As the winter weather has been prevented us from moving forward with the rendering and other exterior work we have been working on finishing off insulating the suspended timber floor.
We had a short wait for the plumber to install some drainage below joist level, once this was done it allowed us to finish off fitting the insulation boards. We then used expanding foam along the edges of the boards to ensure no gaps.
The next job was fitting the frametherm as the second layer between the joists. I'm using frametherm 35 between the studs but I wanted to use a 90mm layer of frametherm 32 on top of the quinn therm boards.
It's a bit more expensive for the frametherm 32 but the quality compared to the frametherm 35 is very noticeable. I have found the quinn therm and frametherm work well together.
It took a while for the order to come to site and we had a bit of a race against time to get this fitted before our joiners came back on site to fit the chipboard, which is the next job on the list.
The firework instruction phrase "light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance" comes to mind. It's been a real baptism of fire, however our builder says it's the worst time and it should settle down now. All in all it's been a productive week and almost all work has moved us forward.
The digger arrived to dig out the raft area at 8am as requested and work got under way. We had muck lorries scheduled for Tuesday and it quickly became apparent that we did not have enough space on site to build a significant spoil heap. After a bit of phoning around found a local company who could supply vehicles. Our builder had asked us to take care of paying for the muck lorries which was fine by us, getting the lorry company to accept that it should be a zero rated VAT service was more difficult. Contacted HMRC and had a discussion and they were adamant that it should be zero rated and that if VAT was charged I could not reclaim it as it would have been at the wrong rate... Managed to resolve the problem in the end. Now we had lorries arriving and clearing the soil we were able to make real progress.
Tuesday the rainwater harvesting tank arrived, we knew it was big and boy was it big! The tank needed to get dug in just 2.5M deep and 4M long, a very big hole. Fortunately the ground conditions were good and a nice clean hole was achieved without the need to grade the sides.
By Wednesday we were ready for site setting out. An interesting activity and an example of technology being used because it's there rather than essential. Making sure the house position is millimetre perfect seems a bit over the top when string and triangulation would get it positioned within 10mm. Where it really does help is positioning services and getting drainage levels set. A second visit on Thursday had all the levels set and perimeters marked, by the time the guy left the site I had changed my opinion and consider it money well spent.
More and more lorries to take muck away, the tally now sits at twelve loads and we are mostly done thank goodness as at £240 a 12 ton load for the clay it was making a bit of a whole in the budget, a quick calculation of the volumes validated the figures, so it really should not have been a surprise. In hindsight I'm surprised our builder didn't ask me to organise in more lories in the first place. If I do this again I'll order the lorries in advance rather than madly phoning round for spare capacity so that work can continue.
The foul water pump arrived on Wednesday, having the levels all sorted from the site setting out I was able to cut the input to the tank, so it's all ready to get dropped into a hole once it's been dug and a concrete base is in place. The next task was to get all the drainage runs under the raft in place. With the raft due Monday and the builder having to go to another job on Friday to supervise another ICF concrete pour we were running out of time. Hopefully resolved the problem by getting a crew in on Saturday to get the drainage done. Stone for the raft substrate should star arriving first thing Monday, so fingers crossed we should have the raft ready for concrete which is booked for Thursday...we shall see.
I spotted this inside a local cafe this week.
Liquorice Allsort chic is not quite my taste, but the door is not as obvious as could be the case.
It is an a sample of how to incorporate an element into a stronger pattern than the outline as a means to de-emphasise it. Here it could have been further concealed by choosing a different handle, or concealed hinges.
It could also have been made full height.
Having got all of the groundwork out of the way, it was time to build the timber frame. We were carrying out a stick build, ie: we purchased the i-beams and glulams and the carpenters cut and assembled everything onsite like a huge jigsaw puzzle. We had looked into using a timber frame manufacturer, but we had a good team of carpenters who had experience of stick building a frame, so it didn't seem to make any sense changing a proven formula.
Initial jobs were to get the scaffold up and sole plate down. First i-beams were installed on 3rd Dec and by the end of the day, the main i-beams for both gables were up.
The work is not helped by the weather which is cold and wet. You need to be pretty resilient to be work outdoors in this weather, nevertheless good progress is made and by 6th Dec the walls are up and parallam beams and ledgers have been fitted.
Big day on Dec 10th as we finally manage to get the electricity switched on. No more generators which should make everyone's life a little easier on site. We now have water and electricity on site and only need to connect to the mains drains at some stage in the future.
First floor joists together with the MVHR ducting that needs to pass through these joists is next to be installed and state of play on Dec 12th is as pictured below.
The first floor is glued to the joists on December 14th. The view from the top of the scaffold isn't bad either.
There is no way the big heavy glulam ridge beam is going to be manually handled up to the top of the roof, so on the 17th Dec a crane is hired to help out with this operation. It is the only time during the build that a crane is required. Everything else has been manually shifted into place.
The i-beam roof rafters can now be put into place and on the last day before the teams Christmas break, most of the rafters are in place.
Following a couple of weeks break for Christmas, the rafters are quickly finished off and by January 9th the skeleton of the house is in place.
Over the next couple of weeks the house is clad with panelvent on the outside and smartply on the inside
and then wrapped in membrane so that by the 22nd Jan, the house is looking like this.
It's 3 weeks since my last blog entry and, as usual, things have been moving at a pace. The difference with the most recent round of work, though, it that the building is starting to look like a liveable house rather than a construction site. This is largely due to the glory coats of plaster and paint, but far more than that has been keeping everyone busy.
The boarding started in earnest before Christmas and so the plasterers were in bright and early in the new year. We've got through an astonishing amount of board of various types - I thought I'd calculated reasonably well and had a mahooosive delivery of the stuff a while back, but it all seemed to disappear and the building was hungry for more. I bought all the board from Sydenhams as I found their price to be competitive. I've used standard 12.5mm plasterboard on all external walls, 15mm acoustic on all ceilings and internal walls, moisture board for bath/wet rooms, and pink fire board for the garage walls and ceiling. The garage is attached and so building regs require a fire door (FD30, sourced from Enfield Doors, though I've since found cheaper suppliers when looking at other stuff) and fire board throughout the garage, but only a single layer as there is no habitable space above it.
I've had a board lifter on hire as it really helps the team position the boards up onto the ceilings without dropping anything on themselves or damaging either themselves or the boards.
Here is the board going up on the lounge/dining area towards the kitchen area. The orange frame is the plaster board lifter. The black thing outside the window is my sewage treatment plant tank, which will be installed in a couple of weeks(ish).
Looking in the opposite direction towards the lounge area:
There have been plenty of plasterboard offcuts and so we have followed @JSHarris's tip of stuffing as much of this into the stud walls before boarding over. Double bubble - increasing the heat retaining ability of the house and no paying expensive disposal fees on waste plasterboard.
As well as the boarding and plastering, Nick has been working away on first fix, getting all the wiring, sockets and switch positions in and running vast amounts of cable through the building for all sorts of stuff. It's not just a case of chucking the cable in, he's done a great job of working out the flow of the building and the people in it, and how the building's circuitry should function best to suit them. It's a pity that it isn't more visual, but suffice it to say that at the last count, something like 2.9km of cable has gone into the building. It's in there somewhere!
The room that forms the greater part of the ground floor is the kitchen/dining/lounge area and it's a very large space. From the outset, I've wanted to achieve some form of visual separation of the living area but without putting physical barriers in the way. It seems a waste to have gone to such great effort to create a lovely large space like that to then chop it up and close it in. I had inspiration for the solution from a couple of sources, the first of which is a tiny, crappy image on Pinterest when I was browsing cinema rooms. The second came about from chatting to another BH member, @Dreadnaught and a suggestion someone made to him to vary the heights of the ceiling throughout his proposed build. From this, I decided that I wanted a dropped section, like a frame, on the ceiling above the lounge area, with lighting recessed into the inner lip of the dropped section. Everyone pulled together really well to meet the challenge, and worked out what was needed from the carpentry, boarding, plastering and electrics contingents. The full ceiling was boarded out first, then the studwork frame put over it. The electrics were run through, then the frame was boarded and eventually plastered.
Here's the completed framework and the first of the plasterboard going up.
They're a cheerful bunch in their work!
One thing I haven't skimped on is hire equipment to make the job of the plasterers and others easier. I figure it's a false economy to not get equipment like platforms and board lifters in as it will just cost me extra labour as the guys won't be able to work efficiently and possibly, not as well either. We had scaffold towers upstairs in the bedrooms for plastering and downstairs, we had a really big platform. I wouldn't do it any other way as the quality of the boarding and plastering is second to none.
Once the studwork was boarded out, the inner ceiling section was plastered. The inner lip of the frame had an upstand added to it to make it appear more substantial (thanks for the idea, Nick) and to hide the rows of LED lights behind them. We're going for a range of lighting intensity here, achieved by increasing amounts of lights, rather than dimmers. There will be 3 rows of LED lights hidden up there and we've used a car headlight analogy for want of better descriptions - the selection is dipped lights, main beam and rally lights. These are the only ceiling lights in this area as we plan to have floor lamps for specific task or reading lighting.
Once the inner ceiling was plastered, the framework itself was done the following day. This photo is some way on from that, as you can see. By this stage, the whole of the downstairs main room has been done and recesses formed for the spotlights at the other end of the room.
Not too long after this, the kitchen arrived from DIY Kitchens. Lovely quality units and everything is going together well. It did mean, though, that I had to get on with the painting up the kitchen end so that a start could be made on installation.
A paragraph or two on painting is appropriate here. I put a brief post into the main decorating section here on BH regarding spray painting, but it deserves repetition. I've planned from the outset to do the painting myself. I'm competent and it's nice to get some hands on involvement in the build. But, and it really is a big one, there is a vast surface area to cover in this house, and the vaulted ceilings upstairs are really quite intimidating for a vertically challenged person such as myself. Mind you, I think a vault of 4.7m would make most people ponder their method of attack. I decided that by far the most effective approach for me was to spray the mist coats to seal the plaster and continue with white for the ceilings. I wasn't sure at that stage whether I would also apply the colour coats by spraying, so adopted a 'wait and see' approach. First off, masking takes ages, even with a relatively empty house, as that spray will get everywhere and anywhere. Once the masking is done and you've familiarised yourself with the sprayer itself, though, the speed of coverage is astonishing. I was able to comfortably do one large room per day - both mist coats and a couple of extra ones on the ceiling to get it opaque and full white. It was messy. Really messy! Especially as when I first got going I had the spray pressure a little too high, the mad angles of the vaulted ceilings meant that my nozzle was never going to be held at a constant 90 degrees to the surface, and it's just a messy process regardless. In addition, there is a vast amount of moisture in the air, particularly as we had plaster drying at the same time. I hired a commercial dehumidifier for a couple of weeks to help with this and it was very effective.
I bought all my paint from Brewer's Decorator Centre, who are mainly based along the south coast of England. I opened a trade account with them and got 20% off the entirety of my first order, so I put everything I could think of onto that, including my antinox floor protection mats. Very useful they were, too. I used their contract matt white for the mist coat and ceilings. It's white, but not brilliant white and it's lovely. Very chalky, easy to sand and gives a nice highly matt finish. Also cheap as chips.
Here's one of the bedrooms, masked up and sprayed.
Here's another bedroom with that ceiling. My scaffold tower came into its own for reaching up to those heights.
Then, finally, the kitchen area with its mist coat. The sprayer is the little beastie sitting on the plasterboard.
I popped over on a weekend to also put the first colour coat on over at the kitchen area, whilst I could still get in easily before the kitchen started going in. I'm having splashbacks between the wall and base units, hence the odd looking finish level with the paint.
These were all the kitchen units as they arrived, prior to painting.
Everything was really well packaged and came with the doors on and drawers in. The delivery crew were pleasant and efficient, so all in all, a good experience.
Moving away from painting and plastering, Nick marked up the ceiling plan for the lights, speakers and smoke detectors on the floor before the boards went on so that there was no guesswork involved in what was running where. Here's his marking plan:
This is what the kitchen units look like at the moment. I made a cock up in ordering, purely out of ignorance, and I'm waiting for a few end deco panels to arrive. These didn't even occur to me as they will go between units and appliances to give a better appearance from face on. It made perfect sense when it was pointed out to me, so things have halted temporarily until those and my worktops arrive shortly. In the meantime, it's looking good:
We also now have spotlights in place:
Finally, for the curious, this is what karndean flooring looks like. It has been laid upstairs and the downstairs will be finished in a couple of weeks. Upstairs, it was all laid on ply that was feathered in at the edges and downstairs will have a latex feathering coat to level the floor and provide an even base.
Next up is more of the same. The final session of boarding and plastering, lots more painting, the end of first fix and moving onto second fix. Outside, we need to get cracking on the rainwater goods, perimeter drain and exterior cladding. The cladding is due to arrive next week, so it will be interesting to see that and figure out the system.
I hope to be able to report back on over height doors soon, as well, and my endeavours to find these at a reasonable price, but that's all for now. There's painting to be done.
Well with just days before we start we have our house block plan. All the bricks have ID's so all we have to do its put them in the right places.
The blocks are coming loaded on pallets, each with it's own manifest. The scale of the kit is a bit daunting and having done my bit of Lego with the kids in the past I can't help remembering the fun of looking for that special brick that seems so illusive. Fingers crossed we don't end up with one left over after the last concrete poor.
With site works just about to commence some of the details we thought were sorted are coming unravelled. Our rain water harvesting tank (RWH) which was nicely located on the edge of the property has had to be moved as the builder is concerned over the size of the hole next to the public highway. At 2.5M deep and 3.2M long. I can only agree, just a pity it didn't get mentioned until the week before we start digging. The tank is being moved to the rear garden along with all the associated changes to surface water collection drainage. While sorting this out it was spotted that the tank overflow was connected to the sewer, the sewer company takes a dim view of the idea of connecting surface water the sewer system. The fact that the tank capacity is very over specified and the overflow will probably never see any water is irrelevant. One of the main reasons we are an RWH was to take care of surface water as our plot is small and we could not get the 5 metre separation required by the building regs. There is a surface water drain in the road outside the plot but it's very deep which will make connecting to it prohibitively expensive. Just another detail to sort out that we would rather have handled before we started. Still no ones hurt so it's not serious...
An 8 ton digger is scheduled for delivery first thing Monday and site setting out scheduled for Tuesday faternoon. Lots of lorries for waste and MOT. With the raft components being delivered the following Monday it's going to be a busy week. Hopefully we'll find no bodies on the site...
So, our ground floor walls are up, and ready for a concrete pour... almost! Despite our use of Logix ICF blocks, I had fallen in love with the simplicity of the joist hangers used by NUDURA. Essentially, all you do is slot metal plates through slits in the ICF blocks, hook them onto a bit of rebar in the wall, and pour the concrete. Then you wrap the end of your joists in a folded metal U-plate, and put tek-screws through the metal plates, through the U plate and into the joist. The shear strength of the metal plates and the tek-screws is what holds the joists up. So, before the pour, you end up with this:
Some people choose to put battens under the joist hanger plates before the pour to stop them moving during. We didn't bother, because the steel rebar was holding them fairly well anyway, although most of them were also screwed to the blocks (we'd finagled the joist spacing to fit the stupid imperial measurements of the Logix blocks, which meant at least one plate for each joist was able to be screwed to a web in the ICF.
So, the pour was uneventful in the end, apart from one tiny issue. Under that lovely 45-degree wall at the back of the garage, the block and beam floor was running under the angled wall. Which should be fine, but there must have been a small gap between the blocks somehow. After about 5 minutes of pouring concrete into the internal wall, we were getting a bit confused as to why the concrete level wasn't rising...
... It transpired that a 7N concrete block was now floating inside the wall, and the concrete was pouring through the resulting gap and under the block & beam floor in the garage, filling the void beneath. 🤬 We only realised how far it had flowed under the garage when we started lifting floor blocks. In total, in those 5 minutes, we'd poured just under 3m3 of concrete into the void beneath the garage floor - the void had reduced from an average 750mm height to under 150mm in places! On the plus side, at least it didn't fill the void completely, given we still have to run services under there!
Here's a photo showing how much it filled up:
Still, the garage walls aren't going to shift anywhere now! And it only cost £300 in spilt concrete...
Anyway, the rest of the pour went really well - no big bows (that we could see) and no bursts, despite all of the silly joints we had. Even little bits of PU foam seemed to withhold the weight of the concrete:
(No, the string isn't supposed to be tight to the blocks - it was set so that a piece of CLS fit perfectly behind. And yes, that upright should have been screwed to the ICF blocks... except the observant among you will have noticed the webs don't line up between the courses. This was a deliberate decision made by me because of an alignment problem with the joist hangers above the bifold opening, and this seemed to fix it)
So, concrete poured, and walls looking good:
The internal walls (garage, kitchen and stairwell) were kept 1 course lower so that they could act as a bearing surface for our upstairs floor joists. Seemed like a good idea to me, anyway!
Time for another ICF delivery...
The big RSJ is for the 6m span between kitchen wall and garage wall, and will carry the load of the first floor joists in the middle 1/3 of the house. All well and good, but the massive trees at the front meant that getting a crane on site wasn't going to happen, and the cost of a crane that could clear the trees from the street was more than a little prohibitive... Time for some back-breaking lifting, because that beam weighs more than 1/4 of a tonne!
Some swearing, and the death of a couple of ratchet straps, and the beam was lifted up into place...
And the length was perfect - we had less than 10mm tolerance once you allow for the required bearing on the concrete walls! Timbers sailed past the end at the garage - I was too lazy to cut them at the time (and that came laziness back to bite me on the ar$e later in the build!)
Say hello to the front of the house! Hallway window, nice doorway and the integral garage all present and correct
Before we can carry on building the walls, we need to put the floor joists up and get a floor deck down:
And time to start boarding it out:
Which would have been easy if it weren't for the fact that the tolerances on the board joints wasn't so woeful:
These boards were in the same pack, and the tongues varied by over 3mm. Biggest tongue we found across the lot was 20mm, and the smallest was 12mm. This meant we had to try mix-and-match for the floorboards, which took days longer than it should have... 🤬
Nevertheless, 7 days later, and we had the floor down, and were building walls again. 3 more days, and we were cooking on gas - first floor walls were 2/3 up and we were erecting the bracing again:
Time to put some lintels in for the windows (you can see the ICF cavity closer under the rebar links):
It was at this point that we realised we had a bit of a problem... our house was too tall! Our planning permission showed a street scene, which had the ridge line of our house lower than next door's house. The drawing had been produced by asking the neighbour to measure the height of his eaves when he was clearing out a gutter - he'd used a tape measure, so I had no reason to doubt his figures...
...But we were out by nearly 600mm on the height. I had to go back one night, and put a laser on a staff, just to see how bad it was. Here's the picture, showing the laser line from the top of a 2.4m staff, shining on the neighbour's chimney:
The upshot of this was a third planning application, and lots of sleepless nights, because we had to get a height increase approved (we first tried to use a minor non-material amendment, only to be told by the LPA Planning Services Manager that "a minor non-material amendment was not appropriate for securing an increase in height"... only to find out that the same Planning Services Manager had personally approved an increase in height on Chorley Nissan's planning application using a MNMA only 10 months prior! I wonder who had a nice Christmas present from Chorley Nissan that year?)
Still, while we waited for approval (so that we could order the roof trusses) we could crack on with bracing up the first floor openings. And we had a ground floor that was giving us a sense of what it'd be like when it was finished:
We were old hands at bracing openings now, having done it for the previous 2 floors of the house!
Anyone else think it looks like something from an early 80s arcade game?
When we first started on this path, we wanted a hands off, almost turnkey project. I'd heard of SIPS and seen lots of positive stories about energy efficiency so all was set. Then we spoke with a mortgage advisor and our world started to tumble down. I am now 56, Peter is 57. We will need a mortgage to build this house but because of our ages, we know that the mortgage providers will all keep the term of the mortgage down to 15 years max which will make the repayments large. Drastic action needed to be taken so we have now decided to build using a method where we can do this ourselve.
We have no experience of actual building work but let's face it, how hard can it be 😲 - famous last words.
Our previous house was built using traditional methods. We did have underfloor heating and a MVHR system but we struggled to get through the air-tightness test. We have learnt a lot since then. We nearly built that time round using ICF but I chickened out. This time, it looks like it is going to win.
We have looked at the various types of ICF. The majority are of course the polystyrene type blocks and these do have real advantages for self builders. They are light and easy to manage. Our main issue with them is the fixing ability at the end of the build. Once the plaster is on, finding the fixing lines becomes harder and harder and so other ways of fixing heavy items to walls need to be used. Looking at various websites and you tube videos, it is also apparent that blow outs are more likely using the polystyrene and more bracing is required during the pour. The concrete is of a stiffer consistency that with the woodcrete ICF.
The woodcrete type ICF blocks solve the fixing issues - you can attach anything to it. We have looked at three types of this type of ICF, Velox, Durisol and Isotex. Each has pros and cons and we have yet to decide which type to use. All three appear less likely to blow on pour day without significant bracing but of course it can still happen. We can't get a price without plans so at the moment the comparisons are being made purely on preference but without the benefit of a cost comparison. The concrete for this method is of a very runny soup like consistency.
This method uses two flat panels that are clipped together as you build. The panels are large - 2000mm x 500mm so will go up quickly. One panel has the insulation attached to it. The system comes with a variety of options for the depth of the wall giving different u values. I have found getting information from the website quite difficult - the website is clunky and parts of it are not in English. The way the panels fit together, you end up with a completely solid concrete wall inside the formwork. I believe this gives a better chance of airtightness from the actual structure of the walls.
The UK supplier seems to be a little difficult to get hold of sometimes - maybe this is the result of too many enquiries but it does ring alarm bells to me. The system has products for both internal walls and floors. The internal walls are two panels glued together, this takes the weight to 68kg - we struggled to lift a panel off the floor so raising it above shoulder height would be impossible for us. The size and weight of the panels pretty much rules this system out for us as it is simply too heavy for us to manage ourselves. It is however, my favourite product.
Durisol blocks are more like a squarish 8 with the top, middle and bottom bar at less than full height to allow a honeycomb concrete wall to form during the pour. The blocks are all 500mm x 250mm with the external walls coming is two depths - 300mm with a u value of .23 or 365 mm with a u value of .11. There are 3 different types of blocks. A standard block with the reduced internal height connectors. A facing block which has one end at full height - this is also used for lintels. A corner block for ...... turning corners! Because of the way the blocks work, the second row and above will all need a cut to ensure that your keep the "brick bond" in place. This is particularly pronounced if you choose the 365mm blocks as it is the width that causes the issues. QUESTION - couldn't you fix the problem by making the cut on the first row instead and increasing the size slightly so that every other run works properly? That didn't cross my mind at the training. The blocks have male and female ends so that they lock togehter prior to the concrete pour
The blocks are rough and gloves are definitely needed. The blocks do shed while you are working as well so care needs to be taken to butt the blocks up properly as the debris can move things apart a little. The design of the blocks means that there are the 3 woodcrete bars, each end of the block buts together with only a small amount of concrete bonding the blocks together.
The blocks are produced in this country so less likely to suffer with issues to do with Brexit. Lead time is in weeks. Free training is provided (we have done the one day training course) and they will come to site to help you get the first row laid, ensuring that you get a nice level row. Purchase of the blocks over £10k gives you one free site visit (need to check if that is the initial row or if you also get the first pour day). Other visits are by negotiation but they rely heavily on facetime calls to see your site without actually being there.
The anecdotal evidence that I have is that Durisol will discount heavily but they do not talk about a standard price - you only appear able to get a price from the drawing that you provide.
I believe this will be our third choice of block based on properties but is probably the cheapest of the three. It is also the one we are most likely to use due to the price.
Isotex is a very similar produce to Durisol. The blocks are mainly 500mm x 250mm but there are "pass" blocks to match the block depth that you have chosen. This gets around the issue of "brick bond" issue. The blocks come in depths of 300mm with a u value of .23. 330mm with a u value of .19. 380mm with a u value of .15 and 440 with a u value of .11. There are more options for shape of block - not sure how much that will help on site - will it be more difficult to find the right type of block while doing tricky areas?
The shape of the blocks is like an H but with 2 horizontal bars not one. This means that the blocks allow a freer flow of concrete between the blocks than you get with Durisol. It will still be a honeycomb but less so, there is roughly a third less woodcrete in the way of the concrete wall. Butting the blocks together mean that they just sit together without the benefit of the locking togethre - this means that there are two short unsupported parts of the block holding the concrete - does this make a blow-out more likely?
Insulb the UK supplier provide similar training to Durisol - we are attending in February half term at Swindon NSBRC. The blocks are slightly smoother than the Durisol ones and seem less likely to shed.
Jamie has made it quite clear that the price is non-negotiable. £55m2 for the 300mm block (I think I wrote down the correct block size but not 100% certain) against £62m2 for the 440mm block.
I believe that this will be our second choice block based on properties and probably second choice one price comes into play - time will tell.
Since the last blog entry we've been working away at co-coordinating the paperwork for the building warrant . But progress is slowly being made. Last week we heard we've been lucky enough to get a 50% grant towards our grid connection costs, which is a big help. Anyone else who's thinking of applying, feel free to get in touch if you want to know more about it. I think you need to sit within SSE's (North Scotland) area.
As part of our build we're removing quite a few conifers, the condition being that we replant with a load of native trees. One of the constraints on this is that the conifers sit quite close to a HV line, in particular within what the DNO call the red zone (where if the tree went the wrong way it would hit the line). For a while it was a bit difficult trying to figure out how we'd get these down, but in the end we were lucky enough to take advantage of a line shutdown by the DNO a couple of weeks ago. So now most of the conifers are down (only a few remaining), we just need to get them extracted.
In other tree related news, we also arranged to mill a few of the hardwoods that were felled a year or so ago. Pretty pleased with the results, these will now air-dry and then probably need putting in a kiln just before we use them.
Action shot of SWMBO taking it out on a tree:
Logs ready to mill:
And some of the results:
Background: I'm living in a house with a side garden I got planning permission on. Just purchased it a year ago so only 1 year down on the mortgage.
Recap: I was going to wait a year to get my finances in order but the Architect talked me into going out to tender anyway to see what prices come back. We sent out 6 Tenders and 3 responded. I can go back to the cheapest one in a year they said and get it repriced accordingly.
So i was rightly worried that prices in Dublin would be steep but didn't guess how steep!
The prices I got back needed a bit of adjusting to add the banks 10% contingency to, plus development fees, professional fees, connection charges etc. I've reflected this in the figures below
Tender #1 €466k
Tender #2 €465k
Tender #3 €390k
The house on the open market in this area would be worth €350k and I'm ignoring the value of the land in my figures above which I own. Crazy, huh?! This is a 108 sq. meter house, box shape. My own max budget was €330k so way out! The bank won't lend me enough to get this off the ground. I wouldn't feel comfortable leveraging that much debt anyway.
I'm glad I went to tender, the figures were an eye opener. But, where to go from here?! I'm mulling over my options:
Stay in the current house and make myself comfortable. Get new windows and doors, external insulation upgrades over the next few years. Pay off mortgage a bit earlier by renting a room or two. Sell site next door before planning expires. Possibly move elsewhere at some stage...
Reassess in 2 years - I'll have 15 years until I retire then so if I knock down the mortgage a bit, the market holds and I sell up, see if I can then pull off a build, IF the figures look any better.
Save like crazy and in 8-10 years build the shell, get it watertight and finish over a few years. That's a longer bet and my figures say I'd need €200k to get to the shell, maybe more by then. I could sell the house and do a caravan and get a small mortgage to finish possibly.
The gas thing is I'd be moving beds about 8 meters over if I pull off the build but the effort required...!!!
So, on one hand I'm glad I've a reality check now and know exactly where I stand. I'm wondering about just paying off the current mortgage like mad to keep my options open or investing in the current house instead. There's probably some middle ground - I'd find it really difficult to sell the site right away and have someone else build on it but I'll get over that.....
I'll mull it over the next few weeks.....
That's alot of insulation - over 600 bags of the stuff.
They cut a load of holes in the MBC vapour layer ply. More holes than we ever imagined.
Then they pump the insulation into the holes to fill up the walls (300mm deep) and ceilings (400mm deep).
Some of it escapes. Easy to vacuum up though.
Then they put the ply discs back in and tape over the holes. They have left us with some patches for areas of the ceiling they can't reach and for any they might have missed. Only found one so far.
Sean and his firm - works subcontracted for MBC for alot of the pumped cellulose insulation for them - was fantastic. The house is definitely warmer inside now, and the echo is now deadened. It is so quiet in there. Can't wait to move in........
After reading every post on this forum on the subject of sound insulation and in particular Rockwool I wanted to document our experience.
Until the delivery arrived and we opened the packets we really didn't know what we were going to be working with. Here is the best description I can give.
We ordered the following from Insulation4Less. They told us the lead time was about 4-6 weeks (nationwide shortage) but actually it all came within a week leaving us with a literal mountain of rockwool to store around site. It was wrapped but needed to be lugged into the house out of the rain. Big job. The 50mm deep packs were orginally intended to go in the ceilings where there were lots of pipes to fit around.
We chose RWA45 rather than the more expensive Flexi. Having not seen the Flexi I can't give a really accurate comparison. But the RWA45 is flexible and can be pushed into spaces and compressed a little anyway. And it is cheaper. It is not rigid / solid like Celotex (which I had first thought it might be).
Here are some open packs.
It is pretty easy to cut using an insulation saw like this.
But it does shred easily too. Mask and gloves absolutely essential. The 100mm deep stuff looks like this.
So although it comes in these "batts" which have a form to them, you can trim to to the size you need. We are trimming almost everything because the 600mm wide batts don't fit into the 560mm gaps between the 600mm centred studs. But there are plenty of places to stuff the offcuts and the puzzle of how to use every offcut as efficiently as possible is keeping us both amused somewhat.
We are fitting this into all the stud walls (internal) and the ground floor ceiling. No need for any insulation on the external walls or top floor ceilings as that has been pumped in by MBC (more of that in another blog).
Hubby used our MVHR builders straps to fit up a load in the ceiling. He is now using cheap pallet strapping and a staple gun!
It is fair to say that we have been doing this sound insulation on and off now for well over a month. It is a big job. Ceilings harder than the walls. Time consuming. A bit (alot) messy. Requires us to ply the walls first (where ply is needed) and then insulate. For the stud walls that don't need ply we will work as quick as we can in the evenings once the the plasterboarders are on site (due next week) filling in behind them as they plasterboard one side. Going to be a busy week. But progress is satisfying and physically working on our build again is fun.
Our design calls for some pocket doors - 6 in total - good for space saving, should look tidy. We decided to go with Eclisse and got them from the ever helpful Alan at Door Supplies Online. We will also get our door sets from him, to match, and he'll supply some matching architrave to finish the pocket doors nicely. Will post photos of the finished doors when we get there (probably September). In the meantime, we needed to install the pocket frames in advance of plaster boarding.
It seemed too easy. But I am posting this because we had slight issues understanding how they fitted so hopefully this post will help someone else in the future.
Him indoors built them so quickly I didn't even get photos of him putting them together. But he assures me that the instructions were straightforward to follow and they went together well. Top tip - don't throw out the bits of polystyrene that look like packaging. They actually help give it some bracing strength when lifting the whole thing into place (otherwise it bends quite a bit). The You Tube videos are also helpful.
Our MBC structural openings were exact (to the mm) so we had allowed a bit too much structural opening (we didn't know how mm perfect they would be). We then had to pack slightly off the stud frame (offcuts of egger board and OSB). And also pack off the floor to ensure the door was fitted at finished floor level. Have allowed 20mm for carpet / underlay upstairs (and tiles to the bathrooms) so should be OK.
The frames come in 100mm finished wall depth or 125mm finished wall depth. With 89mm stud walls this does give a bit of a conundrum, assuming 12.5mm plasterboard. We chose 125mm.
And then Alan suggested putting ply on the frame as well to make it extra rigid. Also useful for subsequent hanging of pictures / toilet roll holders on finished wall - otherwise fixings might go through and result in scratching the sliding door.
What we couldn't understand was that the pocket side of the door had a frame that was 125mm wide. But the bit the door closes on was only 100mm wide.
For a short while I doubted the assembling ability of my definitely better half. Thankfully, a call to Alan set that straight. Though I am not sure I have been forgiven yet. There is a timber jamb (125mm wide) that fits over the 100mm section, making the whole thing 125mm wide.
Now for the ply. It has been a bit of a juggle. Some need ply and some don't, some need double ply before plasterboard on one side to build out the stud work. And we need to match the ply on each side otherwise the door will be off centre in the total wall depth. Feels like overkill and probably is. But it will be solid! The ply attaches to the door frame itself using little screws (supplied by Eclisse). If you don't put ply on then these little screws fix the plasterboard.
This door below has ply on the left hand side to bring the stud wall out to the frame edge. Then it will have ply over the top of that (and the frame) to match the other side. Then plasterboard. Toilet roll holder going on the other side and mirror on this side so will be strong enough for those.
From the inside of the en-suite it looks like this, with one layer of ply.
So, just plasterboard over the top of this. All the standard (classic) pockets are now fitted. Ply to go on the other 4 still so plenty of late nights in store before the plasterboarders come in. We are rather enjoying this bit though. Allows us to actually contribute to our build in a meaningful way, saves some cash, justifies the circular saw Christmas gift......
The telescopic pocket door is being saved for another day.
At the same time that all the indoors first fix was going on during December, there was plenty going on outside, too. From the perspective of the build, the main event was the slate cladding but the thing that drew by far the most attention was the digging of the pond. I use the term 'pond' loosely, and it has been the subject of great debate, but it is a wildlife pond. Not a swimming pond, not a boating lake, nor a flight pond, which are all alternative suggestions that have been made. It will be a wildlife pond.
Let's begin with the simplest thing - a old inspection whiteboard from work and a permanent marker meant that I finally got a sign up to stop all our delivery drivers carrying on down the lane and
annoying the farmer.
During the design stage, the architect was very keen for us to have the super-trendy (around Dorset, anyway) burnt larch effect cladding, but we really didn't like it at all. Not the colour, but the overall effect, and so when we saw a house with slate hung vertically as a type of cladding, we decided that was the one for us. I persuaded our roofer, Dylan Faber, that this would be a really good job for him to undertake and add another string to his bow. We had originally intended to use Marley vertigo slates, which are designed to be used for that purpose, but it turned out that they aren't used much in the UK and would have to be made to order in France and then shipped over, giving a lead time of somewhere in the region of 8 to 10 weeks. Instead, we used the same slates as are on the roof, but with the Marley trims and accessories, and it all worked out well, particularly as the slates were slightly cheaper than the Marley ones. The brand is SVK.
The process is exactly the same as for the main roof - membrane, batten and counterbatten with the slight variation of using copper rivets rather than the hooks that were used on the roof and they're nasty scratchy things that you don't want to lean up against.
Here's the first stage of the prep work:
Once all the counter batten was up, the slating could start. The team started at the front as this is the most weather exposed area and I was keen to get some protection on it and make the building more water tight.
A little later that day:
Other than the stairwell section, the whole of the upper floor of the house is now clad with the slate, and a fine bit of work it is. Dylan Faber and team have been a pleasure to work with and I would gladly use them again.
The stairwell section will be clad with the stone slip Tier system that's going to cover the ground floor. This gives a nice break to the slate and reduces the visual impact of the upstairs, and this work should be getting underway at the start of February. It's a little later than I had planned, but that's largely due to the lead time to get the materials in as the supplier has stock of every colour apart from the one we're having.
Besides the slate and the stone slip, one of the more dramatic features outside is the brise soleil that sits in front of the stairwell window. This is a vertical run of horizontal cedar fins that are held in position on a RAL coated steel frame. The brackets and coach bolts that hold the frame and fins in place had to be done as a first fix item and before the cellulose was blown in. There are 3 sets of brackets, top, middle and bottom, and it's the top and middle ones that take the majority of the weight of the entire structure. The MBC timber frame construction means that there is nothing behind the outer boards and so the positions for the brackets had to be packed out before installation. This meant cutting out a section of the airtight board on the inside, attaching some nice sturdy noggins to the external wall from the inside, then re-sealing the cut out. Clearly, trying to do this once the cellulose had been blown in would be more than tricky. Once packed, the guys from Contrasol Ltd, who are supplying the system came along and first fixed the brackets. Here are the top ones:
And here are the centre ones:
In due course, once the cladding is complete, the framework will be attached to the brackets and the timber fins fitted. Contrasol have been a really good firm to deal with and the standard of how they approach things has been very professional. Besides working out all the loads for the framework, etc., they also calculate the optimum angles for the fins and the fins themselves are engineered and precision cut. The fins are actually manufactured by Vincent Timber Ltd in Birmingham, and they are things of beauty in their own right.
Here are the fins carefully stacked up just after delivery:
And here's a close-up of them:
Besides the house itself, we've intended from the outset that the garden and field were every bit as important a feature and fundamental to this is the wildlife pond. One could ask what else we would do with such a large plot otherwise, but this has allowed OH to realise a long-held ambition of having what we hope will develop into a fabulous haven for wildlife. Given that, there seemed little point in limiting our ambition at the start so our groundworkers, Keith and Gail, got digging. This started off with me using a couple of cans of line marker paint to give the outline and then Keith scraping off the turf. Next up was scraping off the topsoil so that we could retain that for later use.
Here's the outline of the pond, as seen from the scaffolding. Keith had just started digging out the deeper part of the pond when the tracks came off the digger - the first of many times that day. That will teach me to try and save money by hiring kit from the local farmer.
This is what he had to contend with multiple times:
We finally got there over the course of a few days, and here's the pond with the deeper centre dug out, prior to having these scraped a bit more and given gradients rather than steps.
Once things were smoothed off a bit, this is how it ended up. The water you can see coming in is from a land drain that we broke through, which we will leave broken as it's as good a source as any to fill it up. Our attempts to block the other end of the land drain haven't worked so we need to give this another go in due course as we'd really like the water to stay in the pond.
Finally, this is to prove that I'm an equal opportunities employer and that ladies can do groundwork as well. And because Gail felt very neglected about not being pictured on the blog when she and Keith have done so much work on the site. This one's for you, Gail!
Keith's other act of vandalism work that week was to give the old electricity pole a good shove and get it out of the way once and for all. Most satisfying.
Next up on the blog will be more inside work involving vast amounts of plasterboard and rockwool, but that's for another evening.
Right, Christmas came and went - I had spent enough time with my family and friends, recovering from the previous 3 months. It was time to resume on site! ☺️
So, first up - inspect what the basement looked like, now that it was largely enclosed... Big mistake, because it was horrendous:
You can see that the water level is approx 2/3 of the way up the first course of blocks, so about 250mm deep. You can also see the bit of EPS that were chipped away to make the 95mm bearing surface for the floor beams, just floating around. Still, nothing that couldn't be remedied, and at least the basement was holding water - that suggested it might be able to keep the water out, too!
Now, we were starting to do things that required real tools to be kept on site. When the groundworkers were on site, we had hired a proper site cabin - hot and cold water, cooking facilities, drying room, toilet, etc etc etc. However, now that we were above ground, it was going to be just me and the occasional mate helping out. Kim had off-hired the site cabin, and swapped it for a porta-loo. Can't really keep much in the way of tools in a porta-loo if you don't want them nicked... So we decided to buy a van!
It had a few dents, but it was nice enough, and it would hold the tools, generator, etc, safely overnight. Cha-ching!
Now, another reason we hadn't made much progress over the holidays was because we were lacking some fairly necessary items to carry on building - the wall blocks. The ground floor ICF blocks were due for delivery the week commencing 11th December 2017. They actually arrived on site on the 12th January 2018, so just over 4 weeks late. This was something of a running theme with Logix, TBH... if you recall, the internal wall blocks for the basement were a few weeks late too (and you'll find out just how late the rest of the blocks were delivered later in the blog!) Still, they turned up eventually:
Still, ICF blocks now on site, we were able to progress... A day later, and we were looking at a decent amount of the external walls done (3 courses, most of the way around), and we were starting on the exciting 45-degree wall between the hallway and the garage:
3 courses turned into 4 courses, and all of the window openings started to be formed:
(The ladder was our only means of getting into the basement now, but TBH we didn't really care about down there - we just wanted to get the shell completed and progress to watertight as quickly as possible... Regrettably, that was going to be more problematic than anyone could have envisaged at this time!)
Anyway, the walls were flying up, even with all the steel reinforcement having to be put in. At least above-ground we only had a single face of steel to worry about (and our builder-turned-consultant pointed out that we didn't really need any steel at all except in lintels, because:
the concrete mix we were using was so strong, and
because you don't put steel into brick / block walls, which are perfectly acceptable for building houses with
But we did it anyway, just in case we ever decided to move the entire house to Jupiter (where 300mph winds area apparently possible, and where, therefore, our level of reinforcement would come in handy). 🤔
(In case you are wondering, the vertical steel isn't in as of this picture - they were all placed once the ICF walls were finished being assembled!)
4 more days on site (although 2 weeks had passed - remembering that I was only part-time at site, and I only had a mate helping me out on weekends), and we were putting up the bracing system again. Here's our exciting 45-degree wall inside the garage:
Isn't it lovely? You can also see the fantabulous set of steps I made from a couple of the many many 10" core ICF blocks we had left over, thanks to a considerable over-estimation by Logix. (I needed the steps anyway, because I am a short-arse and couldn't reach to put steel in above 3 courses!)
Some more pictures of the ICF going up:
Another week passed... And here, at the end of January 2018 is where it got... hmm, let's say interesting... it was time to put in the lintel blocks for the 6m bifolds in the kitchen...
It took me 3 days (so 2 weeks in calendar time) to get those blocks up and to sit square, and there was no way on earth they were going to stay like that with all the steel in them... time for some supports to be introduced to the opening!
Size 1 acrows every 1m across the opening. They're bearing off the concrete wall below, so no problem taking the weight. We put a single 250x38mm timber across the entire 6m opening, with 11mm OSB cut to 330mm rips on top of that (to support the ICF blocks fully). On the inside, the bracing system stopped the OSB from moving. On the outside, we screwed timbers down from the webs to trap it. Then we jacked up the acrows approx 10mm at a time until everything was perfectly level / square / plumb.
For some curious reason, I don't have photos of the steelwork in this wall, but it was prodigious - 2x25mm steel rebar in the bottom of the bottom course of blocks, 2x 12mm steel rebar in the top of the bottom course of blocks, and 2x20mm steel rebar in the top of the top course of blocks. 8mm rebar links every 200mm across the entire opening, plus onto the columns. I lifted and placed nearly all that rebar on my own (because my mate Paul had some family event on, he missed one Saturday, and I figured I could handle it)... big mistake! 7.5m lengths of 25mm rebar are very very unwieldy! I trashed one ICF corner block just resting the first 25mm bar on it while I got up on the scaffolding! Still, 5 hours of sweating and swearing later, plus some help from a more glamorous assistant in the form of Kim, and it was done...just in time for Paul to arrive and see how I'd gotten on! 🤬
Now, for the most part, the ICF walls had gone up fine. Even the 45-degree wall was a doddle. But those of you who were following the basement wall pour will probably remember that we had a couple of places where the basement walls went a little wobbly. This caused us a bit of a headache, because blocks wouldn't sit down properly in those areas. As it turned out, there was also an issue with the blocks not being level in those places either. This led to ever-increasing gaps between joints as we went up above those points, as you can see here:
Solving this was quite a problem. We ended up using about half a can of PU foam in the 3 places this had happened, followed by some serious strapping across both faces of the wall to keep it together. I spent several weeks trying to get everything braced (making bucks for the window and door openings), and plumb, and before I knew what had happened, it was the end of March 2018, and time for another concrete pour...
Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment!
Okay, so I know that I promised another blog post soon way back at the beginning of December but it was busy on the build. Crazy busy, details to follow. As for Christmas, well, that didn't turn out as planned, and I had planned it so well.
Both OH and I were proper knackered by the time we got into December - me with the build, OH running our business by himself, so we planned some quality R&R by running away to Gran Canaria on Christmas eve for a week. A fly and flop, turn ourselves into zombies for a week then return all bright eyed and bushy tailed for the new year. You just know this isn't going to end well, don't you? You'd be right. 2 days after we got to Gran Canaria, Paul started to feel off-form, then he felt crap, then he felt like death would be a more comfortable option. Turns out he developed real flu, not man flu, but real, proper, can't get out of bed to pick up a £20 note that someone has dropped on the floor flu. Not great, but it got worse. On Thursday, I learned the hard way why all-inclusive buffet style food has such a poor reputation and I mulled on this whilst turning myself inside out and wondering whether, in my sickly state, I had the necessary co-ordination to take care of everything with only one WC and no handy plastic bowl available. Thankfully, I did and whilst recovering the following morning I thought that the worst was over. You just know this is going to get worse, don't you? It did. We just about managed to get home (thankfully flying into Bournemouth) with OH in an increasingly sickly state. Ever the prima donna and insisting on trumping my food poisoning, flu became something between bronchitis and pneumonia and OH was a very sickly boy to the extent that tomorrow will be his first day back at work. I banned myself from the build for a few days in the new year as I'd caught a cold, but I couldn't be self indulgent about it given my patient was worse.
So, if there's any justice in the world, we should be good to go for the next and final stint on the build but I'm all to aware that life isn't fair, so we shall see.
Enough of plague and pestilence, let's get onto the plastering bit. Actually, I'll come back to that because although in real time we are mid way through the skim now, a vast amount has gone on since early December when the cellulose was blown in as first fix got started in earnest and at a break-neck pace. The plastering has only started in earnest in the new year and I'd like to cover the first fix stuff that happened in December, given that this is the heart and circulatory system that will make the building function as a comfortable home.
We received our planning permission just over 1 year and one week ago and I already knew largely how I wanted the building to function, as a result of reading so much here on BH. Serendipitously, about the same time as PP was granted, Nick popped his bicep. This was disastrous for a plumber but brilliant for me as it meant that I was able to drag him on board to design the systems for my building from the outset. Every cloud, and all that. Things have moved on and been formalised since then, but suffice it to say that all my plumbing, heating, MVHR and electrics have been seamlessly integrated into the building and designed alongside the technical and engineering drawings from MBC by Total Energy Systems Ltd, headed up by Nick. Other systems firms are available, of course.
Here is Nick and team. You will see that in the true spirit of accuracy, Nick doesn't have the sun shining out of his posterior, but a laser beam shining out of his head.
The nature of the first fix work means that it's hard to photograph the amount of effort that goes into it, but there is plenty. Initially, the team is focussing on getting all the MVHR pipes through the metal web joists and, in time, insulating them. Then there are all the underfloor heating pipes to be run through to the right places and the manifolds. We're having UFH upstairs as well as downstairs - the ground floor manifold is in the very useful cupboard under the stairs, the upper one in the loft space along with all sorts of other interesting things.
Here's a nice selection of the MVHR pipes, some insulated, as well as the clipped up UFH pipes that are insulated where they are tied together and in contact with one another.
And here's a close up of the insulated UFH pipes. Neatly done.
Much thought has gone into how air will flow around the building with the aid of the MVHR system. In particular, in the large open plan lounge/diner/kitchen area, and how to ensure that none but the stinkiest cooking smells make it out of the kitchen area. As a result, there are long runs of the MVHR pipework leading to plenums at the far end of the lounge area where air will flow into the room. The exhaust pipes for this area are (almost) directly over the hob on the island at the far end, so the airflow should ensure that all the cooking smells get sucked up and out over the kitchen area. Here's a photo of the inlet plenums either side of the window at the far end of the living area.
Originally, the architect designed the entire upstairs to have vaulted ceilings, including the landing. Whilst MBC were still drawing up their engineering drawings, we asked for the landing area to be boarded out to create a loft area as this would be an ideal space to stuff a load of plant, including the MVHR manifolds. On reflection, this was also a good decision as I think the proportions of that area would have looked very odd and felt like a vertical tunnel due to the height of the ceiling at that point (4.7m). The MVHR manifolds have been neatly attached to racked out sections in the loft area, making sure that room is left for the upstairs UFH manifold and, in time, the PV inverters. Here's the loft area back in December:
And the one on the west wall. You can also see the UFH manifold and the black cables from the PV panels that will be connected to the inverters.
There were also the soil pipes to tackle and these were planned to get sufficient fall on them as they came through the web joists:
For anyone tackling a similar build, I can't stress too much the advantage of having your systems people involved from the very start. It means that any holes that need to be put through steel beams to accommodate pipework can be designed in and made at the fabrication stage. Even then, things can go awry and a couple of the steel penetrations were either off kilter or not in the right place, but the majority were where they needed to be and made life much easier.
An example of this kind of thing is the stud wall between the landing and the en-suite for the master bedroom. In order to be able to hide the various pipes that travel up to the loft space, Nick asked MBC to make this into a twin stud wall and specified the depth so that it would carry the pipework. Here it is. A bit tricky to see, but you can easily see the benefit of being able to conceal this bulky pipework into the fabric of the build.
Speaking of concealing things, all the loos in the house are wall-hung with the cistern concealed in the wall. All you see is the loo and the flush plate, and so the framework needs to be put in before walls are boarded and plastered. Here's one such frame:
I'm on a bit of a catch up now so stay tuned for the next exciting episodes of ponds, brise soleil and vertical slate cladding.
Ta ta for now.
And Christmas is a time for reflection, mostly because it was cold and wet and nobody would go to site with me to work! So, in addition to planning some stuff in my head for the upcoming few weeks, I took the opportunity to review the budget...
... And promptly started to cry.
We had budgeted £22k for groundworks, based on the estimate from the company doing the works. We had agreed to pay them on a day rate, with 6% overage for the foreman they were supplying - I thought that was a good deal.
At the point of completion of the block & beam floor, we had spent £40,231.28 on payments to the groundworks company, and a total of £58,085.79 including materials (backfill stone, concrete, steel rebar, heave protection, etc etc). So, before even laying the first above ground wall block, we were over budget to the tune of £36k...
The projected build cost was £250k in total, with a contingency of £25k. So we now had to find a way to reduce the remaining expenditure by £11k, or the build wasn't going to be finished.
No pressure then! 😬
It was at this point that I started looking at cheaper windows (since we had £20k in the budget for them) and internal joinery (Kim wanted oak everything but that was clearly not going to happen now). Oh well, Howden's finest for us then! 🙄
I am not sure what the lesson here is... Maybe don't build a basement?
Wot, no pictures? Nothing happened on site for nearly a week, so no (I thought about a gratuitous picture of me in a paper hat, but someone would probably come out with a quip about site safety).
If you want pictures, just wait for the next instalment - walls!
Well that’s 5 weeks now since we made our move into the house, our joiner worked away until December 21st then cleared all his stuff away to allow us to get ready for Christmas. We have a fully functional kitchen, lounge, dining room, bedroom, ensuite and bathroom and it has been pure bliss living in a house again! The glass for the staircase should be this coming week after which we will get the upstairs organised and maybe buy some new furniture 🤗 the chap from the heating company came down eventually and sorted things out for us , turned out to be something minor but with nothing labelled it was difficult to get your head round so now we have a better understanding of it all.
waiting for the better weather now to get a ramp, steps and decking done and the garden and drive sorted out but all in all I am very happy with my new home and haven’t yet found anything that I wish we had done differently, although this could come! They do say you’ get your third one right 😂
First off - an apology. I've been lax in getting this next instalment posted. Several days away over the holiday season led to several days more trying to sort out family issues, which have since spiralled out of all proportion. I think I have now put the genie back in the bottle, so on with the show.
Where were we? Ah yes, we'd poured the basement walls. They'd gone a little wonky (because I was a numpty and failed to install adequate bracing on the outside of internal T-walls), but we had walls that we could build up from.
Time for backfill and construction of the remaining foundations (our basement is only 60% of the width of the above-ground house). Before that, we needed to fit a drainage channel around the basement walls & slab. Here's the groundworkers putting the (terram-wrapped) french drain in around the slab/wall junction, which was then covered in 10mm pea gravel to a depth of 500mm, and then 40mm clean limestone:
This actually led to one of the most enduring memories of the project to date. I was laying the drain outside the far corner of the basement (where the cave-in nearly smashed the wall apart). The groundworkers had decided that they wouldn't get in that part of the excavation (between the concrete walls and the bank) in case of further cave-ins, so myself and a couple of mates sorted out the drainage channel. Unfortunately, it had rained a lot over the weekend, and was muddy and slippy and wet... Standing on the edge of the slab was precarious to say the least, and I'm not the most svelte individual... Long story short, I fell into the mud. Which sounds funny, but at the time, it was rather terrifying, because of the depth of said mud, and how much effort it took to get me out of the mud.
Don't believe me? Here's how deep it was:
Took 2 people to lift me out of the mud, and I came out without one of my boots as well, which has never been seen since. I had to walk home, because I didn't have a change of clothes, and I had come to site in the Jag. So over an hour, with outside temps being about 3C, trudging home feeling very sorry for myself. At least my mate lent me a pair of boots!
One detail I haven't mentioned prior... The basement walls are 10" thick concrete core, but the above-ground walls were designed to be 6.25" concrete core. The mathematically-astute among you will have already worked out that gives 3.75" (or a touch over 95mm in new money). This was intentional, because I figured I was a clever so-and-so, and could use that 95mm as a bearing surface for concrete floor beams. Genius, eh?
Well, maybe. It did give us a nice bearing surface, and it did remove a potential cold join between pours at ground level, so big win there. However it then entailed removal of a large amount of EPS from the inside of the blocks so that the beams would slide along on this concrete (because a crane wouldn't get on site very easily, so we used manual labour to move the beams), so the labour aspect was considerable. It took better part of 2 days to remove the EPS (and resulted in about 3 builders bags worth of EPS fragments sitting in our basement), and another 2 days to set the beams in place and start laying the infill blocks.
Here are the beams going on:
And here are the floor blocks being laid:
Here you can see the EPS having been removed en mass from where the beams had to slide. Don't worry - it's not a giant thermal bridge, because
we put EPS back around the beams once they were in situ properly (albeit much later in this story)
we have now put insulation above the floor beams for the UFH to sit on top of, and
we will shortly be putting insulation under the floor beams in the basement ceilings too (cos we have a load left over)
(The big hole is where the stairwell is going, in case you're wondering!)
We backfilled at the same time as laying the floor beams. More precisely, because of a battle of wills between the engineer and the groundworkers, we backfilled to approx 50% of depth, then laid the beams (with the walls evenly loaded all round by the backfill to "prevent asymmetric destabilisation and collapse") and finally finished the backfill. 440 tonnes of backfill went in around the basement - that's a lot of stone!
Next up was the remaining foundations. Building Control had specified a minimum depth for the mass-fill RC footings for the rest of the house, because of the massive lombardy poplar trees at the front of site. A nice big strip was dug out (2.5m deep at the front, and 1.5m deep at the back of the plot - furthest from the trees), and filled with concrete.
The engineer had specified cages of 16mm rebar to make our ground beams that linked the mass-fill footings to the basement walls, with clay heave protection, so we dug out from the clay capping over the backfill, formed shutters with the heave protection, and dropped in our cages:
Once the concrete had started to cure in earnest, we laid the first course of blocks on the new foundations, and linked into the basement wall blocks. The steel reinforcement is probably overkill, but better safe than sorry when your engineers starts saying "you don't want the two halves of the house to separate"...
The blue pipes were my attempt to ventilate under the block & beam floor that we were going to lay over the new foundations. Turns out that Building Control didn't care a jot about that once they saw how much backfill stone we had placed - not sure why that would matter, but there you go! Concrete was poured in this course of blocks to stabilise everything, and get us ready to carry on with the build.
Myself and a couple of mates laid the remaining floor beams in a weekend:
That'll do for now - as my Mum used to say: "keep 'em wanting more!"
We make a start on 15th October with the diggers arriving on 16th October. By the 17th October, state of play is as per the picture below. The gabion wall on the right of the plot was put in by the vendor as part of the infrastructure works. The trench on the left is for a gabion wall that we are putting in on the other boundary. As there is quite a slope from back to front, we are putting another gabion wall across the plot to act as a retaining wall. All OK so far, but there is a surprising amount of muck that came out of the trench for the gabion wall which will need to be taken off-site. On the plus side, the plot had already been stripped of topsoil and as we are using a passivhaus foundation there was not too much extra muck on top of this.
The builder we are using has been involved since the early stages of the project. We didn't go to competitive tender but worked with the Architect to look for someone with experience of the build method we are using who we felt would be able to build to our budget. We are living around 3 hours drive from the site and made a decision out of necessity to continue working in our day jobs throughout the build, however we are purchasing all of the materials ourselves or via our own accounts which we expect will make the build more cost effective. This arrangement works to my strengths as whilst my practical building skills aren't great, I should be OK tracking costs and getting good prices on the materials.
Original plan was to get the gabion cages in place and fill them as time allowed, but the Passivhaus foundation could not be delivered for the requested date of 24th October, so once the drainage is complete, filling the gabion cages becomes the main task to keep the team onsite busy. By 26th October, the majority of the drainage and gabion walls are complete
The following week is spent finishing of the gabion walls, landscaping, groundwork and preparing the grit base for the Passivhaus foundation. There is however a further delay on the Passivhaus foundation, so a decision is made to push on with the garage to keep everyone on site busy.
At the end of the week (2nd November), the slab for the garage is laid
The garage progresses quickly the following week and the Passivhaus foundation arrives on 8th November. There are some small dimensional inaccuracies with the Passivhaus foundation base that need to be corrected, but I am thankful this is spotted before the concrete pour when it is relatively easy to fix. It is however another delay and distraction we could have done without. On the bright side however, there have been no nasty surprises with the groundwork / drainage.
Work continues on the garage w/c 12th November with prep for the house slab starting at the end of the week. DPM and steelwork for the house slab go in on the 19th and 20th and following a review of the weather forecasts, we go for the 23rd November for the concrete pour. The concrete and concrete pump are ordered again, the rain holds off, temperature is ok and the pour goes to plan. Garage has also now been boarded.
Our efforts in the latter part of 2018 was spent on getting the exterior properly wind & watertight. With just the render left to do, we could now concentrate on the insides.
Starting to insulate the suspended timberfloor was the first job to do.
We attached some little bits of timber to the underside of the joists, which will keep the insulation boards in place. Our primary insulation for the groundfloor is Quintherm 65mm (another two layers of insulation will be added later). Once ordered these were then cut to size using a piece of wood to score a mark and then cut with a handsaw.
We left a bit of gap either side which will be filled with expanding foam to ensure a tight fit.
The other insulation ordered at this stage was the Frametherm wool which is the primary insulation layer between the studs. But some will also be used to top up the gap left in the joists.
The width is already in the correct size so it was just a cut for the required length and then you can pop into the studwork. Compared to the Quinntherm this is more quicker to fit.
And that is that for 2018. Reflecting on the build process to date:
We are exactly where I hoped we would be at this stage. A proper wind and watertight shell that can stand up to the Hebridean winter weather.
Reviewing the finances we are about half way through our build budget.
We have been fortunate no real issues. A problem with a wrong size velux flashing and the metal flashing provided for utility roof was provided at the incorrect angle, both were the suppliers fault!
At the start of the build, I had visions of the concrete wagon sinking in the road, the windows being dropped on arrival and the trusses not being able to fit down the access. The lesson here is watch programmes like grand designs and building the dream, but don't let the drama put you off, self building, it is achievable by anybody!
So in my last thrilling instalment I was moaning about how I had just spent 6 days putting in the first row of blocks
well for the next week I kept on to my mate helping me that I hoped that wasn’t how the rest of it was going to go, I mean 6 days for 1 course, how bloody long was it going to take to do 12 courses.
Well one afternoon we had finished doing a few odd jobs and I thought it was about time to get on with putting up the main walls
right then god loves a trier
4 hours later I had this lot up.
Bloody hell that was easy
so the next few days we spent knocking all the Lego together, still easy,
then it started to get a bit more complicated, some idiot has designed this house with far two many openings, small pillars of wall between the openings and SEVEN gables
more advice, build something square with just 4 external corners it will save you hours of agro
So more windows and openings slowed the progress a bit,
things you sort of forget about is all these windows and doors require some form of support, so you add a bit of timber to hold all the icf in place, then you wake up at 2 in the morning and think, should I add some more bracing, then you watch a YouTube video of an icf concrete pour
so you add a bit more timber, then you talk to a lad down the road who has done half a dozen icf builds
he pops around one afternoon and adds his thoughts into the mix, you guessed it.
More wood added, it was starting to look more like a timberframe house than icfso we’re up to lintel height
so in icf you don’t actually install a lintel but cast them in situ, lots of reinforcement bar added to the inside of the blocks so when you add the concrete it all makes a monolithic concrete structure.
Plenty of steel over these openings
tbh it was a thorough pain in the arse, lots of steel a skinny gap and fingers like sausages does not make an easy job.
So reo in,corners braced-its time to install the bracing system that hold the walls all plum before you install the concrete
now some of you may think you should have put the bracing up a long time ago, and you would be correct
but the way my icf provider hires the bracing out meant I would be paying for it for all the time it was on site, so I decided to not bother having it on site until I actually needed it, with all the bracing it was once again looking more like a civil engineering project than a house.
7.30 one morning the concrete pump turned up and for the next 12 hours all hell broke loose
i had arranged everything perfectly, extra tea bags plenty of milk it was going to be a breeze
ol yea bucko don’t get cocky, I had 3 lads coming to help all with a set job. And at 8.30 on a Sunday night I got a text from from 1 of the lads saying he had a poorly tummy, oh boo hoo to###r
so we are now down to 3 of us in total and hence why all hell broke loose, we ran around for12 hours solid I managed a cup of cold tea halfway through the day and 1 slice of toast, we ended up troweling the top of the walls with head torches on and a floodlight.
Anyway it’s all in first lift done,no major disasters, one tiny bit of wall that has a bulge in it that I can fix with a mornings fettling.
Things I would recommend if doing icf, add lots of bracing every where, if it looks dodgy add a chunk of timber
the big orange pipe thing is called a MUD SNAKE it fits to the end of the concrete pump hose and allows you to place concrete so much more accurately than with the big rubber hose, it also allows you to squeeze the end and stop the dribbling concrete from running out when you pass over an area that doesn’t need concrete in, hire one it’s the best £30 you will ever spend.
Dogs, if you have a stupid dog try to prevent him getting his head stuck in an icf off cut.
Before I carry on, let's answer the question I posed in the last blog entry. I posted this picture of the basement rear wall, showing how we had joined the cross wall to the side wall (following the suggestion of the boss of Logix UK, who had attended site whilst the walls were being assembled (and even assembled some of them himself) as part of our on-site training:
The problem here is that this wall is supposed to form part of the watertight barrier of the basement. The concrete had to be continuous. But of course, with this design it wasn't continuous - we only had pockets of concrete, 5" deep, every 16" up the wall. Structurally, it was more than up to the job. From a watertightness perspective, it was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
But we didn't even think about this until much, much later. About 6 months after the concrete pour for the basement walls, in fact. By which time, remedial action became very complicated and very expensive.
Let's return to the blog timeline...
So, basement walls were constructed in about 8 elapsed days, which amounted to 5.5 days on-site. I was suitably impressed. 2 faces of steel rebar was set into the external walls, at 200mm centres vertically and horizontally. This was at the behest of our waterproofing specialist, who had overruled the SE. From a structural perspective, the SE had calculated that a single face of H12 rebar at 200mm centres was more than adequate to reinforce our 10" thick concrete walls and withhold the ground pressure. Our waterproofing guy said "the more steel the better, because it'll control the cracking better". So, with the steel not actually being that expensive, we ordered double the steel, and put 2 faces in.
Thank goodness we did. Remember the bank at the back that was propped on 4 acrows? They were rated at 1 tonne each. 3 days before the concrete pour, they failed overnight. A shelf of clay, weighing perhaps 6 tonnes, forced one of the acrows to deflect enough to destabilise the lot, and the shelf gave way, slid down the back of the excavation, and smashed into the polystyrene wall.
Unbelievably, the wall, supported by the ICF bracing system, held. Here's a photo of the damage:
The bracing upright was bent to the tune of 10 degrees or so, and most of the studs that interlock the ICF blocks had sheared off. But because of that 2nd face of steel rebar, the wall resisted the impact, and the subsequent dead weight, of the clay against it. It took 2 hours and a few extra steel supports, but we managed to force the blocks back together, and brace it up sufficiently that it would take the concrete pour.
And a 3 days later, that's what we did. The concrete pour was moderately uneventful, as these things go.
Apart from the pump getting blocked, because a piece of hardened concrete had made it into the mix in the batching plant, and then completely blocked the 3" reducer we were using:
It took nearly an hour to dismantle the pump, knock that lump of concrete out, and reassemble the pump. The concrete firm said they'd have to charge us for the concrete wagon sitting outside doing nothing. I replied that was fine, but they were picking up the tab for the pump since they'd blocked it. They said for me not to worry, and apologised for any delays they had caused...
Oh, and one more problem - where the T-walls had been made, I hadn't braced the outside of the side walls sufficiently (or at all, truth be told!). This led to some substantial bulging of the side wall in a couple of places, which I had to shore up as a bit of an emergency 😟 The concrete was poured, and the walls started to harden pretty much as soon as it was poured. Here's the bulging:
Ahem. Nothing to see here, move along. 😭
At least the shoring / bracing held.