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Le Vivray: What it's not - setting expectations!

Le Vivray is not somewhere we can afford to, or would even want to throw money, architects etc. Of course, we would love to have "real" funds and resources to progress it faster than we are doing, but part of the experience of doing it up in this way is to enjoy and evolve with the process, to have the satisfaction of knowing every inch of the job, that our own blood, sweat, tears and the occasional fingernails or blisters are sealed forever into the buildings!

It’s not even about making a massive effort to use every single eco-labelled product on the market – so many are hype when you look beyond the label.

And finally it is not about extreme eco-wars. Not yet anyway. We like our simple creature comforts, wherever possible using economical, easily maintained machines and green technology. So right now we are neither contemplating life from a composting toilet, nor considering drinking the water that comes out of the end of the septic tank trenches. When we restore the thunderboxes - the outside toilets - maybe we will revise our opinions!

Work in progress!

The first thing that strikes you on coming here, is just how much work there is still left to do, and how little we appear to have done! This is because we are working with a limited budget, and doing it alone with occasional help from friends.

Plus, Sally’s more than full time job takes her away from home a lot, leaving Leslie with the house to keep, and three small boys to bring up, as well as the house renovation, and Leslie’s horological career being somewhat frozen in time!

So you can see the extent of this project, the "underground" map below records every trench, every drainage, every cable on the property. Sustainability is about forward planning. Planning to use less materials. Planning to use less energy locally, instead of producing more, globally. Careful sourcing of building materials. Recycling building materials.

 Whilst Le Vivray is being renovated it is an ideal opportunity to install energy-saving devices. The specially-designed new extension has insulated floors, electric under-floor heating, 300mm of insulation in the 500mm thick walls, and 500mm of roofing insulation, so energy use here is minimal: it’s cool in summer, warm in winter. To keep it +18°C in winter when it’s -12°C outside, 2 storage heaters and under-floor heating using the economy tariff use a total of 16KW in a 24hour period, (about 1,60 euros per day).

As the main house is upgraded, so each room has its walls insulated, with 40mm, 80mm, or 100mm of insulation which comes ready-stuck to new plasterboard. Here is a selection of photos, from the initial CAD design to the final extension!  The bricks were sourced locally, hand-made by a family business at the Briquetteries Lagrive, 30km up the road in Lisieux. They also custom-make "torchi" ("wattle and daub").

When restoring, our concept is to build "a house within a house". In the photo you see an external brick facade, insulation and 200mm of thermal block / SiporexTM, which is structural. Such sensitive restoration of your brick / wattle and daub structure, or building from new with a LOT of insulation, has the advantages of allowing you to use minimal energy - our extension is theoretically built to "passivhaus" standards. And you are relying on NEW structures to support the building, rather than putting stress on the old building, a fact much underestimated with our modern construction methods and materials and enthusiasm to "improve"!

Water, water everywhere?

All rainwater from the roofs, showers, baths, hand basins and washing machine (grey water) is collected and taken through a 3 stage reed bed system and stored in our Lavoir pond of c100,000 litres, which also benefits from a freshwater spring / source. Reed bed 1 is 20m2 with above ground feed pipe work which allows the water to filter through gravel to collection pipes which then drain into reed bed 2 which is 20m2 divided in two by a bank of gravel, with the first part of the pond nearly filled with gravel and the second stage acting as a small pond. All the reed beds are planted with Norfolk reeds [Phragmites australis]. The final outflow is then allowed to flow into the Lavoir storage pond. The source/spring water is separated from the reed beds, and normally flows into the lavoir pond. An automatic overflow system diverts excess source water and excess reed bed flow around all the lavoir ponds, direct to pipes (110mm) that feeds down the field to the stream...Over the whole of Le Vivray there is a total of about 3km of land drains and water collection pipes!


Our main sewage system consists of an 800 litre grease separator ("bac de graisse" – Leslie calls it the "bac de grace", making it sound very reverential), 5000 litre septic tank and 180metres of gravelled trenches with extra geotextile membrane.

The photos include one of the "little house in the air". Which is in fact a 2000L storage tank, built in Normandy style, and mounted on a steel structure! This is because our field slopes downwards, and the spring water source is about 5 metres below the level of the walled garden, which is up near the house. So. When we restored the "lavoir" building, we installed solar panels on the roof of the building, in order to provide energy to batteries that work a pump, which raises the water above the 5m "head" that is required, and then MAGIC! The water is high enough to then be able to feed by gravity into the storage tank in the walled garden, 5m higher on the land!

 Here is a photo taken in the middle of renovating the roof of the "grange". New on the right, in progress in the middle, old on the left! We taught Franck, who was helping us, the basics of roofing and construction, which helped him build up his knowledge and confidence to a point where he then went out and bought an old place, and renovated it himself! Thank you Franck, and good luck with the rest of your own project!


© 2014 Echorenovate Sally Woods-Bryan & Leslie Bryan Microengineering