Friday, February 03, 2012

We aint'nt dead

It's true this blog has been very quiet. Looking around, this seems very common - there's a point in many self-builds where the mountain of things to worry about overwhelms our ability to string coherent sentences together.

At that point, ask an average self-builder how it's going and you'll see them pull a strange face - half optimistic, half rabbit-in-the-headlights scared - and they'll reel off a string of words that have no meaning: "shedding membrane", "incompatible levels", "re-order the cladding", "cistern frames won't fit".. mutter, mutter, mutter.

So the blog grinds to a halt.

Rest assured though that we're still here, the house is in fine shape and even if we've not been talking about it, we have taken a lot of photos. Coherent thought is returning, and I hope to put together some posts on windows, the joys of wiring, the horror of plumbing and which gizmos actually work in a home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Few Pictures.From Summer's End


The house with first floor walls in place, ready for the beams to go in.


It's almost sculptural.


Not bad weather for building either..
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Monday, September 21, 2009

SIPS are quick

Here's the video of the ground floor being constructed in double quick time.

Ian from Sips @ Clays came down on Friday with a trailer load of timber that the crew could use to set out the soleplate. At the same time Les and Phyllis (my in-laws) arrived in their VW campervan with a plan to stay the weekend and to see the site before the build started. On their journey down though, the gearbox gave up (something about thirty years on one oil fill!). Repairs would take a week, so our busy little site had to find room for a couple of extra guests. The more the merrier!

On Tuesday, the construction crew of Duane, Chris and Phil arrived to beautiful blazing hot sunshine. They cheerfully worked throughout the day, with Les lending a hand. In twelve hours they measured, marked, packed and placed beams around the blockwork that would give an accurate and level base for the sips panels. Happily, the slab and blockwork had given them a good start - less than 10mm difference in 17 metres.

As they were working, we had a call from the lorry driver who we expected to turn up the next morning with the panels to start construction. Rather than drive over night, he had already set out. Could we find somewhere for him to park? Did I say the more the merrier? Of course! So, the campervan was joined overnight by a forty foot artic. We should open a lorry park - we certainly feel popular enough.

The next three days saw Duane, Chris and Phill working fantastically hard in a wonderful late summer as the harvest ran around us. Back wall, sides, interior and front all went up exactly as planned to the thud-thud-thud of nail guns and some enthusiastic singing along with their radio. Each day would end with the compressor being turned off from it's asthmatic bursts of activity, air being let out of the hoses and quiet descending. We'd take it in turns to wander around the house, looking out of windows that hadn't been there hours earlier and pacing out the position of cupboards, stairs and furniture.

The short working week ended with plates built around the top of the ground floor walls ready for joists and first floor deck. Les and Phyllis drove home and we set about tidying the site for the next big push - first floor walls and then the roof. Our feet hadn't touched the ground. At last our house had truly started.

Friday, August 14, 2009


We've been busy the last couple of months, but not blogging. Sorry. We had a great holiday in July - a last little breather before the chaos hits. And boy has it hit.

The house should start to go up next week.

Right now that means we have to co-ordinate all of the bits and pieces needed on site to help the build run smoothly. We also have to pre-order many of the follow on materials and supplies for the house to be made water tight and first fit to begin. Some of these have two month lead times so we're having to anticipate where we're going to be sometime in October. Being new to the game, this is all quite daunting and I'm sure Barry (our builder, who will oversee the rest of the construction) dispairs of us at times. But it's coming together slowly.

In the mean time, I've sorted out a computer with enough space to cope with the four thousand photos we're taking a day (one every ten seconds or so) to give us timelapse video of the build.

Here's the first film, of the site being scraped down to level and the piles going in. Abbey Pynford did a great job and their teams were efficient and friendly - we'd highly recommend them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It Never Rains But It Pours (or not...)

We started our building the actual house - or at least broke ground - in the brief spell of glorious weather and this sleepy little site has transformed into a hotbed of activity. Not only are we drowning in lists of people to contact, decisions to be taken and jobs to do (when we've not even started the foundations yet!), but our social calendar has chosen this moment to explode.

We're having a great time. Sleep, after all, is for the weak and foolish.

Friday saw a trip into Cambridge for a night of beer and curry with friends. It reminded me how well situated we are. The train station is ten minutes' on foot through beautiful fields along side the river. What better way to forget work at the end of the week than walking through blissful countryside as the day's heat gives way to fresh evening breezes? Then it's barely more than five minutes into town and a short stagger to the civilised comfort of the Salisbury Arms (many other pubs are available, please see Mill Road for details).

Back in the village (with a hangover.. ouch) the barracks had it's annual open day this weekend. The kids were entertained with a chance to sit in a helicopter and turn knobs and dials until it might never be able to fly again. Dad was entertained by a long display by the Lancaster bomber, Spitfire and Hurricane which took turns to do runs over the old airfield, dive and spin off into the sky. Mum took the opportunity to go riding.

Sunday saw the village beer festival's family day - Pimms for Mum, beer for Dad and more ice-cream for William and Becky. When so many of the local villages have lost their identity to nearby Cambridge and the march of supermarkets and shopping centres, it's great that ours is big enough to have a real sense of community and successful events without quite loosing that close knit feel.

In between these trips we've managed to fit in a visit by Ness' Aunt, cousin Ben and his family, a visit from my Mum & Dad, my birthday and a lot of site preparation. When not socialising, we've been checking plans, marking out locations with upside down paint(*) and hammering in bargeboards to show just where everything should go. The day starts at seven and ends with me watering the plants in the dark as the sun has set. Last minute clearing, chopping, digging and marking seems to be paying off though - I'll post up the video of the site being dug very soon.

* - For painting upside down. Very useful stuff.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Starting the build

This must mark the beginning of our build - we're knocking down the shed.

It'll be a couple of months before anything shows above ground as we're still completing a few remaining details for the construction. However, by the end of this month we should have a foundation slab to show just how big (or small) the house feels. Very early days, but it's still quite exciting.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SIPs - Genius Idea

Once we got planning permission, one of the first decisions we had to make was - how are we going to build our house? Only a few years ago the choice was simple, wood or brick. Now there is the option of straw bales, durisol bricks, thin joint blocks, ICF blocks, SIPs and many other even more obscure building materials. For our needs, SIPs (structural insulated panels) seemed to be ideal. They are a sandwich of wood chip board and insulation, a little less than six inches thick and produced in enormous sheets. At the factory, they are cut into sections for your house walls and roof, holes are made for windows and doors and the whole lot are wrapped up and sent on the back of a lorry to the site.

Once they arrive on site, they're glued and screwed together to make up the entire shell of your new home. From bare slab to complete shell can take as little as a couple of weeks. Whilst the speed is impressive, the most significant feature of SIPs are that you end up with a shell that is consistently and robustly insulated. The few joints that are needed to connect panels are glued and airtight. The result is a home that is easy to heat and easy to keep warm.

in a few years time, SIPs will become a significant force in UK construction

SIPs have been used for decades in Canada and some parts of Europe. Whilst they are relatively new in the UK, the market has been maturing. Early experimental homes have given way to a well established stream of new buildings. The benefit to self-builders is obvious - you can build a top spec, energy efficient house for a sensible cost and at low risk. Developers are beginning to catch on and I'm sure that in a few years time, SIPs will become a significant force in UK construction.

After talking to a number of suppliers, we chose SIPS @ Clays, who have proven to be enthusiastic and experienced. They deliver something like a house a week from their base in Skipton and take pride in the results they achieve. The houses are first drawn up in CAD, then cut and delivered for their construction team to erect. At the moment we're making the final small revisions to the CAD model and in a few weeks they'll begin to cut them up for construction this summer. Between now and then though, we need to prepare the site and lay some foundations.
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