Will I get permission to add windows and doors to a barn?


My husband and I have just decided to take on a barn conversion in France, we have also talked my brother in to doing the same as we thought it would be more fun with someone else. We are now looking for two barns in the Limousin area. However my concern is I see barns for sale with the large doors facing the road. The back of the barns have no windows or doors (where you would want them for the view). How likely is it that we would get permission to add these on the non road side?

Any advice or experience of this we would much appreciate.

Hi Catherine

I live in Seine-Maritime in a converted barn (dating from 1764) that has both windows and doors. I didn't do

the conversion myself but I do know that they were added as part of the conversion - there is an identical

barn next door, that hasn't been converted and it has no windows or doors. So I'm sure it's possible, although

I've no idea what the process is ... guess the Mairie is a good starting point.

OK, partition walls. Yes, we can use anything in the world for them but no doubt local stone looks ace. Saw one near Bergerac where they had used wine bottles which I though was awful at first and after a couple more visits saw the point of, all cut in half, laid to make 'tubes', nice glowing green light and they said transmits warmth from one room to another.

She's referring to walls that separate two heated/internal spaces.

As an aside - did all the work ourselves whilst running a very succesful business in France and did not realise how much I had written

Oh the joys of breeze blocks and plaster board. We have a wonderful farm house with exposed stone everywhere (not wanting to box it out). The top floor has not been renovated and the earth floor above provides better insulation than rock wool. Our 13kw log burner provides as much heat as we need to keep the whole house toasty (100m2), although when we hit the minus twenties the electric rads came into use. For us keepng the original was important and on the energy graphs we score very well - no fossil fuels (our electrical consumption is tiny and we use a small amount of butane for the hob). Wood burners are the greenest heating source and using insulation can be counter productive for the life of the building, not allowing the stone to breathe. Not totally against the modern. We have just created a master bedroom that is next to the road and used a breeze block second layer for noise prevention (works a treat) on one wall. Our ceilings are a minimum of 3.5mtr, more than high enough to give a feeling of space but cozy in the winter months. And the exposed walls will develop a skin of salt petre that is horrible to begin with but seals the stone as it solidifies (goes from woolly to a hard polished looking surface if alowed to dry of its own accord) creating a watertight breathable seal for the exposed stone. Both of us have backgrounds in construction and I have worked in energy management for the commerical sector. It is very easy to use the quick and easy options for restoration but we intend our home to be here for the next ten generations at least and will maintain in a way that supports the fabric of the building - and yes we have repointed with lime mortar as the OH hands will testify. A true work of love - given that the previous owners uses terracrete blocks and concrete to patch up. Our guest house (slightly smaller at 80m2) is heated entirely by electric rads (never turned off and set to 16). Again all exposed walls and no damp. Last winter we spent 200 on wood and 270 on electric and never went below 19 degrees (and the electric heating was turned up as we were sleeping in the guest house). If we had opened up to double height the heating costs would have doubled for the main house and the extra windows in the roof would create a heat problem in a normal summer unless you were to spend a fortune on heat reflective glass. We have made mistakes, am at the moment retanking the drawing room (using only wood and lime render) it is below the surface of the lane outside and the original render allowed external stones to break through the surface leading to a damp issue. We do not claim to have all the answers but a wealth of expirence in a house that was built from the remains of a local chateau 400 years ago. We will never restore the whole place but will leave something for the grandchildren to build upon.

Did you really mean internal walls? I am guessing but no doubt James can answer, if there is stone internally then would that not be best if there was insulation between them and external walls, ideally something like monomur?

Exposed stone is very lovely but for internal walls only (IMHO).

Send James to us forthwith.

Victoria your insulation is obviously properly done rather than the jerry built stuff I have seen sometimes and underfloor heating is great, as long as you have the floor to do it with. The friends with a converted barn have bedrock straight under a concrete floor and you feel the cold through your shoes in winter! Madness when you consider one of the crowd does solar energy installation and also hydronic, electric and gas underfloor heating. Then they have, for the look, one exposed stone wall, which means 6o cm of radiation of icy cold into a room that must be 6m high as well and maybe 12m x 8m. Then the tiled roof is unlined or insulated... Our house is bad enough because of parts we still need to convert and the loss through the roof especially. But that puts me off ever trying a barn conversion.

Yes Victoria is spot on. We heat our entire house with one (fairly crappy) wood-burner and are always toasty warm thanks to James's installation of / obsession with insulation...

We have a full height room (6 metres to the central beam), proper insulation and under floor heating (much more efficient at heating big rooms) and were going to put a wood burning stove in there but our builder told us we'd never use it. He's absolutely right, even with the heating set to 19 the room is always warm. The key is the insulation. Exposed stone walls look lovely but they radiate cold.

The people near us have a stove the size of the average battleship and radiators on top, so I think you are absolutely right Bernadette.

Just a quick note on the conversion. Full height rooms with velux look very impressive but can cost a fortune to heat. Friends have a room like this that they close in October and do not use again until May. It is very useful as a fridge I am told.

Thank you for your advice. We will take it on board and not proceed until we have talked to the local Marie.

Good point Andrew, ABF for espaces protégés is a must. We are in a 'forest' by 200m and whilst we can do window things and reconstruct, for this building it must be in the style of the original building and never be fooled by a new, modern building next door.

Catherine, I hope the properties are cheap I.e. about eu40k maximum. Limousin is cheap; if you are paying much more buy something already done and save yourself the hassle. There are lots of properties for sale here so at least get one with existing openings if you can. Best wishes. KK

Good point Jane, small communes aren't big enough and send everything to the préfecture, larger ones treat things in house. And then there's the ABF if it's in certain "protected" areas.

In our area (71) it is not the Mairie that has the last say. If you are doing a large conversion, it my have to go to the Prefecture, so that the size of your conversion is also important.

A local architect will be able to advise you.

Hi Peter

Does the term conversion not relate to the change of function for tax purposes, i.e. from non habitable to habitable/domestic residence?


HI Catharine

This will entirely depend on your local planning authority, the best approach would be to enquire at your local Mayor's office, there are a number of factors involved and they will be best placed to advise you.

Good luck!