When you know you don’t know what you know…

Sorry about the headline. But this is what my current Monday to Friday is like. There is clearly a lot I do not know with regard to renovation. I am not completely up to date with building methods. I didn’t know how to build a 4″ concrete wall or how to measure and hang ceiling joists. (I do now!). There is a lot of stuff I do know..(ask me about golf if you have a few hours spare)….but most of what I know seems irrelevant on this job.

And there is plenty of stuff that I didn’t know that I knew. And plenty of stuff that I know that I don’t know. Such as the Party Wall Act 1996 and Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992. Not a lot about the former, quite a bit about the latter.

I think in hindsight it would have been useful if I could have asked for some clarification on these subjects prior to the work starting but given that I didn’t know that I didn’t know much about this topic it’s difficult to know what questions to ask. Are you following?

I am going to give you a run-down of what I have learnt with regard to renovation in case it is useful to you in the future. Access to Neighbouring Land is really about being able to fix stuff that may only be accessible via your neighbours property – drain, tree, roof, wall, etc. This includes putting up scaffolding in order to reach your property. If it’s for renovation/repairs, they (sort of) must give permission once the necessary notice periods have been provided. If it’s for an extension, they don’t have to although most people are sweet enough to allow this sort of thing. Love thy neighbour and all that.

The Party Wall thing is all about working on the actual party wall. The first thing you need to find out is if the wall that backs onto your neighbours property is actually a party wall. Or it may be a boundary wall. Check your deeds, don’t just assume or take your neighbours word for it.

If you have used an architect it’s likely they will advise you if the work you will be doing is pertinent to the Party Wall Act. In short, the work needs to be on the wall itself from foundations or knocking a chimney down connected to the party wall, or changing the shape of the wall itself, etc. If you are not actually working on the wall, then there is no need for a Party Wall Agreement. If there is it can take months to sort so think about it as you are planning your renovation. Your insurers will need to know one way or the other.

So that’s the necessary and boring stuff.

My week is short and sweet from a physical point of view. Two and a half days of digging drains – truly physically demanding and so much harder that I thought it was going to be. It’s how awkward it is that causes the problems. Very narrow and pretty deep. Honestly something I have no wish to do again but alas we have one more effort next week.

The rest of the week includes a day of sandblasting wooden beams, old walls and a fireplace to bring them back to visual perfection (I hope). I am only on site for supervision and have a view from the caravan except at the end of the day when I will help to clear up. Then the next day is the very necessary wood treatment – required before we work on the roof. The beetles (I love you, yeah yeah yeah!) have seriously enjoyed themselves in this property and have probably had free reign for decades. It’s time for them to go and chatting to them sweetly hasn’t worked! The terminators arrive Friday morning.

Again, I am not allowed in the property during this process. I know it’s a necessity if I want the roof to stay where it is but it does seem tough on the little critters.

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire.

I will be sitting in my caravan listening to Herb Alpert blow his stuff to ease my guilt.

Taking it all out…

Then putting it all back in again. That’s the builders life.

As an apprentice I obviously have limited experience. It makes me question my sanity at night when I am ensconced in my luxurious accommodation and I realise the process of renovation..

We have taken out more than 70 tons of flooring and have now put back the same sort of materials we took out up to the concrete level. To finish the floor we will be adding insulation and then screed. We have removed enough timber to build an enormous bonfire for local celebrations (yes…that is where the wood has gone), and we are now putting timber back in. I have not heard of which effigy will be sitting at the top of the bonfire but I have a few thoughts on that.

I have removed hundreds…nope, thousands of nails and in the last two days I have hammered a thousand clout nails into some joists. (Impressive use of proper terms there!)

But Neil assures me it’s all for the good of the job.

So what’s happening in Week 9?

We are building one of the dividing walls for the entranceway and to define the utility room and snug. When I say we I mean Neil and Andy. A couple of wall starter sets get the process going. The 4 inch concrete blocks look like what this girl knows as breeze blocks. But each one is super dense and incredibly heavy. Bringing them inside was about my limit. The concrete mixer in the carpark is a little bigger than my cake mixer at home…but same theory. To be honest the mix sometimes looks better than my home bakes too.

I have been dallying with another shorter end hammer drill. Removing the last of the stubborn plasterwork around the fireplace, etc. The corner bits come off in huge chunks as they are held together with metal mesh. As a result they are heavy. My left shoulder and arm now bear the scars of how heavy. Also removing even more nails….Did you know that it is possible to pull a nail with such strength that the hammer could fly back and may hit you on the head. Makes your eyes water and swear like you’re on the golf course!

One of the master bedrooms is having the ceiling raised to show off some of the old beams. This is where I have been a little more active. Go on…ask me a question. Go on. Go on. I know words now that I had never heard of before this project. Jiffy hanger. Threaded rod. M16 nuts. Could be the start of a racy novel. Watch this space.

And its been another week of meeting other trades for the ongoing need for quotations. All good people with varying skills. My knowledge of soil pipes is increasing substantially. I await their responses with hope.

Now I shall head home only to have to replace the boiler in my flat. Its pitying that they don’t make these things last like they used to (Do I sound like my mother?). This boiler can only be 25 years old. There is little rest for That There Builder Girl.

Rugby at the weekend. Watching, not playing just in case you were wondering. England vs All Blacks. (Hello my friends in New Zealand). Wales vs France (Hello my family in Wales).

England v Wales. Now that would be a good final now that Scotland aren’t playing.

ps…I know. I know. Its Wales vs South Africa. Can’t blame me for mistakes..I am a little worn out!

Did you ever have that dream when you fell out of a digger…?

I am away from site this week…like a holiday but in my case it means I get to stay at home and in my own bed and I get to use a toilet all week without having to carry the collected contents elsewhere to empty. I love this life.

I am still doing stuff though. Speaking to trades. Getting quotes for kitchen and bathroom materials, plumbing, heating and electrical and so on. My budget is limited so I have to make sure I can get the best possible job for the best possible price. I am not talking the cheapest, but I need to know there is value in what I am getting.

In the meantime, my slightly damaged body gets a little ‘me’ time. Time to recover from the previous 6 weeks efforts. The physical side is one thing, a bit like getting used to working with a personal trainer. The knocks and bruises is another thing completely.

Letting someone like me onto a building site is like letting a puppy loose on a dual carriageway. Others will do their best to ensure the puppy is safe but it’s sort of inevitable the puppy will end up with some sort of injury. Hopefully not death!

That’s me. I am punctured, pinched, stubbed, scraped, scratched and dented. My hands are worn out. My fingers literally ache. Can’t describe the state of my nails and my knuckles look like I have been in a round with Anthony Joshua.

The left side of my body from my elbow to my knee is bruised as a result of tumbling out of the mini digger! Thankfully it didn’t fall over with me.

I have a little egg on my head which I have knocked several times now and numerous dents in my calves.

Otherwise I am looking forward to doing some baking, a day or two on the golf course – rain or not – but also a night out wearing a slinky number and just to remind myself that I am actually a wee feminine lass and not just That There Builder Girl.

Six weeks in…

Many of us have done a bit of redevelopment. Upgrading the home we live in. Even arranging for trades to do a little more than a basic upgrade. That’s the category I fall into so this first 6 weeks has been a bit of a learning journey.

What we have learnt from demolishing the internal parts of the pub (the pros call it ‘enabling’) is that it was built in 4 parts going back some considerable time. We are trying to find out when.

This is evident because all the walls are now back to bare stone and we can see numerous old external walls, doorways and windows etc.

So what have we done to get this far? There is a process – not that I knew but there is.

We started with the ceilings, not because they are the hardest to bring down, but in an old property it is the filthiest of work. Not much plasterboard ceiling here – just straw, lath & plaster and dust and dust and dust. It’s difficult to take ceilings down without parts landing on your own head. Bear that in mind if you are thinking of doing it yourself. Once done you are left with bare joists. In an old property it is likely that some will have to come down due to rot, etc. But those that are left then have to be de-nailed. The job of That There Builder Girl in this property. Not hundreds but thousands of nails. This took me days of labour.

Then there is the clearing up each day. “Tidy workplace is a good workplace” quotes Neil the builder regularly. This too is filthy work, requires lots of shovels and wheelbarrows and skips.

When converting from commercial to residential it is a requirement that all external walls are insulated so there is no choice but to strip the walls bare. In this property this also proved to be filthy work as the walls were also made of straw, lath and plaster and even cob. Again, the wood framing that is retained needs to be de-nailed.

If you are knocking down walls, some will be taken down during the stripping process but those that may require an engineers eye may have to wait until the rest of the jobs are done.

Whilst this is going on , you can strip out electrical and telephone wiring and plumbing pipes. Hold onto them. Electrical wire has a value and can be sold by the kg bag. Copper also has a value as does other metal. Not a lot, but every penny counts!

The roof space next. A never ending load of dust laden insulation material. We found some metal bedframes, an asbestos water tank (needs careful removal) and all sorts of clothing. Not even a good wash could have persuaded me to recycle them. If you are afraid of spiders this is not the job for you. Eugh!

Then there is the floor downstairs. It is again a requirement to have the floor insulated and to ensure that there is a DPM (damp proof membrane). This means digging, digging and more digging. In our case removing over 70ton of flooring and going down through numerous layers – concrete tiles (easy), sand (easy), fibreboard (easy), flagstones (not so easy but sold on so who cares!), compacted dirt (not so easy) and rock (****hard). Hundreds of wheelbarrow journeys later and my arms now hang down by my ankles!

And then back to the solid walls and the staircase. The structural engineer has provided his instruction and we are taking them down in stages. Again, some walls are fairly new. Others have been made with handmade bricks. And we are back to where we started. Loads of dust and filth and wheelbarrows and skips.

And tools to use. Sledge hammers, crowbars, hammers and pick axe. Drill hammer and circular saw. Basher and breaker. Mini digger and steel props. Electric screwdriver, wire cutters and more.

Oh the joy for That There Builder Girl never ends. Joy indeed!

My week in numbers…

          If I do too much back work, the bolts come loose and my ass falls off.

This is Week 5 coming to an end…

It’s been a week of physically demanding work – after last weeks physically demanding week., and the previous weeks physically demanding works. There’s a bit of repetition going on here.

We have just about finished digging out the floor, only so we can start putting stuff back in. It’s beyond me why we have to remove tons of stone and rubble and dirt only to have to replace it with tons of stone and rubble and dirt – and of course cement. But there you go. Who am I to question these things?!?!?

We added another team member this week to get the job done. Andy’s son has joined us and he works as hard as his father. My digging is limited due to my back being held together with titanium bolts as a result of a weekend jumping off cliffs a few years back. If I do too much back work, the bolts come loose and my ass falls off. Hmm!

My job therefore has been limited to digging where I can and for as long as it’s comfortable, and wheeling the results of all our digging out of the property and into the carpark.

I thought I would share some of the numbers with you for the last 2 weeks effort.

2 . The number of wheelbarrows available.This is important because as we empty one the other is being filled. It’s like a chain gang. Also the number of breakers we have now used, as the first breaker broke! Ironic ?

49. Man (and woman) hours during the last two weeks just for digging out.

90. Each wheelbarrow can carry a maximum of 90 litres. Of course I cannot move them if full. That’s what you get by working with That There Builder Girl. But that means approximately 12-15 wheelbarrows per ton of rubble. To be fair I didn’t move them all myself. There is a time in the day when my little arms cannot simply move them.

72. In tons. The amount of dirt, stonework and rubble removed to date and collected by our cheerful grab lorry driver. Referring to above – that means a minimum of 864 wheelbarrows full.

47. The number of steps between the front door of the pub and where the wheelbarrows are emptied. Double it to return – albeit with an empty barrow. That is 81,216 steps.

10. The amount of wheelbarrows of rubble I had to move because I put them in the wrong place (mis-heard my instructions and never will I do that again!).

26. In square metres. Approximately amount of salvageable blue lias flagstones found under the concrete tiles and dirt which has now been sold on to a happy customer.

3. Breaks during the day – and also mugs of coffee or tea allowed per working day whilst working as apprentice builder girl.

11. The time at night that I used to go to bed when I was at home and doing a normal job.

8. The time at night that I make up my bed in the caravan – just to make it in readiness for later on you understand.

9. The time at night that I have yet to see because I am so tired.

6. The time in the morning that I get up because I keep going to bed too early !

21 -37. The number of weeks left on the project till it’s done.

There is one more number worth thinking about. That is the number of glasses of wine I may have to consume to get over the work day. But that number is secret – because my Mum reads this blog and I don’t want her to think I am an old soak!