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.
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.
Winter is coming, the White Walkers are on the way and, in the meantime, grey snow arrived in my house on Friday.
Allow me to explain. It seems that much of the artificial snow that you see on film sets is, in fact, made from blown cellulose, particularly to cover outdoor areas without damaging flora and fauna. I now know this after having some cellulose insulation inadvertently blown into the garage on Friday when the insulation found a gap in a board and made its way through. No big deal, it was spotted early on and most was re-used, but it struck me that, apart from the colour, it looked a lot like freshly fallen snow.
As you can probably guess from all this, the cellulose is being blown into the house at the moment. Gordon and Keith arrived on Friday morning - a pair of very nice Welsh guys who do all the cellulose blowing for MBC and other passive type house builders, a job that keeps them busy as evidenced by the fact that they've been working on my place all over the weekend and will still be there on Monday morning.
The cellulose delivery arrived ahead of Gordon and Keith as a palletised delivery. Not surprising, given that there were 570 12kg bags. That's a lot of cellulose. At this stage, Gordon can't say whether it will be too little, too much, or Goldilocks cellulose and just right, as it's ordered in by MBC on his behalf. Here's the delivery with the curtain sides just being opened on the lorry:
One of the pallets toppled off the forklift so the driver and I hauled the bags into the house and stacked them inside and I got a couple of photos of the packaging detail for anyone who's interested.
The process of putting the cellulose in is pretty straightforward. The bales of compacted cellulose are fed into a machine housed in Gordon's van that fluffs the stuff up. This then blows it along a tube terminating in the metal tube that goes into a hole that's been cut in the airtight board.
As he goes along and the sections are filled, numbered cork bungs are put into the holes.
The holes are only temporarily sealed with the bungs in case the cellulose settles or takes a little while to work into all the nooks and crannies, but once Gordon's happy that this has been done, the cut out disc of airtight board is put back in place and taped up with airtight tape.
Because the cellulose is blown in under pressure, it will find any gaps or holes and do a good impression of fake snow. The leakage in the photo above came into the garage via a loose board right at the top, above the cassette of the twin wall, after it forced the gap open. It looked like loads - the entire floor was covered, there was a fair bit on the walls and a nice pile below the leaky board. it looks like more, but this is barely about 1 bagful.
The guys have worked their way around the house, downstairs and up, getting the bulk of the cellulose in and leaving the fiddly bits over to Monday morning when they should be finishing up.
One job that absolutely had to be done ahead of the cellulose going in was a bit of first fix work for the brise soleil. The brise soleil is a set of vertically arranged horizontal timber fins. The timber fins are fixed to a steel framework that, in turn, is fixed to the face of the building, around the opening for the window in front of the stairs. There are 6 fixing plates, 3 each side, and these need something behind the board of the frame for the coach screws to bit into and spread the load once they penetrate the frame. Reasonably straightforward, unless the cellulose has already filled those cavities.
So come Friday morning, my all-round handyman and builder, Drew, was in cutting holes into the building to pack out the fixing points with some sturdy pieces of timber. Everything was taped back up again and ready for the cellulose and, in a couple of weeks, the steel frame for the brise soleil.
Also in on Friday were the flat roof guys, finishing the final part of the garage roof. This is the last part of the flat roof work and I'm glad that it's all finished. I have to admit that I completely underestimated the amount of work involved on the flat roof side of things, not least the parapets that were fiddly. As a result, I've spent a lot more on getting this done than I had estimated before my quote came in and it also edged up with the amount of carpentry work that had to be put in ready to receive the membrane. However, I haven't busted my contingency on it and costs are still comfortable.
Here's a photo of the finished garage roof.
Skipping back to the beginning of the week, I had my garage door installed on Monday and I'm very pleased with it. I find it hard to get excited by a garage door, but in so far as it functions well and looks quite nice, I'm pleased. The door is made by Ryterna and I dealt with Joe at Dorset Garage Doors Ltd, just up the road from the house in the next village. He is a really nice guy to deal with and his team were very nice, too, so I'd be happy to recommend them. They also offer Hormann doors, but the Ryterna came in at about £1k cheaper, so that was the one for me! Joe reckons the major difference is that the mechanism on the Hormann door is slightly smoother. Personally, I'm not at all fussed if the mechanism on my door makes a little more noise for the sake of £1k. The door itself is a sectional one and the exterior is powder coated in the ubiquitous RAL 7016 to match the windows.
We've had a bit of a tidy up on site this week, as well. It was badly in need of it and I knew that I'd need the space in front of the house for the cellulose coming in and, once that's done, all the other deliveries for the internal workings of the house. There's plenty more tidying to be done, but we'll wait for the rain to stop for that.
Speaking of rain, it was awful weather here last week, as it was for much of the country, and the storms lashed Dorset. I'm still getting some water ingress via the windows, but it's not the fault of the windows. I understand water ingress much better now having gone through so many different forms of it during the build. The current one is because the south southwest face of the building gets the brunt of the weather and the cladding isn't on yet. As a result, the blue paper membrane is saturated and the water seeps in around the edge of the window frame and the window opening and comes into the building. It's not a vast amount and will dry out quickly enough and I'm not stressing over it as my upstairs slate cladding starts going on Monday. My only concern here is that I need some first fix done for the motorised external roller blind that I'm having on the upstairs south window (this is the one with the worst of the water ingress) and my supplier was caught out by this. I've been telling him for a couple of months that his stuff needed to go on as first fix and before the cladding, but he decided that this wasn't the case and put things off. When he finally came down to measure up, he agreed that it did need to be done as first fix, but I don't think he will have his order from the factory before that wall is ready to be clad. I may have to do a bit of juggling, but it's really annoying when people don't listen to what you're saying because they think they know better, without even having looked properly.
So tomorrow sees the site getting really busy again. The (pitched) roofers are back in to do the vertical slate cladding. The slate is the same stuff that's on the roof and will be riveted in. The only part of the upper storey that doesn't have the slate is the surrounding of the brise soleil window, which will be the Tier cladding. Also in is Nick and team who will be working on first fix for all the systems going in. Drew will be helping out with boarding and general carpentry work that needs doing so that equipment can be properly position up in the loft space and elsewhere, and I daresay the alarm system guy may be along at some point, too.
My groundworker, Keith, is due in at some point next week and we're aiming to get Paul's pond dug out. This will be an ideal test to see just how well that clay of ours holds water with the winter rains coming in and it will, hopefully, confirm our thoughts that we don't need to line it. Judging by the moat around the house right now, we're feeling reasonably confident.
More to follow next week.
Yesterday was air tightness test day and MBC's final day on site getting everything prepped for the final test and then finishing off a few details. For those not so familiar with this kind of thing, a few details of the process follow.
Our house isn't a passive house as it hasn't been designed with that in mind - it was the design first and then build to passive standards, so no accreditation or anything like that. That said, I wanted a low energy house and hence the choice of the passive system offered by MBC. Part of this system is that as well as the building and foundation being highly insulated, it also leaks very little air, as this is one of the major sources of heat loss in buildings and houses. The leakiness of a house is measured in terms of the number of times the volume of air contained by the building passes out of all the various gaps in one hour. As mentioned on this forum elsewhere, a modern well-built house without any special air tight measures would probably change its volume of air between 3 and 5 times per hour. The final part of MBC's construction method is to tape over anywhere there is likely to be a gap and make the building as air tight as possible; the target is to have 0.6 or less air changes per hour.
One exterior door into the house is chosen as the point of measurement and this is where all the kit goes. Note that the air tight test is testing the quality of MBC's work and whilst it will highlight gaps elsewhere, it's not MBC's remit to correct leaks caused by others, only themselves. The point of measurement for my house is the door between the garage and the utility room, where the FD30 rated door was recently installed. The door is sealed up with a membrane that's supported and held in place by an adjustable frame:
The hands are those of Steve, of Melin Consultants, who carry out most of MBC's air tests. This is the frame/shield being put in place in the doorway. I really did try and get a photo without builder's/air tester's bum, but to no avail. Those with delicate sensibilities should look away now and skip the next photo.
After the frame, the fan is put into the hole in the shield, drawn tight and any gaps between the frame and door frame are temporarily sealed up.
The rate of air flow into and out of the building is altered by both the speed of the fan and the number of vents that are opened up on the fan. The building is de-pressurised first, then re-pressurised and the readings taken. Because of environmental factors such as wind, this is done 10 times to get a data set and the average is taken for the final result. When this test was done yesterday, it was a windy day with the wind coming from the north east, the direction that the garage door faces.
As the test progressed, it became clear that the house is well sealed and so it needed a smaller fan. The red shield was swapped over and the smaller fan put in place.
The rest of the readings were taken and we got our final reading. Darren and his MBC crew aced it - with a target of 0.6 ac/h it came in at 0.25. Brilliant. Darren is a calm chap under all sorts of pressures but the air test was about the only time I've seen him display (slight) signs of nerves. He was equally understated in his satisfaction with the result even though it turns out that this is one of the lowest numbers they've had in 7 years. Well done, Darren and crew.
If you're wondering what all that foam is doing on the floor, that's left over from Nick doing the foul wastes over the weekend and foaming them in before putting air tight tape around them to make sure he didn't do anything detrimental to the air test result.
We have a few very minor leaks, mostly gaps between the panels in the windows that have several sections. No surprise and these are due to be siliconed once we've finished most of the pretty stuff. There is also a bit of air flow through the keyholes but I've been advised that a good coating of vaseline on the key and in and out of the lock a few times should seal it up well enough. I daresay that would seal most things. The gaps were temporarily sealed up with a bit of low tack plastic for the air test, so the result assumes this has been done.
All the battens are in now and the downstairs was finished off yesterday, and concrete was put into the remaining recess that had been formed for the lift and slide doors to get a level threshold.
I am, of course, delighted with the air tight result and really pleased for MBC as well, as they have worked really hard and whenever there has been a problem, come up with solutions. I know that others have had varied experiences but for my own, I have found MBC to be a pleasure to work with right from the start. At the design stage, David worked his socks off liaising with my architect to get all the details right and to work out how to build the design using their system, and this has been the case with any third parties I've asked them to speak with directly. The communication from Trish has been great - I've always know what was going to happen and when and been kept informed when timings have had to change. The guys on the ground have worked like machines; I'm astonished at how hard they work, to be frank, and throughout the whole time I've never heard any rows or arguments. That's not to say that there haven't been any, but if there have, they didn't take place in front of me. For me, this has been a really good experience.
What next? There's still plenty to do but the next main contractor is Nick from Total Energy Systems who is largely doing all of the internal systems, plumbing and wiring. He's done a reasonable amount already in terms of the MVHR ducting and manifolds but will kick off in earnest on 3rd December once the cellulose has been blown in upstairs. The cellulose is arriving on Friday 30th, along with Gordon, who will put it into the walls and ceiling. All 520 bags of it! Before then, my Ryterna garage door is due to be installed next week so I'll report back on that. That's being supplied and installed by Joe from Dorset Garage Doors Ltd, just up the road from me in Lydlinch.
There's a lot of work to be done outside, too, but I'll be thinking through that today and get my plan of action together. Whatever else happens, Nick is going to get some gentle heat into the slab this week, using a couple of Willis heaters. It's getting pretty chilly on site now and it will be nice to get the house drying out properly and check that side of things is working properly.
A good week and, hopefully, more to come.
Having got all my water issues out into the last post, it's time to move on to happier things and talk about other progress. Actually, that's a little unfair because there is a lot of work in all the flat roof stuff, far more than the pitched roof, and aside from the wet stuff it's going well.
At the end of the penultimate post, the solar PV panels were just going on and the pitched roof was also still a work in progress. The building was still a shell with no power and plenty of work left for MBC to do, and outside was largely untouched apart from the buried mains cable that was terminating in the garage, into the meter moved by the meter fairies.
Let's start at the top and work our way down. The solar panels are all in now and all the slates around them are done. All the velux windows are in and the ridges were done last week. We have a dry ridge system. I had to ask what this was and was told 'that means there's no gunk underneath the ridge tiles'. So technical that even I could understand it! Here's the stuff that they line it with. When they roll it out, it has a corrugated wave shape to it and each side is sticky - one for the roof ridge surface, the other for the ridge tiles.
This is Mike, one of the roofers, bringing the final tiles right up to the ridge before putting the dry ridge stuff over it.
And here's a view of the ridge tiles in situ, fixed to the sticky stuff and clipped together.
We have 3 ridge lines on the roof, all meeting somewhere over the north east bedroom. A plate of good old school lead was shaped to cover the meeting point of the 3 ridges, creating a neat flashing for the centre. Here's Terence welding the lead to create the flaps going down each gully.
Here's Terence putting it into position on the roof:
And here's a close-up of the same thing. You can see the fixing for the dry ridge system unrolled next to it.
Staying with jobs going on outside, there were some groundworks that week, too. I needed to get the electricity supply cable trench back-filled and whilst we had the plant on site I decided to get a few other jobs done. The Openreach guys turned up that week and the old redundant BT cable was removed, so that old electricity pole is all clear now. My neighbour has already bagsied it, so there's no problem with disposal. One of the groundworks jobs was to open up the ground between the garage and the lane. I'm not getting the driveway done quite yet but I did need to get it clear because my sunamps will live in the garage and it will be a lot easier to get them forklifted straight into the garage from the lane rather than trying to drag them all through the house. Keith got onto it, clearing around the side of the garage a little, too. There is an area of concrete there that used to have a shed on top of it. For the time being, I'm keeping that there as it's nice to have a surface that isn't clay.
And then this is the view from the lane up to the garage. This is, in fact, where the pedestrian entrance to the old bungalow was, hence the gate that is still there. Once we've got rid of the scaffolding, we can clear the remaining few feet of the entrance and make the proper driveway. Keith will be doing most of the work on this, but I need to get someone with a ticket to do the dropped kerb between the lane and the verge. It's outrageously expensive for what it is - just for the 6m stretch of opening and 2m back, tarmac surface, that will be the princely sum of £1,200 plus £285 for the licence from the council. And that's the cheapest quote out of 3!!!! I will be continuing the tarmac for the driveway, and also around to the side of the garage so that there's hardstanding for a couple of vehicles next to it.
And Keith's final job for that week whilst the plant was still on hire was to scrape the grass from what will be Paul's pond. I marked out the original perimeter and he took out the line for this but then I did that typically female thing and told him it was no good and I wanted it to be bigger. Naturally, he obliged.
Not that we had much doubt, but for the sake of interest, Keith dug out a small trial pit within the pond perimeter, about 1m deep. It has filled up nicely with the subsequent rain and shows no sign of draining any time soon. I may have cursed our clay for its giving the need for piles, but we certainly won't need a pond liner.
That's most of the outdoor stuff for the time being, so let's step inside and see what MBC have been up to this week as they've starting on the prep work prior to the airtight test. This is scheduled for next Tuesday, 20th November.
The velux windows have all been boxed out and they've been drawing the airtight membrane up around the web joists forming the roof/ceiling.
This will be the main/shared bathroom and it's only natural light source is the velux. It's rather nice to think I can lay in the bath looking at the stars. Assuming it's not raining. The green tubes on the far wall are for the MVHR.
A close up of some of the MVHR tubes to show the careful taping around them where they come through the membrane.
This is the main bedroom that has been battened out now. I've wedged some bits of timber under the membrane that's underneath the window to dry out the water that came in at the weekend after the tanked balcony incident. All the battens have been screwed on, much to the chagrin of Darren. It's probably not so necessary somewhere like a bedroom, but in bathrooms and the like where the weight of tiles and mirrors can be considerable, I wanted the peace of mind that the battens weren't going to move for anything and so requested screws rather than nails.
This is the north east bedroom, below where the three ridges meet. The guy putting up the plasterboard will be cursing me here.
Heading downstairs, the insulation changes a bit here. Instead of being all blown cellulose held behind the membrane, there is celotex in certain places. This is beneath the parapets and the balconies and it's been used here because less depth is required than for the cellulose, allowing the ceiling to be level throughout the ground floor. If blown cellulose had been used, the entire outer edge of the ground floor rooms would have had a step down to allow for this.
That's pretty much it for now, but the next lot of work has been scheduled. The vertical slate cladding is booked in to start on 3rd December and this is being done by my roofers as it seemed logical given that they're using the same materials as on the roof. I'm nagging and cajoling them to see if they will do the stone board cladding on the stairwell walls as well; they may say no eventually, but I'm working on it as that will be pretty much all the stuff at height done other than rainwater goods. It would also protect the south west corner of the building nicely, as that's the direction for the prevailing weather.
I'm aiming to get some more groundworks done in early December; at some point I need to get the sewage treatment system set in and also the rainwater storage tank. There is, of course, the rest of the pond to be dug out and that will need some muckaway. I'd rather get it done this side of the winter as we can then let it fill up with rainwater and see how it settles.
Internally, Nick is on site later this week to sort out the soil and waste pipes and do a bit of stuff with the MVHR. Once MBC have completed their air test next week, we can really go at it with first fix, so I need to make decisions on external electrics. On order is the big brise soleil for the floor to roof window in front of the stairwell. The plans for this look great but I'm waiting on a production date at the moment as the framework is a first fix item. The wooden fins can go on any time after that. Similarly, I have a guy coming to measure up for the external motorised roller blinds for the other large south facing windows. As long as sufficient clearance is left with the cladding, these don't need to be installed as part of first fix so we're not so reliant on a production date for these. They have a lead time of 3 to 4 weeks.
There's plenty that I've omitted, I'm sure, but it will all follow in due course. It will be great to get past the air test and make some good progress in doors.
No aviation buzz this week, but the hunt was out today. I stood on the top lift of the scaffolding late this afternoon watching the horses and riders galloping over the distant fields down near the river and could hear the hounds baying and the horn being blown. I'm not sure what they were hunting but it all seemed very evocative on a late autumn afternoon and really brought home just how rural our place is.
....what the weatherman says as things didn't go quite to plan.
It's been a hellishly busy couple of weeks since I last posted and it feels like far longer than 2 weeks, as I'm sure anyone who has had a leaky building will sympathise with. I was feeling very pleased and relieved 2 weeks ago as everyone was on site and working away and it really did look like I would just sneak in before the weather broke. Had everyone been where they should have, I would have just made it but the flat roof firm let me down rather badly. They had been fitting in dribs and drabs of the work when they could over the last couple of months but the bulk of it was always scheduled for the last week of October onwards and I had an email from the head man at the firm confirming that the guys would be on site on 29th October and remain until the work was complete. Sadly, that wasn't the case and they were on site for one week and then announced that they were off to another job the week after. I expressed my dissatisfaction and said that if things turned nasty with the weather, I wanted them back because it was pretty clear that there was still a lot to do before water would stop coming in.
The following week, the weather did indeed break, and it chucked it down, much of which came straight down into my building. I rang the flat roof boss and told him that I needed someone on site the following day (due to be dry) to get back to things as taking them off my job and leaving the building exposed wasn't acceptable, so he said he'd send someone over the following day to see what they could do. I had thought that they would stay for the day having come all this way but it turned out that they had quite literally just come to see what they could do. Not actually do it, but see what they could do then go on. WTF!!!! So, in the absence of any word from their boss (tried to call, voicemail) I set them to work and said that I expected them to be on site for the rest of that day. The boss finally rang just after 10am and we had a row - he saying that the other job they were working on was more important than mine and me accusing him of broken promises and wondering how my money was worth less than anyone else's and my building flooding out being unimportant. Now, I'm not one for stand up rows with anyone. The best victory is by far the one that you don't have to fight for and certainly not have blazing rows but I'm the kind of person who, when someone says that they will remain until the job is completed, I believe them. Particularly when all the follow on work from MBC is dependent upon having a dry building to work on and I was not going to have a dry building at the end of this, so I was quite prepared to make some noise over this.
So, 2 weeks later and we seem to be settling down but not before more drama ensued. In their efforts to shore things up during their day on site, the flat roof guys tanked my east facing balcony. There were and are a couple of lovely big drainage holes through the parapet wall via which water can freely exit, but for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to put the membrane over these. WTF!!!! Again!!!! Thankfully, because MBC were on site, I went over to site on Saturday. We'd had some major weather and storms the previous day and very heavy rain. As a result, I had a paddling pool outside my bedroom window that was lapping in under the French doors. For once, words fail me, they really do. Armed with bare feet, rolled up trousers and a stanley knife, I negotiated the scaffolding beams and re-opened the exits and rammed a couple of drinks bottles with the ends cut off into the holes to keep them open and drain the water. Ever seen Niagra Falls? It was a fine impression.
Here are a couple of photos of the water that came into the lounge area from the parapets.
I vacuumed up all the water from inside the house and put a couple of oil filled radiators in the place to get some sort of drying process started off and it did a bit of good. Come Monday, words were had with the guys now back on site as it could have been disastrous if I hadn't been there at the weekend and the upstairs would have quickly flooded, and the downstairs more so than it had already. They're now working on the last of the flat roofing and the gullies behind the parapets and the house is drying out. MBC have been in and done what they can, which is most of it, but we need to let one side of the parapet dry out some more before they put the celotex up there - we should be good for Tuesday next week which is when Darren will be back and the airtest will be done that day, too.
It's such a pity that the flat roof firm let themselves down so badly on this. The guys on site are very pleasant and with the obvious exception of the tanked balcony, their work appears to be of a good standard but school boy errors like this aren't good enough. I have my reservations about the boss of the firm who, given his experience in the industry and construction in general, really should know better than to tell someone one thing and do another completely, especially when there is follow on work booked on the strength of their given timescales and bad weather hasn't adversely affected things. To then try and shout a customer down for asking for what was offered in the first place is also incredibly unprofessional. I will need some follow on work done on the balconies to put another surface on which will allow me to put decking down but I'm reasonably sure that I will go elsewhere for that.
This is the east balcony, with two bedrooms leading onto it. The rumpled up stuff at the end is the polythene covering the garage roof.
And here's the work in progress of the parapet gullies being lined with membrane. The guys got on okay with this one but I gave some feedback to the architect about the same construction on the north face of the house. This was because when the guys came to line it, they were significantly slowed up because the width of the gully was too narrow to get a fixing tool into to attach the OSB upstands to. Looking pretty is all well and good, but only if you can actually build it. They managed, but probably lost about half a day because of this.
Moving on from the flat roof but still on the subject of water, I'm still getting water ingress from under my windows as well and, if anything, more than I previously thought as it's affecting 3 windows not just the original one. For all that it's distressing seeing water coming in through the building because of my roofing difficulties, in many ways it's not all bad because it has highlighted the poor seals under the windows that I wouldn't have otherwise spotted and had the opportunity to get put right before the building is complete and kitted out. That would have been a horror story. I do realise that the building isn't going to be fully watertight until the cladding goes on, but the issue is that the water ingress of the windows is from underneath, not around the sides or top and so there is something defective about the way they have been sealed on their bases and this needs to be addressed. I have a team due on Thursday so I shall be interested to see how they deal with this as it needs to be fixed before next Tuesday at the latest.
One thing I have learned over this last week is how useful a wet vacuum cleaner is to have around the place. Mine is 30 years old but still giving great service - it worked very hard last weekend.
This is the south bedroom window, but the picture on all the other multiple pane windows upstairs is similar.
Here endeth my watery post. I feel a little glum looking back at these photos, I suppose because it's all still so fresh in my memory and there is something really horrible about seeing water on the inside of the building. However, all is now in hand until the next crisis and I'm off to do another post on all the good stuff that's happened over the last 2 weeks.
....if the weather man says it's raining! So goes the old song and me, too, by the end of this week. The roof itself has been watertight for a couple of weeks now, but there was still significant water ingress from the gulleys hidden behind the parapets formed at the top of the ground floor. However, my flat roof guys have been back on site this week and are working hard. Today they were finishing off the long, east facing balcony and also moving onto the south facing parapet; they will continue around the building and should have the main part of the house all finished off if not by Friday, then certainly early next week. This is a great relief as even though I know that the building would dry out, there is something deeply distressing about seeing puddles of water lying on the slab after rain, despite the main roof being on, so I shall be very happy to have this part of the build completed. Photos of the gullies and balconies to follow later this week.
Stepping back to last week for a moment, some of the window snag list was ticked off, primarily the shattered panes of glass. One was in the south facing ground floor lounge area and the other was a unit in the north east bedroom. Norrsken were back exactly when they said they would be and got the main jobs completed so that things are set for the return of MBC. The remaining snag list are a few adjustments to the windows, for example where one of the lift and slide windows is too tightly fitted against the seal/brush and the frames rub when it's opened or closed, and then a few cosmetic issues such as shallow dents in the frames. We've agreed to complete the rest of the list once we're getting into second fix rather than get in the way of all the frame completion and first fix work.
Last week also saw the return of Darren from MBC to fix my wonky wall, for which the solution was low tech but effective. A sleep deprived but determined Irishman with a very, very large hammer who was prepared to beat the crap out of a steel beam, and that's precisely what he did. So the problem wasn't so much the wall above the window, but the section that housed the apex steel that sat above the window and that, it's now been decided, has a kink in it. The wall above the steel section and the one below it are both plumb but the inverted V-section above the window isn't due to the kinked steel inside it. I'm assured that everything is structurally fine and that there's no danger of anything shifting in a detrimental fashion and after Darren did his stuff the top of the triangular window section is now only 3mm out, where it started at 12mm and more further up. I can easily live with 3mm and it will easily be lost in the cladding. There is now a kick on the inside, but Darren will put some packers behind the service battens to make sure that the final internal wall is plumb for boarding out and everything else that comes after.
And so back to this week, where the first few days have all been about activity on the roof. As already mentioned, the flat roof guys were back on Monday and also back were the solar PV guys. The solar guys had to start by removing the optimisers from where they'd previously left them on the roof as they are all going into the loft space. The idea behind this is that the solar panels themselves are highly unlikely to fail but if any of the optimisers do, it will be an expensive job to get to them to make any repairs. It would involve dismantling part of the roof as well as expensive scaffolding to gain access. Instead, the cables have come through a penetration in the roof and the optimisers will sit in the loft space along side some MVHR equipment, meaning that things are far more accessible in the future. The inverter will be in the garage and the cable has been run down along the roof, going through the parapet and through the garage ceiling, into the garage where it will live with all the sunamps and other kit. This is the route it's taking, to the side of the roof window and underneath the membrane that will line the parapet gully and, eventually, the garage roof.
My velux windows arrived last week, which was another relief. My roofer, Dylan, gave me a call to confirm that they were in and the days that his team would be back. We'd already agreed that they would be on site on the 30th to co-ordinate and work around with the solar guys and they all worked really co-operatively, as they have done all along. I'm biased, of course, but I think that my roof is looking really great and the solar panels are pretty smart looking, too. Here are the panels from the other side of the flat roof over the stairwell.
And a closer view of the trays and panels.
This is the velux window that's over the shared bathroom. It's very low down coming onto the flat roof, but Terence and the other roofers, Pat and Mike, had already discussed this and decided how to solve the potential issue by using some more membrane and glueing the s*&t out of it all.
This is the same window from inside. The light from this will be the only natural light source in the bathroom once all the walls are in place, so it's good to see that it floods in from its west facing orientation.
We have another 2 velux windows, one is in the already well-lit south east bedroom, which I'm claiming for my own room to do stuff in, so I'm delighted to have it full of so much light. You can also see the prep on the balcony with the membrane being put down.
The other roof window is the north east bedroom which will benefit from the additional light given its aspect.
Here's a pic of the guys putting the trays into position on the main south facing roof. The pole that's in the foreground of the picture is the one that until recently carried the electricity supply cable. That has now been buried and back-filled today and Openreach will be around on Friday to remove their equipment so I will be able to dispose of the pole in due course.
This is towards the end of the day when most of the panels were on and the slates had been put around them.
There's plenty more work to come this week. The flat roof team are continuing and the pitched roof team will be back on Friday and possibly early next week to finish everything up there. My groundworker, Keith, is on site now as well, and we're moving all the shrub and hedge related debris from earlier in the year. I'm currently thinking that bonfire night seems an appropriate time to light up, so I may have to buy some sparklers for the occasion. My fire rated door was delivered today from Enfield Speciality Doors and my neighbour, Drew, will be installing that for me. He works in construction and having seen the tidy work he's done on his own place, he'll be doing a fair bit of internal work for me as well as, possibly, the tier cladding on the outside in due course. It's worth noting that I paid a premium to Enfield Speciality Doors to jump the queue in their production schedule to make sure that I got the door in time for the return of MBC. It's the one to go between the utility and garage so it has to be in before MBC return and I was prepared to pay an additional 10% to make sure this would happen. I was chatting with another BH member recently and it seems that fire rated doors really are tricky things to get hold of, let alone within a reasonable timescale. If you also want one that's insulated and looks good, be prepared to take a few months over this, assuming you find anything. I'm fortunate as mine is only between the garage and utility and doesn't need to be pretty. I may add extra insulation later but, for now, I just needed the fire rated door.
Nick will also be back towards the end of the week to sort out some soil pipes and other bits before MBC hit, then we can really take the brakes off and go at first fix.
Yesterday's buzz of the week was the Hercules.
No, I haven't managed to sneakily bury the wayleave officer somewhere on site! This post is for the other electricity cable on my site, namely the one that directly supplied the previous building and will supply the new one. This comes onto the site via an overhead cable and a post and stay that are very close to the new building. Entirely safe but very ugly and certainly won't fit in with the lovely garden that we're planning. So, from the outset, we've planned to bury this supply as much as possible and today was the day.
Burying the supply has involved putting in a new post right on the boundary with my neighbour's garden, through which the cable runs from the nearby transformer. The existing cable was then attached to this one and the supply cable runs down it, through a trench and eventually reaches the garage.
The trench was dug last week and blinding sand laid along its length. Simple enough, but it's a really long trench, something in the order of 50 metres all told, and we got through the best part of 4 tonnes of sand to line the base of the trench. In digging out the trench, an old land drain got smashed up as it ran directly parallel to the long run of the trench, and at right angles to where the trench turns in to the garage. I'm really glad that it was dug last week and not this as it was lovely and dry last week. This week, I'm well on my way to having a moat as a result of the broken land drain.
This is looking back towards my neighbours' cottages and where the new pole will go in, against the fence. The pole to the right of the cottage on the right is where the supply runs in from.
And this is around the corner, looking towards my garage. At the end of the trench, there is a duct that MBC put in (there are a few others, too) that allows the cable to come into the garage from under the slab. There will be a whole bunch of kit going into the garage, including my sunamps, so this seemed like a good place to run the supply in.
Because it's such a distance between the new pole and the garage, the first 30m of the supply cable had to be a very heavy duty one. About 3/4 of the way along the long trench, there's a fancy looking connector that links the heavy duty cable with a normal one, which continues on into the garage.
As well as running the new cable into the garage, whilst my back was turned, the meter fairy arrived and my electricity meter that was previously located on the old pole near the building magically re-appeared on the wall in the garage. Useful things, these meter fairies. When I rang my electricity supplier a couple of weeks back and asked when they might be able to move the meter, the earliest date they had available was mid December, which would have been disastrous. Thankfully, the forces of good prevailed and the meter is now where it needs to be.
My site seems to have a natural affinity for augurs and drills. Back at the start of the build, a rig was on site taking soil samples. This was followed in due course by another rig drilling holes for all the piles and now we've had another one, this time to drill a hole to put the new pole and stay into. As usual, the augur came up caked in clay but the soil was still dry at depth and it came away nicely. Here's the augur going in for the pole.
And here's what it drags up. I really should consider a pottery business.
Just a final pic of the pole on the van:
The guys from SSEPD made the job look very easy, but a reasonable amount went on and there was a fair bit of equipment on site including the cherry picker, drilling rig and the ubiquitous land rover, with 4 guys in total. They finished just before 1pm and worked efficiently and were a very nice bunch of guys. A couple of them will be back in due course to do whatever is deemed necessary to the poles carrying the oversailing wires, but that may be a little while off yet.
I have an electrician coming onto site tomorrow to put some connections into the house. I wasn't planning to get this done until at least another week's time but it needs to be done this week as MBC and Norrsken (windows) are back on site next week for remedial work and they will need to get plugged in for all that.
Once the snagging work is done, the next big push is to get the various roofing jobs finished off so that the building will finally be watertight; my parapet walls may look lovely, but they are leaking like mad right now, so I shall be relieved to get finished there and let everything start to dry out. I'll also get the trench back-filled as I don't really want a moat and certainly not that close to the building. It does serve to illustrate very well why a soakaway wouldn't work, though.
A brief update on my inward leaning gable that I posted about recently. Just to recap, I spotted that the gable section of my west facing bedroom wall was leaning inward at an angle and made it look as though there was a problem with the window, which turned out not to be the case.
Over the last couple of days I've been liaising with my timber frame company, MBC, and my window company, Norrsken, to see what needs to be done. I've taken plenty of photos to illustrate the problem and the MBC team will be on site week commencing 22nd October to put things right. They would have come earlier but I have some other things that are scheduled for next week and need to get those done first, so I requested the slightly later date and they were happy to oblige. It's clear enough from all the photos that the problem lies with the timber frame but it's still very reassuring that MBC haven't argued or quibbled over anything and have been positive from the start, agreeing that it does need fixing and setting about organising it.
Because of the position of the section that is out of line, the window will first need to be removed. The Norrsken team were due to come back at some point to go through the snag list and they, too, are happy to come back that week so that as well as sorting out the snag list, they can assist with the removal and re-installation of the bedroom window.
It has to be said that with the weather that we've had this year, I've had something of a charmed run on the build so far and given how complex and large a project building a house is, I'm amazed at how few problems I've had to date. Even so, I've always been prepared for something going wrong at some point and my view is that it was almost inevitable. What is less predictable is how the parties involved respond to the problem to get it sorted out. In this case, I have been really pleased with the responses. Pretty much as soon as I contacted MBC and brought the issue to their attention, the response has been to get it fixed. At that stage, they couldn't say what caused the fault and until they see it, they can't be sure. What they have been emphatic about, though, is that they will get it sorted and before the next stage of works are due to commence on 5th November. Norrsken also deserve a special mention as they haven't hesitated to co-ordinate and make sure that MBC can do what they need to do whilst the windows are taken care of.
All that remains now is to see just how the Leaning Wall of Bagber will be rectified; it doesn't look like any easy job to me and I'll be interested to see how it gets done and greatly relieved once it is done.
It's been a little quiet on site over the last 10 days or so which hasn't been a bad thing as I had a nasty cold last week so it gave me an added incentive to stay at home and get some more forward planning done. One of the downsides, though, is that I only today spotted an issue with the west facing upstairs gable that's only really visible from the top scaffolding lift.
When I first saw it, I thought 'oh bugger, another window problem' and promptly got on the phone to the guys at Norrsken to ask what they thought of the photo I'd just sent them with a clear image of the problem. This is what I sent:
And this is what it's meant to look like:
Can you spot the difference? You're buildhubbers, so of course you can. In the first photo, the apex of the triangular window sitting on the French doors and side panels clearly protrudes by some distance. It's about 3cm.
At this point, and as before, what I most need to know is a) is it a problem? and b) how do we fix it, if it is. And at this point, as before, Norrsken were hot to trot and the installations manager, Mark, along with his very bright and shiny new spirit level, did a swift dash up to north Dorset to come and see for himself exactly what the problem is. I should explain that this window consists of 3 elements. There are the central French doors, a glazed panel each side of the doors and then the triangular window that sits on top of all this. When fitting, the installation team set everything up with a laser to make sure it's all dead on, and they took great care to make sure everything was right.
Because of this, I wasn't entirely surprised when Mark from Norrsken established quite clearly that the fault isn't with the windows, but with my MBC timber frame. Directly above the triangular window, there is a steel with an apex in it, that is then boarded over. You can see in this picture from a previous entry how these are put into place by MBC, and this is the section that has caused the problem on the west side:
So, first off, is this an issue? This was my first question to Mark and, in particular, does the fact that the window frame is so proud of the wall compromise the thermal properties or insulating quality? Thankfully, he assured me not, so I'm happy to accept this.
The next issue, is the physical problem of the top of the window protruding by about 3cm from the timber frame exterior wall. It's fairly standard practice to have 25mm counter batten on the exterior, to which is attached whatever outer skin is covering the building. Fortunately for me and MBC, I have planned all along to have 50mm battens on the outside so that a decent sized service cavity is created to run any exterior wires and cables through. It's possible that I could have got away with 25mm but I preferred to spend a bit more on the larger battens and make life a bit easier when installing stuff on the outside. This means that the slate cladding on the upper floor will be able to largely cover the error, but it will quite probably be tricky to get a decent finish between the window and the cladding as I had been planning to use powder coated aluminium to do this job and it won't be the easiest thing to fit with such a variation in the gap. I'll tackle that when I get to it, but any suggestions are welcome.
Okay, so all in all, it's not a disaster but a pain. I am, however, annoyed because MBC didn't know that I was planning 50mm battens and, aside from anything else, it's really disappointing that having done a good job on the vast majority of the build, this error slipped through. There were enough spirit levels on site throughout the build that it shouldn't have been so difficult to run one up against this fairly fundamental section of the build, particularly as there was a whopper of a window going into this wall, to make sure that everything is true for the parts of the build that follow on after.
In the meantime, a few other things have gone on at the build. Nick of Total Energy Systems has made a start on putting in the ducting for the MVHR and shoving some of the UFH pipes and manifold towards where it will end up. The UFH manifold for the upstairs is going up into the loft section. In the original plans, the upstairs landing was vaulted, but the decision was taken early on to board this out and create a loft space that could then be used to stash away all the MVHR kit and other ancillary equipment, including the upstairs UFH manifold. There is another bit of kit going in there that is a heat pump but used to cool rather than heat air going through the MVHR system and thus provide active cooling in the summer to complement my shading from the brise soleil and exterior roller blinds on the south facing windows.
Here's a photo of the MVHR ducting and UFH pipes coming up through a cut-out section in the floor and up into the loft space. The stud wall that you can see divides the landing from the en-suite for the master bedroom; it is planned to be a twin stud wall and so, once done, all the pipework and ducting will be hidden in the cavity of the twin wall.
More of the same:
The plenums for the MVHR will sit at the far end of the bedrooms, i.e. near the windows. The idea is that this will achieve a proper through put of fresh air through the entire room, rather than just circulating around the door and landing areas. You will see that the plenums are quite a bit lower than the central glulam beam supporting the vault. The plan here is to introduce a central flat section along the ridge, low enough to cover the ducting and the glulam and the plenum will then just pop out of the plasterboard. Whilst this means extra cellulose being required for the increased volume of the roof section, it will make detailing it and covering it in far easier for MBC when the time comes to do that, so there's a decent quid pro quo there.
A major benefit of stuffing the MVHR ducting into the ceiling section that will be filled with cellulose is that the pipes up there don't need to be insulated, which would normally be the case. The ones for the ground floor are currently getting their NASA-style coats and I'll show some photos of those in the next post. This also means that it's given a reduction on the cost of all the MVHR kit as the insulation for the ducts isn't particularly cheap.
Aside from the window/wonky frame drama, it's currently a time for figuring out and juggling details. My flat roof guys should be back in a couple of weeks and I really need to get the parapets and east balcony finished off as until these are done, the main house won't be watertight. I need to check with the team at County Flat Roofing, however, as I also have my balustrade to go onto the balconies. The balustrade has posts that are fixed onto the parapets by way of a square/rectangular base plate, about 10mm thick. These can go either on top of or underneath the roofing membrane, but I need to check which will give the best finish and then press the button for whoever goes first. I know that if the plates go under the membrane are too thick, it will look bumpy and not very nice but, more importantly, might not give a good seal. I shall check and report back, but I suspect that we will end up putting the plates on top of the membrane and sealing it up again afterwards.
Although the balustrade hasn't been installed yet, I've been chatting to the guys at Balustrade UK, including the lovely Trevor, and they've been very understanding with my needs for flexibility on timing, so all is okay there.
Moving onto brise soleils, who would have thought it would be so difficult to track down a firm to do these? Certainly neither me nor my architect. We tried a couple of local firms, including one that is on the same industrial estate as me and OH, but it was like tumbleweed blowing down mainstreet in an old cowboy film. Nada. In the end, I contacted another Birmingham firm, Vincent Timber, who mentioned them on their website. In the event, the only supply the timber for them rather than the whole thing, but they passed my enquiry onto a firm in St Albans, Contrasol Ltd, and they came back with a fully specced brise soleil for the stairwell window which is just the thing. Not cheap, mind, but not far off what I thought it would be. The metal supports will be powder coated aluminium (RAL7016, of course, the same as any other bit of metal on the building) and the fins will be red cedar that will be allowed to silver. When OH and I originally discussed this, we were hoping to get something that would retain its colour but this has proven to be tricky and we have no intention of painting anything on the brise soleil fins every 8 years or so to retain its colour. It can go grey with dignity, just like us.
I was out on site today getting the trench dug for the re-routing of our electricity supply cable. Currently, it comes in via an overhead wire and a dirty great pole that's right next to the building. We've planned from the outset to have this buried and the SSE guy, Dave, will come along next week to lay the cable and, in due course, run it into the garage. It's a long old trench, mind you. It took just under 4 tons of sand to put the blinding layer down and it won't take much less than that to cover the cable once it goes in, before back filling. Still, another job to tick off the list.
I need to get another couple of bits of groundworks done in the coming weeks. First off, I need to get the spec from the Highways Agency as to how they want the new driveway onto the lane to be constructed. My sunamps will live in the garage and it will be very tricky getting them in through the house as they're hefty things, so I may as well crack on and get the driveway done. The only slight hitch is that there is some scaffolding in the way right now, but I'm hoping that by the time we get around to making the new opening, I'll be able to do away with a fair bit of the scaffolding.
The other groundwork task is to start digging out the pond. OH has decided on the shape and size and I used a couple of cans and left over EPS to mark out the perimeter this morning. Before anyone asks, these are the answers: no swimming, no fish, no fishing, no duck shooting. It's a wildlife pond and that's it. But it is a bloody big pond and I'd like to get it dug before we get some serious weather in as we can then start to get a feel for just how well or not our clay soil will retain water and start to plant up the margins once we have a better idea of what we're dealing with. It's hard to see the line marking, but this is the view from the top lift of the scaffold.
That's all for now, the next post should hopefully have a bit more interior detail and a lot more roof action. Stay tuned.
Today, I had my site meeting with the line manager of the local wayleave officer for SSE, to further discuss the situation regarding high voltage wires oversailing my property, all of which I mentioned in a previous post.
The meeting went well and AJ's line manager was as different as she could be from AJ and the whole thing was conducted in a civilised manner. The resolution is that OH and I will grant an easement to SSE for the wires to be allowed to pass over our property in perpetuity. In exchange for this, whatever work is necessary to make the wires safe will be carried out by SSE at their cost. The legal work will start almost straight away, and understandably so from SSE's position, as they want to be sure they aren't being messed around and I have no problem with this. I understand that the work may take some time if it does involve seeking planning permission and other administrative matters, but again, this is fine. This has been a very good outcome for what could have been a difficult matter.
Before we get into the events of the day, I have a little quiz question for readers of the blog.
- What is the connection between my build in rural north Dorset and a mystical character from the legend of King Arthur?
Answer at the end of today's entry. All will become clear.
Today was another busy day on site, with 3 main areas of activity - flat roof, pitched roof and windows.
Let's start with the windows, as they are (mostly) looking great. Both of the big lift and slide windows in the living room area are in now and quite a bit of the upstairs glazing is in as well. The flat roof guys changed their work order to get the membrane from the balconies and parapet gullies overlapped on the window thresholds so that the windows could be installed on top of them. This will allow the sarnafil membrane to then be folded up slightly against the window frame and give a shield against any water that tries to force its way in under the window frame. There's a bit of debris on top from the window fitting, but you can see how the membrane extends inside from the balcony. This is the west facing bedroom first thing this morning.
And here is the west facing lift and slide window, looking west down towards the woods. Note the view of the woods, which are in a slight valley formed by the River Lydden. It is relevant for a later comment.
Unfortunately, all didn't go to plan for the window installers today. The final window in the living room area faces south towards my neighbours' cottages and is a four pane fixed window. As the bracket was being screwed into the frame, this happened:
The window installers looked very troubled by this, not surpringly. It's the inner pane of glass that has shattered and you can see that it radiates out from an obvious stress point. Stepping aside from the obvious downside of this, the very small amount of my brain devoted to aesthetics allows me to think that in a strange kind of way, it looks rather fetching. Then the far greater logical part of my brain tells the aesthetic side to get a grip as we have a broken window. So, what happened next, I hear you ask. Well, the window was put in situ and fitted along with the other 3 panels and Norrsken have ordered up a replacement pane and internal bead. They are, however, up against the clock on this one, as it can take several weeks for the replacement to arrive and MBC are now due back on 5th November, by which time all my windows must be fully installed and as they need to be in order for the air test to be carried out. Tick, tick, tick.
Breakages aside, I'm delighted with the windows. I know that it's possible to go to the ends of the earth in research and expense to seek ever thinner frames and other features and that my windows are certainly not the most minimalist products out there. However, given the expanse of glass compared to the width of the frames, bearing in mind that plasterboard will reduce the visual appearance of these in due course, I think that the frame:glass ratio is more than pleasing enough for me. Also, the profile is very flat, both inside and out, and combined with the washed wood interior finish, I am content. Tomorrow will be very interesting as the installation team have quite the challenge ahead of them when they fit the floor to upper ceiling window that is in front of the stairwell. It's one heck of a piece of glazing, so I think we shall all be holding our breath then.
Moving out of the building and up to the roof areas, both roofing teams have worked their socks off today. It was hot work as today's weather was warm/hot, sunny and lovely. Let's start with the flat roof guys, who have been very busy with their protractors getting all the framework in place to make the capping that sits on top of the parapet, ready to receive the membrane that will wrap over it. you may recall that due to the MBC construction methods, I have a cold roof. This means that it needs to be ventilated, and this can be a little tricky when you need to have a membrane on the flat roof and it needs to go over a parapet. Fortunately, I visited the build of @Weebles a little while back now and they had exactly this set up, so being the diligent researcher I am, I did nothing more after that and just shamelessly stole their idea. And their flat roof people. Why re-invent the wheel?
From the firring pieces and OSB that I pictured on yesterday's blog entry, more of the membrane went down over the main part of the stairwell roof:
The flat roof guys had to put in the upstand that goes up onto the pitch and they've been measuring and sawing as much as they have putting down membrane today. Here's the framework they made ready for OSB to go on top and form the cap over the parapet:
As well as forming the cap over the parapet, this area also needs a drain for all the water that will come down from the pitched roof, and this is a hole drilled through the parapet and a drain liner inserted through, then the inside will be coated and sealed with the membrane.
Prior to putting the membrane on, the OSB is rollered with a contact adhesive (red), then the membrane is heated to activate the glue. This is where they are bringing in the membrane from the parapet gully to run under the window frame, working ahead of the window installers.
In their current allocation of time, I have the flat roof guys for one more day, so I'm not sure how much more we will get done, perhaps the remaining balcony, which would be good, as the balustrades are going in next week.
And so onto the pitched roof. The pitched roof team were badly delayed yesterday as the tiles that were coming from Bradfords in Yeovil were supposed to have been on a morning delivery but didn't arrive until 3pm. They made a good start yesterday but have gone at an amazing pace today. They've done all they can on the east/south faces for now, pending the PV installation. This picture was taken just after 2pm and you can see that this side of the roof is still getting a good amount of sun, and had been since sunrise.
At the same time as that pitch being tiled, the guys were also working on the long north face of the roof, leaving gaps for both the velux and the MVHR penetrations. This is early afternoon:
And by the end of this afternoon, they had got this far:
That's about it on the roofing today, but the scaffolding is also being used as a storage area. As the telehandler was on site yesterday, as much heavy stuff as possibly was lifted close to its final position yesterday, and the solar panels are stacked up there now. My panels are black on black (not quite the title of the AC/DC track) and from LG. As these things go, I think they're a nice looking piece of kit:
And so now to the question I posed at the start of today's entry. There are a few mystical characters in the legend of King Arthur, but the one I have in mind is the wizard, Merlin. I hope you're enjoying the blog, guys, and wasn't it a lovely day for buzzing a self build in north Dorset?!
Let me explain to, by now, confused buildhubbers. I've mentioned that there seems to be a definite airborne interest in my build, mainly stemming from RNAS Yeovilton and up until this week, it was predominantly the Navy Lynx helicopters. I got an upgrade this week and having nearly peed my pants with a very low buzz from a Hercules yesterday, we had an interesting buzz from a Navy Merlin helicopter this afternoon. I need to give this a bit of context, though. The Merlin is a big bugger with its three engines and gives out a very distinct bass thud that doesn't quite make your liver tremble in the way that a chinook does, but it's not lacking in long wave frequencies. So let me take you back to the view that I asked you to make note of earlier, looking west over the field and down towards Bagber Wood. I couldn't hear Ride of the Valkyrie, but there was undoubtedly a whiff of Apocalypse Now as I heard the distant but increasingly loud thud of a helicopter from the direction of the wood, before it rose up from the dip of the valley, over the wood and well and truly buzzed us, flying low and slow over the house. Nice to see you guys, keep up the good work, but honestly, you'll get a better view from the ground.
Victor Zulu signing off until tomorrow.
So far this week, things are going okay, but in their usual messy sort of way, and with a few time slippages thrown in that are keeping me on my toes.
Let's start with the main show of this week which is the arrival and installation of all my glazing. Woohoo! All arrived intact and, as far as I can see for the moment, undamaged. Everything turned up on a lorry from Poole yesterday morning, so a relatively local delivery as I'm only at the other end of the county rather than the country. My glazing firm, Norrsken are based in Poole and that's where it was all loaded up from before trundling northwards.
It seems that it's standard practice for the customer to have to supply a telehandler to get the windows off the lorry and then assist in getting them up to any heights on the building. I think I knew this way back when I agreed everything with the windows but it faded into distant memory but I was able to get organised in time for it. The only comment I would add here is that it's not cheap getting one of these bits of kit out along with a driver, so if you're on a tight budget you may need to factor in this cost and add it to your bill. I had my guy there for 2 days and it cost me a total of £600. As there was so much else going on today, there was plenty of other shifting around for him to do, so I minimized down time as far as possible. For those, like myself, who have no prior experience in the world of construction, a telehandler is basically an extendible forklift. Imagine the forks, as usual, but then on a massive extendable hydraulic arm; apparently these bits of kit cost about £80k, so they aren't your cheap and cheerful forklift type thing that you see running around industrial estates and warehouses up and down the country. The driver also needs to be very skilled at the slow and steady approach and a damn fine judge of distance and clearance. You'll see why shortly. My guy, Andy, was all of these and he did a fine job of getting everything into place, guided by the installation team.
After the storms of last weekend, we are having lovely weather again in north Dorset and things have dried out nicely since the deluge. My windows arrived yesterday on a truck with a type of articulated trailer that was much more manoeuvrable than many of the delivery trucks that have been on site to date.
In the photo below, you can see the big lift and slide doors for the living room as well as one of the apex pieces for the gable in the bedrooms upstairs.
Here's the rest of the load. Nicely packaged up, all secured with bracing timber and heavy duty cling film.
Here's Andy, my telehandler driver, swinging into action first thing.
This is the telehandler lifting all the slates up to the top scaffolding lift. Earlier, the apex pieces had been lifted to the same level so the window installation team could put them into position from above. It went really quiet when that was happening.
The installation team have paid very close attention to everything, included how the windows were left overnight before the main work started today. Instead of just propping the windows up against a wall, as I might have done, everything was stood upright and braced into that position until they are put into their final placements.
Now, bear in mind that this for the upstairs. By some way, the largest of my windows are the lift and slide doors for the living room area, each of them coming in at around 300kg. The 3 installation guys, headed up by Val, quite literally man-handled these out of their packaging and then onto a (seemingly) tiny set of wheels, then into the building and ready to go into the recesses that were formed in the slab by MBC when the foundation team were on site. Incredible work, skillfully done, and one heck of a job.
Here's the big window on what looks like a roller skate for windows.
In the above photo, you can see a tripod set up to the left of the window. This is for a laser that puts a laser level line across the windows to make sure that everything is, well, level.
The installation team have now got both of the big lift and slide windows in and they seem to have gone in nicely. They've got a couple of the upstairs windows in, but before doing the rest, the flat roof guys need to run some of their membrane up under the thresholds so that a seal can be formed once done. They will get onto this tomorrow and work ahead of the window guys to prep the thresholds.
Ah, my roof. What a tricky affair that is turning out to be. It's all getting done, and will be done, but it truly is roofing by iteration with little nibbles of each thing needing to be done before another team can do their bit. I know that construction people often don't come with the best of reputations for working in a co-operative or helpful fashion but, if that's really the case, then I have the exceptions to that rule working for me. There were 3 teams working on the roof today - the flat roof guys (County Flat Roofing Ltd), the pitch roof guys (Dylan Faber Roofing Ltd) and my solar PV guys (Environment Logic Ltd) and everyone needed a bit of work doing by the others before they could do their thing. They all worked together incredibly well, happy to do collective head scratching and work out exactly what everyone needed to do and in what order to get the job done. It was a masterclass in problem solving and co-operation.
So where does the delay to my gratification come into all this? Well, I admit that this is entirely my own fault. I had no idea it would be so tricky to get hold of roof windows without vents. In my ignorance, I assumed that it would just be a case of dropping by to my local roof window supplier, pointing to the ones I wanted and getting them delivered. Not so. It turns out that unvented roof windows are so tricky to get in the size that I need that they simply don't exist as a stock item and so they have to be made to order. Current lead time is 3 - 4 weeks. Rats. Still, never mind. My pitched roofing guys reckoned that the solar panel tray system would be okay to go up anyway as they knew how much clearance they would need for the flashing around the trays and then around the roof windows, but, of course, it has turned out to be more complex than that and the roof windows do need to be in so that the tiling that will support the trays will be in, and so on. I could have given myself a hard time over this but as the morning went on, it turned out that I didn't need to give myself too hard a kicking as the PV guys have been sent the wrong size trays. Quite clearly, my full roof covering just wasn't meant to be today. However, the flat roof guys are still beavering away and they are with me until and including Friday, so they should get the decks and parapet linings finished this week, or most of it. I've been most keen to get the area over the stairwell finished off as it's like a sieve when any rain comes in, so it will be a relief to have that done.
I've opted to have the pitched roof tiles secured by tile hooks as this is more secure in areas that are exposed to high winds. I've often seen this method used in France and admired the look of it, so I'm quite happy to have this. The next photo is part of the eaves course and you can just see the end of the tile hooks at the centre bottom of each slate.
As well as the pitched roof, Dylan Faber and his guys are going to do the vertical tiling on the upstairs for me. This makes sense given that it's the same material. The only difference is that on the balconies in particular, they will use copper rivets to attach the tiles. This is because whilst the tile hooks are very secure, they are vicious pointy little things that are easy to scratch yourself on, so these give a more forgiving finish should anyone come into contact with them.
With the delay to the roof windows and everything else that's going up there, I won't be ready for the air tight prep work and the test itself on the original date. MBC had been scheduled to return on 8th October to do this, but they're now due back in the first week of November, so that will be 5th November.
I commented on a previous entry that MBC left site very quickly after their last stint and, in my opinion, they left a little too quickly without the opportunity to check that everything was in order for the follow on trades. There wasn't a great deal that needed doing, but I thought it was poor practice not to make sure that the building was up together for what came after. This was evident with what was a relatively minor issue but caused some difficulty. You can't miss the fact that my house is blue on the outside. This is a breathable membrane that envelopes all the board and is meant to come all the way in over the window reveals as well. It needs to be there for the window installation, too, but the installation manager came out for a site visit early last week and picked up that a few of the windows, including the long stairwell window, were missing the membrane running into the reveal. I contacted MBC to get this resolved as soon as the window guy left and was assured that someone would be out in time to rectify it and indeed they did, but not until after 8am yesterday morning once the windows were already on site and after numerous chasing emails. It's a job that I looked into doing myself, but the minimum quantity of membrane that I could buy was 50m and it seemed overkill for it. In the end, I've no idea how far the MBC guy had to travel to get to me, but I doubt it was local and a potentially stressful situation could have been avoided entirely by taking a little extra time to check things over before going off to the next job.
What next? Well, as mentioned, the flat roof guys are continuing this for the rest of this week. Here's the section above the stairwell:
It's actually a lot further on than this now but you can see the construction of the flat roof area.
A few plumbing/heating things get kicked off tomorrow. We can't start first fix until the air test is done, just be sure that it's not MBC who have put a hole in the structure before it's done, but there's still quite a bit that can be done before then, such as putting underfloor heating manifolds in place and getting foul water runs in the right place. Nick and his Total Energy Systems crew will be on site bright and early tomorrow morning, having cleaned out the local equivalent of Greggs and their week's supply of bacon butties, so it will be good to see some progress on that, too. There may even be a bit of MVHR ducting action. Calm yourselves, everyone.
Off site, I've been chasing up my stone cladding. Hitting my head on the lead time for the roof windows was a salutary lesson and so I'm checking out how long it will take to get my stone cladding delivered in case I need to do it now.
Last, but not least, it seems that the build is continuing to provoke interest from military aircraft. I mentioned that there has been a lot of interest from a passing Navy Lynx helicopter during the summer. Well, today they really took the piss and have upped the stakes. We were buzzed by a Hercules transport airplane. I mean really buzzed. The damn thing barely cleared the powerlines and was incredibly low and close to the house, I'm amazed that there were no burst ear drums or centre partings from the thunderous low pass. For goodness sake, if they're that interested they could just drop by. No, on second thoughts, let me re-phrase that as I wouldn't trust the buggers to not come in by parachute or under slung load the way things are going. Haven't they heard of cars and, you know, just asking for a look around?
Still to come this week: the rest of the window installation; flat roofing and lining parapets; a visit from the DNO. Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode. With or without Hercules aircraft.
Having vented my spleen about the DNO and AJ, its wayleave officer, it's time to move on to more interesting things, like the puzzle of getting my roofing done, amongst other things.
For my sins, whilst our house is an interesting design and has quite a few twiddly bits, they have proved to be less than straightforward to actually get built. For a start, the house has a combination of pitched and flat roof sections, there will be an in-roof solar PV system up there and the parapet that extends above the level of the ground floor ceiling also needs to be lined. In addition to this, there are the balustrades that need to go on the balconies, leading to a chicken and egg scenario - balcony covering first, or balustrade? Thanks to the helpful comments of both my flat roofers and @Bitpipe
I was able to stop the parapets getting covered over before the balustrade went in and thus making life (more) difficult and (more) expensive for myself than necessary. The flat roofing guys suggested that it would be better to get the balustrade installed into the cavity in the parapet, then they could wrap the membrane over and around and seal it against the supports of the glass panels of the balustrade.
Before they could get started, though, they had to correct a problem that arose from the architect's plans that had an error in them. My balconies and the drainage plan is such that the water needs to run off to the outer corners. For some reason, however, the architect's plans show the fall of the balconies going inward and to the centre, and that's exactly how MBC constructed the firring pieces on the decks. I guess I should have spotted it earlier, but can only claim that I was working on the assumption that I'm the ignorant one in this building process and that everyone else had it right. Being me, however, I can never entirely accept that I'm wrong and I couldn't figure out how the devil any water was actually going to flow off the balconies unless the architect had some super sneaky clever plan that I wasn't aware of. I rang the architect and it turned out that they didn't have a super sneaky plan and they had indicated the fall incorrectly on the balconies. Bugger!
Flat roof guys to the rescue - before they started on the first balcony, I asked them if they could just lift up the firring pieces and reverse them to point the flow to the outer corners. We'd worked out a labour rate for a few other things I needed doing, so it's all being corrected and I won't end up with a pool of water lapping against the centre of the windows onto the deck. I have to add that the flat roofers have been great. They, along with seemingly every other person involved in construction right now, are fully booked for weeks to come and when I first got my quote from them, the earliest they could schedule my job was the end of October. Oh god, I thought, my building will have drowned by then and I'll loose my next MBC slot for the airtest, and so on. Despair. So I wallowed for a few hours and then rang them back and put my best grovelling voice on. It's getting lots of practice at the moment. Anyhow, I asked them whether by splitting the job up into smaller chunks, they could squeeze me in between other jobs. The single largest area that needs doing is the garage but the least important in terms of time constraints as it's outside the thermal and airtight envelope so doesn't need to be done for when MBC return on 8th October. The splendid people at County Flat Roofing Ltd agreed that I was grovelling so nicely and had come to them by recommendation, they would get the decks, parapets and flat roof over the stairwell done for me over the next few weeks. They are currently due back for a couple of days next week and I can get the area over the stairwell done, which will be a great relief as there's an awful lot of water coming in through there right now.
My pitched roof sections aren't straight forward, either. Because I'm having an in-roof solar PV system, the PV guys need an eaves course put in so that they have something to rest the trays on. They have also asked that the velux windows are in, but this isn't so much about having the windows in as being able to avoid a clash of flashing (their own and that for the velux). Cue my trusty roofer, Dylan Faber of Dylan Faber Roofing Ltd. His firm is very local to me, just the next small town along, and he has been really helpful already. I met 3 in total, the other two being either arrogant or disinterested, so Dylan got the job. He's more than happy to work around the PV guys and knows what their requirements are. He's also helped to overcome a potential problem with the roof tiles, which were originally going to be Marley Eternit, birkdale for the pitch and vertigo for the cladding on the first floor. It turns out that there's a bit of a lead time on the birkdale for the pitch and the vertigo ones need to be manufactured to order in France. Mince, alors! We're now going to use tiles by SVK that are barely a shade different to the Marley ones - I put the two samples side by side and they are close enough to be the same. Even better, the SVK ones are cheaper and can be used for the vertical cladding as well. Phew, another bump in the road traversed.
Next up were the balustrade people. I rang around for prices and to chat about what I needed. Whilst the architect's photoshop concept of the property shows a frameless system for the balustrade, these generally sit in a rail or shoe and that won't work with my parapet. I need to keep the parapet cavity clear to allow airflow through it to keep the cold roof of the balcony suitably ventilated; the shoe or rail would block the cavity and so it was a non-starter. Additionally, the balustrade people advised that it wouldn't meet safety regulations, so that was the end of the frameless sytem. In truth, I much prefer the idea of a hand rail as leaning on the edge of a pane of even toughened glass somehow doesn't appeal. I'm using Balustrade UK Ltd, who are based in Dudley in the West Midlands. They are fabricators and so make most of the components themselves and are very knowledgeable and helpful. I will admit to having a soft spot as I'm Birmingham born and bred as well as working in manufacturing myself, so it's nice to be able to support a British manufacturer and one that's close to my old stamping ground. The final balustrade won't be as elegant or clean looking as a frameless system, without a doubt, but it's a compromise I'm happy to live with to make the whole balcony thing work and keep the build moving along.
Finally, MBC need to send someone down for a quick bit of snagging before the glazing arrives on Tuesday. I felt at the time that they left the site a little too quickly after the last session and this was the case. There's nothing major but the reveals of some of the windows don't have the outer membrane continuing into the reveal as they are meant to - this was actually picked up by the glazing installations manager when he came out for a site visit earlier this week. The internal service battens also could do with putting up before the 8th October as although first fix can't start until the airtest has been done, the battens are needed to clip bits of MVHR and things to in order to keep them out of the way for when they do return.
All in all, it's been a quiet week. Or at least, quiet on site, but with lots going on in lining up the next load of activity. Next week, all hell breaks loose with lots of trades on site and I need to make sure that everything is properly co-ordinated and happening in the right order if I'm going to successfully pull it off, but it looks okay so far. I just hope the house doesn't suffer too much in the gales that are due at the weekend and that the chemical toilet is still upright on Monday. Brace yourselves, winter is coming.
If there's one thing that really gets my back up, it's someone trying to bully or intimidate me. It rarely works, it just makes me angry.
If you've been following this blog, you may recall a post some time back in August concerning the high voltage power lines that oversail my plot, sadly very close to our new house. They do, in fact, just about cross directly over the very furthest corner of the garage. Now whilst these lines do not supply my new house and there is no equipment actually on my land, their proximity to the garage means that they are below a safe working distance, according to the regulations of the DNO, who is SSEPD in my area.
I had a meeting with the local wayleave officer, let's call him AJ, on 14th August to discuss the situation and how to resolve matters. From the outset, I have stated that I have no issue with the oversailing lines and I'm not asking the DNO to remove them or do anything drastic, I would just like them to be made safe. AJ had a long look around the plot and came up with a rather complex proposal to bury the cables, via a somewhat convoluted route, digging up the lane and digging on the land of 3 different owners. The local linesman came out and had a look a few days later and suggested that the existing poles could simply be replaced by taller ones that would lift the cables up high enough to give safe clearance underneath them.
The DNO has issued me with quotes for both sets of work, both expensive, one slightly less so. The lesser of the two evils, raising the poles up, comes to the princely sum of £7,600 + VAT, so not much change out of £9k when all's said and done. If I accept, the raising of the pole height will take some time: the new poles would be more than 10% greater in height than the old ones and so the DNO requires planning approval for this. Then, it seems, they have to put some other sort of submission to another official body that will take another few months, so all told, it will be well into next year before anything happens, if it does.
This is the basic outline of what passed. What I haven't mentioned yet is the attitude and approach of AJ in all of this, which is what provoked my opening statement. From the very first telephone conversation that we had back at the beginning of August, he has been highly combative in a passive aggressive kind of way. So, no raising of voices, but very much a 'we're bigger than you and you will do as we say' style. This came to a head on Tuesday evening when AJ rang me at 5.10pm to discuss the quotes that had been sent through. In fact, what he actually wanted to do was rattle my cage because 30 minutes before his call, the local linesman had rung me to discuss the dates for burying my supply cable and had clearly been in the same office, chatting to AJ and saying that the garage had already been constructed.
AJ laid it on pretty thick. He said that SSEPD would 'make a contribution' towards the cost of increasing the height of the oversailing lines, and he clearly expected me to be grateful. They were offering to pay 25% of the cost (no VAT to charge to themselves), i.e. in the region of £1,500, but in exchange for this, they wanted an easement. Just as a refresher, the wayleave on my property currently is a voluntary one which I can serve notice on. An easement is a right in perpetuity, well beyond my lifetime, lodged against the deeds of the property.
As with all AJ's conversations, there were lots of long and deliberate pauses of the type that some idiots use when they think they are masters of manipulation and want to make the other party feel uncomfortable and force them into filling the silence. I shan't quote chapter and verse on it because it's far too tedious but suffice it to say, he really pissed me off and to the extent that I sent a forthright email to him later that night summarising what he had said and how he had said it. I also requested that he no longer contacted me by phone, but put everything in writing (email) so that I would have an audit trail.
Now, it may be that this gets me no further, but I have received a request from AJ's boss this afternoon, requesting a meeting to discuss the points I have raised. I have said that I will meet her, but I want to know in advance exactly what points she wants to discuss and how this will move things on. We shall see. In the meantime, for the record, here's the email I sent that gives more detail on what annoyed me so much.
Further to our telephone conversation late this afternoon, I feel that I need to email with my comments regarding this and my planned actions as a consequence, since I have been left very troubled by both your comments and your tone.
When we first met on site on 14th August, I explained to you that throughout the entire process of building my new house, I have used and relied upon professionals and have sought to do everything correctly and legally, as far as I have been able. To this end, the house was designed by a qualified architect who chose the location of the building on the site according to a topographical survey that was produced by a firm of chartered surveyors. Once the build was ready to commence, setting out of the building on site was again carried out by a chartered surveyor and there was no change from the original plans as detailed in the approved planning permission.
Unfortunately, it later became evident that the north east corner of the garage of the new house is directly under the power lines that oversail but which do not supply my property . However, I did not realise that these were high tension lines until my scaffolder contacted SSE to establish what type of lines these were and their nature then became clear. As a result, I have made all contractors who have come on site aware of these power lines.
The builder who constructed my house and garage was completely aware of the high tension lines and proceeded with the construction of the garage on a day when I wasn’t on site. I am told, however, that this was all done from floor level and inside the garage. Indeed, it is clear that it could not have been achieved in any other way, since there is no scaffolding around the garage to facilitate its construction from the outside. I can confirm that the timber frame of the garage has been completed, but the flat roof surface has not been put on it and I have advised my flat roofer that this is not to be done until such time as it can be completed safely. I have no desire to see anyone injured as a result of working on my site, whether it is due to ignorance or carelessness, and I deeply resent any assertion to the contrary. If I wish to take a risk with my own safety, I am free to do so, but I would not deliberately endanger others.
As evidenced by my approach to this build, at no point have I tried to cut corners or take any risks. I have also engaged with you in a co-operative, straight forward and positive manner during our meeting and our conversations. Regrettably, I cannot say the same for you or your approach.
I understand that you are paid to represent the interests of your company and, thus, your company’s shareholders. I also understand that a DNO has a public duty to ensure continuing and safe supply of electricity to its customers and have never disputed this, but I find your assertion that my seeking adequate financial compensation for SSE to have permanent rights over my property in the form of an easement will somehow increase everyone’s electricity bill to be an insulting one. Any charges paid by me to SSE are taken into the business as a whole which pays profits to its shareholders by way of distributing electricity and each DNO has an effective monopoly over its distribution area, so I have no choice in whom I deal with.
The wayleave that exists over my property is a very old one, dating back to the 1950s, and it is a voluntary wayleave agreement. My husband and I have owned this property since February 2017 and have never received any compensation due through this wayleave, although this would be an insignificant sum, in any event. I understand from the previous owner of the property that no payments have been received in respect of the wayleave as far as they are aware. The wayleave grants permission to the DNO to place its equipment on or over my land and I have no desire to have SSE remove its equipment from my property and have stated this since the outset of our discussions. I have also stated my willingness to offer SSE a far more secure tenure in the form of an easement which gives rights in perpetuity rather than on a voluntary basis as is the current situation. Given the longevity of an easement, its nature is very different from a wayleave, as you know, and despite your assertions to the contrary, it is a valuable difference to the property owner.
You kept referring back to the fact that the original wayleave is very old and that the equipment has been in situ for a long time, thus the financial impact on my property is negligible. I do not agree with this statement. It may have been true when the wayleave was first set up but that was over 60 years ago and property values have increased considerably in that time, particularly residential ones. The direct consequence of the oversailing wires is my inability to fully use and enjoy my property, as is my legal right; were the wires not oversailing my property, this would not be the case and I would be free to develop it as I choose. Therefore, there is a direct financial loss to me as a result of your company’s equipment passing over my land.
One solution that has been put forward to remove the danger posed by your equipment passing over my land is to increase the height of the existing poles so that the clearance between a person standing on my garage and the overhead lines is greater than the required safe distance. This seems like a very sensible solution and one with which I am in agreement. On 22 August SSE quoted a cost of £7,231.45 + VAT, a total of £8,677.74. I have researched the amount of compensation a property owner might reasonably expect to receive for granting permanent rights to their property by way of an easement to a DNO and I am advised that these are typically between 1% and 2% of the property value, when negotiated by parties familiar with this process. Based on a reasonable estimate, my property is conservatively valued at in the region of £800,000, thus giving a minimum expectation of £8,000 of compensation for granting an easement. You today stated that SSE are prepared to contribute 25% of the cost of increasing the pole height for the overhead lines, i.e. £1,807.86 since SSE will not need to charge themselves VAT on the cost of any works. I also doubt whether the quote provided to me is at cost to SSE and there will be a margin of profit in that so, in effect, the true cost to SSE of this contribution is far below 25% of the cost to me. I believe that this valuation of permanent rights over my property is an extremely poor offer and not one that I am prepared to accept.
In the interests of overcoming the issue of SSE’s equipment over my land, I have not sought to profit from the matter in any way; I have only sought to reach a fair and equitable solution and have dealt with you in a very transparent and fair manner. Indeed, I have already agreed to pay the charges for re-routing the power supply to my house and have no issue with this, since it is of direct benefit to me. On the other hand, you, on behalf of your employer, have been guarded and done all that you can to avoid straight answers, instead almost treating the process as though it is a game of poker where he who bluffs the best, gets the best deal. This has included difficult telephone conversations where you deliberately insert long, awkward silences presumably in an attempt to make me feel ill at ease or intimidated, and this has been the case in every conversation I have had with you. In addition to this, you constantly allude to issuing notices and starting other processes, without any explanation of what these are or what the outcome of them is, instead leaving these veiled threats hanging until I continually had to press you for answers to them. When you do finally explain what these other actions are, it seemed to be a circular argument that brings us back to where we began in the conversation and no further forward. Your rang me at 5.10pm this evening and our conversation lasted 37 minutes, in which time all your main objective seemed to be to attempt to intimidate me into accepting the above financial offer, otherwise you would serve me with legal notices and generally make things difficult for me to progress my house build.
For the record, I do not appreciate attempts to bully me, no matter how passive aggressive they are, and I think that it is disgraceful behaviour. It has also made me re-think my approach to this situation, since being transparent and fair does not seem to have produced any meaningful progress. Towards the end of our conversation, you stated that you want to continue our dialogue and see if we can reach a resolution. This, however, is not a poker game for me nor is it an enjoyable sport of seeing who will blink first and give in to the other’s proposal. As a result, I have no wish to continue any conversations with you since I feel it is a very stressful waste of my time. Therefore, unless you are prepared to deal with matters in a clear and straightforward way, next week I shall issue formal notice to SSE of withdrawal of the wayleave on our property. Once this is done, I shall instruct a firm of chartered surveyors experienced in negotiating financial compensation agreements with DNOs for the grant of wayleaves and easements and I feel confident that will, in due course, more than adequately cover the costs of any work to the oversailing wires.
Please contact me via email only from now on as I want to have a permanent record of precisely how you respond to me."
....is how my brother in law accurately described the state of the build now when I Whatsapped him the picture below, taken yesterday afternoon.
As you can see, MBC have been at their blitzkrieg style building speed again and this morning I arrived to find my roof all covered in membrane and battens, too, and MBC noticeable by their absence. Actually, it's the silence that you notice as much as anything. There were about 7 in the team over the weekend and when all the nailguns are going it does sound either like gunfire skirmishes or lots of firecrackers going off. Either way, they were true to form and really shifted.
This is the view from down the lane and you can see the membrane and battens all in place. Personally, I think that this is an interesting photo because it shows how, despite being a large building, the view of it from the lane is much less prominent than one might expect, due to the angles of the gables and pitched roof. The part that looks like it's covered in tin foil is the garage.
Here's a more distant view from down the lane, taken before the membrane went on.
Of course, in order to get the roof on, all the posi-joists needed to be put in place and this was being done over the weekend. My neighbours work in construction and have been fascinated by the process of the MBC build, which is all very new to them. It's great having neighbours who view the construction with such enthusiasm because instead of complaining about noise and disturbance about the teams and working late/working weekends, etc. (remember Peter powerfloating the slab till 12.45 am?), they gush about how hard working they are and give me full update reports on what's happened in my absence. Lucky me! And thus, according to my local spy network, there were 9 team members working on Saturday and there were 7 on Sunday. No wonder I came back to an empty site today.
I was away from the site on Friday, dropping hubby off at Luton airport at 6.30am and then on to have a brief bit of R&R with a girlfriend in Birmingham before heading back south. On Friday, my temporary staircase was delivered from Howdens and MBC added a couple of extra treads to the bottom to bring it up to the necessary height. For £120 + delivery (and VAT, if applicable), it's a very useful bit of timber to have.
Most of the stud walls are up now; there are only 2 that need to be put up when MBC come back, both off the hallway and have been left out for the time being for logistics. This photo is looking from our bedroom into the en suite and through to the main guest bedroom.
We had a lucky save on the stud walls, not in financial terms but layouts. The architect had specified that each of the bedrooms should have a partial stud wall just inside the door and centrally located, almost making a corridor as you walk into the room. We were really unconvinced by the idea at the time, but went along with it as it can be hard to accurately imagine these things before the building goes up. When I came to the site on Thursday, however, it was clear that they would have been awful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, having gone to a lot of effort and expense to have bigger rooms, these immediately sliced off 25% to 30% of the room and made you feel like you were being pushed up against the window which, by the time a large bed is in the room, is exactly what would happen. The second reason is that because of the really high vault in the main bedrooms, 4.7m, having a run of about 3 along the floor from the partial stud wall the the window meant the proportions were really off and looked terrible. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and these weren't put in and are now a nice load of scrap or surplus timber lying around.
The matter of the stud walls does, however, emphasise the value of being on site most days as had I been absent, they would have been put up according to the plan and I'd have regretted it bitterly. There have been many instances like this where what seems like a small, or even trivial, decision or alteration at the time which is quick and easy to deal with because I'm there, could have developed into a big deal or expensive issue at a later time.
Coming back to those vaulted ceilings, the ridge height is such that when the scaffolders came back to put the second lift on and make some adjustments earlier in the week, we needed to get a tower in for the guys to reach the top internally. If I can give one bit of advice to anyone starting out, scaffolding is EXPENSIVE!! I know that very little comes cheap when paying others to build a house, but don't underestimate the cost of scaffolding. By the time I'm done, mine will be just over £5k. It isn't the simplest of buildings to scaffold with the balconies and vaults, but even so, it's a significant cost.
Once all the internal stuff was getting done, the roof was getting boarded. This is the main, west facing bedroom with half of its roof boarded.
And then the same once it was all covered.
Finally for this post, the balconies have been made ready for boarding and flat roofing. I have to go back to the architect in the morning to check on the fall of these and the direction of the run-off as it doesn't make sense to me right now. I need to refresh my memory as to what was discussed and answer a couple of queries PDQ as my flat roofing is now imminent. But that's another subject for another post.
Another thinking ahead type post, this time on lighting.
As I previously mentioned, I've been trying to firm up on the switches, sockets and all of that kind of thing that I will need to put in but wasn't making much progress. Thinking on it further, though, I believe that my slowness was coming from the fact that I haven't decided on my lighting scheme and other electrickery, so I wouldn't be able to define exactly what I want to switch on and off. As a result, I'm now putting some effort into being specific in what I want from my lights and I dropped into a local LED lighting place that also offers lighting schemes to see how they could enhance what I already had. I must say, I was rather disappointed. I talked through my thoughts functional versus decorative lighting, fun lighting and the styles I like and the guy said that he couldn't really add much to it and it was largely a case of choosing the fittings I wanted. I was a bit deflated, really, as I'm not a shopping kind of girl but I thought that this might be interesting, but hey ho, no great loss other than 20 minutes of time.
As a reminder, here's the plan of our ground floor:
1120 - 103DIMS - Bagber Farm Cottage - PROPOSED GROUND FLOOR.PDF
The floor to ceiling height is a little higher than standard at 2.7m to ensure that the room doesn't feel oppressive, particularly in the living area.
Let's start with the kitchen.
Functional lighting - over the island (where the hob is located) and over the rear kitchen wall, where the sink and further work surface areas are. This will simply be LED downlighters.
Decorative/functional lighting - over the island, particularly the breakfast bar end, nearest to the utility room. I want to have a pendant light here, picture below.
Decorative lighting - I want to have LED strips along the island and base unit plinths, with diffusers as I don't like to see the individual LEDs. Purely personal choice. Also, I want to have uplighters above the kitchen wall units as these make a big visual difference in opening out the dark recesses of the kitchen that can otherwise look gloomy.
I'm considering a dropped false panel over the island. I'm having a downdraught extractor and so don't need it for that, but I think it will look good with the lights in it and subtly separate the kitchen area from the dining and living area without having a full vertical barrier between the two.
I have had some of these on order from China for a few months now. Unfortunately, the first lot failed to arrive so they have been re-sent and should be here in the next couple of weeks (if not, a full refund is given). I'm going to put them over the breakfast bar area and wherever we decide is the most appropriate place for the dining table. The image isn't great as the darkest units are black, not brown as they appear.
I ordered the first lot from DHGate, which hasn't been a great experience, as the user interface isn't up to much. Aliexpress is much better, in my opinion, but I shall wait and see what arrives.
I haven't decided on the lighting for the living area yet. My thoughts so far are that it's going to be wall lights and lamps and maybe a few recessed downlighters in the ceiling, centrally located over the main seating area. It's hard to decide before knowing what furniture will go into that part of the room.
In the meantime, the hallway will also be wall lights and LED downlighters. What I'm aiming for everywhere is at least 2 different levels of light. The LED downlighters for when you really do need a bright light, but softer indirect lighting for other times, from wall lights or lamps.
I'm lighting the stairway with some recessed stair LEDs that I saw in the lighting shop at £35 each. Eek! I'm way too tight to pay that. I got these for the princely sum of $7 each on aliexpress, which is about £5.50, depending on the exchange rate. Much more to my taste. As was suggested elsewhere, I've ordered more of these than I need in case the LEDs can't be replaced and I need to substitute a whole unit if the LED fails - hardly expensive at that price. I've ordered the rectangular ones.
I've known for a while how I want to do the downstairs loo - thanks, Pinterest! I really wanted the one where it looks like the loo is floating on a pier heading out to a lake, but hubby vetoed that, so here's the one we will have. Again, I like the soft, diffused light effect. It will have a PIR for the on/off as I really hate pull cords. Nasty things.
Finally, the bedrooms have got some wildly high vaults going on (nearly 4.7m at the highest) so, any excuse for a fancy light, I've chosen these, again on order from Aliexpress:
For information, as I know you'll be wondering, my total order with Aliexpress is for 15 of the recessed stair lights, 1 of the multi-head pendant and 2 of the branch LED pendants, which came to $616, so probably about £480 by the time I'm done. Delivery was free, except for about 30 cents on the stair lights.
Finally, I made a slight internal design change today, concerning some partial stud walls in the bedrooms. I have only been able to make a true judgement on these now that the roof is being formed, but I'll put more details on that in a later post.
UPDATE, 24/9/18: More to follow, but I've received the first part of my delivery. This is one of the firefly lights, immediately above, and all the recessed stair downlighters. Pending my payment of the customs charges and duty, the remaining pendant lights will be delivered on Wednesay. Cue drumroll........the customs clearance fee is £11.25 and the import VAT is.......£16.09. All told, £27.34 of fees and VAT to pay, so I'm pretty chuffed at that. The dowlighters look perfectly adequate and the pendant looks okay, too. Very well packaged.
More to follow when I've got all the lights in my possession. With photos, of course!
The timber frame will be substantially built by the middle of next week and I'm thinking through and organising the next stages, so this post is to help crystallise my thoughts and offer them out for anything I have missed that is time-critical.
MBC will be working over the weekend and the build will be substantially finished around Tuesday or Wednesday. They are going to leave out a few of the stud walls, the ones that form the walls of the landing, until they return to do the air test, simply because it makes moving around up there much easier. Once the air test is done, they'll put the stud walls in place and blow in the cellulose.
I've got a couple of site visits from roofers over the next few days; it's crucial that I get the eaves courses done before the PV installation as it can't happen without them and they are really tight on time slots at the moment. The PV is due on the 26th/27th September, immediately after the glazing which goes in on the 24th/25th. Now that I have a house-shaped object, I have requested a site visit from the glazing installation manager to make sure that I'm clear on everything they need to do their thing. He's coming out next week, so that gives me time to get any alterations to the scaffolding scheduled, as it will be impossible to get them out on the day if there are any problems and I'll miss my installation time slot, which will put everything else back.
Running in parallel with this is the garage flat roof and quite a few fiddly bits on the build that need tending to as soon as possible. The garage roof needs its GRP on because it won't be watertight until this happens. Also, there is a flat roof section over the stairwell, next to the main pitched section and it would be good to get this done whilst all the scaffolding is up to that height. Other flat roof sections are the balconies, and then the gutter runs behind the parapets will need lining with GRP or something similar, but I need to look more closely at that.
On the subject of balconies, I need to get my balustrades sorted. I haven't started getting quotes yet or even gone beyond sourcing a couple of suppliers. I don't know what the lead times are for these things, but I'm working on them being more than a couple of weeks. Likewise, I need to get quite a bit of aluminium fabrication done for the EPS upstand and to cap the parapets at the top of the ground floor, pretty much all the way around. If anyone has any suggestions for anything other than aluminium, I'm all ears! I currently think that aluminium is a good option as it can be powder coated to the same RAL colour as my window frames and should all blend in nicely, as well as being formed to the exact measurements needed. At some point, I need to get my guttering and downpipes sourced and attached, but the downpipes won't go into final positions until the cladding is on.
Again, running in parallel to this lot, I'm thinking about when it's best to get my groundworker back in to dig out the drainage runs, amongst other things. I'm thinking some time around the first weeks of October, mainly because I have to get a trench dug for the service alteration and burial of the electricity cable, which has been booked for 17th October. Other things that need to be dug out for are the sewage treatment plant, the land drain for the output of the plant, the rainwater storage tank, the trenches for the rainwater run-off into the tank, trenches for a brine loop in the field and finally a socking great pond in the field that may then fill up over the winter. I daresay that this isn't a comprehensive list of holes to be dug, but it will do for that couple of weeks.
Moving to things to do inside, most of it will happen after the air tightness test, which will happen after the glazing and all doors are in, but also after the inlet and outlet for the MVHR have been put through the roof and sealed. This will also need to be done before the bulk of the roof is tiled.
After the air test has been completed, MBC will then blow the cellulose into the frame and re-seal the holes they put in to add the cellulose, and then first fix can start in earnest. I've made a bit of a stab at the lighting, switches and sockets plan but I'm still pondering a few things on that (like, I don't know half of what's out there and what I might like) so I need to get my act together in order to be ready for first fix.
So, all of that lot should see me through to the first fix work which is in hand and I can go on to contemplate the joys of sanitaryware and generally making the place look like a habitable house rather than a house-shaped object. One thing is certain - it's going to be a very, very busy time from the end of September onwards so the more I can get planned out now, the better.
So not much happened on site today.
Just kidding - the 'whoosh' of the entry title refers to the speed of the upper floor going up. Just amazing. Equally, though, it could refer to the rotor blades of a Royal Navy lynx helicopter. Huh? Let me explain. For some time now, ever since the slab started going down, in fact, there have been a couple of navy lynx helicopters that seem to have a regular route (I assume from RNAS Yeovilton as it's not that far away) passing not far from our site and they're generally over at least once a week. Since the slab started going down, their fly-pasts have become a little closer each time and a little slower. This afternoon, a single lynx flew over. I mean right over. Like, directly over head, banking steeply around the build at a very low level right over. I'm sure I saw the pilot wave. So, I'm just saying it now, but if MBC get an order from either aircrew or a pilot of a navy lynx helicopter, they know where to send the bottle of wine for the free advertising.
So, what did happen today? Well, the final load of timber frame components arrived around mid-morning but the crane and MBC were there from early doors this morning, busy putting into place what was already on site. First in were the south east and north west corner walls.
Then came the walls either side of the east and west gables:
Once the adjacent walls were in, the gable steels were craned in:
The east gable was done a little differently. The steel was put in first, then the timber section placed on top:
Here's a closer view of the east gable steel being worked on:
And here's one of the big side wall panels being craned in:
Then the slightly different design for the south gable. This doesn't have an apex in the glazing, so the section is done differently.
Once the team broke for a late lunch, I scampered up and took a couple of photos from the scaffold for a different perspective:
By late afternoon, the full height opening for the stairwell window was all in and work was starting on the internal stud walls.
As well as the internal walls, the guys were prepping the top of the gables to receive the roof beams that will go in soon by cutting slots in the very top of the apex.
Final pic for today that I know will excite all you construction fans, is the treatment of the steel beam ends and the glulams:
So, what next? Well, the scaffolders are due back tomorrow to put the second lift in place and make any adjustments that the MBC team need to do the final stages of the timber frame.
In addition, I'm still chasing down and getting more roofing quotes as my solar PV installation is due on 26th September and I still need to get the eaves course and velux windows sorted by then as I'm pushing my already extraordinarily good luck with the weather in getting weather-dependent jobs done that far into the autumn. The glazing is also due that week, so I'm hoping for a good one!
I've got quite a few admin tasks to do and need to get to grips with the next section of workflow but I've been giving some attention to that today and will detail my 'next steps' in a separate post away from all this distracting timber frame porn.
My upper floor, that is.
Due to the vast number of MBC guys on site early last week, my upstairs was ready for the underfloor heating pipes and spreader plates to go in much earlier than my plumber had anticipated. So, fortified by all the sausage rolls and pies that his local Greggs could offer at short notice, he hot-footed it from Wales over to Deepest, Darkest Dorset late last week to put the filling in the UFH sandwich of the upper floor. MBC were due back on site this morning to get the egger boards down on the first floor, so it was a case of then or never.
The downstairs UFH pipes are embedded into the concrete slab and so a different method is needed for the upstairs, and this is it.
What you are looking at are aluminium spreader plates with the UFH pipe bedded into them. The spreader plates are thin sheets of aluminium with two semi-circular recesses running the length of the plates. These are stapled to the joists along their length and their job is to hold the pipe in place and also to diffuse the heat over their area. The plates are very thin, barely a couple of mm thick, I would say, and very sharp, as I found out when poking the corner of them all stacked up in the shrink wrap packaging when they first arrived.
Here's what they look like individually:
There were a couple of delays in getting started on Friday and as a consequence work went on till well into the evening. Nick didn't quite go to the same lengths as MBC by getting his head torch out and fitting them in the dead of night, but it was still a reasonably late evening.
UFH by sunset:
After some hard graft on Saturday, it was all in place and the manifold had been attached, pressurised and tested and all looks good. Once all the egger boards are on, Nick will need to come back and staple the centres of the spreader plates along their lengths to the boards above to ensure good contact and heat transfer.
I did not sit idly by whilst all this effort was going on, oh no, not me. I had some very important decisions to make and these took a high level of innovation and imagination. Like, where's the best spot for the furniture in the to-be living room and where do I prefer the view? Really important. And, it turns out, that off-cuts of EPS upstand make for a really good improvised sofa. To be seen in all the best furniture showrooms soon:
Having tried this, I came to a very meaningful conclusion. I need more furniture. Another thing for another day.
Back to business, MBC were back on site today, a team of 4 to put the egger boards in place. You can see from the spreader plate pictures above that there is virtually no joist exposed, hence the need for screwing them down, particularly as the spreader plates will need to be attached from them underneath. The guys also used the egger adhesive along the tongue and groove runs of the board sides.
Being a complete ingenue when it comes to all matters of construction, I was pondering last week what the purpose was of the hefty blocks of wood set into the recesses of the I shaped steels. Today, I found out. The posi-joists don't just rest in place, they are very firmly attached using steel thingies called roof hangers. These are they:
And this is where they go:
On other matters, I'm busily chasing down roofers at the moment, and they are proving difficult to get hold of. One has already declined to quote because they are so busy, but I'm working through a list of possibles, so it will get done.
I've also booked in for my service alteration on the electricity - it's on a pole via an overhead line right now but will be buried eventually and the pole removed. Current date for this is 17th October, but electricity companies dance to the beat of their own drum so this could easily change.
It's the big stuff back tomorrow with the final frame delivery and the upper floor being constructed. Sit tight for the next thrilling episode!
Moving on to day 2 of the timber frame erection, I make no apologies for this photo-heavy post as the pictures speak far more eloquently than I can on the subject matter. Especially as I don't know the right words for much of it.
It rained overnight here in Dorset, but nothing disastrous and it was all gone by a couple of hours into the morning. Here's how I left the team yesterday evening:
This morning, another day, another crane. This one, I think, was even bigger, but it hurt my neck to keep looking that high, so I can't swear to it. Along with the crane was the next lot of timber frame components, but also the steels for the ground floor ceiling/first floor.
There's a lot of steel in my building and whilst being very good for the structural integrity of the building, it's pretty rubbish if you want to stick an MVHR duct through it. At the production stage, my MVHR guy liaised with MBC to request penetrations through the steels for the ducting so that we didn't have to try and deal with this after the event. Here's one such steel with the right holes in the right places.
Again, the crane did its thing and shifted all the posi joists into the interior the building and helped position the internal stud walls. All the steels were craned into position as well. The posi joists were man-handled up onto the steels:
This is the run of the posi joists, looking from the eastwards from the west facing window. This is looking from the end of the living/dining area towards the kitchen and utility.
This is looking back towards the building from the field. The silver box is the attached garage which will not be part of the thermal envelope; we haven't yet decided whether to put any insulation into this, but that can come later.
The interior of the garage looking out to the field:
A shot taken from the scaffolding. I'm standing at the west side of the living room (where the field is) looking over the lane and the fields beyond. For those of you who know north Dorset, that's Hambledon Hill near Blandford Forum in the distance.
And finally, this was resting on the joists upstairs. It pleases me greatly.
You had better be, because once MBC turn up on site, it's fast and furious and everything has to fit around them. Things happen at an incredible pace and no matter how much you read about it, how many videos you look at, it doesn't quite prepare you for the reality of that speed, or not in my case. Some surprises are good, and this was one of them.
I'll get to the photos shortly, but first a few comments on what else has been happening since the slab was finished on the 9th August, or thereabouts, as some is preparation and others are running in parallel.
First off, immediately after the slab was finished, I confirmed that everything was still good to go with the scaffolders and that they would be here the week before the timber frame was due to be certain it was all in place. I understand that scaffolders have quite a negative reputation in general and I can only speak of this, my one experience of dealing with them, but so far the firm I'm using have been professional and polite throughout, from the manager to the guys actually putting the scaffolding up. Long may it continue.
You may recall my post about my little problem with the overhead electricity lines and my concern about being able to put sufficient scaffolding up for the MBC team to do their thing. The scaffold guys came around as far as they could with it, but there isn't much around where the garage will be and I will admit to having some qualms over this and whether it would cause massive problems for MBC. It turns out that it didn't. At all, not in the slightest. Nada. Phew. You'll see the detail of it later, but it was a weight off my mind to see the garage actually going up.
So what's happening with the electricity thing, then, I hear you cry. Currently, it's a waiting game. There is a viable and acceptable solution in play, which is to replace the poles that support the lines which oversail my property with taller ones, an increase in height of about 3m. This is fine with me, as I don't object to the lines being there, after all, I bought the property with them in situ. The wait is down to planning permission, but not mine. It seems that because the proposed increase in height of the poles is greater than 10% of their current height, the DNO has to apply for planning permission to replace with the new, taller ones, and the DNO is no different from we mere mortals who also have the statutory 8 week wait for the planning decision. So, we wait. Sadly, the DNO are showing no signs of paying for the work so far and the quote for the work, inclusive of VAT, is around £8k. Let me state at the outset, I have no intention of paying £8k for this, particularly as the lines running over my property are then on a voluntary basis, with my consent (the wayleave agreement). I have done some reading around the subject and, in particular, the level of compensation that DNOs typically pay to householders if a wayleave or its more permanent cousin, an easement, is granted to the DNO. In the case of an easement, it's anywhere between 1% and 2% of the value of the property with all the legals at the DNO's expense. I haven't had a chance to talk through this with the wayleave officer, but I suspect and hope that we will reach agreement on the logical course of their doing the work at their own cost and I will grant them an easement. It seems a fair exchange and an efficient way to give a good outcome. Whether they take the same view remains to be seen, but I shall update once I know more.
With regards to other tasks, I'm basically thinking ahead to once the structure is weather tight and secure. This stage of the timber frame should be done in a couple of weeks, so let's say 14th September. My solar PV is all booked and ready to go shortly after that but I need to get the velux windows and a roof course of the tiles up so that the PV installation can go ahead. I'm waiting for quotes right now and hope to have this sorted by early next week. Once the solar PV is in, I won't call the roofers back straight away as I need to wait for the glazing installation, which is due on 24th September, so the rest of the roof will get done most likely in early October.
What else? Well, my UFH, MVHR and all the kit for that is actually starting to get sorted this week, from tomorrow. MBC are pushing off to another job for a couple of days to give my plumber time to get the UFH stuff sorted for the first floor. What? UFH upstairs? Yes. I'm a girl and I function best at temperatures a couple of degrees higher than you boys. It may be that we don't need it, but it's easier to put it in now than for hubby listen to my teeth chattering for the next 30 years.
Okay, okay, I'll get to the action stuff now.
So, bright and early the day after the bank holiday, the first enormous flat bed lorry stacked with timber frame arrived. The crane was already on site, as were the MBC crew. Actually, I think I've got 2 crews, a total of 7 guys yesterday, which explains the blistering rate of progress. It was a really tight squeeze getting that lorry up the narrow lane to the site and the drivers really prove their mettle getting in and out of there.
This is yesterday's crane. They have an incredible reach and are quite something to see in action. I couldn't get the whole thing in a shot.
Before anything happens with the walls, the team go around string marking where the beams are and putting down sole plates for the walls to lock into. The black stuff is the DPM which overlaps the EPS underneath.
Space was getting a bit tight on the site, but between the hard standing and the inside of the house, everything found a spot.
Once all the marking out was done and sole plates were down in the right places, the crane hauled the walls up and they were guided into position.
Here's the view over the field from what will be one of the living room windows.
At the end of yesterday afternoon, all the external walls were up and they starting marking out for the internal stud walls.
There's more to follow from today, but I'll put that into a separate post. This one's busy enough.
I wasn't going to visit the site today, but we've had heavy rain showers today in Dorset and I thought that would be an ideal opportunity to see how level the slab looks after its late night power floating. My reasoning was that whilst I can't identify any high spots by eye, it would be easy to look for the low ones by where the puddles were lying.
Here's a photo taken from a slightly elevated viewpoint (the top of a pile of wood chippings!), looking from the south east corner where the snug will be, over towards the north west corner, where the main living area will be.
Most of the puddles that you can see are barely a couple of millimetres. I'm not sure how long it had been since the shower that caused these, but it was a breezy day and not hot.
The next is taken from the other end of the right hand side of the property, as seen above. Between the brown foul waste pipe and the white UFH pipes, you can just about see that there is a hole in the slab. This is meant to be there right now, but is due to a mishap yesterday. As the concrete was being transferred in the digger and poured from the bucket, the digger rocked slightly and the bucket bounced on the exposed UFH pipes. Harry from MBC reckoned that one of the pipes has been damaged as a result, and so the area around the punctured pipe has been left uncovered. My trusty plumber/UFH person will be coming early next week to fix the damaged section of pipe and make good on the concrete floor, and MBC will be covering the cost of this. Once I have the bill for the repair, I will pay it and MBC will deduct the amount from my next stage payment. This was all agreed this morning without any arguments or quibbles.
So far, all the puddles in the photos have only been a couple of mm deep. The deepest is on the far north west corner of the living area, shown below.
It's not easy to guage the depth of this area, but I think it's about 4mm at the deepest. The thingies are a couple of end caps that get put on the pile rebar, but the wind was blowing them towards me. You can see how they are tilting.
Here's another view of the same:
I don't recall the exact tolerance that the slab needs to be within off the top of my head, and I'm not going hunting for it right now as I'm one g&t into Friday evening with a couple more to follow, so no point now. However, the figure of 5mm is scratching away in the deepest recesses of my grey cells, so I think this should be acceptable. If anyone knows otherwise, please speak up!
The finish on the surface overall is very nice. I had a walk over the whole thing and couldn't see anything obvious, but then apart from squishy concrete under my boots, I wouldn't know quite what to look for anyone. To my unpracticed eye, it looks pretty good.
One very good think that came about from all that excess concrete being dumped all over the place yesterday is that the team spread it all out between the hard standing and the slab, so I now have an even more level and sturdy surface for the crane when it arrives with the timber frame:
...for the MBC team, and not their fault, but I have a slab. This is only down to the tenacity and incredible hard work from the MBC team who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat today following horrible equipment failure on the part of the concrete company.
So, let's start at the beginning. The slab team worked like frenzy yesterday morning to get all of the EPS down, followed by the mesh which then got tied into the ring beams. After that, they put all the underfloor heating pipes in (there are several zones and many, many pipes to come into the manifold). The building control officer turned up just before 6pm last night and gave everything the okay for the pour today.
Here's the slab with everything on it first thing this morning, just waiting for the concrete, at shortly after 8 this morning. On site already is the pumping lorry and one mixer of cement. Very exciting, so far, so good.
They started with the furthest part first, and the first lot of cement went onto the garage area, where the chaps are standing in the above photo.
Here's the pump, concrete lorry and plenty of other equipment all good to go.
Except, it wasn't good to go. Well, it was, because that's what it did in the end. Go, that is. The concrete pump packed up and after a good while of trying to fix it, nothing was happening so off it went.
All wasn't lost, however, as one of the drivers was also a pump operator and offered to get a fairly old pump out of retirement and use that. Brilliant!
This is the ageing pump putting the concrete over to the garage. Meanwhile, several hours have passed and after a bit of grumbling earlier in the morning about the concrete lorries not turning up on time, suddenly, they're coming thick and fast and are all parked up our narrow country lane. Then the second pump got blocked and couldn't be cleared. A very large man with a very large mallet did all he could to clear it, but it wasn't working. By now, it was nearly 2pm and the slab should have been poured a good few hours ago and power floating started.
Left with no other choice, Harry, who was heading up the team, got the bucket onto the whopping great digger and ALL of the rest of the cement got dumped onto the slab by digger, and then the guys had to drag it over to wherever they needed it. This was for a floor area of about 180 sq metres.
Fortunately, there were 5 on the team today as they had brought in an extra guy to cover for one who was late back from holiday, but turned up straight from the airport to the site so the numbers were beefed up, and boy, did they need all of them today.
The garage slab was screeded (is that actually a verb? Dunno, it is now), and was looking fine.
Eventually, the rest of the concrete got where it was supposed to be and the lane finally emptied of concrete lorries - there were 5 on or around the site at one point this afternoon.
Now, the eagle-eyed amongst you will realise that there are no photos of the final, powerfloated slab. This is because I pushed off at 5.30 this evening and they were only just starting on the garage; they reckon that they would just about get it finished this evening by the time the light went, so I'm afraid, dear reader, that you really will have to wait for those photos.
One final photo from earlier in the day has something of interest, as it shows the shuttering that was put in place on the threshold for the lift and slide doors that are going in the living room area.
Tune in soon for the next thrilling update!
Not surprisingly, I've been pondering the dilemma of the overhead electricity lines near/over my proposed garage. I'm still waiting to hear back from MBC and I suspect my request for a call has got lost in the works somewhere, so I will chase it up.
In the meantime, I've decided to take another course of action in parallel as, given the choice, I would very much prefer the overhead lines not to be there, or at least not so close. The immediate thought that comes to mind is £££££. As many of us know, anything to do with moving electricity supplies tends to be expensive. This is a slightly different case to the usual one, however, in that the overhead cables don't supply me or my property so I'm not over that particular barrel. On the deeds to my property is a copy of a fairly ancient wayleave agreement, made in 1958 between the then land owner and what was the Southern Electricity Board. The key term here is "wayleave". If it were an easement, I would really be in a spot of bother, as an easement is agreement made in perpetuity, as the legal bods like to call it. To us laypeople, that means forever. So, the fact that I have a wayleave is a good start.
So what's so good about a wayleave, then? Well, I can serve notice to the electricity board that I am going to terminate it and they have 3 months to do something about it or respond in some way. That's not to say that the response will be the one I want, but it gets the ball rolling. It seems that this not an uncommon request from developers and farmers and there is a well laid out process for it so I shall get things started today - no time like the present and all that.
I will update as and when, but my knowledge is sparse at the moment so I shan't go into too much detail that may be a load of rubbish.
Once more unto the breech!
Quick update: of course, everything has been done before on BH! Here's a link to a previous thread for Lucy Murray's build in Scotland but with English cases cited from Peter Stark. Just love this place!
Burying electricity supply