19 November 2011


I hope you didn't think I meant blog maintenance. No, I'm not doing that, even though I sometimes think I ought to close the blog down for a few days and work on my index. I stopped updating the index a couple or three years ago. But I'm afraid the shutdown might have to last weeks for me to finish that project, and, well, I'm just not much of an indexer.

No, my title has to do with house maintenance. It has to be done. The chimney has to be swept annually, for insurance purposes. No Certificat de Ramonage, no coverage. And then the roof has to be looked at. We have a persistent leak right over the kitchen. It seems that that part of the roof needs to be re-configured. We've asked for an estimate from a couvreur — a roofer. We'll see, next spring.

The terrace on the front of our house is a maintenance hog.

Right now, it's the terrace that we've been working on. Terrace. Deck. Balcony. What we have is larger than a balcony, maybe. And it's not a deck because it's concrete and tile, not boards and nails. So I guess it's a terrace, but that word bothers me somehow. The term seems more grand than what we actually have. But I don't have another name for it.

Getting the terrace tiled was one of the first improvements we made when we moved into this 1960s French house in 2003. It had been covered with — of all things — "Astroturf," that green plastic horror from the '60s and '70s. Outdoor carpeting. And it hadn't been maintained, so the Astroturf had absorbed a lot of rainwater and grown a lot of algae and moss. It was gross — not to put too fine a point on it.

For some reason, the terrace was built to wrap around the north
side of the house, where it's too narrow to be of much use.

The new tile was a fine improvement, but we had to have a large section of the tiling ripped up and re-done in 2008, because the slope was wrong and a big puddle of water would collect right in front of the French doors whenever it rained hard. You stepped out the door onto the tiled surface from the living room and you were wading in water half an inch deep. That was a bad thing if you happened to be wearing bedroom slippers. We found a tile contractor who managed to fix the slope of the deck and lay new tile. Houses settle — elles « travaillent » — over the years, and they develop unwanted slopes and low spots and cracks.

The way the terrace is designed is strange. There's no provision for drainage if water gets on the surface. It just has to run off the edges. And since the house faces east, the edges don't get any afternoon sun. Shade + moisture in this part of the world means one thing: moss. So moss grows profusely along the edge of the balcony, especially in winter.

I didn't take any "before" pictures, but
you might remember this one.

Add to that the fact that water gets on the terrace tiles with regularity because — guess what — the roof overhang doesn't completely cover the tiled surface. The terrace sticks out farther than the roof does. When any rain falls, it falls on the edge of the terrace and then runs down any slope it finds to run down. I don't know who had the bright idea to build it so that it wasn't all covered by the roof. Maybe they decided to enlarge the terrace after the original plans were done.

Yesterday we blasted it off with a Kärcher* that friends Jean and Nick loaned us to use while we were figuring out with model of this famous brand of power-washers we want to acquire. It was sort of fun, really, on a mild, almost warm sunny morning. We are now certain that we want to invest in a Kärcher for future projects. A couple of days ago, Walt cleaned the terrace tiles with it and it works great.

Does this edge really need to be painted? Eventually,
all traces of white paint on it will have chipped and washed away.

As a bonus, we have another decision to make. Should be paint the edge of the terrace or leave it "natural"? We had it painted in 2003, when we first had the deck tiled. Since then, we haven't repainted it. It seems like a lot of trouble, and it really ought to be repainted every spring. That's what some of our neighbors do. It looks pretty, but still, is it really worth the trouble and expense?

So there you go. This post is about what a 1960s French house looks like. What features it has. And flaws. What maintenance tasks it imposes on its owners.

* Kärcher, a German-brand high-pressure washer, became especially famous when in 2005 French president Nicolas Sarkozy said of the housing projects in the Paris suburbs that somebody needed to take a Kärcher in there and clean out the "scum" that live in the projects. It was not one of Sarkozy's more felicitous phrases.


  1. Your balcony is a great space for relaxing and entertaining - it would be less useful I think if it was narrower and fitted under the roof......so the price you have to pay for all that fun is maintenance !!
    Maybe painting it every 3-4 years would be enough but it looks like awfully hard work to me and not a good job for Walt to tackle with his neck problem.

  2. We broke down and bought a small Kärcher after borrowing our neighbor's several times.

  3. I hope Sarkozy regrets that Karcher statement.
    I'd call your terrace a porch or veranda, but the dictionary says that they need to be on the first floor. Maintenance is no fun, but having a house is such a comfort.

  4. Just as you never know quite which word correctly fits your terrasse/porch/veranda/whatever, I never know what French word I should use for an American-style elevated wood plank cedar type deck. What would you say?

    Since the French use the term terrasse to refer to the sidewalk in front of a café, I have a hard time equating that in my mind with an elevated wooden deck.

    Also, Ken, I've seen both sur la terrasse and à la terrasse... one explanation was that à la would be used to refer to sitting on the sidewalk of a café, but sur la would be used for sitting outside on a porch if it's someone's home. What do you think? (or anyone else who can chime in).


  5. It doesn't matter what you call it, it's the enjoyment of it that counts.

  6. The eastside of your house is so inviting and interesting. I agree, the extension on the other side of your home doesn't appear necessary, since you can't really use it.

    Maybe you will be lucky and with continued use of the Karcher, eventually the remaining white paint on the edge of the terrasse/porch/veranda will disappear and you will not have to replace/repaint!

  7. Hi Judy,
    I think the right word here is "terrasse." It is too wide to be a "balcon," and a "porche" is only the covered entrance of a building. So the American notion of porch doesn't apply here. I think it is closer to a patio. Now a "terrasse" is understood as an open space of a finite area, possibly covered or partially covered, that stands in front of French doors of a building.

    You're right about "à la" and "sur la terrasse." Perhaps Ken, M. le grammairien en chef, will be able to tell us the difference if any. Personally, I have no idea.

    As far as "terrasse" is concerned it is not necessarily a ground level feature. It might be elevated. For instance, if you have a garden with different levels you'll call it "un jardin en terrasse."

  8. Hello CHM, and Judy,

    La différence entre « à la terrasse » et « sur la terrasse » ne serait-elle pas la même qu'entre « à Paris » et « sur Paris » ?

  9. Ken

    I got Geri and they are not as good as Katcher.

    As your tags on your blog why not just start tagging them now then may be just on the old ones do a little bit at a time.

    Claire Brisbane QLD

  10. Ken, quelle est enfin la différence entre à Paris et sur Paris??


  11. Ken

    How about un balcon-terrasse qui signifie un large balcon faisant office de terrasse ?
    Now of the english translation , je donne ma langue au chat :-)


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