Foundations finished and scaffolding started

This is a long overdue post. We were away for a week in the middle of June and intended to return to the site soon after. But delays in securing our stonemason means that we’re still in Edinburgh. Not to worry, we will be back down on Sunday, and full steam ahead on Monday when the building of the plinth wall starts.

In the meantime, I thought I’d post some photos from when we were last down at the beginning of June. We (well, Scott and his team) finished off the foundations and construction of the scaffolding started. It will be tented scaffold so that we can work even if it’s raining. The roof wasn’t finished before we left, so no photo of that, but it is apparently all up now and waiting for us!

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Modern conveniences

BT OpenReach engineer hooking up our phone line.

BT OpenReach engineer hooking up our phone line.

When we moved onto site to start the foundations, we had no electricity, internet, or running water. We did have mains water to the site, but it required two people to fill up a 5 litre bottle – one to wrestle the 32mm supply pipe into the bottle, and the other to turn on the toby1, which is the main valve controlling the supply of water to our property. All cooking (and heating of water) had to be done over a fire. This was fun at times, but challenging at others (especially when it starts snowing early in the morning and we had not sorted dry tinder the night before). Charging mobile phones and computers or accessing the internet required a 300m walk to Wiston Lodge (who have kindly allowed us to use theirs). This might not sound like a big deal, but when you need to check something quickly or send an email in the middle of building works, it can be quite problematic. Continue reading

  1. Called a mains stopcock outside of Scotland – don’t ask me where ‘toby’ came from. 

Shed on the move

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One of the first things we did when we bought our plot was to buy a shed to store things in. And for almost three years, that is the only structure that we put up. This shed and I are not great friends. I would have thought that a pre-fab, mass-produced item would at least be predictable. But let’s just say that the tolerances and quality control at the manufacturer leave a lot to be desired. Wall panels that don’t fit together properly, windows that are the wrong size for the opening in the wall, you get the picture. And with our storage container, the shed is surplus to requirements. We were going to take it down, but then realised we would need an enclosure to house electrical sockets for use during the build. The shed will do nicely for that, but it’s in the wrong place. At the end of last month, with some friends, we rolled it into a new position. Pete, I thought you would appreciate the use we’re getting out of the shed given all the help you gave us in putting it up!


Site support

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At the end of last year we decided to lease a piece of land next to our plot for use during the build. Given the size of our site and the space that will be needed for the house it would have been too cramped to squeeze all the support functions onto our plot. To allow deliveries to the support site, we put a temporary rubble-filled track in for access (at the end of it all, we will remove the rubble and backfill the topsoil that was removed). I had also looked into buying temporary road mats (the plastic or metal sheets put down to protect grass from vehicles or foot traffic for events). These turn out to be expensive, and for the 40+ metres we needed for the track length, it would have been too much of an outlay.

We also realised we would need some secure storage, an area to make tea and warm up food, and a site office. The plan was to get a shipping container for secure storage and a converted container for an office/mess room. Continue reading

Power up

Cross-section of a three-phase electricity cable.

Cross-section of a three-phase electricity cable.

At the end of last year we were down on site supervising the installation of our electricity mains cable. The logistics required careful planning as we had to coordinate between Wiston Lodge, the man digging the trench for us, and ScottishPower. The electricity cable has to run from the distribution point behind the Lodge, across the front of the Lodge and its parking area, along a track, down the side of a ravine, under a burn, and up the other side to our plot. From the perspective of Wiston Lodge, the key things was to schedule this at a time when they weren’t busy with lots of groups and guests given that an open trench was going to cut across the front. Continue reading

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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Digging for water on the wettest day

Last Wednesday, on the wettest day for some time, I woke at 5:30 and went down to Wiston to be there for the installation of the water pipe that will provide this vital resource to our site and, eventually, our house. A trench was dug down the side of the lane and water pipe laid in it from our site to where the lane ends at the road. At a later date (when the council finally provides the road opening permit), the pipe will be ‘moled’ under the road and then connected to the water mains. Some months ago, I spent a considerable amount of time looking for non-plastic water supply pipes, but to no avail. When connecting to the mains, you need to use the blue plastic pipes.

After being outside pretty much all day, I was wetter than I’d been for some time, aside from swimming. But my feet were dry and that counts for a lot! It was satisfying to make some progress on the ground, and they also put in a wee passing place at the bend in the lane.

The digger

The trench

The pipe

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.