Week 81

We’ve moved in!

Practical completion kind of happened on its own between Tim and Alyson behind the scenes which was weird. I would have thought this momentous event certainly warranted a fanfare or fireworks, or at least a pause for thought. Instead, the only communication I had from Tim on Moving In Day was an email with an invoice for half the retention. Lovely.

The move went really well, as predicted because each of the other 4 1/2 times we’ve had the pleasure of working with Removals In Action, they’ve been completely ace, and the whole process was calm, cool and collected. The kids were brilliant. We’ve lived in three rental houses and one friend’s, having moved all our clobber in the 77 weeks of the build from handover to PC. Andy, Kevin, Simon, Paul, Kesta and the gang are now like old friends. Having the driveway complete before Moving In Day made life a heck of a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. Lots of space for the trucks, cars and boxes.

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all packed up and ready to vacate the Tiny House
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empty drive waiting for Andy’s vans
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back of the house on a rainy moving day
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and now to unpack…

I managed to fix a few things the week before Moving In, like completing the installation of the ensuite lights. These are the ones that hang on either side of the mirror-we-haven’t-bought-yet. I’d bought two from Mr Resistor, and they managed to send along an incomplete order (missing out one lamp entirely!), so we sent that back in a fit of meh. We re-ordered from Ocean who were actually cheaper and simply brilliant. When they arrived, the electricians got semi-stuck in and installed the bases to the wall, but not the glass covers. The covers then floated around from room to room in their respective boxes for weeks, so rather than risk having them squished by or lost in all our stuff, I got my spanners together a few days before Moving In, delved into the sea of Styrofoam packing, and sorted it.

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ta-da!… lights

Downstairs, I had been looking at the coats cupboard with interest for some time. My vision was to have a very long rail for all of our coats, paired with a comprehensive shoe rack underneath. After much research on the internet for heavy duty brackets (6 people have many many coats….), I copied a design from a one-man-band in Poland and managed to have my own set made by Pete in Sussex from bobsbrackets.com (brilliant), and powder coated (by KG Sprayers in Guildford–again, brilliant). In another fit of DIY, I even bought a drill and some bomb-proof adhesive and enlisted a child to help put it all up. Finally, and with huge relief (for me because I could unpack yet more boxes, and for Child because it meant she could resume fiddling on her phone again),–it turned from a Coats Cupboard into an Electrical Cupboard. The only thing left is to buy and varnish a lovely piece of oak planking for a shelf on top.

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a blatant copy–plans for Pete
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my brackets!
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gratuitous pic of rail with brackets

Now that we’re in, we’ve had a few worrying moments as we’ve got used to the place.  Were we going to be happy with our decisions? Would everything work? One issue was that the room thermostats kept going off. There are five downstairs and eight upstairs, so having to reset each one, on a daily basis, was rather a pain in the seat. Here’s a quick review of how these things work to set the scene: with underfloor heating, each room or zone has it’s own control unit. The main controller in the garage is set to go on in the morning and again in the evening, so it looked like the electricity serving the thermostats was going off with the main controller. Dave the plumber was suspicious that this wasn’t meant to be wired this way, so referred it to his boss Trevor and Steve the electrician to figure out.  After two days of emails back and forth, it turns out the system is wired perfectly; we were meant to rely on the individual room controls rather than the main control. Crisis averted, but would have been avoided completely if we’d had any remotely adequate handover from any of the trades who installed any of the systems. But that’s another story….

Another weird thing was when I woke up on one of the first really cool mornings to find ALL the windows fogged up. Naturally, panic ensued, so I hit Google to find the reason and see if there was an easy fix or something more sinister. Usually condensation happens because something in the window system isn’t working correctly: there’s a breach the double glazing seal, or a gap between the window and the frame. Both these scenarios give water beading up on the INSIDE of the glass. Ours was OUTSIDE.

This is actually an example of the windows working perfectly, and also highly efficiently to boot. Warm air inside is kept well away from the cold air outside because the windows are double glazed and separate the two. The outside window gets as cold as the air, and water condenses on the surface into little beads. This happens for the same reason you get dew on grass: the outside temperature fell below the dew point; we essentially had dewey windows. It only occurs when the humidity is very high, and as it happened, it was a couple of days before hurricane Ophelia wandered over northern England making the humidity a stodgy 94%. Kinda neat from a nerdy physics point of view, but annoying for watching the encroaching storm from inside the cozy house, until the windows warmed up and went clear again.

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physics lesson

One of the reasons I haven’t kept up the blog is because we’ve been trying to come to a completion arrangement with Tim the contractor. Sticklers that we are, neither Clinton nor I have any capacity whatsoever to tolerate a lacklustre job, so to move in and to STILL have things incomplete or broken is really unsatisfyingly, amazingly, shit. Despite having been issued individual certificates for plumbing, electrics, and other systems, some bits still don’t work. Parts of the electrics are completely off plan, and unbelievably, there is still a leak IN THE EXACT SAME FITTING that failed in June and caused the flood.

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oh. my. gawd.

Needless to say, Trevor got Dave and Sid out within the hour to tighten and refit the valve.

A few big things on the snagging list remain outstanding, but all “diligent” work by the contractor has stopped since PC. Nice to not be overrun with guys working onsite all the time, but nothing is being done to finish the contract. It’s a Mexican standoff in Oxshott: Tim is waiting for us to pay and sign a Completion Agreement, and we’re waiting for him to finish the work before we pay. Alyson has waded in as Contract Administrator with many shrugs of shoulders, and says now that she can’t comment on Tim’s work, meaning that we’d have to pay Dave the Architect instead to oversee the snagging completion. Dave says he has attended as much as he feels is necessary, and isn’t keen to come up to check lack of progress for us. It’s all incredibly disappointing, and the finish line still seems some distance away. .

What stuff am I talking about?, you might ask. Well here are some examples:

My poor neighbour has suffered through 3 years of our build, and the drive that she now has sole use over has been truly mutilated by the builders. She’s been so awesomely generous about letting them park in her section of the drive, but now as she drives out (and the newspaper delivery guy drives in at 6:00 am every day), the mashed-up concrete slabs pivot on a non-mud section and go ka-dunk ka-dunk announcing the arrival of anyone driving up to her door. It’s a big job to make it good, and we’re not asking for pretty here, just good. Fixing it as a gracious Thank You from the contractor would be nice.

We have two water butts to contribute to our Part L regulations for environmental impact. They’re fed by a diverter in the rainwater downpipes that is supposed to allow the butts to be filled until they can’t be filled any more, leaving the leftover water to go down into the rainwater drains in the ground. The guys who installed the aluminium guttering and drain pipes cunningly fit the diverters lower than the holes in the water butts THAT THEY DRILLED THEMSELVES. Duh. One is ridiculously off and near the ground, the other is just a little low, but enough to make the whole apparatus completely ineffective. This wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s something that I can’t run around with a spanner and fix; it requires the guys to come back and do it properly, replacing pieces, and that means that Tim has to instruct them.

The electrics are an absolute nightmare. We never had an agreed physical plan on paper or pixels that we can all refer to, so it’s a matter of going back through three electrical foremans’ emails to figure out what the spec was. How Alyson ever agreed to the final figures I’ve got no clue. Even now as we’re having electricians in to check circuits and move cables that were cut too short, it’s still a hot mess with no plan to reference, and there is not one iota of joined-up thinking. Here’s an example: we were advised back around Christmas time last year to get a Rako control system thing in the kitchen and the drawing room, and Paul (Electrical Foreman until Feb 2017) was super keen to get this on board. Lovely, we thought! One switch and lots of flexibility. Then Paul left unannounced to start his own business, and he was replaced by Mark in mid-March. Mark never really got to grips with anything at all, and despite huge promises of sorting everything out that Paul had left hanging, we still had no plan, lots of variations, an accumulating catalog of errors in wiring, and a deteriorating relationship between the contractor and his subbie. Mark didn’t hit it off with Tim and was eventually fired in the Summer for telling James he wanted to knock Tim’s block off. Nice! Mark was replaced by Steve whom we’re dealing with at the moment to get things fixed. He’d doing his merry best and keeping a cool head, but there is still no plan so switches are inconsistent, wires are too taught, sockets don’t work, and the whole outdoor circuit including the coach lamp, trips into oblivion. Completely frustrating. Especially since we’ve paid out for the job to be finished and functioning.

Today we found that the reason why the 5A circuit in the family room doesn’t work. One of the sockets was omitted but the electricians wired it in anyway, and everyone had forgotten about it. Even the plasterers who’d plastered right over it, leaving the wires unconnected and the circuit open. No wonder the remaining sockets in the loop didn’t work.

Getting back to the Rako system, one of the blue units is a bridge that allows access via a remote device like a phone. Kinda bling for us, I know, but really cool. It needs hard wiring to a data point, but lo-and-behold, Steve’s company didn’t spec one in because HE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE SYSTEM HE WAS FITTING. Honest to God you couldn’t make it up. As an afterthought the fix was a loose cable in the cupboard. Like it?

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See? It works. Quit making such a fuss.

Clearly this wasn’t the solution we’re looking for, so the best they can do now is run the cable back into the Horrible Boxing and have it eek out by the Rako Bridge. A normal system would have hidden the data point or wired it directly. Poor Poor Poor.

The woodwork is being snagged, and after the flood, many skirting boards have shifted. Slipping slivers in the gaps was a nice try, but didn’t win any prizes for great workmanship so the short section was replaced.

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solution?….. why even try this on?


Tim agreed to carry out an extension to the wood floor around the fireplace in the drawing room as our very last Variation. But now the skirting is too high. Despite Alyson saying that she couldn’t comment on Tim’s work, she went ahead and blindly certified it, leaving us exposed to the entire charge even though there is now a massive gap between the skirting and the floor. Rather than complete the job and THEN get paid like any normal trade, Tim has done half the job and now can treat it as a snag that he can do whenever he feels like within the year-long rectification period. Brilliant.


that’s better

Our final Variation that Tim agreed to carry out was an extension to the wood floor around the fireplace in the drawing room. But now the skirting is too high. Despite Alyson saying that she couldn’t comment on Tim’s work, she went ahead and blindly certified it, leaving us exposed to the entire charge even though there is now a massive gap between the skirting and the floor. Rather than complete the job and THEN get paid like any normal trade, Tim has done half the job and now can treat it as a snag that he can do whenever he feels like within the year-long rectification period. Brilliant.

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We’ve got an ongoing argument about whether the work has been completed fully in the loft where the flood occurred. It smells damp even now. I’m not above asking friends who come round to see the house to follow me up to the loft to see how it smells. (I have patient friends). The scope of the remedial works includes replacing the stained loft boarding to the standard as if were new. And they’ve done none of it. Predictably, in the first couple weeks of November, mould started growing in the loft. After sending these exact same photos to Tim, he STILL disputed the existence of mould, damp, incomplete work,…. you name it, and has referred me to the Loss Adjuster.  The Loss Adjuster referred me to the Architect, who needs to come onsite and take MORE pictures for the Loss Adjuster who will then refer to the Insurers who will tell the Contractor to do his job. Lovely.

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only a little mould

The electricians know that our job has sucked from start to finish, so last Spring (before he left) Mark had offered to install the cabling for a CCTV system, gratis. We thought that finally we were getting a little bit of an acknowledgement that the service on offer had been less than perfect. So we were on a roll until we had our cameras fitted and found that the muppets had installed old-fashioned coaxial cable rather than the Cat5 they’ve got throughout the rest of the house. It was probably a contractors pack of wires supplied by someone who isn’t quite up to date with the current CCTV gear. It all means that this choice puts a cap on the quality of the cameras and prevents us from installing a true IP system that talks to the rest of the house. In future years it will be like having an old iPhone that struggles with the latest update as technology passes you by and renders your beloved phone into a brick.

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it’s coax for sure, sigh

None of these things are critical, but the quantity of fuck-up, Tim’s poor attention to them and this gruesome chess-playing approach has soured the whole journey. People ask me if I’m happy now that I’ve finally moved in. Yes I am, of course I am. It’s a beautiful house. The heating works and it’s great to be back Home. But it’s painful to feel had over. To have paid the bill in full and to STILL feel had over. And it’s disappointing to watch Tim’s perspective change from keen as mustard in 2015 to build a striking building, to 2017’s version of swearing at us down the phone, communicating through lawyers, and actively avoiding doing the work he signed up to do. Charming.


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