we can't actually confirm that the site will be ready for the erectors in November, but I'm sure it will all come together! All very exciting and slightly scary!

We also had our son and family stay with us for two weeks and really enjoyed spending time with little William- he is such a poppet and now that he is toddling he needed watching all the time. Great fun!

So, after a couple of months tied up with the Gite, family matters and sorting out the new house we have finally managed a blog posting. Many apologies to our regular readers - we will try harder!

8 June 2012

Having just got back from a weeks holiday in England, we are left wondering if our standards for the Gite are too high!

During the visit we stayed in a log cabin in North Yorshire with our daughter and son-in-law to celebrate our 39th and their 1st wedding anniversaries. It sounded great on the website and was recommended by some good friends - trouble was it wasn't clean, not all the main equipment worked and the hot tub that we paid extra for, was stone cold when we arrived so we couldn't use it until the second night. All in all most disappointing.

Now we know that spending 12 hours (6 hours each!) to clean the Gite on change-over days is a lot, but leaving tables unuseable, worktops dirty and large sticky areas on the bedside units is just lazy and unacceptable. Especially as the weekend cost about the same as a week in Le Deshayes!

We guess that we will just have to keep working hard to maintain our high standards and give our clients the confidence that they won't have to start cleaning the moment they step through the front door! You can rest assured standards will be maintained!

3 April 2012

We have been in limbo for the last month - the new planning application has been delayed (more of that on our AngloInfo blog), the agent that was marketing our field (aka the site) when we stopped late last year finally came up with a buyer - just as we decided to have another go at the project, so that has thrown a spanner in the works and a friend who lives nearby has shown an interest in buying the Volvo XC90 - but as we are waiting for decisions on all three it is difficult to get too excited! If we can sell part of the field and the Volvo it will add a decent lump to our new house budget, so well worth hanging on. At least the weather for the past couple of weeks has been excellent so we have managed to sort out some of the garden tasks that have been hanging around since the start of winter!

The Normandy Tourism's Facebook page asked what are your five reasons for visiting Normandy - well we think the following are the best reasons, but what do you think?

  1. Peace and tanquillity
  2. Beautiful countryside
  3. Safe sandy beaches
  4. Excellent food - especially the cider and cheeses
  5. Mont Saint-Michel - just amazing

Hopefully we will get loads of emails of your five reasons!

19 February 2012

The spring flowers trying to raise our spirits!

Yes, I know – we are well into 2012 and this is the first posting of the year, so we're a bit late talking about a “A New Start”, but bear with us!

Of course, many apologies yet again for the delay in postings, but – we are going to have another go at building the eco-house and the considerable discussions and calculations have taken their time and energy! It’s not that we have found some extra cash, more that we have cut the size and complexity of the project to match the funds available. Also, by getting the internal area below 170 sq m we can save on having the pay the French Architect his sizable fee again. Currently we are sorting out the plans before visiting the local Planning Advisor to check it will sail through – as if it wouldn’t!! Fortunately the system of measuring the internal area, the SHON, is being changed at the beginning of March and as it will ignore the depth of the external walls – ours will be particularly thick to accommodate loads of insulation – it makes the new plans even better! So well worth waiting an extra week. When we have submitted the new planning application we can also publish the new scheme here on the blog – promise!

Apart from some niggling illnesses of a minor nature, 2012 has started pretty well and looks like it could be a top year. Bookings for the Gite are a bit slow, but as many people in the UK must be unsure about their jobs and how the future is going to pan out we have to expect them to be hesitant about booking holidays, so hopefully if things don’t get too much worse as the spring / summer arrives the bookings will pick up - hopefully!

We spent Christmas and New Year in Ireland with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson – just wonderful!! He’s growing so fast and is such a poppet. The only down side of an excellent break was the horrendous journey back from Rosslare to Cherbourg. It was the day after the gale at the start of January and while the wind had lessened a little, the sea was still very rough. It was undoubtedly the worst ferry crossing we had experienced, leaving us very queasy for days afterwards. Of course the ferry wouldn’t have left the port if it was at risk of sinking, but it certainly felt dangerous during the first part of the journey and we both wondered if it was going to be our last! Hey ho, it won’t keep us from visiting Ireland and we have already booked the next crossing!

Well, we finally managed to get started in 2012 – now to keep it going!

22 December 2011

We advertise our Gite with Holiday France Direct – a Brittany Ferries company. They are featuring the Gite in their next newsletter and asked us for some information on how we chose this area of France and what there is in the area for visitors. I thought our loyal readers may be interested in some background information :

The choice of this area was almost by chance. Some friends from a French evening class in Blackburn had a house in Normandy and we thought it would be a good idea for a holiday to stay in a Gite close to their house so we could explore the area and stay with them for a couple of days. The Gite we chose was advertised with Holiday France Direct and we became close friends with the couple who owned it, returning the next year and meeting a number of their friends who lived near-by. We also spent the time cycling around the local villages and walking along the coast – the best way to get to know an area. We fell in love with Normandy and the Manche in particular, buying a second home here in November 2001. We have visited many areas of France since we were married in 1973, but Normandy captured our hearts and we moved permanently in October 2004. We love this corner of France because of the welcoming residents, the beautiful green countryside, the fabulous beaches, the tranquillity and the sense of being part of a community who cares about the people who live in it!!

We originally had a shopping list for our holiday home that specified that it shouldn’t be too big or cost more than £50k, not much land and in a good condition so we could arrive from the ferry and enjoy our precious holidays – this went out of the window when we saw Le Deshayes. A four bed-roomed house with adjoining workshop, two acres and a huge barn behind – all for £70k – a bargain. When we moved here in 2004 we converted the workshop into our high quality, three bed-roomed Gite, so live next door although the Gite clients have their own secure access and parking. While some clients don’t need any advice,
we are here if people want restaurant bookings telephoned through, advice on local events or if anything unexpected happens – we have taken clients to the doctors and local garages! An extra level of reassurance!

Our favourite local events are the international Jazz festival every May in Coutances and the Savigny Fete Ancienne close to Le Deshayes where they have fascinating displays of old crafts, local dances and an excellent lamb lunch! The bi-annual fireworks at Soulles are worth coming across on their own – simply amazing! Our favourite restaurants are the Relais du Viaduc in Coutances both for lunch and evening meals – the bar at Notre Dame de Cenille that does an excellent lunch for around 11 euros – the Grignotiere at Saint-Pierre-de-Semilly is more upmarket and whenever we go to Jersey for the day we always have lunch
at Utopia, Shaun Rankin’s Michelin Star restaurant (lunch is very reasonable and well worth the ferry crossing!!). However, more and more clients are enjoying our excellent value home cooked, three course dinner – cooking is one of our passions!!

Of course when mentioning local sights we can’t forget to mention Mont St Michel, a world heritage site and the most visited attraction in France after Paris – always very busy, but not to be missed!

Most people come to Le Deshayes for the peace and quiet, the glorious beaches, the lovely countryside where you can safely walk or cycle, the knowledge that our Gite is comfortable, clean, well equipped and very welcoming! Just a great holiday!
Sorry if that sounds like an advert for the Gite, but it does sum up how we arrived in France and why we so love living here! If any of our readers are thinking of moving to France please don’t be seduced by the thought of splendid isolation – maybe a place in the country with acres of land and no-one for miles. It can quickly become a very isolated existence, especially in the winter months. French society revolves around their sense of community – our immediate neighbours for example always look after our house when we visit family in England, taking in the post, putting out the rubbish, checking there aren’t any leaks and monitoring any visitors. Consider being in a village with neighbours, shops and a ready made support network if you ever need it. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you want any advice!!

6 Nov 2011

Well, the decision has been made and we are not going ahead with our new house build. It was a very difficult decision as we have been worklng on the project for over four years, plus of course it's every Architects dream to build their own home!! But, while we could just about afford to build the main part of the house from our own capital, it would always have been tight. As we have little income we could never have taken out a loan to cover any overspend, so we could have put our life here in Normandy at risk - well, no contest - we love the life here so much that the new house had to go! Gutted of course, but we are finding other jobs to do on this house and they will keep us busy for a while yet!

A new IKEA store has opened on the outskirts of Caen - a good bit closer than the one in Rennes - and we paid it a visit on Friday. Lunch was half price for the opening week, so we enjoyed our favourite meatballs before we ordered a new three piece lounge suite - well, as we're not building the new house we thought we had better start making some improvements. Great fun! We are also finalising major changes to other areas of the house - watch this space for more details! No point is sitting still!

12 Sept 2011

We were getting so positive – so enthusiastic – things were going our way at last! We should have know better.

We had a meeting with the groundworks contractor from our local village – excellent guy. He was happy with the latest plans and agreed to a start on the site early October – wonderful! Then, in passing, he asked if we had obtained a new planning approval for the substantial changes to the scheme. We explained that the architect had suggested that changes could be covered at the end of the construction as a modification of the original approval – the look on his face was enough to make us realise that this was probably not the way things are done in France. Contact with the architect confirmed that a whole new planning application was needed! Great!

Of course the architect would need paying again and we had already paid some fees for the original planning approval, so the thought of yet more expenditure was annoying to say the least – however as we looked more closely at the French system we realised that it was an opportunity to save money! Okay, so we still had to pay the architect, but the fees we thought were just for the planning approval are taxes that relate to the square meterage of the house, so by reducing the usable floor area by around 100 sq m we would save loads on these taxes and on the future council tax demands once we had taken up residence. A bit of good news amongst our difficulties.

Fortunately the architect could turn the drawings around quickly and within a couple of days we had gone to his office, signed the documents, paid him his fee and got the new application into our Town Hall in the the village. They will record the placing of the application and send it to Coutances for the planners to make their decision. They have 2 months to reach a decision – although as we already have the new electricity supply on the site boundary and our Maire is very supportive there is little chance of it being anything but positive! However, if they don’t meet the 2 months deadline the scheme is deemed to be approved! Neat!

We had thought of just starting anyway as we had the original approval still in place – wrong! As we put the new application into the Town Hall they insisted on us signing a letter that cancelled the original approval – rats! So we will have another chat with the groundworks contractor to see if he thinks it’s okay to start ahead of the new approval – if he is prepared to start then early October is back on, if not then early November is the next option. Shame, but we are determined to proceed so watch this space for the next gripping episode!

8 Sept 2011

No apologies for more baby pictures as this photo of our new grandson is just wonderful - it is titled, "The Babysitter" - but who is babysitting who?

Back to our new house build - it is such a great feeling when you finally get responses from the local Builders Merchants – I know, little things – but when life revolves around trying to get our new house build off the ground every step forward is gratefully received!

While the only quote we have received is from Bricomarche – more of a DIY store than Builders Merchant – it does gives us a feel for the cost of the timber for the structure … and very reassuring it is too! Adding VAT and taking off their discount it is around 18,000 euros (just over £16,000) for the timber for the structure and the internal walls, the OSB sheathing for the walls and roof, the Siberian Larch shiplap cladding, the battens for the cladding and the Tyvek membrane. We had a quote from a major British builders merchant for part of the list of quantities and while it is difficult to make a direct comparison – they don’t list the timber in the same way – I am getting the strong impression that French timber is cheaper. Now that’s has to be a first – finding something that is better value over here!!

They can’t supply the I-beams for the first floor and the roof structures, but as we have also managed to get a positive response from a proper builders merchant nearby who are getting prices from I-beam manufacturers we are much happier and are beginning to believe that a start this year is a real possibility. Even our groundwork contractor has agreed to a start on site date early October, so we are on our way.

We still have loads of details and material specifications to finalise, but if we can just get the structure up and weather-tight before Christmas we will be very, very happy!!

15 August 2011

Summer is always a difficult time to focus on the interesting things in life such as the new house design or keeping you guys up to date with progress. If we’re not cleaning the Gite on our Saturday handover, we’re doing the large amount of washing and ironing or sorting out the minor breakages or repairs that are needed – then there’s the family and friends who pop over in the summer and, of course, need ferrying around to see the sights (although we are drawing the line at visiting Mont St Michel again this year!!). All good fun, but so, so distracting! Oh, yes, not forgetting the blessed grass that just refuses to stop growing – sorry, this sounds like a right moan!

Anyway – some good news on the house front. I has sent the revised wall specification to Rockwool for a U value assessment and they eventually came back with an excellent 0.14 – just under the PassivHaus recommended figure – result!! As I even have the opportunity to add some more insulation in the services void just behind the plasterboard if the budget stretches to that, we are finally getting there. The roof structure specification is now using 400mm deep i beams spanning from the wall plate to a ridge beam, with breathable membrane over and standard aritifical slates on battens to finish. Between the i beams will be 400mm insulation, with the underside of the i beams lined with 9mm OSB to add stiffness and to give us the air-tight barrier. We will then use timber battens to provide a services void and finish with standard plasterboard. This should met the PassivHaus standard and be relatively simple to erect, although we are concerned about our Velux windows as each one will require the i beams to be cut to form an opening big enough for the Velux – perhaps see if there is an alternative to the Velux, something narrower but still offering the excellent U value with triple glazing. More research needed, unless you guys can help?

I also have been very impressed by the Green Building Forum. I paid my few pounds to join and it is packed with useful advice by some very knowledgeable guys. I have already saved hundreds of pounds on the one wood burning stove we plan to install and will continue to ask questions and add my limited advice where necessary! If you are thinking of building or renovating with low energy principles in mind it is well worth a visit.

Enough for now – back to the drawing board (okay, computer screen!). Look forward to your comments.

26 June 2011

Yes, I know – what has a picture of a cute baby got to do with the serious matter of a low energy, self-build house project or running a high quality Gite? Well, it is of course yet another excuse for more inactivity – we were in Dublin for 10 days with our son, his wife and our first grandchild!! Just such a great feeling – so proud of them and quite overcome when they told us that he was to be called William Jonathan – what an honour!!

We didn’t spend all day cuddling the wee fella – we managed to get their small garden cleared and laid a patio, painted the fencing, finished off the skirting boards in the house and constructed a meter box. Slight problem with the meter box – in the evening a lounge full of family and friends were highly entertained when the door into the kitchen couldn’t be closed because the new box was too big!! A rapid adjustment the next morning sorted the problem, just in time for us to pack our bags, loads the tools into the car and head off for the ferry home! A tiring week, but becoming grandparents is a great feeling and we are looking forward to seeing William at the end of the summer.

Since returning home we have had the necessary visit from the insurance expert and our claim is now agreed, so that’s sorted and out of the way – now to learn the lessons. We had decided to lay bamboo flooring throughout the new house, but if we had a similar flood it may be a real nightmare. Perhaps ceramic tiling the ground floor is the better option? However hard we work at making sure the plumbing installation is top quality, you can’t do much about a material failure similar to the one we experienced a couple of weeks ago, so perhaps a rethink on finishes is required. Any thoughts guys?

Now that we are into the busy summer period we can spend more time sorting out the garden between Gite change-over days and getting the site ready for a start later in the year. Just as long as we don't get too many of those really hot days when all we can do is stay indoors in the cool. This life is so difficult - we're sure everyone will sympathise with us! (or at least come over and visit us!!)

10 June 2011

Last Sunday morning we had rain – nothing too dramatic about that, okay it meant the three month drought was over, but it’s only rain you’re thinking, so why the headline. No – we had rain inside and out – yes folks we had a flood!!

I guess we should have been expecting something as things always come in threes – our daughter’s wedding, the birth of our first grandchild and a major burst pipe!! The flexible connecting pipe underneath the basin in the vanity unit in the first floor bathroom decided to split – just a mere ¼ inch or 5mm in new money, but enough to pump water at full pressure across the bathroom floor and through into the hall and dining room. Fortunately I was on my early hours pee-pee at 2.30am and was idly wondering why someone had left a tap on, until I paddled into the bathroom that is!! Panic hit immediately and we rushed downstairs to find the dining room and hall flooded to around 2 – 3mm and water flowing down the step into the lounge. Between us we managed to turn off the mains outside (note to self: install loads of isolating valves in the new house!!) and tried to take stock of the situation. At that point the electricity went off due the amount of water in the light fittings, so the next job was to find the torches – or at least the ones with any charge in the batteries!! – and the candles. I managed to take a flyer due to my flip-flops aquaplaning in the deep water, but fortunately just got wet and cross rather than anything more serious! To stem the flow into the lower lounge we pulled loads of towels out of the airing cupboard and laid two barriers. Around this time I managed to get the power circuits back on so we could at least use table lamps to work by and see the extent of the water flow.

To be fair, her-in-doors took control and started to clear the water using a large towel and wringing it outside – in the rain!! Between us we worked hard for the next three hours and managed to clear the bulk of the water off the floors. By then we were shattered and crept back to bed for a couple of hours shut-eye. We struggled to sleep thinking of what had happened, what we would face in the morning light and how to warn our Gite clients that their water had been turned off! Luckily they were fine with the hassle, being more concerned for us!!

By lunchtime Sunday we had found an excellent plumber who replaced the faulty pipe and allowed us to turn the water back on, so one less stress point! The watery light fittings were cleaned out and we started to dry out the hard to reach corners of the affected rooms and raise the damp furniture off the floor. Wet books were taken upstairs to dry out slowly and we lit the log fire to get some heat into the house!! A strange start to summer!!

So, hopefully, my kind readers will understand why there is a distinct lack of progress on the new house project – a week lost sorting flood damage and making the insurance claim – you couldn’t make it up!!

28 March 2011

Apologies for the break in transmission – we have spent the last few weeks working on our kid’s houses in England and Ireland – tiling a bathroom and undertaking various joinery works. Great fun and good to be useful, but as the bathroom walls were 3m high it was quite a task!

So we are back home at last and have finally started to dig out for the site hut. Fortunately the soil is quite good quality and we have been able to use it to help level out part of our garden ready for sowing grass seed. As our current house will become a second Gite it is important to sort out the garden so it is family friendly and has time to mature – plus it is good to get working outside again! We will get the timber ordered for the site hut this week and get the concrete base laid.

We are also undertaking re-draw number....!! The desire and will to build is stronger than ever, but the costs have always been a major concern and we are now looking at the possibility of buying the timber and making the frame ourselves. It means we will go from a full two storey house to single storey with rooms in the roof. This will make it easier for us to build and allow us to take more time over the construction, spinning out the money we have available. We have agreed a new layout and are now slowly sorting out the details so we can get some prices for the frame materials and make the necessary comparison to the price we have from the frame manufacturer. We had originally planned to construct the frame ourselves, but the relatively low price for the frame and erection seemed too good an opportunity as it would have meant that progress would have been initially very rapid. Perhaps taking it a little slower will ease some of the financial pressures and make the whole process more enjoyable.

We will publish the new plans here next week as we continue to revise all the major elements – windows, ventilation system, etc – and prepare a new project budget. Such fun!!

20 February 2011

Two steps forward – one back!! Unfortunately my attempt at injecting a dose of realism into the latest shed building exercise has fallen flat. After cutting loads of fat off the design the nice people at Bricomarche priced the shopping list at over 3,000 euros – what!! As the wife said, at that price we would have to move in! Okay, we could shave some off that by shopping around, but clearly it will have to be much simpler to be anywhere near affordable – it’s just a shed at the end of the day!! So more pruning is required, perhaps to make it more like the sheds you can buy off the internet – hard to take, but we must keep as much as possible for the real build later in the year!!

At least the weather is making us feel that spring is on its way – the primevère or primroses are gracing the verges and the trees are showing that they too are coming back to life. The warmth is encouraging us to get working on the field, aka the site, getting the grass down to manageable height, trimming the hedges and starting to plant some fruit trees. We will be self-sufficient at some point in the future!!

7 February 2011

The energy has returned as we come out of our January hibernation – although the priority now is to get the site office built – aka a large shed! 

Originally we had designed the shed to echo the house – an opportunity to practice building a timber frame from scratch.  But now that we are getting the house frame from the UK the need for practice just can’t be justified on cost grounds, so we have trimmed down the size of the timbers and put a flat roof on it!  We will still clad it in what we are thinking of for the house – shiplap larch boarding – and use an opaque wood stain, so there will be some useful experience to be gained. Ordering the materials over here will also be worthwhile as it will give us a better idea of some of the costs of the materials here in France against the UK.  After the build it can become a workshop, so real benefits all round!

We are lucky to have a retired French electrician as our neighbour.  Main benefit is that he can ensure we are following French regulations of course, but he is also preparing the schedule of fittings, wiring, etc, that we need so we can shop around for the best price.  Unfortunately most electrical wholesalers will only offer discounts to registered electricians, so we will get prices from Brico-Marche and Leroy Merlin – although using the Anglo-Info community may throw up some other options.  It’s just a shame that buying in the UK is not an option!!  Hopefully our neighbour will also help wire up the main board – now that is quite an art!!  We will have to have the whole installation certified by the Consuel in Caen before EDF will give us the final connection – up to that point we will have to make do with a site connection, which is okay although limited in power terms.  At least we will be able to run the whole house ventilation system early and dry the house out before we lay the timber flooring, as it takes very little power to run the fan.

31 January 2011

Great news – the EDF contractor has connected the new cable to the overhead lines, so the box on the edge of the site is live!! Yippee!! Electricity is now available.

Okay, so it’s just a small thing – but it does remind us that it is a live project and although it is difficult to get motivated at this time of year (our major priority is keeping warm!), the house build is slowly moving forward!

One of the complications that needs some thinking time is the split between buying as much as possible in the UK, with their cheaper prices – against local sourcing, with benefits if anything goes wrong and using local tradesmen, which always goes down well with the French!

A lot of the major items are settled – the frame, windows and whole house ventilation system will come from the UK, whilst the ground-works and roof will be by local, French guys. But it’s the smaller items, like the sanitary-ware that in our minds is cheaper and better quality in the UK, but you have to factor in the cost of collection and slightly different sizes, etc. However, we have completed three major renovations since 2004 and used a local plumber to buy most of the fittings and install them. He fitted units from Jacob Delafon that are pretty good quality and not too expensive.

One difference of note is that plumbing merchants in the UK will happily offer discounts to the list price, whilst over here French plumbing merchants generally only offer discounts to registered plumbers, not self-builders! We will, of course, push for their best price – but there is a bit of work to do in that area to get the overall cost of the sanitary-ware as low as possible. We will give you all the prices and specifications when the final decision is made!

By the way, whilst we were relatively happy with the work of our local plumber, we won’t be using him on this project as he will be too expensive for our meagre budget!! We can fit most of the pipework ourselves and put the various fittings together, so all we will need is a tame plumber to do the important connections and make sure all the work is to the relevant standards.

The key to a self-build project is that you have the time not the money, so take as long as is needed to do a good job, rather than pay someone else to rush it!!

23 January 2011

January – a month to forget. Cold and wet and miserable.
Yet if we make 1000 months in a lifetime we are doing well.
So why treat every January so indifferently?
Perhaps it is the lure of the roaring log fire – so much better to watch than the repeats on TV.
Perhaps we long for the first signs of spring flowers in the hedgerows and wish our lives away.
Perhaps it's the survival gene that makes us slow down and conserve food and energy in the winter.
Perhaps it is the thrill of yet another diet that keeps the comfort food locked away - although the early signs are promising.
February – now that’s a month that is ready to get us going ... hopefully!

11 January 2011

Bonne année to all our readers and apologies for the quiet period. We had a family few weeks, firstly over Christmas and New Year in Ireland with our son and his wife, then here with my cousin from the Charente region of France. Normality has now returned and we can refocus on the house build, with lots still to finalise, especially relating to the budget.

Our original budget of 150,000 € was quickly swallowed up by the first scheme. It eventually looked like nearer 250,000 € and would have required us to borrow the extra 100k. This was clearly not an option for semi-retired folk so we started the painful process of chopping out a large chunk of the scheme. The second scheme brought the cost down by around 70k, but left us wondering if it was even worth building the house as it left out much of our original requirements. Fortunately scheme three – to build the house in two phases – seems to have resolved the budget impasse. The latest budget assessment is putting the cost for Phase 1 at around the 150,000 € mark – just about affordable and darn good value for money for a 190 sq m new build! But ... and there is always a “but” when looking at a new build budget breakdown ... there are quite a few costs that are still estimates or basic guesses! For example, I have absolutely no idea how much the scaffold is going to cost or even if I can find a French company that can erect it in the sequences required by the timber frame guys.

So the task for the next couple of weeks is to get out and about to try and tie down as many of the outstanding costs as possible. I just hope that some will come in below my current guesstimate and give us a little bit more contingency!

It is amazing how small events can be so exciting – the firm employed by EDF has laid the cable for our electricity supply. The first real sign that the new house is going to happen!!

They have taken the cable from the post in our neighbour’s garden and round the front of their house to the corner of our plot. Great to see, apart from the disruption and muck our neighbours had to face – but they do understand that this had to happen at some time and the guys who did the work were very good. Unfortunately our neighbours have developed the bank at the side of the road into an attractive shrub border and the trench has taken out some of their roses, whoops!! We will buy her a load of replacements when we go over to the UK in the spring.

As always France does things her own way and our contribution to the cost of the new supply is limited to a fixed amount per metre, with the remainder being provided by the Commune. The local council had to debate and approve this expenditure which added a few months delay to the planning approval, but it did show the level of support for our proposal in the local community. We have just paid out around 750 euros – half our contribution – with the remainder due when they have finished I guess. Presumably the Commune gets an amount from central government for improving the local electricity and water infrastructure – it does give us good feelings when they decide to spend some of it on the mad English!!

12 December 2010

It is one of those great things about life – when something comes up unexpectedly and changes everything (well ... changes quite a lot at least!).

Next May – all being well – we will become grandparents!! At last we cried! Our son and his wife were able to tell everyone a week ago when we were all in England with the family, such great news! Fingers crossed all goes well.

To add to our excitement our daughter informed us that she is getting married around the same time, so loads of work for her parents and an inevitable delay to the house build ... well, what else could we do!

We will now start with the ground-works and foundations in April and have the frame erected in June. The three months delay may cause a problem with our aim to start living in the house by Christmas – but as we haven’t nailed down which Christmas, we have a little leeway!!

Now to use the extra time usefully and try to get focussed again on the budget, outstanding suppliers, construction details and, most importantly, what colour the external boarding is going to be (oh, and the kitchen units, flooring, staircase, porch ... the list goes on!!).

3 December 2010

After returning late Tuesday from a great week in Peterborough with our family, we thought we had left the worst of the weather in the UK - wrong!! Last night we got over 12 inches of snow and now the temperature has dropped to around minus 4 degrees, so thanks guys ... but can you please stop sending us your weather problems!!! I guess we have to admit it does make the countryside very pretty, especially once we have got the wood in and lit the log fire - such bliss!

Our lane looking pretty - pretty tricky!

Prices have come in for the frame and the whole house ventilation system for the reduced scheme - both excellent! The guys supplying the ventilation system can also supply the underground air pipework and fittings so that's another problem sorted and another element of the build that the French companies have lost - they just don't want to work with a self-builder. Unless you are a registered artisan forget it - very strange attitude. The roofing cost for the reduced scheme wasn't quite as low as I was hoping, but it is difficult to know just what every item on the quote relates to, so still very happy with the cost and the local roofer - our excellent Monsieur Robine. As this is the third roof he has worked on for us we must be one of his best customers!

Decision day is nearly here as we need to place some orders before Christmas to ensure a start on site in March - watch this space for the next exciting update!

6 November 2010

Ground Floor reduced 3

31 October 2010

It's interesting to hear people's views of our proposed house design - not the appearance of course (as if they would do anything but praise that!), but the whole concept of an air-tight construction with continous ventilation and heat recovery appears to generate a lot of confusion!

To explain: taking the winter months - the idea is based on the principle that normal living produces warmth. For example, first thing in the morning taking a shower, making a cup of tea or using the grill to make toast for breakfast - all produce heat and by retaining this heat through having lots of insulation and recovering it from the air handling unit (over 90% efficient), we will be able to maintain a decent temperature thoroughout the house. The air handling unit also replaces the air in the house so we always have fresh air - removing any nasty whiffs and moisture! As the air handling unit takes very little electricity - just a small fan -it is a very low energy system. Great for when we are retired!

Also, we will bring the fresh air in via long underground ducts, so it will be heated in the winter (the ground at 1m deep never gets very cold!) and cooled in the summer. So in the winter and summer months we would be daft to open the windows too often - but in the spring and autumn when the outside temperatures are okay opening the windows is no problem - well, so long as there aren't too many flies about!!

It is a well tested and proven system - some of the PassivHaus houses in Germany don't need any supplementary heating, even in their very, very cold winters! Impressive! However, you will notice a log burning stove on our plans - Jo has insisted on including one in the lounge ...just in case! To be fair it is great to snuggle up in front of a roaring log fire, although we may find it makes the house too warm!

Anyway - back to finalising the quantities for the build as we await the revised prices for the structure, windows, roof and groundworks. A start early March next year is looking good!! Watch this space!


11 October 2010

Well everyone, the new house saga rumbles on! The reduced plans still gave us budget problems and we are on reduced scheme no 3! The problem we have is that with not a lot of income we can't justify a loan - can't justify it or pay it back!! So we are looking at a two phase build. Phase one - starting on site March next year to miss the worst of the winter weather - will just include a good sized master bedroom suite and craft room upstairs, with a separate lounge and kitchen/diner downstairs. Then in a couple of years we will build phase two which will have two more bedrooms over a double garage and workshop. Much simpler plan form so we hope the revised quotes will finally match the funds available! We will post the new drawings later in the week.

In the meantime we have managed a wonderful week away in Northern Ireland, staying in a wonderful cottage close to the Giants Causeway. Despite a couple of wet days, including a massive downpour that flooded the roads, we managed lots of long walks and really enjoyed the beautiful coastline. Definitely worth a return trip, hopefully staying in Ruby Stove Cottage again.

That has kick-started our walking and we managed a 2 hour walk along the river from Candol to St Lo yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny day, ideal for a fast stroll in the french countryside!

Just a nice view of a large chimney by the river in St Lo!


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