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Diary of a self-builder – Part 5: The oak frame starts going up

February 28, 2017

Last month in ‘Diary of a self-builder – Part 4’, Welsh Oak Frame’s Mark Jones told us about his struggle when it came to connecting his services. This month he tells us how his self-build dream started to take shape as the erection of the oak post and beam structure got underway.

The self-build journey certainly enables you to engage with a whole host of people that you may otherwise not have met. Passers-by are more likely to speak to you as the project progresses and will want to know about the route you took to get there.

A house build fascinates just about everybody to some extent, and it was nice to see cars slow down outside the plot and people coming over to have a chat.

Different characters & contractors

 I can’t thank the tradesmen we took on enough. My respect for some of them runs deeper than I previously ever thought possible. From our groundworker to the bricklayer, scaffolder and to joiner, they were all colourful characters to say the least and I learnt so much from them. They worked in horrible mud and freezing cold conditions and it simply didn’t seem to faze them.

Perhaps working directly with self-builders is light relief, as opposed to the personality-less multiple housing estate builds or commercial project work many labourers do. Because as much as there were plans and designs to follow, there was still scope for each individual trade to express themselves and put some character into our build.

I was blessed with a decent set of tradesmen and I would advise other self-builders to choose their contractors based on people’s recommendations, as I did. It is also worth working with contractors that are located as close to your plot as possible in order to avoid long travel times to the site. This way they’ll also be familiar with the area, too.

Something else that helped our project is the fact that I made sure the trades were paid on time, plus we supplied them warm bacon butties mid-mornings. General good manners and saying thank you will also encourage the team to go that extra mile for you.

Choosing your product

If you want a quality finish you need to provide the right quantity of good materials at the right time. One of the worst things that can happen is running out of cement for the last mix of the day, for example. A good quantity surveyor (QS) can help you with this and save you a fortune. Remember that you will need to know quantities not just for materials purchasing, but also to get quotations for the work to be done.

Restrictive hours & unhappy neighbours

I wrote last month about the setback we received in the form of a restrictive hours notice being put in place by the council. The extra cost was felt as a result of this. The elements of the build that I wanted to do myself on evenings and weekends, I had to shell out for others to carry out during the week. I began to wonder how much ‘self’ building was actually going to happen on this project, which was really heartbreaking. I just wished that the site location was a little further afield than the 6m strip of road we had between us and the neighbours. Our every move was being watched and it was pretty unpleasant. Someone came out ranting at an unsuspecting delivery man from Travis Perkins who was barely on site for 10 minutes. Then when the oak got delivered Krzysztof, our site foreman, got an ear full, too, which actually upset him. As he concluded, the quicker we could get on with it the quicker we would be gone. The highs and lows of self-building are incredible. I must confess this aggro sometimes did make me wonder whether it was all actually worthwhile.

The one thing that all of this did do was force me to accelerate the build program, with the aim of the ‘dry shell’ being complete by the end of April. This meant that while we would be ‘inside’ the building working, we would at least have a degree of privacy and the noise levels would be lower, too.

Our home emerges

I must confess that having stared at my new dream house in 2D format for the best part of 12 months, finally seeing the oak superstructure going up was nothing short of awe inspiring. The Welsh Oak Frame erectors are one hell of a team, and within just a few days the lads – along with our trusty crane man Robin – raised the structure out of the ground. It was now truly starting to become a house and eventually our dream home.

The very purpose and appeal of an oak frame property started to make so much sense now. I always knew the outlook to the rear was going to be special, and like a work of art the picture perfect view is now framed in oak.

I’m also felt very appreciative towards the previous tradesmen; their accuracy and skill shone through because when the frame was placed it fitted like a glove, much to mine and Krzysztof’s delight.

Tune in next month to read how Mark’s self-build progressed following a well-earned break from his self build project