Lots of little stones

Cross section of our foundations.

Cross section of our foundations.

Our structural engineer specified MOT Type 1 Sub-Base aggregate for the foundations. It’s a highly-specified aggregate in terms of particle sizes with well understood compression rates and characteristics. While it may have been possible to get by with aggregate of a more random composition (for instance a 6F2), it was important that we were certain the foundations would work – obviously they can’t be changed later on and have a significant impact on whether the house stays up properly. By using Type 1 Sub-Base, our engineer was certain that the (very heavy) cob walls will be properly supported.

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Late Autumn Sun and Fire

We needed to be on site yesterday to get a bit of work done and get out of the city as a family. There was a post that needed building for a future (temporary) electricity meter and a large pile of soil that needed digging from our mains water connection being installed. Below are a few pictures from the day…

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No seriously… are you still building??

Yes indeed, we are still building. And we hope to be starting on-site very soon.

When more experienced folk, early on in the process, would tell me the stages before the actual build were the hardest part to get through and getting the building up was easy, I didn’t quite believe them. And having yet to build anything, I cannot comment.

I will say this. It *is* a lot of work. Revisions and details. Ensuring rooms will work the way we want now and are flexible enough for the unknown future. Keeping costs down while not compromising the ethics we set out at the start of the build. Keeping things simple (which takes work…) Making sure things are going to stay upright. And a healthy dose of red tape and jumping through hoops, just to make sure you are truly committed. (That’s what I have been telling myself, at least.) But all worthwhile work, especially when you are working on your own home.

Some big milestones have been passed in the last year. We made it through planning with little problem, other than it seemed to take forever to get the actual piece of paper. Then there was our submission to building warrant. Everyone talks about planning being a big deal (and I know it is) but to me, the building warrant application and drawings are so much more. Planning seems very much about how the outside will look, while building warrant is how your house is going to stay standing and work in terms of heating, drainage, sewage, etc. It is a big package of information. And to the credit of our architect and structural engineer, the queries returned by Building Control were few and minor.

That brings me to something I have learned in the process, which feels key to anyone hoping to build. In order for us to get to this point in one piece and still feel excited about our project, having an architect and structural engineer who not only know what they are doing but also have a good and communicative relationship with us and each other, has been key. We have been so fortunate (thank you SS and SW!!) and I am not sure we would have ever made it to this point without them.

So, that brings me to the here and now. We are (hopefully!) close to being through building warrant. Once we have a building warrant – hopefully in the next 4-6 weeks – we will be starting on-site.

Not that we are sitting twiddling our thumbs… we have meetings/phone & email conversations with heating engineers, cob folk, joiners, water engineers… then site preparation which includes getting containers on-site, the on-site loo, covered work area, fencing, scaffold… not to mention starting to gather in materials and coming up with a schedule of works for the build.

Lots to do and a house yet to build. But we are excited and ready to get our hands muddy. Once on site, we will make a point of posting pictures regularly and having more frequent updates.

Finding the plot

When we started looking to move out of the city, I was (and still am) totally in love with the Orkney and Shetland islands. So when I discovered that land was relatively inexpensive up there, I got really excited. Really excited. Dreams of a little eco-house between sea and sky, Coll learning to play the fiddle and a fire roaring away in the long dark winter months…

Then I shared this vision of (very) northern living with J, half way hoping for equal enthusiasm but expecting in reality quite a few questions that would require me to consider the reality of such a venture. My expectations were spot on. There were several questions without easy answers, most of which pointed towards not moving north (at this point! Still holding that dream Mr Warren!)

And to be fair, he had some very good points that were key to thinking about how we wanted to live. That is perhaps one of the very most important questions – How do we want to live? A few key considerations for us follow below:

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In the Beginning…

…there was a couple living in the city centre of Edinburgh with dreams of someday, somewhere, building their own home from sustainable materials, in a sustainable manner, but not overly techy or expensive. And we wanted to do the work. Or as much as was possible with our fairly minimal skill set in manual labour. But this was a dream for the future. There was work, university and so many others things to do.

Then there was a defining moment of a blue line that told us ‘In less than 9 months, your entire world will change in ways you could not imagine if you tried.’ So moving out of the city became a major focus. We want our little one to be able to grow up and spend their childhood in nature, running about in the woods and hills, not the urban jungle. He can do that…later.

And so here we are now, with our 18 month old boy, a quarter acre plot in South Lanarkshire, architects appointed; we are on our way!

In the next week or two there should be posts on how we chose our plot, building materials, architects and writing up our brief for the architects. We have never done this before and so hope in posting about it, others might learn from our experiences.