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.

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!