Part Twenty Seven – The Need For A Sense Of Humour

This twenty seventh entry was published originally by JSHarris on the 25th February 2014 and received 1,523 views on the closed forum

Lots has been happening on the build since the last entry a month ago, but until now nothing much seems to have changed externally. Consequently there won’t be too many photos with this entry, but hopefully I should have more to show next time.

Another one of the mistakes I made when specifying the ground works came to light a few weeks ago, when I realised that we’d need a very large storm surge soakaway for the rainwater catchment and drainage. I’d sort of thought that soakways could just be holes filled with rubble, as has been done for years. Not now, apparently, and definitely not for our site, where most of the ground around the house is hard (and impermeable) mudstone, capped with a thin layer of nasty clay. So, in addition to having to remove a fair bit of sub-soil from the surface of the site, to allow a layer of topsoil to be brought in to form the garden, I found that I needed to have a hole dug that was around 5m long by 2m wide by 1.5m deep under the drive and then have twenty drainage cells (the 56 tonne version of the Intesio Aquacell crates, the blue ones) , wrapped in teram and backed all around with free draining, grit, then coarse aggregate, topped with hardcore and then the drive sub base of free draining stone. This created a 3600 litre surge tank that now takes all the rainwater run off from the house and garage roof, plus the run off from most of the drive, and allows it to slowly soakaway through the only strip of permeable soil we have on site, along the southern edge.

One thing I’m glad I did when we were doing the original ground works is make the new utility trench that we had to dig right around the south and part of the east boundary into a French drain. This turned out to be a real blessing when we came to lay the drive, as as soon as we dug out the level at the entrance, all the rainwater running down the lane promptly filled up the excavation with water. The chap who was doing the drainage works, laying the paths, drive etc and getting our levels sorted out (David Rhodes Landscaping – definitely a chap worth using if you’re anywhere near Shaftesbury) suggested seeing if laying a perforated drain pipe from the point where the edge of the drive meets the road along to where the hidden French drain is might get rid of the pond. This worked a treat and dropped the water level by six inches or so, allowing him to get the drive edge laid so he could start laying the permeable pavers.

Because of the SUDS regulations (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, see here: http://www.susdrain.org/ ) we had to either use a permeable surface (with a permeable sub-base), so that any rain water falling on the drive would soak in, rather than run off into the lane, or we’d have had to put in drainage around the edge and across the bottom of the drive to catch any run off and lead it to a soakaway. We couldn’t put a drain across the bottom of the drive as when the stream level rises (which it’s being doing a lot lately) there would be a fair chance of water coming back into the drain and stopping it from working. Because of the slope of the drive, we needed a hard surface, as gravel would have migrated down into the lane. This left us with only a few choices of surface. We could have used a permeable asphalt, but thought it wouldn’t look that great, a permeable resin bound stone finish (too costly) or permeable pavers. We opted to use permeable pavers, which look a bit like ordinary pavers except they have small spacing projections on the sides, so they have a slightly larger gap between each paver.

Permeable pavers are also laid differently. You can’t use the traditional sub base of MOT 1 whacked down, then covered with a layer of levelled sand on which the pavers are laid, as the sub base has to be able to act as a soakaway. Instead the sub base is clean (no fines) stone, levelled and whacked down, then a layer of cracked grit is laid over it and levelled. This cracked grit is around 5mm or so and free draining. The pavers are laid on this, then cracked grit is brushed into the gaps between them and the pavers whacked down to drive the grit in and bind the pavers together. The result looks like this:

We still have a fair bit of work to do to tidy up the site, sort out what to do with the banks between the lane and the drive and design a garden etc, but will wait for the weather to get a bit better before doing any more outside work. We have had David (the landscape chap) lay a very nice sandstone wheelchair path/ramp from the end of the drive up to the back door, with the mandatory wheelchair turning space and Part M compliant entrance to the house, plus he’s built a nice stone wall alongside the drive to separate it from the garden, behind which we’ll put up some fencing later. David’s also built a sandstone surfaced area for the mandatory wheelie bin/recycling bin storage area and built some really nice sandstone steps up to the front door from the drive. I’ve had to put doormats inside the doors now, so we can, at last, try and keep the inside clean.

The plaster took a bit longer to dry out than expected, even with the upstairs windows left open, probably because we’ve had nothing but rain for weeks. However, it was dry enough for the decorators to get started, so they arrived yesterday and have just about finished putting the white mist coat on everywhere. Here’s a photo of the freshly plastered hall, looking towards the front door:

And a rather blurry one showing the Pink Plasterers (Rafe and Luke, of Vale Plastering, Shaftesbury who have done an absolutely outstanding job) at work in the main bedroom:

I’ll finish for now with the tales of woe over the past few weeks and why you often need to have a sense of humour and be a bit philosophical when it comes to the process of building a house.

As those who’ve been to visit our build know (and anyone’s welcome to come and visit – just PM me to arrange a date) access to our site isn’t that easy unless you know the best way in. Anyone who follows their sat nav, especially if they are driving something big, will find they most probably get stuck at the top of Mill Lane, which is very narrow and steep. Right from the beginning we’ve given written directions to the site to every single delivery truck, with no exceptions. We’ve also told them all to not follow their sat nav, or they will get stuck. At least 3/4s of the delivery drivers ignore the notes they’ve been given. For example, over the last three weeks I’ve had around a dozen big trucks come in, either muckaway grab lorries or big Hiab trucks delivering pavers, stone, sand, cement etc. Most have ignored the instructions they’ve been given. This is often compounded by the fact that we can’t get a decent mobile phone signal on site, which led to the daft situation last week of a driver coming down from the Midlands with a big load of pavers, deciding he couldn’t get down Mill Lane (because he’d ignored the written directions on his delivery note), trying to ring us for directions (which failed because we couldn’t get a signal) and then driving all the way back with the load. When it failed to turn up by mid afternoon I drove up the lane to get a signal and rang the supplier, who relayed the tale to me of the driver not being able to get down the lane. I asked them to read out the written instructions I’d given; the girl on the phone confirmed that these were on the delivery note. Eventually she got hold of the driver (who was half way back to the Midlands) and told him to turn around. By then he’d run out of hours, so ended up kipping in his cab and delivering to us first thing the next morning. He was in a right old grump when he turned up on site, so I stayed calm, and asked him to read his delivery chit to me, out aloud. He grabbed his clipboard and read out the directions to the site, along with the bit they’d highlighted with a row of asterisks that said “DO NOT FOLLOW SAT NAV!”. Funny old thing but he went a bit sheepish after that.

The delivery that really caused the most hassle was our kitchen, which arrived this morning. I’d specifically told the supplier that they’d need to send a small truck, and that we couldn’t accept an artic, big curtain sider or whatever. In fact this was confirmed (in writing) twice with them, along with the standard set of directions to the site we send out to everyone. The delivery was scheduled for 08:00 this morning, and by 08:45, with no sign of the truck, I walked up the lane to make a phone call. As soon as I did I got a call from the delivery driver, saying he couldn’t find our address. No surprise there, as this was getting to be routine. I suggested he look at his delivery note. He did, then told me he was in the wrong place (he’d tried to deliver to our invoice address at home, not the delivery address which is around 15 miles away). I got him to confirm the delivery address and directions from his note, and sat on the phone whilst he put the post code into the sat nav (despite me telling him he was wasting his time doing this). He then yelled at me “but that’s 47 miles away mate!”, whereupon I said, very quietly, “no, it’s not, it’s about 15 miles away if you let me give you directions”. I gave him directions but lacked any confidence that he’d use them, so drove a mile or so up to the A30 and sat in a lay-by, hoping I’d see him coming and be able to give him a call to stop him making a wrong turn.

Seeing him coming wasn’t a problem at all, he was driving an f’ing great tandem trailer rig that had to be around 60ft or more long! I waved him into the lay-by and told him he had absolutely no chance of getting through the village with his truck and also said that I’d put this in writing to his bosses. Sure enough, his delivery note included the words “deliver by box van – restricted access”. Luckily our kitchen was in the front truck, so he dropped the trailer in the lay-by and followed me to the site. I’d given him directions that when we got to the turning, he’d be better backing up to the bottom of the drive whilst I parked further up the lane, and suggested we could just unload at the bottom of the drive and carry the units into the house. Whilst I was parking, he decided to drive a 20 tonne plus truck up our new drive. Unfortunately he got it wrong and drove over the kerbs, smashing around twenty of them up and tearing up a few dozen pavers. By now I was pretty close to losing it, but decided to stay calm, point out the damage he’d caused and just get on with unloading. The bloke then opened one of the back doors and rammed it straight into the fascia boards above our front gable (gives you an idea of the truck size, as where the door hit the fascia is over 4m up). Luckily it just left a rubber mark, which will rub off. Next, he says that there’s a problem with our kitchen being in the wrong place in the truck, so it’s been moved about a bit. With this he hands out some small pieces of cardboard that had been boxes, together with some bits of oak trim that have been rolling around the back of his truck. By now I’m thinking that we’re just going to put a claim in for all this, as this is £11k’s worth of kitchen he’s delivering, so I mention that I’m going to record the damage and not sign for the delivery as being in acceptable condition. He says that’s fine, no problem, they’ll replace any damaged parts within two days. We carry on unloading and thankfully 95% of the kitchen seemed to be well packed and undamaged. Whilst unloading, the guy drops one box that falls over and breaks the tail light of the decorators van. Another thing for the claim. Finally we get everything inside and the driver drives out. On his way down the drive, for some completely unknown reason, he stamps on the brakes and locks up the front wheels of the truck part way down. These duly rip up a few dozen pavers up out of the middle of the drive………….

At this point I could have thrown a real wobbly, but decided to be philosophical about it, and call the landscaping guy over to take a look at the damage. He nearly flipped, but I’ve asked him to put together a quote for fixing the damage. Luckily we have enough spare kerb stones to replace the twenty or so that are smashed, and some spare cement and sand. We also have some spare pavers and cracked grit, so the repairs will probably be a day or so’s labour plus plant hire. The kitchen company are picking up the tab for this, so although it’s bloody annoying it’ll get sorted next week at no cost or real inconvenience to us. As I pointed out to David, the landscaper, he was getting more work because of this, too!

I’ve now learned that it pays to just stay calm, accept that shit happens, and that the best way to deal with it is to just be philosophical and calmly get on with making rational claims for damages. Oddly enough, the lady at the kitchen company was nowhere near as calm. I related the tale to her on the phone (much as I have above) and her language was rather more fruity than mine! She promised to sort out our claims ASAP, and simply couldn’t believe how incompetent the driver was. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was far from being the worst driver we’d had on site, in fact compared to one particular concrete wagon driver we’d had their bloke had been an expert………………

With luck I should have some decent photos of the interior and paths tomorrow, unless we have another errant driver that decides to demolish a bit more of the build…………………

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coopers 26 Feb 2014 07:52 AM :

 Sigh, this makes for quite depressing reading. We will have the same issues with deliveries and access, I’m sure. Can’t wait!!

 Jeremy, you must have the patience of a saint!

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 ProDave 26 Feb 2014 08:53 AM :

 I think the lesson to draw from this is make your driveway and landscaping the VERY last thing after EVERY other delivery has been.

 But as always it’s looking very good indeed.

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  jsharris 26 Feb 2014 01:25 PM :

 We had thought that we had left the driveway until after we’d had all the heavy deliveries, the problem here was that I didn’t expect the kitchen to arrive in a monster truck, particularly as I’d specifically made the point that the access wasn’t that easy. Luckily, David worked late yesterday and ripped up the damaged kerb and pavers and has relaid new kerbs and the drive now looks as good as it did yesterday morning, before the damage, so the cost of repair (which will come from the kitchen suppliers) won’t be massive.

 What I’ve found with deliveries is that the local builders merchants very quickly pick up the access problems, one of them must have our account annotated with a note as they always send their smaller Hiab truck and come in the easy way. It’s one reason I tend to use that particular local BM more than any of the others, as I know that every delivery from them will be hassle-free (they’re also the BM that has the best customer service over the phone or at the desk and generally have lower prices than the big national BMs).

 I’ve acquired the art of being patient. Mouthing off at incompetent drivers does nothing but make sure you get the bare minimum of cooperation, and there have been many times when space has been tight on site and I’ve needed the drivers to stick stuff in difficult places. There is a ranking in driver skills I’ve found. The most incompetent and careless are the concrete truck drivers (with one solitary exception). Next come the general hauliers dropping off pallets with a tail lift, who basically aren’t interested in anything other than getting off to the next drop as soon as they can. Next comes muckaway grab truck drivers, who are a mixed bunch, but generally reasonably careful. Best of all are the builders merchants, who are pretty much all OK, with some going out of their way to be helpful.

 If you have a choice of buying something online for, say, 5% less than your local BM, then I say forget about the online purchase cost saving, as it’s worth paying the small premium to have a BM deliver the goods where you want them on site. For example, if you buy building materials like blocks or slabs online then nine times out of ten they will be delivered by a general haulier in a tail lift truck, so you have to have the means to get the pallets off the tail lift and on to the site. The only gear the general hauliers will have is a hand pallet truck, which will only roll on a flat, hard surface. The BMs will always deliver with a Hiab truck, so you can get stuff offloaded pretty much exactly where you want it.

 I’ve only once made the mistake of buying some Bradstone walling from an online supplier that used a general pallet delivery service. They were cheaper than the local BM, but luckily I was able to get one of the diggers I had on site to lift the pallets off the tail lift and carry them up to the back of the site. Had I not had a big digger on site and some chains I’d have been faced with having to unpack and hand carry about 4 tonnes of stone from the side of the lane into the plot.

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 stevebuild 27 Feb 2014 05:06 PM :

 Hi Jeremy, I’d love to come and see your project. Tried to send you a PM but the system says you can’t receive them. Best regards, Steve

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 jsharris 27 Feb 2014 05:58 PM :

 Whoops! Sorry Steve, my PM inbox was full and I’d not noticed. I’ve just cleared it out, so try again……………..

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 coopers 03 Mar 2014 07:22 AM :

 Hey Jeremy, I guess you must be fitting your kitchen this week, which is a good sign of progress. I know that you didn’t set yourselves a target date for completion, but what do you anticipate the overall build time will have been, say from getting building regs approval, to actually moving in?

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  jsharris 03 Mar 2014 05:31 PM :

 We’ve been taking it slowly, Suzanne, and could have done things a lot faster if I’d thought through the sequencing of trades, and considered the need to book people in early, to allow them to schedule their own workload better. Our build proper (ignoring the massive earth works needed to get the site level and put in the big retaining wall) should have needed:

– 2 to 3 days site preparation (getting the services in and laying the 150mm deep layer of crushed stone for the foundation base)

– 1 week to lay the foundation slab and allow it to cure

– 1 week to erect the house frame

– 1 day adding extra sealing and insulation in verge ladders and eaves

– 1 day to put in the windows

– 1 week to fit the roof slates

– 1 day to fit the solar panel base plates

– 2 days to fit the soffits, fascias, verges and gutters

– 1 day to fit the PV panels

– 1 week to do the internal panelling and insulation filling

– 2 days to do the MVHR ducting install

– 1 week to do first fix electrics

– 1 day to do first fix plumbing

– 3 weeks to plasterboard and skim

– 2 weeks to paint

– 1 week for second fix electrics

– 2 weeks for second fix plumbing and kitchen/bathroom install

– 1 week flooring

– 2 weeks laying drive, paths, drainage

– 2 days fitting heating system

 So, a total of around 126 days (some working, some drying out or curing time), or about 18 to 20 weeks, excluding the overlaps that are allowable (for example the decorator and landscaper are working in parallel, the electrician and me fitting the MVHR and 1st fix plumbing worked in parallel.

In practice we had the site ready for the foundation team at the end of September (about the 26th) and are now finishing the decorating, with second fix electrics next week. We had around three or four weeks delay because of the weather before and after Christmas, so it looks as if our actual build time is going to be more like 8 months, rather than the 5 months I think it could have been completed in.

The bathroom and kitchen install has slipped two weeks because the flooring is on backorder, which is down to me not ordering it sooner because we don’t have any spare storage space! At a guess we have about a months work left, but I am very doubtful that we’ll do that months work in less than two months, just because of things like the flooring delay and the knock on effect this has on the joinery and the joiners own schedule. He may well not be able to fit us in exactly when we want now we’ve added a two week slip to the programme.

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 coopers 03 Mar 2014 06:22 PM :

 That’s really helpful, thanks Jeremy. Every scheme will have its individual quirks that will add cost and delays, so I guess it’s safe to expect at least 8 months. Ours will be a lot bigger, but I guess that doesn’t necessarily need to add very much time… maybe we’d have 2 or 3 plasterers etc.. Your suggestion of a possible 5 month build is very appealing.

MBC are quoting a lead time of 6 weeks. Was that your experience?

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 jsharris 03 Mar 2014 07:50 PM :

 We had 1 electrician (with me helping at times), 2 roofers, 1 guy doing the fascias, soffits etc, 1 guy doing the drainage, drive, paths, 2 plasterers (wall area was 460 sq m), 1 decorator, 1 floor tiler, 1 person doing first and second fix plumbing, MVHR, kitchen, bathroom, heating system (me).

 MBC lead time was around 3 weeks for us, but I know they have been a fair bit busier since then (some of which is down to me……..).

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 coopers 04 Mar 2014 08:02 AM :

 Thanks again Jeremy. I’ve been reading through some of the threads re soil testing and the need for piles. As a first port of call, should we email the Viking/Tanner engineers report to the BCO to see what he suggests?

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 jsharris 04 Mar 2014 03:05 PM :

 Sounds a good plan to me, Suzanne. I just sent my BCO Hilliard Tanner’s report, together with a note that the soil bearing capability was greater than 100kN/m², as confirmed by the local SE who designed our retaining wall (using his local knowledge of the ground conditions) and as clear from the ground (we were down on blue/grey gault, which is around 200kN/m²). We had no problems at all with this, he accepted it without a query.

 Usually BCOs will know the sort of soil around their area and if they have any concerns they’ll flag them up. My feeling is that it’s only in a very few cases that you would need piles, as one feature of a foam base foundation system is that it is possible to make it work in softer ground by just increasing the depth of the stone layer. We only had to use 150mm of clean 18-35 stone, but had the ground been softer then this could have been increased to increase the bearing capacity of the underlying ground.

 It’s a trade off in very soft ground as to whether it’s cheaper to dig out more soil and fill it with crushed stone, or to put a lot of piles in, but my feeling is that 9 times out of 10 it’s cheaper to put a deeper stone bed in. The problem is that there are very few UK SEs who are familiar with this type of foundation system and the inherently low loads it places on the underlying ground. There are even fewer that understand the principle (outlined in Hilliard Tanner’s report) that adding a deeper stone layer increases the underlying soil bearing capacity.

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 coopers 04 Mar 2014 06:49 PM:

 hi Jeremy, thanks for that – I will email the BCO and see what he will require.

 Out of interest, have you paid a fortune in “muck-away”?

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 jsharris 04 Mar 2014 09:25 PM :

 Depends how you define “fortune”!

 For the initial ground works we paid a total of £9630 for muckaway and green waste disposal. For the second lot of stuff we dug out for the drainage crate hole and getting the drive levels right we paid around £925.

 In total we shifted around 900 tonnes of stuff off the site, including around 20 tonnes of green waste (which costs a lot more to dispose of than soil, for some reason).

 The last lot of muckaway cost us £185 per 18 wheeler grab truck load, which is normally something like 16 to 20 tonnes per load.

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 Kambo 20 Mar 2014 01:19 AM :

 Man thats some bad luck with the deliveries, echoing the above – you have the patience of a saint!

 Fair play on staying cool though

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 coopers 28 Mar 2014 06:37 AM :

Jeremy, it’s been more than a month since your last confession….er, I mean blog post.

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 coopers 12 Apr 2014 05:44 AM:

 Jeremy, For the foundation stone base, do they use a vibrating roller, or similar? It’s just that we were going to hire one, to compact the new road planings we’ve bought. If we are going to need one later, we may as well wait.

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  jsharris 12 Apr 2014 10:35 AM :

 Sorry for not updating this blog, things have been conspiring against it (including me smashing my camera on site a month ago!). A new camera is on order and I shall do another update shortly.

 The foundation base is compacted with a plate wacker, not a big roller. Although it needs to be compacted the stone is open and loose, unlike a normal drive sub-base, so needs to be compacted without impairing its drainage properties. MBC did the final compacting on our base, as it had been disturbed a bit by the borehole drillers driving over it and using it as a storage area for their gear. They needed a wacker to compact the grit blinding anyway, I think. Wacker hire isn’t that expensive, I had to hire one to do the drive and I think it was about £80 for two days.

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 coopers 13 Apr 2014 06:38 AM :

 Hi J. I noticed that your stairs are one of the last things to go in. This seems to be common. Why is that? Is it to prevent them getting damaged? Our staircase will be a cheap one, and will be carpeted, so we thought we might get MBC to fit it, when they do the internal studwork. The balustrades can be left until last. Any reason why not?

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 jsharris 13 Apr 2014 07:27 AM :

 In our case there are a few reasons.

Once the stairs are in access for getting big and heavy stuff in to the ground floor will be much harder, as the stairs take up a lot of manoeuvring space in the hall. When the stonemasons carried the long length of stone worksurface in last week they’d have had a lot harder time getting in around the stairs, for example.

 If we’d put the stairs in before decorating then we’d have had to hire a narrow tower to get up to the top of the hall (around 6m up) as the 4ft square tower I bought (although great for the builders and plasterers) would have been too big to fit in the available space.

 Finally, there’s the risk of damage. Our staircase is solid oak and we want to leave it with a plain oiled finish, so the last thing I wanted was for it to get dirty or marked before it was in and oiled.

 If you are going to fit a painted staircase, and if it isn’t going to get in the way during the build, then there’s a lot to be said for putting it in early. One downside of us not having the stairs in was that getting things like the shower tray, MVHR and thermal store up to the first floor was a fair bit harder (and involved me rigging up ropes, blocks, makeshift ramps made from scaffolding, etc!).

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 coopers 14 Apr 2014 08:11 AM :

 Thanks J, I think we will put the stairs in early, although Greg had a good solution of buying a second-hand straight staircase from ebay as a temporary option.

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