Sunday, 28 February 2016

Renovation project - We are warm again

Renovation project - We are warm again

Today is such a happy day, the chimney guys arrive on time and set to work efficiently, I'm so happy, we are going to be warm again.

We leave them to it and in a couple of hours they come to let us know the new flue is installed. He will come back in a couple of days with the invoice.

This is really important. If you have work completed by an artisan (professional) you must keep the devi (quote) and the invoice as you will need these for your dossier (file) if you ever come to sell.

These documents prove that the work has been completed to standard and are your guarantee.

Once they leave we notice that there is some charred wood on the drive this has obviously come from inside the chimney (we ask him when he calls with the receipt) and he confirms that the wood was in the top of the chimney, this could've been very dangerous had it not been removed, we had no idea that it was there.

The living room is put back together and the fire is lit. we have some warmth!

Top tips:

  • If you have work completed by an artisan, keep the devi and the reciept
  • These are your guarantees and will be required if you sell the house within 10 years
  • If you are tax resident, you can include certain items on your tax return for ECO purposes and a possible partial refund

Friday, 26 February 2016

Renovation project - Choosing the perfect flooring

Renovation project - Choosing the perfect flooring

The house is coming along quite quickly, but we have a dilemma on our hands. Namely the kitchen, at the moment we have the old sink unit and the temporary cupboards that John made, but it is time to start thinking about what we want it to look like.

We had thought about having the same kitchen as before with handmade wooden cupboards, but this house can lend itself to a more contemporary kitchen.

Our biggest stumbling block is the floor, at present we have a tiled floor that flows from the kitchen into the living room, this is not attractive and reminds me of a public toilet!

We need to find something that looks good, but is also durable.

We consider real wood, but will need to stain it to get the colour that we want, I really like tiles, but we would like to have something that is warm underfoot.

This gives us three options, vinyl, laminate or engineered hardwood. We begin our search for the perfect flooring, as there is so much available it is hard to know where to begin, the internet is always a good start, but how will we know what it is like from a photo on the laptop?

A big tip, is to find an online store that will send free samples, we found one that has a great selection of flooring with up to 6 free samples called

By looking at a site like this you can gain good ideas for what you want to do, we want a covering that will look good in both the kitchen and living room. This site not only sends samples but has photos that will show what it will look like when fitted, these photos come from satisfied customers (which is always a good sign)

Here is an example of what the flooring can look like, and it flows from kitchen to living room, this means we can see exactly what the end result will be like,

Photo courtesy of
We still have some time to make up our minds about what we want, but hopefully soon we will go from this

to something like this!

Photo courtesy of
We now have a much better idea of what is available and the pluses and minuses of each. Engineered hard wood sounds the ideal covering as it is more durable than real wood but due to its layered, cross-ply construction, there is added stability giving the opportunity to install in locations not typically suitable for solid hardwood, such as a basement or other humidity-prone areas of the home.

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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Renovation project - I'm feeling better so it's time to go back to work

Renovation project - I'm feeling better so it's time to go back to work

I wake up feeling better and decide I need to change my mindset, I can do nothing about the family worries here, other than be available on the phone when needed. I need to get something done and see a difference for my benefit, I know John has been doing lots, but I need to do something

As john is working on a hundred different jobs, I set about scraping the walls in the living room ready to decorate.

This is a dirty horrible job, but it is essential before painting, if you do not remove all the loose flaky paint it will come off whilst you are adding your fresh paint

The ceilings are so high, I have to climb to the top of the ladder, this means I have completed an eight hour step class by the time I have finished.

It is up and down the ladder all day and moving it bit by bit to get all of the walls completed. But once finished it looks so much better and cleaner.

The walls are not completely flat and John starts to talk about plastering them to make them look perfect, this is a conversation we have had so many times, I do not want perfect walls we do not live in a new build, I want the old walls, the house should not be perfectly flat, I really think it would take something away from it.

We leave the discussion as always, with lets wait and see how it goes.

By the evening, I am knackered, I don't think there is a bit of me that doesn't ache, but I do feel a lot better, I have done something and I can see the difference.

My sad mindset is diminishing and I can see the light again, as I said you will have bad days doing a project like this, but as long as you don't allow the bad days to take over, and focus on the good things, you will enjoy it (well for 95% of the time anyway)

Monday, 22 February 2016

Renovation project - I feel like I have been run over by a steam roller

Renovation project - I feel like I have been run over by a steam roller

See original image
Picture courtesy of
This morning I wake up and feel like I have been run over by a steam roller, I'm not sure why, but I do not have the energy or will power to do anything, everything suddenly seems very overwhelming.

I have a couple of worries over family members and I can do nothing about it, I'm cold and we are living in a hovel.

I know I have my inside toilet again and this is wonderful, but for some reason today all I want to do is cry.

I have a letter from the local impots and I don't fully understand it, I can't remember which house it was delivered too as it had been shoved into a bag.

I have my tax to sort out, and this seems to be more difficult than usual, I have still not received anything from de-registering my business.

Everything is just a little to much today, John is busy working on the electrics and I am supposed to be decorating the rest of the living room, but I just can't bring myself to do it, and that familiar question keeps raising it's head, what the hell are we doing, and why are we doing it again.

These days hit you every so often and you will not be prepared for them. I know the feeling will pass but at the time, the world is not it's normal happy place.

I manage to work out what the problem is with the impot letter,, they want to know the details of the property so that the taxe d'habitation can be worked out. I can do this another day now that I know it is not essential.

I will contact a company to find out about my business, and tomorrow I will wake up full of beans, after all the chimney guy called to day to arrange to fit the new flue, so at least the house will be warm and start to dry out.

These days will happen, they don't last long and I will get over them, but when it is happening, that steam roller is not nice.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Renovation project - Living in a hovel

Renovation project - Living in a hovel

As we have no fire in the living room, it is not a warm place to sit. Upstairs seems to be a lot warmer than downstairs. I say this in the loosest sense of the word.

We clean out the bedroom that we have already painted and move the suite upstairs, it really is quite cosy, and surprisingly warm!

We clean the house again, it is unbelievable how much time you spend cleaning, especially when there is so much work going on. But the dust is relentless and can make you feel dreadful.

This is one of the things the TV shows don't show you, how your days are spent constantly cleaning, in what feels like a relentless but pointless activity. No matter how much you clean, you are still living in a building site that will resemble a hovel for some time, no matter how house proud you may feel, you know when people visit they are looking around you and wondering how you can live in so much dirt, they have no idea that hours are spent everyday, getting the hovel to look this good!

Our little garden area is starting to resemble a tip, but we may as well wait until we have a good
amount before taking it away, as it is not really in the way.

But no matter how bad things are, John will not miss the football match!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Renovation Project - We have a toilet

Renovation Project - We have a toilet

The house is still cold and using the downstairs toilet is awful, yes it may be inside, but it is the equivalent of having an outside toilet, as it is in a small extension at the back of the house. it is also not very nice, with the damp, mould and peeling paint, so we are starting our new bathroom today.

This will be upstairs between the two bedrooms.

The first thing is to look where the doors will go, as it is a small landing and we will need a new door opening into the bathroom, luckily it works out ideal (it is not often you can say that when renovating!)

The first job is too remove the old walls and make a space for the new bedroom door this does not take long as the old wall is just made of clinker brick.


top of the stairs
Bedroom 1
Bedroom 2

John starts measuring the size of the room, we will have to take space from both bedrooms.

He builds the first wooden frame and adds plaster board to it, he shouts me up to look at it, and to be honest you cannot tell that the space has been taken from the bedroom.

I ask is it worth taking so little space for the wall, and John agrees, he then shouts me back up and says we have not taken a couple of inches, we have taken the L shaped bit of the bedroom.

This is when you know it is right, when you don't realise you have changed it and it looks like it has always been there.

We put the bath and toilet in to make sure everything looks good and the room is not too small.

Everything fits perfectly, it will not be the biggest bathroom, but then it is only a two bedroom house (and there is always the downstairs toilet)

The plaster board is fitted to most of the walls, but as there is no light, the wall to the stairs is left open for now.

Not many people choose to have an open plan bathroom, but heck it is so much better than the one we are currently using.

The most exciting bit of today is the toilet is going to be fitted. I can not describe the sheer joy and depth of emotion at having an indoor toilet and bathroom. This is something that is so often just taken for granted, but once you do not have them, nothing compares to that feeling.

John has to work out where the soil pipe is going to ensure it has enough fall. This is easier than he expected.

The soil pipe goes along one of the beams in the living room and he now has to go through the outside wall. Not really a problem normally, but the walls are made of granite and are approx 600mm thick.

John starts trying to get through the wall, we expect this to quite some time, but there are some large rocks that come out quite easily (I can say this as I am not doing the work!) and we are outside in no time (well in no time for this France!)

The soil pipe is installed and fitted to the main pipe.

We have a working toilet inside the house, not finished but usable for the night time. It is rather open plan so not for use by visitors and a bucket is needed to fill it up as the water has not been connected, but we no longer have to go outside during the night, it is such a happy day.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Renovation project - Designing a dream bathroom

 Renovation project - Designing a dream bathroom

We have to think about the new bathroom we are going to add to the house, we are in a lucky position as this will be a completely new bathroom (there was not one there before).

But this can bring its own problems.

What do we want in the bathroom?

How big will the room be?

What style do we want?

These questions can be a little overwhelming at times, as we need to make a decision. We have an idea of what we would like, we want to be modern with a look of traditional (not an easy feat)

One way of getting a feel of what you can do, is to look at different sites on the internet for ideas.

There are plenty out there, but make sure you look at quality sites that can provide a good service if you decide to use them.

One such site is, these have some fantastic looking bathrooms and have a comprehensive collection of contemporary and traditional bath furniture.

Photo courtesy of
The main photo is what I dream of for my bathroom, but, as we do not overlook the ocean this is not possible, but it does give us an idea of what we can do, we have a large window with views over the forest. We had decided to put a walk in shower in the bathroom, but after looking at this photo, the idea of lying in the bath enjoying the view, is just too appealing.

Because our bathroom will be quite small, it is important not to overcrowd it and try to be as minimal as possible.

Another good way to do this is to have a floating sink unit, this way you can still see the floor, but have all you require in the room, here is a good example from
We now have a good idea of what we are going to have in the bathroom, it may not be my exact dream bathroom but it will be the next best thing, and when I think of me lying in the bath looking over the roof tops and the forest, I just can’t wait.............

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Monday, 15 February 2016

Renovation project - Do I need planning permission for new windows in France?

Renovation project - Do I need planning permission for new windows in France?

As the house is so cold and damp, replacing the windows has become a priority. This is something I have not been looking forward to as it means I have to go to the Mairie to apply for planning permission.

I arrange what I am going to say in my head and set off.

I ask for an appointment to speak to the planning officer and I'm asked what for. I reply that I want to replace the windows as they are rotten and old, I'm asked if I want PVC and quickly explain that no, I want traditional wooden windows, I'm asked what colour I want them and reply, white, I explain that I want them to look exactly the same.

At this point the secretary starts to speak English, I'm shocked I have struggled in here many times and nobody has said more than a couple of words in English.

I ask if I can continue in French as I need to practise, I'm rewarded with a big smile and she says yes that is perfect.

We discuss the windows and I receive the best response ever, we do not need permission if they are to be replaced with exactly the same windows.

I give my thanks and apologise for my broken French, to which she replies, not at all, your French is very good and you made a big effort.

I have said it many times before, as long as you try to speak French most people are extremely helpful and patient.

I leave a happy bunny and more than just a little impressed with myself.

It's a good day and nothing can ruin it until later this evening when I go for a bath and have to sit in our freezing indoor/outdoor bathroom. As I lie down to wash my hair I look up at the ceiling and feel dread at what I can see, and realise the bathroom is now our priority, we need to build one in the house as soon as possible so that I am not looking at the black mould and wondering how much of the paint will fall in on me!

It's amazing how your priorities can change so rapidly!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Renovation project - We have temporary kitchen

Renovation project - We have temporary kitchen

Now we can do no more with the heating we prioritise which job is too be done, we are living in the house which means we have food and utensils in there, we need to have some work space in the kitchen.

John has already bought the wood too make the new kitchen and he sets about measuring up while I am stripping walls.

It is actually far less expensive to make the base units rather than buy them, they are also much better quality as you can use 18 mm melamine, off the shelf at 600 mm wide. It is just a case of cutting them to length and screwing them together. Later in the blog we will show this more clearly in photographs and instructions (for now we just need to be able to use the kitchen)

The work top does not go all the way, there is a small gap, there is also not enough space to have the right size cupboards (I do not want one small one, I want them all equal sizes)

We look at all possibilities and agree on putting a small wine rack either side of the cooker. This will get rid of the problem and give a good looking and practical solution.

This also means that the work top will go right up to the cooker and John can make a piece for the other side.

John sets about making the first cupboard and it seems very high to me, but John says it's OK, as I am holding the side in place it slips and I have my first injury, ow! The corner of a piece of wood really hurts as it its your leg and I have my first big bruise.

The second cupboard is made and we put the work top on, these are only temporary, but I still think they are high, John thinks they are great, but as we look at the cooker, he realises he forgot to leave the measurement for the legs.

So the cupboards are the perfect height for John, but will need to be cut down, John is not a happy bunny, and even less happy that I am telling you about it, but even the best can make simple mistakes sometimes
French Kitchens - renovation project

French Kitchens - renovation project

French Kitchens - renovation project

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Renovation project - I am so cold!

Renovation project - I am so cold!

The fire has started to dry the house out and warm it up, but there is a problem, John noticed a smell and went to investigate.

He has seen that tar has ran down the flue, this is a big problem and means the fire can not be used.

Once it is cooled down he removes the flue and his worst suspicions have been confirmed, there is tar on the flue. The chimney has been swept, he can only assume that the flue is touching the chimney somewhere, this is not something that can be ignored.

The chimney will need a different kind of flue liner.

The problem is that john does not have the equipment to do this, he left all of his big ladders and his cat ladders in the UK some years ago.

We have a choice

We can go and buy everything he needs to do it (which will cost a fortune and never be used again) and risk John going on the roof to complete a 2 man job alone


We can pay a professional to do it

We have no choice, we do not want the risk of John being on the roof, especially as where he would have to climb is very close to next door, so not enough room for a ladder, or closing off the road, and still not having the correct equipment.

We start to look for a professional to do this job and are given the phone number for a french company.

I call and speak to the guy, who does not have a word of English, he says he can come to quote next week, NOOOOOOOO it is so cold.

He agrees to come tomorrow.

We have no choice, we have also contacted another professional and left a message, as we would like to get a couple of quotes.

If you are going to complete and live in a renovation project like this one, you have to be prepared for these problems, it is the middle of winter, it is cold and we have 2 little plug in heaters and are having to use 2 rings on the cooker for heating, this is not the healthiest option, but at least it gives a little bit of heat (and it is only a little bit, we are back to wearing a number of jumpers and fleeces and woolly hats just to sit and watch the TV in an evening!

We have a carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen to make sure we are OK, until I realise it is actually a smoke detector!

But it shouldn't be too long before it is fixed, if the worst comes to the worst I can always turn on the water works with the chimney guy to try and get him to do it quickly!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Renovation project - How heavy is a cord of wood?

Renovation project - How heavy is a cord of wood?

We wake after a wonderful nights sleep, our new bed, mattresses and feather quilts were wonderful, the house is peaceful and has a warm feel to it (this is a metaphorical warm feeling, as physically the house is freezing!)

The fire has been burning but it will take a few days for the house to warm up, it has been empty for so long

I'm pottering around the house when I hear a knock at the door, I go to answer it and there is nobody in sight, I have a look around and the street is deserted, the mist is all around and I can't help but think how creepy everywhere looks. But I know somebody knocked at the door.

Just as I am going to go back in I hear a knock again, I know it isn't at the front door and shout bonjour? Am I shouting at a ghost (my over active imagination has not got any less active!)
but I get an answer, it is Sheila, she is at the back door and has called to let me know the wood delivery called back and they will be here at midday.

I call at the old house to pick up the wheelbarrow, we had left it there as it belonged to the Irish couple a few doors away and we never got a chance to return it.

The wheel is as flat as a pancake, John pumps it up and within minutes it is flat again.

We have a full cord of wood on the road that needs to be shifted. I have said that I will do it, John offers to get a chunk done as it is very heavy work, but as I explain, he can do the electrics and I can move the wood, it may take longer but is the best use of time.

I call at Sheila’s to borrow her wheel barrow, and end up walking through the town square and up the main street with the large bright yellow wheel barrow, if people didn't know the mad English at the top of the road were back, they do now.

It takes some hours to move the wood from the road to stack it in the garage, my back is breaking and I just want too lie in a long hot bath to ease my aching bones, I have no real bath yet (our priories may have just changed in the house!)

I look at my piles of stacked wood and realise I have just moved over a tonne of wood by myself! But I do feel that I have achieved something today, as I admire my neatly stacked wood piles.

a cord of wood in France - renovation project

a cord of wood in France - renovation project

a cord of wood in France - renovation project

a cord of wood in France - renovation project

John has been busy and found out that the consumer unit we bought, that we thought had everything in it, did not and he cannot connect it.

But he has made a start on the kitchen and managed to move the old steel wood burning stove, he really is half man half ox at times, but we are lucky to have his strength when there is only the two of us.

Top tips:

  • A cord of wood is 3 x 1 x 1 metres and should be seasoned wood
  • Make sure you find a good wood supplier, if it is not seasoned and dry, it will not burn as well
  • You can buy the wood in steres (these are approx a third of a cord)
  • It is very heavy and it is usually your job to stack it
  • If you have a small fire, check if you can have the logs cut into smaller sizes (our wood company did this for no extra charge)

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Renovation project - Installing a Wood burner in France

Renovation project - Installing a Wood burner in France

We have given up on buying a fire on line and decide to go to the shops once more to see if we can find one. We are in a local town and see exactly the fire we need, it is the right size to fit in to the fire place and it is a style we both like and the best bit is, it is in the sale with 20 per cent off the price.

We buy it straight away, as I have said before if you see a bargain, buy it, because it will not be there tomorrow.

The next issue is how do we get it home?

We arrange to collect it in the week, so we have time to arrange transport, we no longer have the roof rack. (though this is not recommended, our old car had dents in it for ever after getting our last fire on there!)

Just as we are about too leave we notice our friend Simon entering the shop, talk about good timing, for us not him!

He agrees to take it for us in his little van/car.

We meet him back at the house and they manage to get it in to the house, these fires are unbelievably heavy.

I am upstairs finishing off some cleaning and when I come down, John has somehow managed to lift it and set it in place, I am sure he is super human at times. No person should be able to lift one of these fires on their own.

That is it we have a fire in place, John has swept it so it is ready to use once we have the flue in place.

The day is spent cleaning and sorting out the bed, John fits the flue liner, we have bought the metal tubes, these fit one on top of the other until they reach just outside the top of the chimney stack.

This is the most cost efficient liner and works well, the tubes are sold by most builders merchants and shops that sell fires.

Fitting a wood burner in France - Renovation project

Fitting a wood burner in France - Renovation project

We do not have any wood yet and arrange for a cord to be delivered tomorrow. Our friends let us take a bag of wood from their store so that we can light the fire.

We have a cooker and fridge and we know have the bed. Once we have a mattress it will be time to move in.

Today is a happy day.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Renovation project - Decorating in France

Renovation project - Decorating in France

EDF are arriving today to change the electric meter and up our ampage, John gets to the house for 8 am and I stay at home to have another go at the casserole in the slow cooker, it will have to work at some point!

I join John at the house and he has really cracked on. He has sanded all the walls in one of the bedrooms and has started to decorate. We are painting the whole room white including the wooden ceilings, for some reason most Bretagne houses have wooden ceilings that make the rooms very dark, added to the choice of dark wallpaper the rooms look much smaller and more closed in.

The white paint makes a massive difference already.

This is also French paint, normally we always use English paint as the quality is so much better, but this paint was on special offer when we went shopping and we wanted to see if it had improved.

The paint covers really well, this may be because it is external paint. But we are happy with it, which means no more buying in the UK.

In case you were wondering why we are using external paint, it is because it has anti mould and other things already added to it. This makes the paint more long lasting and durable, especially if you have concrete or stone walls.

This was advice John had received from a master decorator many years ago and has always worked well. But beware the rooms do need to be fully ventilated as the paint fumes can be much stronger.

Decorating in France, renovation project

Decorating in France, renovation project

Decorating in France, renovation project

Ignore the bath in the photos that is just moving around the house until we build a new bathroom

I make a start on removing the tiles in the kitchen and then scraping those walls. The prep for decorating takes so much longer than the actual decorating itself, it is also the worst part, it is dirty and dusty, but necessary, without prepping correctly your decorating will not look good.

Decorating is preparation, preparation and preparation.

We do wonder whether to keep the tiles as they are very retro, but decide against it, we do have a pile though if anybody wants them?

Removing old french tiles - Renovation project

Removing old french tiles - Renovation project

Removing old french tiles - Renovation project

John fits the water heater (it is not fully connected yet) we need some more bits but soon we will have hot water, which means we will be moving in, I am so looking forward too being in the house.

installing an electric water heater in France - Renovation project

I have got the decorating bug now and move on to the other bedroom where I spend an age stripping the wall paper, John pops up to see how I am getting on and asks why I have stripped a wall that is being removed, it is at this point I could scream, I had completely forgotten we were removing this wall, he says it will be easier to knock down without wall paper on, I am not sure if he is just making me feel better, so I take this as a positive with out questioning it.

Decorating in France - Renovation project

Decorating in France - Renovation project

Decorating in France - Renovation project

Decorating in France - Renovation project

And by the way, todays casserole was the most bland meal we have ever eaten, one more attempt and then it is being given away as a present (to some one we don't like very much obviously!)

Top tips:

  • You will hear many people say you need to buy your paint in the UK and bring it with you. but this worked out at a similar price to good quality paint in the UK with no travelling.
  • If you see something on special offer, buy it, as it won't be there on your next visit

Renovation project - Stripping in France

Renovation project - Stripping in France

John spends today clipping the new water pipes in place and fitting the earth to the electric, no easy feat with a metre rod to be put in the ground, through tiles, concrete and earth. But he does it and the electrics are now safe.

The old gas water heater is removed from the wall and the pipe is temporarily blocked, hopefully this will stop some of the cold draughts.

I start to scrap the walls in the utility area, the paint comes off like wall paper, every where is so damp.

I also have another go at making a beef casserole and leaving it cooking in the slow cooker for 8 hours, this has to work today!

But the best part of the day is going for a walk with my friend and her dog, this is what I have missed most about not being in France, we walk though a small hamlet and take a different route into the forest, it is just as I remember it, absolutely stunning, the trees are bare and we get to see a number of houses that can not be viewed in the summer when the forest is lush.

We walk for a couple of hours chatting, now I know I am really home.

When we get back to the little house ready to eat our hearty casserole, all we see is a watery offering with beef that is still tough, we give up quickly and head off to a local bar for burger and chips, not on the diet menu but what can we do?

I am really going to have to get some lessons in this healthy eating/cooking business, it can't keep going so wrong.

But we did find out that if you throw the rubbish stew into a blender, you actually get a very nice beef stew soup!

Now that is what I call recycling