Going round in circles

Now that Autumn is here, work on our plant nursery has taken a back seat again and we are cracking on with the house build. There are lots of jobs underway at the moment as we strive to reach a point where our electrician and gas engineers can finish their work.

All of the ceilings and most of the walls have now been painted, so the downlights and sockets can be finally fitted. We have installed most of the radiators, but cannot install the heated towel rails until the wall panels are in place. And the wall panels cannot be fitted until we have laid the wet-room floor and finished installing the bathroom cupboards and worktop. These jobs have entailed positioning toilets and washbasins in place to finalise the plumbing, and then removing them again to lay the vinyl.

We have fitted the kitchen cupboards but I need to make time to buy the built-in appliances, which can then be wired in. The gas hob is ready to be connected to the gas supply.

Outside, we have dug a 400mm deep trench along the back of the house. With hindsight, this could have been done using a mechanical digger right at the start of the build, but we weren’t then aware of the way in which the gas pipe for the hob would feed in to the main gas pipe. Now its proximity to the house posed too much of a challenge to risk damaging the oak cladding with the digger bucket. However digging heavy clay by hand – and repeatedly scraping it off the spade – has kept us warm on a chilly, but bright, November day.


Battling with battens

It’s Christmas Day afternoon, 2016. I’ve just been into the house to close the windows. When I went in this morning to retrieve my camera, it was noticeably colder inside than out, so we opened the windows to let some warmth in! Because the house walls and roof have such fantastic thermal insulation properties they have kept out the strangely mild air that is here following the departure of Friday’s ‘Storm Barbara’.

Today’s lack of noise is also strange. There is a self-imposed ban on working on the house today, there is very little traffic on the main road, there are no trains running alongside us due to engineering works, and the birds have gone to roost for the night. Even our dogs are lying quietly by my feet, having had a mad chase round not long ago.

Because there is no mains gas on site, and to save us having to change gas cylinders over at regular intervals, we have had an underground lpg gas tank installed which will provide fuel for the hob and our boiler, which in turn will provide the heat for our radiators, showers and hot taps. The earth that the tank has displaced is still piled up in 2 large mounds which the dogs have adopted as their playground!

The down side of of this method of heating is that the pipework running around the downstairs ceilings occasionally has to cross over itself. The engineers who installed it were reluctant to set the crossing pipe up into the plywood, so we have had to lower the ceiling height to accommodate the downward bulge within the ceiling void. This entails using bigger battens, but wouldn’t have been much of a problem, except that the architects have cleverly calculated the window sizes such that the surrounding plasterboard will slot snugly against the window frame. Now we have come across the problem that if we lower all of the ceilings, we can’t actually open some of the inward-opening windows!

A combination of this, and the sloping ceilings upstairs, has meant that we have spent a considerable amount of time puzzling over the precise size and location of battens. What should have been a relatively straight-forward part of the build, has been an enormous challenge. But with the help of amazing friends, we have now got most of the interior battens in place, and all of the windows can open.

Wonderful Windows

We have windows! This weekend’s task for us and our Wikihouse friends was to prepare 6 window openings (Martin had already done 3 earlier in the week) and to install 9 windows, including the fabulous patio doors. And we did it!

Common sense, bad light and the catering manager’s timetable all suggested that we should give up after window number 8, which would have left us just a tiny bathroom window to do between the 2 of us. However, a competitive nature, some temporary lighting and a temperamental Aga enabled 2 stalwarts to fix and wrap the battens in the opening, followed by a timed sprint by another yellow-helmeted pair to align the window and screw it in place.

In theory all of this work could be done from inside the building, but we found that it was easier to check the correct positioning of the window from outside. Luckily, in a previous weekend our son had cleared the ground at the back of the house and smoothed it with road-planings so that the scaffold towers can now be moved and levelled much more easily.

Other recent achievements include installing one of the gutters and beginning to build the first of the internal walls across the width of the house. We have also made a temporary back door to stop the South Westerly wind from relentlessly driving rain through the opening and onto the unprotected plywood floor.

Five weeks on …

In 5 weeks we have gone from this …
…..to this


During the last week we have cut more polystyrene, fitted more panels, puzzled out some tricky bits, wondered why the gas pipe to the hob has still not appeared, had downpours of rain that left the hollow by the back door full of water for a few hours, borrowed a panel lift for fitting the upstairs ceiling, and taken delivery of the roof cladding. This is plastic coated sheet metal which is often used on agricultural barns.

I am regularly being asked what the eventual finish of the walls will be, so here is the answer. On the outside we shall put horizontal  tongue and groove oak cladding, which will be fastened to the battens on the waterproof membrane. Inside the membrane is a sandwich of 2 sheets of 18mm thick plywood filled with polystyrene. On the inside of that will be a thin polythene sheet to act as a vapour barrier. Then more battens will be screwed on to support the internal finish of plasterboard sheets. And then there’ll be us – as snug as a bug in a rug!



That’s another storey

Each team worked on a different task yesterday morning, but in the afternoon everyone on site worked together to raise 8 frames to form the ‘ribs’ of the upper storey.

Frame Frenzy

Over 4 days we have made new friends, a bit of a mess (which we have cleared up) and the 9 downstairs frames which are the main structure of the our house.

Emotions have ranged from

bewilderment: just how do all these parts fit together?

panic: have we got enough screws? (We hadn’t, so we have now bought the entire stock of a certain screw size from 5 different Screwfix stores across the Midlands, and a B&Q, as well as ordering over 100 more boxes!)

amazement: so many people have given up an entire weekend or more to help wield mallets, cordless screwdrivers and drills to construct the frames.

pain: I was stung by a bee!

awe: the frames went from a being in a neat pile on the ground to being vertical with surprising ease.

gratitude: to everyone who has helped in any way including WI members providing cakes for the crew.

hilarity: watching Molly (one of our collies) attempting to join in!

forgiveness: I won’t mention the missing connectors which are stopping us from raising the other 5 frames!

Hopefully the impending rain won’t manage to penetrate our massive covers and we shall be able to work inside them to construct the floor.




More ingredients

We now have a temporary garage full of Wikihouse panels, which will fill the gaps between the arch-shaped frames, and a polytunnel containing enough polystyrene insulation to build a very impressive model igloo village! Unloading both lorry loads in one day is certainly keeping Martin and me fit.

At the moment everything appears to be going to plan. Architecture 00 have sent us the assembly guide and we have bought 35 boxes of screws to hold all the plywood house parts together. 9 people have kindly signed up to help start the build on Saturday morning (15th Aug) with several others joining us later in the week. Despite today’s rain, the weather forecast is looking good.

Over the last week I have paid several very large bills, but we are all keeping a close eye on ‘the spreadsheet’ and we are currently just within budget still. I might yet have the central vacuum system that I’ve been hoping for.

… the parts have arrived

These are just some of the pieces which will fit together to build the entire frame of our house. They have been cut by CNC machine in a workshop in Sheffield. We have had 2 deliveries so far, with 2 more scheduled this week.