April / Early May 2010

Highs and Lows

The weather was pretty good at the beginning of April, so with most of the main roof in place,
Keith was able to finish off the remaining tiling.

Here Graham's preparing the mortar fillet for its final coating while Keith lays the ridge tiles.

They look much bigger from up here......but this is an exciting stage,
as when this tiling is done, it means the main roof is fully completed.

John Bennett returns, skilfully wielding his trowel, to build the internal walls on the first floor.
As in the utility room downstairs, we're using blocks from old electric storage heaters to add to the thermal mass.

It makes for quite a striking looking kitchen wall, although eventually it'll be plastered.
The small wooden frames mark the position of three stained glass panels which Jackie Harris
of Malvern is making for the house, using recycled glass from old wine bottles.

A major i-beam installation operation has been underway throughout this month, to prepare the remaining external
walls for insulation and cladding. Jim's just trimming this one to fit round some masonry details.

And here's a finished area of wall, neatly packed with Knauf Dritherm insulation – a super high-performance
material made from recycled bottles.

With the i-beams packed with insulation the next job was to install sheets of OSB
(a recycled composite board) to hold it all snugly in place......

......followed by a waterproofing membrane (the blue stuff) to keep it all dry.

Simon draws the short straw and gets the job of stuffing the eaves with insulation. Some of the spaces are
very tight indeed – but it's essential that every crevice is properly filled, as this is fundamental in keeping an
ultra low energy house warm in winter, and cool in summer.

Alongside all of this, Mike has been on site almost every day, installing electrical wiring.....

....not always in the most accessible of spaces. This is a major job though, as this house has a separate 12-volt electrical
system as well as the usual 240-volt mains. Then there are telephone lines, alarm cables and a Category 6 computer network.

Cables have to be routed in any available spaces.....

....and carefully tacked in place, pending plastering. This is the wiring for the first floor 'home office'.

And in goes the 12-volt cable for the exterior decking lights. Almost exclusively we're using cables which are
free of PVC, as many unpleasant toxins are released into the environment during its manufacture.

As each stage of external insulation was completed, the reveals for the related windows were built. The ultra thick walls
will give the house something of the feel of an old stone cottage, though for a completely different reason.
It's just a shame that the arrival of the windows has now been delayed by two or three weeks.....

The west-facing round window on the first floor will allow the evening light straight into our living area,
illuminating the ceiling and the glulam beam with the brilliant orange rays of the setting sun.

Much more complex than a rectangular window of course –
building the reveals for this window was quite an involved piece of carpentry....

...but seen from inside, it was all worth it. Once the window's installed, and the plastering complete, this should look stunning.

The view from the garden – where our fledgling woodland, planted just over two years ago, is waking up for spring.
Although the trees are still very young, and the house as yet unfinished, you can already begin to sense
what a wonderful place this will be in a few years time.

The dormer window on the north side of the house needs to be protected from the weather,
and here are the boys from BH roofing in Northampton installing the copper cladding.

It looks very striking at this stage, but will soon begin to dull down to a much darker colour, more in sympathy with the
surrounding clay roof tiles. In around 20 years time it will begin to turn green, in the style of the spires of ancient churches.

We're using copper because the rain which falls on the roof will be used for our drinking water supply, so we can't use
the more traditional lead, as we don't want poisonous residues in the water.

With the dormer completed, from the north the house currently looks as if it's almost entirely roof. But once the scaffolding
has been removed, and the lime render applied, it'll make a great deal more sense.

Back inside, and above the office and kitchen, Keith and Simon are installing the joists for the attic storage area.
Originally this was going to be fully enclosed, but we made the decision to open it up, increasing the sense of space
and making the glulam roof beam visible down its entire length.

Here we're looking up the stairs from the ground floor. Although still very much a building site,
the form of the house is now beginning to appear clearly in certain areas, and is looking very good indeed.

All wrapped up and nowhere to go. The day before our lime render materials were delivered, we heard that our plasterer
had fallen over and broken his wrist, putting him out of action for at least eight weeks.....

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