Technical challenges

Why don’t more people do what we’re planning to do? It can’t just be the aversion to uprooting your life, leaving behind family and friends. Not everyone has family or friends. And surely most people would do anything in order to improve their quality of day-to-day life, or is sacrificing the conveniences of a more miserable or colder or less fulfilling life too much to ask? Certainly one of the most useful checks we’ve had on our thinking is to keep ourselves considering that our entire approach to life will be changed, will be unrecognisable. So that ‘convenience’ will be almost worthless when we remember that we won’t have the same demands on our time. We won’t be getting up at 6am to shower and go to work for 9to5, getting home and needing straightforward solutions for dinner so that the kids can be getting into bed for 8pm. We’ll have the time for inconvenient living. We’ll have the time to be stoking up a wood burning stove before bed or keeping it going all day. We’ll have the time to abandon the kitchen in summer altogether and cook outdoors. Keeping this in mind has given us the ability to think through how we’re going to live out there instead of what we want while we’re out there. It’s also given us the openness to approach every possible answer to the various technical challenges that have risen up along the way. Ideally we want our own water supply, essentially to give us a huge step off-grid and off-bills. And the Ariege is certainly the place to be looking. There’s even the longterm outthere possibility of hydroelectric. But regardless of supply we want to cut our water use drastically. We want to go solar, both for water heating and for electricity. And we want the simplest, most non-invasive heating solution that works in a part of the world where -14 degrees isn’t unusual for winter. Knowing how we’re going to live each day has led us to ideas we’d have never found were we just porting our lives from here to there. Now we have several smallish cosy rooms with radiators, an open fire or two, underfloor heating. Out there, we realise, we need one main big living space where possible – kitchen, dining, living, working space. We need a cooking solution that does so much more than just heat up food, but that actually acts as the heating source (or one of them) for that large open space. And for the bedrooms, as whenever possible we’ll never get up before the sun in winter, we just need reliable uncomplicated heating that keeps us warm overnight and into the morning. We know we’re not asking too much – if we can take this house in its derelict state without any heating and run it through with new electrics and hot radiators, somewhere out there is a solution to the low-impact eco-minded challenge we’re setting our French dream. Neatly enough, Jen’s research skills immediate bring results: almost the exact Rayburn stove that was in our Cotswolds house when we bought it! And Rayburn even have a solution to tieing together all of our eco ideas – the Eco-Connect. This will link up the solar water heating system we want with the Rayburn fuel burning heating, while individual wood burners warm individual rooms and our planned solar electric generating panels hook up to Tesla’s Powerwall home battery to give us free power. Looking long term being off-grid is the only way for us to be confident we’ll be giving our dream plan the time it needs to be successful, while we manage on the bare minimum, eschewing convenience in favour of efficiency. And this is all without mentioning each roulotte’s solar shower, solar hot water sinks, waterless toilet and woodburning hot tub. The initial spend is big on these items but, in the house, we’ll be making an investment in a low-cost sustainable future that keeps us in our dream for as long as possible, and in the roulottes we’ll be making an investment in a really exciting and compelling retreat. There are still challenges we need to get over – specifically how we supply water to each roulotte and then how that water supply works. But we’re nearly there. We’re on our last few questions. We’ve found solutions that are applicable enough to commit to now (and ideally enable early-doors planning discussions with the maire or so on) as well as being adaptable enough that our choice of house won’t restrict our choice of solution. Because we knew that out there, in the world, these problems are being solved – even if ironically enough it’s because people want maximum efficiency from sustainble solutions to run their conveniences – and that we’re not the first to approach these problems.

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