self-build

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.

A (Quick?) Update

There’s quite a bit to report on and as there have been so many different things going on it’s difficult to know where to start, so there might be a bit of jumping around and I apologise for that.

MVHR Jobs

The main job that’s been taking up our own time over the past few weekends is to progress the installation of the ducting for the ventilation system. All the pipes are in place with the exception of one which is a few metres short as we ran out, but it’s not really a problem as we have plenty of slack on other runs. Until we fix everything in place though  it will stay ‘pending’.

We’ve also now fitted the plenums for the ventilation system. These  are simply a plastic tube with a couple of small openings and one large one – the red ducting fits inside the small openings and the larger opening leads into the room and is fitted with a valve that allows us to adjust how much air is allowed to flow through the plenum (either as an inlet or outlet). At the moment the plenums have been fitted so that the large opening sticks out quite a bit through the wall or ceiling but this will be trimmed flush when the plasterboard has been fitted. The valves just push in and will be done after decorating. All the plenums are the same so where there is only a single red duct to it then the redundant opening is sealed with a bung.

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Plenum with 2 duct and plenum with single duct

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Plenums serving the two main bedrooms

Theoretically I could get the ducts fixed into place now but I’m going to leave it for a couple of weeks or so, at least until the acoustic insulation has been fitted.

Acoustic Insulation

As part of building regulations, the house has to be ‘insulated’ acoustically. Aside from it being something that we have to do, it’s something that we would do anyway to improve how the house feels and sounds – there would be nothing worse that it sounding like a wooden drum! I think the regulations call for something like 50mm thick insulation in the walls and 100mm in the ceilings but I was happy to pay the extra for 100mm all over for, hopefully, better sound insulation and a more solid feel. I’ll have no idea whether the additional outlay was actually worth it or not though!

We initially took delivery of 30 bales of 100mm thick Rockwool – each bale contains 5 or 6 slabs and covers just under 3m2. We know we’ll need a lot more than this but it does take up a lot of space so only got what we could use for now.

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Rockwool Bales

Rockwool is made from volcanic rock and unlike some of the fibreglass-based products isn’t that bad to work with. It cuts easily with a large knife and isn’t anywhere-near as itchy when it’s on your skin. You still need gloves (and ideally a mask too, especially when working overhead) but it’s fine really.

We knew it would take a while to do the whole house so we made a start while we could, focusing upstairs in areas away from where the electrician and plumber would likely need access. I think we got through about half the bales before my dad took over and finished the lot off! Thanks dad 🙂 Unfortunately for him I’ve just order another 40 bales and I think we will probably need another 40 more.

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Acoustic insulation on landing almost finished

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Acoustic insulation in bedroom 2

So far we’ve done most of the landing area and odd bits in the bathrooms and it’s noticeable how different the house now feels in those areas. It’s almost starting to feel like a house now rather than just a shell.

Cat’s Paw

As an aside, I needed to remove a few of the boards that were installed to help keep the stud walls solid – these are just 11mm OSB fastened to the studs with nails from a gun. The first one I removed by punching the nails in (with a punch) and it took aaaaages. Just after I finished, Darren from MBC suggested I get a Cat’s Paw tool to do the rest. I thought he was joking but a quick Google threw up what I was looking for.

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Japanese Cat’s Paw Tool

Essentially it’s a small hand-tool about 200mm long of Japanese origin and is really good at removing nails without destroying the timber. Obviously it does leave marks but nowhere near as much as you might think and it’s really quick. If I had a top 10 list of hand-tools this would be my number 1! (I might well have a top 10 list, but if I did it would be a secret, although a pair of oil-filter pliers might also find their way onto the list too. At number 7)

First Fix Electrics

First fix has officially started in earnest.

Work on the electrics started upstairs with all the cabling for lights, sockets and switches being routed and back-boxes fitted where needed. By and large we’ve opted for double sockets everywhere (most room corners) and supported by additional 5A sockets. The 5A sockets are a useful addition as they allow you to have floor and table lamps switched from the wall just like a normal light. This is great for us as most of our lighting, in the bedrooms at least, is quite subtle and in contrast to the approach taken by many. I’m not sure why people see the need to flood-light bedrooms, bathrooms and the like.

Lighting

On the subject of lighting, I’ve been working with Guy at EcoLED to come up with a lighting design for the interior, with a focus on the ground floor. EcoLED produce some stunning luminaires and we’ve gone for what I believe to be a one-of-a-kind design – we’re using their Zep6 Eyeconic  Trimless range which are very small and have a directional ‘eye-ball’. Each item is anodised with an mid-bronze colour and then hand finished to give an antique look which should look stunning next to the rest of the modern interior. I’ll do more of a feature on the lighting when it’s time to fit it.

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Memories of an aeroplane safety briefing

First Fix Plumbing

This has also started but is lagging the electrics by a couple of weeks but despite this I’m hoping that it will be finished in 2-3 weeks. Part of first fix is to fit the Geberit frames for the wall-hung WCs. These, plus the Hansgrohe iBoxes that are used to control the showers were bought direct from Germany through www.reuter.de Their prices and service is superb and we’ll be getting the majority of the bathroom kit from there as needed.

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I’ve also had a little bit of stud-walling and boxing-in fabricated. We don’t yet have a joiner (yes, I know it’s a timber-framed house!) so I took a bit of a leap of faith to find someone off MyBuilder. It’s not a difficult, nor critical job, but to be fair he did what I wanted at a price I was happy to pay so all good. I did offer him the chance to fit the timber cladding but his quote of 20 man days for 50m2 was a little on the high side as I reckon on it taking about 5 man days. He had the chance of lots of work on-site, which he openly admitted he wanted, but he blew it by being greedy. There are some idiots around.

Media Distribution

As part of the first-fix wiring, I’m going to be routing  network cables to the locations where we will have, or may have, a TV point. At each point there will be 3 Cat6 cables and 2 co-ax and they will all be routed to a central location from where the different sources will be located. What this will mean is that each satellite receiver, DVD player etc. will be able to serve all locations and won’t need to be sat under the TV. This will be achieved through the use of an HDMI matrix and in our case we will use a 4×4 matrix, which means 4 sources can be distributed to 4 locations.

So what are all the cables for, I hear you ask? One Cat6 will be used to carry the signal to the TV. The way it works s that the source (DVD for example) is linked to the matrix by an HDMI cable. A Cat6 cable then carries the signal to a ‘balun’ behind the TV and the balun is connected to the TV by another HDMI cable. In this way an HDMI signal can be carried over Cat6. The second Cat6 is a standard network cable for the smart TV and the third is a spare. The co-ax cable allows us to send a standard satellite or terrestrial signal direct to the TV if we wanted to – we’re unlikely to do this but it’s easy and cheap to do it now so it would be foolish not to.

Some might call all this ‘future-proofing’. Others might suggest that more cables or the use of Cat6a or even Cat7 would tick that box. The reality is that they’d all be wrong. Future proofing would allow us to change the technology easily, say to fibre or magic fairy dust, but all we are doing is allowing for better capacity.  Which is fine for me, as I’d rather be out driving or playing the guitar. Just thought I’d make the observation 🙂

Aluminium Pressings

Finally, these will be fitted next  week! Getting this done will allow us to get the rendering and timber cladding finished and then we can get the scaffold down and off hire.

These pressings will be fitted to the parapets and as copings and also as decorative trims above the large first floor windows. They will coated with the same finish as the windows and should look superb when done. I’ll create a new blog entry for these in a week or so.

We are still waiting for the ridge end caps and a rainwater hopper but these should be with us next week.

Letter Box

We’ve started to get mail! This is a Bad Thing as it’s usually bills or junk but it prompted me to buy a new letter box which I mounted on the gatepost…

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Passiv? Pah!

The air-tightness test was done this afternoon and the results are in. A stunning 0.21 ACH (air changes per hour)! And this despite knowing that the two sliding doors and the front door had minor air leaks. So we have a level that is in the order of 40 times better than building regulations require and better than half what the Passiv Institute set as their benchmark.

I’ll get the known issues resolved over the coming weeks and have another test done just before moving in, purely to ensure that we haven’t introduced any issues. I’ll be hoping for sub 0.2 ACH at that point.

A MASSIVE thanks to Darren and Ian from MBC for all their hard work in achieving this fantastic result!

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Door blower!

Air-Tightness

This week has seen the air-tightness work progress. At this point it’s probably worth just going over what we are doing and why.

Air-tightness objective

Two of the key features of the build are it’s high levels of insulation and its air-tightness. To put the level of air-tightness into perspective let’s compare it to standard UK Building Regulations.

Part L1A of the ‘regs’ state that any new dwellings are tested for air tightness by using a method known as a ‘blower door test’ in accordance with BS EN 13829. The measurement is taken by blowing air into the house via a particular door that is mounted in the main entrance. Part L1A requires an air tightness of maximum 10 m3/hr/m2 air loss at a pressure of 50 Pa. Standard good practice for air tightness testing in the UK is a maximum of 7 m3/hr/m2.

We are building to Passiv standards and the measure they use is in air changes per hour (ACH). A house built to Passiv standards requires no more than 0.65ACH and that’s what we are aiming for.

There isn’t really a direct way to convert from m3/hr/m2 to ACH as it depends on volume and floor area, but a reasonable finger-in-the-air would be to say that Part L1A is looking for around 7-10ACH. That’s like leaving a door wide open!

Air-tightness work

The work itself involves the use of specialist tapes and membranes to create an air-tight barrier. Theoretically, it doesn’t matter where this barrier is but usually this is on the inside face of the structure.

The internal face of the external walls is fabricated using an air-tight board (the green board in the photos). Any gaps between them and at all the interfaces with floor, windows etc. are sealed with various types of tape. At roof level, air-tight membrane was fitted to the underside of the joists and again all taped up to provide a robust seal.

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Window frame taped-up

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Air-tight membrane under joists

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Roof-light sealed

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Bedroom ceiling membrane joins and board taped-up

The work itself has taken the best part of a week although the other job that has taken pace is to fit battens at the air-tight faces which will help create service cavities for pipes and cables once the plasterboard has been fitted.

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Battening in utility room

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Battening of roof and walls in master bedroom

Also, we have a small flat-roofed section in the kitchen and the whole area within and above the joists here will be made air-tight and insulated. This causes a bit of a problem as we also want to have some downlights here. The solution is to fit (and seal) a number of air-tight lighting boxes into which the downlights will be located.

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Air-tight lighting boxes

Insulation

The house is to be insulated with 300mm of a newspaper-based material in the walls and 400mm in the roof area. Toasty! This is blown in over the course of about 3 days by drilling holes in the wall and then subsequently taping them up once the insulation has filled the cavities.

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Warmcell insulation waiting to be blown in…

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Makeshift canopy in case it started to rain

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Blowing in the insulation

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A completed wall

The blowing in of the insulation started today and will take another couple of days or so, however, tomorrow morning we are planning on doing the air-tightness test. The insulation itself doesn’t affect the level of air-tightness but the (poor) repairing of any holes made for blowing it in can. However, in Darren from MBC we have one of the best in the business so doing it now has very little risk. His estimate is that we will achieve around 0.4 ACH (remember, Passiv is 0.65 ACH) but we shall have to wait until lunchtime tomorrow to see what we actually do have.

I’ll post a separate blog entry with the results…

Roofing has Finished (and other short stories)

Roof

Well, the main roof was finished about 3 weeks ago actually, but you don’t know that. Not a lot to say, other than I’m glad it’s done and I think it looks great.

The guys also fitted the Velux roof-light for us. At 160x114cm and being triple glazed and electrically operated it was a fair-old lump to get on the roof and required the erection of another scaffold tower in the stair-well. The only job left for me to do was to fit the external roller-shutter blind, but that was put off while I mustered up the courage!

Although the main roof was finished we still had the flat roof section to address but due to bad weather and other clients, this didn’t get finished until just a few days ago. Not a big deal in some respects but it has been raining in and at times the house has been flooded. As long as it didn’t impact the impending air-tightness work I was reasonably ok with it, but it was getting tight.

The flat-roof is now protected with a product called Kemperol – a liquid waterproofing system produced by Kemper System. Flat roofing products have really moved on in the last few years and I was really looking forward to getting this last bit of the roof complete as there’s been quite a bit of water coming in in the past few weeks. In the end we ‘invested’ in a dehumidifier to help dry the place out prior to MBC coming back to do the air-tightness tasks and blow in the insulation. In the nick of time, the place was ready 🙂

Other progress…

Since the last main update at the end of last year there has been some progress but perhaps not as much as I was hoping for. Partly, the Christmas break was to blame for that but getting trades and suppliers lined up can be beyond painful at times. These appear to be those times.

So, what’s happened recently?

Windows

Aside from the front door and its frame these were all fitted in one go and they look great. We left the front door off for a couple of reasons: the guys were finishing off for Christmas and I felt it might have been a bit of a rush-install as they were running out of time; I also didn’t want to risk the door getting damaged – it’s an aluminium door with the same powder coating as the windows so if it gets scratched we’re in trouble!

Obviously, without the door in place the house isn’t secure and with first-fix looming we decided to get it in. Also, there are a couple of other jobs that needed attending to:

  • Firstly, there are a few windows where the air-tight foam hadn’t been completed, so this needed to be done before we could make the whole house air tight
  • Secondly, the sliding doors needed to be re-fitted.  They were originally fitted so that they were at the right level based on the thickness of wood flooring that we’ll be fitting (more on this shortly). All good, aside from the fact that the concrete floor isn’t quite level (due to the severe rain we had when we laid the slab) and the door levels were set with the wood floor placed at the lowest point on the slab, not the highest. We’ll be pouring a thin levelling-screed soon so it’s paramount that the doors are set based on the wood being at the right (high) level. So, out they came…

Everything is sorted now though, so I suppose that’s another bill that’ll need paying!

Blockwork

I mentioned early on that we would be having some stone cladding detail around the house. We can’t adhere this directly to the timber frame and in some places that wouldn’t be appropriate anyway so the approach was to put up some blockwork and then fix the cladding onto it.

The two brickies started the work between Christmas and New Year and it was finished just a few days later. One of the quicker elements of the build! It’s just a few blocks but they do now give the house a very different look.

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Soffits, fascias, gutters etc

This is the job that’s now holding-up everything else. And will very shortly be leading to a £180/week scaffold bill. We had the survey to measure up 2 or 3 weeks ago (I thought it was mid December but apparently that was just to measure-up. No, I don’t understand that either). Once that has been done we can get the other aluminium pressings measured up and fitted. Then the rendering can be done. Actually, this job started today but I’ll do another blog entry on the subject in the next day or so.

Timber cladding

Well, it’s ordered! We’re going for Western Red Cedar from Silva Timber coated with Sansin clear UV protection. This (hopefully) will help the timber keep its natural colour for longer but we shall see. I’ll report back in 10 years 🙂  I now just have to find someone to fit it

Render

Another ‘work in progress’. I still haven’t settled on a render system but some of the quotes I’m getting are quite comical. More news later this week I think…

Roofing has started

Well, it would appear I’ve been a little remiss with keeping this blog up to date. I had actually prepared this entry around Christmas time but for some reason it never got published. So, although time and tasks have moved on I’m going to post this ‘as it was’ purely as a reminder to myself of what went on.

The Slates

Just before Christmas the slates arrived on site. Much like everyone else we would have used Welsh slate if we could, but the price premium was just too much to bear so we’ve gone with a Spanish slate called Cupa R12. You often hear lots of horror stories about anything that isn’t Welsh slate but the reality is that most slate in use isn’t Welsh and there aren’t that many reported issues. To be fair, I think most of the problems are down to cheaper Chinese and Brazilian varieties. These were cheaper than Welsh, but not ‘cheap’.

We did have a few problems along the way though. The roofer commented that he was trying to order the slates but there was some sort of shortage reported by the supplier. Apparently this was down to Brexit- much like the weather and VW’s emissions scandal, I’m assuming. So, not one to take anything like this at face value I made a few calls, including to the importers of the Cupa slate up in Scotland. Now as you might imagine it turns out that the ‘shortage’ wasn’t quite so dramatic as might have been reported, so all good. Or maybe not. We had originally been quoted for 600mm x 300mm slates but it would appear that these were not the right size for the roof slope and house location. I was directed at the table below.

Essentially, what it shows is the recommended minimum head-lap (how much the slates overlap) and slate size for a given roof slope in areas of the UK that are considered to be ‘moderate exposure’. Our roof is 20 degree pitch, so the appropriate slate size would be either 600x350mm or 500x300mm, neither of which are particularly common. However, we are in an area that is considered ‘severe exposure’ and it’s not recommended to go below 22.5 degrees pitch. Nice. I mentioned it to both the roofer and architect but they were non-the-wiser, which is disappointing.

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Slate Size & Headlamp for Moderate Exposure Areas

Anyway, I had to make a decision on what to do. The roof pitch wasn’t going to be changing and the house is staying where it is. We could have gone for a different roof covering (I did consider it), but the reality is we wanted and we were having slate. Bearing in mind that with any of the recommendations there is an in-built safety factor we elected to go with the installation based on the moderate exposure figures. It’s not as though we’re in the north-west of Scotland either (I hope I don’t live to regret those words!).

Slates duly ordered, they arrived after a couple of weeks but were promptly sent back as they didn’t have the pre-drilled holes. The right ones were on site a few days later and were loaded on to the roof, ready for nailing down. Then everyone stopped work for Christmas.

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Roof loaded up

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Roof set out and ready to go!

The first few slates were nailed down and looked good against the Kytun dry verge.

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First slates fitted to dry verge

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Dry verge

Then it was obvious that the dry verge had its limitations. We’ve ended up filling the joints with a grey lead sealant. Close-up it doesn’t look too clever but from the ground it’s not really noticeable. I’ll probably see what I can do to improve it, but for now it’s ok.

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An imperfect solution

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Ventilation

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Looking good!

So, there we have it. At the end of 2016  the roof of our new home is going on!

Windows (mostly) in

Another photo-heavy blog entry today!

After the installation of the smaller windows, next on the schedule was to fit the larger windows – the four bedrooms, the front gable, the stairwell and the two sliding doors. This  required some of the scaffolding to be tweaked slightly to allow us to get the units in, but less than I thought we’d have to.

The rear bedroom windows are slightly larger than the front ones and come as two parts – a standard rectangular lower element with a trapezoidal element that sits on top. The front gable window is made up in a similar way.

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Rear bedroom window – top section

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Rear bedroom window – lower section

Installation of the larger elements needed a new bit of kit. Enter the dragon! Well, the spider crane at least. Every good home needs one of these 🙂

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Spider crane in action!

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Rear windows in

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View from the master bedroom

The large window above the front door overlooks the vaulted hallway (7m from floor to ceiling) so it really needed some scaffold putting up to make installation easier. Aside from the cost, it would have put the hallway out of action for a while so the alternative approach was to cover the landing void with scaffold planks (photo below).

Now this window is in the whole space feels much more airy.

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Front gable window

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Stairwell window

The sliding doors needed another toy – not as impressive as the spider crane but at least as useful. There are two sliding doors, the larger is 5.3m wide and the smaller just 3m wide.

Fortunately, we’ve recently chosen the flooring so had a sample we could use to help us set the vertical position of the sliding doors frames correctly.

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Large sliding door going in

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Brew in hand. Must be the boss!

Finishing for Christmas, there are still a few minor things to be done – mainly some internal trim needs fitting and the cills have to go on but we’ve also decided to leave the front door and frame off for now in case it gets damaged. It’s going to have to go on soon though!

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Rear of the house

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Front of the house

Next steps

So, planning the next few jobs now. Outside we’re getting close to needing the rendering doing but before that can be done we need to get the front door in, get the cills fitted and also get the aluminium coping and trims measured and fitted. The first two are easy enough but the coping etc will probably not be done until the end of January. Having said that we still haven’t yet chosen which render system we will use or who will do the work! Hopefully there will be some progress on this in the next week or so.

Windows

At last

It’s mid-December and we’ve firmly entered BST (British Slow Time) on the build now. After the lightning progress with the Irish guys, everything is starting to slow right down now.

The windows arrived a couple of days earlier than expected, which was a nice surprise. Well, I say a couple of days earlier, what I actually mean is a couple of days less late than I was led to believe we’d have them but at least they’re here now.

So far we’ve had about 3 or 4 days of installation and most of the smaller windows are now in, either completely or in part – I have to say they do look good! We’ve gone for some triple-glazed aluminium/timber windows and doors from Internorm, an Austrian company that makes very high quality and performing windows and doors. As well as the windows, they’re also supplying the front and side doors and the 2 sliding doors and all are produced in their ‘Studio’ line which has a very sharp and modern look, hopefully in-keeping with the rest of the build.

The internal finish is a factory-finish white paint but externally we’ve gone for a dark metallic grey (DM03 if you’re interested) which looks fantastic. This was quite a bit more expensive than the standard anthracite grey (RAL 7016) but doesn’t have the green tinge that 7016 has (nor the Nazi-connection – look it up). It has a subtle texture to it too rather than being smooth which also really adds to its appearance.

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Family room side window

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Dressing room

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Kitchen

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Side door

Design approach

A common design-theme running through the windows is to split them into thirds horizontally. I always thought they looked great right from the architect’s initial design sketches of them and in the flesh they don’t disappoint. The problem with a lot of windows is that they’re pretty boring, large single panes and as a result don’t make the best of the house – lazy ‘design’ basically. These look part of the house, as if they were designed for it. Which they were 🙂

Aside from the aesthetic which was wholly the architect’s input, myself and the Sprectrum’s( the supplier) Technical Manager, James, spent quite a while getting the proportions and details just how I wanted them. Credit to James, he really was very patient throughout but I’m sure he was pleased to get them finally signed-off in the end! Anyway, thanks James, so far they look exactly how I envisaged.

One of the details we addressed was the appropriate choice of glazing bars over transoms. Transoms are effectively part of the frame whereas glazing bars are simply decorative. Often, glazing bars are just stuck on to the inner and outer panes and there is an obvious gap between them but these are much better insofar as between the panes there are sectional profiles set in so that they look just like the transoms they are trying to replicate.

So why not just use transoms then? A few reasons really and they all boil down to ensuring the look is right. Externally, transoms must have drainage holes which never look great so minimising them where possible was important.

In the photo below you can see the glazing bar running across the top third but which still needs the final piece fixed to the inner pane. In the bottom photo both horizontal bars are transoms.

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Family room showing glazing bars

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Living area with 3 transoms

So we have had a good start to the window installation but all the large ones are yet to go in. The crane is due later this week and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to keep the team on site this side of Christmas until it’s done. I’m sure Spectrum won’t let me down 🙂

A few little details

As previously mentioned, the roof is due to be slated any day now so I thought it would be worth just commenting on what we’re planning with some of the details in this area.

A handful of definitions before we start…
Gable – the triangular wall between the roof pitches. For us, this is basically the front and rear walls of the house
Ridge – the horizontal top part of the roof where the two roof pitches meet
Verge – the very ends of the roof above the gable
Fascia – the vertical board on the side of the house on to which the gutter is fixed
Barge – the fascia on the gable end
Soffit – the ‘ceiling’ under the roof between the wall and the roof line (fascia or barge)

Ridge and verge

One of the things that needs to be done when finishing the roof is to ensure that wind and rain can’t get under the slates at the verges. The ‘traditional’ way to finish these verges is to apply mortar to the edges of the slates but this: looks terrible; always fails. The ‘modern’ approach is to use a dry-verge system which employs some form of plastic or metal to cover the slate ends instead.

We’ve gone for the Kytun dry-verge system which seems much better looking than many other products and has come highly recommended from a number of other self-builders. This is an aluminium powder-coated J-channel which simply affixes the roof battens and wraps around the slates. Simple, cheap, reliable and fits in well aesthetically with the rest of the build.

The roof ridge is generally finished with a ridge tile that runs along the length of the ridge and is held in place by… mortar. Again, the ‘modern’ way is to use a dry ridge system (as you can see, there is a pattern emerging here) although as yet I haven’t yet found one I like – something I need to get on to asap.

Roof-line products

The other roof-related products that we need to sort are the gutters, downspouts, fascias, barge boards and soffits.

Maybe it’s because I’m the son of a decorator and I’ve spent far too much time up ladders cleaning and painting house exteriors, but the decision to find a product that didn’t need painting was pretty much at the top the list of ‘must-haves’. Settling on the material was relatively simple – PVC is cheap and effective but doesn’t really look that great; aluminium isn’t cheap but does have the scope to look very clean and sharp. So aluminium it is then 🙂     A more difficult task was finding a suitable supplier.

Primarily, it’s all just sheet material folded into the right shape and fastened in place, ideally with hidden fixings. Almost universally, the fascias and barges looked just as good from one manufacturer to another but the problem was the soffits. We wanted these to look much like tongue and groove boards but by and large most of the suppliers just took large sheets of aluminium creased them to give the appearance of individual boards. This is pretty simple (and cheap) to fit but I was a bit concerned that it would have looked bad and given the amount of time I’ve spent trying to get all the details of the house right it felt like it was a corner that shouldn’t be cut.

Only one supplier came up with (read that as ‘bothered to reply to emails/calls’) a solution I was happy with at a price I was happy to pay. Rather than folding sheet aluminium, they use extruded pieces that lock together which are very clean and consistent looking. Exactly what the house deserves!

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Hopefully what the soffits will look like

Preparation

The soffit boards will all run perpendicular to the house walls, rather than along their length and to create a tidy finish, a small J-section channel will be fixed at the wall into which the boards will run, but this creates a slight issue. The walls, largely, will be rendered – the render will be applied onto 15mm board which in turn is fastened to 50mm battens so from the wall to the rendered face is around 70mm. Given that we want to get the gutters up as soon as possible (so that means the fascias and soffits too) we then have 2 options: fit the J-channel to the wall and make it big enough so that when the walls are rendered it is still visible; or, fasten it to the battens. The first option is simple but isn’t ideal and although the second option is better we aren’t close to getting the battens fixed. The way we’ve got round this is to fit a 50mm batten horizontally and fix the J-channel to this. Obvious.

 

We want to be in by Christmas

I think that’s the common phrase used on Building the Amazing Grand Design Dream Space isn’t it? I think we may be pushing it somewhat though.

Yep, the guys from MBC vacated the site on Wednesday which triggered another stage payment on the build. I can’t deny I was quite happy to pay that bill though as it now means we are now entering a new phase of the build, albeit a much slower one.

Roofing…

One of the main things to have happened recently is the roof going on – it’s really starting to take shape now! As you can probably tell from the photo below, the overhang is quite large, about 700mm actually, but that should go some way to help keep the sun off the large windows. Some way – we will still need to look at what else to do although fitting a solar film on the south facing windows is pretty likely. We’ll address that later.

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Front gable

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Roof light above the stair-well

One of the ways we’ll be looking to keep the house cool on warm days is to allow the heat to escape through a roof vent – the stack-effect. This roof light will be a custom-made Velux triple-glazed unit and measures 1600mm x 1140mm. Glad I won’t be lifting that up there!

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Roofing felt and trusses

To achieve excellent levels of insulation and air-tightness, we obviously need more than a single layer of roofing felt. For now, it will be left as it is in the photo above but once the house is weather-tight, the guys from MBC will be back to do a number of jobs, one of which is to insulate the roof. There will be a layer of air-tight membrane that will run under the trusses (all sealed properly) and then battened out so that once the plasterboard in those rooms is fitted there will be a service void in the ceiling for electric cables etc. The space between the roofing felt and the air-tight membrane will be filled with cellulose insulation, blown in. Toasty!

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Roofing felt

Slates

The battens are positioned in accordance with the 115mm head-lap that we need for the slates. The slates themselves will be 500x300mm Spanish slates (Samaca Q49). We do prefer the Welsh slates (as does everyone) but at 3-times the price we’ll give that a miss, thanks.

Actually, there have been a few comments on both the slate size used and the head-lap (how much they overlap) as both are reasonably uncommon, but there is a reason! Isn’t there always?

There is a British Standard (BS5534) that ‘recommends’ both the slate size and head-lap based on the roof pitch and exposure to bad weather (wind and rain). Our roof is 20 degrees, which is considered to be the lowest pitch acceptable for ‘moderate’ exposures. Arguably, we’re just within the ‘severe’ exposure region so theoretically we should be up to 22.5 degree pitch, but given safety margins that are always inherent in stuff like this and the fact that the slates aren’t actually the last line of defence we’ve conveniently ignored the ‘advice’. At the end of the day, if it all goes Pete Tong it’s my problem and no-one else’s!

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Battens and counter-battens

Flat roof

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Flat roof section

The flat roof above part of the kitchen will be a rubber membrane.

Finishing off

The photo below is taken from the scaffold at the front of the house, looking down the landing. The barrier at the front is to protect from the drop to the hallway. Actually, from the hallway by the front door you can see all the way up to the roof.Which is nice.

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Finished

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Front

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Rear

There are a few details that I haven’t mentioned yet which I’ll write about in the next few days, but for now work is paused. MBC left the site tidy, swept up and fitted poly-tunnel polythene across the big openings to help prevent the interior getting soaked if it does rain before the windows go in.

Slating the roof is planned to start in the next week or two and windows are due to go in just over a week from now. Progress has been quick so far but is likely to slow down significantly from now, although every job ticked off is one closer to moving in date.