Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The static caravan

Since we are visiting a lot now that things are finally moving on our build, and we traditionally stay at least 20-25 minutes away I decided to see if I could get a static caravan. I found one on ebay, being sold by a couple who had done their place up 50kms away and who were now selling it on. We weren't the winning bidders but I sent an email immediately saying if the sale fell through for whatever reason then to please let us know as we would be keen to purchase it.

The sale fell through and we thought it was fate and meant to be. As proud possessors of a new (old) 3 bedroom static caravan, we haired off to France to check it out. It was sitting on a lovely concrete pad, all ready to go, and we thought, this will be a breeze to get out. We raced off to our local mayor to get permission to house it for a year, rushing through the request as we wanted to move it that weekend. We found somebody to move it and then when they came to look at where they were moving it to - disaster. They said there was no way it would get onto the land through the current access point (which was a tractor trail).

We had to organise with the previous owners to leave it on their land till we could get our driveway done. 6 months later, our driveway was done and we were ready to get the caravan moved. The guy who did our driveway knew a guy who transported stuff and he gave us a very competitive quote. Unfortunately that was the only good thing about the entire move.

We had put a new tyre on one side of the caravan but it wasn't properly blown up, and the other side was completely flat, so when they came to take it away they couldn't drag it. They decided to fill the tyres themselves but they couldn't quite manage it so decided the flat tyres would do the job and tried to bodily drag it.

The tractor they brought with them wasn't strong enough but luckily they knew the farmer up the road with a huge tractor who came down to give a hand (very kindly). Using brute force he managed to get the caravan off the slab, turned around and facing out onto the road but then they realised that they had to have their own tractor pull it onto the transporter as it had to go on first. They disappeared off home to get another tractor. Thankfully they were only 15 minutes down the road. Meanwhile the entry to the little hamlet had been closed off for most of the day and a little french couple thought it was high entertainment and  spent most of that time watching the shenanigans.

Finally they arrived back with their own, larger tractor, pulled the caravan onto the transporter (gouging out the main road and pulling up all corners on the caravan while doing so), only to almost loose it off the side before they got it strapped down.

Meanwhile the next doors neighbours came out to demand that all the grass and soil that had fallen from the bottom of the caravan be cleared away from in front of their house. We set to using our hands and then moving to a space and fork that he provided. Just as well we did as a poor snake had been caught up in the bottom and had fallen out with all the grass and soil. I don't know who was more surprised. Probably the snake.

We finally arrived out our land and got the transporter backed up onto it (breaking our brand new concrete culvert as they did so). As they tried to back the caravan off the trailer bed it came off the side finally and we had to call our builder, who was on his way to a party, to use his JCB to push it back on, causing the siding on the caravan to split when he did so.

Just as the sun was going down, so 11 hours after we got started, the van was finally on the ground, with a buckled tow bar, pulled up edges on four sides, broken siding and axel deep in the soft soil of our land. As it was getting dark we requested that they level it as best they could and we would call it a day and there it has stayed, getting more slanty it seems every time. They did say they would come back and fix the tow bar when we got new tyres so it could be moved into place. At the moment it isn't hooked up to the septic or the water as it is almost impossible to get under it. Plus most of the undercarriage has had bits pulled off while it was dragged around the countryside.

Not sure in the end if it was worth it, but waking up the first morning on the land was almost priceless :)

Full steam ahead

So it has been a very long time since I last blogged - I did have a vague suspicion that perhaps my blogging wouldn't be that frequent. Anyway a whole lot has happened. I think the last time I posted anything we were trying to refinance our house and use the equity to build our straw bale cottage. Well that didn't happen. In the end we decided our best bet would be to save the money up and spread the build out over a few years.

This year we have focused on getting the infrastructure and utilities in. We have our driveway which means we can finally access the land by vehicle and start getting things delivered. The electricity and water has been connected to the boundary and just needs to be piped in. Our septique tank has gone in and we have a static caravan (a story unto itself) on the land now.

In a previous blog I mentioned that the only sticking point we really had with the planning authorities was over the eco sewage system we wanted to use. Because things have taken so long to happen, by the time we got around to putting our septic tank in, a new system had come onto the market. It is by a Canadian company and uses coconut hair as the filtration system. Because it is all natural, once everything has composted down you can, theoretically, plow it back into your land as fertiliser. It only needs emptying every 10 or so years, depending on usage and best of all, it doesn't need a leech field.

In a few weeks our hay shed goes up and as soon as that happens we will order our straw and get that delivered and start getting the doors and windows. It is tremendously exciting and makes everything seem much more in reach.

This means that the biggest cost next year (our new build date) is the roof and we will be saving like mad to make sure we have the funds for that.


Kuech 002 (2) by napcatkuech
Kuech 002 (2), a photo by napcatkuech on Flickr.

Our new driveway is brilliant, finally allowing us access onto the land. It took ages to decide where to put the driveway as there was a fairly hefty bank up onto the land and there was a telephone pole right next to where the existing tractor access was. The solution - put the driveway on the other side of the telephone pole and fill in the tractor access.

sewage system

Kuech 58 by napcatkuech
Kuech 58, a photo by napcatkuech on Flickr.

Coconut fibre sewage system going in

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Movement at the station (or the foundations have gone in)

So I have been very silent for a while. We managed to get our planning permission through once we had resigned ourselves to having a normal fosse septique and put away our eco dreams on that front. That was the only thing holding it up. We went to SPANC near Chabanais and met with a very nice gentleman who spoke quite good English and with his help we got it sorted.

We decided to start the build this year as we only had two years to get started once we got our permission. The beginning of the year started well, with quotes coming in thick and fast. A lot of people hadn't heard of rubble trench foundations before so we ended up going with the most expensive quote we received but we thought it would be worthwhile as the builder was knowledgeable and very interested in green building himself. I have heaps of images which I will put in so you can see the progress of the foundations.

link to pics of rubble trench foundation

Then came a blow - we couldn't get our financing so we decided we would postpone the cottage build and concentrate on the workshop/garage build but then we had another blow - we couldn't get any straw locally because of the  drought the year before and obviously we didn't want to import straw, both because of the ecological and monetary cost. We had committed to building in June so we couldn't access the harvest from this year either. And even when we tried to organise straw after the harvest, bad timing and missed opportunities abounded leaving us in the same position we were previously, without straw.

We are going to try again for our financing next month and if it goes through we will try to get the barn built (where we can store our building materials) and purchase all the roofing materials and other things we find on sale, ready for the build next year.

Our new build date is now September 2013, after next years harvest where we have organised with a local contractor to get local straw, to our specifications which means everything should be in place, ready to go.

We have had heaps of people interested in volunteering and have had to put them off because of the various debacles that have happened. I will contact them all again next year and see if any are interested in coming then.

The silver lining to everything is that it has given me more time to decide on the hot water heating system and to get a bit more organised. I really think that measuring twice and cutting once is a maxim to live by and this gives me plenty of time to 'measure'.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

How to determine roof pitch (in percent)

The Charente seems to have a very unique way of determining the pitch of the roofs in this area.  Once you know how it is done it is easy but until then it seems beyond understanding. It has taken us three goes, two meetings with government appointed architects and four forum postings but at last we have it figured out - we think!

In it's simplest form the roof pitch has to be 35%. To get this you measure one metre from the roof plate inwards, then at the one metre mark you measure 35cm up. The angle that is formed between the 35cm and the 1 metre is the pitch. The narrower your building the higher the pitch. I have attached a drawing to make it easier to understand.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Automated system

I have been away in Florida living the highlife and while I have been away the second meeting with the planning department has taken place and the most wonderful Murray (our architect) and our most wonderful neighbours in Jumeaux have dealt with everything.

The first meeting with the planning department went quite well. Our neighbour in France, Adrian, attended on our behalf. They had four or five points that they raised, namely with the windows and the roof. It seems in the Charente you can only have a maximum of three different rectangular window sizes and we had four. Plus they have to be at least 20 cm taller than they are wide. This was a relatively easy fix. The biggest blow came when they described how to determine the roof pitch and the new pitch is low, very very low, which means that we no longer have a loft or a place to put my lovely cheap ebay round window.

There were a couple of other small issues but on the whole it seemed quite positive and easily fixed. The next couple of days after the meeting were spent in a whirl of organising, translating and changing. We have had to put a proposal forward for our sewage system which was pretty involved and we also decided to put forward a proposal to keep the existing pitch on the roof.

I got all the translating done but hadn't finished getting it checked before we set out on holiday so left Murray with everything which he got finished and sent off. Once he had made all his changes I also emailed the planning department to go with the hard copies we had sent to our local mayor's office (the mayor's office being the first point of contact on all planning issues). It was just as well I emailed the planning department with our changes and proposals as they had not received anything from the mayor's office and the second meeting was done with little A4 printouts of all our changes.

Everything seemed fine in the second meeting except the roof pitch was once again a bit of a contentious issue. It seems that we still did not fully understand how to determine the pitch but after the latest meeting I think that has been resolved and we are going to redo the roof once again. Not as steep as we would like but not as shallow as first feared. I will put the exact details of how to determine roof pitch in the Charente when I finally understand them completely.

We still haven't sent our sewage proposal to the right place but will get to that this week.

On the whole the outlook is very good (oh we can't have a tin roof either and will have to go with local tiles which is not necessarily a bad thing but will require more preparation to make them adequate for water harvesting). We are now looking toward the finishing line - we hope - of the planning process! All I can say is yay :)