After all the excitement of getting quotes and selecting builders, we now faced a frustratingly long wait – in part, waiting for our Building Regs’ plans to be approved – before the first brick could be laid.
On a positive note, this allowed us to make some important decisions. In the event of a dispute arising further down the line, the trail normally needs to be followed back to this point in time to ascertain exactly what work was agreed for the quoted price. So before formally appointing the builders I wanted to meet up and ensure that we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.
A Crisis Averted On Site
The builder, Godfrey Rawlings of GD Rawlings, came round one morning to go over the drawings and the specification with me. After a spell leafing through the engineer’s calculations I noticed that he’d lapsed into an uncharacteristic silence.
There was a potential problem he’d spotted with the 6.6m double-width universal column, complete with its top flange welded plate, that the engineers had specified to support the main side gable wall over the downstairs living space.
It transpired that the practicalities of installing such a monumental piece of steelwork would most likely require the assistance of NATO. Although already included for pricing, there was no harm in seeing if we could make life easier by revising the design of this outsized component.
In my experience, structural engineers always seem willing to devise alternative solutions, and sure enough, 48 hours later we’d been furnished with a couple more options. The simplest involved replacing this monster with a pair of (still sizeable) parallel 356mm x 171mm x 67mm universal beams bolted together, at a stroke slashing the weight needing to be lifted.
Once building control had OK’d the revised design calculations, the change was duly made.
Creating Site Access
Building a large addition to your home (our proposed new extension is 100m2) is obviously going to consume prodigious quantities of materials. All this has to be delivered and stored somewhere so that day-to-day activities don’t get hamstrung by giant bags of building materials.
Fortunately, by removing a couple of fence panels we could, at least in theory, carve out separate site access via the unmade single track bridleway running alongside the garden. Excavating the exposed grassy knoll embankment would then allow a rubble ramp to be laid down as a temporary driveway.
There was just one problem. Nothing is more contentious in our village than new driveways. The Parish Council had taken the precaution of acquiring the title to most of the roadside verges around the village, allowing them to legally block anyone foolhardy enough to attempt a new ‘cross-over’.
However, when we originally purchased our house, the conveyancer helpfully pointed out some blue lines on the site plan indicating a legal right to ‘cross and re-cross’ the verges alongside the garden. A couple of years later I’d even gone so far as to obtain permission from Highways to construct a new side driveway, although this never actually materialised and consent had long since expired.
So we had no qualms about converting a pair of fence panels into gates to facilitate temporary site access, saving us from drowning in bulk deliveries, skips and rubbish.
Appointing Our Builder
There were a few boxes still to tick with the builder, Godfrey Rawlings, before I could sign the contract. I wanted to check how best to support the extension’s concrete floor beams where they meet the existing walls of the house. The options were to cut slots into the lower walls to rest them in, build new sleeper walls underneath or, the preferred option, to construct new sub-walls next to the existing footings.
Unusually for a client, I’d decided to save money by taking responsibility for procuring all the materials, and Godfrey helpfully provided contacts for sourcing items like steels and ready-mix concrete at trade prices.
The time had now come to formally tie things up in a contractual agreement. I’ve found that small builders generally tend to be more comfortable with a detailed letter of appointment rather than labyrinthine pro-forma contracts. In my experience, a detailed letter signed by both parties will normally be sufficient if care is taken to ensure all the key points are clearly stated, including the start and completion dates, the tendered sum, payment stages and any limitations (for example the client to consent to any weekend working).
Five weeks had passed since submitting our detailed full plans application to building control. This is normally a sufficient period for it to pass through the sausage machine and plop out the other end, so we were keenly anticipating the verdict.
Soon after my meeting with Godfrey I phoned the local authority for an update. The only thing outstanding was their resident engineer needing to check the structural calculations. I managed to have a quick word and he confided in me that in their opinion our structural
engineer, Anne Wiseman, was “one of the best”. He very much doubted there would be
As promised, by the end of the week an email arrived validating our engineer’s calculations, followed by a letter finally confirming approval of our Building Regs’ application. I have to confess to feeling some personal satisfaction; as this was my first attempt at producing detailed CAD drawings, I’d half expected them to be returned ignominiously daubed in red ink. Everything was looking up.