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.


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



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.


Patio - 1



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.


It’s the big day tomorrow!

Well, nothing of any note has happened recently as we’ve been waiting for the timber frame guys to turn up and lay the insulated slab. And that day is tomorrow!!! Am I excited?  I thought I would be but oddly it just feels like a chore at the moment – I think I’m just tired. I’ve been trying to get everything lined up for them (with mixed success) and we’ve had a couple of significantly more important family-health issues to contend with too.

Ok, so what’s in place and what’s missing?

Electricity. This was all connected up to the plot last week. It was supposed to have been completed on Thursday with the meter to be fitted the following day and a site connection installed on Saturday by my electrician. Well, it turns out that the connection was made on Thursday but the meter hasn’t been fitted so we are currently without any site power. This isn’t the end of the world but it’s another thing for me to have to chase and re-organise. A job for tomorrow morning


Meter enclosure

You might be wondering why there is a meter box in a (part completed) meter enclosure.

I didn’t want the meter installed on the house or within the walls of the house so an enclosure is the best option (for us). As I didn’t have time to make the enclosure weather tight it was just a way of being able to get connected as quickly as possible. We’ll be fitting our own stuff on a board to the right of the meter box and that will all feed into the house and garage. In the coming weeks I’ll finish it off with a slate roof, doors and Western Red Cedar cladding. Then I’ll hide it behind some bushes 🙂

Water. Apparently they’ll ‘discuss my requirements’ with me in the next few days. So, no water on site either. This really is only an issue when we come to lay the concrete as we need to keep it damp for a bit once it’s been laid. Hopefully one of our very nice neighbours will help us out for a couple of hours, or else we will have to hire in a bowser. I do have a stand pipe though. I may have mentioned this before…


Insulated temporary water stand pipe

I did say I had had mixed success in getting stuff lined up. Well, a bit like when a new movie gets ‘mixed reviews’ and what they really mean is that it’s rubbish, I’ve got nothing completely finished. Well, maybe not quite nothing – I did get some spare keys cut.

Let’s hope the next 4 weeks show a little more progress. Onwards!

Water, water everywhere…

…but not on my plot.

United Utilites, is it really your mission to make life as hard as it can possibly be?

I mentioned in an earlier posting that getting the water connection was, erm, painful but I now have a stand-pipe lovingly installed by my tame plumber and am in possession of the WIAPS certificate which says he did the thing they asked him to do in accordance with blah, blah, blah… The WIAPS was duly sent off to UU with the Request For Works (RFW1) form last night to try and get them on site to actually connect up the stand pipe to the mains supply.

Now, most people would have looked at the section on the form that said ‘please give a brief description of the work completed and the location’, filled it in as best they can and thought no more of it. But apparently, including the information “new 25mm MDPE pipe…” doesn’t tell them what size pipe it is or what it’s made of! There really is little hope for some people, is there? And it seems they want to know the depth it was installed, and the plot number and all sorts of things (and I would have supplied them). So why not just ask rather than rejecting the application. Imbeciles.

Oh, and the information needs to be ‘on the form, not in an email’ so now I have a form with writing scribbled all around it, adding nothing at all except possibly confusion, in the vain hope that someone will now actually come and connect two pipes together and let me have something (for a fee) that falls from the sky (for nothing).

Hopefully, tomorrow will bring better news 🙂


Groundworks end

Well, for now 🙂

So after 4 days we’ve stripped the site where needed, prepared an area of hardstanding at the front, dug down for the slab and back-filled with MOT Type 1. Oh, and we’ve had a storage/office container and site toilet delivered. Nice.

The plot has a slope from front to back and we always knew that there would be a bit of ‘landscaping’ to get the levels right. The topological survey we had done is good but there’s no substitute for actually looking at what you have in front of you with your own eyes (now recently tested and aided by a lovely pair of Lindberg glasses from my local optician – too nice for the site methinks though). Yet again, I digress…

So why do I mention this? Well it’s obvious that the top of the slab, let’s call it the FFL (Finished Floor Level) even though technically it isn’t, will not be the required 150mm above the surrounding ground. Actually, I suppose if you consider that the house sits about 1m inside the dug slab area then it is, but we still need to Do Something. What that means is that we’re going to have to re-level part of the sides and the front of the plot. I’m not sure at the moment how I want it to look as it could be a fully graded slope but I want a flat driveway area so it could be that we build a small retaining wall about 400mm high. In some respects I wish we had done more levelling before the dig but in reality I think it’s really only obvious now what may be needed. I think no-matter what we’d done there would have been some re-jigging so I’m not too fussed really. I’ll have a word with the architect and see what he thinks.

Oh, and for the VERY sensitive souls out there ‘architect’ is my description of his role, not his. Bless.


Groundworks finished. For now


In addition to the heavy work, I’ve had a stand-pipe for a temporary water supply fitted by the plumber. This is all a real palaver and may mean that we don’t have site water initially, although I have a back-up plan.

Basically, I needed the trench dug but couldn’t get this done until the ground workers were on site. Then I needed the pipe fitting. Then it needs to be approved – in writing. Then I need to make an application for connection. Then it takes about 21 days to get connected.

The ground workers were waiting for the spec of the dig and in-fill from the structural engineer before they’d turn up (obviously)  and this only came 3 and a half weeks before the timber frame guys are due to start. Not the fault of the timber frame guys but really piss-poor planning from the SE. So, timber frame guys, if you have no water on site you know who to ‘pay a visit’! At least the ground workers were brilliant at getting on site as quick as possible 🙂


Looks like someone’s found a new home in the pile of sand we’ve dug out. That didn’t take long!


Major cock-up avoided. Just

So, the make-up of the foundation, working from the top of the slab down is:

  • 150mm slab
  • 300mm EPS
  • 50mm sand blinding
  • minimum 150mm MOT Type 1 hardcore

Build up of foundation layers

Pretty basic maths then tells us that the top of the hardcore is 500mm below the top of the slab. So why did I ask for it to be 350mm below? No idea. Idiot. Fortunately, I’ve spotted it before we’ve laid the hardcore but I’m REALLY annoyed with myself – this would have been a massive issue and I’m not convinced anyone else would have spotted it. At least not until we realised that that slab was 150mm higher than it should be!

Aside from that, progress on day 2 of the groundworks has been superb – the guys have really done well…


Groundworks begin

Oh, you beaut…

Get in!

Yep, the day I’ve waited years for (if you include all the time thinking about wanting to build). I’d played it over in my mind many times – I would be there from dusk ’til dawn, beer in hand, casting an eye over proceedings and witnessing the start of ‘our self-build’. The reality was somewhat different as I started a new job the very same day so I only had chance to pop down just before 8am to see if anyone had turned up. They hadn’t, so I went to work.

No, actually he’d been there half an hour and was making good progress! Wow – is this normal? If it is, I like normal. He didn’t want to chat though (good thing), so I went to work.

Actually, the digger arrived on the Sunday morning (yay!).

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Shouldn’t take long with this baby!

I had a walkthrough with the groundworks guy about what needs to be done. Basically, the list boils down to:

  • Strip and level site
  • Clear the back of the plot of dead bushes, rubbish etc.
  • Dig a couple of trenches through the hedge for the water and electric (please don’t kill the hedge)
  • Prepare a slab onto which the structure that will house the electric meter will go
  • Stone up the front of the plot for hardstanding
  • Dig out the marked area (blue pegs). Top-soil to be retained on site, sand to be disposed of
  • MoT Type 1 (crushed stone to a given specification, basically) to a level 350mm below the final slab level (79.000m above sea-level – see the yellow peg). Crushed stone to a depth of at least 150mm (although I’ve erred on the side of caution and asked for 250mm). In the grand scheme of things it’s not a massive additional cost and I was expecting to have to go to about 1.2m down so this is a saving! (some sort of bizarre man-maths at work. The same type of logic will be applied when ‘filling’ the garage!)

Hopefully, it’ll only take a couple of days or so before we’re ready to do the infill so the first call to Building Control was made to book an inspection for 2 days time.

Please be careful…

Only two things are of concern to me at the moment. Firstly, we have some ground-source heat-pump pipes under the plot that belong to our neighbour from whom we bought the land. We shouldn’t be digging anywhere near them but we do just need to be mindful of them, just in case. Secondly, the main sewer runs across the back of the plot.This is good news in terms of connecting to it but also is another hazard we need to be aware of.

What we did notice while doing a walk around the plot though was that there appeared to be a ‘damp patch’ of about 40cm across which sort of lines up with where the sewer pipe is. Hmmm… It doesn’t smell though and in fact I’m pretty sure the sewer is VERY deep at that point. We’ll have to investigate it, but the only thing that may be the cause of it if it is a fractured pipe is that we removed a walnut tree from there and ground the stump out. It won’t stop us doing any work on site, but is an added piece of unexpected work. And money. No doubt we’ll keep coming back to that.

Only 4 things are of concern to me at the moment. Apart from the GSHP pipes and the sewer we have a very pretty Japanese Acer that is in perfect digger territory and next year’s Christmas tree – both of which I want to keep.

Only 6 things are of…

Being neighbourly

It’s amazing the affect a digger has on people. No sooner had it arrived on site than I had a couple of the neighbours around (Mike the Sheep and Heatpump Tony). Which was nice. A little later on I popped around to see the ‘other neighbour’ (Dairy Paul) and had a pleasant chat. Fortunately, it appears that everyone nearby is as interested and excited by all this as we are. That may be smoke and mirrors but I’ll take it for now…

End of first day site visit

I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest. I knew that some of the hardcore at the front had been laid but I was pretty shocked at the progress. In a good way 🙂

The site has been stripped as much as we’re going to do for now and all the rubbish at the rear of the plot has been removed. We’ve moved some of the top-soil from the slab area to the cleared up area in the hope that we’ll be able to grow grass under the trees – we can only try! Also, the front has been stoned up so it’s now ready for the office/storage container to be delivered tomorrow and will take the crane when it arrives in about a month.


By dint of good fortune, I had a call from Openreach in the morning. No, I mean that – so far they’ve been great to deal with. The application process is beyond stupid but the people have been very helpful.

Anyway, I digress – a bit of background. The telegraph pole is opposite the plot on the other side of the road but the new line can’t go direct to the house as there are overhead electric cables in the way. I knew from an earlier Openreach visit that there are two options on the table: dig the road and go underground; or put a new pole up on our side of the road and go underground from there. I’m quite sure this will end up costing me money, but I REALLY didn’t want an overhead cable so until I get the invoice I’m quite happy.

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Couple of trenches dug

Coming back to today’s visit and the nice man from Openreach has already marked across the road from the existing pole to the front of the plot. And the trench has been dug too – it’s the one on the left. I’m hoping to share this trench with the water, but I need to check the regs first. The trench on the right is for the electric. From memory, the water pipe needs to be 350mm away from the other services, although I’m not sure if telecoms is classed in quite the same way as electric or gas. I’ll make a call tomorrow and check. If it comes to it though, I think we can make the existing trench a little wider without compromising the hedge any more.

Obviously, when I say ‘we’…

Well, that’s it. Day 1 done and dusted. I have a feeling that day 2 might be a short one though as we can’t do the infill until we’ve had the inspection on Wednesday.

Setting out

We’d already had a topographical survey done prior to designing the house and submitting plans to the local planning department so it made sense to get the same guys in to do the setting out.

In a standard masonry-type build, setting out would involve marking out the centre line of  the strip foundations and setting the levels, but this build is different. The entire timber frame structure sits on a concrete-filled insulated raft that contains the under-floor heating pipes which in turn sits on a bed of crushed stone (MoT Type 1). The stone bed covers the entire footprint of the house plus 1m all around so it made sense to just mark out the area of dig initially and then get the surveyor in at a later date to mark out exactly where the slab will sit on top of the stone. It’s a little more expensive due to multiple visits but it eliminates the risk of the slab markers being accidentally moved while digging out. In fact, the surveyor will make yet another visit to set out the detached garage, but as that isn’t happening for a few months there’s little point in doing it now.


Theodolite in position!

The grass is too long to see anything meaningful on a photo, but essentially a blue peg was placed at each corner of the area to be excavated and 2 yellow pegs set so that the top of them would be at the same level as the finished slab.

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Setting out the dig area

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Level set at 79.000m