The Techy Bits

By Dick Strawbridge

I’ve dreamt for years about living a simple life with good food and wine, fresh air and two-hour lunches every day. So when my partner Angela and I decided to start our French adventure, I could almost smell the roses.

Our search took some years, four to be precise – and once we realised what we could get for our money, the size of what we were after grew and grew and grew. Smelling the roses also started to grow further away, as we found our dream home.

Priced at £350,000 post tax, Chateau de la Motte Husson was an incredible bargain and to be honest everything we’d dreamt of, except for the fact it had no sewerage, no electricity and no heating.

Having found The Chateau, the purchase documentation (which was around two hundred pages of why not to buy The Chateau) provided us with the most amazing list of jobs to be done. We convinced ourselves that the feeling of being overwhelmed was perfectly normal. The big question was, what really had to be done before we could move in and where did we start?

How We Got Started

The documentation was hard copy and in French – a major pain in the arse. There are translation apps that use your camera to point at the French and give you an immediate translation. They sort of work, but when I typed up the more important paragraphs and fed them into Google translate, the answers were not always comprehensible. Vendors have to provide the documentation as a matter of law, but many of our priority tasks were not included in the hundreds of issues we had been provided with.

You need time to see how your budget and schedule align. Beware of a ‘conspiracy of optimism’: the system in France will slow you down.

Chateau de la Motte Husson

My objective was to provide sewerage, electricity, heat and hot water asap after 12th January 2015 – the date on which we became the new owners – without redundant work being done. As far as possible, the work would be part of the final solution and we needed to be flexible and allow for growth as more bedrooms and bathrooms were commissioned. Eventually, we would be using the basement kitchen for all the food preparation for functions, so we knew it had to be right and we – sort of – had a plan to try and make a daytime television series on French cuisine and ingredients based on our ‘Potagerie’; the walled garden and kitchen. That said, our priorities meant no work could be done in the gardens and all we could do was look at our beautiful surroundings being slowly reclaimed by nature – The Chateau had to come first.


Some points:

Work on ceilings being 2.3m except for ground floor (RdC) which is 4.2m, that and 600-1000mm walls made working slower than we had hoped.

Thermal store in Attic 2 is on top of a wall, to support the weight – we discovered we needed an accumulator to maintain the water flow when there was more than one demand for water (eg a toilet flushing when someone was having a shower).

When we have the funds, solar panels will go on the roof over Attic 1 which is slightly East of South facing, but the only option.

There are service routes marked for utilities. False walls/ducting will hide H&C water, waste, sewerage and electrics.

Gas is expensive in France but we need it for the kitchens and Rayburn. We know we need a biomass boiler for cheaper more sustainable heating, but again, that will be when funds are available. Jacques, our neighbour, planted several hectares of Miscanthus or Elephant Grass, so we now have a local supply of fuel.

Phase 1 work

The Rayburn 480 provided an ‘A’ rated gas boiler and a sizeable cooker as being the focal point for the kitchen, here.

When first installed we had to use standard 13kg gas bottles. A monumental pain as when the boiler was going full blast they only lasted four to six hours. We had an automatic switch-over between two bottles but they needed constant attention until the large tank was installed. To supplement the gas boiler the two wood burners have back boilers. We have lots of wood and inherited a partly full wood store, though the wood there was past its best. Heating a chateau using wood burners is a lot of work! We tried buying and using coal but apart from the fact it is expensive in France, the workload was still painful.