Building the Chalet
For our the main house I wanted to use as much natural materials as possible have two stories and plenty of head room. To give higher ceilings we built low walls about 1.2 meters tall down each side of the chalet with the wooden A frames bolted directly onto these. To build the wall we used ceramic blocks rather than the concrete blocks between the concrete posting providing the foundations tied into the bedrock. We had about 3 meters height for the lower floor and 2.5 meters for the upper.
The first problem was with the foundations. Because the Chalet was going to be about 7 meters tall the builder wanted to sink five, three meter deep concrete posts down each side. Unfortunately we got between a half and one meter deep and hit bedrock. This caused tremendous panic for our builder who had not been taught any other options than to dig three meters down. So, while he panicked we kept chipping away at the bedrock and found that it had old sculptured water channels running through all over. We then managed to persuade the builder to bed the foundations directly into these . . . .
We used Peroba wood for the A frames – this is the toughest you can get here. The main lengths were 6 meters. I cut out the first
frame – bolted it all together and then used this as a template for all the others. All parts for each frame were numbered and all were marked for the cross beam positions before assembly so that nothing had to be done above ground that could be done before. Then came the fun part – trying to get them up. With two helpers, loads of rope, some pulleys and with a lot of terrifying effort we just managed to do it.
Two of us had to push the top part of the frame up a half meter at a time with a wooden pole. We would then run around and tighten a security rope to make sure that if it did fall we had some time to dive out the way. Getting the first few up was the worst part – there were a few moments when I was tempted to give up.
Once we got the first three frames up it took 3 days to get them as vertical as possible with the supporting horizontal slats and a temporary upper floor in place. We then secured a pulley to the top of these and it became much easier to get the rest up after that. . . .
It took about 2 weeks to get all the frames up and secured with all the side slats, angled compression struts to stop lateral movement and secured planks so that we could walk around on the upper floor. The angled compression supports made the whole structure so solid that when a freak tornado ripped the top off a large tree 10 meters to one side of the chalet and completely flattened 2 others 10 meters to the other side the Chalet did not budge. Side slats a meter apart meant that the roof was like a ladder and we could climb up the whole structure quite easily.
The first local builder whom was helping us had severe conceptual problems about working around a sloping ‘A’ frame roof. For a ‘normal’ house they would build a scaffolding from thin tree trunks to walk around on giving them a secure and safe area from which to work on the walls. However, no matter how often I tried to explain that the side slats connecting the A frames down each side of the chalet would provide a natural ladder that we could use to climb over the whole structure he did not get it. In the end to appease his panic we ordered and had delivered a load of the thin trunks ready to be made into scaffolding which of course we never used.
I am normally terrified of heights, but I had no problem working all day on the very top even without a safety harness (which the builders used).
Getting the fibre tiles secured on the roof was another huge job and took three weeks in all. After this the builders finished the bathroom and toilet while I finished the ends of the chalet. Putting in the windows, doors, panelling and everything else. As we were desperate to move out of the local town we moved in with
no dividing walls upstairs, no window (plastic sheet) at one end, a step ladder to get upstairs, nothing in the kitchen area and no inside panelling. Basically nothing was finished inside apart from the bathroom when we moved in.
We made the ground floor with a raised kitchen area in the middle, the dining room on one side and the lounge on the other. Under the kitchen was an insulated heat store, unfortunately because the chalet is in the forest we don’t get enough heat rising to make this work, but it was worth the attempt. We insulated the inside of the roof with plasticated foil which kept the temperature even.
I really enjoyed the experience of building our own house. I would say that regulations are great to keep cost cutting and dodgy builders in line, but regulations are not necessary if you have some level of responsibility, approach things seriously and either you are confident / practical or have access to quality advice and support. Also in the book called ‘Shelter’ (Shelter publications), there is advice about building something very small and spending time on your land so that you come to understand and feel it, the seasons, conditions and so on before building what you really want. In hind sight I would agree with this. If this is to be your home for many years then you should invest some time to make it well and to be part of and appropriate for the local environment.
It was lucky in a strange way in that there were many delays; Getting the land registered for example was a nightmare which took 5 months and every time we went looking to hire someone to dig out the foundations we either could not find anyone or when we did either they never turned up or their equipment broke down the next day taking weeks to repair. Although frustrating, these delays were always just long enough to save us doing something that would not have worked, or that would have taken twice the time (and money) to correct later.
To read about us building the guest house and kitchen then go here;