23 Feb 2014

waterproofing the slab & mortgage woes

Our waterproofing contractors, Liquatek, arrived on site to install our Newton Hydrobond system.  Very clever stuff using bentonite, a clay, which swells 150% on contact with water so is called 'self-healing'.  It is attached to a fleece layer so that the whole waterproof layer bonds to the concrete.  

The waterproofing was complete after a day and a half.  We had arranged that we would keep a waterproof guy on site to guarantee the system and any repairs that may have needed to be done whilst the 1st layer of mesh was laid.  But thankfully everyone was satisfied that this was not necessary.  That saved us £300 a day - does this mean I can buy the expensive bath after all (haha, I wish)? 

 Thankfully everything was still standing after the gales of the weekend and the caravan had not blown over.  It was half-term so the boys were with me as well and were delighted with the digger and dumper action.  

The mortgage stage payments and cashflow is a continuing nightmare.  Having initiated the process of drawing down on our mortgage back in the second week of January, we are still no closer to the building society releasing any of the funds.

As you may remember we have an arrears (should be renamed "nightmare") self-build mortgage, which means cash is released only after we have spent the cash that we are trying to borrow in the first place.  In order to minimise their risk and exposure they will only ever release 75% of what they value the land and work to be worth at each stage.

It has been quite Kafka-esque these last few weeks as first we were told that no paperwork was required, then told paperwork was required, but no one would tell us exactly what that paperwork was!  We organised those documents, emailed them, but then got told that they would only be accepted if sent according to a protocol which no one seemed to know anything about. Then the Surveyor went on holiday for a week.  AARRRGGGHHHH!!!  

Thankfully some friends and family have lent us some money to keep us going right now, we are so grateful to them for their generosity and trust. It feels horrible, & shameful to have to ask people to lend you their money, it makes you feel like you have done something wrong.  Without them we would have had to stop work a number of weeks ago and just have waited until Ipswich finally authorise a payment.  I can't tell you how frustrated I am right now, and still we have no idea when and what the payment will be.

"It'll be alright, it'll be alright"  repeat often with a large glass of wine in one hand, and remember to breathe!

20 Feb 2014

Insulating the slab

Look at all our lovely insulation!!!

The insulation was laid down in these huge sheets which are glued together.  There are a couple of layers and the layout is
stepped so as to prevent a 'cold bridge' or a direct route through the insulation for any escaping heat.  

Excuse the blur, it was raining - a lot!

The hole in the middle is there on purpose.  It is our downstand key, which anchors the slab into the ground.  

Gale force winds and storms and even snow one morning, slowed work.  But Andrew and Paul took shelter in their cosy caravan & could jump out when there were any breaks in the weather. So fantastically, despite horrendous weather conditions, they are on track and have lost no time.

When no work could be done outside Andrew and Paul got to work indoors on their "site office".  Lights, a heater, insulation offcut (re-purposing!) bench - what more could you ask for? 
Thanks to Ally the driveway is now fab.  No more mud, it is level and stoned-up, so you can drive all the way across the top of the site now.

13 Feb 2014

A failed attempt at lightning bathroom choices

As the slab perforations, where the drain pipes go through the foundation slab, had to be finalised, I was given a week to choose my shower and tray and failed dismally. 

I spent the first few days looking online, trying to educate myself quickly about what there is to learn about these things. As Mum was with me (someone to watch the rampaging toddler while I try to talk to people), we drove to Swindon to visit the very many bathroom showrooms so that I could see and feel some baths, shower trays, sinks and toilets etc. This was successful and unsuccessful in equal measure. Now that I have seen things in person and talked to the numerous sales people I feel more confident that I can discriminate between the thousands of very similar items for sale!


CLD gave me dimensions and specified a stone resin shower tray and a steel enamel bath.  All good but, as I discovered, this is not the norm - which is what all the showrooms cater to. Could we find a stone resin tray - no!  Everything was acrylic, which sales-people assured me was perfectly acceptable. We did manage to find a couple of steel baths but not the ones I wanted to see. At the moment I have a preference to not have acrylic, but the budget may dictate it in the end (would it be so bad? i change my mind with each passing day).  Choosing stone resin and steel enamel considerably narrows your choice within the marketplace (not necessarily a bad thing), but you are unlikely to be able to see and touch before purchase.

The first step for me was all about determining my aesthetic preference-I like a very simple look, fairly contemporary but nothing fancy or trendy (as is typical this tends to inevitably be more expensive "I'll charge you extra for your simple taste!").   After Swindon I progressed to the second step and now scrutinise the functionality.   It seems that this will be a process of negative selection (I don't want x, I don't want y), which hopefully eventually leads to the holy grail...beautiful, functional, yet reasonably priced!


The biggest decision in the family bathroom is the bath. I'm trying hard to stick to my pernickity preference for a steel enamel bath as far as budget will allow.  It will be the only bath in the house so needs to accomodate the children's sluicing as well as my theraputic soaking.  As the children get older I imagine they will probably shower more, so the main function will change. I would like the shower end to be a spacious as possible within a normal bath shape, so ideally it will be angular rather than curved .  There will also have to be the least ugly shower screen that I can find, down that end as well, which can be moved out of the way when bathing 3 small ones (not an easy task, they are almost universally hideous - the screens, not the children!). I am now checking where the waste will drain out from, no one wants to sit on it while having a bath. I have to think about how the taps and bath filling will work - i'm thinking a control plate on the wall with the bath filling from one of those overflow filler things which can be either in the middle or down the shower end (I've realised that it will never be a two person bath, as who wants to sit under the cold dripping shower head?). It's all about the details - who can make these types of decisions in just 7 days! Not I...

Follow future simple passive's board Bathroom on Pinterest.

The shortlist is a Kaldowei or Bette bath, whichever I can source at a reasonable price - cross your fingers for an ex-display. You can have a look on my pinterest board for pictures.  If anyone knows any other suitable steel enamel baths please let me know.      I am also happy to be educated about the merits of acrylic if you are so inclined.

(p.s. although I am not interested in monetising this blog, I am open to some overt promotion if I'm offered massive discounts - hint, hint!)

12 Feb 2014

Work starts on the house foundations!!!

Andrew, Paul and Ally returned to site last week, but with weather conditions being what they are it was no easy task!  My mum was heading back to Cork and on the way to the airport we stopped by the site to see how things were going and to drop off this week's baked treat, however we didn't hang around.  The driving, freezing rain and wind saw us off fairly quickly. After a quick chat, Andrew and Paul took shelter in the container and Ally in his digger.  It managed to drive them off too, shortly after lunch.

When the weather has allowed, they have been continuing with levelling the ground and laying stone so that vehicular access is good to the whole upper area. On the lower level the foundation work is starting.  We are having a raft foundation so the whole base is being built up and levelled.  The first thing was the slab perforations, where the drains will be (you can read more in 'A Failed Attempt At Lightening Bathroom Choices').  Ally has been moving earth around on the lower level ( see 'Garden Daydreaming Delight').

Our drains.

The past couple of weeks have seen a frantic flurry of paperwork. Not only were drawings needed on-site imminently, but the warranty providers are inspecting all the drawings and details - not necessarily a bad thing.  There is also the paperwork associated with drawing-down of funds from our self-build mortgage, but you will hear all about that soon, when I gather the emotional distance and fortitude to write about the shenanigans so far.

Off-site I have been tasked with sorting out the slates. Sourcing the reclaimed slates for the exterior and also finding a local roofer to install them. This has been very enjoyable, not least as an escape from the Kafka-esque paperwork issues.  It also reminds me that the amazing project which we are working towards is going to be our beautiful home and it will all be worth it in the end.  The tile size in our drawings is one of the smaller sizes, and although not stocked everywhere I have been able to find a few reclamation yards with enough in stock.  We've considered changing this size of slate but it has too many complications so I'd rather just stick with what we've got as long as I can find them.  I've loved looking at the photos of the tiles, all weathered and some are covered in lichen. It's a nice feeling to be giving these materials the next step in their life story.  It also means that I get distracted and over-excited by other random objects on their websites-  I AM partial to millstones and things made of metal! 

6 Feb 2014

A fortnight

We have had a two week break on-site whilst the final costing spreadsheet was completed and then analysed.

The build is estimated to cost just slightly more than the initial budget, which means we are now working to a contract value of about £195K, rather than £180K.  We had allowed some contingency to cover this, and in reality it is fantastic that we have got so close to the original budget. I've seen Grand Designs enough to know that often quotes from builders come back at 2 or 3 times the original budget.  However the groundworks overspend blew our contingency out of the water!

So, what would you do? Do you redesign in order to bring the costs down (which will have costs of their own; architects fees, time delay costs, potentially losing our builder to another project for a few months, etc.).  Our answer to this is 'no'. Dimitri and I are, as financial advisors like to classify it, "risk adverse"!  So we have applied our scientific background to objectively analyse the evidence and decided that we will proceed and it will all be fine!

The fabric of the building is essential, that cannot be redone at a later stage.  We have confidence that it has been designed to maximise performance in the simplest and most cost effective manner.  If compromises are to be made to the budget then that can be effected at the interiors stage.  We always knew that budgets would be tight and that creativity would be the name of the game, in fact i'm really looking forward to that bit.

Andrew has priced using a higher price index than the one we hope we be able to use (remember that local builders merchants were 20% more expensive than WTBS).  So we are anticipating a general downward trend in costs of materials.  This saving though is probably best used as a future contingency against any more overspend.

There are extras currently in the spreadsheet which may have to be stripped out, such as PV Panels.  As we are using a gas boiler for our hot water and underfloor heating it is not essential that these are installed in the first instance.

We have approached our mortgage company and asked about borrowing more money and over the phone they have agreed that in principle this should be fine.  However, just to keep everyone on their toes they don't like to approve anything until you have already spent all of your original loan.  Presumably this is because they don't want to encourage further overspend.  However, the result is that, potentially, you knowingly spend all your money before the house is finished with no guarantee of a further release of money.  Any more stress for anyone?

Weeks 6 & 7 - The groundworks nightmare which never ends

Andrew and Paul returned to site and got stuck in straight away to get rid of any of those extra pounds accrued over the festive season.  A large delivery of STEPOC (big, heavy concrete blocks, self-shuttering for those who are interested) had to be relocated by sheer physical effort from the upper to the lower part of the site, taking the best part of a day.

We thought it was all under control - the end was in sight...
It was supposed to be two weeks back on site and those retaining walls would be finished, the costs had all been predicted and it would all be over.  At last we would be able to start spending money on the house, not the groundworks.  

Perhaps we were too relaxed over Christmas and the Gods heard us telling everyone that at last the end was in sight!  So they thought they'd teach us a lesson - does that sound paranoid?

There had been slippage on site over the Xmas break, nothing too major but movement none the less.  So enough was enough, in order to ensure safety the decision has been made to get in a BIG excavator and a driver and grade back the cut at an angle to make sure nothing is going to slip.  The bracing had done its job in order to pour the wall footings, but in order to build the walls it will have to come down.  The guys can't work there building the walls if there is any chance at all that ground might slip. It's definitely the right decision but it's going to cost, around £2,500 in the end...it's only money!  Safety is the most important thing so I accept the costs with no hesitation but with the benefit of hindsight, it's what we should have done from the start. 

The silver lining is that the very lovely Ali, expert digger driver, is now working with us and he is an absolute star.  He has instilled a sense of calm within us all now with his expertise of local conditions and his friendly, helpful manner. I wish we had had him from the beginning. Fantastically in the end all the walls were finished within the estimated two weeks. Well done chaps!

A huge photo cascade to follow, that's what happens when i get behind with my blogging.  I've added captions which is a bit tiresome for you and me but probably more helpful.

Ally and his huge digger.

It's a big one.

Just a bit muddy.
Stoning up the site to stop it becoming a quagmire.

The first course of the causeway retaining wall.

Andrew hiding behind the completed retaining wall, which was later backfilled without him underneath!

The completed retaining wall at the other side.

The whole family checking out the progress on site.

Scrabbling up the backfilled causeway - i'm hoping the wall will eventually be greened by climbing plants and the causeway will be tunnel covered walkway with plants growing all around.

Our very own mountain of earth or Krakatoa as Andrew fondly calls it (the boys are more interested in the port-a-loo, obviously!).

Doing my best to catch up on the last few weeks, it's been hectic.