Part Sixteen – Fun And Games In The Mud

This sixteenth entry was published originally by JSHarris on the 3rd October 2013 and received 1,389 views on the closed forum

This week started early on Monday morning with the arrival of an artic load of Kore foam for the slab insulation. Interesting seeing a 38 tonne truck carry maybe 1/4 tonne of load, yet being virtually loaded to capacity. The two guys from MBC, Brendan and Tom, were on site bright and early and quickly got the load off the truck, much to the relief of the neighbours, I’m sure, as any delivery completely blocks the narrow lane (the bridge just outside the plot entrance is 9ft wide).

The foam delivery was followed by a load of fine grit to level and blind the coarse crushed stone we’d had laid for the house base and by the end of Monday the foundation layer was flat and smooth, with the first of the big foam blocks in place. After all the delays and problems I was a bit taken aback by the speed of things. The guys casually mentioned that the house frame would arrive either Friday or the following Monday and that I’d need to get the scaffolding up by Thursday……………

After much calling around I managed to get a scaffolder who could do the job at short notice, but plans changed slightly when the concrete couldn’t get to site on time, so now I have the scaffolding going up this Saturday.

Here’s a quick photo review of the weeks progress:

Just after lunchtime on Monday the fine grit was going down and being levelled off. The mountain of foam is to the right, and the 4″ blue pipe sticking up is all that shows of a 200ft deep borehole:


By Wednesday things were moving on at a fast pace, with the foam all laid, the DPM in place, the building inspector having given things the nod (although he’s still a bit bemused by this foundation system, I think) and the underfloor heating pipes going in to the slab in three zones:

Wednesday also saw the arrival of a fair bit of rain, which has turned the site into a claggy quagmire. I’ve never known soil as sticky as this stuff, it is truly evil, evil beyond all imagination. After five minutes you’re walking around with lumps of mud a foot thick on your boots, mud so sticky that it defies all attempts to shake it off. By Thursday (this morning) the site was even worse, as the steady rain created yet more mud. Nevertheless, Brendan and Tom cracked on and got the concrete in. The concrete trucks have really chewed up the access track, though, mainly because the plonker of a driver managed to “miss” a ten foot wide track and went off the edge into the mud, creating a chasm down one side around 18″ deep. Still here’s a photo of the house base, almost finished, it just needs power floating off when it’s gone off a bit:

A shot from a different angle that shows some of the glorious mud:

Tomorrow I’m hiring a mini-digger to try and fix the access track, and level out the chewed up crushed concrete base. Should be fun – I’ve never driven one before. I’ve taken the precaution of hiring in someone who has driven one to give me a heads up, though! Hopefully we’ll get things tidied up ready for the scaffolder on Saturday and the house frame delivery next Monday.

I’d thought the house would take a while to go up, so I casually asked one of the guys when they thought I might need the roofer on site to put the slates on. He thought for a moment, then said, “Well, we’ll stand your frame up on Monday, so it should be ready for the roofer by Thursday”. Needless to say this has thrown my schedule into disarray and caused a lot of quick phoning around to try and get the roof on weeks earlier than I’d assumed. They don’t hang around these Irish guys, that’s for sure!


 wmacleod 04 Oct 2013 11:24 AM :

 Looking good Jeremy, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of the digger quickly enough remember the bigger the better when it comes to leveling crushed concrete, bit of weight can be useful when tracking in.


 reddal 04 Oct 2013 12:31 PM :

 Will the concrete slab be set enough to stand the frame on by Monday? It will only be 5 days old at that point if I read you correctly.

Maybe I was just given a line of BS – or it was different concrete – but my contractors told me I had to leave the slab a couple of weeks before it would take any significant load.

I’m sure you have it all under control – just curious .

– reddal


 jsharris 04 Oct 2013 06:51 PM

 I now want a minidigger!

Job done, the access is now far easier for trucks to get in, and it only took around three hours with a hired bobcat minidigger.

Using the minidigger to compact the crushed concrete was a waste of time, as the pressure under the tracks isn’t enough to really do the job. Driving up and down it was far more effective, not as good as a roller or whacker but I think it’s done a good enough job. The scaffolder arrived this afternoon, and will finish tomorow, so we’ll be all set for standing up the frame on Monday.

Concrete strength is dependent on age, in fact it carries on hardening for around 20 to 30 years or so, but in general it’s strong enough to build on after two or three days in reasonably warm weather (longer in cold weather). For our build, the outer half of the walls sit directly on the polystyrene foam around the edge of the slab anyway, so the concrete isn’t taking much of a load.


 jsharris 05 Oct 2013 09:29 PM :

 As seems to be usual practice in the building trade, the schedule has changed, yet again. Our frame won’t now arrive on Monday, so all the running around I’ve done to get the access track improved and scaffolders to come in on a Saturday has, it seems, been a waste of time.

During my day job, before I retired, I managed some fairly big programmes, the largest being the then £1.4bn Future Lynx programme (now the somewhat smaller Lynx Wildcat programme), and latterly a somewhat smaller £200M defence research capability rationalisation programme at Porton Down. If I’d allowed my teams to play fast and loose with schedules the way the building trades do either I or my Chief Exec would have been up before the Public Accounts Committee or my Minister (not a nice experience, trust me, I’ve been there) within a week.

I’m at a loss to understand why it’s so apparently difficult for building companies to use really simple and straightforward project planning tools. Even a really, really simple technique with a bit of paper, like PERT, would allow them to track the critical path and foresee and plan out 90% of the added-cost problems.

I suppose the bottom line is that, as the added cost problems end up hitting the customers budget and stress level, they have no incentive to try and organise work more effectively. All I can say is that, based on what I’ve seen so far, the building trades as a whole make the public sector, and central government in particular, look like a paragon of procurement efficiency.


 oz07 07 Oct 2013 06:25 PM :

 All the more reason to appreciate a good contracting company who produce what they say they will, when they say they will eh! I suppose a bigger firm would have written penalty clauses into the framers contract, making delays less likely?


jsharris 07 Oct 2013 07:43 PM :

 I’m sure you’re right. Self-builders aren’t high up the priority list for the bigger companies. We’ve had pretty good service from the smaller, one-man-band trades that we’ve employed directly (like Chris Coward from CC Brickworks and Rafe Gulliver from Vale Plastering), sort of indifferent service from the medium sized companies and slightly less than acceptable service from one or two larger firms.

The biggest single problem seems to be poor communication and even poorer scheduling within some of these companies. For example, our borehole company ran in to one problem that was just an act of God, in effect (the failed first borehole). However, since then we’ve had a 4 day job turn in to a 5 week job, with multiple equipment breakdowns and near-zero communication at times. The frame planning and scheduling is also pretty chaotic, and communication is zero unless I bother to enquire (even then I’ve yet to get a firm, or even indicative, schedule). I have no idea when the frame will be ready for the windows, for example, nor do I have an idea when I can start first fix. Asking is pointless, as the schedule shifts day by day. I’ve concluded that the only sensible course of action is to leave roofing, windows, first fix etc until the frame is finished and I have regained control of the schedule.

Luckily we don’t have a tight deadline for completion, and aren’t too fussed when we finish, but we have incurred extra cost from things like getting the scaffolders to work on a Saturday when they could have worked today (at lower rates), or paying over the odds to get the access track levelled, when we could have waited a day or two and done it more cheaply.


 curlewhouse 29 Jan 2014 07:34 PM :

 Maybe more naming and shaming from self builders would help. I guess no one wants (dares) do it during the process, but once it is all done, some forum for honest recounting of how these companies performed for self-builders would be very useful for future would-be customers.


 jsharris 29 Jan 2014 11:38 PM :

 You’re right, but it’s a difficult line to tread, legally, I think. Our biggest let down was the borehole drillers, who took far, far longer to do the job than planned, and added at least a months delay, which then had a knock on effect with the frame companies planning and the window order process. Some delays are understandable, the framers were actually pretty good, as one day out from the plan I’ve since learned is pretty good performance in this game. Similarly, we had delays with the solar panel install, but they were all down to the weather; it was just too damned dangerous to work up on the roof in the high winds and rain we had in December and early January. The roofers were frankly chaotic – I think we had three different teams on the job and never knew when they were or were not going to turn up. What’s more, they didn’t know anything about the slate system we’d chosen to use (and which they supplied) and hadn’t even bothered to read the installation instructions – I ended up lending them my tools and advising them on how to best cut the slates, believe it or not.

The best guys we’ve had on site have been the frame build team, from MBC Timberframe (incredibly hard working, and everything they built is absolutely accurate, down to the mm, as we’ve found when boarding out). The plasterers (Vale Plastering) have been really great, as was the brickie we used at short notice (having been seriously let down by the original two guys), Chris Coward of CC Brickworks. I’ve used a local electrician, Nick Ryan, who trades as Tislec, for first fix (and he’s coming back for second fix) and found his work to be very good, too. The ground works firm were OK, they did a very good job initially and when building the retaining wall, but they then got offered a big contract and rushed our job towards the end,and let us down a bit, leaving us with an access track and levels that were way off spec (and which I didn’t spot until they’d rushed all their plant off site). The biggest problems overall were the utilities, particularly SSE. The local engineer was a nice enough chap and tried to help as best he could, but all told we had at least a 2 month delay from them, even after having paid them the full cost up front, as they demand. BT Openreach were equally bad, but at least the local engineer was a really helpful chap who made up for the woeful performance of his management. Funnily enough we’ve had no problems with any of the local authority services, in fact they’ve been very good, so good that I wrote to the LA boss to commend the performance of their highways licence team for their very rapid response to my late application for a highways licence. Equally we’ve had no problems with either the planning officer or building control, both have been pretty helpful and responded quickly to any request.



Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *