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  1. Original house contained cheap UPVC windows that were ill fitted and would not match the new windows in the two extensions. So the decision was made to fit new windows throughout with the original plan to go for alu-clad wooden, nut resorted to UPVC due to cost and worries on how some of the alu-clad windows were constructed.  Surprising how difficult it was to get quotes that were in an affordable category. Some companies needed numerous follow-up calls which was very frustrating in view of the fact that I would be spending approx £20k on their product. In the end, although I would have preferred to buy local, I ended up sourcing windows from abroad which ended up costing a lot less than anything UK-sourced and also meant they were passivhaus certified! Pity how many sectors in the UK shoot themselves in the foot by atrocious service which is partly down to them not wanting to deal with end clients/self-builders.


    There was a lot of email ping-pong, but I think that would have been the case with UK windows too, but they were at least keen to do business which didn't seem to be the case with many of the UK ones. The only area I was hesitant about was measuring the window openings which was further complicated by the fact that I was using special EWI brackets which would position the windows outside of the window opening itself. So I had to take into account the bracket measurements in addition to the window openings. I must have measured each opening at least 15 times before submitting my final order. Glad to say everything seems to fit (just 3 doors to fit now).


    Unloading some of the units was a bit precarious especially the 800kg 4.6x 2.3m slider using a standard forklift and then travelling 200m down the road! I got a local window company to help me fit the windows and of course they had no clue how to fit them with the EWI brackets. It took a while for them to admit that the client knew best in this case as he'd actually read the bloody instructions. Means I'll have to rectify their first window later on. 


    External view:






    Next stage on the exterior, is to EWI all walls with circa 100mm insulation. Note the brackets above (this is the first window and the bottom bracket aren't fitted correctly, so will need to be fixed before EWI). The brackets will cause minimal thermal bridging at least and certainly be better than having a timber frame constructed all round the window frame. The external aluminium cills (sourced from Germany, cheaper and thicker than UK suppliers) will fix onto that bottom mini (grey) cill at the bottom.


    EWI will tuck in under frame (well all sides of frame of course):




    and will marry up with the insulation I plan to add under the internal cill also:




    My next job is to get started with the internal plastering, so I'm looking at how to detail the internal reveals and cills. My plan is to insulate under the cill also. Cavity wall will most likely be filled with PIR where I can force it down or EPS beads (with a bit of PVA). I'll then fix 60mm PIR board to the now insulated cavity wall using PU adhesive. I'll have to channel out a bit of the PIR to accommodate the window brackets so the board sits flat:




    I should have enough clearance then to fit a wooden cill on top of the PIR. Not sure how best to affix that to PIR. Maybe the plasterboard reveals will sit on top of the cill and help pin it down.


    Probably overkill with the EWI, but my intention was to also insulate the reveals (see grey EPS example above) with 20-25mm PIR board and then plasterboard over the top. Just need to leave sufficient space to get at the internal beading in case the glass ever needs replacing (sons and footballs....).


    The other consideration is to decide where to stick the air tightness tape. Initial thought was to stick that on face of window frame and onto brickwork before I stick down the PIR board. But how well does the stuff stick to clean brickwork? I could add a further layer of tape from window frame and stick to top of PIR board before the final cill goes down.


    I'll try and post some drawings up here later on.




    Not great, but some of the intended detail:



  2. So, after the last entry, we were back to scratch again, having managed to secure an additional piece of land and an alternative access to our plot. Lots of measuring and pacing out later, we were able to basically take what would have been the 2nd floor of the planned house, and put it on the ground floor. The ground floor footprint was made considerably bigger by this, and the overall shape was much less "passive-friendly", but for our tight site, it really was the only option. After a lot of refinements with the architect, he came up with a design that we absolutely loved, gave us privacy from the surrounding buildings, parking AND a little garden. 


    So, some pics at last! Before we got the additional land, we had bought two of the pre-fab 50's garages that back right up to our site and intended to demolish them to gain access. This photos shows a peek of the site through the first panel we removed. There was a massive step up from the ground slab of the garage to the soil level of the site. Looking back, this should have been our first warning of problems to come... 




    The site was a former garden centre, so there was a large timber building (previously a showroom), a play house, a load of slabs, display boxes, plant racks, millions and millions of plastic plant pots everywhere, and 5 world-weary apple trees to get rid of. And a lot of topsoil. Did I mention the topsoil? 




    It was a LOT of work and expense to get rid of all this stuff, as it all counted as "mixed waste" so the disposal fees were enormous. This is when we realised the importance of being on site to supervise. We'd had a holiday booked for months and months before we knew we'd be doing this work, so we briefed the guys doing the clearance (who we trust) who estimated the remaining skip loads. 


    We get back a few days later to discover it had been over double that number and our digger driver had got into a dispute with the skip collection driver over what counted as "waste". So instead of the expected bill from the skip guys of about £2-3000 at the absolute WORST, we came back to a bill of over £10k. This necessitated a somewhat hasty trip to the skip yard and a "full and frank exchange of views" with the owner. After showing us a random picture of some rubbish on his phone and insisting it was from our site, our bill was halved. Left a nasty taste in the mouth though, that's for sure. So, we eventually have a clear site, and now another problem.




    If you're a gardener, you'll appreciate how lovely this topsoil looks. And it is great quality - this plot has been used for nothing but gardens and grazing since medieval times. Unfortunately, that leaves a rather extensive period of time during which the topsoil has nothing to do, but get deeper, and deeper and deeper. By the time we came to own the plot, the topsoil and subsoil layer was over 2m deep in places. 


    Obviously, (after it was explained to us), you can't build a house on top of topsoil. Things grow in it. Things you don't want under your house. So, it had to go. BUT, we couldn't drop the level of the house by 2m, as the plot is surrounded by other buildings and dropping it down that far would cut out essentially all the sunlight coming into the house. If anything, we wanted it higher than the current level to maximise the light. 


    Two options - piling with a suspended floor or simply replacing all the soil with compacted hardcore. We also (briefly, until we got the quotes in) considered adding a basement. That idea didn't last long. 


    After speaking to Hilliard about piling, he mentioned that each pile would potentially be a partial cold bridge, so that was a little off-putting. But we got quotes anyway - they weren't horrendous, but a lot of piling companies weren't massively keen on the site, surrounded as it is by 3 storey blocks of flats, a listed street frontage, crumbling stone walls and potentially a LOT of angry neighbours. Despite this, it was an option we were considering, until every warranty company we spoke to said that they wouldn't issue a warranty for mortgage purposes if there was any black earth under the footprint of the house. 


    So, many many many many tractors and trailers (and pots of money) later, 1000 tonnes of soil was dug out, and replaced with 1000 tonnes of hardcore. And not any hardcore. Due to our engineer (about which a LOT more could be said), it's all Type 1 MOT. All 1000 tonnes of it. Compacted to within an inch of it's life. 







  3. Two years on from starting the hut I'm fitting a gravity water system...I have a wash hand basin in the toilet and sink in kitchen both of which have taps. I connected the waste pipe ages ago which drains to the soak away but never go around to providing the taps with the one thing that kinda makes them useful!

    To be honest the hut isn't in any way uncomfortable to live in. We have a standpipe less than 30m away and just fill up 5l water bottles for drinking and washing. However, I've got some free time and good rioja so why not go and play around up at the hut?

    I'm putting this tank on some posts made up from small tree trunks, against an outside gable wall. This is case of bursts caused by freezing if I (or a less thoughtful wife or teenager) forget to drain the system between visits in winter.

    First made a box for the second hand tank someone gave me.



    The hole at the top is for a garden hose which I'll fill from the standpipe...will know when it's full when the overflow indicates ?

    Bottom pipe will feed both taps. I'm teeing off just under the taps and connecting to both hot and cold. Whalah we should soon have some slow running water for washing...not much need for that but most handy when brushing teeth. Don't like the toothbrush in a cup thing and not having a tap to wash away the spit.??

    I'll post a little photo diary as I progress

  4. caliwag

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    This is modified blog from the first one I added referencing a small, underplayed article in the Sunday Telegraph of 3 September, which I did reference, possibly breaking a rule...or I pressed the wrong button! So you'll need to google at your own leisure. It caught my eye because in the title are the words 'Ugly Homes' and 'Nimbys'...well what is the definition of an ugly home for starters. We all have our own definition of same: mine would be ill-proportioned, jumble of materials...or too busy and poor landscaping associated with too much tarmac...I won't go on.


    The suggestion is that local communities, get together, with a 'design code' assembled by an 'expert' from the planning office in consultation with local residents. Can this be possible? Out of two hundred residents, you'll receive precisely 200 diverse, and no doubt daft, views, including 'no we don't want any development'. Surely this can only be carried out through a parish council...whose final view can only be advisory anyway...just like a planning committee can avoid a highway's engineers report if desired.


    This all sounds time consuming, a delaying tactic to any development or application, ridiculously long- winded, and politically/socially unsound.


    Take a quick look at the description in my blog about an Edward Schoolheifer house in London...sadly that would fail all all Design codes at the first's got a flat roof (shrieks of horror from the assembled nimbys)...careful what you design!

  5. caliwag

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    In the Observer magazine...03:09:17, is an illustrated article (homes section) about a  beautiful, unspoilt 60s house near Shepperton designed by Swiss architect Edward Schoolheifer (no, I hadn't heard of him either!) which would no doubt be hated by the so-called committee of self-appointed experts of the  last blog. Strangely it was reviewed in 2013 when under different ownership...there is a fine photo of the bedroom with a double height hall. It is quite magnificant, in my opinion. It is slightly reminiscent of the houses in New Ash Green near Sevenoaks by Eric Lyons...flat roof, an emphasis on horizontality and superb gardens and planting. A bit of a theme of mine is the importance of planting and especially of the spaces in between. I often think the all architects should have a course on how the building meets the ground and the resulting spaces in between...don't just leave to chance, or it'll be the first bit that gets chopped from the budget, and you'll end up with left over after planning! OK, 10 points to the first person who names the designer or critic who coined that acronym.  

  6. So apart from the long running saga getting the Northern electric network  to understand their own reson d'etre, I've started to do the utility and downstairs bathroom, so as to give us facilities as soon as possible.

    Coincidentally the two houses to the North of us have been bought and are being renovated and the guy doing the building work called in to see me and very kindly told me that there has been a 14% or so rise in insulation costs and another forecast for October according to his BM. He realized I'd be buying quite a bit so had popped in to warn me - which was nice of him.

    So I checked online for the best price I could find and rang my local Jewsons branch with my account number and asked what their price was - it was about £6 more per sheet - so I told them the price I could get it at and they said they'd match it - so since that meant quicker delivery I just ordered 20 sheets (it was celotex I was after but they only have a different brand so I thought I'd only 59b4125628783_20170905_1033231.thumb.jpg.10e6e35eacd98aa5788ae404689bf9c4.jpgorder a limited amount until I saw the quality).  It seems fine, though being 100mm it has made me realize that I need to think a bit more about the floor build up as it still leaves me about 150mm + to the door level (disconcertingly, on the ground floor I find the beam-&-block level to door opening levels to be different at different entrances!) , though that does mean I can squeeze in another 100mm of insulation - a pity that for some reason it shot up in price recently. So my plan is to buy seconds unfaced insulation and put that on the bottom, and the foil faced on the top.


    I had planned to buy it all from a seconds supplier, but found  that I can now get better prices for new in the foil faced versions than their seconds are priced at!


    After getting a few quotes, and reading peoples comments I chose Wunda to supply our UFH kit. I began pricing it all by buying it individually via eBay and so on, but found Wunda to be very competitive, so went with the easy option and got it all in one go in the end. We bit the bullet and after months debating have gone for only having UFH on the first floor in 59b4129722065_20170905_1653261.thumb.jpg.a38c0884adc870d589b491fa7c4f52f3.jpgthe bathroom, though obviously the whole of the ground floor will have it.   Although I know the calculations say we should not need it, I am tempted to fit "just in case" background electric panel heaters in the bedrooms.



    My daughter bringing he59b412520afe6_20170902_1154401.thumb.jpg.ae7f17def3d553c59510d52622a3e8e2.jpgr horse to visit!




  7. Just a quick update seeing as I had the camera on me. As always, not as much progress as I would have liked- I was away from the build for a lot of August, but it's good to come back to it refreshed.

    The painting is finally finished (that seemed to take an age), the WC is temporarily installed, and the woodburner is up and running- I'll do a separate entry for that, at some point.

    The overhead beams are now sanded back and sealed with Osmo Polyx oil- I'll use the same stuff on the windowsills. The trickiest part of doing the beams has been installing the spotlights, with some very careful drilling to feed the wiring through from above. These beams are tied into the rafters so any mistakes would just have to be filled as best I could, and serve as a reminder forever more.

    Today's task was to start on the flooring, which is carbonised strand woven bamboo. I am bonding this down so, again, little room for error. I decided that rather than start at one wall, I would mark a straight line up the middle of the floor, through the big connecting door, and then screw down a batten. This becomes my starting line and ensures that the flooring will tie up as it moves from bedroom to living room. I wa worried that if I'd started at the wall, then when the two sections of floor met up at the doorway I could find myself a few mm out. I have no idea if what I'm doing is common practise but it seems to make sense to me!

    I didn't get as far as bonding down anything yet today, as the floor turned out to be a lot dirtier than I realised, and I've spent all day on my knees with a sander removing blobs of paint and plaster. A few quid spent on some dust sheets would have been a good investment... oh well, I'll know for next time :)




  8. Started external wall insulation, 240sqm in total to fix.  Its Pavatherm combi, 40mm. Fixed a 40mm (cut down from 50mm) batten on the outside edge of soleplate and rested boards on top and off you go. Takes a while to then fit dpm and horizontal battens which I now need to remove and fix vertical battens first......Nearly finished the house frame except the flat roof, Seems a little odd to start covering walls after so long, I need to contact window suppliers again for more accurate quotes.




  9. In this entry I'm going to discuss in more detail how I came to choose our heating and hot water system, and how it has performed to date.


    As other forum members have found, deciding which fuel source and type of technology to use in a low energy house, is a challenge given the different requirements each of us has.  We had three stipulations – low running costs, hot water available on tap 24/7 and maintenance of the whole house at an even and constant temperature 24/7.


    Having calculated our heating demand, taking the impact of solar gain, incidental household gain, human occupancy and wind speed into account, I was confident that I had a good indication of the amount of heating I would need.  I was also confident, based on historical use, of the amount of hot water we as a family use.


    Living in an area without mains gas, my options were somewhat limited to using either oil or electricity as my fuel source. LPG was initially considered but discounted due to the lack of availability in my location. 


    As part of the decision making process, I spent a fair amount of time carrying out a cost comparison of both oil and electricity based heating and hot water systems, using 500kWh increments from 2500kWh to 5000kWh.  I considered direct electric of various type, oil and air source heat pumps, both air to water and air to air.  Solar PV was also considered and costed in terms of each method of heat and hot water delivery.


    In line with previous cost comparisons that I had carried out, I found direct electric to be the most cost effective in terms of capital outlay and running costs when both heating and hot water demand were less than 2500 kilowatt hours each year. As heating requirement and hot water requirement increases so the balance began to tip in favour of other technologies.


    Oil was quickly dropped from the list as it became apparent that any rise in fuel prices over then then low point, would significantly increase running costs.


    Having conducted significant investigation in respect of the viability of Sunamp units, although attractive in many ways, I found that the capital outlay and running cost was simply too high to be able to justify, given that the main benefit (low heat losses) were not as critical for me as they have been for others.  Part of that decision was also driven by the cost of fitting Solar PV, which in our remote location was extortionate.  I looked into a non MCS DIY install, but couldn’t make the figures stack up, the break-even point being around 17 years.  Much as I wanted to install PV, it didn't make any sense financially.  In time, I hope to revisit PV, if and when battery storage reduces the break-even point to a more realistic timescale. 


    A wind turbine, given our location and the virtually constant presence of wind, would have been an ideal energy source and paired with Sunamp technology, probably unbeatable.  The proximity of nearby houses ruled out that option in terms of planning permission.


    Air to Air heat pumps were ruled out based on my own experience of them and a road test at a friends house.  Neither myself or my good lady found them particularly pleasant as a heat source.


    Having gone through the list of options, an air to water air source heat pump, paired with a large UVC and UFH for the distribution of heat, represented the best balance in terms of capital outlay, running costs and crucially, comfort and convenience.


    We opted for a package from Mitsubishi Ecodan, an 8.5kW heat pump and 300 litre pre-plumbed cylinder fitted with the Mitsubishi FTC5 control panel. Given our location, we opted for the coastal model, which is treated with acrylic resin for enhanced corrosion resistance.  Whilst a pre-plumbed cylinder is more expensive than a bare cylinder and associated parts, after taking labour (plumber and electrician) into account, I found there was very little difference in cost.


    I sourced the package from a trade supplier, Secon Solar. I found their price list while searching online and having phoned the company, and perhaps fortuitously speaking to the managing director of the firm, found they were quite happy to sell me package at trade / installer price, the bonus being that delivery to my location was free.


    The package is configured for the UK market, the only difference to the system as sold in the rest of Europe (AFAIK) being that the cooling function of the heat pump is disabled so that the product complies with MCS approval for claiming RHI.  It is however a simple task to activate the cooling function, by flipping a dip switch in the control module on the cylinder.  Cooling can then be controlled from the master controller.




    As stated in an earlier blog entry, the heat pump and cylinder were fitted very quickly with simple connections on the plumbing side – flow and return from the ASHP, cold water, hot water and flow and return to the underfloor heating manifold.  Electrical connections consisted of power to the ASHP, a cable from the ASHP to the control module and a plug-in controller. 


    I had initially planned to have the cylinder in the utility room close to the ASHP Monobloc, but changed the location to a service cupboard in the middle of the house, to reduce internal DHW pipe runs.  This does mean a 15 metre pipe run for flow and return to the ASHP, but as virtually all is within the insulated envelope, it doesn’t represent much of an issue, and does not appear to be having an adverse effect on performance.  




    The ASHP Monobloc itself is located beside our back door, open to the elements.  It seems happy enough where it is, despite the wind that traverses the space between house and garage walls.  Locating the ASHP within the garage itself was an option but one I decided against simply on the grounds that I didn’t want to give up floor space within the garage.  A timber housing for the ASHP is something we may look at in the future.






    We opted to fit individual room thermostats to all 3 bedrooms, to give us the option of being able to reduce the bedroom temperatures if we so wished.  We have not used these and keep the whole house at one temperature 24/7, treating the underfloor heating as a single zone.


    At present I only have limited data as to how the heat pump has performed since moving in.  On board energy metering (energy consumed and energy produced) shows the CoP for heating has ranged between 3.5 and 4. DHW is maintained at 47C-50C in the cylinder, boosted every fortnight to 60 degrees by the immersion on an anti-legionella cycle.  To date the CoP for DHW is 2.4


    As members know, heat pumps are best suited to the production of low temperature heat as opposed to the higher temperatures required for domestic hot water.  Whilst the CoP for DHW is lower than that for heating, the cost per kWh of our DHW, based on a CoP of 2.4, is 5p, which is significantly better than an E7 electricity tariff.  We may be taking a hit on efficiency, but in reality all of the other options would have cost us more.


    The 300 litre capacity of the cylinder means that we have plenty of hot water on tap and can comfortably run a full bath and still have sufficient left over for another person to shower. 


    The ASHP is currently operating on a 24/7 basis, providing heat input to the UFH and topping off the DHW as and when it determines it needs to, at whatever flow temperature it determines.  Whilst that does sound like a recipe for high bills and high flow temperatures, in practice, the heat pump delivers the lowest flow temp it can get away with to maintain our set temperature.


    If I so choose, the controller lets me set various parameters such as heating curves or set flow temperatures, or indeed a timed schedule for heating and DHW. However,as the system is operating efficiently on its auto setting, and providing the level of comfort we want, I see very little reason to mess around and create my own settings.  If say electricity tariffs were to change from a single tariff to a dynamic tariff, then I would have the option of timing the heat pump operation to coincide with  lower rate tariffs. 


    After much thought, and indeed discussion on this forum, I opted for an 8.5 kWh ASHP over a 5 kWh ASHP, as I felt happier running a larger unit more gently than pushing a smaller capacity unit harder.  A 5 kWh unit would probably have sufficed, and in time, may be what the current unit is replaced with when it reaches the end of its life.


    We haven’t yet had to activate the cooling function as any overheating (defined as internal temperatures over 23C) caused by solar gain, can, as modeled, be managed by natural cross ventilation.  


    Neither have we found it necessary to constantly circulate the UFH to even out the house temperature / redistribute solar gain from one part of the house to the other.  In the heating season, we found that there was sufficient circulation of the UFH during the heating cycle to maintain the house at an even temperature.  Outwith the heating season, when solar gain is at its peak, the house zones itself, the bedroom section remaining slightly cooler than the public areas, very useful on a warm summers day.   


    Overall I’m very happy and impressed with our system.  It has, so far, delivered everything we have asked of it in terms of comfort and convenience, and the running costs are low.  I have the capability to cool the house (via slab cooling) if I so wish, and the option to bolt on a second zone pack onto the pre-plumb cylinder if I ever found it necessary to install a second heating / cooling function – i.e. fan coil or duct heater / cooler.  The one criticism that I have is about the controller thermostat function and its hysteresis - 1C increments only. A finer degree of control would have been preferable. 


    Our installation was recently inspected by an MCS accreditor (our plumber is going through the accreditation process).  In due course that will give us the option to apply for RHI, although that will be very much dependant on whether the figures stack up.


  10. 05.08.17 - we have FINALLY received our quote for the under-grounding of the electricity wires! 8 weeks and we'll have a date for when the work will commence! Horrah!!!!

  11. So, its been nearly a year since my last post and this is what we have achieved thus far.

    We attended the NEC show in Feb to confirm in our own mind the products / suppliers we hope to use – namely roof tiles, flooring, rainwater goods & windows and doors. Despite our best efforts to remain focused we had our heads turned by a range of wooden windows – Accoya wood – we made some enquiries and after a few weeks we received their costings - £37k for 10 windows, two French doors and 2 external doors in triple glazing. The fact that this was so over our budget, helped dismiss them from our thinking.

    We also made day trips to various showrooms up and down the country to cement in our own mind the type of kitchen units we would be looking to use, oak joinery and floor tiles.

    Five local builders were identified, all within a 20 miles radius of the plot. One was already booked up, well beyond this time next year, leaving me with just 4. All expressed an interest so they were sent the plans and associated documents in the hope that they would be able to provide a meaningful price.

    Three responded and personal visits were arranged in early July to discuss the details. The 4th failed to get in touch so we didn’t bother chasing.

    During our visit up North, in early July, the intention was to meet with the builders and discuss the finer details prior to making a decision which regards to which one we would be going with.

    One builder had done everything we had asked of him and presented a price within our estimates so all good so far. Unfortunately the other two had failed to anything with the papers I had sent them some months ago – “We’ll get it done in the next couple of weeks” – Yeah right! We’ll see – the problem is their failure to deal with what was a reasonable request in a reasonable time frame has left a cloud which is difficult to shift. After all, they said they would be interested in the first place.

    However, our visit wasn’t all in vain - It allowed us to visit two non-wooden window manufactures, one of whom we will be using –  We have chosen to go with a Heritage Range from Evolution – similar to the range offered by Residence 9. Both very similar in design but the Evolution range, in particular, the Flush range, really does have the appearance of wood, which is lacking in the R9 range we believe. Both quotes came out within £100 of each other so the costings were not part of the decision making process.

    We also visited two quarries / stone merchants to discuss the external wall requirements. An expensive part of the project and important we choose the correct looking stone. A further meeting will be held in October.  We are working to a budget of around £22k and this should be achievable – Lime mortar is a given and the beds will be 150mm, tied into the TF across a suitable cavity. We are told there will be no need for an additional rain screen such as SURECAV.

    We also met with a local company who will undertake the underfloor heating / DHW requirements and an independent Kitchen manufacturer who will supply and fit.

    There was an opportunity to visit our neighbours. An issue over previously agreed access to their septic tank needed to be ironed out. Up until we had purchased the plot of land, they were granted access by the farmer to allow the Septic Tank lorry to access their tank, across what is now our land.

    Through talking with neighbours we discovered a new build being developed very nearby – it just so happens that the TF Company they are using is the same as ours. We took a look and identified a new builder who I have since furnished with the appropriate details – watch this space.

    This was an unwritten agreement which clearly needed to end. It has been resolved because in recent times the truck has been parking on the roadside verge and the suction hose carried across the land to the tank. This practice will continue so all is good on that front.

    The building warrant has been issued just recently and was dealt with by the TF manufacturer. I believe I could have perhaps saved some money in this area but like most things, never having done this before or having had people around me who have, I felt I needed the comfort of having it done for me. Of course, such peace of mind comes at a price.

    I estimate the total cost of the following to be just South of £10K

    Planning plans drawn up

    Soil survey -

    Planning application –

    Solicitors fees -

    Building plans for submission to SBE –

    Structural Engineers report –

    Building warrant –

    So hopefully with a builder in place soon, costings and products such as the roof tiles, windows and doors, joinery, floor tiles, heating and DHW all agreed, it seems we are in a good place.

    Ground works will start in  early 2018 ahead of the TF which is due to arrive in April 2018.

    I will spend the months in between contacting the Utility companies and ensuring that they are all on board with our build schedule and finalising / confirming the builder.

    Next update due in 6 months………………..


  12. Those beyond a certain again will remember Spot The Ball, the competition on the sports pages back in the 80s/90s.


    It was an action photo from a football match with the ball missing – you had to mark the picture with an X where you thought the ball was and send it in with your entry fee. If the middle of your X aligned with the middle of the ball, you won the prize.




    Except, it wasn’t quite like that. What actually happened was that judges also guessed where they thought ball was, and if your guess matched their guess, then you won the prize.


    I now wonder whether a similar process was used to provide documentation to us, and to the purchaser of our neighbouring plot, as to  where the oil and gas pipeline ran in relation to both our plots.


    Here is the location of the pipeline, as shown in the approved plans for the plot we purchased. More importantly, it is also where the purchasing of the neighbouring plot was told the pipeline was.




    And here is the actual location of the pipeline, updated after the pipeline owners had been out with their magic wand and a subsequent dig to perform a visual inspection of the pipeline:




    The ball is not where they thought it was!

    The pipeline owner has a legal responsibility (as defined in the Deed of Servitude) to maintain pipeline markers at boundary points, and you can see two of them at the border of our plot (roughly left of the markers) and our neighbours plot, at the front of the wall.  One is the original marker that existed when we bought the plot, and the second was added after the dig for a visual inspection. There is also a marker at the back of the plot, and that is where the discrepancy was - the pipeline was meters from where the approved planning document indicated.




    I never did find out how this could happen – we don’t know if the marker at the back of the plot was originally in the wrong location (the pipeline owners insists this was never the case) or where the architects who did the original planning permission got their information from, but someone messed up big time.


    I’d like to have thought the specific location of the pipeline would have come up during the plot purchase process, but whilst the missives etc clearly mentioned the pipeline it did not specifically state where the pipeline was in relation to either plot – that information was only part of the planning drawings, which were independent (from a legal perspective) of the plot purchase.


    Thankfully for my wife and I, the new location of the pipeline did not impact us in any way, and in some respects would make our life easier, as we were farther from the no-build zone. Our neighbours were not so lucky – they had to change their plans to move their house and shrink it using a stepped design, so as to not have anything on the no build zone. I’m not sure how far he explored any legal routes available to him, but it seemed he had nowhere to go as the purchase of the plot itself did not specify where the pipeline was.


    My learn from this: Don’t trust something because it is on a plan or a drawing. Ask questions and get confirmation. Caveat Emptor.

  13. Its been a while since the last blog and lots has happened.  We'd been busy with other things and planned to crack on with the house but while on the way to our house a couple of weeks ago, the OH was hit by a car which failed to give way at a junction.  He was riding his cycle, got thrown up and across the road, landing on his head.  Luckily, nothing was coming the other way, and he was wearing a helmet which took a lot of the impact and somehow, apart from lots of scrapes, his main limbs were fine, it was just his head that was badly hurt. :(

    He suffered a fractured cheek and eye socket but luckily, his eye appears okay.  There were no fractures of the head or neck so after a night at the hospital he was sent home.  A week later he had an op to fix the cheek and is now recovering from that.  His good looks have returned with only a small scar around the eye.   Another week and I'll be sending him back to work - he can do the painting at least!

    And in case you are wondering; the car driver was reported for careless driving and has admitted liability.:)


    Back to the house and a few pictures of the plastered bedrooms.  What a transformation from their origonal state. 



    The old windows had plasterboard added right up to the glass so I did take it all off and redid the reveals.  It looks so much better now. 


    The new cupboard on the landing and door to the front bedroom.


    and the back bedroom;



    This is the wall in the last blog which was my first plasterboarding attempt - it looks much better now.


    We are looking to start on the bathroom downstairs next.  I have been busy sourcing everything and once the OH is back to normal, it should leap forward.  The stud wall is in place, the bath is sitting in the bedroom and I am waiting for Nicholls to give me a good price on the rest of the furniture. More to follow...............

  14. Rendering and all cladding completed.  Couple coats of paint on the render and we'll probably give it another towards the end of the summer when we hopefully finish the build. 


    Also Cecil the Lion is in place, this stone lion head is on every house that my family (my Grandad, Dad and now me) has self built, 4 in this town currently, 3 of which are still owned by the family.  The story of how this tradition began is a little lacking in detail, but I did enjoy placing it 50+ years after my Grandad did the very same thing just a mile or so up the road. 




  15. I know there is no such thing, but this blog is supposed to be about Details.


    How to build an attractive looking bin store to deal with dustbins that breed like Statutory Consultees in the Planning process?


    Here is one option used locally. They have used traditional perforated blocks that we are all used to from the 1970s.




    Here is something similar from Kevin McCloud's The Triangle development, using Gabions.



    (Photo Credit)


    The McCloud version suffers from being in the eyeline whenever the householder leaves the front door.


    If you have any good examples, please post in the comments.

  16. I have been doing the design validation of my plumbing solution partly so I am comfortable that it is feasible and partly to write this up so that others have a model of how to approach this task.  The last time that I did anything like this was with my current house where everything apart from taps for drinking water was fed off a (non-potable) header tank in the roof space and the central heating system was a classic 2-pipe (with branches) radiator system fed from a gas boiler.


    Even though our new house is a generation away in technology: passive-class, airtight to better than 0.6 ACH, low-temperature UFH in slab, pressurised water system using a Hep2O manifold / radial configuration, I still approached the design by refreshing my understanding of pipe dynamics, etc. using such reference works as this excellent intro into pipework calculations: John Heartfield, Water Flowing in Pipes I  – The Theory  and useful site like the Pipe Pressure Drop Online Calculator.  The first is worth a scan if you want to get a handle on some of the sizing issues.



    However, the figure above shows the pressure losses for the major system components in my Domestic Water System.  Note that the pipework losses represent about 1% of the total pressure drop and this value is lost in the noise compared to some of the uncertainties on the larger ticket items.  So it really is a waste of time worrying about the pipe losses in a pressurised radial system so long as your follow the following guidelines; this is not where you need to focus your design attention.

    • Configure your pipe layout as a radial system. 
    • Try to avoid putting multiple appliances on a single pipe, except where there are strong practical reasons for doing do.  For example, our dishwasher is adjacent to our kitchen sink and is a cold fill unit T'ed off the cold to the sink.
    • Plumb all cold and high-flow hot radial piping in 15mm
    • Consider plumbing low-flow hot runs in 10mm, though there is a lot of simplification and little to be lost in going up to 15mm if these runs are short.
    • If at all practical co-locate your manifolds, DHW storage, HW heating, and other directly related equipment in a single service area.  This will keep all shared pipe runs short, and associated heat looses small.
    • Properly lag all hot piping up to and including the manifolds.
    • Lag the cold piping as well to avoid condensation.
    • Whilst the pressure drop on common pipework is relative small, it is well worth while plumbing this in 22mm at a minimum.
    • Pipe noise is still a risk so where practical use swept bends rather than tight elbows, and keep track of worst case flow velocities.  Keep these under 1 m/s where at all practical and under no circumstances allow them to go above 2 m/s.
    • User full bore valves and fittings where practical to avoid unnecessary flow restrictions.

    It is worth finding out the the pressure drop vs flow data on all of your system components.  You'll typically get these as a set of log-log plots or power curves on linear axes.  They are almost invariably approximated by pwer curve fit and therefore all of the form a.fb where f is the flow rate and a and b are pipe / device-specific constants.  So in the case of my calculations, I used the following constants to compute the PD in kPa as a function of flow rate in m/s:


    Name a b Int Dia
    15mm HEP2O 0.00300 1.743 0.013
    15mm copper 0.00243 1.742 0.0134
    22mm copper 0.00038 1.728 0.0202
    25mm MDPE 0.00035 1.748 0.021
    28mm copper 0.00011 1.718 0.0262
    SunAmp 1.42000 1.810 n/a
    Softener 0.27600 1.740 n/a
    PRV 0.04400 2.000 n/a
    TMV 0.10000 2.000 n/a


    I then created a test scenario that I wanted to make sure that my system could cope with. IMO, at a minimum this should include two high-flow devices at full open setting running in parallel, but for our design I used what I considered a worst case morning scenario and that was one shower @ 10 l/min and 42°C, one shower @ 8 l/min and 42°C, and the kitchen sink @ 8 l/min 48°C.


    Note that if you crank the numbers using Dec/Jan water supply temperatures, this comes out at an equivalent instantaneous heat demand of 67 kW, and given that combi-boilers top out at 40 kWr, this is well over 50% more that the largest combi boiler could deliver.


    It's then just a case of doing the temperature blend and flow-rate calculations and cranking the numbers in a spreadsheet.  On my first pass through, it was very clear that attempting to satisfy this short of flow rate through a single SunAmp was just beyond its rate capacity, but luckily we had already two configured in parallel.  Even so, the parallelled SunAmps account for ~ 0.55 bar pressure drop, along with the DHW TMV.  The water softener accounts for 0.8 bar and the Honeywell pressure regulator 0.3 bar. 

    The difference in pressure drop on the 3 pipe runs (all being ~1% of the total) is negligible, but since the total is ~2.25 bar and the actual head is 3 bar, we have ample headroom to sustain this scenario.  (Actually one of the showers is on the second floor, so in this case we lose nearly another half bar getting the water up there.) If the net figures are negative then we aren't going to achieve this flow rate and we will be system limited.  But they are all positive, so we are OK, and this means that the taps or the various flow restrictors are going to have to do their work to limit the flow.


    So what could I do if I wasn't achieving the desired flow rates?  Basically the answer either to revise my expectation downward (after all my current house design can just about deliver half of this); to increase unit capacity by upgrading in some how (e.g. in my case doubling up on the SunAmps), or to think out of the box.


    The biggest single hit here is the water softener, and in fact I introduced this fairly late in the design process when I realised that having one is pretty much essential with my level of water hardness, but that's life, I guess.





    We wanted a modern design staircase that looked as though it were free standing but at a reasonable price. After a lot of searching we found an Italian company called Fontanot. They produce spiral and winder staircases from steel and wood. We visited their distributers at Rotherham and chose the Genius 030 winder staircase with white power coated steel work and natural beech treads. We tweaked the design a little and then placed the order. We were given a four week lead time but it was delivered in three weeks. The whole staircase came in a 1.2m x 1.0m x 0.6m crate. Then it was a case of putting together the biggest kit I've built. There was a DVD with the instructions which was helpful but gave the impression that it could be built quickly, which it most certainly wasn't in our case.






    The parts of the spine.






    The rest of the kit minus the treads.















    To build the staircase you start at the top.






















    First tread is screwed to the side of the stairwell.




























    Then you work your way down.

















    The base of the spine is bolted to the floor.

































    On the landing the balusters are fitted into cups that are screwed and bolted to the floor.































    Finally finished and the treads were covered with a protective film.








  18. Please note that this copy of our blog has now been superseded by the version on our own domain so may be in error and will not be maintained. 


    Any comments should be made on the new site as I do not actively follow any comments on this forum.


    Blog is now hosted here The House at Mill Orchard

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    Latest Entry

    I got the notion last week to start up a Blog on buildhub after enjoying the advice and knowledge everyone had contributed over the past year (or part thereof) since it launched. I've been on a journey to finding my own home for about two years after renting for the last 20. I thought I'd summarize where I'm at and how I got here to help others hovering around the same place and to spur them onwards to achieving their great dream too! 


    So, where am I exactly? I've completed Stage 1 - I've a developed sketch, floor plan and it's been submitted to pre-planning who are happy with the design. I'm currently working on securing a contract on the land subject to planning permission before Stage 2 which is applying for same. Sounds easy when I put it like that! It wasn't but I've arrived at a place where I can visualize the spaces and have more meaningful conversations as I figure out answers to the multitude of questions that go though my head. 


    I've found some great resources (not least this website!) - The Housebuilder's Bible & The Sustainable builders bible to name but a few. I've been in Dublin, Cork, Belfast, London & Frankfurt at exhibitions around renovating, housebuilding and lighting to speak to experts and get an idea of what's out there. Hard to believe that two years ago I thought all houses were built "more or less" the same. Then I discovered Passive Houses through a customer and my world was tilted - it's never been the same since! I used to ignore places like Screwfix, Wickes etc as when renting there's not much you can do to a house, the investment is lost the minute you move out. But now I'm taking a wander around and weighing up different kitchens, bathroom fixtures (my jaw dropping at some of the prices!) and figuring out what I actually like. 


    Working with the Architects who developed the sketches I'm displaying here was interesting in itself. They have a very good track record on Passive Houses in Ireland, one of the main drivers behind my build. My budget is tight however so a 89 square meter two bedroom house is what we're aiming for. I got the Quantity Surveyor costings recently and we're just inside the budget I'd set so I'm happy so far. There's still a LOT that can go wrong of course but one step at a time....! 


    The front of the house is facing just off south, 220 degrees or so therefore the open plan back of the house is going to be darker and colder. We've still to get DEAP/BER/PHPP done which will probably drive some changes but I love the vaulted ceiling idea in the quieter rear living space and will be interested to see how things progress in 2017.


    I don't know where I'll be in a year, if I can secure that land contract then off to Planning Permission I go. As I've said to many people I'll keep ploughing ahead until someone says no....! 


    I'd say I've spent about 10K so far on the Architects, Surveyor, QS, attending exhibitions etc but the expertise I've connected with has turned my dream into something with potential that shows. I'm tempted to run ahead and get more done without the land contract in my hand so I can submit planning sooner but with Christmas around the corner, I think it's time to back off, relax and little and take a breath. 


    I've enjoyed reading the other blogs when they reach that build stage, where dreams meet reality. May I one day be able to contribute my own story into that Library.....







  19. Making a sensible guess at what it might cost

    We already know from the previous Blog Post that , at the moment, Stone Columns is the preferred method. So, it's straight to SPONS for a look-see.

     Here's a link to the book, it's expensive, but it's saved me more money than I care to count - and here's the twist - it's increased my level of confidence no end. Because I know what a reasonable price is likely to be. Here's the link to a post I made about it recently - goes into more detail than I do here (I don't want to repeat myself, people get bored so I'm told). This blog post will illustrate how useful the book can be: or how useful it is to me.

    SPONS  - the hardback book has a few pages on piling (Chapter 7 p.238 et seq), and when you buy it you also get the licence for an online version - and that allows you to search for 'piling' across the whole book. Suddenly you are aware of all sorts of things to do with piling, as well as the charges directly attributable to piling. So, for example I find that a CFA team consists of 3 blokes (sorry 'people'), their rates  of pay and so on. Very absorbing.


    And that's useful because it begins to redress the 'expert' , 'customer' imbalance. Fuller information promotes partnership and engagement. I accept that some may not want that, but I do.


    Many piling methods need a piling mat. Some don't (Surefoot for example) See also my previous blog post

    So the key for me at the moment is how to sort out the piling mat.


    The Basics

    There are two elements to piling: the piles themselves and the piling and the area which needs to be prepared for the rig. It's called a ' Piling Mat'


    A piling mat is simple: its a level area about 2 meters wider than the plot so that the piling rig can strut its stuff. (I'll post the exact specification later)

    So in our case that's about 14 meters by 14 meters. That needs to be costed.


    Here goes: area affected -  (10 by 10 plus two meters each side for wriggle room , that makes 14 by 14), say 200 sq m, lets keep it easy for those of us who only just passed maths O Level.

    The SI report makes it clear that we have at least 2m of made ground everywhere.


    What's the spec for a Piling Mat? Well, if you pay £45:00 you can find out.  BRE (2004) Working Platforms for Tracked Plant: good practice guide to the design, (etc.)


    For costing purposes we can have a look at SPONS now (page 163)  '...excavate to form piling mat; supply and lay imported hardcore – recycled brick and similar to form piling mat...'

    Spon's Architect's and Builders' Price Book 2016. CRC Press


    Assuming the site needs to be dug over to a depth of 1 m and then compacted, I need a price for 200m cubed . That translates to a price of £1600 to £2000.


    First quote £11,000. Yeah, right.


    The piling itself: The SE will tell the piling company what they need to support, and the SE needs the Soil Investigation and the Topographical survey


    To Be Continued

  20. It has been a while since I posted and things are progressing, so expect a flurry of posts in the next few months as things are decided before we go to contract, however I have been working on some minor detailing.  I have decided that I want to extract toilet smells directly from the pan (see JSHarris blog part 32)

    I have 6 toilets in the house, in 3 pairs (see the plans on blog 02-The Planning Saga) so can use 3 extract runs, one to each pair, the simple bit.  I then need to work out how to connect to the MVHR system and the toilet cistern.  The MVHR ducting will be Hybalans+, thought the design/supply/install is still be to sorted out.  So I have 3 issues to work out: 1 connecting to the cistern, 2 connecting to the MVHR, 3 connecting the two together.

    1. Connecting to the cistern.
      After much research looking at low flush toilets and attempting to get information from suppliers (as soon as you go for non-standard ideas they all clam up) I discovered the Geberit Duofresh with build in odour extraction and started enquiring with Geberit about getting the connecting pipe from cistern to pan and using it on a standard cistern.
       Duofresh1.png   Trying to get this bit.   Duofresh2.png
      The issue being that the bit I want is not available as a part and is solvent welded to the cistern, however after much toing and froing of e-mails and finally a call from the technical department it was agreed that by using the Duofresh cistern (available without the filter and fan unit) I could cut through the pipe and connect it to the MVHR system.  The plan is to cut the vent pipe (it is 50mm) and put on a solvent weld joint with reducer and 40mm push fit adaptor (reason for 40mm push fit later).  I was also planning to seal up the feed into the cistern (vertical pipe) however this is square post the transition bend so not going to be so easy (can’t use a 50mm plug) so I may end up just filling it with expanding foam to seal it.  I have decided on the Geberit cistern as the ability to service them once installed appeals and the Duofresh cistern is only about £10 dearer than the standard cistern.

    2. Connecting to the MVHR.
      I then needed to work out how to connect the pipe to the MVHR system, the pipe coming from the manifold will be either 92/75 or 75/62 (external/internal dimension) and connect it to two 40mm pipes.  I then realised that soil pipes are 110mm standard and the vent terminals are between 100 &125mm so there was some potential there.  My solution (still to be tested) is to use a vent terminal adaptor onto a solvent weld pipe, my reasoning as follows:
      The 110mm soil pipe has an outside diameter of approximately 110mm and the solvent weld socket has an outside diameter of 121mm.

      The straight vent connector has a diameter of 125mm, the 900 one 118mm, however the vent inserts show a diameter of 114mm, so I suspect the 125mm is an external and the 118mm internal.
      Straight.png   90Deg.png  Insert.jpg
      The straight vent connector has a diameter of 125mm, the 900 one 118mm, however the vent inserts show a diameter of 114mm, so I suspect the 125mm is an external and the 118mm internal.
      I should be able to connect the vent terminal adaptor over the plain pipe with a push fit sealing ring on it and solvent weld a plug into the other end.
      Adaptor.png  Seal.png  Plug.png  Boss.png
      Then insert two 40mm push fit boss adaptors into the bosses on the pipe.
      I should now have an adaptor that connects the 92/75 MVHR pipe to (1-4) 40mm push fit waste pipes.

    3. Connect the MVHR adaptor to the cistern connector.
      With 40mm push fit sockets on both ends it is a simple job to connect up the two ends either with flexible 40mm pipe or rigid with a length of flexible 40mm pipe at each end:

      Roll.png  Connector.png  Short pipe.png
      So now I have a plan to connect the toilets to the MVHR.

    The Geberit parts number is:
    111.353.00.5 (Geberit Duofix frame for wall-hung WC, 112 cm, with Sigma concealed cistern 12 cm, for odour extraction with recirculating air)

    The normal cistern is:
    111.383.005 (Geberit Duofix frame for wall-hung WC, 112 cm, with Sigma concealed cistern 12 cm, wall anchoring and connection bend)

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    Recent Entries

    J (wife of 30 years, mother of our children & gyroscope - keeps us on the level and on course) and I have always dreamed of building our own home.

    We had a sort of go at it at ‘millstone manor’, see below, by knocking down a single story wing and rebuilding it to two stories - we learned two lessons.

    Firstly we no longer think that architects 'do money'. We gave him a budget and the final bill was 3 times that. Secondly we ended up with a house too big for just the two of us now the boomerang kids are on their outward flight – naturally they may still come back but we are not sure we want to be here when they do. Also I enjoyed it immensely which I was not sure I would at the outset. I have spent a lifetime creating stuff and educating people who go on to create stuff but the scale of the sense of achievement when I fixed the second to last piece of skirting board, the last bit is still to be done in the corner of my study, was fantastic.


    House 1.jpg.png

    We had employed only three trades, Bricklayer, roofer (for the tiling) and plasterer the rest I did myself, with appropriate sign offs, in an attempt to control the budget.

    So when the opportunity arose for me to retire a little early we decided to go for a complete build and fulfil our dreams. Well at least that is what we thought. One and a bit years on and we are beginning to wonder.....

    We cast about the country, from north to south, looking for a suitable opportunity we love Scotland, Yorkshire, the Lake District and of course our home county of Kent. In the end we chose to develop in Kent a suitable plot came up, its closer to home and the chosen location allows us to visit London quickly using the HS1 Hitachi trains.

    So one year ago we took possession of this: 11m x 36m plot with a 1911 dilapidated wooden shack, 2 beds - outside toilet, around brick chimney on the front portion.




    Then the fun started.......



  21. Hello Build Hub!

    First Blog entry in our new home.

    So things have stalled quite a bit over the last few months.  Block layers have left site as they don't want to do the peaks without roof supports.

    Trusses have been measured up wrong which has caused some amount of delays.  Also having issues sourcing scaffolding but finally have that issue resolved.  Just need to get the scaffolding to site.

    There have also been some issues with our window cills.  Got measured up for windows and window rep informed me that the cills weren't level one side of the cill being closer to the DPC and the other being further into the cavity.  This would lead to some potential issues for water ingress and air tightness so needs to be rectified before anything else gets done.

    There is also an issue with the height of the inner blockwork at the cills. The inner blocks are currently sitting around 5-10mm higher than the cill level so these need to be cut down a bit.

    Hopefully there is nothing too major required to sort this out.

    I also have some threads up about a potential problem with our hotpress (its only 850mm wide)  and also possible solution to our 3m sunroom opening (Pivot door)

    This is how the house currently looks.  There has also been a rather large wall built to retain my parents garden and line our driveway.  This gives my parents a much bigger garden as this was previously a rather large bank.  Oh and my father built a temporary staircase, just means we wont have to be up and down ladders.  Also should save the proper stairs, as we wont need them in as soon.

    The House





    Front Door View




    Dining Room/Part of Sunroom


    Dining Room View


    Temp Stairs


    Driveway wall & Garage