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We are renovating an old property in France where three walls of an old stone schoolhouse (10ish meters high I'm guessing, maybe more in some places) sit adjacent to the more recent house (1950s). We need to demolish the walls for a few reasons. 1) They present a safety hazard. 2) They block the view. 3) We want to create a large terrace in its place. Two of the walls are not attached to anything, but the third wall is attached to another house--abandoned and not ours--by a kind of short stone bridge which complicates matters further. This wall is not destined for demolition, but it is, of course, attached at the corner to the long wall.

We've brainstormed a few ideas for how to do this safely.

  1. Climb up a ladder, starting at the top and chiseling away at the mortar, thus allowing us to knock down the wall stone by stone. This seems dangerous and slow.

  2. Attach grappling hooks and use a winch to pull down the wall. This seems more efficient and safer for the people involved but more difficult to control where the stones fall. EDIT: No longer considering this given rebound issues: 2

EDIT: Solution 3: use a hand winch and attach to the top stones with a metal band across several stones and then pull down one layer at a time.

We want the stones to fall inward to fill the void where the old foundation used to be and NOT outward risking rolling down the mountain and into other houses.

Anyone have any idea how to approach this demolition? Are we on the right track at all? Any tricks, advice, etc. you could offer?

EDIT: Many have commented below regarding the legal issues involved like protected/historical sites as well as adjacent property considerations. Thank you for thinking of these issues, but we are approaching everything legally and going through all the proper administrative channels (demolition authorization, etc.). France is super serious about these issues, and we don't dare do anything that would jeopardize our neighbors or our project goals!

Picture below is looking up towards the walls which are now covered in vines.

enter image description here

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    I would suggest that the first step is to contact the owner of the other property to let him know what you're going to do. At some point, the wall crosses the line from your property to his, and I'd imagine that you have no legal right to tear down the wall on his property. You may need to hand disassemble the wall along the property line at a minimum, to ensure you don't have any impact on the "not yours" property, should the other owner not be amenable to a tear down (or not locateable). – FreeMan Mar 12 at 14:34
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    20m/60+ feet high? This sounds rather in the realm of hire competent (and insured) help. – Ecnerwal Mar 12 at 15:13
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    The lower edge of my roof is "only" 6 meters or so. Its a long way to the ground from up there, still. Brief use of large equipment by competent operators to knock this down (and then you can make the choice of cleaning it up from a safer location yourself, or exploiting the equipment more) would be a good deal safer than creative DIY "knock-it-over" schemes. – Ecnerwal Mar 12 at 15:25
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    This seems like a perfect opportunity for sledgehammer jenga. Loser gets an ambulance! – DMoore Mar 12 at 20:49
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    The local laws might not permit the demolition of old structures such as this, may need a permit first. – Polypipe Wrangler Mar 12 at 22:01
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Taking down the wall safely is not the only issue. You wrote in comments:

there's no legal problem here because we own all the land surrounding the house that isn't ours, and the connection between the house and the old wall is actually on our property and not technically legal.

My perspective is that of a retired US lawyer, wholly unfamiliar with French real property law. In many legal systems, however, an activity on your own land (such as demolishing the wall) that affects or impairs your neighbors' land or structures thereon could create a serious legal problem for you. In US law, the underlying (pun!) concept is called subjacent support. Changing the land's drainage pattern could similarly affect others' property, and create similar liability.

Before you take any action on the ground, I would consult someone knowledgeable about these sorts of matters in your locality. An attorney or local notaire, or at least someone who has personal experience in real property construction and demolition. The person should not be someone who is involved in proposing, or doing, or contracting the work you want - that person has a built-in conflict of interest.

Removing the walls may be entirely doable. But doing so also may create serious and persistent problems, physical, fiscal, or both. You will be better off knowing before you act.

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  • Yes, these concerns are real, but we are going through the proper channels for administrative permission, etc., namely the village city hall and the national organization in charge of these matters, Architecte des bâtiments de France. – LeAnn Mar 13 at 14:43
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    @LeAnn That's good for sure; it'd be no fun to have city hall upset with you. But note that "administrative permission" may only address the French equivalent of zoning, historical significance, and the like. It might not include assessing whether your proposed demolition will affect the adjoining property's structure, safety, or drainage. Even with "administrative permission" (whatever that is, remember I know no French law), you might still end up with a problem. – DavidSupportsMonica Mar 13 at 15:16
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    yes, understood. Will make sure this is not an issue before proceeding. We already know drainage won't be affected. The major concern is structural integrity. – LeAnn Mar 13 at 15:41
  • @LeAnn Very good indeed! – DavidSupportsMonica Mar 13 at 15:48
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I would say you need a track drive excavator that has a bucket with a grabbing thumb.

You would use the excavator to grab and place the "debris from the old roof and 4th wall that have fallen" so that the excavator can have a stable place to operate from.

The excavator's bucket/thumb can then be used to systematically dismantle the wall.

For a better understanding of what i am suggesting you can watch this YouTube video on building a stone wall to see an excavator at work. (I am available to come to France, s'il vous plaît. I am a handy man.)

enter image description here

Photo from ebay.co.uk

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    You should be able to rent one from a rental company. Do NOT grapple and pull down with a hook, there is a risk that the hook will tear through part of the wall and rebound to where the tension is being applied (ie. you). – Arluin Mar 12 at 23:04
  • Grapple hook is off the table! Thanks. Will use a strong metal band (don't know the proper terms in English since I'm dealing with French speaking workers) – LeAnn Mar 13 at 14:38
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The approaches below can be utilized to perform the demolition efficiently and safely.

If available, a lifting machine can let the worker access the top of wall efficiently and safely. The photo below is a "man-lift" (so called in the US), usually available through construction equipment rental companies. the equipment has varies size (length/high of reach), and working load allowance. You could pair it with a mobile crane, equipped with basket to hold and lower the removed stones to the designated location on ground. The stone can be loosened by a power chisel, then removed manually.

If the man-lift is not available locally, or is undesirable, you can erect scaffold and build working platform on it. But the use of crane is still recommended for safely and effectively removal of the stone. This approach allows more workers work together at the same time, so could be more preferable.

enter image description here

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  • This was indeed our first thought, but getting this type of machine to the location would be rather difficult. Access is limited. – LeAnn Mar 13 at 14:39
  • If there is a rental company nearby, check with them for accessibility of the machines. The newer model is getting smaller each day (some can travel on 4' wide path). Mobil crane is more bulky. You can use an additional man-lift in place of the crane, though preferred. – r13 Mar 13 at 14:56
  • @LeAnn Some can handle very rough terrain, with very long reach. Be aware that the longer the reach, the more bounce there will be at the end though. – SomeoneSomewhereSupportsMonica Mar 14 at 10:51

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