Part Four – Services

This fourth entry was published originally by JSHarris on the 9th April 2013 and received 1,301 views on the old forum

When we bought the plot we knew that getting services in was going to be a costly business. The nearest water main was over 140m away and the nearest sewer was around 85m away, both up a steep, single track lane. Luckily the electricity supply and telephone were at the edge of the plot, but both had cables that were in the way, plus we had a pole that would be right in front of the house if we left it where it was.

I first got the water company to quote for a connection to the mains water supply and sewer. Unsurprisingly, they wanted around £30k to connect to both services (£22k of that was for the water connection), but there was a fairly large (~£26k) contestable element, so I could look at getting this part done by another approved contractor. After some ringing around I had a best estimate of around £16k, plus the £1k highways fee, for the contestable work, giving a total of around £21k. A fair bit cheaper than just going with the water company quote, but still a lot of money. I’d also need a sewage pumping station, at an additional £1.5k or so, bringing the total to around £23k, just for water and sewage.

With costs this high I needed to look at other options, so I looked at getting a private borehole for water and using a package treatment plant for sewage. The latter was the main problem, as a previous planning application for this plot had suggested using a package treatment plant and the Environment Agency had refused to allow it. There is a stream running close to one boundary and the EA had taken the view that the plot should be connected to the main sewer, as there was supposed to be one in the area.

I decided that, given the high cost of connecting to the main sewer, it was worth approaching the EA again, as there was a clause in the building regulations that allowed a package treatment plant if the distance to the main sewer was more than 30m. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the EA were quite helpful (although slow, as they don’t use email or ‘phones!). They granted me permission to use a package treatment plant and to discharge the effluent into the stream. As the cost of a treatment plant was broadly similar to that of a pumping station, this decision represented a significant overall saving.

Water was much easier, as no permission or licence is required for a domestic borehole, provided you don’t draw more than 20,000 litres of water from it each day. As we would be unlikely to use more than around 300 litres per day we could just drill a hole and have our own virtually free water supply. I already knew that the area had abundant water in a fairly shallow underground aquifer, as there are springs all around, and several other boreholes nearby. Nevertheless, I decided to get a full hydrogeological survey done (fairly cheap, at £300, and well worth the money).

I went out to tender for the borehole and was amazed at the variation in quotes received. Given that I’d sent copies of the hydrogeological report to each of the bidders, with a detailed specification for the borehole, I expected the quotes to be fairly close. The four quotes I received ranged from just over £9k to over £20k, with a fairly even spread between these figures. Just goes to show that it’s well worth shopping around. The end result of all this work was that I’d got the total cost of the water and sewage services down from around £23k to just over £11k, plus we will save the ongoing cost of paying for water and sewage disposal.

The package treatment plant we’ve opted for (a small Bio Pure 1E) will need de-sludging about every three to four years (at a cost of around £200 to £300) and it only uses about 30W of power (so an additional £40 in electricity each year, less whatever we generate from PV). The borehole pump will use around another £20 of electricity a year, plus £30 to £50 a year for UV treatment (if we need it, and again less whatever we generate from PV). Our total annual costs for water and sewage should be around £180 to £200 at the most, significantly less than our current water and sewage charges of around £600 a year.

Next I had to sort out the electricity supply and telephone. Both of these gave us problems, as there was a combined electricity/telephone pole obstructing part of the new drive, plus there were overhead cables that crossed the plot and severely restricted the use of cranes etc. The local DNO*** were very helpful, responding to my request within a couple of days, making a site visit and quickly giving me a quote to move the pole and relocate all their cables underground (with me digging the trenches and laying ducts). It was quite reasonable, too, at £3.5k, especially given the length of new cable they had to put in. The telephone network provider, Openreach, was a different kettle of fish, though. In fact they were nothing short of a complete and utter shambles. I contacted them in early January, by mid- March they still hadn’t got back to me. Eventually, after a couple of hours effort, I tracked down a telephone number (they don’t make their ‘phone numbers public, in case anyone might want to ring them…….) and managed to get hold of the mobile number for the local chap who looks after things. He was very helpful (in complete contrast to his own management), came out straightaway to look at things, agreed with our proposal to move the cables and quickly came up with the best way to get their work and that of the DNO synchronised.

In essence, we dig the trenches and lay the ducts, the DNO erect a new pole and move all the power cables (leaving the ‘phone cables on their old pole), plus hook up our new supply to a meter box that I’m having fitted into a low fence at the side of the plot. Openreach then come out and move their cables into the ducts and across to the new pole and then someone (the DNO?) takes down the old pole. This all sounds too sensible to actually work in practice. We shall see in a few weeks time.

***DNO – Distribution Network Operator, the people who look after the local power grid. In our case this is Scottish and Southern Electricity.

Next – the minefield of choosing contractors

PS: If anyone wants the spreadsheet I mentioned in the last episode, the one that I used to help check that the retaining wall is safe, then PM me. It comes with no warranty, and needs a basic understanding of the data needed, but I’m happy to let it out in the wild if it might help someone.


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