Thursday, 24 March 2011

Moving to Site

 Well we had planning permission, we had drawings, we had the cash in the bank all we needed to do now was to start building.

During the planning we had attempted to sort out a few contractors for the various stages, we found a contractor(who would be required to open up the highway) for connection of sewerage and surface water by speaking to the local water authority who keep a list of approved contractors. Likewise the electricity company provided their contractor to connect a temporary electric supply to the plot, all very straightforward, if long winded, but getting quotes and commitments to start from builders and ground workers when they are very busy is akin to blood and stone. However we needed to get on so we pressed ahead with the move to site.

We had sold our house to pay for the build and were living in a flat with many of our belongings in expensive storage, which in the long term was unsustainable, then one day whilst wandering around B&Q we came across a FinnForest flat pack log garage at a bargain price. A solution to our storage problem!

As in the best  tradition of self build we planned to live in a caravan on site whilst we built our new house, however if you are going to do this then its a good idea to invest in a residential rather than touring van as more than six months in a tourer will be hell(especially if you have any kids). Fortunately we found a superb 22 foot bargain  on the East Coast and the caravan site owner from whom we bought it arranged to transport it to our site for very little extra, little did we know that it was to be our home for a couple of years.

Right, we had a number of contractors arranged, a caravan to live in, and a storage facility for our worldly goods and having spent a couple of weeks chopping down trees, digging up shrubs and demolishing a small building we could set up our site for the work ahead.

My wife gets stuck in helping lay a temporary access, you can't get the labour these days

A small summer house had to be demolished.

Friends help with the last remnants of the building

We used contractors to remove the trees
Just inspecting

I planned to raise the FinnForest timber building off the ground and install a false floor so had to build footings under the walls. If we had not got a bargain on this product then a  conventional cabin would have been more suitable to store furniture etc.

Nice little toy
The caravan arrives on low loader

Caravan in place ready to start erecting the cabin
  Building the walls on which to stand the cabin, please note the plastic chairs, you have to have somewhere to sit and drink your tea.
The FinnForest flat pack cabin arrives, excellent quality stuff with 40mm beautiful quality soft wood timber walls, quality machining and ready cut felt shingles for the roof.

It takes a few days to erect the cabin because being as particular as we are we gave each piece a coat of Cuprinol preservative as we built it. However these buildings are a piece of cake and slot together like a jigsaw with a sturdy structure at the end, an ideal solution to the storage problem, they also make for a great additional feature in the garden afterwards.  
First stages
Up to the roof

On goes the roof
Nearly finished

It was looking good, the caravan was in place, the storage facility was erected, the site was cleared but we couldn't move into our accommodation yet, we had no services!! We had to get them laid on, it was essential for living on site that we could use a loo without worrying about waste disposal, water was a definite for a cup of tea(and cooking) and electric for lighting(to watch the telly at night,Grand Designs etc) Electricity (the easy bit)was provided to the caravan by a 6mm power cable clipped to the fence from a temporary consumer unit mounted in a wall box fixed to two posts in the corner of the site.  However the sewage, surface water and mains water was to be provided up the side of the site and round the back, with a spur off to the caravan and this was a very different question. It was evident that the whole site had been raised at some time in its history and was now some distance above the properties either side and well above road level. It was necessary to lower the site to keep the roof line level with surrounding buildings!!  Hence:-

 We had to move an estimated 150 cubic metres of good topsoil off site before we were down to the working level. I did not drive the JCB by the way.

Topsoil removal in progress
What a lot of soil

At last, down to working level and marking out for footings.

 You may be wondering by now why we were organising and doing this work as it was planned to do it with contractors? Well like much of this project we had been unable to find available contractors at reasonable cost so we decided to do it ourselves(as you do), and that included the next stage of marking out for the footings, getting them dug and filling them with concrete and then we might get the drainage in! However the first and fortunately last potentially major problem reared its ugly head, but more of that next time. 

See my next post to read the details of this problem and how we finally moved to site.   
If you have any questions about my blog or self build in general please email me. You can find my email address in my profile (top right of page). You can also become a follower of my blog by pressing the follower button or click on 'Comments' below to leave a message.  

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Monday, 14 March 2011

Planning and Design

This is where our adventure started to get really exciting. We had secured our plot and we were on to the next stage of designing and planning our new house. Whilst searching for our plot we had accumulated considerable information in the form of leaflets and brochures from manufacturers about their building products and services and this was a good place to start the self build research. We visited the 'Homebuilding and Renovating Show' at the NEC on a couple of occasions from where we picked up many ideas and other information leaflets from manufacturers and where we first came across 'Trent Jetfloor', an insulated block and beam floor construction system. 'Thermalite' also had a stand demonstrating the 'Thin Joint Blockwork' method of laying blocks, common on the continent, and a system which we were to use later in our build. We read and researched continuously including building books like  Mark Brinkley's 'The House Builders Bible', 'Barry' 'The Construction of Buildings' and 'Building Your Own Home' by Snell and Armor. The leaflets we obtained from suppliers proved invaluable and in the case of 'Jetfloor' they described precisely the method of construction of their Block and Beam flooring.. The Kingspan insulation leaflet also proved very useful as it described all the different methods of constructing an efficient roof covering. Whether you are going to construct your own home yourself or by the use of  tradesman it pays to be clued up about  all the construction techniques that will be used in your house by reading as much as possible beforehand.

Another view of our plot

We had in mind to build a traditional brick, block and tile house with specific features which we wished to include, like sash windows, high ceilings, galleried landing, on-suites etc, and we had a good idea what we wanted the outside to look like.We wanted a solid, traditional looking, quality building with rustic brickwork, stone cills,cast iron looking water drainage system, windows set behind the reveals and curved heads to the windows.
It had to fit in with the village 'vernacular' a term often found in planning speak, and because we wanted to have a considerable input to the build and to save money we had to keep it simple,so we borrowed  a design from a house which we had admired (and also photographed)in our locality and one that followed the vision which we had. 

We also had a good idea how we wanted to construct the house and how it had to be achievable without the use of too much manpower and machinery. Our original plan was to use ground workers to do footings up to above ground, ourselves to do internal block work by the 'thin joint' method whilst a brickie did the brickwork and joiners and roofers did the roof. We decided to use block and beam  in the ground and first floor with short beams for handle ability and to provide a platform on the first floor to work on as we were going to do the internal work ourselves up to plastering, it was going to be open to the weather for longer than normal so timber on joists was not an option. We also planned to fit out the rest of the house including wiring and plumbing and tiling, kitchen and bathroom fitting ourselves,  phew!!

And that was the quick method!!

That's me doing some measuring up during the planning stage

You can draw and submit plans and negotiate with the local authority yourself but as we had neither the drawing facilities or the experience to negotiate, we decided to employ someone to do this on our behalf. How to find someone?? Yellow pages,local ads or recommendation, well as we had no recommendations and did not trust local ads we resorted to the 'planning register'. Eureka! the planning register lists the name of all the architects, planning technicians and private applicants alongside the applications and by looking for regular contributors and successes we had a good idea where to find a recommended designer. This is how from a short list we came to choose Geoff, our planning technician.  

Planning Technicians are not architects and will not be able to give the same level of service, however they are cheaper and if you know what you want and can specify your build then its a good way to go and they do know their stuff.

Geoff was quick to catch on here, he was able to use our ideas (and photographs) to produce drawings and specifications that met our requirements and subsequently steer them through the planning maze very efficiently, however it still took several months to get final approval, but eventually we were off!

Next time on 'The Real Self Build Blog' I will tell you how we moved on to site and started to build.

If you have any questions about my blog or self build in general please email me. You can find my email address in my profile (top right of page). You can also become a follower of my blog by pressing the follower button or click on 'Comments' below to leave a message.  

Thanks for viewing.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Hi and welcome to 'The Real Self Build Blog' which is the story of how my wife and I built our own house. We have called  it 'Real'  because we really did build  95% of the house ourselves and in this blog I hope to show you in words and pictures how we did it.

This is a picture of our house and as you can see it is now complete.  It is of conventional brick construction with Sandtoft Clay Pantile roof, upvc Sash Windows by GlynGary, Brett Martin Cast Iron effect rainwater system and Hormann Cedar Wood doors. The materials and design were chosen to compliment the village and its surroundings. Anyway we didn't start here so let me show you where we did.

Behind the hedge is our plot, it used to be the garden of the house adjacent. Plots are very difficult to find but the use of magazines like 'Build It' or 'Homebuilding and Renovating' are very helpful. We also visited the planning office of our chosen area authority where they keep the 'planning register' another source of  leads for new plots. However we eventually found ours in 'Plotfinder' classifieds. Here are one or two more pictures of our plot taken whilst we were planning the build.

A picture with my wife duly taking notes. Access to the site was a crawl through the Holly Hedge (very prickly). 

A picture from the top of the site,a good size about 30m x 16m.

In case you are wondering, we are not qualified builders, plumbers or electricians but we are very experienced and accomplished at DIY and are also viewers of 'Grand Designs', 'Escape to the Country' and 'Sarah Beeney'  from where we got much of our inspiration. We didn't  plan to do all the work ourselves, it sort of evolved, but if you are thinking of doing this much work yourself, be warned it can take a long time.
Anyway, before we actually get on to talking about digging any holes in the ground I will tell you about how we planned the design of the house and details of the materials and specifications we used. But that is for my next post.

If you have any questions about my blog or self build in general please email me. You can find my email address in my profile (top right of page). You can also become a follower of my blog by pressing the follower button or click on 'Comments' below to leave a message.  

Thanks for viewing.