Restoring stone walls

Restoring stone walls

See also articles on specific techniques for repointing stone walls, and materials – lime, sand etc – to use. A pointed wall is dry, naturally well insulated, and provides protection against the insects and small animals that will otherwise enter your house through the walls. Old unpointed walls can look nice and rustic, but that […]

Full Story »
Installing heating

Installing heating

Wherever in France you have bought a property you will need some type of heating. You might not believe me if you have visited your dream property during the summer. Even Provence and Corsica have their cooler moments. There are several ways for adding heating at the time of renovation. The method chosen depends partly […]

Full Story »
Restoring colombage

Restoring colombage

Colombage walls – often known as ‘half-timbered’ walls – consist of wooden uprights / supports, usually about ten centimetres thick, with gaps between these struts about 20 centimetres wide.

Full Story »
Property renovation in France

Property renovation in France

The property renovation process is both interesting and rewarding. Watching a derelict house turning into your dream home, or a barn turning into a habitable barn conversion, it is an incredible experience. But the experience can come at a price, with some very stressful moments. The aim of the france renovation website is to enable […]

About this site

This website has been born from a series of renovation projects that we have undertaken in the south west of France during the past four years. During the course of our own projects – two house renovations and a barn conversion – we spent a lot of time researching methods and practices, and found several […]

Repointing a stone wall

Preparing the wall First you will need to remove any existing pointing or render. This is best done with a pneumatic hammer and an air compressor which is approximately 50 times faster and easier than doing the job manually, and doesn’t leave you with terrible wrist problems. The hammer and air compressor can be hired […]

Utility room design

The need for a separate utility room is often neglected when redesigning a property or doing a renovation. Yet this is one of the most useful, if least frequented, rooms in the house. Much more than just somewhere to put the washing machine, a well thought out utility room will prove invaluable. What goes in […]

Planning your renovation

It is commonly suggested that you should live in a house for six months without making any changes before starting work. That enables you to get a feel for the building, think about how the space could best be organised, and clarify your requirements, and avoids making expensive mistakes. The principal is the same even […]

Property surveys in France

You will already have had a good look around the property yourself. If the walls and roof look straight from all angles and there is no sign that water is entering the house through missing tiles, that eliminates the majority of possible problems straight away. It is also quite hard to conceal ancient electrical and […]

SIRET numbers and building

All enterprises registered in France will obtain a SIRET number at the time of registration. This is a number that you can check to be sure that an enterprise is correctly registered and authorised to work on your property. An enterprise must be not just registered, but registered to do the kind of work that […]

Septic tanks in France

A subject that all of us undertaking renovation work come to know and love sooner or later is septic tanks, or ‘fosse septique’ as they are known in France. As someone who has paid for two at the same property, I recommend you budget for this in your initial calculations. During the last few years […]

Roof renovation

Roofs are big and expensive, but you knew that already. The roof will almost certainly be the largest single expense in a building or renovation project. This is largely simply because of the size – roughly 20 – 50% more than the ‘habitable space’ area of one floor of the interior. First consideration is – […]

Property renovation in France

When people talk of home renovation they are talking of a wide range of different things. For some people renovation is adding insulation in an attic, replacing some slipped roof tiles, fitting a new kitchen or perhaps refreshing the interior of a property with some paint. For others it is buying a complete ruin or […]

Project managers for renovations

One option taken by a lot of people is to find a project manager or building contractor who will run the whole project from start to finish, and will deliver a completed building in due course. This project manager will sometimes be an architect who will also advise on the initial planning of the renovation. […]

Asbestos and termite checks

Legally Required pre-purchase checks The following aspects of a property are always checked as part of the purchase of a property in France. While all renovation projects in France are going to uncover some surprises (some welcome and some not) there are some problems that you do need to know about in advance. It is […]

Installing a swimming pool

A swimming pool is not really an urgent part of renovation, but many people moving to France think that a pool is as important as the house itself. After all, what point is there in moving to France if you can’t relax by the pool when you get there. Swimming pool placement and size It […]

Planning permission in France

I am not an expert on planning rules and you will need to seek advice for cirumstances particular to your particular property. Nonetheless there are some guidelines you should be aware of – the basic rule is always ask at the local mairie before making any change:

Lime or chaux in building

Lime comes in various categories and types. Not all are commonly used in the DIY environment. The lime used by ‘amateurs’ is the lime called (in France) ‘chaux aerienne eteinte pour le batiment’ (CAEB). It is prepared from very pure limestone, and is an extremely fine powder. It is sometimes also known as ‘fleur de […]

Order of works

Below I have listed the approximate order in which tasks will occur during your renovation project. I have not attempted to estimate the time required for each part of the project because it will vary too much between projects. Few projects should take more than six months to a year in total. You may have […]

Add an upstairs floor

It will frequently happen that your ruin or barn will have a shell but no internal ‘upstairs’ – so it will need a whole new first floor adding (or replacing). To add a new floor using exposed beams is practical and attractive, but it is quite a large job. In principle you are simply going […]

France reduced rate VAT

Important: Please read also the comments that follow this post, which mention the changes in the regulations since this post was made – it is now harder to get reduced rate VAT on conversions and renovations than at the time of the original post (note added 3/5/07) VAT on building renovations is usually charged at […]

TAX and VAT in property renovation

First let me be clear – I am not a tax expert and any complicated financial transactions will need the advice of a qualified accountant. In this section I have outlined some of the main areas that you might like to consider about tax and VAT in France. VAT VAT is known as TVA in […]

Modern approach to renovation

Although I have been renovating old buildings more or less continuously for the last four years, and have created this website about the best ways to renovate old buildings, I am also a modern architecture enthusiast. In magazines and brochures you will have seen buildings that are old and traditional on the outside, yet have […]

Buying tools and materials

Materials There are a few possibilities available when you are buying tools and materials for your renovation project. Most French towns have some kind of builders merchant where you can buy all the materials that you need. This is a good place to start – local delivery charges will be less or not apply at […]

Kitchen renovations

‘Kitchen renovation’ is a misleading term because usually a property renovation will involve installing a new kitchen, rather than simply trying to improve an existing one. The primary concern with kitchens is their placement within the property. You need to decide this early on in the design process, so that your plumbing and electrics can […]

Construct interior walls

When I describe how to construct internal walls, I take internal walls to be the same as non-load-bearing walls. Note that none of the methods for constructing a wall that are described below are suitable for supporting walls. Metal framework for internal walls The most common method of constructing internal walls in France is using […]

Interior design

I have already discussed some of the stages you should go through when planning the layout and design of your property at a ‘high level’. At a ‘low level’ (more detailed) you will need to give some thought to interior design and style issues. If you have a vision of the ‘finished product’ the whole […]

Laying quarry tiles

Methods for laying quarry tiles and ceramic floor tiles If you intend to glue tiles to an existing floor, the existing surface needs to be strong and stable before you start. Any existing weaknesses in the floor need to be remedied before you begin. When I am glueing floor tiles I use the big sacks […]

Renovation of Old Floors

Old houses might have any of a wide range of floor types in place – including earth, old quarry tiles, wood and concrete. Terre Battu Flattened earth floors are quite common in old houses in France. These ‘terre battu’ (beaten earth) floors are not simply a consequence of never laying a proper floor, but were […]

Planning the renovation project

In this section I have assumed that you willproject manage the renovation yourself. Many people prefer to hand the entire renovation process to someone else. (See Project Managers section for a few thoughts on this). Part of the process of obtaining your planning permission will probably have involved discussing the project plans with your architect […]

France property mortgage

Some fortunate people are in the position that they have sufficient funds upfront to pay for both the property to renovate, and also for the renovation work itself. For many others, the dream of renovating a property can’t wait until the funds exist, and the project needs additional funding. Therefore the problem of finding a […]

Checks before paying

One day the project will actually be complete! When the workers are on the point of leaving, you need to check that all the work is completed as planned. Specifically, you need to check that the work has been completed as per the devis, and that you are satisfied with the work. As the work […]

Design an electrical layout

Start with a large sheet of paper and a floor plan for your project. Even better get several photocopies so when all the lines and scribbling become to much you can start again! You are best preparing this plan although you will not be installing the system yourself, for the sake of clarity in discussions […]

Electrical installations

I strongly recommend that you do not do your electrical installation yourself, unless you are a qualified electrician and familiar with French electricity regulations There are also regulations concerning this. There are some factors you should consider when you buy an old property. See PLANNING AN ELECTRICAL LAYOUT (elsewhere in this electricity category) for some […]

Doors, windows and shutters

The first consideration for doors, windows and shutters is that they need to be in character with the building, in terms of their style, and their shape and size. Study some of the other buildings of a similar age and style in your region, preferably those that have not yet been renovated, to determine the […]

DIY and bricolage shops in France

Your first French experience of a DIY store (bricolage store) could be a daunting one if you are more used to Homebase type shops in the UK, which focus on paint colours, home ornaments, extension leads and light fittings, garden furniture and so on. These kind of ‘department store’ DIY shops are less common in […]

French building words

Words and expressions on your French building estimate (devis) When you have received a quote, assuming that you are using a French builder, it will be in French! Sometimes (often…always…) this can cause problems of comprehension, so in this section I have listed some of the more common expressions used, with their English language equivalent. […]

What is in a devis

There are some items that you expect to see on all quotes you receive for your building works. – The administrative details about the enterprise: name, address, phone number, SIRET number / SARL details – The date the quote was prepared, and also the period within which the quoted price is valid – A breakdown […]

Getting building quotes 5

Up-Front and Initial Payments On one or two occasions we were asked for a small (10%) payment just as the work began, because the cost of materials involved was high. More frequently we were asked for stage payments as work progressed, but these never exceeded the value of the work already done. We never paid […]

Getting building quotes 4

Accepting Quotes and devis Quotes need to be accepted in writing. If your written French is poor, a couple of sentences saying ‘We accept your devis of [date], number[ref]. Please confirm how soon you can start’ should be managed. It is sometimes suggested that you try adding a clause that the quote be conditional on […]

Getting building quotes 3

Actually Getting Quotes Now you have a list of builders and tradesmen you need to get them around to inspect the property, and then to give you quotes (known as ‘devis’). This is often in itself a tricky process. You will often need to ring someone two or three times before they will come to […]

Getting building quotes 2

Make a List of Recommended Artisans Before you reach for the local ‘pagesjaunes’ (yellow pages) you need to ask around the neighbourhood. Anyone you know that has lived in the area for a while will have recommendations to offer you, and dire warnings as well. Listen to these recommendations – personal recommendations are the best […]

Getting building quotes 1

Before you start discussing your plans with artisan builders you need to be absolutely clear yourself about your plans. Study them until you are familiar with every detail. Whenever possible you should follow the plans in every detail. This is not because I think the local planning authorities will demand that your property be demolished […]

Costs of property renovation

How much should you pay for a renovation property? 1) try to estimate the cost per square metre of a renovated house in your chosen area, and of roughly the same size as your propsed project – ideally do this for several properties to get an average value per square metre 2) calculate how many […]

Buying Property for Renovation 2

Assessing the practicalities of the project There are not surprisingly quite a lot of practical considerations, that start only when you have found the property of your dreams. Taking account of these before you purchase the property may well save you time and money in the long run. Consider again and carefully whether the final, […]

Buying Property for Renovation 1

Finding an area to live I will assume that you already have a region of France in mind before thinking about moving. I will assume also that you have visited the area several times, in all seasons of course so you appreciate that France is not non-stop sunshine. You know know that the area will […]

Renovating beams and Woodwork

One of the most attractive features of many of the old houses in France is their exposed beams. If they are dry, they can last for hundreds of years with no particular care and attention. To ensure the continue to be both beautiful and strong, renovation projects usually include a review of the condition of […]

Bathroom Renovation

Like the term ‘kitchen renovation’, ‘bathroom renovation’ is generally a misleading description, because almost all property renovation projects will require the addition of new bathroom(s), rather than an effort to improve one that is already in place. If the ones I have seen are anything to go by, you are more likely to find a […]

Barn Renovation and Conversion

When you are planning a barn renovation there are some special considerations that do not arise with a house based project. Some of these have been already discussed in their specific sections, so here I will give an overview of the main things to be considered:

Architects in renovation

You might have read elsewhere on this site that it is not usual to have a complete survey of a property done before purchase, although occasionally it is still advised. Architects involvement is more common, from a very early stage in the project. You might also like to discuss your project with an architect at […]

Roof insulation

Times have moved on since the days when 10 centimetres of glass fibre in the attic was considered sufficient insulation, even for a house in France, and the subject is now a bit complicated. There are newer ‘high-tech’ materials available, and we have a much greater knowledge of how heat is lost from a building.

Property renovation books

In the book section I have recommended several books about buying and renovating a property in France. Although this website covers everything I can think of about moving to France and renovating a building, you will gain even more knowledge and advice if you read a well written book or two as well.

Cement for building and renovation

Cement is available in grey and white. White cement is often used where the colour of the finished product is important  – for example as a strenthening product in wall pointing mortar. The normal building cement is ‘Artificial Portland cement’ (CPJ CEM II 42.5).


Plaster is bought in sacks as a fine white powder. It has the main characteristic that after being mixed with water it dries completely hard and unworkable very quickly. This happens much faster than lime or cement and sometimes within a few minutes (it well tell you on the sack an estimated time of use). […]

Sand types for building and renovation

Sand comes in a wide range of sizes, colours and qualities. It is important to recognise these different types and the different projects that they are used for:

Materials – sand, cement, lime and plaster

Little do you know if before you start your project, but these are the things you will come to love – builders materials. Types and colours of sand and cement; when to use lime; how to use plaster are all covered. Even if you don’t want to do the renovation yourself, after the builders have […]