January 2010

Snowed Under

Snow, snow, snow, snow and .....

...more snow. Snow on the staircase......

Snow all over our open-plan first floor living area.....

.....and snow on the scaffolding, and indeed as far as the eye could see.

The only place where it was possible to do anything at all was on the ground floor. Here are Keith and Simon, not really
enjoying their work much, as a biting, icy-cold wind whistles through the spaces where one day there will be windows.

It was so cold, even honorary site manager Max had to wrap up warm.

Soldiering stoically on were the team from Central Networks, who arrived to install our electrical supply cable,
and connect it to the street main.

If you fancy a career standing on a rubber mat in a wet hole in the ground, surrounded by snow, working on live electricity
cables, then this could be the job for you. Yes that's right – they don't turn the power off while they do this...

Over a few days though, the snow cleared, the blanket of white gave way to colour again, and our familiar view returned.

With the weather improving, the priority was to get on with the roof, which by now was somewhat
behind schedule. Mike Neate gives Lizzie an impromptu lesson in airtightness....

....and in particular the crucial detail of sealing the membrane to the glulam beam.

This is one of those interesting moments when you realise you're not building an ordinary house. The passivhaus
standard, to which we're building, requires extreme airtightness as the slightest leak can lose huge amounts of heat.

As Mike and Graham unrolled the membrane, for the very first time we could admire our magnificent glulam beam,
which until now had been covered over to protect it from the winter weather. This beam will form the centrepiece of
the ceiling in our first-floor living space, and should look fantastic.

Graham secures the membrane, ready for the i-beams which will support the rest of the roof.

Meanwhile we reacquaint ourselves with the cellar bricks from the old house, by cleaning the mortar off to prepare
for the return of our bricklaying team.

We know every one of these bricks intimately.....

...and here they are, in the newly completed gable ends of the garage, proving that all that hard work was worth it.

Back on the house, while John got on with laying the plinth stretchers.....

....Anthony started work on the section of wall which will end up inside the conservatory. This outer skin consists of
a layer of insulating Durox blocks (the white ones), faced with more reclaimed bricks on the outside.

The inner and outer leaves are tied together with special wall-ties. These 'TeploTies' are made from basalt fibres embedded
in resin, and conduct virtually no heat across the cavity from inside to out. In a house as well insulated as this,
standard steel wall-ties would cause significant heat loss.

Downstairs in the rather murky basement, we made a start on the pipework for the rainwater harvesting system.

The first time we have a torrential downpour will be pretty nerve-racking, as all the water from the roof will come
thundering down these pipes into the storage tanks in the basement. Let's hope we get our plumbing right....

But first we need a roof and, with the weather still holding, our full building team were back on site to begin installing the
i-beams which will support the battens which hold the roof tiles, and provide the space for 450mm of insulation.

Time to record a video diary entry for the BBC 'To Build or Not to Build' programme. Mike attempts the confident,
authoritative and reassuring approach, whilst attempting not to babble like a deranged idiot.

The i-beam installation is coming along well.....

...in fact, this is the final one.

So here we are up-to-date, with the i-beams installed, the brickwork coming along nicely, and a temporary roof
covering in place. Because, believe it or not, more snow is forecast....