Week 66

It will be 2 – 4 weeks to dry the house out, redecorate, and get you in.

… has to rank alongside the similarly famous …

We’ll have the lights on for Christmas.

And more recently…

Put your family in a hotel while the work is done.

It’s not every day that you build a house from scratch, and you would hope that the utterances from the experts could be believed. We’ve learned a lot these last 20 months, the most valuable has been to pick out the genuinely good advice from the masses of optimistic twaddle.

It’s 30 weeks since we had planned to move in, 3 weeks since the flood, and now at least 12 more weeks still to go. The overly-optimistic comments have stopped, and we’re thinking desert-like drying-out thoughts to get us there.

The environmental guys have taken over the site and filled it with dehumidifiers, fans, sensors, and heaters. They’ve tented the master ensuite and part of Gemma’s room where the majority of the water flowed down the walls when the valve failed. The assessors originally said that they would set their gear up and monitor it each week to give a forecast of how much of the 28 days they reckon it will take before the building is dry and any remedial work can begin. Perhaps they’ll start that monitoring next week, because they haven’t been in much since Tuesday. Of course, we’re banking on the warm weather giving the process a boost and are hoping it will be shorter rather than longer than anticipated. However, I’ve spoken to two people who’ve been here before who said that when an insurance company says 0 to 28 days to dry, it usually means 28 days.

It was a comfortable 21° C summer day today with a light breeze and high clouds. But inside it was a dry, hot, deafening furnace well into the mid 30’s. And with this, comes the possibility that what was perfectly dry in other parts of the house now starts to bend and distort.

You can hear the humming of all the machinery going 24/7 as you approach the house. The building sounds alive, and it’s very strange.

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trio of fan/heater/dehumidifier downstairs in the hallway
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leeched water runs out into the brand new sink
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doors have been removed and left to dry
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Gemma’s room is partially-tented
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hallway and master ensuite tents

With all this experience, one of the benefits is being able to pass it on. We probably should have a chat about the acronym seas we’re swimming in: JCTs, EOTs, LADs and General Damages. If you ever entertain the idea of building a house or engaging a builder to do a large amount of work that requires one of the many flavours of Joint Contract Tribunal or JCT contract, you should know a few things. Firstly, Kevin McCloud (For It Is He) subscribes to the phrase “hope for the best and plan for the worst”, and he’s right. But Hope alone isn’t the best strategy really. Planning for the worst involves having a solid contract in place to give impartial clarity to sticky situations should they arise. The hard part is guessing what exactly the “worst” could be from the keen-as-mustard and comfortable position of haven’t-started-yet and not-having-a-clue at the get-go. He also says that “house building has ruined many a good relationship,” so when engaging a builder, you should think less about beginning the marriage of your dreams and more about drawing up a hard-as-nails pre-nup for a possible divorce. Simply put, you will be completely clueless about how much protection you are going to need. This is why we hire professionals instead, and we don’t rely so much on the well-intentioned advice from friends, relatives or anyone else who hasn’t parted with hard-earned cash for a building project.

The second thing you should know is that you are ‘the insurer of last resort’. Any time anything goes wrong on your job, everyone will look to you to pay-up for his or her mistakes. This gets old quickly.

Time is everyone’s enemy on a job like this. The builder can request Extensions of Time, and the client can attempt to claim Liquidated Ascertained Damages, all in an effort to avoid being penalised for indecision or inaction. It all gets a bit messy, but if you’re clever from the outset and document these things properly, you will be able to fall back on the JCT to iron out the creases. If you don’t keep track, you end up scrabbling around in the dark recesses of history trying to figure out who did what when… and who should be up for paying.

Now that the muck has stuck, the insurance process, waiting around for reports, and reading the fine print in the contract is all taking a little too much out of everyone involved at the moment. Ultimately, there is a limited number of cookies in our cookie jar, and we are getting glimpses of the bottom of it these days which is scary. I Told You So is ringing in my ears with everyone saying to me that a self-build project always costs more than you think it will. Yes, you’re right. Everyone’s got a friend that has overreached in an extension, renovation or build. No one ever says, “Wow! And look! We’ve got loads of money leftover for curtains and new sofas!” Just, no. Knowing this, we prepared: we knew (thought) that so we had a robust contract, a sink (sunk) fund just-in-case, and effective (expensive) management in place. Along the way we felt comfortable enough to splash out on a few nice things, and this has been tempered by being more frugal about other things. And unlike the mystery figures and vagaries that are bandied about at the end of every episode of Grand Designs, we’ve kept track of every penny meticulously, so at least we know where we are, even while looking around for our paddle. Eight extra months of rent and professionals’ fees now means that we are making choices that we didn’t think we’d be facing because we’d prepared so well (we thought). After all, we’d waited 15 years to get started on this project so we’d had a LOT of time to think about it. It’s frustrating to see it all withering now, but curling up under the duvet isn’t an option, so onwards we go….

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garden from the master bedroom

Downpipes have gone in on the sections where we had the brick pillars removed. They’ve also finally installed the contentious one hanging off the vertical tiles on the front elevation into a newly-cut plinth.

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downpipe hugging the building into the plinth
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parade of double-swan-neck downpipes with oak soffits
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water butts ready to go in when the landscaping is finished
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soffit junction in the sun

The joints between the oak and the brick were mortared in last week. I went round to another house built in a similar style, and the owners were super friendly and kind enough to describe some of the problems they’d had with joins between materials. In fact, the lady of the house was so nice that she’d invited me and Elder Daughter in to have a good look at some areas of concern. Their builders had used mastic to seal the structural-oak/brick joins. After a few years of wear and movement in the oak in this other property, some of the mastic has started to come away from the brick exposing the join to the elements.  They’d also put clear silicon in the oak joints just like we did. They’re getting it all sorted now, but it’s taken them living through a few floods to see where the problems lie. We’ll put this in the Good Advice bucket.

There are a lot of multi-material junctions throughout our building. Our mortar joints are raked in 3 or 4 mmm in which gives a lovely shadow effect to each course but it makes life a little tricky for making a nice seal. Mastic along the joins between the window frames and the bricks would only splodge into the mortar joints, potentially leaving a messy uneven line. So unlike my new friend with the similar house, we’ve decided to forego the mastic and use just compriband on its own instead. This is a sticky-backed foam that squishes down into nothing and expands to fill gaps in the heat. The trick is to put it in the fridge or freezer right before installing it (especially in summer) to give time for it to be cut to size onsite. They’ve used large sheets of it in some of the larger gaps between the structural oak and bricks, so it will be consistent too. Marvellous.

Despite a little rain in the week coupled with the moisture in the mortar leeching the tannins from the oak onto the plinths and discolouring it a little, having mortared joints are still a damn sight more reassuring than having possible failed future seal.

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fresh mortar …
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… and one week on with tannin leaching out

Despite all the hot mess of problems we’re having at the moment, it’s refreshing to think it’s actually a beautiful building with some architecturally interesting features. And it looks nice in the sun.

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will be nice to live in one day

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