February 2010

A Flurry of Activity

For Mike the first project in February was to plumb in some of the rainwater tanks. Not all of them,
but crucially the two tanks which receive the incoming water and overflow into the soakaway needed to be in position
ready for the roof to go on. Without them, the basement would flood every time it rained.

This is the pipe which leads to the soakaway. The 'inverted U-bend' determines the height to which the tanks will fill
with water. Without this, the tanks wouldn't fill to the top, so we'd be wasting a lot of our storage capacity.

The Rotoplas tanks had to be drilled carefully.....

.....and then threaded so that the pipe connectors could be installed. The fittings we're using
are standard irrigation equipment, as in effect this is an irrigation system built in the basement of a house.

Up on the roof the installation of the insulation was going well, and boarding over had started.

450mm of Knauf Dritherm insulation gives our roof a U-value significantly better than current building regulations require.
This space isn't full yet, so you can see the insulated 'packer' on top of the i-beams, which reduces thermal bridging.

A visit from our building inspector, Andrew Collins of ACT Building Control, reveals that despite one or two
small issues, we're doing well in meeting building regulations.

We were also visited by presenter Kristian Digby and his crew, who interviewed us for the BBC
'To Build or Not To Build' programme.

A fairly monumental struggle as Jim and Julius manoeuvre one of the composting toilet chutes into position.
Due to its length, this was the last chance we had to put this in before the roof was closed in....

...all captured for posterity by the To Build or Not To Build crew.

Imagine the frustration when neither of the two chutes would fit. One of the holes in the ground floor was too small,
and the other was in the wrong place altogether, necessitating some fairly drastic remedial action.

Finally though both were in place, and tested against the lid of the compost chamber, which we then found didn't fit
into its alcove in the wall behind. Well, you can't expect everything to go smoothly, or this wouldn't be self-building.

Talking of things not going smoothly, with the waterproofing membrane on the northern roof slope only partially installed,
the long forecast deterioration in the weather started. At first it was just gentle rain, interspersed with a little sleet.

It became clear that the roof needed to be protected, so the membrane needed to be battened down urgently.
To make things difficult, the wind increased, the temperature plummeted and the rain began to turn to snow.

Soldiering on through the gloom, the priority was to hold the membrane in place before conditions became impossible.

The expression on Jim's face says it all, but the job was completed just in the nick of time.....

...as something close to a blizzard arrived, once again covering the house and the surrounding fields in a thick layer of snow.

The external works ground to a halt for a day or so, but Mike was able to make a start on chasing out the walls for
electrical cable runs. The high thermal mass design of this house means there's a lot of solid concrete, so there's a lot
of cable-chasing to do, and no floorboards to conveniently hide wiring underneath.

There are also a lot more electrical systems to install than there were a few years ago, so Mike's got to work hard to
keep up with the rest of the building schedule. There's always something satisfying about installing a metal back box...

Fortunately the snow cleared relatively quickly, and the garage roof tiles were soon going on.

In trying to minimise CO2 emissions, but follow the local style, we chose these clay tiles from Dreadnought, which has its own
quarry close to the factory. It's also one of the closest tile manufacturers to the site, reducing overall transport mileage.

As the end of the month drew near, preparations were also well underway to begin tiling the roof of the main house....

....but before that Joe and Ray, the installation team from Llani Solar, arrived to install our solar water heating panels.

They reflect our desire to make this house as environmentally friendly as possible, as they should provide almost all
of our domestic hot water, except at the very coldest times of year.

They seem very happy in their work.

Because of the thickness of the roof insulation, threading the pipes through into the house below was a bit of a struggle.
Made a little easier, perhaps, by our 300mm wide wall cavities.

But here we are – all done. These pipes will eventually be connected to a super-insulated 500L hot water store,
which will be installed in the basement.

There's no denying that building through one of the worst winters in the past thirty years hasn't been easy, and the weather
conditions we've endured have undoubtedly set the schedule back by a few days. But, with the solar panels in place,
and the main roof ready for tiling, there is a sense that despite everything we are still making progress.

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