Marchwood Diary – Part 2


Drawings 20/06/09

Our two architects had not resolved the problem of the roof at the front which has been changed in conversion to CAD format. Michael pointed out that the change also reduced headroom over the staircase so did not comply with building regulations. As we were promised a quotation from the builder in a day or so for a start at the end of June we thought it best to wait until builder and architect could agree on the problem areas and we would then get all the drawings sorted at once.


We have moved 14 times in our married life but Betty says this was the worst! We sorted the things we could do without for 6 months, including all the heavy furniture, for removal on 26th June into 3 containers. We got a very good quote from Luker Bros for the removal and storage which was £390

to go into store, £390 to come out, and £196 per month to store the containers

The removal guys were excellent and managed to pack all we had into 2 and a half containers rather than the 3 and a half we had expected so we did not need to overflow into our walk in storage. Access to this costs just £25 per hour so we could easily add some more bits if needed.

We also rented 7 x 7 feet of walk in storage from Luker for all the things we might need during the 6 months. This too was a better rate than any in Oxford of £40 per week.

We worked on the basis that we had to leave the whole front of the building empty from day 1 but this does not now seem necessary.

Anyway we must have seemed well organised as we checked items the removal guys put into the containers. They asked whether I was in the Army!

It really went very smoothly and we are enjoying camping with garden furniture in the lounge.

A bonus is that we sleep so much better! Whether it is that we have just the right inflation in our blow up bed or whether it is that our minimalistic décor (no furniture) gives us peace, we very much appreciate it.

Quotation at Last 01/07/09

At last we have a quotation but there are so many uncertainties and estimated values that it is hard to see what the job will be at the end. From an estimators total of £148,000 including VAT the builder has already made savings on the two extensions. These are the important figures at this stage as they are the well defined tasks that I will be able to do very little to assist.

The internal rearrangement, ventilation system and underfloor heating I can do myself with a little help if funds are short.

We shook hands on a figure of £16,000 plus VAT for the rear extension and work starts on this on Monday! I have agreed to pay promptly at the end of each month for the work done to date.

The builder also pointed out that there was no structure supporting the front wall! We had measured the pitch of the roof next door to be 18 degrees but the plans showed ours to be 23 degrees leaving much smaller bedroom windows than we had hoped. Let’s hope we can meet on Monday to sort this out.

Rushed Preparation 03/07/09

We wanted to get the oil tank emptied and the space prepared so that it could be sunk in the ground to gather rainwater. It will have to be quite deep to allow a good fall from the rainwater pipes to the top of the tank.

First the fencing round the tank was removed and used as temporary shuttering for the earth bank we would create with some of the excavated spoil.

Emptying the tank went well but was very slow and took most of 2 days. Instead of the 2 journeys we expected it took 5 journeys to get it all transferred to neighbours’ tanks. Even when empty it was quite heavy to slide down from its mounting. I built a track of planks to slide it away and then dismantled the mounting. I left the base to be tackled by the excavator.

Then there were garden ornaments, paving, rockery stone and pot plants to be relocated for the start on Monday.

Lastly I wanted to complete the manhole I had started for the ground source collectors so I got a bit more of that done today.

Tomorrow I am off to Kingsnorth to protest as Mr Miliband has asked.

Getting Excited 05/07/09

Well, 1000 or so people came to Kingsnorth and all was very peaceful. I don’t know what impact a walk across some fields can achieve. The 100 charities who formed Climate Chaos Coalition have a total membership of 11 million so the turnout could have been better! There must be a better way!

We are now getting quite excited about the work starting tomorrow. Today we took about 100 unwanted items to a local car boot sale. We had to buy a table to put them on for £9.95 from Homebase but the rain held off until the very end. We priced everything very low and shifted (recycled) most of it. We only got £37.50 and paid £9 for the stand but we had a nice time in the sun and met lots of people.

We can home to find the digger and dumper for the work starting on Tuesday had arrived and been parked close to the house and completely blocking the sideway. I had to carry sand by the bucket full through the house to finish cementing the manhole. If this is a sample of the intelligence I fear for the rest of the project.

We put the carpets downstairs on Ebay and at the very last moment got a bid for the £50 starting price. The guy wants to come tomorrow so we have been moving the TV and our few bits of remaining furniture so that they will not take too long to lift. There were a few stains on the backing and underlay that were surprisingly bad but show very little from the front. However the carpets were not gritty or dusty so I think he has a bargain.

We have now started to take up the carpets as we want to check the levels of the older floors with the builder tomorrow. It would be nice to have them all the same level for tiling but taking away screed is expensive and so we want to build the lower floors up to the higher ones.

I also want to order the underfloor heating kit so that it can be laid before the extension screed. The heated area will be 97 sq metres. If we space the pipes more closely they can run at a lower temperature but more pipe will be needed. We are going to try the closest at 100 mm apart so we will need a kit with 900 metres of pipe and 9 ports according to Underfloor 1 on the internet. I will check this with the builder tomorrow before ordering. It will cost £1696 inc VAT.

Work has started 06/07/09

Philip Munt and 2 colleagues arrived early and brought the digger and a dumper round through the field into the back garden. Most of the time was spend marking the plot but they did just manage to dig the foundations across the boundary for the wall running along beside the boundary. It looked as though Fran had prepared for our work because a barrier had been placed across her path at the corner of her extension. Unfortunately they left the digger partly on her land when they left for the evening.

Disaster on 07/07/09

We were woken by a shout at 7am as Fran saw the hole on her boundary and the digger. We received a handwritten letter of complaint and 3 emails expressing her distress. We have spent all week discussing the problems arising from this with her. We held back from pouring the foundations on Wednesday as planned, to wait for a meeting with Fran on Thursday evening. She was still upset and asking for us to wait for 10 days until she had the time to consider the matter but we were advised by the builder that an open hole with rain forecast would endanger all our foundations so we poured the concrete on Friday to avoid that risk.

The full exchange of emails can be viewed in Appendix xxxxxx

We thought that she had agreed verbally to our party wall notice but we now know that by not replying in writing in 14 days she had created an official dispute that then needed a mutually acceptable surveyor to arbitrate and give an award of his decision and costs.

The summary of the Party Wall Act provided by the Chartered Institute of Surveyors leaves our most of the important points if you are building and it is better to study the one provided by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

I accepted the surveyor she chose and he is coming on Wednesday at 8 am. As she is also concerned that a wall might be built partly on her land I thought it wise to build part of the foundation wall before the surveyor came so that he could check the alignment. Well perhaps we will see how much this has cost us tomorrow. It looks like at least £700. However a Party Wall Agreement will overcome any problems raised by a buyer of either of our properties in future so must be worth something.

Party Wall Surveyor’s Visit 15/07/09

Mr David Muir of Roberts Muir visited at 8.30 am so that Fran could attend the meeting before going to work. I had prepared a resume of the past history, the actions I had taken and provided copies of the emails exchanged and the party wall notice I had given. I also prepared the following agenda for our meeting.

The meeting went well. We signed the appointment of David Muir as party wall surveyor, went through the agenda items and then Fran took Mr Muir through to her house to record the condition of the structure so that any further damage resulting from building work could be accurately measured. We all wanted to retain a good relationship and complete the works as quickly as possible without damage or disruption. Mr Muir advised that a new party wall notice should be prepared by him when we were clear how the work on the party wall would be undertaken. We should make our proposal and await Fran’s response rather than having a participatory discussion on the methods. He suggested that he should prepare the next notice for us when we could give him these details. This made it important to get a proposal for the garage as soon as possible.

Before an engineer’s visit we thought it wise to dig a trial hole to explore the party wall foundations so we obtained Mr Muir’s permission to do this.

The hole revealed similar full foundations to the other walls of the house so there would be no problem at all to the plan we had in mind.

Garage Wall Solution 16/07/09

We were short of suggestions from architects to solve the problems of the guttering for the long sloping roof and my sketch, hanging the rafters on the party wall, was the only solution on the table. Jeanette’s attempt to implement this resulted in too low a roof line to give headroom over the staircase. Michael had noted the exchange of emails but had not proposed a solution. He was now on holiday.

Fran meanwhile had proposed we each build a wall on either side of the party wall and remove the party wall itself. This is attractive in terms of reducing future difficulties but would prove more expensive and reduce each of our garages to below the minimum width for a car.

We preferred piers to support a steel beam inside our garage on which the rafters would be supported. This would enable the gutter to be placed on top of the party wall. It would be sealed to Fran’s flat roof which slopes towards the rear. It would enable car doors to be opened with no restriction to the garage width. The size of the beams and piers would have to be checked by an engineer so he would hopefully draw the detail which would satisfy the party wall surveyor, neighbour, building inspector and enable our builder to proceed.

Engineer’s Visit 20/07/09

The engineer engaged by Michael had taken some weeks to attend and Michael was currently on holiday so we decided to use an engineer who Phillip Munt had worked with before. He contacted Mr Norman Millar, an associate of Hannah Reed who agreed to visit 5 days later on 20th July. His fee would be £250 - £350 plus VAT and additional work at £100 per hour.

When he arrived he made very good use of his time. He advised on the rear extension corner window. We wanted a minimal corner to achieve little restriction of vision and this could be achieved by lengthening the lintels so that corner support was not needed. He agreed that the best option could be the piers and said he would calculate whether 2 or 3 piers would be best.

His report arrived just 3 days later with all the drawings we needed. We sent copies to the Party Wall Surveyor to enable him to prepare the new notice.

Under-floor Heating Kit

The problem with the underfloor heating is that expertise is quite rare and suppliers appear to overcharge for the materials and give little support. We had quotes from Upenor £10,000 ( excellent multi wall pipe and aluminium spreaders) and Ice Energy £5000 (includes pre cut polystyrene moulds) but to this must be added the insulation below, the screed or screed board above, and the tiling.

As money would be tight and we wanted to get the best method we chose the kits supplied by Revel (UK) Ltd trading on the internet as . They offer kits to suit installations of a single room to a large house and we used their planning guidance to find out we needed a 9 unit installation. The work is planned so that each unit uses not more than 100 metres of underfloor pipe before returning to the manifold. We want to use the highest density of pipework on the downstairs so that the water can be at a lower temperature giving the best efficiency. This means 2 100 metres coils at 100mm centres will be needed for the lounge while most other rooms will need 100 metre units each.

We wanted to try out the method first and the pipe would be needed for the rear extension so we ordered it on 18th July and it arrived in a couple of days. The pipe in 400 metre coils is quite heavy to handle so we rolled it into the garage and cut 2 metres off for tests.

With the kit came 1800 staples for fixing the pipe to Cellotex insulation. This will be fine for the new floor in the rear extension but no good for the existing floors. We ordered small quantities of staples and also strip with teeth which if not used on the ground floor may be useful to secure the pipework upstairs.

The pipe was a lot less flexible than the sample from Upenor and I was quite surprised how difficult it would be to bend into shape and secure to the floor. It would be difficult to take the pipe back only 100 mm away from the next pipe without a bend which might kink at a later date. However a 200 mm loop at the end of each run might solve the problem. The pipe did not lay flat and straight so some support every 500 mm at least would be needed.

In our test the strips achieved this quite well but needed to be fixed to the floor through the insulation at regular intervals so bridging the foil insulation. The strips were self adhesive so would adhere well to the SFUF insulation but this might not be firm enough itself to absorb the strains from the pipe without distorting. The main problem with the strips was that they were designed for 2 different pipe gauges so had a 30mm depth overall and supported the 15mm pipe 12 mm away from the Brio Board above. This would not only raise the floor by 12 mm but would also make conductivity to the Brio Board very poor.

Tests with the staples were quite good as the staple of 20 mm height held the pipe 2 mm below the Brio Board and a bead of adhesive could bridge that gap and improve conductivity. The disadvantage was the time consuming process of fixing the pipe down and the numerous punctures in the SFUF foil. The particular staples on offer were for wood but alternatives were available on the internet as masonry staples for floor fixing with hardened steel pins.

I decided to test the last and most expensive method of securing the pipe. This uses foil sheets castellated to enable the pipe to fit securely in any desired direction. The sheets cost £5 per sq metre and I purchased 2 for the trial. They clip together easily and the pipe fits in well and gradually reforms to the bends. The total height is only 17 mm so a bead of adhesive on top of the pipe will ensure good conductivity to the Brio. Our builder friends had been concerned that Brio Screed board balanced on the pipe alone or staples or strips might not be firm enough or level enough for tiling. They approved of this however as the load would be spread over many points which would yield a little to help achieve a level result. They walked carefully on the foil and it retained its shape. Even so the pipe did not accept a bend sharper than 200 mm so the pipe pattern would have to allow for this. A coil into the centre of the room and a return parallel should be satisfactory.

Time to see how the cost works out! On the ground floor of 90 sq metres it looks as though the cost of heating and flooring will be about £4000 plus labour made up as follows. Underfloor heating £1000 SFUF Insulation £428, Brio 23 Screed board £875, Pipe holding foil £440, Tiles £1290.

Resolving the Party Wall Problems 30/07/09

The engineer provided a sketch with his report on the steels needed to support the garage roof and wall above the garage. We were able to supply this to the party wall surveyor as detail of the method we proposed for the party wall and he included this in his letter of intent dated 30/07/09 to our neighbour.

She was given 14 days to respond or we would be in dispute officially once more so we are waiting once again, unable to work within 3 metres of the party wall. This has not delayed us as the rear extension has proceeded to roof level and demolition has started at the front on the side away from the party wall. We have ordered our floor tiles from Walls and Floors by the pallet load at good prices. The lounge and dining room were Toska Antique Pine to give a warm wooden look at £9.95 per sq metre for a 450 x 150 tile. The hall kitchen and breakfast room are tiled in Genesis Sand at £18.25 per sq metre for a 662 x 408 tile ex VAT. These are rather expensive as they are such a large and heavy tile but give the clean look we have come to enjoy in our Lanzarote villa.

Our daughter has agreed to store these for us until we need them as we were concerned they might go out of stock.

Reschedule Project 14/08/09

Philip Munt was away on holiday for a week and his father came in for a couple of days to finish bricklaying at the back. He is over 70 and though stiff with arthritis enjoyed getting to work again. His bricklaying looked identical to his son and Vinny’s so we were very pleased. Bradstone is very difficult to course as the blocks come in 4 different heights and the random mixture looks very interesting.

On his return the team was concerned that bad weather might hamper their progress unless they could get on with the internal changes. We were hoping to delay vacating the inside until the end of September when the two extensions had been built as this would save the cost of renting anywhere or using the caravan until later.

Almost immediately we needed to go to Ireland as Betty’s sister was very ill. A few days away became a week as she died and we stayed for the funeral.

On our return it became clearer that better progress could be made if we could release more of the house to them so we produced a revised plan (Appendix 4).

The roof was now fully off the front and some work was becoming urgent. Without proper drawings we could not proceed safely with the front extension. Getting all the roof angles to match, the gables centred over the windows and the front looking the way the architect had designed was too complex for the builder alone and we had had no response from Jeanette to our many emails. It is now high priority to get this sorted and I decided to work these angles out again myself and get Michael to check that this lined up with his original concept. It took me about a day using Google Sketchup and taking all the measurements again now much of the front has been demolished. I have just done it!

Party Wall Dates Expire 17/08/09

I phoned David Muir today and found he was just about to phone me. Fran had returned his form agreeing to the work on the party wall we had proposed on the last day, but asked for the inclusion of 2 conditions. The first is that the gutter on the party wall should be big enough to take rainwater from any future pitched roof she may have in the future. The second is that we provide detail of the way the changes seal to her roof.

The first we had always intended and the second I discussed with the builders and provided using Sketchup as shown.

Also I happened to meet Fran as she was parking this afternoon and thanked her for signing the agreement for the works. She agreed to waive the 2 months delay she is entitled to claim and let us get on with the job ASAP. She also agreed to the 3cm overhang of our tiles at the rear insisting it would save us a lot of money. This appeared rather strange as the cost of finishing flush should be identical to the small overhang that would look better from her side. I wonder whether she would really prefer not to have the overhang but thinks this would cost us too much.

Xxxxxxx add from here xxxxx

(I found out later that the misunderstanding had arisen because she had spoken to a member of the building team who was referring to the parapet option which would have cost us more.)

Steelwork arrives 18/08/09

An exciting day today as the steel arrived for the front extension. We had double checked the sizes with the builder to make absolutely sure we understood what how and where. Several steel beams were capable of being lifted by humans but the main one was too heavy and needed machinery to put it in place. I was expecting a crane but a friendly farmer brought along a giant fork lift truck and the beam was lifted on slings as the picture shows. We still could not work within 3 metres of the party wall but it was good to see some progress.

Party Wall Surveyor’s Award

We received the award in its written form and studied it today. It caused no further problems and I paid his bill of £860 including two further visits to ensure that the terms were met.

The disappointing thing was that the matters regarding the existing overhangs and complicated boundary through the garage had not been mentioned in the award. These were the matters which could cause problems in selling the property (though our solicitor had not raised them as problems) and if resolved by written agreement would have been added value for the money spent.

Had we finished up with an award which had not changed our verbal agreement but just cost us money? I must raise this point with the surveyor.

Jeanette at last 20/08/09

At last we have plans from Jeannette with most of our changes incorporated. Most importantly the front of the building now looks the way Michael had designed it! Why has it taken so long? We shall probably never know. 4 days work has taken 4 and a half months. Were it not for Google Sketchup we would have been severely delayed. Emails took on average a month before a reply came. We are clearly small fry in a very big practice or did difficulties arise in devoting the necessary time to the work.

I have asked for the bill and it will be interesting to see whether the later changes are charged or recognised as errors in reading the original planning approved drawings.

Builder's Viewpoint 24/08/09

We are getting on very well with our builders and they are helpful and considerate. They ask us to choose options as they proceed and try to keep us fully in the picture. We are working away to clear any obstacles and make things as efficient as we can for them because we want to keep them motivated and keep costs down.

We are starting to understand how a small builder operates. Although Philip is very interested in what we are trying to do he really does not understand why we want to go beyond current building regulations. I suppose any additional insulation costs money and more importantly time to apply. He just wants to get the best result possible within the current rules. Even though the insulation levels will be out of date in a couple of years this is not a factor he considers. Talking to friends this appears to be a common viewpoint.

An example is the roof insulation on the rear extension. He was proposing Tri-Iso Super 10 and said he would achieve a U-value of 0.19 which he said was very good. My first thought was to be able to compare this with the performance in the rest of the building. I then thought it was a bit of a waste to leave the gap between the rafters empty and rely totally on foil insulation so I asked if they minded me putting Cellotex between the rafters. This meant getting the insulation I had stored for the roof and doing about 12 hours work to seal up an area of about 18 sq metres. They were amazed when I used 12 tubes of Wickes decorators filler to make the joins as air tight as possible and now call me Mastic Malcolm. They would have used special wide adhesive tape to seal the joints but would have mounted the Cellotex flush with the rafters to provide a quick seal. I was trying to leave a 25 – 50 mm air space between the Cellotex and the Tri-Iso which would been lost by this method. So, in spite of the extra 4 hours it may have taken I think it was worth while.

Returning after 10 days holiday 04/09/09

Here we are again after our holiday in the sun seeing the grandchildren. In spite of a bank holiday included the builders have progressed well. The front extension has started to grow, the rear windows are all fitted and the corner window has been reshaped to our preference.

The roofer has been slow to respond to calls and the front is stalled until the steel in the garage wall can be set as the starting point for the roof slope. When we can get a line to the peak of the roof I will get the architect in to check that this will achieve his original design. Then we will pitch all the other roofs at the front to match.

Move to the Caravan 05/09/09

We had been out of the house for 17 days already but now was the time to make use of our caravan. Our daughter towed it on to Common Leys Farm site at Worminghall which we rented with electric hookup for £70 for the week, planning to store the van afterwards with them at £20 per week unoccupied.

The move went smoothly and we have enjoyed a marvellous week in the van reliving the joys of 30 years ago in glorious weather. There were some small differences however. Electric hookups and a shower on site made things easier, the need to get up in the night and no Portapotti made things a little more difficult, but the weather and the surroundings were superb. It was good to know we could fall back on the farm's excellent restaurant if needed.

Now we are out of there again and have 2 weeks in our daughter's house in between lettings. I don't know how Betty copes with these moves and manages to have most things we need to hand.

Preparation for the Garage Steels 08/09/09

The garage was still intact and had been in use as a lockable store for materials, a place with chairs for coffee breaks, an office for plans, and had also had some old metal racks which held the residue of my tools and bits together with some builders tools. It was also the main electricity input.

Before removing its roof a box was built round the meter to protect it from the weather and emergency power points were established to power the remainder of the work. This enabled to power to be disconnected from the house enabling work to continue safely. All our remaining belongings were now concentrated in the lounge and emergency power was provided for our telephone and computers so that this could still be the office. Some more stuff went to the lock up but the lounge was now very crowded and so many moves had left our paperwork in confusion.

Bathroom Fittings 10/09/09

Vinney the carpenter had progressed well with the new partitions upstairs but all was speculative until the plumber could confirm how the drains and soil pipes could run. The architect had indicated 2 soil pipes in rather inconvenient positions to serve the new bathroom, cloakroom and the en-suite. They were to run to two drains which would meet under the garage floor in a trap.

We were not happy with the bathroom layout either as a bath was drawn taking up the whole room as the soil pipe pushed it out of the corner. Betty was keen not to have the toilet facing as you enter the door. Vinney thought we might avoid the second soil pipe and please Betty if we could place the toilet behind the door and site a shower instead of a bath in the opposite corner.

However it all hinged on the plumber's opinion and he was due to come on Friday Morning.

The dimensions of the bathroom fittings were now becoming crucial. Were the fittings we needed available at a price we could afford?

We had been looking at for some time and their offers looked very attractive but was their quality good enough at these prices? We decided on a dash to Oldham to find out.

Bathrooms Online 11/09/09

The journey took longer than expected so we arrived at 3:30 and started checking them out. We asked Rebecca to show us the 900mm quadrant shower complete with tray at £195 and it looked marvellous. It had the sliding doors and magnetic closure of the more expensive models and seemed sturdy.

We had drawn diagrams of each of the rooms using Google Sketchup and put in the main dimensions and Rebecca spent the next hour and a half, until after closing, discussing the merits of the various deals they had on offer.

Betty was attracted to the wall mounted toilet, which was particularly appropriate to our bathroom layout. Although on offer for £195 (RRP £489) we found out that it included the same Grolch frame used by the most expensive toilets.

We placed an order for £1300 of fittings for the bathroom and cloakroom and earmarked a further £1200 for the en-suite wet room. We arranged that we could change items in the order if it became necessary after our talk with the plumber the following day. The stock would them be held for us and delivered when we needed it for a cost of £42.

We saw one exceptional bargain for the wet room of a toilet and basin unit with mirror and cabinet for half RRP at £545. However it was 1100mm wide and we could not be clear whether we had that space until the soil pipe position had been clarified the following day, by which time the bargain may have gone.

Morning with the plumber 11/09/09

I wish I had been better prepared with plans to hand and more of the Ice Energy paperwork. However he proved very knowledgeable as he had done many Ice Energy installations before. He was also very helpful in working with Vinney to plan the best routes for the waste pipes and soil pipes to the drains. Between them they managed to eliminate the extensive excavation for new drain connections the architects had planned and also eliminated one of the new soil pipes.

Philip Munt suggested a shorter route to the main drainage system by connecting to the old cloakroom so we saved more trouble and expense.

The Plumber's Quotation 15/09/09

At first a quotation of £7000 plus VAT appeared more than we had planned. The labour content was £5400. It would be difficult to get another quotation and keep the builders fully occupied. The builder thought it was fair and we checked with our daughter who had had a new bathroom recently. It was difficult to compare as her plumber had done tiling as well. I checked that it did include the cloakroom as well as the items mentioned. It was approximately £1000 each for cloakroom, kitchen, bathroom, en-suite and hook up to the heat pump. I accepted and they started work on the 17th!

The Stopcock saga 17/09/09

The plumbers started and needed to locate the outside stopcock as we wanted the water meter relocated. We remembered a blue mark on the drive which Thames Water had made when the water meter was fitted. At that time they thought that our supply might be connected to next door and they decided to locate the water meter in our kitchen.

Digging around the position of the blue mark revealed nothing. Searches of our garden and the neighbour's front garden were fruitless.

The next day the contractor hired a pipe detector but it seemed to detect pipes everywhere, both inside and outside.

We phoned Thames Water who said they did not keep records of stopcocks. They were not able to help to locate the stopcock and advised that we should clamp and freeze the pipe to make the changes.