July/August/September 2010

So Near Yet So Far.....

Lots of small but still very important jobs crop up as a house build proceeds, and here Jim's dealing with a detail
around the external windows and doors......

...filling in a small gap with brick slips, to protect the insulation and make everything look tidy.

Our main garage doors are here – and very smart they look too. They were built by Dovetail Joinery of Cropthorne,
who are literally just round the corner, so you can't get much more local than that.

The Osmo Country Colour wood stain we're using isn't quite so local, but it does have excellent eco credentials.
We won't be using petrochemical based finishes anywhere in the garage or house because even the newest versions
still contain some fairly nasty chemicals.

At £85 a can this wood stain isn't cheap, but it covers amazingly well in just one coat, so is actually quite economical overall.
And being microporous, if any water gets into the wood when it rains, it can evaporate out again afterwards,
meaning there's less chance of rot setting in.

Installing the round window in the western gable has caused all sorts of niggling little problems,
with associated extra expense, leaving us wondering if a square one would have been easier.
Finally though, we're almost there, as Graham applies a bead of sealant to the copper surround.

And up goes the TV aerial – all digital-ready and everything. It'll be months before we watch any television in this house,
but strangely this small installation job feels like a landmark. It's also much easier to do it before the scaffolding comes down.

And come down it did – well most of it anyway – the very next day....

...leaving the south elevation fully visible for the very first time.
This isn't the final 'look', though, as the external decking and conservatory will be built here shortly.

Just hours before the internal scaffolding was removed, a major operation was underway to plaster the ceiling
in our large open galleried living area.

Mick brought in fellow plasterer Buster to help, as the entire ceiling needed to be finished in one day.

This meant Mick was able to finish plastering the reveals of the round window the following day,
leaving us in no doubt at all that the extra complications of the installation were well worth it.

Down in the dungeons below Mike's still been beavering away installing the huge array of plant which
will help to make this house autonomous. Here, the end of the 24-metre 'ground tube' which runs in the subsoil
under the garden is being connected to the MVHR heat-exchanger unit.

It looks pretty imposing when it's all connected up. This mechanical ventilation unit will play a critical role in keeping the house
both warm and healthy. When it's in operation, it changes the internal air every two hours, and reclaims heat from the stale air
being pumped out, using it to warm the fresh air coming in. So it partially replaces a conventional heating system,
using only a tiny fraction of the power, whilst keeping the air inside the house fresh all the time.

Upstairs in the house, a major floor-tiling operation has been going on in the past few weeks. These Spanish terracotta tiles
are fired in kilns at a much lower temperature than UK-manufactured versions, meaning their embodied energy is lower,
even accounting for transport mileage.

Because heat is stored in the 'thermal mass' of the building, we can't have any carpets, as they'd insulate the mass
from the internal environment, making it less effective. So these tiles are ideal for the job, but will also look very attractive
once they've been grouted and waxed.

For now though, it's all hands to the tiling, with a rather dusty cutting operation going on outside....

...and Graham dealing with some of the skirting details around the curved window reveals.
The decision to use tiles for the skirting rather than wood is largely an aesthetic one,
although it's also one less thing to paint.

This bedroom floor is now fully tiled, and ready for a final thorough clean before it's oiled and grouted.
Only one of the individuals in this picture looks cheerful, and it's George, who always seems
to have a happy smiling face, as well as an extremely long nose.

This will be the 'look' of the floors over the entire house – and we're extremely pleased with it.

A few miles away at her studio in Malvern, Jackie Harris has been working on three stained-glass panels,
made using glass recycled from old wine bottles.

They're going to be installed in the curved wall of our kitchen – but first, they have to be very carefully
attached to temporary wooden frames, as they'll be directly plastered in.

A great job by Mick – these windows really are going to look fantastic. Unfortunately we won't see them for a while,
as after this they'll be carefully removed, and stored safely until the other side of this wall is plastered.
Only then will they be finally put in place, without the blue masking tape, and be seen in their full glory....

As the sun moves round to the west, it throws shafts of light onto the floor of our large upstairs living space.
You can almost begin to imagine settling down for the evening, and possibly pouring a pre-dinner drink.

But not for a while yet, as the monster tiling operation has only just reached the kitchen.

Small decorative pieces of the terracotta tiles form an attractive edge to the stair well.

(Oh dear, beginning to sound like an interior design magazine...)

Simon tackles the small but important job of finally fixing the stairs in place.
Not that they were going to fall down or anything, but better safe than flattened by a falling concrete staircase.

Mike begins work on the plumbing for the grey water system, which will connect to the soakaway under the garden.....

.....while Julius applies a coat of linseed oil to the tiles in one of the bedrooms.

The bathroom floor has already been grouted, and is now being cleaned. We started with one of the smallest rooms
in the house to test the technique, and fortunately it's looking promising. Talking of smallest rooms, you can also see
the chute for the composting toilet, trimmed down and ready to receive its hand-made fired-clay pedestal.

Realising we didn't have any idea how to finish the bath and shower room window sills, we made an impromptu visit to the
Craven Dunill tile works at the Jackfield tile museum near Ironbridge, to see if they had any cheap seconds on sale.

Fortunately we fell on our feet, because they had just the right number of these beautiful tiles.
They're new Victorian encaustic tiles, still handmade in the traditional way, with poured 'slip' clay.
The flawless versions are really quite expensive, but these seconds have only tiny flaws, and are much more affordable.

As Mick finished the external render on our front porch.....

....we said goodbye to our old temporary storage shed, formerly a concrete double garage in Malvern.

It's served us well as a store for tools and materials, but we don't need it any more, so it's off to begin a new life as a wood store.
The area where it stood will soon become part of our new front garden.

And just a couple of days before this update was posted, the steel beams for the conservatory and external decking
arrived on site, together with a large crane to lift them into position.

This is the only significant piece of constructional work remaining before we get down to the business of
interior fitting-out, decorating, and external landscaping.
Soon the oak frame of the conservatory will begin to enclose part of this structure.

Until now, we've only been able to look ahead to the next phase of the project. But with the house virtually in its final form,
and many in the building team preparing to leave soon, the enormity of the work that remains is just becoming clear.
For the first time in the project, we can say that the end is finally in sight, but the fact that we can now see it
means we can also see what a long, long way away it is. So near, and yet so far.