Re-roofing a tiny house including carpentry.

Would you be brave enough to buy this? No? Neither would we.

This is the start of a project which was forced upon us some ten years ago. We blame Napoléon. The Napoléonic Code for inheritance still holds good in France. It provides for all issue and states that you may not disinherit any of your children. It also means that your property must be divided equally. This can lead to some interesting anomalies and some pieces of property division are so obscure they are sometimes missed altogether when the sale takes place. We once met a guy, who only found out he actually owned the village football field when the greensmen turned up at his door to ask if they could start mowing the pitch for the beginning of the season.

Preamble - the background history to this project

Like many old vernacular Celtic houses ours is very hard to date. The oldest coin scratched up by the Chicks in the garden is a Louis XIII double tournois from 1615.

Looking back in time from the Bake House
We were told by a local historian, that the ancient granite arched doorway would have been taken from a nearby abbey during the Revolution. Under the Bourbon Restoration priests were sent out to scour the countryside looking for bits of looted architecture but this being at the back in an enclosed garden was no doubt overlooked.

Our little extra item, which doesn't even show on all of the deeds was a lovely little derelict 'Bake House' at the bottom of our garden. In the 19th Century our property was converted from a longère (longhouse farm) to a Post House. At that time it comprised, stables, offices, sleeping accommodation for postilions and a huge kitchen with a fireplace large enough to roast an ox. Our neighbours' house, comprised the Post House restaurant and two other neighbours' homes completed the complex, with the Blacksmith's House and the Forge. The land around which all this accommodation sits came with the property we bought and the little Bread Oven (below), which sadly had swapped its clay oven for some dilapidated rabbit hutches, was included in the deal.

This is what the little house looked like when we first bought the property. Very much in need of a little tender loving care. The house on the left was the Blacksmith's home later converted to two stories and in the distance the large red roof designates the much enlarged ancient Forge.

We had removed the long dead electrical installations and the rabbit sheds. Our time in France, in the ten years before we came to live here permanently, was always spent in and on the garden. Like most of the French, 75% of our day was lived outside, whatever the weather.

The tempest of 1999 destroyed a great raft of tiles, which came off like falling dominoes, all the way along the front of the main house.

These red, post-War terracotta horrors, which had replaced the original thatch, were now themselves recherché. The only emergency option we could come up with, was to remove and swap with those from the Bake House and totally re-tile the latter with new.

With the roof off and all the timbers removed the Bake House had almost disappeared. Now we had to put it back together again and in the right order.

Being in a hurricane was something neither of us had experienced before. The sound was incredible, like the TGV express train permanently rushing through the lane at the front of the house. Sue, having heard from her grandma that during the bombings of WWII, the whole family took shelter under the staircase, we decided it was the wisest choice. When the next morning we found part of the chimney had actually fallen through the roof into the stables we were really glad we did. I think it was not a good idea at the height of the storm, as we were drinking cocoa to the sound of the tiles being ripped from the roof, for me to suggest that we sung the theme tune to 'Titanic'. Actually we had neither of us seen the film but when Sue asked me what I thought we should do next, I'm afraid I couldn't resist.

Renovating a tiny house - an on-going project

Our main criteria for the job was to remove and preserve as many of the tiles as possible and to be really circumspect about the solidity of the old roof timbers. We'd always had a pretty good idea that the carpentry wasn't too brilliant but once we removed the tiles, we realised the full extent of the job. As you can see the main ridge beam was actually split along its length and was sagging. It was, in fact, being held together with a chain twisted as a Spanish windlass, this 'temporary' repair had, by witness of the rust, been effected some many year before. So we ended up starting from scratch, just with the four very solid walls you see at the start of this post. I was happy my years in engineering would give me the grounding for calculating and accomplishing the carpentry work

.....but neither of us were too pleased about the rain...

Pointing the walls with a lime mortar mix requires protective gloves for the hands but the diver's mask and snorkel are entirely optional.

Our cheerful neighbour at the back, kept leaning through the hedge to suggest we demolish the whole lot but we loved this little house and thought it deserved some tlc. That said if we had seen a property like this for sale, we would never have had the courage to touch it, which just goes to show that you never know what you're capable of until you get forced into it. There was one really positive thing going for a job like this and I think it is one reason why so many people love working on tiny houses - low roof! We held on to this thought just until we got up there. We had forgotten that the neighbours' house on the far side of the tiny house was excavated out of the bank. We just didn't look that way too often!

One thing that was slightly worrying was the weight of the new tiles. When they were delivered and had to be moved to the back of the house, Sue found she couldn't carry them in their banded-together state of 6 tiles. In fact she started out only being able to carry a couple of individual tiles at a time. This would mean the job, when we actually came to the tiling, would take longer than we hoped because of the time getting tiles up onto the roof. However day by day she gradually became more and more accustomed to carrying them until when she came to start tiling she was actually carting them up bands in tact. For my part I had to steel myself into going up onto the roof, as I had acquired vertigo from swimming underwater. However, a good ear treatment of hydrogen peroxide and a knowledge that it was raining and that nobody else was going to do the work soon got me going. This is something that the  hurricane taught us, you really have to be prepared to take on every job yourself.

The ridge purlin was lifted into place with a ladder and supported with a rope from outside. Just as we were doing this our neighbour leaned through the hedge to suggest we had cut it too short. My how we laughed!

I cut the timber for the 'A' Frame, jointed and pre-assembled it on the ground, to ensure my measurements were correct! The frame was then dismantled and assembled piece by piece in situ.

There are no conventional foundations to any of these old houses. They are built directly onto bedrock with outer and inner faces of laid stone on clay 'mortar' and between them a 30 cms infill of clay and rubble. There was quite a bit of pointing to be done and a deal of stone work before we could seat in the wall plate. We used lime mortar throughout.

Rafters going on and stone work capped off at gable ends

The oh so happy feeling when you begin to get a cover back on the roof.

Laths being nailed in place.

Fitting a layer of roofing felt provides an additional waterproof barrier - very useful for future hurricanes!

A really good buy from a discount store was this tradesman's waistcoat I wore on the roof. It had pockets for nails and loops for tools.

The first one was the easiest! They had to be bedded into mortar and I was working off a roof ladder.


A few years on....

..and the brash red tiles have mellowed

and the view from the Bake House door has changed too.

To be continued.......

If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, feel free to share it, comment and ask questions.

All the best from Normandie,



Renovating the Tiny House 2 - Sourcing and Using Ecological Materials

You may be eating organic food, exercising, managing your weight and stress levels but you can still, in effect, be being poisoned in your own more

Sourcing and Using Lime/Hemp & Lime/Linen Mortars

Like all organic matter linen and hemp react to their environment so although there are some indications as to the quantities used to make up plaster, there are no more

Using Natural Earth and Mineral Pigments in the Home and Garden 

The Alchemy of Artists' Materials - whether painting a leaf motif or a window frame, it's  so much more fun than opening a tin of more

Mixing and Using Lime Mortar

I’ve used lime mortar a lot in our present house firstly because it is obviously appropriate to a 300 year building, as it is sympathetic to the original build of stone laid on a bed of clay more

© Andy Colley 2014


  1. Great documentation! I can't wait to see what is next!

    1. Neither can we! Stay tuned. We have Visitors coming in May so we are planning to move into the tiny house. Therefore, we need to install a self-build cooker/heater and an opening front window! Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated, Cheers Andy

  2. Glad you made it through! The roof of your tiny house looks fantastic! I also dream of working on my house’s roof myself someday. I hope to do it next month with the help of my friends.

    Santo Caridine

    1. Hi, Thanks for visiting and your comment. Good Luck with your roof. I think starting it was the hardest part but the rewards are great, not only do you get a new roof but also the enormous satisfaction of having done the job yourself! Best Wishes Andy

  3. I find people like you who opt to renovate old yet memorable houses comforting and heartwarming. Not only is it a cost-efficient practice; it is also a good way to preserve the interesting stories that come with the house. You did a great job with it! I bet you do have great stories to share about your memories with your home!

    Linda Wise

    1. Hi Linda, thank you for your comment, I really appreciate it.
      It has been an education to undertake this work. The great thing about working on this property is that there was very little work done on it before so that most of the building fabric comprised of the stone and clay walls and oak timber in the roof- this meant that we could use the lime-based mortars and insulation without having to remove plaster, cement and concrete. Okay, mountains of dust but, hey, this was built in 1714!
      Thanks for visiting,

  4. Whoa! It’s incredible to see an almost 300-year-old structure come back to life again! You really did a good job in restoring this old sweet home. All the best to you! =)

    - Rufus Mcclure

    1. Thanks, it was heartening to find that the walls were as good as new. Once the carpentry started to go back on you could almost see the building shaking off the dust of centuries.
      Best wishes,

  5. If you own a house long enough, sooner or later, you will have to think about reroofing as age is one good pointer of whether or not a roof replacement is needed. Well, I have to say that you really did an amazing job in restructuring this house. The roof is really wonderful and the shade really matches with the plants surrounding the house.

    Saundra Wordlaw

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment. The hardest part was the dismantling of the old roof, knowing that the structure was already old and frail we still needed to reclaim as many roof tiles as possible, so they were removed and brought down by hand. A great deal of hard work but really so uplifting to see everything coming together. Now in the summer the house is almost obscured by the foliage of the vines, wisteria and passion flowers, a garden retreat from the heat of the day.

      Best Wishes,

  6. Wow! You guys did an amazing job! The little house still looks so lovely even after all these years. It’s so great that you got to document the changes.

    Son Lakhani

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment.
      Yeah, we had decided to document the progress because so many people regard old buildings such as these as ruins and either let them fall into a greater state of decay or, worse still, demolish them. In fact they have stood the test of time that few modern houses could hope to achieve and with a little foresight and a lot of hard work they become a valuable asset to a property. We use it most often in the summer months when the foliage in front of it shades it from the sun. Plans are now afoot to add a rocket mass heater along the west wall so that we can enjoy it in the winter months too!
      Once again thanks for stopping by,
      Kind Regards,

  7. The house has truly been through a lot over the years. Yes, the roof is beautiful and it complements the look of your house. I'd love to see how cozy it is inside. :)

    -Galliena Gornet

    1. Hi there Galliena, Thanks for your comments, much appreciated. There is one photo of the inside in the continuation blog to this "Learning from the Longère". I hope to get some more photographs posted soon as we are putting heating in the Tiny House. This will be a whole new big project, both film and blog posts as we are going for a home-made clay rocket stove. I have just sourced the clay from friends and am just tweaking the design so we should start the work quite soon. Best Wishes from France, Organikmechanic aka Andy

  8. I find it amazing how an old structure like this can still be restored and be modernized. It takes time, effort, and patience to renovate that old house. But as you’ve mentioned, the result can be rewarding. And indeed, it is!

    Richard Boles

    1. Thanks for your comment Richard, I appreciate the feedback. These old vernacular houses are incredibly sound. Sue and I did a recycling expo in a local garden recently and when it was over we were given a tour of the house and grounds. The owners are renovating a, similar period to the above, coach house, which would have originally taken the family’s carriage and farm vehicles. Many people would have just knocked it down and reused the materials but they are making a beautiful job of it in natural hemp and lime. It will make a unique and comfortable Tiny House. I think people are beginning more and more to recognise that these old buildings have so much to offer and are just crying out for a little tlc. Best Wishes from Basse-Normandie, Organikmechanic aka Andy

  9. Have shared some of the blogs on Facebook. It is a most invigorating blog! And having just emerged from the self-imposed task of building an as organic as possible house in a small space, I'm loving the dancing spaces the singing roofs and the passion which is so evident in the creators of these spaces. Simply lovely :-)


    1. Thanks for your comment and shares! I agree a house that breathes and is made of natural materials is inspiring and not just in the same way that a house built of toxic substances makes you feel ill the moment you walk in. We make a lot of films and write and have ideas within this house and the room is very much part of it. Good luck with your house, if you can, post a blog on it. We both really enjoyed your 'A Bucolic Existence' it sounds like the start of a very interesting journal but on its own it is already a poem. All the best from snowy France, Organikmechanic aka Andy

    2. Check them out and get inspired to make something interesting and fun for your home. Reading Nook Made from Two Wooden Pallets. Fold-Up Pallet Desk. DIY Pallet Swing Bed. Gardening Organizer. Paracord Laced Pallet Hanging Chair. Pallet Fence. DIY Pallet Coffee Cup Holder. DIY Pallet Pot Rack.

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