Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In amongst the quagmire, building rubble, scaffolding and general building site detritus we have signs promising the return of life to the land. There is very little planting to speak of here (so far) but the rhubarb last year was gigantic and gorgeous so its exciting to see new growth. If I get my act together I'll get some buckets over a couple of plants to force some early crop. However as its driving rain and howling wind just now and there's a huge dump of snow forecast it'll certainly not be happening this weekend.

Inside the building the heat pump is being installed. It is a heavy piece of kit and took everyone here today to move it into the utility room. We've agreed its final position and from there Steve and I can order the utility room cabinetry. In a few days time the heating will all be connected and set to work. It'll take quite few days to come through as the pipework is deep in the slab but this will help dry the concrete before we look to putting flooring down. It'll also help to warm the rest of the house. Before the electrician left earlier he switched the heat recovery system on as it is now in place. We're pleased to report it is silent in its operation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Still raining in Scotland

Where to begin? Like many 'phone conversations and chats if you speak to someone often enough you catch up on lots of news but if you haven't spoken to them for a while you can't think of a thing that you've done. As we've been in our friend's house for a week and have now moved to a holiday house nearby we're not on the internet so blogging has been sporadic in the past 10 days. Activity at the farm has been considerable so we'll let photos explain where we're at.

One of the past day's issues is the internal wallhead height in the upper rooms. As the house is 1.5 storeys the trick is to achieve a well-balanced room which is usable without looking like a triangle and providing lots of awkward corners. The architect has proposed 1.55m wall head in the master bedroom but we personally have huge difficulties 'wasting' all that floorspace behind the joinery/plasterboard. The elevation shown looks west; here we've agreed with the joiner not to put any internal joinery on that side, other than boxing out the flue which can be seen, but to reduce the wallhead on the east elevation to 1.35m. This still entails the 'loss' of floorspace but provides proper walls for placing a bedhead against. The second photo shows the framework in place for that. On one of the landings we're creating an eaves storage cupboard. We're hoping to achieve optimal usable floor space and create a desirable room.

The second photo looks east and shows the framework now at 1.35m, this will be plasterboarded imminently.

Downstairs and the hallway looks a little less finished.

Tomorrow the heating guys return to start work on the heat pump installation in the utility room. Jim, the electrician is connecting the last elements of the heat recovery ventilation system upstairs and will then move downstairs. The wood burning stove arrives tomorrow and the final long lost window arrives. The slates were finished last week and look grand.

Monday, January 21, 2008

We've spent the last three nights in our friend's house and it has been really lovely! Terrific to have warmth, spacious bathrooms, properly hot water, a real fire and plenty of space. I cooked a gorgeous roast dinner yesterday, the first for 7 months at least and it was much appreciated.

Various people have been working on site this weekend as we had pretty good weather. Most of the leadwork to the windows is complete, with just the remainder of the dormer to finish off when it has stopped is very wet and very cold. The groundworks crew are back and have been building the external brickwork up on the east elevation. Today, inside the house, installation of the ventilation system continues and the joiners have commenced work on the plasterboard ceilings on the upper floor. The slaters haven't progressed too much today because of the weather and unfortunately the rest of the week doesn't look too kind either.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grand Designs

Good to see Grand Designs back on TV this evening as it was always inspiring before we even thought of building. My overwhelming reaction isn't about the house though - just that the programme doesn't convey the zillions of decisions self-builders make. Obviously from an entertainment point of view it never will as it would make very dull viewing indeed but every day involves so many decisions, not a stressful thing as such but amazingly time absorbing. Thank goodness for t'internet.


One happy hen, good to see the sunshine again. Although freezing at night time. One house with vapour membrane complete. Imagine the condensation and damp here without a ventilation system in place. No draughts though.
One gorgeous view from our bedroom window.
One selection of electrical tagliatelle feeding into the utility room.One snapshot of infrastructure to the master bedroom en-suite. Heat recovery ventilation, hot and cold water feeds and returns, underfloor heating and soil pipe.

Good weather = Good Progress

Afterwhat has seemed a long spell of dreich weather, the sun finally came out today and the slaters made significant progress on the roof, now about 75% slated. Inside the joiners completed the poythen vapour membrane work on the 1st floor such that we now have a near airtight house.

As I have mentioned before airtightness is an essential element in low energy housing; it allows the insulation to work properly, prevents draughts and ensures that ventilation can be properly controlled. The old adage 'insulate tight - ventilate right' has to be the watchword for the eco-selfbuilder, and if planned and implemented properly, will go a long way to achieving significant savings in energy even before considering renewable energy systems and high efficiency boilers.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rambling catch-up

Have realised that I haven't taken any new pictures in the past few days...sorry! Lots happening though so here's a random list....

We've taken deliveries of towel radiators (Molly had requested a purple one for their bathroom but thankfully B&Q haven't realised there's a market need out there yet); three Grohe showers purchased online from Bathrooms365; we've also purchased two bathroom units from B&Q, with slightly adventurous acid lime coloured fronts; and there is a shower tray on the way which should complete all purchasing for the bathrooms except for flooring and tiling;

The kitchen design is being tweaked hither and thither but we are hoping to be making a decision by the end of next week, essentially the decision is between Magnet and John Lewis; both have been good on customer attention so far and both have well manufactured products, the latter have a slightly better selection of unit sizes which is a plus point but we haven't had the final quotes yet!

The search for slate floor tiles and hardwood flooring is next (Steve's job) and also for sliding wardrobes for the bedroom and hall (my job); when we finish this house build we should have so much spare time...I wonder?

On site the work on installing the Heat Recovery Ventilation system ducting has commenced. Steve spent a bit of time with the electrician as the system was new to him, I don't pretend I can explain the detail so will let the engineer expand on that soon. The principle is that the house is so well insulated and airtight that ventilation is an important requirement, and the system we are installing continuously extracts stale, warm, moisture laden air from the house and replaces it with fresh air from outside, transferring the latent heat from the former to the latter in the process . Other electrical work is largely complete for this stage with the positions for electrical sockets and other outlets for lighting, telephone, DAB, SAT/TV, RJ45 (computer network - CAT5e cabling) all firmed up. Thankfully we'll be having some of those neat multimedia sockets so the house doesn't look like an electrical showroom.

I have been striving to get quotes from landscaping firms to undertake some tree planting around the perimeter before the current planting season is over. I am submitting an application for a grant scheme which the National Park operate and although the rules are numerous I hope to get some help towards improving the local landscape. In addition I have been perusing the website of Butterworths which is an Ayrshire based organic apple nursery. Last year I missed the planting season but want to get 12 apple trees planted shortly with a mix of eating and culinary varieties. The hens currently occupy the orchard plot in its bare and bleak state so I'm sure they'd welcome the trees. Butterworths is a really specialist and very well regarded small nursery and they have many old Scottish species which I hope we can have here. I shall include a cider variety too so that we can dust off Steve's Vigo apple press in future Autumns.

And finally..we did watch some TV this week and were pleased to see the Hugh FW and Jamie Oliver programmes on chickens. Obviously we are pleased to have our own former battery hens which have flourished and are still laying eggs through the winter. We don't have chicken very often because organic is expensive (but delicious) but we are wondering whether to get some chickens for the table as well as for their eggs.

5 more nights in the caravan ('til mid March anyway).......

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wild Weather

Last night was a hideous experience. Scotland is suffering from a deep low pressure system with wild hairy winds which buffetted us yesterday evening, through the night and only this afternoon is easing. Gusts were 60-80mph and I didn't sleep more than 30 mins last night. The children did well sleeping til 3am and 5am before coming to find Mum (Dad being ensconsed in a London hotel!) We cuddled and snoozed, wondering if it could get much worse.

As daylight arrived there was debris all over the place but no obvious significant damage. The house has little building paper remaining and the roof sheets were off which means water penetration yet again but these are remediable. A friend phoned to see if we needed rescuing which was very thoughtful. The notable shock was that the hen house was on its side about 4metres from its previous position. I opened the door with trepidation expecting some unpleasant scene and can thankfully report no casualties. Poor devils must have got a bit of a shock. We've put the house back on its feet and replaced the bits and bobs.

This afternoon the storm has abated but there are some very active clouds with an awful lot of wind still blasting around. If it gets worse then we're staying at a friend's house tonight!

After refixing some of the building paper the joiners were inside today continuing with the roof insulation. The barn load delivered the other week is rapidly disappearing and the house is getting 'cosy'.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Blogging......and a revised completion date.

We are pleased we have set up the blog as it is probably the only way we'd keep any sort of record of the build and its been good fun for us to note our achievement as well as to keep family and friends up to speed. My friend Jane's blog was the first enounter I had with blogging and I still love reading her chat surrounding life in her organic flower business (take a look at ). Our blog started at the same time as the build on site although we had owned the farm for a year by then and had first viewed it 6 months prior to then. Since owning the farm we obtained planning consent for the new house and spent many hours working with the Architect on the design detail. So much work takes place before a single physical thing happens on site. The devil is in the detail. It is a year since we had the main dairy demolished having obtained a SEPA licence ourselves to dispose of the asbestos roof. One of our salvage exercises from the dairy resulted in 35 stone sinks some of which are being and will be commissioned as planters. The demolition of the main farmhouse took place in April 06.

At Christmas we loved hearing from those of you we know who look regularly at the blog, it was exciting to get a bit of feedback so we just want to say please feel free to write your comments online. Its nice knowing you're out there!

Site is back to full strength today. Its quite chilly but the heavy snowfall is on the hills rather than here at 70m asl. The builder's current estimate for completion is end March/mid April which gives us a guide for the next few months. So we will be back in the caravan mid-March. We'll also be available for housesitting!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Brochure management..!

Now we're on a mission to make sure we're ahead of the game on 'client supply items', we're starting to get rid of the accumulation of brochures as we actually bite the bullet and start buying stuff!
So far we've bought the sanitaryware for the three bathrooms, external insulaton system, chosen the wood stove and heat pump, and ordered and fitted all windows and doors - all of which we separated from the main build contract to retain maximum freedom of choice. Today our fridge freezer was delivered (Liebherr A+ rated) marking the first delivery of kitchen items.
The focus now is on the overall kitchen as Debs mentioned in her last blog, with Magnet and John Lewis very much in the running and we should have costed designs from both by the end of this week.
With regard to the overall build program, the joiners we're back last Friday fitting the internal airtightness/vapour membrane and tomorrow we should have a full crew including the slaters who probably have around two weeks of work to do in order to complete the roof. That said, we have snow and gales forecast tonight which might make roofing work a little tricky in the morning!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Shopping and snowmen

This morning we went to check out kitchens at John Lewis. There are quite a few elements of the build package we are responsible for supplying, kitchens and bathrooms being two of the more visually obvious but other things such as the ground source heat pump, pavatherm and internal flooring rest with us. This gives us more control over the final result although the whole design and build process is all consuming and full of decisions to be made. Being on site every day is cause and effect of that.
We are keen to have a bright red kitchen as the whole room is incredibly light and could easily take a strong colour. There are a few on the market but our current favourite is JL's colour collection in high gloss burgundy. We know their quality is good and that is the key to a good kitchen. We went to MFI the other day who had a nice looking kitchen too but the units and drawers wobbled as you opened and closed them, the fittings were plastic rather than metal so not sure they would have lasted terribly long.
This afternoon we made 3 snowmen before the blizzard took over.
The joiners were fixing the air/vapour membrane to the internal walls but headed home as the weather deteriorated.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Winter time...and the living ain't easy

Happy New Year from us all. Hope it brings good health and good fortune to you.

Photo taken at 4pm this afternoon as the light was starting to fail. Steve had returned from a meeting in Kinross-shire a couple of hours previously and was concerned about the road conditions as I was travelling from Perthshire. In this age of instant communications the fact that I didn't have a mobile phone today (cos he was using mine!) heightened the concern......if we weren't constantly available we'd never think twice about it.

Being in the caravan is fine with the snow because at least it means the air temperature is around zero whereas in the week before Christmas it was quite quite miserable with several days of frozen pipes making life unpleasant. In a strange kind of way, it also adds an extra layer of insulation to the caravan roof, igloo-style! We were pleased to be away for Christmas even if only for a few days.

Hogmanay and the first couple of days of 2008 were the usual round of house parties/invitations so we've spent many hours in real houses with good friends, lovely heating and comfortable living. Thankfully Scotland is blessed with two public holidays at New Year as well as a huge level of hospitality (which came first?).

We are moving out of the caravan in 2 weeks, initially to house sit for a friend who is going on holiday and then we're taking a 7 week let of a holiday house nearby. This will bring us to mid March. Originally our builder had indicated a completion around the end of February and there have been delays, particularly with the timber frame manufacturer and material shortages so we shall catch up with him next week for a revised date. After 7 months of living in the caravan we are now soooo looking forward to increased comfort, space and amenity.