October/November 2010

The Home Straight?

At the end of the previous update, the erection of the structural steelwork for
the conservatory and external decking was already underway.

Writing this on a very chilly November evening, it's almost impossible to believe that at the time
it was possible to work outside in just a T-shirt.

There were one or two minor tweaks to make everything fit, but the basic structure was completed in just one day.

The tiling operations inside the house have been continuing. After laying, the terracotta has to be protected with a coat
of linseed oil, then grouted, cleaned, and given a second coat of linseed. It's all rather tedious, but fortunately
only has to be done once, and the end result should be well worth it.

Along with the floor tiling, plasterers Mick and Buster have been hard at work, and virtually all of the internal plastering and
external rendering is now complete. The simple lime and sand plaster we're using is finished with a sponge rather than a float,
to deliberately give a textured finish.

Behind all the plastering paraphernalia you can see the recycled-wine-bottle panels, made by Jackie Harris, installed in
the kitchen wall. When the sunlight shines through the kitchen window and illuminates them, they look very striking.

Mike's priority at the moment is getting the basic services installed. We have a deadline for claiming our
solar water heating grant, so getting the plumbing system in has been a priority.

Once the harvested rainwater has been gathered and treated in the basement, it's pumped up to header tanks on the
mezzanine level, and from here the system is a fairly conventional gravity-fed plumbing installation.
We've reused old tanks, and are installing copper pipework where possible, as we feel it's more recyclable than plastic.

The basic pipe runs are in place, but there's still a good deal to do, and a lot more scrabbling about in awkward spaces.

There's a knack to bending pipes, which it takes a little while to perfect. Getting better though....

Not exactly a break, but a diversion for one weekend while we painted the basement ceiling. The black Jablite
insulation panels made things very gloomy, so painting them white means we can use less powerful,
energy-saving lighting when we're down here looking after the 'autonomous' systems.

With the basic conservatory and decking steel in place outside, we spent some time preparing the oak beams
which will support the glazing and complete the structure.....

....and had a brief diversion when some unexpected visitors dropped in one afternoon.

Soon a temporary outdoor workshop had been set up, as Jim and Simon began preparing the oak posts for fitting to the steel.

It was quite a time-consuming task which needed to be done very accurately, to ensure the final structure is strong and stable.
This will have to carry the 12mm toughened glass which will form the conservatory walls, and not move in the strongest of winds.

Simon made a start on the conservatory flooring.....

....while Jim coaxed the remaining oak rafters finally into place.

A little extra care taking accurate measurements is well worth the trouble – you don't want to have any cock-ups later.

Talking of which – this was supposed to be our fabulous ultra-insulated, triple-glazed Passivhaus front door.
And it would have been, but for a series of errors and misunderstandings which meant the hinges are on the wrong side.....
Oh Dear....this is the closest we've come to a Grand Designs style disaster, and means we're currently waiting for a
replacement to be made. The design of the entrance hall simply won't work with this door, so it's now for sale.
It's a superb Passivhaus door at an amazing price – more details here.

On a more positive note, the outer porch door arrived from our local joiners Dovetail, and was installed in a couple of days,
meaning we could finally dispense with our old temporary plywood door and lock the house up properly.

Just as with the garage doors, Dovetail have done a really lovely job with this –
we can sense it'll be a pleasure every time we open this door and enter the porch.

Please throw this piece of wood for me......

A very important operation which has been completed recently, is getting the mains power into the house, meaning we're
no longer reliant on the temporary site mains supply. It wasn't without complications though, as initially it proved impossible
to pull the cables through from the meter cabinet outside down to the basement. After considerable dithering,
Mike bowed to the inevitable and removed some of the porch floor to try to locate the problem.

Despite the rain and consequent mud outside, Graham lent an arm and located a slightly misaligned join between
two pieces of ducting. After that, the cables were pulled through without too much difficulty.

Of course you can't connect up circuits unless you've finished wiring them, so a programme of intensive
socket installation followed, completing the ground floor and first floor ring mains....

...which meant we were ready for George, our electrical überführer, to come and wire up the consumer unit.

George and Mike met in 1978 when they began their respective careers in broadcasting at the nearby BBC Wood Norton
training centre.
They both subsequently left the BBC and followed differing careers mainly in television news.
Now over 30 years later, George works as a qualified electrician, while Mike is building this house. Whoever would have
thought their paths would come together again in such a way? It's a funny old world, and no mistake.

In line with our policy of avoiding PVC wherever possible, we're using low smoke zero halogen cable, insulated with silicone rubber.
It has a built-in double metal foil screen, which reduces potentially harmful stray electromagnetic radiation inside the house.
So some people would have you believe anyway.

Back in the great outdoors, with temperatures beginning to fall, Simon and Graham began work on the external decking,
which will give us a seating area outside the conservatory, at first floor level. For this we're using the only UK-manufactured
recycled plastic 'timber' material available. It has the advantage of being able to withstand the British weather for years
without any additional treatment, and when it eventually begins to break down, it can be recycled yet again.

One of our most experimental aesthetic adventures is using these Victorian encaustic tiles on the internal staircase. It's hard
to gauge the finished overall effect from this picture, but by the next update we hope to be able to show you them in fully finished
and grouted form, and there's every indication they're going to look terrific.

So, some 16 months after they first arrived on site, LeBrun construction returned for the final phase of the groundworks,
which will involve replacing all the topsoil and building the foundations for the paving, green driveway, and the
dry stone wall which will run along the front of the property.

They were also able to lend a hand to the steelworkers, who were back to install the external balustrades.

The Lebrun digger came in very handy helping to lift the heavy steel structures into place.

At the moment it seems odd having them there,
as previously there's been nothing to obscure the view from the first floor windows.

But all finished, and bolted into place, they make quite a statement.

The past few weeks have been difficult, and progress has seemed slow, partly because a number of workers have now left the site,
and because Mike is installing virtually all of the systems himself. Also many of the jobs being completed currently are quite fiddly
and time-consuming, but the feeling is that we must try to push on as fast as we possibly can, to try to make the house habitable.
It will be a lot easier to finish it if we can move in, as not living in it is now proving to be very frustrating.