It’s been a busy and, at times, frustrating, month working on our self build project. Our builder Bruce and his wife Kathy – who are building their own self build next door on the adjacent plot – gave notice on their rented house, which meant that he had to concentrate on getting his own house habitable, while at the same time making things happen in our house. (The removal van had already been booked to arrive with all of our worldly possessions.)

Four weeks ago the house was still a partially decorated shell — a long way from being a home. Then, all of a sudden, things began to change. In our en suite, decorator Andy painted the wainscoting in a blue colour mixed at Jewsons. The room instantly came to life.

My wife Linda wasn’t pleased with it at first – it’s a bit bright and a lot louder than anticipated – but I loved it. I think she’s coming around to it, especially when I tell her that we’ll get some paintings from an artist in Dungeness that she’s admired. Besides, we can always paint it again one day. The shower cubicle also proved to be a bit of a jigsaw that seemed to take Bruce and his son Ollie half a day, and a few well-chosen words, to fit.

The wainscoting in David Snell's bathroom is painted blue

The decorator Andy has painted the wainscoting in the bathroom blue — a feature that David’s wife Linda is now getting accustomed to

Elsewhere, I was pleased to see that the last section of balustrading was fitted to the staircase. When we’d ordered the staircase from Stairbox, the online software wouldn’t allow us to put balustrading at the lower end and I didn’t like the fact that there was no protection on the last three steps. However, Stairbox provided us with the extra material and it made sense to leave it until this late stage so that it wouldn’t get damaged with all of the traffic in and out of the door.

The Boiler is Fired Up

The main rush was to get the boiler in and the central heating up and running. Matt, Bruce’s brother-in-law, came to price up the boiler and all of its associated gubbins and then I nipped into City Plumbing in Chepstow and paid the bill.

There are always glitches when these quite complicated bits of equipment go in and it turned out that Matt, while able to fit the boiler, wasn’t qualified to fire it up and commission it. That task fell to Angus, Bruce’s friend, who came along to fit the last 100mm section of the gas piping and fire up the boiler once AvantiGas had filled up the LPG tank.

David Snell's boiler is installed in his self build and fired up

After getting a quote for a boiler, Bruce’s friend Angus came along to fire up the boiler once AvantiGas had filled up the LPG tanks

After close to a year of sitting beneath the concrete oversite, the central heating loops were called into action with much gurgling and spluttering as the air within them was driven out by the hot water. The system has been running for a full week now and I still have to bleed the radiators on the top floor several times a day.

When it first fired up, the boiler was very noisy but as the last of the air was driven from the pipes, it’s getting quite quiet, and it’s wonderfully efficient. The house is as warm as toast and, with all of its super insulation, seems to hold the heat to such an extent that the boiler doesn’t have to fire very often.

A house is not a home until you can go to the toilet; we needed to get the drainage runs in and connected to the sewage treatment plant first. Bruce undertook this task at the weekend, ably assisted by Kathy.

It was all fairly straightforward, although the hole for the tank was quite deep. The digger picked up the heavy tank and it was manoeuvred into position and lowered gently to the bottom before being half filled with water to stabilise it while the excavation was backfilled. It’s all connected now, although it doesn’t have power and won’t have until we build the rear retaining wall of the garages.

Hurtling Towards Completion

Ollie finished off the electrics and Dave, another relative, came along to test everything and sign it all off. We had a few problems. The lighting circuit kept tripping out and they simply couldn’t find the fault. Ollie spent two whole days searching for it and he and Bruce finally tracked it down to a faulty downlight in the kitchen. Happily we had a spare, and there was a loud cheer from everybody when the lights finally went on — and stayed on.

Andy and Ollie worked together to lay the oak flooring in the lounge. We chose engineered oak and it is really quite easy to fit. We did have to put a self-levelling compound on the floor a couple of days beforehand; a legacy of the time, early in the build, when the concrete polisher wouldn’t work and we had to tamp the oversite. (You may recall that we’d decided not to have a screed and we’ve laid the underfloor heating pipes directly in the oversite concrete.)

Everywhere else on the ground floor was pretty level and that meant that the carpet fitters were able to come in to lay the whole of the first floor and our downstairs bedroom and dressing room.

Before moving in, the trades get to work laying the flooring in David's self build

With David and wife Linda’s new self build nearly complete, the team get to work laying the oak flooring in the living space — but not before laying a self-levelling compound down a few days beforehand

The Big Move

The following day the furniture and all of our belongings arrived from storage. It took us just half a day to get it all off and in, assisted by our son, James. We left it all there that night ready to unpack the next day.

We’ve moved many times – 30 moves in 45 years of marriage no less – but it’s still a wonderful experience. It feels like Christmas as you unwrap all of those things that you’ve forgotten you had. This time I couldn’t help feeling that there’s probably a lot that we don’t really need. After all, who needs six sets of crockery?

So we’re in, but we haven’t slept at the house yet. This time around, we have the luxury of being able to unpack at our leisure and then go back to our apartment every evening to sleep in a space that is a lot more comfortable now that we’re able to de-clutter it and take everything across to the house.

Over the next few weeks and months we’ll gradually get straighter inside and out, and concentrate on completing the garden and the external works. But for now, I’m able to sit here in our top lounge of our fourteenth self build writing this while admiring the view that sold the plot to us in the first place.

  • Rupert Stretton-Pow

    I’m very keen to have a polished concrete floor in our new extension with Under Floor Heating.

    I’m being dissuaded by flooring specialists but fail to see their concerns.

    Surely, with modern insulation beneath, the heat (from a ground source heat pump) can only go one way once the slab is up to temperature.

    Now you’ve done it, any thoughts?

    Best regards

  • Post a comment
    You must be logged in to comment. Log in