Our new kitchen, expertly designed by Tanya of Number Eighty One is now being fitted by her meticulous fitter James. The result is already stunning and only half of it is in yet! To celebrate Angie, Sally and I had our first meal in the new house – a Chinese takeaway.
Stewart is also busy at the moment with the second fix electrical work. He is getting all of the sockets and switches fitted in the walls and putting the lights up. All of the lights use warm white LED bulbs so they will be very efficient and not need replacing for a very long time (3,000 hours plus), a good idea when you see how inaccessible some of the lights are.
The house now looks like a house and it is really time to start on the long haul that is called finishing. People often reckon that this is the most expensive part of the build – I hope not or I will run out of money!
The local authority reminded me the other day that I should by now have submitted my landscape plan. I guess I have just been too busy trying to get the house built that I forgot. I have to do this and build the bat roost before I am allowed to occupy the house.
Angie found me a garden designer who is local to where she lives and who has an interesting portfolio of sympathetic garden designs. After meeting Caz on site we agreed that we would like her to plan our new garden and she duly came this week to measure up and identify the various levels in the garden. She called the garden a blank canvas which is one way of describing a half acre of chalk. We are looking forward to hearing her thoughts.
Also exciting is the fact the kitchen was delivered at the end of the week.
Our friends Linda and Andrew visited to observe progress and were caught up in the kitchen delivery! Next time they come over we hope to be able to prepare a meal for them.
The start of a new week and Martin arrived on site to give me a hand. It was time to put everything in hand for the delivery of the kitchen later this month. A lot of cabinets and appliances are being delivered and so with the plastering all complete now I thought it was time to fit the front and back doors. The doors are oak and extremely heavy so it needed two of us to manoeuvre them into position. We started on the front door and after a couple of hours we had it in place and opening and closing freely.
One thing I was keen on in the design of the building is sight lines, and as you can just see in the photo – when you stand at the front door you can see right through the building to the farm land at the back.
The other key item before the kitchen arrives is for the new floor to be laid. After cleaning and priming the floor, Cyril was ready to start laying the Travertine tiles. Travertine is a form of limestone, which because it is a natural product has lots of swirls and fossils etc. These reflect the nature of the green oak which is prominent in the kitchen.
By the end of the first day most of the whole tiles had been laid. By tomorrow morning they will be set and it will be ok to walk on them.
My great friend from University days arrived this week to lend a hand. Gareth a retired teacher is a dab hand at decorating and offered to come and help out with the massive task of painting all the fresh plaster. So long as I paid for his beer!
I also roped him into other tasks. Here he is helping me test the new drain connection to the septic tank before it is covered over.
This week also saw the arrival of Jim Baxter and his digger on site. He had a couple of important tasks to complete.
On site there was a large amount of builder’s debris (half bricks and broken tiles) as well as a large quantity of waste timber and pallets. All of this made it very difficult and unsafe to walk around the house. I had the wood taken away by “Oxford wood recycling”, a social enterprise which aims to recycle wood which is surplus to requirements. It is cheaper and easier (they collect it up for you) than getting a skip to take the wood away.
Once the wood had gone, Jim set about clearing the rest of the debris to leave a nice flat oversite around the house. He then collected some of the chalk from the garden in order to back fill around the house to enable the laying of the drains for foul to the septic tank and rainwater to the harvesting unit.
Finally he moved a mature laurel bush I had in the garden to repair the space in my neighbours hedge caused by the groundworks nearly 10 months ago. Hopefully with some care it will take root and complete the hedge.
He will be back in June to start the landscaping and remove the garage for the new bat roost.
This weekend we celebrated Angie’s birthday with a few days in London, courtesy of her boys. We had a wonderful time watching Glen complete the London marathon and seeing Luke ring the bells at Southwark cathedral. An action packed couple of days and light relief from the ongoing work at the house.
During the week Dave the painter has started mist coating the three difficult rooms (kitchen, hall and master bedroom).
Whilst Tony has finished all the plastering on the ground and first floors and has moved downstairs. He is now sticking plasterboard to the waterproof concrete walls and transformed the basement into really usable living space.
Also Angie’s very good friend Mo came over to the house for the first time to see where Angie will be moving during the summer.
The house is now really coming together and we can begin to think about moving in!
We have been lucky to have wonderful weather since Easter. This has meant the newly commissioned biomass and solar system has been working overtime.
The boiler turns on the solar pump when the temperature difference between the solar panels and the top of the thermal store is sufficient.
There is a meter which measures the free energy from the sun. In three days over 47 kWh!
Thus far I have had the main electric supply and meter in the garage. Very useful when the house was knocked down. It has today been moved from the garage over to the meter box fixed into the wall of the house. Another step forward to moving back into the house!
Tony and Dave have been steaming ahead with the plastering. The first room to be completed is the new Lounge. Once this is dry it will allow me to get my possessions out of storage and save a lot of money.
All of the Oak beams, door linings and windows have to be taped to protect them from the plaster. Just like cement, plaster can “burn” the wood leaving unsightly marks which are difficult to remove.
Nearly all of the first floor is plastered and next downstairs will be the kitchen. We now have a date for installation of our kitchen – 20th May, so I need to get cracking to make sure all is ready.
My new home has to meet the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4. This was mandated as part of the grant of planning permission. This requires a certain (low) level of energy usage. There are three key elements of energy usage: –
Air exchange with the outside (drafts)
Heat input (amount and type)
The new house was set a target of 6 m3.h.m2 (volume of air lost by the house per hour normalised for the size of the building). Current building regulations require a value of 10 or lower – so my target was nearly half of that.
The house was carefully constructed to eliminate drafts, and I had gone around before the test to block any holes which will be used for other purposes in future – chimney, soil pipes, etc. Joe the engineer arrived on Monday and set up his equipment
The frame and fan were fitted in the back door with various sensors inside and out. Then the fan was started by the computer and adjustments made to the equipment.
Joe took his first measurement and quietly said we might have a problem. He explained that the house might fail the test as too low! He rang back to the office and said that he was getting a reading of 2.4 and he thought the minimum was 3.6 for normal homes. I was then asked what ventilation system I have installed. The MVHR (heat recovery system) has been built into the fabric of the building and will ensure fresh air throughout the house whilst stopping the escape of heat.
Once this was explained the lower limit does not apply – phew! The powerful fan which is used for the test blows air out of the building and outside air will come back through any gaps or holes in the building. This causes drafts where air is leaking in. As I walked around the house with the fan working I realised that I had left a couple of windows ajar to help cure the screed. Once they were closed – Joe took his final measurements.
My air test certificate shows that the house achieved 1.65 as the final value. This is close to Passivhaus requirements, even though the house has not been designed using those principles. The design features I incorporated (such as North facing windows) inevitably compromise that standard. None the less I will end up with an extremely energy efficient home and with what I think is a very pleasing design
It has been a bit of a rush to complete all of the exterior tasks so that the scaffold can come down on Saturday. The very last job was fixing the Juliet balcony to the master bedroom. Sidney and his Dad came and made sure we got finished in time.
After the mad rush to get all of the floor insulation and heating pipes in place. On Thursday morning MPA Liquid screed arrived to complete the floor finish.
The product they used is called Agilia and comes from Lafarge. It is an anhydrite floor screed made from recycled plasterboard. when cured it is 3 times stronger than sand and cement once cured.
It’s big advantage beside its strength and environmental credentials is that is delivered as a liquid which can be pumped and so is much easier and quicker to install. The lorry simply discharges into MPA’s pump and then is fed through pipes to where it is required. Each lorry can carry about 7 cubic metres of screed. The basement and ground floor of the house used nearly 3 lorry loads.
Work started in the basement and it all gets a bit hectic once pouring starts. Apparently it is worth spending a lot of effort getting the preparation of the floor right so that the actual pour goes smoothly. My preparation was quite good but I should have taped all of the edges of the polythene. The liquid flows everywhere and can if not kept in check get under the insulation and lift it up.
A 50 mm layer is slowly built up over the sub-floor and once it is complete down in the basement the ground floor gets the same treatment. Because it goes down as a liquid it complete surrounds the buried UFH pipes. This means it is more thermally efficient than sand / cement as well, perfect for UFH applications.
The final step is to go over the whole pour and stipple the surface to give a mirror like finish. As Mike walked out of the house the back door was padlocked and the house left for 48 hours until the screed had set. After that time it is fine to walk on and continue the build process (much quicker than sand / cement). After about a week of drying out time it is ready for carpet / tiles etc. however you want to finish the floor. A great product expertly laid by MPA – minimum mess and all 254 sq metres done in 3 and a half hours!