I’ve Tanked!

We have 3 bathrooms and in each will be a wet-room – basically instead of having a shower tray it’s just a tiled area. Hopefully, the tiling and grouting will be of such high quality that no water will ever get through but we know that is unlikely to be the case so the key challenge is to make sure that any water that does seep through the tiles doesn’t end up dripping through the ceiling. The way to do this is by tanking the wet-room area.

Tanking is effectively sealing the area with a waterproof membrane. There are many different types but the one we went for is what is termed as a liquid membrane, which is like a rubberised paint. Larger gaps are covered with a waterproof tape.

I ended up using two different brands due to running out half way through. Initially I used Weber sys.protect, which is pale blue in colour. It’s quite thick but very easy to apply. The only down-side with this system, although I only realised later, was that the re-inforcing tape for joins and gaps needs to be bedded into the membrane. You do this by painting on some of the membrane then laying down the tape before going over it again with more membrane. It’s pretty messy and more time consuming than it should be, especially around corners.

The second brand I used was Megaproof. Their tape is rubberised self-adhesive with a fleece backing. It is so much easier to apply and get a good seal and I really wished I’d used it from the start. The membrane itself I didn’t like. I’m sure it did a good job as it did cover ok, but it’s very runny and needs a lot more care to ensure you don’t get it everywhere!

In the photos below some of it looks a bit patchy, but this was generally after a single coat and even then looked much better than the photos show.

You can also see the wet-room former we used (Dukkaboard). This helps to get a nice slope to the drain and is waterproof so doesn’t need applying with the membrane. The same goes for the tile back board. The main reasons for using the tile backer board are that it’s a good surface on which to tile (strange!) and it is more effective at reflecting heat from the electric UFH than plain chipboard.

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Megaproof. Easy to spill…

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First coat of sys.protect

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 Megaproof tape on the tile backer board joins

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Weber sys.protect vs. Megaproof Megaseal

All ready for the UFH to be laid and the tiling can start!

The Garage

The Initial Plan

The last of the ‘big’ jobs is to build the garage. The original plan was for it to be made from a single skin of wide blocks so that I didn’t have to have any internal piers and with an insulated slab, walls and roof. It would also have a flat roof with parapet similar to the flat-roofed section we have above the kitchen. Size-wise it was planned at 7265mm wide and 7715mm long – so quite big! We’ve made a few changes to that original plan.

The New Plan

Firstly, it’s now 6740mm in each direction. The reasons for this change were that although I did want something as big as possible so that I could work comfortably on my cars I didn’t want it to dominate the front of the plot. A friend has a HUGE garage and seeing how he had set his out made me comfortable that I could make ours smaller without really compromising my work space.

The second change is to the structure. It’s now being made from single skin 100mm blocks with piers in each corner and half-way along each length. Quite simply this has been done to save money.

The last main change is to the insulation. It won’t have an insulated slab and at the moment neither the walls or the roof will be insulated. This may change but probably not until next year. Again, this is just a cost -reducing exercise as I’d rather spend the money on something to actually go in the garage!

 Levelling The Site

It’s been a bit of a challenge to work out the levels. The gateway is higher that the garage slab which in turn is higher than the front door of the house. In other words the plot slopes towards the house from the road. We want as flat a driveway as we can get but that really means that we need to build a small retaining wall in front of the house. This isn’t perfect but by keeping it reasonably low (a couple of blocks) and moving it away from the house enough it should work ok. It’s hard to visualise it but I’m sure it’ll be fine once done.

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Retaining wall in front of house

The garage slab is due to be poured tomorrow so I’ll update with more detail later in the week.

Gas!!!

The only issue we’ve had so far is that the brickie put a spade through the gas pipe! The pipe  was laid by National Grid and they didn’t put any tracer tape down so I can’t blame him for not knowing. Anyway, 3 visits later from the ‘gas guys’ and it’s all fixed.

 

Drainage and Groundworks

With the scaffolding down and gas, electric and water all routed into the house (we’ll conveniently ignore BT for now) the outside was pretty much ready for the next few external jobs – preparing for the garage and getting the drains laid.

In theory we could have started some of this work quite a bit sooner but work on the garage couldn’t start until the shipping container we were using as a site office and storage was removed. It was quite handy having it as it kept the external trades out of the house and the inside of the house as clutter-free as possible. And less ‘stuff’ visible to unwanted night-time visitors.

Rainwater

Each of the downspouts from the gutters feeds into one of two soakaways. These are just holes in the garden that are filled with stones (then recovered) which allow the water to ‘soak away’! With the land being so sandy we don’t have a drainage issue and these work pretty well.

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Rainwater soakaway

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Soakaway covered

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Access for rodding will be cut down after the ground is levelled

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 Sewerage

In total we have 6 soil pipes exiting the house to feed into the main sewer, with four on one side of the house and two on the other side. There is one for each of the three bathrooms, two for the downstairs cloak-room (I know – see the blog entry about the issue with how the ducts were originally laid into the slab) and one from the kitchen. The utility room feeds into the one from the second en-suite. On each side of the house they merge into each other and then route off towards the main sewer. At each point where there is a change in direction we need a man-hole to allow for access. As ugly as they are there isn’t a lot we can do about this so the only thing was to ensure that they would be sited in the grass and not in the path around the house. I’ll try and get some of the covers that allow grass to be grown in them if I can.

Fortunately, I think, the main sewer runs through our rear garden so connecting to it should be pretty straight forward, assuming we can find it! Each of our two neighbours ‘knew’ where it was, although they hadn’t actually seen it, and the plan supplied by United Utilities was at about the level of detail my 9-year-old niece could provide. Aside from it’s general location the other challenge was that, based on where the neighbours said it was, it must be DEEP! At a guess around 4-8m deep. Oh joy

A morning with a big digger didn’t uncover anything so we resorted to UU’s sketch. And then we found it! We should employ more 9-year-olds I think. Or is that not the Right Thing To Do these days? The pipe is about 1.3 m down but only around 180mm in diameter – for some reason I was expecting it to be much bigger. So we had a big hole, an exposed main sewer and a number of our soil pipes ready to feed into it. Just need to get Building Control to approve it all now.

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Main sewer

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Building Control

The Building Control Office (BCO), Bill, arrived to sign-off the drains and was really happy with what he saw – all good. The only fly in the ointment was that BC don’t sign off the connection to the main sewer as that’s under the control of the utility company. And you can’t just connect to the sewer, you need permission. We didn’t have permission!!!! Now, this is something I should have picked up on a year ago when we got the water connection but as the forms asked whether we were connecting to the mains sewer (yes) and there was no resulting instruction to do anything I’d struck it off my list of things to think about. The groundworkers had a moan (it was all my fault…) but I did point out that they’d connected to main sewers hundreds of time before, knew we were connecting to a main sewer, hadn’t asked whether we had permission (apparently they didn’t know!), hadn’t organised for UU to come and inspect the works and also would have connected it up if the BCO hadn’t said anything.

I made a few quick calls, filled in the forms, pleaded for a quick approval and got it all sorted within about a week. Having said that we are still yet to make the connection though as UU need at least 5 days to inspect the work before the hole is covered up and the guys were due off site the following day. They need to come back in a few weeks anyway so it’ll be done then.

Levelling and the Patio

The site slopes from front to back, not massively but ‘plenty’. As far as the font of the plot is concerned the main challenge is to find a way to go from the gate to the front door, while still keeping as level a driveway as possible, bearing in mind there is about 1.3m height difference over around 11m. We decided that the best way would be to build a small wall in front of the house with a path between it and the house itself. The driveway would come to just below the top of the wall. We’re still to work out the exact details but as we’re just about to build the garage we do need to know where the driveway level will be so that we can lay the garage slab. I think we know…

As part of the works we reshaped part of the plot to make it a little more level and dragged top-soil and sand around to achieve this. It does look much better now but we still have work to do, which will be done when the sewer is connected. We’ve also laid MOT Type 1 stone around the front, one side and back of the house onto which a path and the patio will be laid. I’m hoping the patio won’t be too big but it does look sizeable as it’s the full width of the house plus a bit (so around 15-16m) and 5m deep. At least we have some time to get used to it before we actually lay any paving.

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 Garage

Area stripped, trenches dug and concrete poured. Bill the BCO was on holiday when we needed the trenches inspecting so we had a stand-in chap come to inspect. He was concerned by the roots from the hedge so we were forced to dig deeper that we’d normally expect. The fact that there weren’t any roots anywhere near didn’t seem relevant to him and I can’t help thinking that he just wanted to find something for us to fix. Well, it’s ready now so we just have to wait for the brickies.

Gas!

For some, the choice of a passiv-standard house and a gas boiler for hot water and UFH provision  would appear to be an odd one. Why not fit a ground or air-source heat pump (GSHP/ASHP)? Well, a number of reasons actually. GSHP aren’t cheap (could easily be £15k+ by the time it’s finished) and they require a fair bit of land into which the pipes are buried. Although our garden is a reasonable size, not all of it would be suitable for laying the pipework. ASHP aren’t particularly efficient and still quite expensive, although they are a chunk cheaper than GSHP. Gas on the other hand is pretty cheap to install and run – and we have a gas main running right across the front of the plot. On top of that our heating demand will be extremely low so paying out more than a couple of thousand for hot water just doesn’t stack up. Being efficient is far more important to us than fitting ‘stuff’.

I’d been warned many times that getting the utilities organised and connected was probably the hardest, or least most frustrating, part of the build. Not wanting to be caught out, I made initial contact with each supplier very early on in the process – I knew the gas connection wasn’t a priority but I still wanted to be on top of it all so I made the initial call to get it kicked off even before we’d broken ground.

That call amounted to Good News – the connection was relatively cheap (£400-ish); we had the option of digging the trench on our land for the pipe ourselves or letting them do it; and they only needed 4 weeks from start to finish. Easy! So I parked it.

Fast forward to the end of March and talk of needing to get the UFH up and running started. Obviously, we wanted to get it working in case there were issues that would need resolving but we also needed to get the floor fully dried and the system ‘run in’ before we laid the wood flooring and tiled the utility room floor. No problem, I’ll just get the connection sorted – it’ll be about 4 weeks.

One phone call later and 4 weeks became a stated 6-8 weeks! Major panic ensued, in me at least. I got the groundworks guys to dig the trench at the side of the house and National Grid came out to survey the site. All good except they weren’t happy with the duct I’d had installed in the wall of the plant room through which the gas pipe would route and instead they insisted that they drilled the hole themselves. Not in my house you’re not – you’ll use the duct! We had a discussion and everyone agreed that I was getting my way, which was nice 🙂

While the trench was open we had the BT duct, water pipe and a duct carrying the mains electric to the house laid at the appropriate spacing and depths. National Grid actually laid the gas pipe at the end of April – almost 4 weeks to the day after my initial order! Naturally I then proceeded to forget that I needed a gas meter. School boy error.

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Yellow is gas, blue is water, grey is BT

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Grey BT duct laid and pegged by ourselves. Gas by National Grid. Water and electric below

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Gas and others enter the plant room

You’re generally given a few options by National Grid as to where the meter is to be located. I think these days they like to fit them in a cabinet set into the external wall. Now, not only do they look ugly but in a highly insulated and air-tight house they are a Very Bad Idea. Another option is to have one installed externally at about ground level. I don’t like these either but if that’s what we have to have then so be it. In fact we didn’t need either of those two options and were able to put it inside the plant room right by the boiler, exactly where I’d planned for it almost a year earlier!

Meter installed (despite a load of par-for-the-course whinging by the installer) and we were up and running. Boiler fired up, UFH running, no leaks. We were in business. Of course, we were now into June and the weather was warming up. Good insulation, an air-tight structure, large amounts of glazing, high external temperatures and a UFH system that was being slowly ramped up to maximum isn’t a good mix. It was HOT inside the house. Really hot. Too hot to work comfortably, that’s for sure. No surprise then that the electricians switched it off a couple of times! One saving grace is that we’ve built on top of a hill (the slab is 79.00m above sea level) and with the windows and doors open we get a lovely breeze through the house, which did help to cool things down somewhat. It was still warm though.

 

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Gas meter installed

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Neat plumbing

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Plant room getting busier

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UFH pipes – thermostat heads ready to go on

Anyway, it’s off now. The next job is to try and work out which pipe belongs to which room/loop so we can fit the thermostats. I ‘think’ I know which is which but I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later.

MVHR

Just one last job before I forget. The plant room was looking pretty untidy as I hadn’t bothered to connect the red MVHR ducts to the distribution boxes. I decided it was time to fix that. I’ve got a couple that I’d like to tidy a bit better, but it’s looking pretty neat now I think.

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Decorating Has Started

(YARBE) Yet another retrospective blog entry…

This might be (to some) considered to be jumping the gun somewhat, but we started decorating in mid-May, while the rest of the house was still being skim plastered. The plaster is applied directly to the plasterboard and dries within about a week or so, so once we had clear rooms to go at we started with the emulsion. We haven’t got skirting or window cills yet so all straight forward with no awkward cutting in.

My dad is a recently-retired decorator and since my teens (a few years!) I’ve spent quite a bit of time helping him out at weekends and school holidays etc. so although this is quite a big job it’s not a big deal. The main challenge with this job is the height of the first floor ceilings which in some places are over 4m high, but fortunately I bought some decent scaffolding at the start of the year which made the job a lot easier (although not easy) and I’m not sure we could have done the landing ceiling without it. So, with me wielding the roller and dad doing the cutting in we slowly worked behind the plasterers and got the bedrooms, bathrooms and landing area either done, or at least one coat on. There’s a good chance that lots of it will need a bit of touching up doing but that’s a lot quicker than having to do it all from scratch.

We’re still pondering colours (so there’s likely to be a lot of white) but so far we’ve only re-painted one room as we didn’t really like the shade of green we’d chosen for the third bedroom.

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Bedroom 4 – Egyptian Cotton

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Bedroom 3 – Before it was repainted Egyptian Cotton

I’ll upload some more photos shortly 🙂

Plastering

Plastering in a timber-framed house is a fairly quick process – fit plasterboard and skim it. I think in total it’s been going on about 8 or 9 weeks and there are still a couple of areas left to do!

It’s amazing what a massive difference fixing the plasterboard does to the feel of the rooms and even more so once they’ve been skimmed.

There’s not really a lot to add other than just look at the photos.

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Plasterboard makes a useful site table

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2.5m ceilings and 2.4m boards

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Neat!

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It’s possibly worth mentioning the lighting at this point. I’ll cover the specific details of the lighting design in another blog entry but in general the mood lighting is provided by top quality LED down-lights. Downstairs we have 50 fittings (called Zep 6 Eyeconic) which consist of an aluminium housing that is skimmed in, into which the actual light fitting is inserted – the photo below shows one of the housings before the ceiling was skimmed

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Zep 6 Eyeconic housing

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Open plan area showing Zep 6 housings

Scaffold down!

I seem to have neglected the blog somewhat recently so I think it’s time I rectified that. This entry is being written very much retrospectively (about 2 months retrospectively!) but I just want to bring everything up to date for the record…

Finally, and I do mean ‘finally’, the scaffold has come down. This obviously means a couple of things – the rendering and the cedar cladding has finished. Well, the upper part of the house is finished, at least. Oh, and it also means I’m now £84 a week better off!

Render

The upper part of the house is now rendered! Not much to add other than to post up some photos…

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Parts of the lower section of the house have been primed, but as I wrote in the last blog entry, this won’t be completed until much later on.

Downspouts

The eagle-eyed will have spotted that we now have downspouts, or at least half-spouts. The remaining lower sections will be fitted when the render and stone cladding is completed.

Cedar Cladding

The fitting of the cedar cladding has been ‘pending’ for quite some time. It was planned to have been done a few weeks earlier but due to other works slipping we lost our slot and had to wait the best part of a month. I did toy with the idea of getting someone else in to do it sooner and in fact offered the work to two other people.

The first guy believed it was about a month’s work for two people (it’s only 50m2!) so he was dropped pretty quickly. The second guy was a retired joiner who seemed happy to just do anything. As it turned out, I needed a couple of pretty low-skilled joinery related jobs doing first so asked him to do these first. This was a Good Move. It took him all day to do what I think would have taken me about 3 hours to do and my gut was telling me to drop him quickly – certainly not to let him anywhere near the cedar! I’m pretty sure he was a retired joiner, I’m just not that certain what he ‘joined’ – I don’t think it was wood.

Anyway, I digress… We waited patiently for the original guys to turn up and I have to say they did a cracking job – I think it took 3 of them about 3-4 days. Mind you, they did whinge a lot (that seems to be a VERY common trait of most of the trades), generally about nothing in particular, but one recurring theme was that I hadn’t bought enough timber to complete the job. I knew I had and in fact I knew I had bought way too much – even a set of plans showing which pieces went where didn’t seem to placate them. Obviously though, by the end they realised I was right 🙂

Oh, a little about the cedar before I forget. It’s Western Red Cedar 19mm thick, 144mm deep and various lengths from about 2m long to around 4.2m. The profile is called Microline Channel (Silva Timber Cladding) There are various grades of timber and this is known as No.2 Clear and Better, which basically means that it doesn’t have (m)any knots, although there is a degree of colour variation between pieces.

Additionally, we had it coated by the supplier with a UV protecting coating. The basic aim of this is to try and keep it from going grey as long as possible without having to resort to staining it. I’m not sure how effective this will be but we felt it was worth the gamble.

We’ve only fitted the cedar to the upper part of one side of the house, wrapping around to the windows front and rear but I think it looks fantastic. We’re really please with how it looks so just hope that the UV coating does it’s job, at least for a few years.

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Some Progress Externally

Externally, everything has been waiting for the aluminium copings and flashings to be fitted. Not so much stop-start as stop.

Aluminium Pressings

The aluminium is coated to match the the windows, both in colour and texture. We did look at cheaper options but it just wouldn’t have looked right so bit the bullet and went for it. Seeing the first few pressings go up though has vindicated our choice and by the time the rendering and cladding is finished it should look great.

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Coping above study and cills

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Cill detail showing upstand

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Drip detail on coping

Rendering

The render system we’re using is Alumasc. The first few boards have been fitted and in a couple of areas the base-coat has been applied. We will only be finishing off the top half of the house for now and will be completing the lower half once all the groundworks have completed. The reason for this is that any damage to the base-coat can be easily fixed but not the top-coat.

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Boarding the front

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Boarding the rear

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Base-coat applied

Local Meet

The local VX220 Owners’ Club held a meet on site at the weekend. (one for SELOC)

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An on-site VX220 meet, yesterday

First Fix Almost Complete

In stark contrast with January, this month has seen much happening on site, both internally and externally.

Plastering

As first-fix electrics and plumbing have progressed (and are due to be complete this week) we’ve seen the plasterers start boarding and skimming the place out. So far the upstairs is largely boarded, the exceptions being the bathroom and en-suites for no other reason that the plumber is only on-site part-time. Two of the bedrooms have been skimmed too – one completely and the other about 90% done so they will be ready for decorating in a week! Boarding downstairs has started and this should be progressed over the next few days.

I don’t know whether it’s because they know I’m fussy, but the standard of both the boarding and the skimming is excellent. Not only that but they are very tidy, which to anyone familiar with building sites is practically unheard of. They aren’t the fastest (nor cheapest) but they are probably the best I’ve come across.

I reckon another 3 weeks on site will have most of the plastering complete.

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Window reveal detail

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Above the front door

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Getting the back-boxes squared-up

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Landing looking to the front

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Master bedroom boarded

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Bedroom 3 skimmed and almost ready for paint

I know I’ve said this a number of times, but it really is starting to feel like a house now!

Pocket Doors

The doors into the two en-suites and the dressing room are pocket doors – doors that slide into a pocket in the wall. As always, the clue is in the name 😉  There are quite a few different products out there but it’s quite difficult to actually pick one as they are generally just on-line orders. Fortunately, we did see the Eclisse ones at the Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC in mid-March.

In so far as we are concerned there are two options – a flush version with no architrave and a normal version with architrave. We fancied the flush version 🙂  Problem number one here is that the flush versions were on a 3-5 week lead-time and I needed them by the weekend so we’ve ended up going with the architrave version. No big deal really and actually they should look really good as they will be fitted with the same Deuren satin walnut as all the other internal doors.

I did look at other pocket door systems but ended up going with Eclisse for a number of reasons: well made, easy to assemble and fit, good support and not least the fact that they could be boarded and skimmed in without the doors being fitted. I had found a couple of other systems I liked but they both needed the doors fitted before plastering and we won’t have them for the best part of 3 months! Deuren did recommend the Selo pocket door system which look to be superb but they do require aluminium cutting and look to be a bit of a faff to fit. And they were on a 3 week lead time too.

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Two pocket doors fitted

A Few Decisions Needed

A handful of decisions need to be confirmed early this week: wired or wireless doorbell? (a Ring video doorbell, I think); alarm system and location; Wi-Fi access point locations; ceiling speaker locations for the Sonos system in the kitchen.

Trenching

The gas is due to be connected in just over a week so I’ve had the groundworkers over to discuss the digging of the trench for the services along the side of the house. It’s a relatively trivial task to do the dig but oddly it feels like a big step towards completion.

Those nice Openreach people

A while back I detailed my struggles with Openreach and their comical pricing for a new phone line. In short, the cost would have been around £7,500 to go underground from the pole 10m across the road – the other option presented to me was to have a new pole 4m inside our front garden. The second option was never going to happen – the first only if I couldn’t find an alternative.

It was suggested to me (I forget from where) that once we’d moved in we could just get BT to install the line and we ‘may’ then have more luck in negotiating the fee down. Obviously we haven’t moved in yet but I thought I would chance my arm and see what happened.

So the first step was to call the FTTP (Fibre To The Premise) team (0800 587 4787) and explain that I was building a single house for myself and that I was just about to move in so I was looking for a new connection. ‘No problem’, came the reply. I may have ever-so-slightly exaggerated ‘just about to move in’. All details were taken down and a surveyor was booked in to assess what was required. It was at this point that I started to think that maybe I’d be back to square one in terms of costs, but I didn’t really have a choice so just went with it.

On the day of the survey two vans turned up to install a new line. They weren’t happy as they only get paid for completed jobs, but nonetheless they were very helpful and arranged for a surveyor to come down in a few weeks. In fact he came the following day. I wasn’t there at the time but he called me when he’d finished – the bones of the conversation were that: the line can’t go direct from the pole to our house above ground due to the electric cable that runs in front of the plot; putting in a line underground should be pretty straightforward; it will be free! I’ll repeat that last bit – ‘it will be free’! The line should be being fitted in the next month or so.

Having ‘saved’ £7,500 we went to the Homebuilding & Renovating Show at the NEC this weekend and ‘spent’ the money (and a bit more) on some stunning satin walnut internal door-sets from Deuren. Only 14 week lead-time(!) so it looks like we’ll be in before the internal doors are fitted…

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Deuren Trem H Satin Walnut Door Set