Week Twenty and Twenty-one

The log burning stove was delivered (last week – but I didn’t mention it because it came damaged).  The replacement one has now arrived and been installed.  There is an interesting bit of kit associated with it, called a Laddomat.  This is in part controlled by a flue thermostat.  When the log burning stove is lit and the flue gets hot, the stat turns on the pump in the Laddomat.  To begin with water is cycled through the stove only, until it gets to 60C.  Then a limited amount of cold water from the thermal store is allowed to join, such that the outflow to the thermal store remains hot.  This has two benefits.  First, that the stove walls come up to temperature quickly, and stay warm, which reduces condensation on them and thus corrosion, so prolonging the life of the stove.  Secondly, the water entering the thermal store is at a high temperature, so that water at a useful temperature begins to be stored.  If this is not done, the stove would attempt to heat all the water in the thermal store at once.  It could therefore be several hours before there was any water at a useful temperature.  (The thermal store has a page to itself – see under Definitions &c at the tope of the page.)

The shape and size of the house has been, partly, revealed again as most of the scaffolding round the outside has been taken down.  On the south side, in particular, there’s more light in the house and the house, from the outside, looks smaller.  Some of it has been put up again inside, so that it’s easier to put up the plasterboard into the top of the internal ridge.

Ceiling “squared off” at ridge beam

Details.  It’s very difficult to plaster into an acute angle, such at the top of the building where the sloping ceiling meets the ridge beam.  So when the insulation has been put in, battens to support plasterboard need to be fitted so that the ceiling is squared off for few inches and can meet the beam at a right angle.

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Weeks Nineteen and Twenty

The site is surveyed to see where the phone line should go.  This was more of a learning experience than I’d expected.  It’s not much use asking BT because you won’t find a number to call to say “I need a new phone line”.  Lots of numbers for dealing with existing lines.  And a phone menu that does not offer “if you want a new phone line, press 5”.  This is because new lines are installed by Openreach which, while owned by BT, operates at arms length from BT, so that it can work for other service providers.  Anyway, I eventually discovered all this and sent an email to this region’s bit of Openreach, after which things started to happen.  It will be overhead and, because the walls will be filled with insulation, internally plastered and externally clad long before we need a phone line, I’ve brought a Cat 6 cable out to a gable end and Openreach can connect to it there.  The confusing thing to my mind is that I will have to pay the service provider to install the line – even though the line will, and can only, be installed by Openreach

Dogged tacking.  Michael and Liam push on with the seemingly enormous area of wall needing to be covered with plasterboard.  (Reuben points out that the painting needed is considerable – and it’s planned that we do this ourselves.)  Insulating plasterboard is used on the external walls – indentifiable by the reflective foil on one side. Internal walls, which will also be filled with Warmcel but for its acoustic properties as much as anything, need only use standard plasterboard.

The remaining doors have been fitted.  To allow the ventilation system to work, the top of the door linings are routed out to provide an air passage. 

Touchwood Homes standard detail - door header

As the MVHR draws air out of the kitchen and bathrooms air has to be able to move into these rooms from adjoining rooms whether the doors are open or not – and, similarly, air blown into the living and bedrooms needs to have somewhere to go.  The gaps are invisible.  So the whole house is continuously ventilated very much better, it seems, than most houses.  The windows do not have trickle vents!

The big windows have been fitted – or rather, the glass doors in the windows have been fitted.  Even these take 3 people to lift them – and are, amazingly, hung on just two small hinges.  The house has suddenly become quiet.

Now that we have plasterboard in the utility room and control room – to which pipes can be clipped – Simon King, the plumber, returns to replace the temporary water main with the final, full sized one and to build the hot and cold distribution manifold.  All the isolation valves – the easy to operate lever type – are therefore in one place.

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Weeks Seventeen and Eighteen

Another rush of progress, but in curious fits and starts.  One moment the site is full of activity, the next there’s hardly anyone here doing anything.  We’ve made it clear that we’re not aiming for a particular date, so we cannot really complain if people have to go to do other jobs.  Touchwood Homes, we know, are working on other buildings, though there’s a concern that the big windows have been standing outside now for quite long time.  They need five strong people to move them, being very heavy, even after removing the doors from them. 

Dining room window, doors detached, just goes in

Reuben worked out that they can be got into the house past the scaffolding after all, but there can be no mistakes.

During the first of these two weeks, the downstairs ceilings have been covered with plasterboard, drilled to allow the Warmcel to be blown into the void, the holes filled and then all the ceilings plastered (see last post’s picture).  This allowed the tilers to start work and during this last week all the downstairs floors have been tiled except for the areas immediately in front of the big windows (as they’re not there, the exact position of the edge is not known). Suddenly we could see what the house could look like – and were immensely relieved that the colours we’d chosen looked OK.  We need tiles on the ground floor for thermal mass – not (just) in themselves, but to provide good thermal conductivity to the concrete slab beneath.  If we covered the floor with carpet, this would insulate the slab from the room and the thermal mass would be ineffective.

Bedroom tiles laid; the black bit is the correx installed to protect them

The tiles on the utility room, kitchen and pantry have also been grouted.  The grouting of the paler tiles (and paler grouting) will be left until later as it could get stained.  We have now (Friday before the BH weekend), covered the entire ground floor in Correx, a corrugated plastic temporary covering, to protect it and particularly the un-grouted porcelain tiles against chipping.  On the Saturday, the 5 strong men arrived and got the windows into the house.  While the tilers have been working downstairs, the plasterers have “tacked” upstairs.  And carpenters have been applying more Thermowood cladding outside.  The west gable end if complete and the east end coming along.  The horizontal lines of the cladding have changed the look of the house from this view – it looks less tall.

The garage has got its roof.

And finally the garage (aka cart barn aka carriage house) got its slates.


And a quiet day when I could catch up with this blog!

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Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen

The week after Easter was only a short week, but seems to have continued very busy.  Tacking—putting up plasterboard—got underway.  The intention is to tack the downstairs ceilings first.  This will allow the Warmcel 500 to be blown into the ceiling voids—and then the ceilings can be plastered.

Utility room - tacked: Warmcel being blown in

It makes sense to plaster the ceilings before we tile the ground floor because of the risk of damage to the tiles from the scaffold tower.  Also, you get a neater finish if the tiling is completed before the walls are tacked or the door frames installed.  8 pallets of Warmcel arrived.  Each bale weighs 13kg, there are 40 bales to a pallet—and this is only a small proportion of the total that will be blown in.  In the meantime we’ve moved the doors out of the house to paint them—at least in primer and undercoat.

The roof is finished and looks very fine, with all 6 rooflights in and both the solar thermal and PV panels fitting in as well as can be expected.  We were keen to have panels which did not have light coloured edging. 

Earlier - fitting the flue; the roof's coming on well

As reported earlier the Solar PV is complete and up and running.  Although this happened and was registered before 1st April, I failed to get the Feed In Tariff Application in before this date.  The rules changed on 1st April, so before the application can be accepted an Energy Performance Certificate  must be provided.   The Predicted Energy Assessment will not do.  (The PEA Energy Efficiency Rating came out at 98.)  It will not be possible to provide the EPC until all the doors and windows have been fitted, the insulation installed and an air test performed.  This will be a few weeks yet.  In the meantime, the electricity supplier is doing very nicely—well over 300kWh generated already almost all of which is going into the grid!  I’m hoping this will be backdated to the application date—but you know what?  I doubt it.

In the last post I said next week for the three big south windows.  But a strong workforce needs to be assembled for this work as they are very heavy and there were some doubts whether they could be got into position while the scaffolding is still there.

Solar thermal (left) and PV panels all now working

The thermal store has been filled—1000 litres (= 1 metric tonne!) and the solar thermal system brought into operation.  When the sun comes out, the system compares the temperature of the panels with the temperature in  the thermal store.  If the panels are hotter than the store, the (low energy) pump starts.  As there’s no one using heat or hot water in the house there’s a risk that temperatures could get too high.  If the thermal store gets above 70C the under floor heating will turn on and heat will be dumped into it.  This will help to dry the house out.  It feels pretty dry already, but with space where some windows will be and the massive slab of concrete on which the whole house rests, there must be a good deal of water to be removed yet.

Energain® installation. All of the downstairs bedroom ceiling has been lined with this – under the plasterboard – a further 11 m2in the sitting room and little bit left over has been put at the front of the bathroom.  Now it is not my job to advertise Energain, but we needed more thermal mass in the house and this product, which Touchwood Homes told me about, seems a good way forward. 

The shiny stuff's Energain. The rest of the ceiling is levelled with 3 ply before tacking plasterboard overall

In essence, it uses the latent heat of fusion of a wax to provide thermal mass operating in the range 18 to 24C (if you want to know more, it’s easily found by internet search.)  It’s not cheap – but probably less expensive than building a 50mm block wall on the inside of the rooms or putting a concrete slab in the ceiling.


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Weeks Thirteen and Fourteen

 Got rather behind with this – not keeping it up to date – sorry.  Here goes:

OK, things have got pretty hectic.  First was Alex and Andy the electricians arriving—as expected.  What I’d failed to do was ask what I should have got in ready.  So I was off to the local supplier for more cable, back boxes etc., than I would have thought possible.  This was pretty stupid of me as I’d already bought all the sockets and 2nd fix items, so why did I not think about the cables?  Well, partly it was because this had not been fully discussed.  Almost all of the mains cabling would run in walls, rafter space and floors—buried in insulation.  To meet the standards it must be run in conduit or de-rated. So a 32A ring would need to be run in 4mm2 cable.  Expensive.  Alternatively, you can have a 20A ring instead using the normal 2.5mm2 cable.  Very few appliances in this house will draw significant power.  This is discussed in a separate section under Definitions.  

The other excitement is that the solar PV has become operational.. Without any fuss, it’s just well, been connected.  And the meter flashes away (1000 flashes/ kWh).  I must get on with having it registered.

Solar panels – now working!

Now, I probably haven’t got this completely right, but at least I’ve tried.  Given that all the walls and floors and rafters are to be filled with Warmcel 500, the opportunity to make changes later is reduced.  Indeed, for all but the simplest of changes it’s either unacceptably messy and expensive or at best very difficult.  So if a cable isn’t there, we’re going to have to live without it.  There’s another section under Definitions about trying to future-proof the house. 

The scaffolding has had to be altered to let the roofers access the roof safely to put in the heavy rooflights.  What started as a generous 6 board scaffold has become a very narrow, barely 2 board one as soon as the deep overhangs had been completed—so the scaffolding has had to be extended to allow ladders to be planted against the toe boards and held clear of the lower slates.  This has allowed 4 of the six rooflights to be fitted.  At the same time most of the smaller windows have been fitted, which has suddenly changed the feel of the house.  The 3 huge windows/doors need more people to move them—they’re 2.5 by 2.8m.  Next week!

The Easter weekend has allowed some more time to walk the house and see what needs doing.  Just as well.  We’d changed the way one door hung—and failed to tell Alex.  So I’ve had to re-run all the cables to it myself—pity there were 5!


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Weeks Eleven and Twelve

Two very hectic weeks.  16 sheets of 3 ply appeared.  These are for the soffits of the deep overhangs—please paint them—one side only.  This seemed to be just the job for spray painting.  Lean them up against the black barn wall and any over-spray only adds to what’s there already.  (Almost) needless to say, by the time we’ve got everything ready it’s become far too windy, so back to the brush.  But, blessed with dry weather, we put the first coat on (thinned) in an afternoon leaving them out to dry on the grass, and the following day we put the top coat on.  By the end of the day they’re dry enough to stack. 

Last week was also plumbing 1st fix.  Simon went through the house with amazing speed.  Plumbing is almost entirely in PEX, a pipe with plastic inner and outer separated by a layer of aluminium—a layman’s description anyway.  This makes it flexible, and therefore much easier to install than copper would be—holes can be drilled in the I-beam webs and the pipe pushed through.  This contrasts with the ducting where pre-cut holes, included in the structure design have eased the installation of the rigid ducting.  It’s easy to see that using rigid copper piping would have been extremely difficult.  Everything has been brought to cxommon point  in the control room where a manifold will be installed, so there are no joints anywhere in the floors or walls. The thought of soggy Warmcel is terrifying. 

Then it starts getting pretty exciting.  For dealing with the thermal store damage there were two options.  Either have a new one—with a consequential delay of 5 to 6 weeks—or have the damage repaired.  We’ve accepted the latter—it is, after all, cosmetic. Most of the work was done in a day and then internal work stopped for a day so that spraying could be done in a dust free atmosphere. 

Feel sorry for the Clancy–Docwra people connecting the mains water.  Day 1:  the traffic lights arrive and initial holes dug.  It seems that it’s a 6 inch main not a 4 inch one, so the fittings are wrong.  Day 2:  all goes well until the end of the afternoon when the main breaks—water everywhere.  Suddenly  there are a lot more people around—and I fear we may not be popular with the neighbours—no water for a few hours.  Day 3:  fill in and go away.  Day four:  there are still traffic lights there, causing annoyance at school times—but after a telephone call or two, by the end of the day they’ve gone. 

Touchwood Homes have been at the Ecobuild exhibition, so there has had to be a short pause and I would hope that next week the skylights can be fitted with their flashings.  (We spent a day there too, but with most decisions made our enquiries lacked the urgency of last year.)  It should then be possible to complete the roofing. 

Windows are unloaded

The Optiwin windows also arrived.  The ones for the front look incredibly large and are very heavy. 

The solar thermal panels have been installed—and covered against the sun.  (We may need rain—but we’re also glad that it’s not raining when it comes to work on the roof).  The slates have arrived—second-hand Welsh slates—and the roof loaded and—by the end of week twelve, partly slated.  Matt and his team have been inter-working with Jonathan and his team installing the solar panels.  Everyone seems to be working in with each other very well, and long may it continue.




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Weeks Nine and Ten

Not than nothing happened during week nine, but most of it’s happening indoors and photos aren’t very satisfactory.  It’s a bit dark, because the whole roof is now covered with the cladding, even the places where the roof lights will go, so that the house is dry (and it makes a difference—in the wet, the nice new clean concrete slab got covered with a layer of mud from boots walking on to it from outside which, as mentioned earlier, had become a quagmire.  That has dried off and we have now been discussing how best to clean it—which it has to be before it can be tiled.)  The studs have all gone in downstairs and upstairs.  We’ve suddenly been put to work—the wood for the bargeboards and fascias arrived and needed painting.  These have been done with barn paint—one coat on the side that won’t be seen, two coats on the outer face.  And some have been put up.

The thermal store arrived.

Thermal Store

Thermal Store

It’s a variant of an Akvaterm Solar Plus but with removable coils.  Unfortunately, the packaging for this large, heavy tank is inadequate, so it has arrived with several dents and scrapes, 3 of which are quite noticeable.  We’re discussing what to do about this.  If you bought a fridge freezer, let alone a car, would you accept it with dings?  I think not.  Should I accept this, costing nearly 10 times as much—nearly as much as a cheap car.  Not that it’ll be seen much in the control room.  Hmm.  I certainly think Akvaterm ought to crate them as routine.  A bit of cardboard and plastic is laughable.



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Week Eight

Cladding on the side of the house

Cladding on the side of the house

There was a day or two when the house briefly looked like something from the set of The Magnificent Seven—the pieces of cladding sticking out stepwise at the gable ends.  As more is put into place it reverts to a brown cardboard box.  We were reminded of converting the boxes from TVs or other large equipment into playhouses for the children.

The snow came at the weekend—as forecast.  Rather more snow than expected—nearer 15cm than 10, I’d say, such that the car was tending to “snow-plough” down the drive.  Any deeper and  we would not have been able to get out.

Following this, the weather has continued cold but dry.  Despite this work has continued and we do admire the builders for pushing on in these conditions.


Cladding and rafters

Cladding and rafters

You can now begin to see where the upstairs roof lights are to go—the apertures are clear, now that the jack rafters have been put in place.  The lights are quite large, with 5 on the north roof, giving light to the two upstairs bathrooms and 3 over the stairwell and landing, all triple glazed.  The calculations show that, to have them on the south roof, the house would risk getting too hot.  There’s one, in the upstairs study, that does face south and we are to have an external blind to provide shade on summer days to stop the room overheating.  To meet safety escape requirements, this is top hung—so that you can climb out on to the roof in case of fire (the others are centre hung) but, presumably because of the weight, this one is only double glazed.

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Week Seven

The second storey, under roof goes up. Better weather this week, with the last few days very cold but sunny and clear.  The quagmire created by the forklift is frozen hard which makes moving around the site much easier and on the Thursday and Friday the wind drops, making (almost) ideal working conditions.

Ridge beam being placed

Ridge beam being placed

The huge glulam ridge beam is lifted in, in three sections.  Many rafters follow quickly, so that by the end of the week the shape of the house is is becoming clear.  Curiously, with the beam in place, the size of the house is contained.  Much of the groung floor has the external, air-tight  cladding in place now and this view the spaces for the large south facing windows.


The rafters are now in place

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Week Six

They have had a really rotten week, last week, with the second half being really cold and wet—quite miserable.  This photo, taken in the middle of this week shows how  well they’ve got on and the weather’s better at the moment.

Ground floor under construction

Ground floor under construction

It’s bad for one’s ego—every piece of wood has literally got my name on it:  TWH Learmonth – and code numbers. The TWH is for Touchwood Homes, the main builder and the originator of this particular building technique.

Labels on the wood

Labels on the wood

The I-beams are assembled from finger-jointed studs, about 2” by 2” (OK, 50 by 50mm) joined with a web that looks like hardboard or OSB (Oriented Strand board), but isn’t.  It’s made, I’m told, from wood fibres compressed under such force that the cellulose and lignin in the wood fibres glue themselves together.  This means that there is no glue and therefore no out-gassing of the glue materials such as formaldehyde.  If you expand the picture you may be able to see that the dimensions given are 45 x 360mm for these rafters.

The gable ends go up on Thursday—the house looks enormous.

The Gable Ends

The Gable Ends

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