I was all set for my next post to be about the progress being made on renovations. Instead it is more a path of discovery.
When I looked at the house, before buying it, the realtor told me that the electrical needed to be brought up-to-date throughout the house. The plumbing, she thought, was okay. There were things I could see that needed to be done and I was quite certain there were also things that I couldn’t see that would need to be taken care of. In addition I noted a few changes I hoped to make in the future.
But the house was habitable which meant I could move in once the sale was complete and save on monthly rent. So I signed the Compromis de Vente to begin the process of buying the house with the sale to be finalized by the end of 2015.
A few new(er) outlets had been installed in the kitchen on the 1st floor and one at the top of the stairs before I bought the house. So after move in I could safely plug in my kitchen appliances plus my extra-long extension cord could be used from the outlet by the stairs for work anywhere in the house.
It may be beneficial to insert a brief description of the situation & construction of the house.
Ma maison: the main house with the addition on the right
The main house is built of stone with the back wall of the first two levels directly against a hill. In such cases it’s not uncommon for a secondary wall to be constructed in the interior, with a small gap between it and the stone wall, allowing for some circulation of air to ward off damp problems.
Each floor is supported by large beams running from the front to the back of the house. This includes the ground floor whose beams are raised slightly above the bedrock. A small section of bedrock was hollowed out to form a cellar.
The ground floor has two large rooms. When the house was built one room was used as a workshop, atelier, and the other as a showroom, magasin, where furniture was made and sold.
The original house had an outdoor loo and evidently exterior stairs from the street to the first floor, the main residential area. The second floor was used as an apartment. Possibly the owners parents had lived there. Above that is a full attic.
Later, an addition was built at the side of the house. It comprises an interior stairway and garage, with an indoor toilet, bathroom, storage closet and bedroom above.
Fast forward – past the clean-up (the house had been vacant for at least a couple of years), the heating going out twice (January and then February), discovering a drainage leak at the back wall of the garage, and past determining some necessary changes in the kitchen – to finally beginning the electrical updates.
The electrician was scheduled to start his work 31 May 2016 to get the wiring up to current standards. He worked a day or two each week during breaks on another larger job he was working on.
The plumber was scheduled to start the week of June 20th. In theory this would have allowed for interaction with the electrician to get an instant hot water heater installed in the 2nd floor kitchen so I could use that sink for dishes and food prep. Once that sink was functioning he could remove the sink from the current 1st floor kitchen allowing me to take down the remaining paneling.
As I said this was in theory. As it turned out the plumber delayed his start date by three weeks which didn’t allow for interaction with the electrician.
Although the water heating unit above the sink had been plumbed in, it wasn’t wired in, so it couldn’t be used yet. The electrician was going to be away on holiday so it would be a while before he could connect it and I didn’t want to be without hot water in my alternative kitchen.
That meant the sink in the existing kitchen couldn’t be moved which meant that I couldn’t finish removing the paneling, rebuild the frame, relocate the electrical outlets and reinstall the sink before the arrival of guests in August.
So instead of stressing over the renovation, or lack thereof, I focused on redoing all the cleaning from the mess that the electrical and plumbing updates had created. Then I took a well-deserved break to enjoy Winnie & Elaine’s visit – which I thoroughly did!
After my friends left it was time to turn my focus back to my house.
I took some time to survey where I had left off and determine what I thought my next steps should be.
I attempted to attach a plug and new cord to the water heater but I didn’t have all the necessary tools. It required a small star screwdriver which I didn’t have. So I was at a standstill on that front.
To maintain some level of productivity I decided to remove the secondary back wall of the Magasin on the ground floor.
2nd floor sink with instant water heater
Colin was back in town so he came by and was able to finish connecting the water heater. This turned out to be a good thing because it didn’t heat the water as connected so he was able to determine how the unit needed to be adjusted to make it work properly.
He also disconnected the sink in the kitchen so I could, again theoretically, proceed with the work there.
I did make a little progress, I got the remainder of the paneling down. I also decided to remove the half-wall between the kitchen and séjour, living/dining room, and replace it with a freestanding work surface.
The Emmaüs shop in Brive-la-Gaillarde is open on Thursdays. Since I wanted to look for some furniture for possible use in the kitchen I took a day off to go shopping.
I was able to find a lovely armoire and a couple of bed side tables, but nothing suitable for the kitchen. They deliver (for a small fee) but they tend to be booked up so the delivery was scheduled for 21 October.
Before going shopping I did some serious measuring; looking for all the potential obstacles to be certain the furniture could be maneuvered to where I wanted it.
The armoire was quite tall and the only obstacle would be an interior window above a door at the top of the stairs. Since the delivery date was over a month away that should have allowed plenty of time to remove it. Should have!
The window safely down
I received a call from Emmaüs the following Tuesday afternoon to say that they would have a van in my area on Thursday and asked if I would be home. Between concentrating on understanding and being understood in French along with being happy about getting the furniture sooner I forgot about the window. That is until I walked out of the bedroom, looked up, and thought “Oh no”.
I sent Colin a text to see if he would be able to bail me out of the predicament I’d gotten myself into. He came by Wednesday and was able to remove the window, intact, which allowed space for the height of the armoire. And it worked wonderfully when it was delivered.
Armoire – in the bedroom
The following Friday I was cleaning the armoire. The front door has a full mirror that is quite heavy. I had the door open and was preparing to vacuum the bottom. I pulled out the bottom drawer to clean behind it. The armoire began to slowly tip forward. I tried to push it back but it was far too heavy for me. Thank God it tipped toward the side and wedged itself at about a 45 degree angle between the wall and the deep window frame for the balcony doors. Had it gone straight forward it would have landed on top of me. It left me a bit shaken but also grateful for my narrow escape. God has given me the most awesome guardian angel ever!
My neighbor, Mathieu, was able to come and help get the armoire upright and put a couple of shims under the front legs to stabilize the piece.
Neither the mirror nor the window were broken and there are just a couple of nicks on the window frame and the top of the armoire; a little of the trim around the mirror can use a bit of glue.
I came away with a couple of bruises and a wrenched muscle in my back which only hurts when I move certain ways.
Since my back didn’t like it much if I pulled hard on something the removal of the frame in the kitchen was again delayed.
So it was back to the magasin. Some of the floorboards near the back wall I had removed were not in very good shape so I decided to take them up to see what was under them.
The back of the beams – the ones that go into the stone wall that is against the hill – the beams that support the floor – have severe dry rot.
A 1st floor beam with dry rot
I knew what I had to do next, so after several deep breaths, I marched up stairs to pull up some floorboards along the back wall of the kitchen. And there I found a similar problem only not quite as serious.
As it turns out all the delays have led to discovery. Had I not found the problems I would have built a frame, put up paneling and had the sink reinstalled in the kitchen above partially rotted beams – and that would not have been good.
Finishing the kitchen will require some additional work to replace the rotted portion of the beams and floorboards above that section. It will take some extra time, and cost a little more money but it will only need to be done once.
As for the magasin I have a couple of options: partial beam replacements or pour concrete; the latter will probably be the less expensive option. The cement floor can be covered with wood to maintain an authentic look.
There were also a couple of delays in taking some of the renovation rubble to the déchetterie (tip or dump, depending upon whether you speak English or American). Another good thing, as it turns out I may be able to use the rubble myself to fill in gaps before pouring concrete for the magasin floor.
I plan to add a second toilet and possibly a shower on the 2nd floor. (Those beams should be fine as that part of the building isn’t against the hill.) I’m thinking about taking down the small portion of wall necessary to complete that task before proceeding with other work – just in case there is some new discovery lurking.
I still love my house and Uzerche. And I’m finding retirement anything but boring.
God is good!