Strawbale House

This blog is intended to chart our progress through the self-build process, from half-hearted plot-hunting through to completion of the build. The twist is that we're building the house from timber and straw (hence the blog title).

Click on the image at the end of each post to see that day's photos.

Monday, 31 December 2007

December 30th & 31st

Now then, two days to report. Sunday, had my gorgeous wife with me. She is such a fabulous helper, I got so much more than usual done. Oh, also had the two dogs and four children, who admittedly are not quite so helpful, but still, nice to have the company. Together we laid floors or rather vinyl, and Anna oiled the work surfaces for the umpteenth time. Then my superhuman but beautiful wife made a bonfire with the children and still managed to find time to brush and feed the horse and donkey.
Monday, alone today. Sat about with my two arms the one length. Then went home to get ready for a new year's eve party.
You may have guessed that my gorgeous and talented wife penned the entry above. She neglected to mention that I unpacked and assembled all the basins and WCs, and compiled a list of the missing bits, which have either been supplied wrongly (incompatible toilet and cistern), forgotten (toilet handle, sink waste) or not yet ordered (basin traps and one or two bits that a plumber would have known to order, but I did not). The two-week shutdown that is being enjoyed by the entire building industry (but not me) has made things a bit tricky, as materials are very hard to come by. I am three back-boxes short of finishing the electrical second-fix (about £1.20-worth, and 20 minutes or work), but can't cross it off the list until they arrive. Similarly, I could have toilets and basins working but for the want of a couple of quids' worth of plumbing fittings.
The vinyl-laying was a lot easier than I'd expected, even the accurate positioning of holes for pipes, measured upstairs, then laterally transposed (as I was marking on the back of the vinyl) and cut on the living-room floor. It's pretty thick and heavy stuff, and the larger cuts are a bit unwieldy, but with just the utility room to do, it's all gone down very satisfactorily.
No Melvin today, which was a bit of a disappointment. He's off snow-boarding in a couple of days, so I doubt I'll see him for a couple of weeks, by which time most of the oak flooring should be down.

Pictures below are the downstairs WC, which did itself this morning while I was checking the uniform length of my arms.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

December 29th - Plumbing

I'd arranged to meet farmer Neil on site at 8am to connect the house to the spring water supply. It felt awfully early, and very dark. The connection took only a few minutes, after which I had no excuse to delay any further the testing of the plumbing throughout the house - a task I've been avoiding for many weeks, simply because I didn't think I could take the heartache if it revealed a load of leaks, which would involve pulling floors up or the ceiling down. Of course, the proper time to test it all is BEFORE the ceiling and floors are down, but we didn't have a water supply back then.
It was with considerable trepidation that I hooked up a temporary supply to the first radiator circuit, and little short of outright terror that I turned the water on...
and it was with growing disbelief and relief that I watched for ten minutes, and waited for the tell-tale damp patches to appear on the ceiling. None came.
My test rig didn't include any kind of pressure-release mechanism, and the only way to let the pressure off so I could disconnect my temporary supply pipe was to drill a small hole in the bottom, with a bucket placed strategically underneath, then cut of the drilled section before the next test. I repeated the test for the three remaining circuits, with similarly splendid results. Infact the only slight mishap was when the shower-fitting that Melvin installed a couple of months ago shot a plume of water towards the ceiling and soaked the wall and bathroom floor. I suspect he warned me at the time that he'd only finger-tightened the fittings, with no PTFE tape, but if he did, I'd forgotten long ago. The spill was quickly mopped up and dried, and the leak repaired.
I also did a bit more floor-scraping upstairs and oiled the worktops (again!), before baling out at lunchtime to receive a visiting neice (Camilla).
A huge day. Now that the plumbing has the thumbs-up, I can crack on with the flooring. Bathrooms first - I'll get the vinyl down and have a bash at the installation of basins, dunnies, bath and shower this coming week, hopefully with Melvin's help, before the oak flooring for the rest of the house arrives sometime around the 5th of January.
Aussie Mal's 40th today. Happy birthday from the other side of the world, cocker. Your Scottish legacy is well on track!

Friday, 28 December 2007

December 28th - plumbing and tidying

No pictures for ages - sorry mum, and not much to photograph today. Anna's lost her car-keys, and needed my car, so I had her drop me at the plot for 10 hours. There was a power-cut, so I was working with the generator again. Funny how I've already got so accustomed to having unlimited power - it seemed a real drag to have to ration it.
I started with an unpleasant and long-avoided bit of plumbing under the floor, running the pipes in for the utility-room taps. Uncomfortable and fiddly, but it felt great to have it finished.
I'd nipped into Kelso in the morning for a stop-cock, which I installed with a temporary length of 15mm pipe on the down-stream side which I'll use to test all my plumbing before putting the oak flooring down.
The entire afternoon was spent tidying, sweeping and chipping plaster-spots from the downstairs floor to give us a smooth surface on which to lay the oak boards. The place was a real tip - evidence of Melvin's long absence. He's always the one to get hacked off with the mess and sort it all out.
Neil popped by in the evening and promised to be on site first thing tomorrow to hook me up to the spring supply temporarily. I have a feeling that he's done nothing about having the mains supply connected, and is a bit evasive whenever I mention it! Still, the spring will be fine for testing the plumbing.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christmas Eve & Boxing Day

December 24th:
Installed the last smoke alarm, the kitchen downlighters (above the island and in the bulkhead) and the upstairs ring-main sockets, apart from in Hamish's room because I ran out of back-boxes. Somehow - and I need to check my invoices to see what's happened - I've ended up with 80 extra single-gang back-boxes and a shortfall of two-gang. As the job only used about a dozen single-gang, it's difficult to see how I managed to procure almost a hundred! Still, as they cost about 30p each, it's hardly worth agonising over.

December 26th:
Hadn't intended to work on the house today, but after lunch I decided to nip over to the plot, take the dog for a run up Hownam Law, feed the horse and donkey and do a little bit of work. The run was wonderful - very windy and invigorating, and a relief to see that despite the lack of training over the last six months, I can still make it to the top without walking or suffering a coronary.
With the couple of hours I had available to work, I cut and installed the spindles on the upper flight of stairs. Made a pretty smart job of it, if I do say so myself, and I think it'll look rather natty when it's all oiled up.
I also marked out the hob cut-out on the island worktop, but decided that cutting it would take too much strength out of it, and would be better left until we've stopped flipping it over for oiling and moving it around.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

December 23rd - Electrics

Made it over to the plot for about five hours today. Spent all of it working on the downstairs ring-main - which involved quite a bit of rolling around in the 15" space below the floor tracking down errant wires - and the upstairs lighting, which entailed an hour rummaging around in the loft tracking down a short-circuit that kept tripping the circuit-breaker. Turned out to be a cable damaged by the sharp edge of a truss bracket. I'd also managed to mis-label a wire, which led to some pretty confusing symptoms. Got it all sorted in the end, and now have just the upstairs ring-main to do, plus fripperies like aerial sockets and a couple of phone points.
Anna brought the boys over, and she painted fascias while they bickered inside for a couple of hours.
Our neighbour Andrew dropped by to cast his eye over the flooring I've asked him to help out with, and agreed to start on January 3rd. He reckoned that the three of us (including Melvin) ought to knock it off in around a week. Before then I have to satisfy myself that the plumbing is all sound (still not done that!) and chisel all the lumps of plaster off the floor to give us a smooth surface to lay the oak boards on. Sounds like a job for Connor (or Jack, if you're reading).
No pictures, but if you imagine shallow puddles and a muddy sludge where the ice was, you'll not be far wrong.

Friday, 21 December 2007

December 21st - Power!

The freeze shows no sign of abating, and this morning's -10 degrees in Kelso had both Fiat Multiplas out of action. I had the startled Aussie Connor on site again, marvelling that life in such a cold climate is sustainable.
The installation and connection of our electricity meter was scheduled for today, and all morning I worked in a state of impatient expectation, waiting for it to turn up. I finished the upstairs lighting circuit, including a wire to switch the lounge lights that somehow I'd neglected to run in while the walls were open. Managed to get it in with no disturbance to decor. Connor cut as much verandah flooring as he could, then oiled a couple of worktops and set to work painting the front of the house, once the frost had melted from the wall in the soft, bright sunshine.
Anna came with the twins for a brief visit, during which they made an improvised slide with a couple of sheets of frosted OSB, ending at the edge of an open trench, into which they'd plummet at the end of each ride.
The meter-man turned up just after lunch and was finished within half-an-hour. When he'd gone I hooked the supply up to the fusebox and, with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, switched on. It seemed like a big moment, and work will now be a lot easier with lighting throughout the house (still to test upstairs) and sockets in handy places.
Connor finished the front wall, which makes a heck of a difference to the first impression the house gives as you approach it. Feels like things are coming together. All I need now is to sort the plumbing...

Thursday, 20 December 2007

December 20th - nowt (again)

I rather think this house is going to have to build itself. Anna had to take Ellie to the airport, and I had two sick twins to look after at home. The permafrost shows no signs of thawing. I met Jim the plumber on site to try to talk him into taking on the boiler and tank installation. I wouldn't say he was particularly keen, but I think he's agreed to do it (although with Jim - a man of famously few words - it's hard to be sure).
In the absence of progress on the house, here are some pretty hoar-frost pictures taken on the way home.
frosty 201207

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

December 19th - Electrics

Another clear and penitentially cold day. At breakfast time the car thermometer read minus seven, and the gear-stick was frozen in position! I only managed a half-day, as the twins are off school with croop and Anna had Hamu's school play to get to. Spent the morning fitting pendants and light switches upstairs, and when I could stand the cold no longer, I went out into the sun (and ice) and fitted one of the lanterns in the porch, which involved a tricky bit of wire-pulling behind the cladding.
Collected the vinyl for the bathroom and utility room floors in the evening, so we can get cracking with the bathroom installation as soon as we've tested that section of the plumbing.

No pictures today.

Monday, 17 December 2007

December 17th - electrics and verandah floor

Back on site today for the first time since last Thursday. Melvin had warned me that he's pretty tied up for most of the week, so I got hold of young Connor the Aussie and had him working on the verandah floor for the day. His morning was spent fitting joist-hangers to all the floor-joists, which had to be done before the flooring could go down.
After several weeks of wondering vaguely what to floor it with, and wanting to avoid using ugly and pretty toxic decking, I bought a load of 150 x 32mm larch boards from Willie Dobie. They're planed with about 20 small longitudinal grooves across the 150mm width to provide grip when they're wet, and, being larch, should theoretically be OK to leave untreated. In the interests of keeping them clean I'm planning to oil them thoroughly so they can be washed down, and so water can be swept off them.
While Connor was busy with that, I was indoors cracking on with the second-fix electrics (fitting sockets and switches). I'm hoping to have it complete before the man comes to fit the meter on Friday, although the way the day-job has gone in the last couple of week, I'll be lucky to find the time.
We finished the day working together for the last hour, with Connor cutting boards to length and me fitting them with a 5mm gap between rows to aid water-shedding.

I bit the bullet this afternoon and phoned a couple of plumbers to take the heating system installation off my hands. Neither can fit it in this side of the new year, and I think it's going to be a bit of a panic getting the flooring done thoughout the house. Hopefully I'll be able to get the pipework in most of the house tested in the next week or two so I can make a start.


Thursday, 13 December 2007

December 13th - cladding and slating

One of the dangers of living in a modern well-insulated house is that you can easily misinterpret the conditions outside. It was for this reason that I managed to under-dress rather dramatically today, and spent a long and uncomfortable day on site fighting all the time against hypothermia. It didn't help that I was working on the north side of the building, while the front was bathed in lovely soft winter sunshine. I finished the cladding of the overhang, knocking off the last two ventilated boards by late morning, while Melvin worked on the gable-end above the verandah.
I was chuuffed that by the time we'd fitted the last profiled caldding board, we had just nine left, out of a total of 550. Pretty nifty quantity surveying by yours-truly!
After lunch I spent a couple of hours on finishing the porch slating, and Melvin started fitting battens on the verandah roof, to prepae it for slating. I joined him as dusk was falling and we worked together by site-light until almost 6. Frosty when we left, and I didn't thaw until I had a ot dinner in me.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

December 11th - Cladding

It was as chilly a start as I'd feared, exacerbated by the fact that I forgot my neoprene socks, and almost immediately lost feeling in several toes. Melvin and I worked together on the cladding the overhang at the back of the house. This is the north side, so we were in shade, but soon warmed up and had to shed layers and hats with the effort of fitting boards in awkward nooks and crannies. It was slow going - we'd thought that we'd romp through the straight unbroken run along the back roof, but the bottom course, which requires cutting to length, then ripping to width with a 35 degree angle, and then the awfully time-consuming task of measuring, marking, jigsawing and meshing the soffit vent slots seemed to take forever.
I had a call just as Anna was arriving with the boys at 3pm summoning me to a meeting at home (which I'd completely forgotten about), so I had to knock off early. Melvin carried on alone, but as dark was falling he belted a finger with his hammer and was unable to continue, even after aneasthetising it in the icy stream for five minutes!
No work tomorrow, as I'm off to Northumberland again to finish last week's big job. Spoke to Scottish Power Systems today to chase up the meter installation. Now scheduled for December 21st, which is a bit crap, as I'd been led to believe it would be early this week. Still - by then I should have finished the electrical second fix, and the house will be ready to go live.
Neil, bless him, volunteered to shift some of our piles of rubble and soil, and to dig a shallow trench to drain our perpetual puddle into the stream.

Monday, 10 December 2007

December 10th - Cladding and wiring

Had Melvin back on site today, but in a diminished form. He was snuffling and coughing all day, having given up smoking AGAIN. By the time he arrived the rain had cleared and the day gradually got brighter as it progressed. We spent it cladding the underside of the overhangs at the front and west of the house. I'm delighted with the end result. The forecast is fair for the rest of the week, so we should get the back and east knocked off tommorrow. meanwhile, Anna spent a good chunk of the day painting the cladding beneath us. It's really starting to look quite smart externally.
Melvin left as dark fell, and I moved indoors and spent an hour installing and wiring the fuse-box in the utility room. Thick ice on the puddles when I left at 6, so a chilly start tomorrow.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

December 8th - slating & electrics

Another short day - just about three hours on site, the second half of which featured howling winds and driving rain. I arrived to icy puddles and spent the first hour or so exchanging Ellie's window (it had finger-prints on the MIDDLE of the three pains in the triple-glazing sandwich), which was quite tricky single-handed with a slated roof beneath me. I should have done it before slating the porch, but there you go... With what remained of the only slightly nasty weather I knocked off another three rows of slating on the left-hand-side of the porch before retreating indoors when it was just too unpleasant to stay out. Before I had to leave for home I wired a smoke detector and four light-fittings upstairs.
We had a family jaunt to Galashiels, which included a trek around Carpet Right, choosing a floor-covering for the bathrooms. Below are the candidates. Votes if you will please by email. If I like your choice, I'll go with it. If not, I'll ignore it, like General Musharraf...
Vinyl - 081207

Friday, 7 December 2007

December 7th - Going live

I didn't make it to the plot today, and spent the day working in Northumberland again (and the job STILL aint finished!). Anna was there for a while and reports that a team from Scottish Power turned up and installed the transformer that will service the three / four plots, and that we now have power in the house. We can't use it yet, as the meter hasn't been fitted, but it really feels like progress - having energetic electrons waiting to gush forth. I think my ailing generator will be very relieved.
Conspicuous by his absence was Gregor Walker, who was supposed to come and backfill all the holes on the site in readiness for the start of landscaping on Monday. We've now had to put Roger the landscaper off till Tuesday.
Below are a couple of photos I took from the border-crossing at Carter Bar on the A68. It was very, very lovely driving over there this morning, and impossible to do it justice with a photo.
Carter Bar 071207

Thursday, 6 December 2007

December 6th - slating etc

Much to my surpprise, I found myself slating again today. Anna and I arrived together and she immediately set about painting the cladding and oiling worktops. I took a while to get up to speed, and pottered around fitting sockets into the douglas fir structural posts in the kitchen.
After a while she told me to stop pfaffing about and to slate the porch. This hadn't figured at all prominently on my list of priorities, but it did seem to make sense to do something outdoors on a dry and mild December day. Quite enjoyed being back on the slates, and as Anna was painting around the porch, we actually got to spend some time together, which doesn't seem to happen very often with me shuttling between plot and real work. Finished one side and fitted all the battens on the other side, and just managed to get a couple of rows of slates on the second side before dark forced me back indoors. Fixed the remaining cupboard handles in the kitchen then installed the back-boxes for all the ground-floor sockets, including one in the snug where there were no wires pulled through the plaster-board, but where I was convinced I'd made provision when I was wiring. After a couple of minutes racking my notoriously fallible memory, I bit the bullet and cut a fist-sized hole... and there they were, two fat wired just where I thought they'd be. Mal - you're a charlatan and a scoundrel!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

December 4th - Electrics

A nasty cold, blustery damp day, so I retreated indoors and set about the electrical second fix. The first couple of hours saw all the back-boxes fitted for the ground-floor light-switches and above-counter sockets. The remainder of the day, until I had to leave on a school-run at 2:30 was spent installing and wiring the twelve downstairs light pendants. Just finished the last one in time, which was very satisfying.
Meanwhile, a couple of Scottish Power engineers arrived and joined our 25mm single-phase cable to the big 95mm three-phase cable serving the four plots. They also terminated the cable in the utility room, fitting a 100A fuse on the end of it, in readiness for the meter-installer to come soon. Apparently a couple of years ago all these tasks were carried out by one man, or at least one team in a single visit. Now, in the interests of efficiency, or health and safety, or political correctness, they divide the job into four distinct tasks, each carried out by a separate team, each travelling from Edinburgh in a van (or, today, two vans). It would seem that the soaring cost of domestic energy isn't all down to the price of oil!
Back home I ordered all the sockets, switches etc, which should be here in a couple of days. Quite looking forward to installing it all. It's the one part of the build of which I have any previous experience. Very glad to notice that the wall in Hamish's room, where water had leaked in around the velux unit, has dried out.
Back in Northumberland again tomorrow, working on the day-job.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

2nd December - painting & leak-plugging

A couple of hours on site with all the kids today. Started with some painting off the scaffold at the west end, helped briefly by Ellie, then noticed that water is still getting in somewhere around the velux in Hamu's room. Had a good look and discovered that I've made a bit of a boo-boo with the flashing, and left out a soaker, meaning that water flowing down the right-hand side of the window leaks into the cavity behind the plasterboard. Need a drawing iron to remove a slate to fix it. Don't have one, and to keep the water out until I borrow one from my pal Davy, I patched up with a load of silicon, which should do the job for a few days at least.
Back down to Northumberland again tomorrow to earn some cash, so no more work till Tuesday...

Saturday, 1 December 2007

1st December - External painting

Only managed three hours on site today, on my own. A bit blustery to work off a ladder on the overhangs, so I decided to do a bit of painting off the scaffold, which Anna wouldn't be happy doing. After a couple of hours I'd done all I could without reconfiguring the scaffold, so I cut a few boards to length and fitted them to the raked overhang above where I'd just been painting. Back still pretty stiff and vulnerable after my fall earlier in the week, which makes manoeuvering on the scaffold a bit of a pain.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

November 29th - Cladding and eaves

This weather forecasting is proving to be very reliable, which makes planning a lot easier. The predicted sunshine was confirmed as soon as I opened the curtains, and persisted through the day, with completely cloudless skies.
Melvin and I finished the cladding above the verandah, while indoors Rob completed the painting (apart from the built-in wardrobes, which he'll do at a later date) and young Connor the Aussie fitted all the doors and drawer-fronts to the kitchen island.
I had to nip into Kelso to get Rob's cash at lunchtime. I released another £15,000 of the mortgage a couple of days ago, not quite early enough to avoid going overdrawn for a couple of days (I wonder if the bank will hammer me for that), but just in time for it to clear and allow me to pay Rob, and Melvin for his last two weeks.
Back at the site, Melvin had started fitting the very top row of cladding on the front wall, which we thought we might avoid by having a small boxed-in soffit. Looking at it afresh, it seemed easier and probably prettier to fit the top row and board the overhangs right up to eaves level. The draw-back was that nailing the top row of cladding and the top overhang board would be awkward. In the event, it was no real bother, and the finished result is extremely pleasing. We had to cut ventilation slots in the bottom board of the overhang to allow airflow up into the loft and thus avoid the rafters rotting if warm air from inside the house condenses on the cold roof timbers. We blocked the back of these slots with a fine stainless steel mesh to keep birds and insects out.
When it became too dark to work outside, we carried on with the cooker-hood installation in the kitchen. It's a very bold piece of kit - very modernistic glass and brushed stainless steel, but it works surprisingly well with the rustic timber surrounding it. My one concern, shared by Melvin, is that it hangs very low - bang on eye-level if you're 5' 7". That's as high as it goes, so we may dismantle it and cut it with a grinder to allow us to raise it by 6 inches or so.
A wonderful starry night as we were leaving, with the nebulous stripe of the Milky Way clearly visible. It's lovely being there in the dark, looking at the stars and listening to the stream gurgling through the garden.
Tomorrow's forecast is grotty, and I have a work-visit to do. Melvin also has stuff to do, so it looks like progress will stall for a couple of days.


Wednesday, 28 November 2007

November 28th - Cladding & sundries

The forecast rain arrived mid-morning, by which time Melvin and I had added four or five rows of cladding above the verandah and Anna had painted a section of it. We moved indoors and instead prepared the way for the installation of the main power cable, which is scheduled for Monday 3rd December. I knocked a 50mm hole through the inner block wall below floor level with a hammer-drill while Melvin cut and mounted a 600 x 700mm section of chipboard on the wall for the electricity-meter and fuses. It was then a two man job (with muggins here volunteering for the nasty under-floor role) to feed the 32mm ducting in through the block walls and up through the floor to where the meter will be. We'd drilled through the floor and subfloor, then filled the gaps with expandable foam to exclude draughts and beasties.
That done, we pulled five lengths of plastic plumbing pipes up through the boxed-in section around the soil-stack. These pipes will connect the boiler to the hot water tank (which we lugged upstairs and into position), and to a header tank in the loft.
Rob the painter had brought his girlfriend's nephew along for the day. Nice young lad from Waneroo, the next-door suburb of Perth to Joondalup, where Mal and Michele have ended up. Small world, and nice to be carrying on the Aussie input to the project in a small way. He helped Rob with a bit of sanding and painting, and fitted a couple of doors to the kitchen units. Made a decent job, too. Shame he's set on joining the army. I'm sure Mal could have sorted him out with a job when he leaves school next year!
With the plumbing done (or rather, our supply of pipe exhausted), Melvin and I made a bit of a hash of fitting the cooker-hood, and will need to finish the job and touch up any damaged paint-work on the ceiling tomorrow, although with sunshine forecast, the cladding will take priority. Should finish it tomorrow, which is rather exciting.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

November 27th - Cladding

I had a slightly fretful start to the day, wondering what to do if the generator wouldn't start, and at the plot I immediately topped up the oil (the first time since buying it in June), removed and de-coked the spark plug and gave the generator a couple of friendly pats and an imploring look. It started second pull, to my enormous relief.
Melvin and I continued with the high cladding at the west end of the house and made steady progress through the morning. I managed to fall about three feet from the scaffold and landed flat on my back. It winded me momentarily, and throughout the remainder of the day I became increasingly sore and immobile. Melvin was fitting the cladding while I operated the saw, and around lunchtime he finally topped out, fitting the last board from a step-ladder perched on the scaffold. It was actually one of the steadiest scaffold we've had - probably because we'd built it leaning in against the house wall.
Anna turned up, followed by Roger Lynn, the landscaper. They spent half-an-hour discussing his plan, and I asked Melvin to stick his oar in, as I've become a bit hacked off with Roger's lack of action, and would like Melvin to do the work. Anna managed a bit of painting before she nicked off on a schoool-run just before 3.
We lugged the saw down to the other end and carried on above the verandah, where I'd started over the weekend. A tricky and very slow section around windows, combined with my increasing stiffness and Melvin's sense of anti-climax at working from ground-level made it a slightly subdued afternoon, and we packed up just as light was fading around 4 p.m. I had quite a bit of dificulty getting from the roof onto the ladder, and even more getting out of the car when I got home. Think I might be a bit sluggish tomorrow...


Monday, 26 November 2007

November 26th - cladding

A pretty unsatisfying day, all in all. I wasted an hour on a trip to Bowmont Forest Sawmill, only to find that the spruce they have in stock is even more mouldy than the stuff I already have. I was assured, however, that once it's good and dry, the mould can simply be brushed off.
Back at site, I spent an hour finishing the sarking on the verandah roof (with the mouldy timber), just putting a couple of nails in each plank in case I decide to replace it later, then set to work on the cladding. It was a very inefficient way to work - trying to do it solo. Far too much of my time was spent lugging timbers up and down the ladder, or fielding phonecalls.
By the time I had to knock off at 2:45 to go and collect the boys from the bus I'd had enough. Things weren't helped by the generator packing up in the afternoon, and repelling all attempts to get it going. Hopefully Melvin will be able to work some magic on it tomorrow. If not, we're stuffed...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

November 25th - Battens

Spent a few hours alone at the plot fitting battens above the verandah. I'd planned to complete the verandah roof sarking, but discovered that all the planks - which I'd left stacked outside some weeks ago - had gone mouldy and were unusable. Melvin called to say he'll not be here tomorrow, so I'll work alone on the cladding above the verandah, weather permitting.

Friday, 23 November 2007

November 23rd - Cladding & slates

A gorgeous clear, buttock-clenchingly cold day. After the rain of the last few days, some of which seeped through various small orrifices into the house, I was very keen to fit the last few slates, left out where the roof-brackets have been embedded in the sarking for weeks. I did this, but it was no easy task with painfully cold fingers and an icy roof. Used the roof ladder, which at least gave me a decent level of security.
By the time I'd finished, Melvin had added a lift or two to the scaffold at the west end of the house, and we spent the remainder of the day stamping our feet, tucking throbbing hands under our armpits and occasionally fitting lengths of cladding.
It was so cold that the boards kept sticking together as frost formed between them, and the puddles at the front of the house, which were in bright sunshine all day, stayed frozen. We made it to the top of the first-floor windows, which translates to about four rows above eaves level. Slow going, as we now have to cut the 35 degree pitch at the end of each board, as well as the 45 degree bevel at the other end. Rob the painter did a wee bit in the morning but left at 11ish.
Anna came too, and waitied anxiously for the arrival of the latest addition to the zoo, a young Irish donkey named Seamus, whose function will be to keep the horse company. He finally arrived from Carlisle an hour and a half late at 4:30, by which time it was too dark to see him. Donkey pictures below taken the following day.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

November 22nd - kitchen

Revolting weather again today, so Melvin and I continued with the kitchen. I had a re-jig of the design last night, and came up with a layout that made more efficient use of the units we have, and avoids a weird arrangement in the corner by the fridge. Assembled the remaining units and fitted them, all screwed together and braced to the back wall. Cutting the worktops went very smoothly, despite both of us having a bit of nerviness about it. A big cut-out for the ceramic sink and an accurate end-cut where the worktops joined were done with a jig-saw and a router respectively. The router was one I managed to scrounge from SKS Joinery in the village, as neither of the ones we had would accept the cutter that came with the worktop jig. Practiced and honed our technique on an offcut before tackling the butt-joint. Very pleased with the end result.
I also hung out the windows and fitted a couple of slates at the back and one at the front. Much better forecast tomorrow, so we should be back on the cladding.
Rob's flying through the painting, and is almost finished upstairs.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

November 21st - Kitchen

Grotty weather again, so Melvin and I spent the whole day fitting the kitchen. The enormous island occupied us for the morning, including cutting four of the carcasses to fit around the support pillars then bracing them with timber. There was a brief hiatus at lunchtime while Melvin fixed the generator pull-cord (again!) and I nipped off to Whitton to collect the hifi I left there when we moved at the end of January. Set it up and worked to groovy vibes all afternoon. We had to close up the subfloor along under the kitchen window, then insulate and fit the flooring before we could install the cupboards on that wall. A bit of a redesign means that we're a couple of units short, so couldn't fix it all together, so instead we hauled out a couple of the big heavy oak worktops and tackled the slightly nerve-wracking task of cutting them to fit around the supporting pillars. If I say it myself, we made a damn fine job, and with the island complete apart from the doors (which we'll leave till the end to save them getting damaged) it looks great. Very happy with it, and glad we pushed the boat out a bit on good materials.
While all this was going on, Rob was painting upstairs. Once again, I forgot to check his handywork. I hope he doesn't feel under-appreciated!
Anna came and went for a ride on her horse. I guess someone had to...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

November 20th - cladding & kitchen

Quite a big day, but unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures. Grotty weather early on compelled Melvin and me to work indoors on the kitchen, unpacking and assembling the units that will make up the island, which looks enormous. Rob the painter was back, and disappeared upstairs. From the occasional noises we assumed that he was doing something.
By late morning the day had brightened and we moved outside and spent the remainder of the day cladding. There was only a little bit to do on the front, after which we got stuck into the west wall, which I'd started last week. By dusk we'd reached just a few rows short of eaves-level.
Anna spent a good chunk of the day treating the north (back) wall, and by the time we pulled the scaffold from beneath her she had about a quarter of it done.
Stevie the taper turned up in the afternoon, and I left him and Rob to sort out the thorny issue of who was responsible the various undulations and anomolies in the wall-finishes. I didn't manage to check before dark, but assume they reached some kind of accommodation. Rob still has a few days to do, so the onus now lies with him.

Monday, 19 November 2007

November 19th - Window vents and kitchen

Miserable grey day with frequent showers, so cladding wasn't really an option - or not a very attractive one at any rate. There was evidence of rain ingress under east-facing windows, which had somehow blown in through the vents. This dictated my task for the day, which was to fit the vent covers to all the windows. An easy job that I should have done weeks ago. Still - no harm done, and by the time I left in the evening, all the floors had dried out.

Also had a look at the kitchen units, and installed a couple of small high-level ones. The island will be made up of two rows of five 600mm units. These have to fit into a gap of 2970mm between the big supporting posts, so the units on each end will need to be cut so that they overlap with the post by 15mm. Unpacked a couple of the floor-standing units and worked out the best way to go about this alteration.

All the bathroom equipment arrived today from Grahams, and is stored for the moment in the dining room, until Rob (who's due back tomorrow) paints the bathrooms.

Mal, if you see this before heading off to work on Tuesday, give me a bell at home please - I need to pick you brain.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

November 17th - cladding on my jack

A short and mildly unsatisfying day on site. There was a blustery swirling wind blowing, the generator refused to start for a long time, a delivery of hay for the new horse arrived and had to be unloaded and I kept whacking my head on the same pointy corner of barge-board above the porch roof.

After giving up on the generator, putting its refusal to play the game down to a coked-up spark plug (for which I had no spanner), I decided to spend the day painting. I set up some bales in the shed, laid a few planks out and got cracking. Only then did it dawn on me that this approach would mean that all my off-cuts would be painted, and with Osmo retailing at over £15 / litre, this didn’t seem like a good idea. Instead I started painting the front wall, but got so buffeted and chilled by the wind that in desperation I had another bash at starting the gennie. This time I bypassed the ignition switch, and the wee beauty started first time. I think the damp must have corroded the contacts in the switch. I now have to stop it by pulling the HT lead off the spark plug.

With a cup of hot tea in me, I was much restored, and set about cutting and fitting more cladding. It was slow and a bit frustrating doing it on my tod, having to climb the ladders at each end of every board, and it was while fitting the planks above the porch and running a wire down for the porch light that I kept colliding with barge-board, eventually punching a hole in my scalp and giving myself a dull headache.

Around 3 p.m. Anna rang to say the cupboard was bare, and shortly afterwards I packed up (moving the saw indoors single-handed was a bit of a pantomime!) and headed home.

There’s only about an hour or two’s work left to do at the front with Melvin on Monday, after which we’ll move to the west end, which I started last week.

I’m toying with the idea of using waney-edge larch for the wall inside the verandah, which, as well as looking very rustic and groovy, will help to eek out the profiled spruce cladding and the Osmo, both of which I think might be quite tight. The forecast for the next few days doesn't look to clever, so we might even put the kitchen together if outdoor work is rained off.


Friday, 16 November 2007

November 16th - Cladding the front wall

I hoped we'd get the front wall finished today, but a slow start, tricky access and an enforced early knock-off scuppered this. Still made pretty good progress. We could have done with scaffold along the length of the house, but open trenches would have made it very awkward and time-consuming to erect. Instead we worked off ladders, continually shifting them around.
We had to work out how to flash the interface between porch roof and house-wall, something I've been vaguely contemplating over the last few days. In the end we simply ran a strip of heavy-duty 6" damp-proof membrane up the joint, which sits behind the cladding and beneath the slates, much like the soakers used for the velux roof-lights.
Lots of labour-intensive boards today, bevelled at one end and cut to the porch-roof pitch at the other. Anna's horse arrived in the neighbouring field at around 3 p.m. to her conspicuous excitement, and just around then we had to call it a day so I could do the school run. Should get the front finished tomorrow, without Melvin, who'll be busy watching Scotland thump reigning world-cup holders Italy in the footie.


Thursday, 15 November 2007

November 15th - Cladding the front wall

The dream-team (sorry, Mal - two-thirds of the dream-team) reassembled this morning to carry on with the cladding. A much slower day than yesterday, with a fair amount of fiddling around with battens and insect mesh, and nothing like the super-efficient groove of yesterday. Anna came hot-foot from the paint shop with yet another colour to try on the fascias, which have taken on the characteristics of a chamelion. Today's variation was black, which better be right, because if it ain't, it'll be a bugger to cover!
I'd already clad the left-hand half of the front wall to about 2m high last week, and today we were starting at the far end, and hoping that when we reached top-of-door level, the two halves would splice in together. With this in mind I spent a bit of time at the start trying to ensure that I had the levels right for the first course. This wasn't all that easy as the porch forms a barrier in the middle, so it's not possible to run a continuous line along to marry things up. When we installed the final plank, above the front door, as dusk was falling we were just about bang-on, give or take a couple of millimetres - certainly well within the depth of the overlap between boards. I was delighted and amazed in equal measure.
The generator's been running a bit lumpy of late, and today Melvin removed and cleaned the air-filter, after which it was as sweet as a nut. Handy having a graduate mechanical engineer (and petrol-head) on the team!
I located the ground-floor WC ducting outlet, hidden behind the green membrane. By a stroke of good fortune, it comes through just a few inches above the porch-roof. A hand-span lower or to the right would have been a nightmare, as it would have been inaccessible behind a porch timber. Mal will claim that this was deliberate - but we all know that's a BIG lie!


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

November 14th - more cladding

Had Melvin on site again and battered on with the cladding on the north wall. I thought that we might get it finished today, but when we had to dismantle all the existing scaffold and re-erect it at the back of the house it was pretty obvious that dark would beat us. That was before Melvin produced a master-stroke in the shape of 1000W of halogen lighting, by which we worked for the final hour, finally knocking off triumphant at 5 p.m.
It was a glorious sunny morning again, and it seemed a shame to be working in perpetual shade in the shadow of the house. Once again we made slow progress early on, but in the afternoon found a groove and the planks were fairly flying up. I was cutting and painting, and Melvin was on the scaffold nailing and measuring where necessary. Once or twice one of us made a mistake that upset the rhythm for a few moments. It's amazing how long it takes to get it re-established.
I remembered to put a wire in for an outside light by the back door before it was too late, but it was only in the shower at home that I realised that we've buried the ducting outlet from the cooker hood, which is sitting behind the membrane somewhere above the kitchen window. Now need to study photos taken when we were installing the bales to try to get an accurate fix on where it is so I can cut through the wall and fit the louvre without damaging any cladding unnecessarily.
Anna turned up just before lunch again and filled a few gaps in the undercoating and ferried some cladding round for us.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

November 13th - cladding with Melvin

The big man was back today, and we spent the day in companiable endeavour, cladding the back (north) wall of the house. Progress seemed ridiculously slow at first, but after a while we found a rhythm, with Melvin nailing the lengths that I had measured and cut. He's still a bit nervous of the chop saw, and his finger, which he damaged with it a couple of weeks ago still looks a bit of a mess, and is still very tender.
We're treating ALL the end-grains before fitting now, including the mitred joints between planks. Probably should have done it on the front and west walls, and will have to be extra diligent when painting those walls to ensure that all joints are well covered.
Anna came for a couple of hours and touched up an unvarnished section of the back door, made lunch and partially exhumed the bale I'd buried to mark the small access hatch I cut in the power-cable duct.
Scottish Power were on site for part of the day, running a cable from a nearby pole to the plot-side. I borrowed their "cobra" - a continuous mini drain-rod on a reel to run a draw-wire through the duct to the house, but it wasn't long enough. If they don't bring a longer one next time I'll have to excavate the ducting at some point and do it in two runs.
No pictures today - forgot camera, but if you close your eyes and imagine the back wall almost half-covered in very light-coloured spruce cladding, you'll not be far wrong.
MUSTN'T forget to run wiring for the outside lights beside back an front doors tomorrow before cladding too high!

Monday, 12 November 2007

November 12th - cladding

Freezing morning, with a thick frost at the plot and iced-over puddles. Spent a couple of hours installing insect mesh to the west and north walls in preparation for cladding. Had terrible trouble with painfully cold fingertips, which were completely numb and unable to hold onto nails or to operate the stapler. Mal phoned from Australia to report that the kids were all in the paddling pool, and that it had reached 39.8 degrees - which strangely didn't help with my predicament.
Warmed up a bit when I started cutting and fitting cladding to the west end of the house, which was in bright sunshine. I had to haul the scaffold out of the way first, but decided not to dismantle it, in the hope that Melvin and I will be able to manoeuvre it back into position tomorrow when we need it to access the higher cladding.
There are only two small windows in the whole gable-end, so the first ten rows of cladding were very straight-forward, simply straight runs of three planks per row. Here I encountered the first window - the utility room, and work slowed down a little when I had to do some accurate measuring and cutting to ensure a good weatherproof finish. I used the last dregs of Woodstain & Protect from the matchpot to treat the end-grains that were butting up to the window-frame.
Light started to fade around 4 p.m. and I finally knocked off at 4:45. Had a visit from a very friendly Scottish Power engineer, just checking that everything was set for the running of power as far as the plot-side tomorrow.


Sunday, 11 November 2007

November 11th - cladding

Managed about four hours on site today before the boys had extracted all the fun they could from a shed full of bales and an assortment of dangerous tools. Fitted the cladding I'd brought home for end-grain treating, and cut and installed a few more. Quite tricky working solo with 12-foot lengths, trying to hold them in position and nail at the same time. Some tricky cutting around the porch timbers slowed things down a bit, as did dealing with the boys' frequent misadventures and calamities.

I awoke in the early hours this morning and wrestled with the best way to weatherproof the joints between cladding and window / door frames. In the end I decided to use a bead of silicon behind the cladding, and another on the front. This should provide a belt and braces. The front bead will be easy to inspect and maintain, and will prevent water ingress as long as it is in good condition. Any any water that manages to blow through if the bead gets damaged will be kept out of the straw cavity by the second bead, which, being behind and therefore protected by the cladding from UV and accidental damage, should remain in pristine condition for many years.

There's a pronounced bulge in the wall between the snug window and the porch, where the tightly stuffed straw has bowed the external (non-load-bearing) frame. This isn't a problem, either structurally or in terms of the weather-proofing performance of the cladding, and it lends the building a pleasing organic feel that sits well with the very rustic porch and verandah timbers. Shouldn't think Mal would be very impressed with the curves, but he's very much a straight-lines, stainless steel and glass man.

Speaking of stainless steel, the nails I'm using for the cladding are 65mm stainless steel ringshanks from Russwood. Galvanised nails are unsuitable because they cause nasty black staining when they react with the tanin in the timber, and ringshanks were chosen to provide good pull-out resistance. With the bulging walls this is essential, as the ends of the planks are under quite a bit of tension. It may be necessary in future, when the wood is under additional mechanical stress due to wetting and drying, to screw some of the board-ends. At the moment, though, the nails are holding.

Melvin's due back on site tomorrow, which should speed things up considerably.


Friday, 9 November 2007

November 9th - cladding (but not much!)

A very short day on site. I took the boys into Kelso first thing to look for presents for Anna's 40th tomorrow, made it to the plot late morning and had to leave just after 2 p.m. to get to a job in Dunbar. While there I managed to fit a few rows of cladding to the left of the front door, and cut enough to get to the top of the snug window. I brought this lot home to treat the end-grain before fitting. Left a note for Stevie, who hadn't turned up by the time I left. Don't know if he made it over.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

November 8th - cladding begins

Another day of bits and bobs, with precious little progress on anything. I had a call in the morning saying that the treatment for the cladding wouldn't be here until a week tomorrow, so I resolved to start installing it untreated and paint it in situ. I spent part of the morning fitting the insect mesh at the bottom of the front external wall, then suddenly realised that I ought to make things ready for Stevie the taper, who was due after lunch. I tidied up the sheeting around the waterfall window, chamferring a couple of the joints and trimming back rough gyproc. Anna was away from lunchtime, so I stayed at home with the boys for a couple of hours and only returned to the plot around 3p.m. Stevie turned up shortly after, with less than an hour's daylight remaining. I showed him the bits around the window reveals where I thought he could have done a neater job, and where the painter reckoned the taping was a bit ropey, but Stevie laughed it all off and laid the responsibility firmly with the painter, whose job it is apparently to iron out the kinks left by the previous tradesmen.
A blustery wind was blowing from the north, unusually, and it was freezing. I installed four lenghts of cladding to the left of the front porch, forming mitres at the joins to protect the end-grains. Slow process, which I'll need to streamline if the cladding (over 500 boards) is to be done this side of doomsday.


Wednesday, 7 November 2007

November 7th - Grrr!

A completely wasted morning when I accidentally went from Berick to Newcastle by train was followed by a frustrating wait for instructions for the cooker hood (none were included with the equipment, and the manufacturer then faxed the wrong ones over) which almost scuppered my day completely. At least my time in Berwick wasn't wasted, as I paid for the bathrooms and arranged delivery, quizzed a pointless pillock about boilers and colleted the insect mesh for the bottom of the cladding. Anna at least had a productive morning, undercoating the front fascia with a light sage green, which we though would look nice but actually doesn't work at all. Still - better to find out with the undercoat, as we can now choose an alternative for the top coat.
I eventually got stuck into some work mid-afternoon, cutting and fitting a couple more rows of sarking while I waited for a Howdens rep to turn up with the right cooker hood documentation. When it arrived, I cut a hole in the kitchen ceiling, nailed a couple of cross-members to the floor-joists to support the weight of the hood (32kg), then patched the hole and cut a hole in the patch for the ducting. I had to get this done today so Stevie the taper can make good the joints tomorrow when he comes to do the waterfall window.
Right at the end of the day a driver from Navitron pitched up with the solar panel and hot water tank. He'd driven from Rutland to Skye, and had another drop in Newcastle before returning to Rutland, about 1000 miles' driving in a Transit van. His eyes looked like fried eggs, and he still had 250 miles to go! I arrived home in the evening to find £15,000-worth of bills in the post. Eeek!
Below are photos from the last few days.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

November 6th - Painting & misc

A continuation of yesterday, with Rob the painter making great strides inside, Anna working on the front fascia and me doing bits and bobs. It was very bright and surprisingly warm - I worked for most of the day in a T-shirt.
Anna put a couple of coats of Woodstain and Protect (the match-pot arrived in the post) on a plank of cladding. It looks pretty good - a bit darker than I'd expected but nicely accentuated grain. Last night I emailed Osmo and invited them to donate 20 litres to use as a case-study, and today they emailed back to say they could do it at half-price, which will save us a few hundred quid.
I finished the bottom row of battens to which the insect mesh will attach, fitted flashing above the remaining windows and doors (a job I should have done weeks ago, and which Mal started before he left). Anna headed off after lunch and Rob knocked off again around 4p.m. when the light started to fade. For the last hour I fitted sarking to the verandah roof, and by the time it became too dark to work up there safely I had amost half of it done.
Noticed today that one of the glazing units I fitted last week has finger-prints on the middle (enclosed and inaccessible) pane, and will need taking out and replacing again.

Monday, 5 November 2007

November 5th - Painting begins

Took the weekend off from the build to catch up with work. Returned today with Anna as soon as we'd packed the kids off to school. Anna promptly set to work damp-dusting the walls and ceilings downstairs in preparation for the painter, who turned up around 9a.m. He told her not to waste her time, so instead she spent the morning perched on a ladder undercoating the fascia on the back of the house. She's completely lost her voice, and was unable to make herself heard whenever she needed the ladder moving, and twice had it topple out of control behind her and land with a clatter on the ground. Anne turned up mid-morning, and they put on a delicious lunch together. Anna completed the rear fascia then called it a day, after a pretty heroic effort, feeling somewhat off-colour and struggling with the ladder in a blustery wind.
I had a bits and pieces day, which felt very unproductive. Knocked off a little bit of plumbing, which enabled me to close up the wall in the utility room, then nipped into Kelso to run a couple of errands (including dropping the computer at the boffin-shop for repair - hence no photos today), and picked up some nails. Armed with these, I fixed short sections of batten horizontally in the spaces between the vertical battens on the outside walls. I left gaps which, when covered with an insect mesh before the cladding goes up, will provide a ventilated cavity between the cladding and the breather membrane to help the wall breathe. To finish the day I fixed the first row of sarking on the verandah. I still reckon that the verandah roof might keep an awful lot of light out of the east end of the house, and I think we should possibly have some glass in it, above the big windows and patio-doors. Anna's not keen.
By the time Rob the painter knocked off around 4p.m. he had first-coated the ceiling and walls in the main downstairs area and some of the bedroom and bathroom ceilings using our Earthborn Claypaint. Costs a small fortune, and doesn't appear to live up to it's coverage claims, but it's free of chemical nasties and shouldn't damage the kids when they lick the walls (although if I see them at it, I might!)

Friday, 2 November 2007

November 2nd - Big deliveries

Not a lot of work on site today, but a couple of big deliveries. Spent an hour shifting loose straw and timber from the shed to the fire and burning it in a controlled fashion to make space for the cladding, which arrived from Abbey Timber at 11a.m.
I'd been haring around the place trying to find a man and machine to unload it, and reluctantly had to prevail upon the ever-obliging Neil, from whom we bought the plot to take 20 minutes out from building a new cattle court. He managed to get it all under cover in the shed, which was a great result.
Before all that, however, the entire kitchen arrived from Howdens, including a double-oven, hob and extractor. Stacked it all in the snug, then spent the rest of the day fitting the mortice lock to the back door to get the place properly secure.
Just before leaving I cut a sizeable hole in the wall of the lobby t excavate a wire that some eejit had buried when we were sheeting. Neither Melvin nor I could remember exactly where it was, so it took quite a bit of cutting to find it. Patched it all up in readiness for Stevie the taper, who's coming on Monday.
Anna worked upstairs for a few hours, damp-dusting the walls and ceilings to prepare for the painter, who's also due on Monday.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

November 1st - Progress on warrant

No work on site yesterday, and today I only managed to nip over for a couple of hours in the afternoon to clear the shed in preparation for tomorrows delivery of all the cladding. While I was there I had a call from Douglas Thompson at Building Control. I'd been expecting the call since last Friday's visit by Chris Weir, and was pretty anxious that I'd be told to stop all work. In the event, he was very sensible and pragmatic about the fact that the house has been built without a warrant, and promised to send out a warrant application for the super-structure and roof, and to prioritise the application once I submit it. Their estimated cost of works is £120,000, which means an extra £220 in fees. This may well be more accurate than my rather optimistic £80,000. I suspect the final figure will be somewhere in the middle.
As well as the cladding, the kitchen is out for delivery tomorrow, so once the painter has done the big openplan area I'll be able to crack on with that.
We've been having a hell of a time trying to work out what to treat the cladding with. Osmo, a German company make a range of toxin-free treatments, but their UK office and the suppliers we spoke to seem to have almost no useable knowledge of the product range. In desperation, Anna rang the German office yesterday and finally got the answers we need. Based on these we've selected their "Woodstain and Protect", which goes on in two coats, and will need reapplying every few years, depending on the amount of rain and UV it's exposed to.
I dropped by the Bowmont Forest sawmill today and collected half of the timber for the verandah roof. 25 boards was about as much as I wanted to load on the roofrack. I'll get the rest tomorrow. If you're out there, Melvin, next week is going to be busy!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

October 30th - battens, windows and sheeting

A productive day, with Crispin and Melvin on site again. Melvin resumed where he left off yesterday with the sheeting around the waterfall window and Crispin cracked on with the external battens. I nicked into Kelso and collected the replacement glazing for the two front bedroom windows. We fitted these after lunch and Melvin, having finally finished the sheeting and in no mood to start anything else, called it a day and went home.
I took some slates onto the roof to replace a broken one, and ended up breaking four in a diagonal line up the roof before eventually getting it all patched up! The final task of the day, which Crispin and I did together, was to fit the lock and handle to the front door. A small change, but a symbolic one, as now that we have all the windows in and the door furnished, we can lock the place up at night. Probably just as well, as soon the high-value bits and bobs for the kitchen and bathrooms will start arriving.

Monday, 29 October 2007

October 29th - Ridge flashing and cladding battens

After a weekend away from the site I was joined today by Melvin and my brother Crispin, visiting for a few days as a second-best because the rivers are too low to fish.
Yet another pristine Autumn day, chilly with a lovely soft sun. Melvin carried on where he left off last week with the framing and sheeting around the waterfall window, and I set Crispin to work nailing battens to the outside walls, on which the cladding will be mounted. Good worker, requiring virtually no direction. He had his newest toy - a broadcast-quality video camera with him, and shot some video that may someday make it onto the blog.
I was very pleasantly surprised how much work he got through, fitting battens to the east end to verandah-roof level, all of the front wall and part of the west end. I worked with him for a while, then headed up to the roof, where I undercoated the finials and fitted the zinc ridge-flashing. It looks very nifty, although the first rain-shower will dull it down a lot.

Friday, 26 October 2007

October 26th - Summit!

Finally, after 342 years of non-stop slating, today I finally finished. Well - almost finished - I completed the top row on the south side of the roof and now have only the missing slates to insert where the roof brackets have been. After an interruption for an afternoon school run, I returned at the end of the day and fitted the ridge-pole I'd bought first-thing from Border Slate Supplies in St. Boswells. Also bought the zinc flashing, but just as I was finishing the ridge-pole it started to rain and the slates very quickly turned treacherously slippery. That, combined with the failing light and the fact that I'd left my mobile at home and wouldn't be able to summon help if I got into diffs persuaded me to call it a day. More sporadic rain forecast over the next few days, so I'll need to squeeze the flashing installation in between showers, and knock off some inside jobs when it rains.
Anna carried on with some pretty precarious painting perched on the scaffold in a chilly wind. She's well into the window frames, but is a bit concerned about the variety of finishes on seemingly identical pieces of timber.
Chris Weir from Building Control dropped by to remind us that we don't yet have a warrant, and told me that the pragmatic Dougie Crew has been transferred to Hawick, and replaced by someone rather more bullish. Suspect there may be a bit of a battle looming, but with the roof not quite finished and the cladding ready to go, I'm certainly in no mood to down-tools. Need to get the place properly weather-tight with winter coming. The fact that three blokes have built a 5-bedroom house from scratch in the time it's taken them to do precisely nothing with the drawings ought to fill them with shame. But it won't, of course.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

October 25th - Slating

A short day on site with Anna. She treated some windows and I worked yet again on the roof. Reached the ridge, and now have just to fit a row of half-length slates to provide cover at the top, and finally the ridge flashing.
Ordered the hot water tank and solar water heater from Navitron and paid a £795 deposit, about half the total bill.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

October 24th - Slating

Another day of flawless weather. A hard frost first thing, but once the mist had lifted it soon thawed in warm sunshine, allowing me to spend the better part of the day slating in a T-shirt - pretty remarkable for late October! Anna was on site again, treating the window frames with Osmo One-coat, an eco-friendly external timber treatment. Goes on a treat and looks great. She was a happy bunny. Having spend several days priming one fascia, and still facing the prospect of three coats of undercoat and gloss, she was delighted with the idea of a single application for the windows and door-frames. We'll use the same stuff for the cladding.
I climbed ever-closer to the ridge, and finally ran out of slates at round 5p.m. with around a hundred left to do. Assuming the last box arrives good and early tomorrow, I should finish by mid-afternoon, in time to drive to St. Boswells to choose the ridge-capping, or flashing, or whatever it's called. Suppose I ought to find out...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

October 23rd - Slating

A slow day slating the right-hand side of the waterfall window. There was quite a bit of calculation do sort out to make sure that I tied in correctly with the existing slating further up the roof. Very happy and relieved that it all worked out perfectly.
Anna was on site for a few hours, and completed the priming (i.e. the first of four coats) of the rear fascia while her mum tidied up around the place and burned a load of scraps of treated timber and OSB.

Monday, 22 October 2007

October 21st & 22nd - Slating

A productive couple of days on the roof. Yesterday I reached to within 6 or seven rows of the ridge, and today I reached it. I now have about two days' work remaining to finish the slating completely, and the forecast is set fair for at least three days.
Melvin joined me today and started framing up around the waterfall window in preparation for sheeting. After an hour or two he damaged a finger on the chop-saw. Tried to carry on, but the throbbing from the hand and an understandable nervousness around the machines made him call it a day and drive home to count his blessings and his fingers.
Dad is very much on the mend and might even be discharged at the end of the week, only ten days after being on life-support. What a trooper!

Pictures below taken on October 21st:

Saturday, 20 October 2007

October 20th - Slating again

Just a couple of hours on site before lunch today. Slating up the left-hand-side of the waterfall window, I was delighted to discover that I could insert the soakers without taking the flashing assembly apart. I reached the top of the windows, then called it a day.
At last, I felt almost at full strength, after some weeks of dragging myself around, and look forward to making the most of a great weather forecast over the next few days.
Dad, too, is making strides in his recovery, and has been transferred from Intensive Care to a cardiac ward. He's breathing unaided, eating, sitting up reading and talking and looking a completely different man to the one who very nearly died a couple of days ago. Bit of concern over damage to his heart.

Friday, 19 October 2007

October 19th - hiatus

No activity and no blogs for a few days. My chest continues to be completely crap, but the main reason is that my dad, who came to visit a few days ago very suddenly developed life-threatening pneumonia on Tuesday night. We had to meet an ambulance on the road, as he couldn't breathe. He's spent the last few days on life-support under heavy sedation, and looked at one point like he might not survive. Happily, the ventilator has now been withdrawn, he's conscious (though still very confused) and breathing unsupported.
The family has descended on us, which is lovely. Shame I can't issue them all with paint-brushes and overalls!


Managed a little work today on the build. Coralie (sister) came with me and varnished front and back doors, which look absolutely gorgeous. I started on the stair components. Mal had cut some of the spindles to length, so I did the calculations for the spacers, cut a load of them and set about assembling it all. Got about half the lower flight done before suddenly realising that painting the wall behind would be a lot easier without the banisters in the way.
Uber-sister Tamzin, who's been cooking like a dervish for the assembled family, rocked up with a super-tasty pot of soup for lunch, which helped my flagging energy levels for an hour or two. Anna carried on with the varnishing and I cut and the intricate barge-boards at the sides of the waterfall window. Now at the stage where I can crack on with the slating, and hopefully get it done before this wonderful weather cracks.


Monday, 15 October 2007

October 15th - non-starter

Bit of a shocker today. I trundled over to the plot with my clogged and painful lungs to start slating, but felt so weak and wrecked when I got there that I couldn't face the exertion of hauling the slates up to the roof and battling against the wind to stay up there. Instead I started to sheet around the waterfall window, but discovered that the necessary framing was going to be very tricky without a nail-gun. Managed a little bit but when a couple of orders came in by phone I found it extremely easy to justify packing it in and heading home to tackle the day-job instead.
I'd had a bit of a run-in with a perenially grumpy and misanthropic sales assistant in Travis Perkins in the morning, and had shed and destroyed a roofrack-load of plasterboard on the way home when I was driving too fast in a rage, so all in all it was a pretty crap day!
Need to get Melvin back with his nail-gun for a day to finish the sheeting.