Lounging in France 14: Stone Roofs

  One of the most important considerations if you’re building a house is materials. In the past you’d almost always build out of local materials. It’s just too costly, to haul stones or logs or whatever very far. So if you had a cave, you live in a cave. If you have sticks and reeds, sure, it’s a stick or reed roof. And, if all you have is stones? Yes, you can make a stone roof!

Ths is a lauze roof, made out of pieces of stone. These are not fastened into place with anything but friction. Each piece is hand-shaped and laid into place without mortar or glue. The steepness is an essential feature, allowing the tremendous weight to be supported as much as possible by the walls. Here’s another image of a different one, where you can see the actual thickness of the layer of stone. These roofs weigh tons!

Compare to this little number. It is a capitelle, a dry stone shepherd’s hut in the highlands of southern France. The roof is the simplest possible stone construction, but the principles are similar. There are no rafters here, the dome is just worked slowly inwards until it can be capped at the center with a large flat stone. A capitelle can’t be much bigger than this. If you want a wider roof you need rafters to support the stones, as lauze roofs do.

Here’s the guy doing it. He told us he’s been doing this for forty years. You can see the horizontal pieces of wood, and the bigger stones wedged between them. Then little stones are inserted, carefully chipped into shape and canted so that they sheds water. There are inevitable gaps between the stones — they’re not Lego blocks. But this is a feature, not a big. A lauze roof is airy in summer and yet watertight without benefit of plastic film or weatherstripping.The big down side to them is the tremendous weight, and the difficulty of finding anyone who does this kind of work. They’re cruelly expensive, calling for finding the exact right local stone and then getting them all up to roof level. 

But have a look at this roof, on a chateau. Incredibly beautiful, and astoundingly precise. This is the work of a master. A roof like this will last for two hundred years. It is so difficult and costly, that the next step is the one I’ve already blogged about — making roof tiles. Clay or slate was the cheapest and best roof until modern asphalt shingle. But it’s all worth it, to stay dry!

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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Lounging in France 14: Stone Roofs — 6 Comments

  1. Very interesting!
    I always thought those roofs were old, layered slate, didn’t know this was how they were made.
    From the ground they’re too far away to see them this clearly, with my bad eyesight.

    I’m really enjoying your series of posts.

    • I cannot believe that any of these traditional building methods are earthquake safe — the stone walls, the tile roofs. But there are lauze roofs that are 200 years old, so it seems to be OK.
      And oh, the fun that a writer can have, once she knows how these things are put together, just you wait!

  2. A friend of mine lived in a 16th century house with a stone roof in the Peak District UK. Her daughter left a candle burning when she fell asleep, fortunately waking in time to get everyone out of the house before they were hurt, but fire had a good hold and the roof had to be rebuilt as there was considerable damage to the rafters. The roofers managed to save most of the stone tiles, and were able to get more as the quarry was still open, but it was weeks before the roofers could start because of other commitments, and the two other companies with the skiills to do the work were even more booked up. Once the work started it took far longer than slate or clay tiling would have, the tiles are very heavy to get to roof level particularly the lowest row which in the local style contains huge slabs, so before work on the actual roof started they had to build a pulley system capable of carrying those slabs, and the whole of the scaffolding had to be more sturdy than usual for the same reason all before they got to the actual tiling. It was amazing to see them work and the roof looked wonderful when they had finished. The landlord had been putting off re-doing the roof as it was going to be so expensive, so he was actually pleased about the fire because he got the new roof on the insurance! Anyway the point of all that is that the roof was at least 200 years old, the house had been the property of the same family all that time, and they had no record of re-roofing it, though they did for other significant work that had been carried out – like turning into one house from three ‘one room up, one room down’ cottages.

  3. The great difficulty with these stone roofs is the weight. They weigh tons, and that means you need walls sturdy enough to bear the load. Also the weight forces the shape to be relatively steep, so that the weight carries down to the walls rather than the weaker rafters. So it is no light undertaking, and the construction of these things is a specific art and trade.

  4. I live in earthquake country, so would not be able to sleep under such a roof! Too scary. But I believe there aren’t as many earthquakes in Europe? (Though Greece has had notable ones.)

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