utilities

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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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

The world is full of surprises

Gimme a ‘W’. Gimme a ‘A’…

Yesterday I commented that the water connection was due to be done today but that I doubted it would happen. Well, it would seem that the 0.00001% chance came off. We’ve only got water on site!!!! What’s even more surprising is that, yes we do have traffic management in place, but no it doesn’t appear to have cost me anything (unlike with SP Energy for the electricity). I just hope I haven’t spoken too soon.

Also, a quick chat today between the window supplier (Spectrum) and the BC structural engineer managed to resolve the outstanding query so we’re all good to go!

This has been a Good Day

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 🙂

 

Those (nice?) Openreach people

So, as I mentioned in a previous entry Openreach have been great to deal with so far and have been as prompt as you could hope for with getting me set up. A quick recap…

We have a telegraph pole almost directly opposite the plot – probably about 8-10m from the plot boundary

  • They can’t go direct from the pole to the house due to an electric cable that runs across the front boundary – there needs to be a minimum clearance which this option doesn’t provide
  • They thought they may be able to put a pole on our side of the road, go from the existing pole to the new one and then from there go underground to the house. It turns out that for one reason or another this would have to be a) really tall and b) 4m inside our garden! Even Openreach have knocked this idea on the head. So this leaves the final option
  • Go underground from the pole to the house. This is my preferred option as I hate seeing cables strung around the place

And yesterday we got the quote. Oh, how I laughed. Ready?..

Labour £6,417.31 +VAT
Materials £70.67 + VAT
Total £6,487.98 + VAT

On top of that is ‘traffic management’  at about £1,000. This is to go underground, at most 10m, to the plot boundary. I’d love to see how they come up with the figure.

In the words of Peter Kay, at least Dick Turpin had the common decency to wear a mask.

So the big question is, am I ‘£7,500 interested’ in having internet (not interested in a landline phone)? What other options are there? Apart from other suppliers working off the back of BT/Openreach there is only the Virgin Media route and they don’t cover our address anyway. There’s satellite and wireless broadband options but I don’t know much about them – what I have read isn’t particularly glowing.

Hmmm.. what to do? Answers on a postcard (or at least the comments link below)