We’ve been living here for a while now…

Since my last post in October, we’ve done an awful lot.  The time from October until we moved in in December (formally at 12:12 on 12/12/12) was a desperate rush, trying to get the new house habitable before our rental contract in Broadwoodwidger expired on 15 December.  We achieved it, but only just, and we’ve now been living in the house for just over 3 months.

The Somme remains

We have contracted with Matt Verney’s company, MV Gardens,to landscape the front and back gardens, working to an updated version of the scheme we submitted for planning permission.  Matt did some preliminary work to allow us to move in, including levelling the driveway and laying compacted crushed stone (‘803’ – a magical substance) so that we could get to the front steps, doing the same outside the kitchen door, and fitting a temporary balustrade to the steps leading down to the front door.  That was just enough to let us move in, and a bit more levelling allowed me to move my Porsche from Broadwoodwidger into the garage here.

Then it was Christmas, and with it, a continuation of the biblical rain we’d had seemingly throughout the build.  The garden still resembled the Somme, as in the picture above, and we resigned ourselves to continuing to live on a building site while we sorted out inside the house.

A lot has happened since, not all of it visible.

Managing our own Niagara


All the storm drains from the gutters in Westcroft Road find their way to the top corner of our site.  Before we started building, the water simply ran down a ditch by the bank, into the river at the bottom of the site.  As we built retaining walls and so on, we landed up with a substantial waterfall – the sound of rushing water was clearly audible in the living room!  One of the early jobs was to put in a big (225mm diameter) drainage pipe to collect the rainwater and carry it down to the river.  The picture shows Matt and Ben (in the background) putting the pipe in place.  This has dealt with the storm water problem down that side of the site.

Our Very Own Somme


Matt’s next job was to lay 803 for the paving behind the house, and to move loads of spoil from the front of the house, and around the back garden.  He set out to hire a 5-tonne excavator, and a 3-tonne dumper to help with this.  In the event, Eagle Plant could only supply a 3.5-tonne excavator (not much of a problem), and a 9-tonne (!!) dumper – normally seen building motorways.  It was HUGE.  The picture shows me indulging big-boy fantasies when Ben needed help to drag it out of the mud where it was stuck up to its axles.

…a little unconventional, perhaps, but more effective than trowel and fork!

The rain continued right through December and most of January – and the garden continued to have that Somme look to it.  At Christmas, the Germans cancelled the football match because of the state of the ground.

The cats, who had been in the cattery Cats in Clover while we moved were let out in January, after I’d fitted a (large-size) cat flap in the utility room door.  They were not too impressed with the mud, but condescended to go out, then to come in and spread muddy footprints over every surface.

The Patio

A lot more 803.  We are well over the 100 tonnes now – for a time, we seemed to see a truckload every 5 minutes!  Ben spent ages racing (?) around in the mega-dumper, slalom around the drain inspection covers, distributing piles of 803 around the garden ready to set out the patio base.  Then we spent an hour or two in the pouring rain with Matt and a can of spray-line, marking out the outline of the patio behind the house.  The goal was a single, sinuous curve right across the back of the house.  I spent a couple of hours playing with Autosketch (the spline curve fit was useful, as, being an engineer, I can only draw straight lines by hand).  Then Ben spent happy days spreading the 803, and compacting it with Matt’s ancient vibrating roller – he could only use it for about 20min at a time, then had to take a break for the vibration in his hands to fade away.

At the end of January, the sandstone slabs for the patio were delivered.  Another huge load, delivered this time on a 40-foot artic lorry.  Fortunately, the delivery truck came with its own fork-lift, and the driver spent a (for us) amusing hour whizzing from the lorry, parked half-way up Westcroft Road, to the bottom of the site with pallets of stone slabs.  In the rain, of course!  A couple of weeks later, and Paul (another of Matt’s men) came, to cut some of the large slabs for the steps at the front of the house, and to distribute the other slabs.  He spent a Friday on the work, then came back on the Saturday with Sylv, his estimable wife – five-feet nothing, but carrying slabs around!  They started at about 9 on the Saturday morning, using the powered track-barrow Matt had hired.  At about 11, the track-barrow shed one of its tracks, and Paul and Sylv spent the rest of the day carrying slabs with no more mechanical aids than a wheelbarrow.


Tubs found that, when the sun finally came out, the sandstone was a good place to sunbathe.

Most recently, a further 32 tonnes – this time topsoil.


Paul has spent the last couple of days distributing soil over the bank outside the kitchen door.  This will be planted with ‘Native Shrub Mix’.  Matt refers to it as ‘Supermarket Car Park’, but the virtue is that it is low-maintenance, and will attract birds and pollinators.  Matt has now laid about a third of the patio, enough to see that the sandstone will look terrific against the house brickwork, and Ben is now back at work, so the blockwork retaining walls are coming on again.  The sloping path behind the garage is now started, and the weather is starting to help!

More soon.




We have stairs! (And Bathrooms) (And a Kitchen)

The last week or so have seen fast progress inside the house, but a much more sedate, shall we say, pace outside.  Three striking developments –

The Kitchen

We’ve bought the kitchen from a local, Holsworthy, company, Complete Kitchens.  On 24 September, they arrived and delivered a mountain of kitchen unit carcases (all packed flat).  Over the week, Sean the fitter put many of them together, and also spent three days back in the workshop fabricating the Corian worktops.  This last week has seen the kitchen come together.

The kitchen from the dining room

There is still some work to do – only half of the doors are fitted, and there are more appliances to install – but next week should see the kitchen finished, and Sean moving on to the utility room.

The Bathrooms

…are coming along splendidly.  Jason the tiler (and his mate Ian) did an excellent job of the tiling, and this week, Liam has been fitting the sanitary ware.  Our en suite bathroom looks wonderful – the cabinet under the double washbasin is a perfect match for the dark grey tiles, and the room feels spacious

The Shower Room is also exactly what we had in mind…

The guest bedroom en-suite, though, is a catalogue of disasters

This started when (undetected by us at the time) Josh built the room 100mm narrower than planned – 1200mm rather than 1300mm.  That came to light when Ryan tried to fit the shower tray.  We were away at the time, and an ambiguous phone conversation with Sean (project manager) led to Mayflower being asked to swap the 1200x800mm tray for an 1100×900 one.  We discovered that only when Liam was half way through fitting it.  We decided that it would be OK, but it is rather tight.  Then the lighting supply for the bathroom cabinet (and shaver point) was put on the wrong wall, behind the tall heated towel rail.  Finally, Jason (tiler) had helpfully set the pipes for the towel rail exactly level, through tidy, small holes in the porcelain tiles, when one needs to be 20mm higher than the other to accommodate the T-piece that connects the radiator valve and electric backup element.  What we’re hoping is that this acts as a sort of cock-up-black-hole, attracting all the disasters to one place.  Think we’ll screw the door closed!

Liam has struggled with fixing things to the wall because the porcelain tiles are very hard.  A standard tile drill lasts just 2 holes.  Tom (Electrician) suggested Bosch Extreme; I gave Liam one to try, but have not yet heard how well it worked.

The Stairs

I went to site on Wednesday morning, expecting to do the usual round of checking for problems, only to find Andy (joiner) there, and a lorry delivering our stairs.  2 full pallets of stair components, all needing to be carried into the house.

Here’s the staircase jigsaw puzzle –

And no picture on the front of the box, either!  Andy, who seems always to have a smile, didn’t seem fazed at all by this, though when I went to site again on Thursday, I did find him lining pieces of oak up in the hall, trying to work out what went where.  He clearly sorted it out, though, as when we went to site on Saturday, we had most of the lower staircase.

And it’s beautiful!  When I was on site on Thursday, Phil (other joiner) was standing at the bottom of the stairs, waxing lyrical about the beauty of the oak, and how the grain showed through.  And it’s true – it is lovely timber, and it will work exactly as we intended, as a feature as you enter the house.


Some tense times here, as there were some key tasks that had to be complete this week so that the essential work planned for next week could happen.  At last, at last, we have a water main into the house.  Admittedly not where originally planned (plant room), but at least it’s in.  And we have a duct in place for the electricity supply, so Western Power can come next week to connect up.  And, finally, we have trenches

These will allow the borehole pipes (in the large brown pipes sticking out of the ground) to connect to the manifold (around the corner to the left)

and thence to the heat pump, which is due for delivery next week.  Again, the garden looks like the Somme.  I keep expecting Baldrick to pop up with a Cunning Plan.

Trenches also started (the one in the middle of the picture) for the drains.  Helpful.

Next Week

Lots of important stuff, as indicated above –

  • Western Power connecting us to electricity
  • Heat pump delivery and installation
  • Finishing the kitchen
  • The upper staircase – provided Andy can work out how to fit the cranked steel beams that will support it!
  • The decorators are due to start – first job is getting a coat of wax on the oak doors.
  • More trenches – sewage and rainwater drains


Tiles, Doors and Joinery

Now that the plaster and screed have had some weeks to dry, we can move on to finishing inside the house.  We had decided on porcelain tiles for the floor in the kitchen, dining room, downstairs hall , utility room and WC, and in the all-important plant room, and for floors and most walls in the bathrooms.  Before that could start, though, Ryan the plumber (or more correctly, his chap Liam)  had to fit the shower trays and baths.  That threw up one problem, when we found that En Suite 2 – the Guest Bedroom en-suite – had been built 100mm narrower than designed.  Too late to do anything about the walls, we had to change the shower tray from 1200×800 to 1100×900.  Dimensions are a bit tight, but it should be workable.

We selected two pairs of tile colours from the Gemini Hillock range (from CTD in Exeter) – Light Grey/Dark Grey and Cream/Mocca, and spent a fair time allocating the pairs of colours to floors and walls.  I transferred the results into a set of drawings, one per room:

Jason Ogilvy very quickly tiled the ground floor, and moved on to the bathrooms.

The shower room
En Suite 1 – shower
En Suite 4

We’re delighted with the tiles – they have turned out exactly as planned, and Jason and his mate Ian have done a grand job, getting the right colours and the right grout for each colour.


Potton delivered the 2nd fix joinery pack last week.  This contained all the internal doors, the door hardware and material for the door casings, architraves and skirtings.  Phil, the carpenter working for Andy Wilton, has been on site all week, fitting the doors and architraves.  The skirtings will be left until the oak floor has been laid through most of the house.

The doors look superb..

Wardrobe doors in the Guest Bedroom


All this week, Tom, Matt and Paul have been in installing the electrical fittings.  We now have consumer units (fuse boxes) in the Plant Room and Loft, electrical sockets and switches throughout, and most of the light fittings, where we are using down lighters.  Western Power are scheduled to connect the house to the supply on 8 October – another significant step.


On Monday last, Complete Kitchens delivered much of the kit for the kitchen, and started on the installation.  They have had to pause while electricity and plumbing catch up, but the time has not gone to waste, as they have been manufacturing our Corian worktops.


Liam has been back again, installing the LPG supply for the hob in the kitchen, and adding some more water pipes.


On Monday, the decorators come in to start waxing the doors with Treatex painting the walls, leaving only the final coat.  Monday also sees the delivery of 150m2 of engineered oak flooring, and work on the water supply to the house and drainage.  Exciting times, and still on programme to complete in late November.