Whether to weatherboard

Cedral Lap Weatherboarding

With the roof on and better than expected weather in the colder months work carried on outside. Our original plan entailed cladding the first floor in wood. As part of our Cornish-New-England theme. Allowing it to age naturally. In theory, this is low maintenance. In reality, I had visions of having to regularly pressure wash and treat it.

Cederal lap, sea blue cladding

The architects were flexible in their specification of how we’d clad the house on our planning application. However, a planning approval condition required us to submit example materials to be used before building could commence. At this point, our builder spotted a potential issue.

Building regulations require wood cladding to be treated with a fire proof coating if another property is within three metres of the build. The theory being that if the other property sets alight the fire could easily spread to our property via the cladding. Not a huge issue in itself, lots of fire-proofing techniques and options exist. Sadly none of them would achieve the look we were after.

Enter the new contender. Despite it being cliche and overly popular on new-builds, I really wanted Cedral Lap Weatherboarding: Zero hassle, great range of colours, never needs to be painted, resistant to rot and things growing on it, and only needs rain to clean it. What’s not to like!

 “More extreme funding methods were required…”

Adding a roof

Felt and Battened Roof

Roofing came with only one significant choice to make: To loft space, or not to loft space. More of a debate than it sounds given our open plan living space… Do we sacrifice storage for increased ceiling height? Yes, yes we do.

Flatpacked roof
Flat packed roof

The loft space would have been tiny, costly and hard to access vs. much higher ceilings in all of the upstairs rooms. Lots of visitors have commented upstairs looks small from the outside but is actually a TARDIS. This is largely thanks to CAD’s clever design of our windows. It’s deceptive what’s upstairs and down. Keeping the proportions of the house in keeping with surrounding properties, while giving us enough space for our dream family home.

Highly skilled lifting, neatly avoid power cables
I’ll just lift the timbers up….. What power cables?

Rich opted for Travis Perkins to manufacture and supply the roof timbers flat packed, with his team fitting them. For felt & battening, supplying and fitting tiles he chose Forrester Roofing. Pleased with both choices. The roof came in less than we expected, even with the unplanned for ‘slightly big‘ garage glulam. The tiles look great and match with the surrounding properties well.  Special note that the Forrester Roofing guys worked exceptionally hard and impressed us all. Rich will be using them again, and we’d certainly recommend them.

Awaiting a glulam for the master bedroom
Awaiting a glulam for the master bedroom

The garage glulam makes a big difference. The garage’s roof is now joist free. Giving a much cleaner airier look, and leaving more space for my ramp. Watching Grand Designs suggests glulam are a pretty vogue thing. Given what they offer us in the garage and bedroom it’s not hard to see why.

Garage Glulam in situ
Garage glulam in situ, sans joists

Getting the roof on was a great milestone. I’m finding it hard to get excited by individual milestones, and don’t step back enough to take it all in. As soon as one task is done the next tasks are rapidly upon us. Milestones blur into an amorphous blob of progress, challenges, and slowly but surely our dream house. Credit to Rich for his project managing. Keeping tasks lined up and flowing far faster than I can blog about them. Our non-fixed cost and agile approach hopefully helps. I get the feeling we’re not nightmare customers from hell… Yet :D.

Hang on a minute, none of this sounds very Eco? Where are the Eco features?

As with the block work we’ve gone heavy on insulation: 175mm of Celotex in the roof, and the ceilings are further insulated with rockwool. In addition to the insulation the garage roof’s pitch is deliberately 35°, and the roof is south facing. Making it ideal for Photovoltaic Solar power (Solar PV). After getting a few quotes we elected to go with local firm Natural Generation. They proposed 12 LG panels, and optimisers allowing for the panels to work independently as some could be in the shade at various parts of the day. More on these in a later energy related blog post. Ideally after they’ve generated some power and we can fully review them. Conveniently the panels are hidden from view on the back of the garage roof. Natural Generation supplied LG panels In addition to solar PV I’m eagerly watching the Tesla Powerwall. What a genius idea. Hope they’re as good as they sound.

Getting out of the ground

Cornwall’s rich mining heritage is one of the reasons we have our land. It is also a cause for concern when it comes to what’s hiding underneath. Fears of contaminated soil, mining features, mining spoil, undocumented offshoots of known/unknown mine shafts, and more.

Ground work
What lies beneath?

All of the above could negatively impact chances of getting a mortgage, and easily cost tens of thousands to fix. To better face and prepare for potential issues we arranged a full mining survey from Wheal Jane Consultancy. Our planning application included an environmental search that suggested the land was contaminant free. However, the search was merely a desktop search: ‘Computer says No’. The full mining survey included digging inspection pits horizontally and vertically through where the footings will go. Offering our first insight into how easy or hard it would be to get out of the ground. ‘Sadly’ this is when the wall came down. Our friendly mining consultant suggested it was unsafe, and needed to come down sooner rather than falling on someone’s head later.

The inspection trenches revealed no nasty surprises and good quality ground:  “Ideal for building”. With planning permission granted the ground work finally began. We’d been warned earth expands when taken out of the ground, and were fortunate in not needing to dig too far to find suitable ground for the footings. Even with this good fortune a small 300 tonnes of top soil had to be removed from the site.

Maen Karne

300 tonnes! The trucks kept coming. We hope they didn’t disrupt our neighbours and village too much. Maen Karne provided a very professional service, with friendly drivers. Their highly skilled drivers, mostly on turn around, managed to negotiate the drive and tight space on site with ease.

Trenches for footings

The footings / foundations are a standard affair:

  • 600-800mm deep trenches: mostly 600mm, and 750mm+ for our stone fronted walls
  • 225mm of concrete
  • 5 courses of tench block
  • Filled with hardcore: recycled 4 inch clean
  • 803 hardcore
  • Blinding sand in the garage with Damp Proof Membrane (DPM) before slab.
  • House is slab on top of 803. Then the DPM. Easier to do this way round and possible because of underfloor heating, and needing to have a 150mm difference between the finished floor height of the house and garage for building regs (potential fluid spills).

Only the drains caused Rich a minor headache. Tolerance for the drop from the furthest drain was tight, down to the last millimetres. Thankfully easily sorted by Rich.

Pretty standard foundations
Digging out lead to lots of discoveries: random pottery, medicine bottles and even a leather tap dancing shoe! Relics of generations passed. Nan is convinced the tap dancing shoe belonged to mother when she was a child. Digging the final tench Sam discovered a further ‘gift’ from the old bus depot, an inspection pit.
Old Bus Depot Inspection Pit
We’re enjoying the continuation of the inspection pit forming part of our garage’s foundations. We’d hoped to be able to use the pit but closer inspection revealed it to be poorly built. Scary to think people worked under heavy busses in it! £400 worth of additional concrete appeased the building inspector. The only additional cost suffered in getting out of the ground.
Once out of the ground we all breathed a sigh of relief. Each completed phase reduces our risks and stress levels: Land ownership > planning approval > mortgage approval > out of the ground >… Greatly looking forward to the roof being on and windows in.
Happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Our Agile house build: the Old Bus Depot

The Old Bus Depot 3D Render

Intro

Who hasn’t sat and watched Grand Designs and considered what they’d do differently. How you’d manage a budget differently, or not have put the wall there in the first place. How silly the people were to think it would only cost £XXXXXX to build, and how laugh out loud funny it is when they say they’ll be in by Christmas. The sheer glee on Kevin McCloud’s face when they utter the words “I’m going to project manage the build myself”…

Well, this our turn. The time has finally come to build. After what can only be described as a test of our tenacity, and a long journey. Massive thanks to friends and family for their support. Last week work finally began and we’re building our new home!

The plan is to chronicle the journey from ‘waste ground’ to home. Sharing the highs and lows of building, some of our rational / lack of rational, and hopefully offer an insight into building from the perspective of none-builders.

The brief

Build an Eco family home to meet our current and future needs, featuring:

  • Open plan living space (big enough to host a joint family Christmas)
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 3 Bathrooms (including a downstairs wet-room)
  • Family friendly, young and old
  • Dog and surf friendly
  • Ground source heat pump, solar PV, and underfloor heating
  • Office space (I work from home)
  • Double garage with space to work on cars

Taking everything learnt from over 14 years in IT, and watching Grand designs… I’m going to manage the build myself… Kidding, but IT has gifted us two carry-overs so far:

1. Hire the best / most experienced project manager (PM)

In my experience a good PM is worth their weight in gold. By good I mean: experienced, proven, someone you get on with, and an individual aligned to your values. To this end we’ve hired local builder and project manager Richard Llewellyn, of Llewellyn Design and Build Ltd. We’re fully entrusting the build to Rich. This doesn’t mean turn key. Decisions will still be ours to make while Rich project manages, and chases us for them.

2. Agile

In work we put our faith in the Agile Manifesto and its natural alignment with the way life works on IT projects. Lots of people practise Agile outside of IT. The build presents an opportunity to try applying it / Agile aspects (more on this to come :D). How does this apply to our build so far?

  • We’re not running with a fixed cost. We’ve estimates for the various stages of the build and these will be adapted making decisions as we go. A lot of articles and self build guides insist on going to tender and fixed price. I dislike fixed price in IT. It would be hypocritical to enforce it building our house. With fixed price the final finish and last stages are in direct competition with the profitability of the project. This is not to say we want to economise on the building / structural work. We’re hoping by adopting an agile non-fixed price approach to do the best we can with the funds (and time) available. Delivering the most value and best fit for our needs.
  • Using SCRUM principles. Accepting not all problems can be fully understood or defined, focusing instead on maximising our builders’ ability to make decisions, build and respond to the trials and tribulations building brings. For example: being on site daily to keep in contact with what’s going on, share requirements & ideas (and understanding of requirements), remove blockers, and priorities. Keeping other meetings to a minimum.
  • Embracing feedback and learning from the good and bad aspects each build phase delivers. As first time builders there is a lot to learn. Agile’s iterative and incremental development breaks the build into manageable chunks of learning and development points.

Should be a fun experiment balanced with a reasonable amount of pressure to get it right…

The plan

Elevations

Rich recommended Jeremy Bradley from CAD Architects and our current rented home was also designed by one of their founding partners. They’ve an excellent reputation and some lovely examples on their website. After our first meeting onsite Jeremy went away to draw up our fee proposal and quote.  I spent a further few hours summarising all of our requirements, thoughts, and drawings in an email. Breaking things down by room, and offering context and whys behind our thoughts.

Lower Floor Plans

When Jeremy sent the plans through I was gutted. I’d drawn an L-shaped building and been mentally living in its layout for 3 years. Jeremy proposed a T-shape with a very different layout upstairs and down. My initial reaction was “find a new Architect”. Predictably, Sarah loved it and told me, in no uncertain terms, “you’re not an Architect”. It took three days for me to come round. Lots of going over, and over, the plans. Discussing it with friends and family. Imaging living in the house and using its various flows: Coming in with wet dogs or wetsuit, working in my office relative to the rest of the house, and guests being able to use the wetroom as an ensuite(ish). Jeremy’s attention to detail and skills met our requirements far better than my humble drawings. Further proving Sarah’s point.

First floor plans

A further couple of emails were exchanged and we had a final meeting in CAD’s Truro office before submitting our pre-app plans. Exciting times!!!!!!!!! Massive thanks to Jeremy and Sally from CAD for all of their help and support. More on the thanks and nightmare that is dealing with Cornwall Planning coming soon…

For now we’re trying to source energy and powder coated aluminium windows suppliers. All recommendations and suggestions appreciated.