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This is just basically to remind myself that this is going to be the year when I replace the roof of the house and barn.

The new barn roof is going to be a (ahem) "temporary" replacement structure of sheeting that resembles the grey slates as fitted currently. The purpose of this temporary structure is as an emergency repair to keep out the bad weather, and of course I am going to replace it with a more permanent and proper roofing once the emergency has passed.

There was a plan to re-roof the house mostly in traditional lightweight roofing material, but I have made a startling discovery. There's a company in the wilds of rural Nottinghamshire that not only does the roofing sheets that I need for the barn made-to-measure, but also sells roofing tiles that look like slates and are made for the most part of recycled plastic, that would really go well on the house. Now, I could well be interested in roofing slates like this, and in November 2006 I spent a morning in their company.

I'm going to do the top few rows of the south-facing roof of the house in solar tiles. No point in wasting a perfectly good roof, and a few hundred watts of power just up here will well subsidise itself by the saving on slates, so I need to get myself a-sourcing. I shall put some felt under-roofing underneath the tiles, and then insulate and board it from the inside. Once that has been done, I shall fit out the attic and move myself in.

And such was the plan. And like most good plans, it totally came to naught. The roofing wasn't delivered until the end of September, and no-one would sell me any solar tiles.

Quite a few of my friends from the Open University and roundabout have been expressing some interest in some wild camping (and it would be wild with some of them, I can tell you!) and a general good bit of socialising and a work-in during the summer down on the farm.

I didn't get down to the farm as early as I had hoped to, due to one thing and another. But when I did finally make it there, in the middle of May, the first thing I did was to measure up the roofs for the amount of material that I'm going to need. That needs to be ordered pretty quickly


Les Guis Virlet Pionsat France Renewable Energy wash room - new sink unit

Second thing I did was to get something reasonable sorted out for my visitors in the line of water. While I'm quite happy to stand under a bucket and wash myself, I'm sure they aren't going to be. And it's high time I made some constructive effort in this respect.

So in the cellar place where there's a standpipe, I quickly rigged up an improvised sink unit so that people can wash themselves, and I can do the washing up.

I'm also thinking about hot water - seeing as I always seem to be getting into it these days. I'd scrapped a few old coffee machines in my time and have the odd heat exchanger lying around the place. I know they don't work very fast, but I'm sure I could invent something using one of those that should give me the odd litre of hot water. It has to be quicker than going to fetch water, boiling up a kettle and then carrying the kettle downstairs.

Unfortunately, the 600-watt inverter isn't powerful enough for this, and a 300-watt coffee machine that I bought to break for spares didn't give me enough heat. But I did find a 12-volt hot water tank, the type that's fitted in Telecom and AA vans for the driver to wash his hands after working on something. Now we were moving!

Les Guis Virlet Pionsat France Renewable Energy beichstuhl shower toilet hut
Third thing was to build an outside composting toilet and shower unit. I'm sure you can get the idea of what it's going to look like.

It's going to have an insulated plasterer's trough on the top and covered with glass that will heat the water by solar energy. And I'll also try to fit a solar heat exchanger into it too. Then, with a pull-cord shower head inside the cubicle, there will be at least something in the way of warm water.

Someone did ask me what I would do if the water in the plasterer's trough didn't get hot enough. Well, the answer to that is that you tip a kettle of boiling water in to bring the water up to the desired temperature.

But be that as it may, this wasn't finished either, for by now I had much more ambitious plans.

eric hall les guis virlet pionsat puy de dome auvergne france third solar panel on the roof of the Luton Transit octobre october 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo
With Autumn here and a pile of roofing slates lying around, it was evident that I couldn't go back to Brussels for the winter, so I had to make plans to stay down at the farm. And why not? High time I did.

First thing was to make sure that the solar panels received the optimal amount of energy. With the sun being around for only 7 hours or so in midwinter, that was quite important. With not very much choice in the matter, the Luton Transit was pressed into service again.

I put two panels up there one week, and a short while later I did the third. And if I had thought about that at the time, I could have made one framework for all three instead of two separate ones, and not have to bother wondering which one of the constructions had the error in the calculations.

Not that it matters, of course. Once the barn roof is done (whenever that might be) to solar panels will be on a bracket on a pole at the southern end of the barn.

Les Guis Virlet Pionsat France Renewable Energy Guus and Claude support the solar panel mounting while Eric pulls from the other side

Those of you with long memories or who have been intensely following my adventures will remember that I bought 4 solar panels from the USA. So where is the fourth?

Well, I also earlier in the year bought 6 more 100 amp-hour sealed gel batteries off eBay, and I've installed these in the house to take the load of the old caravan battery that was still struggling along. The only problem with this is that 2x12-watt solar panels will hardly cope with the voltage drop across the cables, such is the intensity of the current.

And what with cheap second-hand scaffolding being available at £10, ($23, €16) in Stoke on Trent and with Paul possessing a hydraulic scaffolding pole bender, then I bought a pole, had Paul bend it to the correct angle, stuck the fourth solar panel thereupon, grabbed hold of Guus and Claude, and the rest, as they say, is history. I'm the other side of the fence pulling on the cable, by the way.

You'll notice that I'm using a piece of cut-off scrap scaffolding and two kee-klamps to make a horizontal pivot bar, and another rotating kee-klamp to pivot around the horizontal bar into an upright position against the fence. Mounting solar panels and wind turbines can't get any easier than this, surely?

Les Guis Virlet Pionsat France Renewable Energy the kitchen that will become my home

Meanwhile, finding someswhere to live was the most important task I had to deal with. With there not being very much choice, it was necessary for me to cast my eye around the farm and see what I can find.

The only part of the building that is solid enough and weatherproof enough (and then not by very much) is the room that will eventually be the kitchen. This will have to do so, in for a penny, in for a pound, I cracked on. There were tonnes of accumulated rubbish in here, so I put it all outside and hosed the kitchen down.

Les Guis Virlet Pionsat France Renewable Energy bed in the kitchen that will become my home

And after much work, tons of plastic sheeting, tons of polystyrene insulation, tons od OSB walling, here's my room. It's almost exactly the same width as the load bed in Caliburn, and you know how comfortable I am living in there. This also means that there is just enough room for me to sleep widthways, and this brings the most important benefits in saving space.

The first thought was to make another set of supports for the hammock bed that I use in Caliburn, and reflection told me that this was probably the right way to go bearing in mind the temporary nature of the accommodation. But that notwithstanding, I made myself a rather substantial raised bed, with room underneath for storage.

There was an old foam mattress that I rescued from the caravan and upon which I slept in the back of the Escort when the self-deflating airbed deflated itself definitively. This is again millimetre-perfect, and makes for one of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in in my life. Not much room for a friend to stay, though.

eric hall les guis virlet pionsat puy de dome auvergne france Renewable Energy painting the woodwork for the wooden verandah octobre october 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

But that was only the half of it. You know that there is a concrete pad that I put down outside the kitchen back in 2000. I'd always had certain ambitions for that, and with there being no time like the present, I decided that I would realise them

First think is to cut an enormous load of wood. It's all to the correct length and all properly mitred and jointed. You've no idea how much my carpentry techniques inproved while I was doing all of this.

Next thing was to treat it with wood preservative. None of your used engine oil round here. It's a vital part of my living accommodation so it needs to be done properly.

eric hall les guis virlet pionsat puy de dome auvergne france novembre november 2007 verandah clad in tongue and grooving copyright free photo royalty free photo

And here we have a wooden verandah, clad with tongue-and-grooving on the outside. It may be only cheap stuff but nevertheless it gives a lovely finish to the job so far.

There wasn't much point painting it though. The weather was too cold and it would ruin the job. In a brief warm spell that we had, I thinned some paint down with some white spirit and painted all of the fibrous ends with it. The white spirit carried the pigment deep into the fibres and then evaporated leaving the pigment stopping the ingress of water.

Inside the verandah is the gas cooker that I removed from a scrap caravan, and the chemical toilet and 12-volt shower. And do you know, I was set up here for the winter and it was one of the best experiences I had ever had.

You can keep up-to-date with my antics on a more-or-less daily basis by reading my blog

See more photos from 2007 in the photo gallery.

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