8 Dec 2013

Week 3 - Soakaway, hub & more rocks

What a week.  Well, we are really getting into the swing of this housebuilding thing and the honeymoon period is well and truly over!  Why, oh why, does the most unpredictable and therefore most costly and stressful part come first?!?

But let's start at the beginning of the week which on-site was going really well. The soakaway was completed - a large deep hole filled with crates and stone which allows rainwater to soak back into the ground instead of running off.

The soakaway.

Look concrete - something is being built!

28 Nov 2013

Week 2 - Trenching the services and utilites

Andrew and Paul got in touch with their inner moles and dug, trenched and tunnelled away.  

They dug the trench on the upper level which contains the ducting for gas and water connections.

Then came the lower level trenching - this was a much bigger job altogether, not helped by the fact that the weather turned and the heavens opened. At one point the digger fell into a trench - poor little Takeuchi, but no mortal damage. A breaker had to be hired as in some places the rock seams reappeared and the little digger just wasn't going to manage it.  But straining and groaning she got there in the end.

The ground has been really varied, there is the crazy sand like stuff- presumably crumbled limestone, seams of rock - or the core of the earth as Andrew likes to call it, and then rich black soil in the area I hope will become an orchard one day!

Off-site, it was all about the design of 'the hub', and finalising the structural details of the retaining walls.  So far so good, and only a minor, very manageable drama!

24 Nov 2013

Week 1 cont'd

First things first, the site is set up with safety barriers, stairs and a giant chute of course.

Like the photos?  I've started using Aperture to make them cool!

Our first on-site delivery from WTBS, all the way from Bridgwater, Somerset.  What heroes! (Andrew's usual suppliers, they are more competitive than any local suppliers that we've found so far).  

And the trenching begins...

21 Nov 2013

Introducing our builder!

Our builders have started!  May I introduce 

Mr Andrew Dodden of Dodden Ltd...

and Paul.

(As well as Andrew's beloved little digger in the background.)

These fine fellows are the chaps who are going to build our house - Hooray!  

Andrew has been working closely with our team of designers and structural engineer since early summer.  Together they have collaborated to design a build which should be super efficient and super simple (we're hoping that that means quick and cheap to construct)!  The first day had an auspicious start with a clear and sunny welcome.

But there will be no building of the house yet, oh no!  First couple of weeks of work will involve getting all the services trenched and ducted, then it's all about retaining walls until Xmas probably. 

We've got water, gas and telecoms coming from the top of the site.   Then there is the very, very long trench to the bottom of the site which will house the drains and electricity.  We saw the seams of stone that lay beneath the ground when we made the cut, let's hope it doesn't make the trenching difficult...

31 Oct 2013


Hip Hip Hooray.  We've started!

The cut has begun. The plot looks like a beach now.  The ground is indeed brashy i.e. crumbly, and you can see why this area was a quarry historically.  There were some enormous pieces of stone. It feels so good to be starting.  There were a couple of little dramas of course, mildly panicked phonecalls, decisions to be made but it would be boring otherwise, eh?!  

26 Oct 2013

On your marks...

We are preparing to start on site! Wednesday was a really productive day where, using tape measures, stakes, mallets, spray paint and the geometry of triangulation, the markers for the cut were set out. Sorry no pictures but i'll try to get some up soon.

The building began to come to life on site for the first time, as its dimensions became real and we stood looking out of theoretical windows at the views.  In retrospect this should have been done a couple of weeks ago.  It would probably have helped with getting contractors to price the work, rather than just working off paper plans.

Our groundworks contractor is due on site next Tuesday (although they are now predicting storms for next week so that could delay things!).  He anticipates that the job will take four days which is just as well as he is starting a very long contract on the other side of the country the following week!  No pressure then, I'm beginning to detect a theme here...

The last few days have seen a flurry of emails as we finalise the details of the cut; notify everyone we need to; check we are complying with everything that we need to.

All the structural details of the next part of the build are coming thick and fast now, so that our main building contractor can get on. Retaining walls, slab cross sections, concrete specifications, mesh drawings, waterproof membranes- it all makes me glad that we have employed professionals to make these decisions. Again, it's all about trust- a continuing theme for me throughout the process so far.  The team you assemble around you is so important. 

The irony that we are at last ready to start just as winter begins is not lost on me. For years I've wondered why people do it? Surely it is foolhardy to proceed when snow, arctic winters and record-breaking rain and bad weather which will bring work to a standstill is just around the corner? Now I know why they do it, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, you are not really in control of these things.  The sooner you start, the sooner you finish hopefully.  Also you can't predict the weather, last November was very dry-our neighbours had their roof done with no problems, and the Spring was one of the wettest on record.  I hope that you are all keeping everything crossed for us!

BTW I think we have now fixed the comments part, people said they found it tricky, so i'd be delighted to hear your thoughts. I know you are out there as I've had over 1000 pageviews this month, which I am slightly overwhelmed by... 

24 Oct 2013

Kitchen distraction

In my previously mentioned manic state, powerless to do anything of real value which would speed up the start of work on site, I decided that I would begin to tackle the kitchen design.  Charlie had told me that there would be plenty of time to tackle this later, but I needed to be doing something rather than nothing.

Picture please a small yapping dog that you watch chasing its tail, going round and round in circles - that was me!
I asked for A3 paper floor plans from CLD and got myself an kitchen design appointment at IKEA.  It seemed like the best place to start as they got a Which Report Best Buy award. They are also the kitchen used in practically every feature I read of architects building their own homes i.e. people with high design ideals but small budget.  Using the cabinets and then getting your own high end worktop seems to be the thing to do.

I was delighted because at the moment IKEA in Bristol are offering free kitchen design appointments, so there was nothing to lose. I emerged 4.5hrs later exhausted, despondent and with very little to show for myself. The guys who i worked with seemed nice enough, but other than just read out the prompts provided by the kitchen planning programme they weren't much use on the design front - don't know what i was expecting really. The brochures they produce can be very inspiring and creative but you don't get those designers instore! The computer programme needs a huge kick up the rear, it is painfully slow.  We tried out a number of radically different kitchen plans but I haven't found the right layout yet.  On the plus side I found out that I can fit my kitchen using the simple applad kitchen and all their highest end appliances (which i am very unlikely to use but useful to price against) for less than £5K!  I can see the big attraction now.


I think that if at all possible I really don't want an off-the-shelf fitted kitchen (famous last words!).  No offence to everyone out there, but i'm hoping we can do something more original.  A big part of the concept of this building is sustainability.  Fitted kitchens inevitably get ripped out after 10yrs as they become dated and unfashionable. My builder hit the nail on the head when he said in his recent TV debut "This never goes out of fashion because it was never in fashion!".  I love it!

I'm afraid the whole high gloss thing leaves me cold. I had one of those kitchens before (rented flat) and I was forever rubbing out the fingerprints.  Also the top glossy layer had started to blister and peel and i had to go around colouring in the gaps with a permanent marker.

Kitchen showrooms don't get me excited, just bemused.  There is just too much shiny perfection i think.  The thing that gets me excited is how the space will work on a practical level - everyone who knows us knows how central food and cooking is to our life. So the first thing to address is simply what is going to go where.  This is where I do want perfection.  How will I use the space and make it work best for us?  The final look can come later, for me it is a secondary consideration - although i do want it to look amazing!

Charlie has reassured me that he will make sure I have an amazing kitchen.  So the endorphins can flow again as I release that stress and pressure, deep breaths once again.  But I am going to start seriously looking at what appliances we want - the choices seem overwhelming...

17 Oct 2013

Wait...wait...and wait some more.

Life has been a rollercoaster for the past few weeks, and guess what - we have still not started on site!

The groundworks package was prepared and given to the three contractors I had previously got details of.  One immediately got discounted as he was too busy.  The other two have been considering the package over the past couple of weeks.  One walked away today as he has contradictory ideas to the work which is being proposed.  So we are left with only one quote! Hardly ideal, doesn't everyone say you need at least 3 different prices? But do we keep going when it's going to be at least another fortnight before anyone can give us another price?

This bank needs to be cut back, it's about 3m high.

It's really tricky to know what's what when different people are telling you different things.  When everyone explains they sound equally reasonable.  But in the end I have to trust my architectural designers and structural engineer and believe that they know best for my situation.

We have to dig a trench down the hill, beside the hedge,
for the main drain and electricity connection.

Another pressure is that our builder was asked to be ready to start on site towards the end of Sept.  We are now nearly a month on and he is waiting to start work as soon as he can.  There are reasons for the delays; we had to go back to Planning for an amendment (five weeks) and a personal matter delayed the preparation of the groundworks package.  But regardless, we all want to get on with it.

Some good news is that hopefully we have resolved a stress-inducing matter relating to one of our boundaries.  As the Land Registry map differed to the fencing on site our neighbour was questioning whether they were entitled to some of our land.  It has taken me two months of research to establish that the boundaries should remain in their current location.  Two months of low level, bubbling stress and effort to essentially maintain status quo.  But I'm delighted that it seems to be finished with amicably.

These past few weeks have taught me that I need to become much more laid back if i'm going to survive this build emotionally intact.  I've been a little manic, truth be told.  Anyone got any meditation or calming techniques they can share?  Might have to hit Thermae Bath Spa!

10 Oct 2013

Da Dah!

I have finally got the majority of the pages finished now, telling the story so far.  So when you've got a spare hour or seven(!) you can catch up with it all. And now i realise why i'm so tired - i've already been working hard for a couple of years!

28 Sep 2013

Our first visit to the Reclamation Yard

Today we spent a happy hour or so pottering about at a local reclamation yard. We were there to collect a sample of reclaimed slate tiles.  The upper level of our house is to be clad in vertically hung reclaimed slate. Really interesting to see all the crates with different size slates and the different colours of the slate.  We definitely preferred the blue-grey to the purple colour of slate (beginner blogger error - i failed to take photos of these to share with you). 

There were lots of other interesting things to look at though!

After a huge and cathartic purge of stuff last week (8 bin bags of clothing, baby/children/pregnancy related) and my visit to the charity shop/tip/recycling centre it felt really good to be looking at how to reuse items.  The recycling centre makes you reflect on the consumerist culture in which we live.  

Not sure what this item is, but it's bulk and solidity was alarmingly magnetic.  My godmother has been winding me up by talking about fountains in the front driveway but you know what, i could seriously dig this baby as a gentle and still water feature...the huge stone thing behind the blue flamingoes obviously!

(First post with photos - look at me!)

3 Sep 2013

learning the bloggin craft and making beginner's mistakes!

At the moment there's not much to write about.  Everyone else (architects, engineer  & builder) had a technical meeting today (i think!) where I would have just been a spare wheel and taken up valuable time trying to have everything explained to me.  So I've been spending all my time writing the story so far under the headings of the various pages under the title.  So that you can get the full picture of the journey so far... 

I just spent 1.5hrs writing 'the plot' section and then my computer crashed - AARRGGGHHHHH!  I'd forgotten what it was like. Having composed things in gmail for the last few years which regularly saves everything I have lost the habit of regularly hitting "save".  Well that will learn me!  I will see if I can re-summon the strength required to do it all over again in the next few days.  At least I should be faster next time.

1 Sep 2013


It is exactly two years from the date I started our search for a plot of land on which we could build a house.  We now have a plot, architectural designer, finance, a house design, planning permission (and an approved amendment - more on that another time) a structural engineer, and a builder!  Looks like we're nearly ready to begin.