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.


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.


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.




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.


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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First Fix Almost Complete

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


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.


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.