Pins, pipes, and un petit problème

Yesterday, we arrived back on site. It was great to be back, a warm sunny day, and the internet connection is now live!

We’re only here for a week, but there are a few key things that need to happen before we return at the end of June for the bulk of the work. First up, the surveyor returned and put marking pins in the ground to show where the walls need to be built. These can’t be moved until the stone wall is up!

Pins as far as the eye can see

Pins as far as the eye can see

This showed up a little problem – one of the foundations was slightly too narrow.

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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!

 

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

At your service – Part One: Electricity

“There is no internal water supply for the tenants here. One outside tap and sink serve four ground floor houses.”

–Edinburgh Evening News, 3 Nov 1959

Information board about conditions in Edinburgh flats up to the 1960s.

Information board describing the lack of indoor plumbing in Edinburgh flats up to the 1960s. From the People’s Story Museum, Edinburgh.

While there may be much that is wrong about the modern world, we do benefit greatly from those services we classify as ‘utilities’. For most of us these days, if we’re thirsty or need a wash we turn on the tap; if the room we are in is a bit dim, we switch on the light; if we’re cold, we put on a jumper, and another, and another, and then the evil tyrant who has the key to the heating controls lets us turn up the heat. But this wide-spread convenience is a relatively recent development, even in the ‘Western’ world. As late as the 1960s, a quarter of the housing in Edinburgh still lacked a plumbed-in bath (no showers!), and as of the 2001 census 12% of households lacked central heating. A sustainable house doesn’t mean you have to leave these conveniences behind, but it does mean re-thinking what we need and how that is supplied. The first step is of course to minimise one’s demand (for water, electricity, and heat), but in the posts to follow, we will largely focus on our thought process behind how our utilities will be supplied. The demand side is wrapped up in our larger design goals and is a discussion for another day.

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