First fix plumbing & electrics

First fix started at the beginning of September. Josh and Mark of M J Plumbing  are completing the plumbing and under floor heating (UFH)  and are great guys to have on site. Easy to talk to, efficient at work and happy souls to be around.

We were due to lose the equivalent of three tall cupboards in the utility room to house all the plant required to run a house this size however, we were delighted when it was suggested we house the boiler, water softener, and hot water tank in the generous loft space enabling us to redesign the utility so we can include that large bottle fridge (perfect for wine, gin and beer).

As you’ll see from the photos, the copper pipes are a work of art in themselves. Those of you who know me will know how I like a tidy space and this ticks all my boxes. UFH was installed to the first floor in early October and the ground floor is being completed by the end of this week. Next Tuesday we will have mains heat in the house which is much needed now Winter’s arrived. The insulation on top of the screed floor is 150mm depth. Cold is not a word that can be applied to this home!

The initial design of the heating and plumbing included a Mechanical Heat Recovery System (MHRS) which  recirculates air around the property. This means you do not need trickle vents on windows but you have to install a quantity of extraction and pumping vents in ceilings throughout the house. We decided not to go for the MHRS for several reasons; we were not convinced by our research  and that provided by our builder, that it would prove a cost effective solution and it was not recommended by the Heating & Plumbing Engineer who looked at the specification for the house. We also didn’t like the amount of vents that had to be housed in the ceilings (ceilings look so cluttered in a new build with down lights, built in audio and a MHRS system). Following further research into the proposed Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) heating system, we also decided to change that to mains Gas and have fitted a recommended Worcester boiler. We’re advised they’re the best on the market so feel confident with our decision.

Renewal energy and energy efficiency is a huge item when you’re building a new home but you have to really look into everything thoroughly as it is not always the most efficient or cost effective solution. If you’re not on mains gas then ASHP or Ground Source Heat Pump is a serious option, however the latter comes at a huge cost so you need to be sure you’ll be living in the house long enough to recoup your investment. ASHPs are somewhat cheaper to install however you have to look at their efficiency throughout all the seasons to check it really would work for you.

We have energy assessors appointed who pass relevant data through their systems to check we meet the standards set. Type of heating, lighting, insulation, U Value of windows are some of the items that are used to check your build meets requirements. At the end of the build they will air pressure test to ensure our home meets the regulations.

Dan Small of DTS Electrical is completing most of the electrics (with some help from Peter White Electrical, known as Chalky in the trade). We are continually astounded at the amount of cabling being run through the house. Cat 6 cabling is being installed throughout, some we will use immediately to suit our purposes but we’re also future proofing the house so future owners can easily add to it. The images below show the cabling as it stands today but there’s still more to come.

So… this will all fit in one cupboard and leave room for our files!

Smart Systems is now massive in new homes and far you decide to go with it is not only down to what you’d like but a lot is down to what you can afford. It’s a highly skilled job and finding the right people/person to work with has taken us a lot of time, mind numbing research and me drawing more mind-maps and flow charts than I care to admit to to try to get to grips with this subject. We have eventually decided on a mix of solutions; Dan will install a mix of lighting control using the Hamilton Mercury system, Wez of Prestige Electrical will install a Control 4 system along with audio. I’m currently looking at automated window blind solutions and have yet to decide exactly what to have. We have selected the rooms where we are automating lighting, audio and TV control.  Some of the house will stay with traditional methods of flicking on a light switch and manually lowering a window blind but my goodness there’s some clever stuff out there, the hard bit is deciding what you’ll actually use and what will be expected from new owners when you decide to sell on. Of course all this comes with a hefty price tag which will easily blow your budget especially as none of this is included as part of the initial ‘build cost’. It truly is a big subject so allow plenty of time to scope it.

First fix of the security system as also been completed by CIA. Second fix to come.

Ray (Ray Hunt Plastering) and his team have started the plastering. What an efficient team they are. It’s a masterclass in plastering watching them work, they’re proud of the work they do and are enormously skilled. This house has very clean lines and the final finish has to be fantastic or it’s going to show. We have every confidence we’ll be happy with their work.


I’m very excited to see tiles arriving. We’re using porcelain tiles on every floor surface as they’re a great conductor of heat for the UFH. They’ll be wonderfully cool in the summer and warm as toast in the winter, I’m going to have fun choosing rugs to soften the look. Another bonus is that the stability of colour. Although we’re having UV coating on the glass to prevent damage to furnishings, we’re having large expanses of glass and much as I love the look and warmth of wood, it does not work so well with UFH. You have to like the colour change that will happen over the years with a natural product like wood. I initially decided on wood doors for the first floor but, on visiting a showroom and seeing the product new and how the much the colour changed after three years exposed to UV, my mind was completely changed. What started life as a beautiful nutty brown Walnut, became orange. I’ve now opted for a painted finish so I can control the colour. The other advantage of tiles is that damage by stilettos is not something we’ll have to be concerned about! I have several friends who have beautiful wooden floors, accepting the wear and tear is not easy and it’s something they worry about.

I’ve spent hours, no actually days, sourcing tiles. There is such a fabulous selection out there. Some wood effect tiles are so beautiful in their ability to look like the real thing it’s quite amazing. After visiting many showrooms and searching online, ordering copious numbers of samples and compiling enough scraps to tile an large room of mix and match finishes, I am relieved to have made my choice. Deliveries are frequent and the tiler Alex of A P Ceramics has started preparation of the floors. Not long now until I see tiles on walls and floors and I can’t wait.

I have had brilliant service from the Ash Vale branch of HTW. The team there grasped the look I’m after and have sourced tiles within and outside of their usual stock. So many tile shops now charge for each sample however HTW did not. They recognised that I needed to be able to take many samples away with me, to walk around them over a period of several days, before making my decision. They have received the bulk of our business due to the service and quantity discounts they provided. I highly recommend them.

The cost of tiles varies hugely and I’ve become expert at sourcing the look I’m after at a price I can afford. Other companies I’ve sourced from are: Tiles4all and Mandarin Stone. Be prepared to negotiate hard for best prices and give time to your search, there’s no replacement for the hours I’ve given to this.

The fifth bedroom used for storage of tiles

Lastly for this post is that work on the balustrades for the external balconies has started. Railing London are supplying the balustrades and also the helical stairs. So far the stainless steel channels have been fitted, quite some job with fixing required through the steel to give it structural support. Glass balustrades will slot into the channel. We’re going for a clean streamlined appearance with no handrail to interfere with our sightline.

I’ll leave you with a few images taken a couple of weeks ago:


The UK weather has played havoc on some days. Last week rain stopped play, this week the below freezing temperatures have affected some jobs.

Next post… windows


Zinc Roof -simply striking

27th July Elliott and Rikki, subcontractors to Salmon Solutions arrived to start installation of the zinc roof. This was another big moment in the build being the first finished element. There was much deliberation about the design of the gutters; the architects favoured guttering suspended on the outside of the fascia whilst the zinc company recommended going the hidden gutter route, where the gutter is not visible at ground or balcony level. We chose the hidden gutter as we felt it would give a better profile and be more in-keeping with the striking simplicity of the design we’re after. This of course created more work for the carpentry team which translates into higher costs! It’s been worth it though as they’ve done a brilliant job as you’ll see from the images below.

The three main roofs were completed on 8th September, and the protective layer could finally be peeled away for the big reveal. We are delighted with our colour choice and how the roof has turned out. Chimney flues were installed by Russell of Home Wood Fireplaces and K-Rend was applied to the chimneys which compliments the grey of the zinc perfectly. They’ll be a further two visits from Salmon Solutions to complete their work; the flat roof over the entrance door, two balconies and the downpipes.

We’ve been lucky with the weather throughout the build, let’s hope our luck continues.

Although a price/quotation is agreed based on architect drawings before you appoint your contractor, you need to be prepared for variations that only become apparent once the team are on site. Contingency financial planning is a necessity.

Hidden gutters
The finished roof

Next post – Drainage, 1st fix electrics & plumbing


It’s all about the roof

I’m a bit late with this post, but I have a good excuse as there’s a lot going on both on site and at home. I swing from exhilaration as the house takes shape to awe as to how we’re going to fill the fantastic space being created.

Whilst I’m spending my time with landscaping plans, window specification drawings, kitchen design and more mood boards than I will ever need (the study is getting deeper in files by the day and I’m making full use of online mood boards available), the carpenters and bricklayers are showcasing their skills on site. They take pride in what they do and it shows.

There’s been a dramatic change in the shape of the house over this past month. The design of the roofs have challenged the team in a good way. There’s been scratching of heads as drawings are scrutinised. The carpenters have sketched designs and produced templates. Angles have been created and blocks have been cut to exacting standards to meet the brilliant angles of the three roofs. The image above is the before, make sure you take in the after photo below showing joists in place. The secret gutters have a story all of their own. Not on the original architect plans but a design the zinc suppliers were keen to include. Having visited a site with them in situ, the decision was taken to go that route which has involved much additional carpentry work but the result is going to be worth it.

I’ve had to overcome some of my fear of heights in order not to miss out on seeing the roof before it’s covered over. This is the only opportunity I’ll have for walking across the structure and I’m making the most of it.

First fix electrics and plumbing are to come however a few copper pipes have miraculously appeared. These will truly begin in another couple of weeks. Tomorrow I put pen to paper and document my thoughts on the lighting design. Evening and bedtime reading has been Lighting by design by Sally Storey and The Languages of Light by Rebecca Weir & Allyson Coates.

A few friends and family have visited and so far the response to the design has been “Wow”. I’m going to take that as a positive reaction as it’s one Neale and I have had on more than one occasion when strolling around the house at the weekend. Let’s hope we can do it justice with the interior finishes.

Motto on site “there are no problems, only solutions”

Teamwork lifting the final steels into place
Left to right – Roof 1, 2 & the start of 3


Next time – installing the zinc covering

Rain, rain go away…

I’ve become obsessed with the weather. They say the English always talk about the weather well it’s little wonder when we’re in the middle of Summer wearing raincoats and wellies! The ground floor rooms resemble a complex of indoor swimming pools – not quite the desired look. However, everyone on site has stayed good humoured. They’re used to it and take it in their stride.

Since my last post blockwork has continued, Carpenters; Charlie, Josh and Andy, have arrived, Beano’s got married (Congratulations) and I’m excited to see the first floor rooms in place and work begin on the ceilings and roof.

Steel plates have been put in place to support ceiling joists and roof plates are ready to take the joists/rafters. Precision is again key with a 10 degree angle worked to on the first of the three roofs. At the end of 2-3 weeks the roofs will take shape and the vaulted ceilings in the bedrooms will appear.

Delivery of off-site fabricated roof sections

Team photos… thanks guys:

Fabrication drawings are arriving regularly; staircase, balconies, windows and roof. All for checking, comment and approval. Thank goodness for my proof-reading experience. It’s great to share this responsibility with Craig of Grover Building Services, whose de-stressed way of working is hugely beneficial to me. He’s a solutions person not a problem person, imperative in his industry.

I’m grateful for the time given by everyone in the team to explain processes and detail about the build. Great communication – a necessity!

And finally the build to date:


Next up… shaping the roof

That was fast

Monday 25th April – another big day in the build.

In just one day the concrete plank first floor was fitted. The guys from Su-Fix Precast Ltd arrived first thing and worked continuously (I’m sure cold pizza was being munched as muscle food) throughout the day.

There was constant communication between their crane handler, the team on the ground and the team up on the steels – this seemed to me to be teamwork at its best. Drawings were being checked and the work progressed at great speed.

I was desperate to climb up and watch from the first floor but decided on staying out of their way, videoing and photographing from a safe distance. Unfortunately I can’t share videos here as I think I’d need to upgrade my account with WordPress but they’ve been circulated to friends and family on frequent basis. Thank goodness for social media.

Huge yellow inflatable cushions were laid throughout the ground floor for health & safety reasons.

By the end of the afternoon all planks were in place and I could walk across the first floor getting a feel for the scale of rooms. It’s weird how the space changes at different stages; one moment rooms look small, then ridiculously large, then back to the size I envisaged. The guys on site are of course used to clients making comments like “that seems smaller than I thought” or “that area seems way too large”. I’ve spent many an evening up on the first floor with drawings in hand working out whether rooms will turn out as I have them planned in my head.

There’s been less of the GBS team on site over the past three weeks whilst steels and floor were going in. It’s good to have them back on site for this next stage.


One large bouncy castle


Finished first floor


Kitchen’s a bit dark now
I even have a temporary staircase… so much easier for someone who’s not good with heights
Beano, Craig and Steve  – THREE WISE MEN

Next post – Blockwork to plate (that’s up to roof level for those not in the know)

Reinforcements required

5th April the crane to lift the largest steels arrived on site. There followed two and half weeks whilst the guys from Beamwork positioned the complex structure of steels. On more than one occasion someone mentioned to me “there’s a huge amount of steel going in here”. Steels were lifted, cut, bolted and welded. It was a slower process than had been anticipated but I’m pleased to be able to share some of the images with you now.

Enter the big boys


Next post fitting the concrete plank first floor

Say hello to the first floor

The last three weeks have flown past. Progress has been steady with blockwork (thermalite blocks) going up to plate (fixing point for the roof). 46 Pad Stones (extra strong blocks) and steels delivered ready to take the concrete plank first floor. Pad Stones are placed at points where steel touches and enable the load to be spread evenly across the walls.

Pad Stone & Celotex insulation fixed in place

Much time has been spent cutting blocks to a reduced height to achieve the correct final roof height. It’s a slower process and patience is a virtue during this time. The thoroughness and attention to detail is evident every time I visit the site. Measurements are constantly being checked with measurements taken from the datum set at the finished floor level. All measurements are taken off that to ensure the build stays within the required level. String lines and profiles set in corners are worked to ensuring accuracy.


First lift of scaffolding by Mainline Scaffolding is in place and we can now walk around the site on planks, peering down into the rooms imagining what it’ll be like to live in them. I imagine furniture in place and frequently practice living in the space. It helps me to think about how we’ll actually use the space and whether we’ve thought it all through. I originally did this when I received the architect’s drawings resulting  in changing some layouts. It’s too late for changes now!

Steels have arrived  supplied by Beamline Steel. Their team are cutting, numbering and welding ready for the arrival of the crane to lift the first floor steels into place next week. There’s 80 pieces of steel, approximately six different heights, making a complex giant jig saw puzzle.  The different sizes provide the required strength throughout the build. Steve’s mind is focussed on correct placement – there’s no room for error! They’re working to five sets of cross-referenced drawings; two from the architects, two from the structural engineer and one floor plan.

The team are happy to answer my questions; it’s a steep learning curve for me. Beano explained there are two types of lintel being used; steel only for the perimeter of the build whilst the internal lintels are made up of steel enclosed by concrete.

Next post… placing first floor lintels & fitting concrete plank floor



Onwards & upwards

Progress on site over the past 2 weeks has been fantastic:

  • Tanking system applied to base of cavity walls
  • Blockwork up to first floor level
  • Levels around the build have been reduced and hardcore laid ready for scaffold
  • Scaffolding started today and will be finished for this phase by end of tomorrow

There’s been a few site meetings between Craig, Steve, myself and suppliers which have all reinforced how important good communication is (I’ll covering more on this in a later post).

Dave Spear, surveyor from Clement windows who are manufacturing the steel doors for the ground floor was on site last week. These Belgium doors are key to the ‘refined industrial’ look I’m after. Some people will think this is a risk but hey, wouldn’t life be boring if we always played it safe?

Chris Salmon and Charlie Whitman from Salmon Solutions were on site yesterday to talk through the design of the zinc roofs and how best to achieve the minimal look we’re seeking. The level of detail covered is fascinating. Architect drawings were scrutinised and options discussed. There’s more discussion to be had and I’ll be making a visit to view previous work they’ve completed – but how good it was to have the communication lines open across the team now we’ve met face to face.

Russell Homewood of Home Wood Fireplaces was on site today together with his colleague. There was much discussion around the detail of installing the two wood burning stoves. I could add value only from the aesthetic point of view but it was great to hear the others discussing the finer building issues.

It’s really enjoyable to listen to the team come up with suggestions to achieve a good final result. How many times in our working lives have we heard that clients don’t want to hear issues, they want solutions. I’m so enjoying being on the receiving side now!

Here’s a selection of the latest photos:

A final photo of the ‘ever smiling’ Danny:


Up next… working up to plate (and yes that is a technical term)

Cementing the future

Work during week of 22nd February included crushed cement over ground floor slab, covering this in sand and steel anti-crack mesh. Ready for pumping of cement.



The perimeter was prepped ready for when scaffold arrives in a week or so. This required removal of three large tree trunks that had been hidden under wild rhododendrons:



26th Feb. Great excitement (for me of course!) as I woke up to the arrival of a lorry load of cement. Connected to a pumping vehicle, the view from High Pines looked like something out of Day of the Triffids:


Cement was pumped to top of oversite with the support of several of the team to smooth it out, topping up areas using wheelbarrow & spade where necessary:

I can’t end without a few photos of the team:

Beano & Poppy


Mikey & Matt – happy chaps!

Next up will be blockwork to first floor level…