December 2009

Reaching New Heights

The first floor, which was the last of the major concrete-pouring sessions went well.....

...and before long it was taking shape. Just like the ground floor, this 275mm thick slab of dense concrete is another major
component in the thermal mass of the building, which will help to provide winter warmth and prevent summer overheating.

Installing wiring and plumbing in this house is going to be tricky – there are no floorboards to hide cables under. But we did
fit some tubing, now embedded in the floor slab, so that we can run cables to the centres of the bedroom ceilings to provide
basic lighting. How we manage the rest of it will become clear later in the project. Frankly, it's not at all clear right now.

And here's the stair void, which will also allow light down into the hallway below.
A balustrade constructed from welded steel rods will be installed around this opening eventually.

Just a couple of days after the first-floor slab was finished, our team of block-layers were back,
building the outer first floor walls in seemingly no time at all.

'No photos please!' – Carpenter Simon comes over all publicity shy.

He's been busy though – constructing two substantial wooden towers to support the Glulam beam which will form the ridge
of the roof. This is just one of them, obviously. The beam will sit on these until the blocks are built up underneath to form
the final support, then these will be dismantled, and the timber reused.

Looking more relaxed in front of the camera now, Simon attaches wooden beams to the RSJ above the west window.

Moving inside, as temperatures plummeted, work continued on the ground floor internal walls.
This view of the main hallway will soon be obscured when the staircase is lowered into this space.

Upstairs, on the first floor, this will be the view from the kitchen window. Eventually without the scaffolding.

While Anthony attends to some final details on the wall beside the staircase, Mike Neate's son
Solly contemplates a career in the building industry......

Meanwhile Lizzie inspects one of the bedrooms. Hopefully it'll be a lot warmer in here once the house is finished.

This was an interesting moment as John made a start on building an internal wall from old electric storage heater bricks.
Many of these came from the site, when we excavated the cellar of the old house a year ago. As they're designed to
store heat, we're using them in positions where they'll be warmed by the daytime sun through south-facing windows.

Although quite modest, the finished wall – part of the utility room – looks great. A larger and altogether
more impressive storage-heater-brick wall is planned for the kitchen, up above.

Our architect warned us that curved walls are more expensive than straight ones, but we've allowed ourselves one on
each floor as they make an interesting feature. John's made a really nice job of this one.....'ll really make an impression when coming in through the front door.

Possibly one of the most dramatic days on site so far, as a large crane arrived to lift the main staircase into place.

It weighs over two tons, and again contributes to the thermal mass of the house.

A hundred years ago, this would all have been done by donkeys and orphans.

These days, it's almost easy – the crane is even radio-controlled, so that driver Paul (on the right) can be right there where
the action is. Newly arrived on site, Keith helps Mike Neate guide the staircase into position....

.....where it promptly gets stuck – refusing to drop the last few inches into position.
The problem was quickly identified as a protruding block in the bedroom wall below.....

....which was dealt with vigorously by Anthony, wielding a large hammer.

Simple but effective.....

....and allowing the stairs to drop perfectly into position.....

.....and Mike to try them out.

As the staircase operation was being completed our 12m Glulam beam arrived – wrapped in a layer of protective plastic,
meaning we won't be able to see what it looks like for a while yet.

The beam approaches the temporary wooden supports......

......and drops into place perfectly, guided by Graham, Mike Neate's business partner.

Keith and Simon seem very relaxed about it all....
At the bottom of the picture, you can see half of the cutout for the high-level round window
which will bring evening light into our living room.

Viewed from the south, the Glulam beam currently towers over the house, but when construction of the roof begins in the
new year, it'll become part of the interior, becoming an attractive feature of the upstairs living space. Here you can also
spot the huge south-facing picture window, plus, on the left of the shot, the already partially completed garage roof.