30 Jun 2014

1st fix begins!

Site is a crazy place at the moment with a huge amount of people and activity as our plumbers, Cotswold Green Energy,

 and electricians, Aspey Electrical, commence 1st fix. 

For novices, like me, this is all the wires and pipes that are hidden behind the plaster walls- the skeleton of the building. And there is a lot of work to be done!

There is lots of pressure on everyone as we have to get this all correct.  As it will be behind plaster we can't change things later (you can of course but at a huge amount of expense and time). 

Do you remember those lovely service plans that I did with Charlie a month or two ago? I thought that it had all been taken care of.  It turns out those were just the starting points. As a result I've spent a lot of time on site for the last couple of weeks.

Plumbing has been relatively straightforward as I had spent hours on detailing the bathrooms (see here), so I had all the specifications and details at hand.  I'd also made design choices which made the plumbing in these areas simpler e.g. a ply wall and shelf will conceal the pipework and cistern, rather than chasing them into the blockwork.  Charlie from Cotswold Green Energy has designed our heating system so I didn't need to get very involved in that side of things.

On the electrical front, plugs and switches have been relatively straightforward. There was only one plug position that had to be changed, Mat was extremely thorough and so everything else was really well positioned.  Lighting however has been a bit of a horror (see Lighting Re-re-design).  I was not prepared!

Making all these decisions and spending a lot of time in the house has meant that I am actively imagining living in spaces as they start to take shape.  Experiencing the spaces is so different from seeing them on plan.  Ideas inevitably change, but things also clarify and the simple solution is obvious.  This is what house-builders are strictly advised not to do, change things, due to the resultant uplift in costs but as we are not on a fixed price contract I do have more flexibility.  I'm just doing what everyone who has built before has advised me - "trust your instincts", and it's OK.  We're getting there!

26 Jun 2014

Bathroom love...

I can't tell you how many hours I have put into these bathroom choices.  I don't know why bathrooms are so important to me. I have visited countless show rooms, and browsed untold numbers of catalogues.  With my now extensive knowledge, I even helped a friend realise she had a quick release toilet seat which she didn't even know existed!

So, drumroll...the final selections-

I initially specified Grohe taps and shower valves- I like reliability and that is worth spending on (you will pay the extra cost many times over just to get the plumber out!).  But I was advised by my design team and plumber to take a look at Crosswater as an alternative high quality brand with a good record for reliability.  Their prices are extremely competitive, the design is really lovely, and their products come with a 15yr guarantee. The choice was made. 

Bathroom basin taps will be the Crosswater Svelte basin mixer. Lovely simple lines and felt great to touch- nice weight and action.

Svelte basin tap ©Crosswater

The shower valves are from Crosswater Central Collection.  Again really clean and simple lines.  I love the landscape orientated bath/shower valve that we will have in the family bathroom.  In the ensuite we will have the portrait-orientated Central shower valve. All the shower risers, shower heads & wall outlets will also be Crosswater.  As are the basin traps and click-clack wastes (so many decisions I didn't even know I had to make!).

Central concealed shower valve ©Crosswater

As previously discussed I am very opinionated on ALL bathroom things, so this was an extensive and exhaustive search.  The Euro range by Bathstore offered excellent design at affordable prices (especially in the Sale), believe me to get similar you will pay twice as much.

The basins will be from the Euro Duo range.  Simple, clean & straight lines, I think they are very elegant and practical looking classic modern design.  We've got a large 700mm one in the family bathroom, the 500mm in the ensuite, and a great narrow cloakroom version in the upstairs loo.

Euro Duo 500mm Basin ©Bathstore

The toilets will be the Euro Mono Back-to-the-wall.  Again simple lines, and has the all-important quick-release toilet seat. This is also straightforward to replace if necessary (for earlier ranting see here).  

Euro Mono Back to the Wall Pan ©Bathstore 

The only thing that would take the toilet to a heavenly ideal of perfection would be if I could have a chunky wooden toilet seat (I tried so hard to find a modern styled toilet where I could choose a solid wooden seat, they don't exist!).  Maybe a groundswell of consumer demand will mean that the Bathstore design team will consider bringing one to market...wouldn't everyone prefer to sit on a warm chunky piece of wood rather than plastic?!

The shower screens took forever to decide.  I mostly don't want to know they are there at all.  They should be easy to clean. They've also got to be robust enough to stand-up to the ravages of family life. In the family bath we've chosen Simpsons Ten Hinged bath screen.  It's as minimal as you can find and made using 10mm glass, which has a really luxurious feel to it.  We can also fold back the screen during bath time, for easy access to slippery children!

Ten Hinged Bath Screen ©Simpsons

The en-suite screen took a lot of deliberation.  We had originally just wanted a single glass screen and really liked the Simpsons Ten Shower Panel, again minimal, elegant and loved the 10mm glass.  But our shower tray is 1400mm long, so we had to think long and hard about the length of the panel, potential for water to leak out, and width of opening for access.  We drew out the different options on the floor and Dimitri even brushed off his physics to calculate angles and potential for 'splash'.

In the end we went for a practical but elegant solution, the Simpsons Elite Walk-in Easy Access (not the most glamorous name!).  The hinged panel at the end will give generous access, but will stop water leaking out as it can extend much further when flat.  Practicality has to come first!  

Elite Walk-In Easy Access Shower Screen ©Simpsons

Towel rails are not necessary, we have underfloor heating in the bathrooms and the MVHR should mean that towels dry quickly, but who doesn't enjoy a warm towel in the winter?  After an initial dalliance with a custom-made copper pipe towel rail, I did a 180º and found an grey anthracite coated rail, Edge by Bauhaus.  

I finally decided on the bath (see here for earlier frustrations).  Luckily I found a fantastic bathroom showroom really close by in Thornbury, Bathrooms 365, and they had both baths I had shortlisted on display.  I've gone with the Kaldowei Puro, simple and spacious with the side overflow I wanted.  Bathrooms 365 were brilliant, very helpful and with extremely competitive pricing so they will be supplying all the Crosswater/Simpsons/Bauhaus items, the concealed Geberit cisterns, and the Kaldowei bath. 

I'll let you in on a secret.  In the first throws of design I had desperately wanted to avoid chrome fittings.  I wanted brushed stainless steel or copper even, something less shiny.  However in a massive reality check I learned that unless you have buckets of money this is not a realistic option.  Chrome is firmly here to stay. I'm come to a Zen place of acceptance now, after initial rejection and protests.  I'm sure there must be a million reasons why chrome is the finish of choice, but for the record not all of us like shiny, shiny, shiny.

I can sit back and relax now (ha ha!) as a million choices have been made and I can say that I am excited about every single thing that is being put into my small but perfectly formed bathrooms!  Obsessive, me?

22 Jun 2014


The kitchen design was coming along as so attention turned to appliances...

Washing machine & dishwasher shopping is a nightmare! Finding the balance between cost/energy efficiency/long term sustainability has meant that I have tied myself up in knots!

For example, do you buy Miele- machines that will hopefully last for 15-20yrs? They have a higher initial cost but should be cheaper in the long run as the machine doesn't need to be replaced.  It's better for the environment as there is less landfill. But will a machine still be efficient in 20yrs? Technology seems to be changing and improving so could there be an environmental payoff with upgrading after 5 or 8yrs? But how much more efficient can these machines get?  Does the production cost of a huge hunk of metal outweigh relatively minor improvements of energy consumption costs?

AAARRRGGGHHH!  To make things more confusing the energy rating stickers are not helpful...

Since most things have to be A-rated now, they differentiate between themselves with a A+, A++, A+++, A++++.  So stupid.  Each + means a 10% greater efficiency so a A++++ machine uses 40% less energy than a A-rated appliance (I think!).  But you still have to look at the detail of energy consumption in order to compare machines in the same group.  Some  brands will give you an estimated annual consumption figure and some tell you the per wash figure.  It is NOT easy!  Also, these figures are based on a 60ºC wash, not the 30º/40º wash most people use everyday. 

You also need to look at the water consumption figures of the washing machines and dishwashers.  Is lower water consumption worth more in the balance against lower energy consumption?  It seems so.  

And THEN, you need to know that it is good at what it does.  The WHICH consumer report has found that 

"Unfortunately, extreme energy efficiency is not always a good thing for you as a consumer: some of the washing machines we've tested that use the smallest amount of electricity and water also produce the worst results. A washing machine needs to balance good cleaning with relatively low energy and water use. "

And, for the dishwasher, I want a low decibel rating as we have an open plan living area.  I just want to run away screaming...! We haven't been able to make any choices yet.  

Ovens, induction hobs, extractor fans, were all relatively painless in so far as there isn't much variation in energy efficiency across brands. So the choices were based on cost, functionality & aesthetics. 

As we have an airtight home we can't duct out the extractor fan, so we need a recirculating one.  These use carbon filters to remove the particles and smell, but there were rumours that this would compromise the efficiency of the fan.  I didn't want to waste money on a powerful fan if it wasn't going to work properly.  So, as usual, I talked to my favourite people- the engineers.  I wanted an Elica fan, this is their sole business so I reckon they know what they are doing.  I gave the technical department a call, and they were brilliant!  Elica recirculating fans work to pretty much the same efficiency as the ducting fans. As my fan is to be hidden within cabinetry we identified the fan which gives the most bang for a buck and that is the Elicbloc HT 80.  Easy.  

We are going to have two ovens.  There has been endless discussion about what to get.  Do you get two identical ovens? Seems like a missed opportunity.  Do we want one of those steam ovens?  No, doesn't a tray of water in the base of a normal oven do the same job...? (I would like to also reject the tonnes of different cooking programmes available on some ovens, stop the madness, no one uses them!)  So we considered one electric fan oven and one gas oven?  This solution seems ideal- maximum flexibility.  Only a limited number of companies sell built in gas ovens and we decided to go with SMEG.  Dimitri has scored maximum points for finding the SMEG outlet store.  We found they had a reconditioned gas, and pyrolytic electric fan oven.  We gave them a call and found out that these ovens were under a year old, and had scratches to their fascias,  but nothing wrong with the technical gubbin's.   We also discovered that a replacement fascia, should we need one, is about £60!  So we bought the two ovens for £429 incl delivery.  HOORAY!

For the hob we are going for maximum flexibility again with a standard size induction hob and two gas burners.  The best priced 2- ring ceramic (which is actually black glass?!) gas hob we can find is the IKEA Möjlig. The induction hob is going to be a bit of a splurge, but as the most used appliance in the kitchen I think it's worth it.  I seem to have barely any conductivity in my fingers and technology in general seems to ignore my presence. So, once I had tried the NEFF point and twist magnetic knob, I was a lost cause.  Never again will I need to jab repeatedly and pointlessly at the controls. 

I would like to highly recommend Sust-it, a brilliant website that allows you to compare appliance energy efficiency.  We met Ross, the founder, a few years ago when we went to visit his eco house, he told us about his website.  He set it up as a result of having the same issues about what appliances to put in his energy efficient home.  The website has now expanded to analysing electronics in the home, motoring and travel.  It is stuffed full of really good advice.  It's here, as well as WHICH consumer report, where I end up when I want to find useful information.

19 Jun 2014

Insulation is pumped in

Now that we are watertight, the insulation was next on the schedule.  The Diamond Bead vans arrived carrying our little silver polystyrene balls.  This is what is going to keep us perfectly insulated, warm in the winter and cool in the summer!  

Holes were drilled and in they were pumped. They are pumped under pressure so that the beads fill every cavity.  As they are pumped in they are covered in an adhesive so that they will form a solid block, they aim to get about 12kg/m3.  This means, in the future, alterations can be easily made as there will be solid blocks of insulation rather than millions of little beads.  No fire risk as there is not enough air to support combustion, and these little guys are so stable they will definitely be around for the life of the building.

This may not be the most sustainable material we have used, polystyrene balls...but in this application we are all happy that it's the right choice.  They have a fantastic insulation value of 0.031.  Our walls cavities are already 370mm (developers normally have 100mm),  had we chosen anything else we would have had to make our walls even thicker to achieve the same insulating value. It would have been lovely to use sheeps wool or recycled newspaper, but the looking at things in the round this was our best option.

The Diamond Bead guys were fantastic - able to come on short notice all the way from Devon and dealt fantastically with us concerning the additional extra volume we required.  The holes were all taped over and job done.  Snug as a bug in a rug.

16 Jun 2014

The roofing membrane is laid - we are now watertight!

I had lined up our contractors, GSPR, a good while ago to apply the single ply membrane to our roof.  They came highly recommended by one of our design team.  Then our schedule slipped and unfortunately clashed with another of their jobs.  The heavens also decided that they would add further to the delays by sending down pouring rain on the days when work should have started. Inside the house, water was soaking through and the boards that had been laid as sub-flooring were pretty saturated, with pools growing ever larger on the concrete floor below.  At last the stars aligned and the GSPR guys were able to begin. 

The first job on site was to dry the external OSB on to which the membrane was to be bonded.  Large and small flame-blowers were put to work.  Once the surface was dry the membrane could be rolled out and bonded.  We are using Ruvitex single ply system. My father is very doubting about flat roof systems in principle but we have been reassured that the technology has advanced leaps and bounds since the 70's & 80's.  This product comes with a 20yr warranty.

A few fiddly details; the guttering vents, ventilation stacks & roof lights.  It was also decided by the contractors, once on site, that we would need an additional product applied to guarantee watertightness- an aluminium edging strip that will ensure that no water can get behind the membrane on the parapet upstands.  An additional cost, but it's got to be done, shame it wasn't in the initial estimate.

There has been an issue with the membrane not bonding to the rooflight upstands, so Andrew is going to make some ply sleeves for the membrane to adhere to.

Look a small puddle of water...should I be worried?  When it rains the water gushes out and down, so this is what gathers when the rain has stopped.  It will evaporate, it's not massive...?!?

A return trip is due next week to finish the rooflight upstands and the gutter vent detailing.  Typically now that we are watertight, the rain stopped and the sun shone!

5 Jun 2014

A sustainable kitchen!

I really wanted to stay true to the ethos of a sustainable build and try to get a kitchen that would be solidly made from sustainable materials and would last decades.  

As always I was searching high and low to find the solution where I can get outstanding design, excellent function and affordable prices.  A friend highly recommended the company who had built her beautiful kitchen - Sustainable Kitchens who are based in Bristol.  I gave them a call & went to visit their showroom.  I couldn't have asked for a more perfect match.

The showroom is ever so gorgeous, and when you get to touch and feel a kitchen which has been so beautifully crafted you realise that anything else will be a massive compromise.  

Dimitri and I both enjoy cooking, in fact our lives revolve around it.  I had initially decided that with a limited budget I would spend on the appliances and save on the carcass.  However when I started to reflect on this I realised that this wasn't right. Appliances are easier to change and upgrade.  The carcass and cabinets though are a much bigger deal, they are here to stay.   This firm really do care about sustainable principles and put their ideals into action.  I was really excited about the possibility of working together.

Sam, Partner & Designer of Sustainable Kitchens, and I started with their classic Shaker Design- the one I had seen and loved in their showroom.  Sam drew it all up on the computer and sent me visualisation images. It was beautiful, simple and elegant but I just couldn't get that excited feeling. It took me a couple of weeks to realise that I wanted something a bit different.  This was a while ago and I hadn't yet finalised my limited materials palate for the internal finishes.  It was through this process that I realised that I really wanted a birch ply finish throughout the house.  Once the material had been chosen then that influenced the design of the cabinetry a lot.  I was interested in being able to see the edge of the ply and all those layers.

We've been refining, changing, playing with the kitchen design and we finally nearly there!  As it is all bespoke the choices are unlimited.  It has been a really creative and satisfying process.  We've interrogated numerous possibilities at almost every stage -

 Layout. Door design. Door material. Handles. Drawer design. Countertop materials (the biggest issue I reckon!).  Countertop heights.  Plinths.  Upstands.  Upper level cabinets/shelves.  Sinks.  Extractors.  Appliances. Lighting.  Power sockets.  

Sam has been ever so patient, enthusiastic & supportive at every stage.  He has calmly interpreted my random whims of fancy.

You get a sneaky peak of the kitchen in the photo above.  We've designed a moveable island, so we were looking at castors.  

This is so exciting, it's going to be so beautiful!

1 Jun 2014

The roof lights arrive

I am so pleased with our new roof lights.  So beautiful. 

It's such a shame that I won't often get to see the beautiful frames.  But everytime I look up at them from the inside I will know how gorgeous they look on the roof!  I've become such a geek during this building milarky, you are so involved with every detail big and small.

The guys at Roof-maker couldn't have been more helpful.  They arrived as scheduled and Andrew and Paul installed them within a blink of the eye.  

Just as well they were so quick to install as the weather has decided not to play ball and the downpours arrived and just kept coming.  You'll hear all about that in the next post.  But earlier in the week when the weather was better Andrew and Paul were continuing with linings and perforations through the roof.

It's been a fitful couple of weeks all said.