May 2017: We are off!

We are off! Building work has started on our project and things are moving quickly. After almost two years of waiting, the builders are in and our house is a dusty, dirty, litter strewn building site.

It all started with demolition. I arrived one morning to find the house filled with a white fog of rubble dust. An internal wall that had stood for nearly eighty years was gone, reduced to a pile of half broken bricks and fragments of plasterboard. The bathroom was stripped back to brick, radiators torn out, old fittings pulled out, steel pipework gone.

Demolition is a brutal process and it is fast. After every visit, you can ‘taste’ the house through the dust laden air.

Demolition of the bathroom from left to right: the original bathroom, stage one – ripping out the fixtures; stage two – ripping off the tiles and removing an old chimney.

While demolition was underway on the ground floor, scaffolding went up outside and roof tiles began to come down. At a site visit, I arrived to find a lorry winching steel beams into the loft space. The speed and ease with which the Loft Crew scale the house and move around the roof is astonishing.

The steel beams for the loft being delivered.

Back on the ground floor, demolition was swiftly followed by propping up. For anyone undertaking structural work, the biggest fear is that the house will fall down. Horror stories of houses collapsing regularly pop-up in the papers. It is a real and genuine concern for anyone undertaking major structural work. We were, therefore, extremely apprehensive.

Thankfully, our fears were unfounded. Our builders took the gold standard, text book approach. Holes were punched into the ceiling at regular, short intervals and steel beams, called needles, inserted. The beams sit at right angles to the wall being supported. These ‘needles’ are then propped up at each end. The result is an internal forest of poles holding the house up.

A forest of poles and steel ‘needles’ holding up the house. The old wall that used to separate the kitchen and dining room is gone!

Once the house was safely propped up, the ground crew began digging out the foundations to create a concrete ground beam. The new steel beams and thereby the house, will ultimately rest on this base. The two-man Ground Crew used good old fashioned spades and sheer hard-work to move metres of dirt from the foundation. Once they reached the required depth, two concrete support bases were poured at each end of the width. Once that had set, a concrete beam was formed to link the two bases. Once the steel beams are in place, the steel and concrete will combine to create a rigid frame to support the house.

One unanticipated outcome of all this work was the pile of rubble and rubbish. For a short time, the front garden became a mound of rubbish and a precious rose bush now has a few broken branches. The back door opens onto a hillock of rubble and a skip outside has almost been filled to the top. It is startling to see the amount of rubble coming out of the house.

Why the Delay?

Just a quick note to explain the delay in our project. Firstly, my partner’s mother passed away unexpectedly. It was a shock and it took some months to come to terms with both her passing, and to sort out her estate.

Secondly, we had a number of problems with our architect. Despite being a RIBA registered and accredited architect, and on the ARB register, we came to realise that his work was not of an acceptable standard or quality. It has taken months of research to correct his mistakes, and months of delays caused by his refusal to respond promptly to our emails and complaints. We will come back to this issue and share our advise for appointing and working with an architect.


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