An exciting first 3 months to this year with four notable highlights: On New Year’s Day we were able to have a bath in our own home for the first time in nearly 20 years! Then we completed the outside drainage – connecting the drainpipes to a channel that feeds eventually to our large soakaway. Because of that we have been able to insure our house contents – see below. And we returned to the Design Centre in London, where we first saw a ‘Wikihouse’ structure, which cemented our self-build decision back in 2014. This time we were privileged to attend the launch of Wikihouse Skylark. Wikihouse Skylark Launch

Wikihouse Skylark module at the launch
A module of Wikihouse Skylark © WikiHouse

The system that our house utilised was called Wikihouse Wren, which quickly morphed into Blackbird, which has now been superceded by Skylark. Our cutting files were obsolete before we had even finished joining the pieces together and for most people Wren is now a thing of the past! None of us realised that it would be another 7 years before our house was fully complete, but we are nearly there.

Because we can now use our main bathroom, we have been able to put the final finishing touches to the downstairs wetroom, including adding the shower curtain which has sat patiently in the cupboard for 3 years. We just need to repaint the door which is showing signs of slight water damage.

With internal and external plumbing all complete we have been able to get normal house insurance rather than ‘site insurance’ and we think we shall be fully compliant with UK Building Regulations once we have built a permanent slope up to our front door. The prospect of the house being ‘signed off’ is really exciting, but working out which composite decking will give the best anti-slip properties while being good-value-for-money is really tedious!

We have two samples which complement our now-silvered oak cladding. Ever since moving here I have admired the Rugby Cement Works structure which dominates the town’s skyline. Depending on the weather and the time of day, it can appear as pale as unprinted newspaper or as gloomy as a cave interior. And I’m delighted that our house has the same ability to change colour. Now that the original brown colour has washed away, it is silver-grey when dry, but after a day of heavy rain the timber is such a dark brown it is almost black. It tells us of its mood. No decking will be as expressive, nor will it match the cladding all of the time, but hopefully it will be able to stand steadfast and serene to welcome our visitors.

Central photo below was taken by David Edward


Another year almost finished – Dec 2021

5 ornaments on a bathroom ledge
Childhood friends

12 months have passed since I wrote my last published post (Bathroom bother) and the first paragraph still applies! Once again I found myself having to explain to our insurance company why work on ‘the site’ had been suspended for more than one month during the year. It is for the very positive reason that plant sales have soared as a result of a renewed interest in gardening last year when coronavirus forced the nation to spend so much of their time at home. For 6 months Martin and I worked flat out on the nursery. The house became nothing more than a place in which to eat, wash and sleep.

But we made progress last winter and we will again this winter. We could even be finished by our February deadline – just a different February!

The big news is that the bathroom should be useable by the end of this week. We are so excited! We eventually gave up looking for a replacement shower riser pole on-line because it was impossible to see either the quality of the product or how far it would allow the shower head to swivel. We reluctantly decided that we would have to venture out into real-world shops after all. So, we donned our masks, which weren’t compulsory at the time, and headed for B&Q. A successful mission.

The pole was swiftly installed, remaining pieces of trim and sealant were added to the shower tray, and a collection of ornaments from my childhood emerged from the confines of their cardboard box and found a new home on the pipe-hiding ledge. Our electrician is coming back in two days time to wire in the lights for us and to add a strip of LED tape. And the black panels are so shiny that they reflect a lot of the light that enters the room – making photography tricky! I’m dreaming of having a celebratory bath on Christmas Day!

Bathroom bother

I started 2020 by thinking that I would have more spare time, so in February we set ourselves a 12-month deadline for finishing the house. Completing the main bathroom was our top priority and work progressed well until plant orders came in thick and fast. Everything was put on hold again as the business, eating and sleeping took priority once more! Then, as winter approached, I took on a zero-hours on-line teaching contract.

But over Christmas we took a complete break from work and Martin buried himself in the bathroom once more. Pieces of trim were added, doors were cut and fitted to our re-cycled cupboards, the bath panel was adjusted to size. All was going well until we wanted to fit the shower riser rail.

Firstly, we weren’t entirely sure where we had positioned the batten for it to fix to. That is one of the downsides of building over a long timespan. We trawled back through our many photographs, but none of them showed that exact piece of wall. We hoped that it was where we remembered – half-way along the shower.

Secondly, we couldn’t get the middle part of the shower head holder to pivot, which it clearly did in the on-line catalogue. But an e-mail to the suppliers swiftly solved that problem. They confirmed that we really did have to use brute force and a lever in order to break the plastic lugs which held it rigid. But still the shower head hose just wasn’t a snug fit in the holder and even the lowest angle seemed all wrong. We decided that we weren’t going to drill big holes in our lovely wall panels in order to fit a sub-standard shower head. Back to the internet to find something more suitable, but still reasonably priced.

And what about the black gloom that made us think we might have made a mistake with the colour scheme? We’re fine with it now. It just needed a little sunshine to remind us how big and bright and airy the room is.

Early morning beeping

5am is not a good time to be looking for an instruction sheet. But one night in March, with the smoke detector preventing me from sleeping for over an hour, I finally decided to get up and swap the battery over.

As with all new builds in the UK, the smoke and heat detectors run off the mains electricity supply but they have a battery back-up in case of power loss. And, for reasons that I don’t know, batteries always choose the cooler night-time to decide that they are running critically low. The alarm then gives out a regular beep to alert the householder – every 23 seconds by my counting.

I got out of bed and peered up at the white plastic device in the ceiling at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t obvious how to open this one, so I searched through 3 different folders to try to find the instruction leaflet. But eventually I had to admit defeat and woke Martin to ask him to look in his file of instruction leaflets which I couldn’t find. By 6am he came up with the better idea of investigating the identical, but more accessible detector in the utility room. By standing on a chair beneath it I could clearly read the instructions embossed on the detector’s cover. If only I had done that an hour previously!

Confident that this was a straightforward task, we went back upstairs to silence the beeping detector. We unfolded the step-ladder which still lives in our unfinished bathroom and positioned it next to the banister and Martin cautiously climbed up while I held the steps. My husband is only 5 feet 8 inches tall, but even if he had been taller with exceptionally long arms, I don’t think he could have reached that detector. Defeated, we sat and puzzled how the electrician had managed to install the device so high up above the stairwell. He couldn’t have done it while the temporary mezzanine floor was still in place because that was removed while the plasterers were still here. He might have balanced precariously on the banister, but we had since hollowed it out and now had massive houseplants growing there. Before we had resolved the conundrum, we realised that the rising sun had started to shine through the east-facing windows. The extra warmth had refreshed the battery and it had finally gone silent all on its own!

Later in the day, we positioned a Wikihouse step-up upside down on the top step, added a sheet of plywood as a platform, placed the step-ladder on the plywood and had the help of a son to steady everything while one battery was removed and another inserted. Job done!

Now we just need to log how to do it, for next time, and tactfully suggest to our lovely electrician and/or architect that future instalments are placed in a slightly more accessible location!


Avoiding coronavirus

With the Prime Minister telling us last night to stay at home, we are so pleased that we have such a lovely home to stay in. We are still delighted with the design, style and functionality of our Wikihouse.

There has only been one moment when we have wondered if one of our decisions maybe wasn’t quite right. On a cloudy, dismal, grey afternoon in February we were cutting the last few wall panels for the bathroom. As we put each glossy grey-black panel in place the room became gloomier and gloomier.

There are no ceiling lights in that room and we have yet to install the wall lights, so we couldn’t even switch the light on to brighten it up. We muttered about having bright yellow towels and mats and bought a bigger mirror than originally planned.

Now that the sun is streaming through the skylight once more and reflecting off the white bath, shower tray, loo and washbasin, we are pleased with the effect and we might choose gold-coloured towels rather than vivid yellow!

Hopefully neither of us will get coronavirus, but if we do, we can distance ourselves from each other quite well in this house. One can live entirely downstairs, using the downstairs bedroom, kitchen, dining-room/office and wetroom, while the other can be confined to our normal bedroom, the upstairs lounge and main bathroom. Food etc. can be placed half-way up the wide staircase.

Since we are currently unable to deliver any of our plants, even though we are at the start of our main delivery season, I have come up with a new family motto: “Well-being before wealth”!

Getting going again

It’s two years since we moved into our still-unfinished-Wikihouse and we finally have time to reflect, time to really get going again with the build and time to update the blog.

When we first moved in there was still a huge amount of work that was still urgent, but once we had a fully functioning kitchen, a usable toilet and shower, and carpets throughout most of the house, we were able to take a breather. Life became more normal again as we found time to go out, catch up with friends and family, watch a bit of television occasionally and resume our annual camping holiday.

During those 2 years Martin has gradually finished the work that needed doing on the outside of the house. This was mainly fitting timber round the windows and doors and it was a job that he preferred to do by himself. I was only needed when the scaffold tower needed moving or to give an occasional word of reassurance or praise.

The corners of the house also needed finishing. The original plan had been to fill the corner with lengths of oak. However we had failed to order these pieces when we ordered the cladding and we now felt that, even if we could get what we wanted for a reasonable price, fitting them might prove a challenge. Despite our best efforts, not all of the cladding planks ended precisely where they should. So, we decided to go with second-best and to cover the corners in the same plastic-covered metal that we had used on the eaves. We weren’t sure what it would look like, but we are now delighted with the result. Each side has a neat, continuous frame, up one side, across the top and down the other side.

Inside the house, doors were hung simply because they were in our way. Unfortunately our local planning department had put pressure on us to get our mobile home emptied out and removed from site. This meant that we suddenly had to make room for the remaining furniture, for our excessively large collection of books and for family memorabilia. We no longer had a nice clear room for storing materials and for sawing and constructing in. Every job now takes longer as things have to be moved out of the way before work can begin and everything has to be cleared away again at the end of the task.

We wondered if we would ever get the place fully finished. Just one finished room would be nice! Then, back in September, Martin showcased his business at the UK’s largest horticultural trade show. There was a huge amount of interest in the peat-free young shrubs that he grows and we realised that, with my help, we could easily increase our sales in the coming years. So, I promptly handed in my notice and left my teaching job at Christmas. What a difference this has made. Whereas I would have been sitting here preparing lessons for the coming week and recording my students’ progress, I am instead recording our own house-building progress and feeling very proud of our achievement.

Are we in yet?

I began this post at the beginning of March, but our working lives became so hectic that progress on the house ceased once again, and there has certainly been no time to upload photos during the past 4 months. Consequently the next few posts will be written retrospectively.

I don’t know of an official definition of being ‘in’ a house, but I think we are almost ‘in’! A rapid transformation has taken place inside our house over the past 2 months. All except the hall and the utility room now have carpeting or vinyl on the floor. Most rooms have a smattering of furniture. Lots of rooms have either houseplants or vases of flowers and the kitchen is now fully functional. In total it now looks far more like a home than a building site.

We have held a party for all of our ‘builders’, which was a lovely time to catch up with their news and for them to see how their handiwork has been part of our dwelling’s journey.

As with all journeys, there have been times when great strides have been made and times when progress is frustratingly impeded.

Laying laminate flooring, which should be a relatively straightforward task, is the only thing which we have attempted and been defeated by. We initially bought just 3 boxes of planks to cover the hall, but the next time they were on special offer we bought a further 20 boxes to install in the kitchen and the adjacent dining area and office.

Laying the first row was straightforward, but several hours later 3 very deflated people admitted defeat and got a credit-note-refund for 20 unopened boxes. Having read the product’s reviews it would seem that the manufacturers have now rectified the problem. Maybe we will be able to swap our 3 opened boxes for the improved version of this product.

Christmas sleepover

Six weeks before Christmas, Martin suggested inviting my Mum to stay for the festive season. Getting the house ready enough seemed an impossible task to me. We wrote down all the jobs that would need doing and I estimated that it would take 7 weeks.

However, Martin and Mum were determined that it should happen and Mum’s coach ticket was booked. She arrived on Friday 22nd December and by 10pm we had a bed made up in our guest room, and a flushing toilet and sink with hot and cold water in the downstairs wetroom. We even had doors on those 2 rooms – although they were not painted and had no latches! To ‘lock’ the wetroom door we had one end of a piece of string attached to the edge of the door and we wrapped the other end round the shower control.

By 11pm Martin and I looked at the our mattress which was standing on its side in our upstairs lounge. Our decision was instant and unanimous – flop it down and sleep on it exactly where it landed!

It was a bit like camping but in a warm house rather than a cold, flappy tent. Our elation was such that we contacted our fantastic house building friends from the village and invited them over for midday drinks on Christmas Eve. Plastic cups and crisp packets maybe, but definitely champagne time!

Snow, ice, water, heat

In Mid-December we awoke to falling snow and Martin’s sleepy voice telling me that we had forgotten to take the fabric cover off the nursery irrigation tank. A series of swipes with a mop filled my next hour as I walked round and round the tank. With each circuit I could reach a little further across as I had a wall of snow to stand on from the previous circuit. Eventually my task was done and breakfast was bliss.

The next day we had our first bulk delivery of lpg gas. This was an exciting event as it heralds the end of having to order and manouevre the heavy orange bottles that have provided our heating fuel for the last 16 years.

The following night temperatures fell sharply and by morning the pipes were predictably frozen in our mobile home. But on this occasion they didn’t thaw all day and, for the first time ever, the pipes had also frozen in the barn. Unfortunately the build-up of pressure coincided with the one night when we had forgotten to turn the stopcock off in the new house. Inevitably the water found the weak point in the system – a cheap-feeling plastic connector which had come with the toilet cistern – and forced it apart as we had yet to finish installing the clips that would have held it in place.

Ordinarily this would not have been too bad, as the water would have merely flowed across the wet room floor and down the central drain. However I had previously made the suggestion that we should lay a large piece of cardboard across the floor, and especially the plughole, to protect it from our gritty footwear. The result of this was that by the time we discovered the water leak, the cardboard had turned into a plug and the flood covered half of downstairs.

A wet-and-dry vacuum cleaner, a mop, a lot of throwing out of dripping cardboard, and a trip to buy replacement hardboard filled much of the morning. But once we had done all that we were thankful that we hadn’t yet fitted the laminate flooring, that the internal doors were up on a pallet, that the downstairs bedroom didn’t yet have carpet, and that the flood didn’t extend as far as the kitchen and the newly-installed cupboards.

Two days later the heating engineers commissioned the boiler and the house became warm and dry once more.

Indoor shoes

We’ve passed another couple of milestones. Firstly, we have replaced our ‘doormat’ with another carpet tile because our original one had become completely threadbare due to the number of times we have walked backwards and forwards between the house and the barn saying “I’ll just go and cut this” or “I’ll just go and get a …..”. But, even more exciting, we now change our footwear each time we come inside!

This is primarily because we have laid the vinyl flooring in both the bathroom and the wet room. We have also fitted the ceiling panels in the wet room and been surprised by the large size of the ceiling light that our electrician has installed in such a small room! We think it looks OK though.

We have fitted 2 wall panels in both rooms so that we could add the towel rail radiators. So, the central heating system is now complete, and leak-free! We had hoped that today we could switch it on but, with a light sprinkling of snow on the ground, our heating engineers had other ideas. Instead of commissioning the boiler yesterday, they merely turned up to drop a piece of gas pipe into the trench that we had dug. More phone calls, more delay, more layers of clothing!