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Diary of a self-builder – Part 8: The scaffold comes down to reveal the oak frame

May 26, 2017

Last month, in ‘Diary of a self-builder – Part 7’, Mark told us about his troublesome neighbours and how the lighter evenings enabled him to progress more quickly. This month he reaches a major milestone when the scaffolding finally comes down to reveal the oak frame.

Self-building is like running a marathon and I have never felt so tired in my life. Work is also extremely busy at present, but the moment 5pm strikes I have to be away to get on site for 6pm. I try to work on the house for at least two or three hours. I’m on my own now as the tradesmen have moved on to other jobs until I get inside the building for first fix electrics and plumbing.

I often look at the mountain of tasks in front of me and wonder if I will ever get it all done at this rate. It will be fine, of course; it’s just tediously slow and tiring. The weekends aren’t so bad because I can get a good run at things, but then it’s back to work as usual on Monday.

The oak is starting to look really good now as Julia has been using the oxalic acid to clean it; she’s done all 21m3 of it herself. As I described last month the treatment yields amazing results but its horrible stuff to work with. The fumes are similar to ammonia and they really do get on your chest a bit if you are close to it and breathe in. Fortunately the job is nearly finished now.

One weekend Julia had a great session with a power washer; blasting the residue off the surface of the oak. As a result, the vapours have now dissipated and the oak looks amazing – just like it did when coming out of the workshop.

A major milestone

The scaffold finally came down and it was almost like the unveiling of a piece of art. I have been waiting for this moment for months; to finally stand back and look at the house in its full glory. I can now see out of the window apertures to appreciate the views – and I’ve not been disappointed. There’s loads more interest from passers-by now, too.

No end of people are pulling up and coming over to tell us how nice the house looks. The sense of pride and smugness is worth every penny and hour spent on the project so far. This kind of milestone is what energises you and urges you on to the next one.

I did have one mishap in the sense that the scaffold was scheduled to come down one Tuesday – so I pressured the roofers and plasterers to finish works by the weekend, which they did. That’s where the good news ends, though.

I’d ordered glass for the ridge light to be delivered on the Friday, ready for me to fit at the weekend. The part arrived on time –but it was in 25,000 pieces, meaning it couldn’t be installed before the scaffold was taken down. The supplier, Mid Wales, however, has offered to install it for me using their roof ladders, as they accept that they were at fault on this occasion.

Rising tensions with our neighbour seem to have dissipated for now. We are observing the restricted hours as far as we can and are keeping as many parked cars off the verge and on site as we can practically manage.

I suspect the stern letter we wrote warning her that she was causing a risk to all by coming on site may have had some effect.

Stroke of luck

My faith in human kindness has been restored. One of Welsh Oak Frame’s clients has recently demolished the house he bought (to make way for a replacement) and had 600 tonnes of hardcore. I asked if he had any spare and he generously gave me 200 tonnes, which has saved us around £2,000. It occurred to me that the self build community should create a website to share materials, as no building project comes away without any waste or left over materials. I have approximately 600 brand new slates that the suppliers won’t take back, plus ridge tiles, bricks, vents and loads of other bits and pieces that I am sure someone else could make good use of.

Ground conditions

Since digging on site commenced I noted that the soil was very loamy in places and that rainwater would stand for some time before dispersing. I was anxious that there was no percolation occuring in the ground. It did not make any sense really as the geology of the area is very sand oriented, which should drain.

But our plot seemed to have loads of clay within the soil, which worried me. There’s also no mains drainage in the village, so both my storm and foul water will have to run off into acceptably performing soakaways. If this cannot be achieved than I could be facing a huge bill for hiring specialist engineers to come in and assess the situation.

One evening I decided to use my digger and started creating holes nearer the front of the house and at the edge of the plot nearer the road, where the water didn’t seem to stand for long. At around 2m deep I hit rich yellow sand. I turned the hose pipe on and couldn’t believe it – the water was running for an hour and the pit would not fill. So I’ve found a perfect soakaway area.

I gathered some data and have submitted this to an engineer to create a design to send to the council, which should get that condition signed off.

I am now redesigning my drainage runs and plan on digging trenches at the weekend, all to the front of the site. It’s going to be a bit messy as I have service trenches to excavate for electricity, gas and water, so I am going to have channels crossing each other at carrying heights (ie water at 750mm, electricity at 450mm and drainage based upon the fall point, which I need to allow for). I’ll have to be careful to note the run locations. But I must admit that I’m happy to have found a solution.

Next month Mark and Julia move closer to a watertight shell as their windows and doors arrive on site – Plus preparation for their service connections starts to bear fruit.