All summer and autumn I pestered the builders about the roof to no avail. So November came around and we found a house to rent in the village for the winter, which has made our lives so much more comfortable. Then out of the blue on the 12th of November, I got a text that said, “We start Tuesday”. And sure enough, on Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock sharp, they walked down the field to the back of the house, said hello and started taking tiles off the roof. Since then, we’ve been working non-stop when the sun has been shining and resting on our laurels when it’s been raining.
The first two weeks we had good weather – and it was exhausting! But with two paid workers, Dave and I and some help from our friend Jules, we got things done pretty quickly. The tiles came off, the slatted wood came off, then the old beams were removed and the shelf above the balcony came out. Before we knew it, two huge new beams were being installed on the front corners and it was time to put the whole thing back together again.
First tiles coming off
And then there was light!
Tile piles getting big
Old beams to come out
Front getting dismantled
New corner beams going in
Chainsawing to fit
The two main sides of the roof were relatively simple and the new beams went in fast, getting chocked up or chiselled into the old side beams as required to make them all level. Then we put a huge new beam in at the front and replaced the shelf above the balcony.
New beams side 1
New beams side 2
Shelf above balcony
Shelf above balcony
Next up was the front part of the roof, which proved to be more difficult. This is where the old roof used to have a steep section then a less steep section to allow it to come out further than the side corners and shade the balcony whilst still lining up with the two sides. The builders were intent on having it all come down at one angle, but still have it line up with the sides and come out as far as before. Clearly this was a physical impossibility. Dave was away that day getting the MOT and the two builders called for ‘Grandad’ (a seasoned roofer) to come and help. This meant that I was alone on the roof with three Spanish builders trying to explain to them why the beams wouldn’t sit straight with each other. They didn’t get it. Instead, they kept trying ridiculous solutions that didn’t work, then scratching their heads and saying how strange this bit of roof was. [ARGH!]
After some time, they finally agreed on a solution so bizarre I couldn’t even explain it if I wanted to, but that involved re-chocking one entire side of completed roof and setting one of the front beams squint instead of square to the front of the house. “Yes I think that’s the best thing to do”, said Duran to the other two, “even though we’ve angered the blonde one.”
And so they went about putting the front beams on and I tried to shake off my anger and help because that would be the quickest way to find out whether it was going to work or not. As the afternoon wore on, we cut and placed beams and watched the front part of the roof take on its predicted Pringle-like form as the builders scratched their heads, at a loss as to how this could be happening. [Sigh]
The problematic front of roof
The next day I was able to approach things more rationally and could see that the new front section did in fact give us more room inside whilst still providing the same amount of shade to the balcony. Most of the distortion was minimal and wouldn’t be visible in the end, so the only problem was that the last two beams at each end stuck up a lot more than the others, which looked rather odd. I suggested that they be chiselled into the big beam, the builders agreed and everyone was happy with the outcome. Phew.
The most boring part was doing the walls. On three sides, the stone walls had to be raised up around the joists to make the whole thing weather-tight. We spent a few days mixing lime mortar, hauling rocks and building up the walls.
Building up stone walls between beams
After that, the next step was to add the ‘sandwich’. These are panels made of three stuck-together layers. The bottom layer is wood panelling, the middle layer is insulation, the top layer is chipboard. It’s fast to put on, gives you an instant finish inside and an outside surface that’s ready to tile. Ours has 8cm insulation instead of the typical 2 or 3, which will serve us well in summer and winter.
Nobody here seems to understand why we’re spending more than is typical here trying to insulate our roof properly. We keep getting asked why we’ve opted for such fat sandwich insulation, or for triple-glazed roof windows. To me it just seems obvious! An extra 800€ now (maybe 5% of the total cost) and we will have to chop less firewood every single year. Of course if you had a big house and all those numbers got doubled or tripled, that’s a different matter! But luckily we have a small house that we can afford to do well.
Once the sandwich was on, there was a gap in the apex to fill neatly with little bits of sandwich – that was a precision job for Dave that took all day. In the meantime, the builders were fitting the gutters and nailing down waterproof under-tile material called onduline. They got one side done before it started raining and we had to cover the roof in tarps and have a week off.
First side went well
Second side going on
From inside (with light coming in from gap in apex)
Apex gap sealed
Side gutters done
First onduline going down
Just in time for the rain!
Cover up that corner!
Just when I was marvelling at how fast things were going, it was time to fit the first Velux roof window. This was pretty much an all day job. It started with the builders doing it how they always do it, us looking at it and then deciding that wasn’t how we wanted it done. Dave was getting frustrated because he found their work style infuriating and couldn’t communicate with them. He kept getting the Velux booklet out and pointing at the instructions, to which Duran would say “That book is filled with a thousand lies”, or “Oh my god if he gets that booklet out again…!” Although this was all rather amusing, I was getting tired of Dave’s attitude and on top of that, our new window looked like shit. Over lunch, Dave and I agreed on what we wanted and decided we’d ask for it to be changed.
Thankfully Duran was receptive to our request and we all got on and fixed it together. It ended up looking fantastic and Dave and I were glowing with renewed confidence in our friendly builders and our own decision-making. Hopefully the window on the other side will go a bit quicker.
Once the window was in, we could glue down tiles down all around it. We have opted for new tiles underneath for easier and more waterproof construction, but old tiles on top so that the roof maintains its original rustic aesthetic. Having spent all that extra money on insulation, the builders were very confused about why we weren’t spending a tiny bit extra on more new tiles. But still, by the end of that day, the first of three sides was complete! Yay! Then we looked at the forecast and covered it all up for another week whilst we got our first snow of the season.
First side done
Roof covered in tarps
Charlie was very excited about her first snow experience
The snow melted and the sun came out and we went back to work getting the front waterproof. Guttering, onduline and tiles were installed and then two sides were complete.
Now December has arrived and it has been raining a lot. By the look of the forecast, I think the roof is going to have stay covered in tarps until January, which is a shame because I think with two more days of work we could get it finished. Ah well, such is life – especially if you start work on your roof in mid-November!