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Where do I begin?

You’ve done a bit of property renovation before. How difficult can it be”?

~ My Mum

I should start with the truth so there is no confusion. I am not really a ‘Builder’ or a ‘Girl’. I am a marketer by trade and although I can handle a drill and a hammer (shelves are my specialty) I hardly fit the required job description of builder. I suppose I should say Apprentice Builder Girl …but it didn’t sound so good.

Secondly, my age really precludes me from being called a girl. I will admit to being older than 40 but that is all. However, given my apprentice status on this project I aim to continue with the ‘girl’ designation.

I have undertaken a little bit of renovation work in the past. When I say I…I actually mean I have engaged various trades to do the work. This is obviously not unusual. It is the norm for most. The hardest part of my historical work has been choosing tiles and room colours.

What I have never done though is take on a project of this size and duration and become part of the team whilst fulfilling the project management role.

I have never worked on a project that requires a six figure budget. I have never stripped a building from foundations to rood and have never turned a commercial property into a residential property.

So all good there then.

First the sad news. The project I am working on is a closed pub in South Somerset. The why and what happened is not for this blog. But it is sad that it had to close. Whilst the pub was open and when ‘well-supported’ it was a delightful little place and full of energy and conviviality. Alas being ‘well-supported’ was not a regular occurrence. We put in 10 years as did the previous owners who also struggled. Some villages care a lot about their amenities. Others don’t. C’est la vie.

The pub closed 10 July 2019 following a significant effort for planning permission that started in 2016. Planning was approved in October 2018 for Change of Use (COU) and on 3 September 2019 the work will commence to turn the old village pub into a good sized 4-bedroom house.

The carpark, sited opposite the pub, has also received outline planning permission. Nothing to report on this yet but there is hope for 1 or perhaps 2 houses to be built from scratch.

This blog is the story of the redevelopment journey through my eyes. The highs, the lows. The surprises and the lessons to be learnt.

I am anticipating learning a lot – not least the process required to turn a commercial property into a residential property.

I am committed to seeing this through. I have re-mortgaged to get the money for the development. Ceased my work as a marketing consultant….and de-camped Monday through Friday to the village so I can be there to manage and help with the project.

Wish me luck !

Happy at work…

In August 2019 I nipped to the shops and purchased some ‘work’ clothes for this project. Five t-shirts (short sleeved), 5 t-shirts (long sleeved), 2 hoodies, 2 pr jeans and a pair of steel capped work boots. Very inexpensive, (eventually) throw-away clobber, and not at all (a) fashionable, (b) colour co-ordinated or (c) flattering. Very much like my normal wardrobe…some would say!!

I knew I would be wearing these items week in, week out for 6 to 9 months (26 to 39 weeks) in some unsavoury conditions and I did not want to worry about rips, spillages and stains. They had to be easy to wear and easier still to wash on a weekly basis without falling apart.

In what is week 64 of this project I wanted to throw the clothes off and set fire to them! But alas I was in the OneStop Shop buying a pint of milk and my nudity would have caused a tremulous moment with the youth who was serving me so I remained attired!

I am not a clothes horse by any imagination but neither am I a degenerate, rum-soaked, addled. bag lady. But I look like one and this week, I feel like one – and without the benefit of alcohol. No offence to any bag ladies out there. Or bag men for that matter!

That is testament to my state of mind. I am so pleased to be at the stage we have reached but utterly fed up with the fact that we are neither finished, nor able to finish whilst I await for South Somerset planning department to pull its finger out of …..well, you know the saying.

But I still have work to do…so have to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with it.

I have been caulking again – window boards mainly, along with the occasional architrave. Painting again – architrave and skirting, but I have also finished the final coat for the Snug and the main hallway. Hurrah!

The painting (inside) will definitely be finished next week – even the snagging painting. We started painting 19 weeks ago. Honestly! My brother was here for the first couple of weeks but since then the painting has been just me – in between the tiling and other jobs. It’s a big frigging property to paint – and it takes time to do it properly.

19 weeks! If any visitor says I missed a bit, they will be wearing the paint!

So, mostly odd jobs now. Fitting some skirting in the main bathroom; some corner trim in the cloakroom, pva on the brick wall in the lounge, then oiling the staircase, etc.

Then I will have a massive clean up job.

If that takes me 19 weeks I am going to give myself the sack!

Psssst….a sound much loved.

I am writing this sitting upstairs in one of the bedrooms as the electrician and plumber forge ahead to get the second fix complete.

I can already hear the slow hiss of radiators being bled… if it’s not them, then Courtney the plumber has some serious wind issues.

Then the underfloor heating system downstairs will be filled and balanced in readiness for a fully operational whizz bang wallop of an oil boiler.

By the way, I do know if the boiler does whizz bang wallop then we will be in the deepest of trouble.

Steve the electrician is working on outdoor lights, bathroom sockets, thermostats, dishwasher, wine fridge (yes!), cooker hood and wiring up the underfloor heating system and boiler.

Apparently electricians don’t find it at all funny if you sneak up behind him and make a loud bang.

Just saying…but still giggling!

My jobs have stopped for a while as I seem to constantly be in the way. Also, there is still dust and detritus flying around and any wet paint would simply suck it up, requiring me to start that patch of painting all over again.

So I thought I would give myself a manicure and facial and take a well earned rest lounging in my bedroom listening to the mellow sounds of my playlist whilst I am being served cups of coffee and sweet treats by…..

Sorry…drifted off then.

So I am in my bedroom, on the computer trying to make columns and columns and columns of numbers add up to what I want – and not what they actually add up to. I am also piling through the bank statements and invoices for the owner-managed flats in which I normally live in Bristol as it is time to submit our annual return. A job I do because I have loads of spare time!!

My hope is at the end of this day, I will have full blown proper job heating upstairs, downstairs; in the bedrooms, bathrooms, lounge, kitchen and so on. Warm, cuddly heat, run off an abundance of thermostats giving control room by room. Heat which has been much missed this last month in particular.

Tonight, after a hot soak in a candlit, music soaked bathroom I shall wander barefoot, wine in hand and….

Sorry, drifted again…

When tomorrow arrives, I will be back on the sanding and painting tools and Neil will return on Friday with his toolbox of tricks and we will continue with the long snagging list.

But until then, my warmed up heart will be happy.

Sweet dreams…

Let there be…

Light!

Yes…and power sockets.

Steve the electrician arrived mid-week, with a workmate, to sort out the main consumer board sited in the Utility Room, and to fit the light and power sockets.

This electric stuff is a wondrous thing! The timing is perfect as the dark mornings and dark afternoons are now lit up by the flick of a switch.

I know! I know! I can sense your excitement for me.

Every time I needed light in the project during the last year I had to follow a trail of extension cables, unplug and then physically pick up and move a site light. Upstairs, downstairs. Into and out of different rooms. Sometimes it wasn’t worth the effort – so I have spent most of my time undertaking my ablutions in the dark or by torchlight. Now all I have to do is flick a switch.

Oh, glory, glory. Crazy times for this modern girl.

There wasn’t time this week to sort out the remaining electrics. Boiler electrics, underfloor heating, thermostats and numerous items in the kitchen will get done next week.

And that will mean heating. I am super excited at the prospect as it is now getting particularly wintry and the house has had no heating at all since August 2019. It’s not really a problem during the day. I am so busy that I am still working in a double layer of t-shirts but it does get chilly at night and although I have lots of blankets and duvets and unbelievably sexy pyjamas and socks, it would be a nice thing not to have to climb into bed at 6pm just because it’s so cold.

It’s also very cold when I get up around 630am. I can now get up and dressed in record time. In my head I look a dream, but there are no mirrors in the house so I cannot see what I look like. I did open the door to an early delivery on Tuesday morning and the driver looked startled. I am not sure whether it was because I still had paint in my hair and face and hands and clothes and boots or because the early morning sun was reflecting my luminescent skin and startling blue eyes!

Earlier in the week, Neil returned to finish off some of the carpentry work and more caulking. I spent the week tiling and painting, but I am pleased to say that all of the tiling is now complete. Well, I say that but I have yet to decide whether the backsplash in Kitchen and Utility is going to be tiles. But the complex tiling is all done.

I am so relieved and pleased.

I still have a fair bit of painting to do. Neil will be returning to finalise fitting the kitchen cabinets to the walls once the electrics are done, and then we need to try and sort out the courtyard garden which has been used as a dump during this project. Then the parking, which also means pulling down a stone shed. There are also a few things to fix and some decisions to be made about steps into the house but it’s all coming together now.

I think I have said that before.

I do mean it this time…

I mean it this time…

All good and well…

My renovation life is full of ups and downs. Now a lot more ups than downs as we near to the conclusion of this project.

Neil was back for another day at the beginning of the week as both he and I raced to get things in place for Courtney the plumber to return for second fix. Neil finished all his target jobs. You may be surprised to hear that I did not.

Tiling the downstairs loo – the cloakroom / dog cleaning / child washing / sort of ‘wet room’ has been a challenge. Had I known how long it was going to take me tile and grout floor to ceiling across three walls I may have just invested in a bucket and made the room into a bog standard loo. Pun intended.

Even Neil quipped about the amount of time it is taking me. Most tilers get paid £ / m² so need to get a move on to get a decent days wages. I calculated I would be living on £4.55 a day at the rate I do the tiling!! Room for improvement me thinks.

I thought it would be easy. White metro tiles with black grouting. Lovely design idea.

What a….ugh…plonker. Black grout is so difficult to deal with. It stains too. My monkey hands now have black grout deep-rooted in the nails.

I did manage to finish two walls completely and Courtney has fitted the shower, basin, etc, but we can’t test the shower as the third wall and floor are as yet without grout.

Guess what I am doing next week?

But we are moving forward. The kitchen and utility are plumbed. The bathrooms are all fitted, plumbed and working (cold water only) and the boiler is ready to be fired up.

BUT not yet. I was hoping that Steve the electrician would be here too, but not this week. Maybe next. Downstairs needs a full second fix. Lights, sockets, thermostats, consumer board and fitting of the range cooker, hood, dishwasher, wine fridge (yes!!) and whatever else requires a power supply – but especially the boiler.

Only when he has done his work can we finish fitting the kitchen.

I had the delight of a visit from family members. Four little cherubs who came to help me with the renovation. They didn’t seem fazed by my paint splattered, ripped attire nor the fact my hands, arms and face were covered in black grout and white paint. I still received dozens of cuddles. Ahhh😍

Neil returned again at the end of the week to finish the skirting (requires painting), the architrave (requires painting), caulking these and the window boards (require painting) and a load of other odd jobs whilst I took a day off in Bristol to deposit my much-needed blood for the NHS. The least I can do.

I am hopeful that most of this (internal) work will be done within a month or so. But that doesn’t mean I get sign off. South Somerset planning authorities have been failing in their duties and we are currently more than 10 weeks past decision day on moving our parking spaces from the right side of a carpark to the left side of a carpark. No contact from them…at all. None.

I have had to resort to write to my local councillor. The council have already started charging me council tax for a residential property but I am not allowed to live in it because building regs cannot sign off the work until the parking is sorted. I cannot sort the parking because planning have gone AWOL up until yesterday. I am not going to go on about it – believe me I could – but I will say they are absolutely, totally, incredibly (swear, swear, swear) incompetent.

So…got that off my chest.

Next week?

We shall have light.

Unless of course Boris tells me I am not allowed to go to work.

And another ‘thing’…

Sometimes this project feels like Bake Off. Except every round of the competition is a Technical – with scant written instruction – and I never win Star Builder. That normally goes to Neil or Andy or …

Mind you, I never lose either so I can’t complain.

During the past few months its been tiling week, painting week, skirting week, architrave week and so on. This week has been….kitchen and utility week. Yay! One to look forward to.

Exciting and terrifying at the same time. Exciting because for me a kitchen makes a home. Terrifying because there is a reason we rarely hear of people fitting their own kitchens. It can be complex. It requires precision and careful thought. Not my go-to attributes. I am obviously not ‘fitting it myself’ – Neil is here and as always I am his Aged Apprentice.

I decided on the kitchen layout months ago. Took the measurements. Sorted the design, chose the supplier, etc. Then the chosen supplier told me the kitchen I provisionally booked was no longer available. I reluctantly chose another one. They put the price up expecting me to sign the cheque. Not going to do that. I went to another supplier so I was a little apprehensive when the truck arrived on Monday afternoon with piles and piles of boxes.

Not my first choice but it’s looking good and I am pleased. There is a lot of measuring. Measure, measure and measure again. A lot of cutting (routing in this case) and that’s for Neil. A lot of putting things together. Hinges, doors, corner units, larders and more. The instruction manual has over 120 pages, lots of illustrations that don’t make sense to me, many with words I don’t understand. There is a large box just containing packets of …well, stuff. I recognise some things like screws and hinges but I honestly have no idea what some of the other things are.

Where does this ‘thing’ go; what does this ‘thing’ do ..can be heard bouncing off the walls. Along with “oh Alison you numpty” “what an idiot” and other such statements as I chat merrily to myself whilst working out how to put things together.

Neil chats to himself too but he says things like “13.5mm from the right edge!”

Every now and again I ask Neil to re-interpret the instruction manual and explain what I need to do in a simpler language for me to follow. He is a patient man. I think I have said that before.

It took me almost half a day to assemble the 1000mm drawer unit whilst Neil practically fitted out the Utility Room. Once finished, and with vocalised glee, I picked up one of the drawers and the front fell off!

I sorted that minor glitch and slid the drawer into the base unit. “Hurrah” I said and stepped back. ‘Perhaps not” I said as the drawer sat at a wonderfully creative lopsided angle. Another minor glitch which I also sorted. It now looks and works fine!!

Every kitchen comes with hundreds of little plastic covers to fill in the pre-drilled holes that are not needed. Just as well because this kitchen now has a couple of extra holes as my measuring skills are not as accurate as they need to be. It is literally a case of millimetre accuracy. I started borrowing Neil’s glasses – that helped.

So mostly I have done OK. I did have to order another cabinet when we realised my original design measurements failed to allow for 40mm of end panels….but hey, I am a beginner at this. A costly mistake and I won’t make it again.

Neil has done the heavy work. Cutting down the cupboards in the utility room to ensure they fit; allowing for the plumbing pipes in the back of the cupboards and of course cutting the worktops including the huge holes for the sinks. I couldn’t look when the sink hole was being cut.

Four solid days done and it’s looking good. We think another couple of days at the same pace and I should have a proper kitchen. Of course, it won’t work because it needs to be plumbed in, and the electrics need to be finished.

But the drawers will open and close

…once I work out how to put the handles on.

On my knees…

Flipping heck! If someone had told me I would spend days on end on my knees I would have laughed heartily and ridiculed their statement. But that is exactly what I am doing.

Still tiling, still painting, still trying ever so hard to get this project finished.

I have spent almost the whole week on my knees. The knees are just about surviving the workload. My back less so. My hands – covered in tiling adhesive, paint, silicone and white spirit – are like gnarly, leatherette guerilla mitts (the monkey, not the freedom fighter!). My nails…oh don’t even go there. I can tell you that my hand modelling days are well and truly over and if I was entered into a blind test of whose hands are these, no-one would guess they are mine. I am not even sure the participants would guess that they were human.

So onto work.

All the doors are fitted, as are the handles and locks, all courtesy of Neil the returner. I think the doors look great. It took me such a long time to make the decision but I am very pleased…particularly with the glass doors that lead into the kitchen. Door stops are also in as is most of the architrave and a lot of the skirting. Hence the painting…more filling, then painting, then more painting, then more painting, then more painting. Then caulking….then, go on guess….Yes, more painting.

And in between all that I still need to finish the tiling. Back on the knees.

Just the cloakroom walls to finish tiling, then the final grouting and bish, bash, bosh. Tis done!

Am I repeating myself?

We have new glazing in all of our windows after a visit from Langport Glazing – another local company. The new glass is a requirement for building regulations – because its…….because I……..because they said so. No choice. The new glazing lets in a lot more light as we removed the ‘georgian bars’. Looked good for the pub, but not for this home. The new glazing also makes the windows look like they are all new. Weird that!

And now it’s getting proper cold. We are not connected to the boiler or mains electric yet so no central heating, but I do have a gas bottle fire in my temporary bedroom. Bed time here is rather different to my norm. Occasionally I find myself in my pyjamas and tucked up in my lovely inflatable bed by 630pm. I have no furniture to sit on. I have no fancy clothes to get changed into once I wash. So bed it is, with my phone and laptop, a book and a flask of coffee. It keeps me warm but I do hope it doesn’t become a habit.

It’s cold in the morning when I wake up – normally around 630am – but the house is incredibly well insulated and is warmer than I expected. And to be fair, this time last year I was sleeping in Mr. Clooney and that WAS so cold I could cut my breath with a knife…so I must count my blessings.

Next week for me is ….tiling and painting.

What a shock…

More of the same…

Neil returns for two days this week – at the beginning and again at the end – to take over the carpentry work. Lots of skills that fella! He will be here next week too, thankfully.

I am back on the tools…well, paintbrushes and rollers, scrapers, sandpaper and filler. Am crazily painting the door stops, architrave and skirting before it is put in place just to get a little ahead. It will still need painting again once it is installed, but hopefully only one more coat will be required. By doing the first coat now, it should save me from spending a week on my knees.

It’s not a problem for my knees, but it is for the rest of my body. The days are long gone when I was flexible and strong enough to kneel, stand, kneel, stand, etc, for 8 hours, day after day without a knock on effect to my physical being. I am currently having to roll onto my back and stretch my legs and back out before getting up with the help of anything near by, but I have to do it carefully so I don’t faint from the blood rush to the head.

Fit bird, me!!

I am also roaming around fixing stuff that has been damaged during the last few weeks – a sprinkle of filler here, a dash of caulk there and dollop of paint to finish it off nicely. Bake Off has nothing on me!

Then there is the tiling to finish.

Yea…and the window boards.

Oh, and I still need to finish painting the Snug, the hallway walls and ceiling.

And outside…

I have also started digging up a part of the carpark – by hand. According to Western Power there should be an electrical supply point on the corner of my carpark. It should be buried two feet deep (or thereabouts) and before they can quote for the onward supply I need to confirm it is there. They could do this of course but their charges are not too friendly !! So there’s me with a metal shovel digging to find electrical cables….

What can go wrong ?!?!?!?

If you see me sans eyebrows and a startled look on my cherubic face framed by curly hair, you will know I found it!

Onwards…

The final furlong…

When I say furlong…I mean miles!! And it’s uphill and I am on foot. And there’s a howling wind pushing me backward and some head-high jumps to navigate over. But I am trying to be positive and alert and focussed.

The good news is we got on really well with the tiling. The hallway floor is complete, the utility is complete, the cloakroom floor just needs grouting as do the splash-backs in the bathrooms. That leaves the boot-room floor and cloakroom walls which we will get to in a week or so.

We also have other flooring this week. Despite rumours to the contrary, I have only used local suppliers and trades to help me with this project. Another local company – SJH Carpets – was sourced to fit the carpets upstairs and LVT downstairs. Day one of flooring installation meant me being despatched to Mr. Clooney whilst a self-levelling compound was laid downstairs and underlay installed upstairs. No space for me to carry on with any of my jobs, including painting.

Oh no..I said aloud. Yay yippedy doo…I said in my head.

I spent the day trawling through an excel spreadsheet seeing if I have miscalculated my expenditure – hoping perhaps one of my columns has totalled with the wrong formula. Who am I kidding? Budget management has always been a speciality of mine – damn me!! So, no spare pennies to be found. Deep breath. Move on.

It’s taken 3 days to get the flooring done and it just adds that little extra oomph to the house now. Certainly, it is considerably warmer sleeping on a carpet than a wood floor though it’s upset my equilibrium again. I got up in the middle of the night for a wee visit and my feet told my head I was at home in Bristol. I wandered around my temporary bedroom trying to find my way out to the bathroom in a sleepy confused trance. Thankfully I awoke fully enough to make it to the ensuite but goodness me, it was a close call. I blame the carpet…

I spent much of the week on my hands and knees – either removing excess adhesive from tiles and cleaning them, or painting wood. I am trying to get ahead with painting some of the skirting, architrave and door stops. It’s not the ideal way to do it – and it will undoubtedly need touching up once installed but its definitely easier and quicker to paint this way.

I took time out to order the kitchen too. Not my original choice…colour or manufacturer…but that is for a different post another time. At least it is on order as is the range cooker and hood.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I was hoping this would all be done and dusted by 1st November – a month from now. That is not going to happen now…and to be honest, I am not sure when the finish time will be.

I am not going to set any more deadlines.

It is what it is!

More of the same…

Neil has returned and we are back on the tiles. Neil is anyway…I am still painting trying to get upstairs ready for carpets to be fitted.

The front hallway and utility room, boot room and cloakroom all require tiling so it’s a matter of sticking on the knee pads and just getting on with it. A little bit of maths, a straight edge, a laser and he’s off.

I too am clad in much-needed knee pads (Silverline gel pads from Toolstation which I highly recommend) whilst I paint the skirting installed upstairs along with the architrave and door stops. Painting could or should be therapeutic giving you time to contemplate life, loves, etc. The only thing going around my head is that I will have to do the same amount of painting again once the skirting etc is installed downstairs.

Swear word, swear word!!!!!!!

Despite having lots of time on my own I am way behind on social duties …phoning family, replying to emails, contacting friends with a smiley hello. To be fair, if I sent a smiley hello to some of my friends they would be down here in a flash worried about my mental health. But you get the gist. I am feeling guilty about my lack of communication.

I cannot really account for the time. I do start pretty early – around 0630 rise and shine and on the tools as soon as I have had some tea and breakfast – this week I am loving a banana on toast! It’s also a physical job and I am not as fit as I was or as young as I was or as slim as I was or as capable as I hoped I might be! Or in more simple words, I am huffing and puffing my old, fat self up and down ladders trying to get jobs done and it is very tiring.

But …there may be another reason for my lack of contact. My inflatable mattress sits around 8 inches off the ground. Once I sit or lie down on it, I find it incredibly difficult to get back up and not just because I am tired…well you try it. There is no comfortable way to get up…its a matter of flapping and rolling about to eventually end up on my knees. Then I take the form of a Sumo wrestler (minus the oversized loin cloth) and haul myself up. My friend Annie (personal trainer) would tell me I need to work on my core. Maybe so…but actually I just need to sleep on a proper bed.

So …at the end of my working day, I visit Mr. Clooney for a warm hello and cook my dinner, return to the house for a hose-down and refresh, and sit or lie down on the mattress as it’s the only place that is comfortable. And there you have it…me stuck for several hours wondering how I am going to get up again.

And to think, I thought this was something to worry about in old age…Heck, wait a minute.

When does ‘old age’ start?

Knock, knock…

The internal doors have been fitted upstairs. This will be the first time in over a year that there is a door to the site toilet. My whistling career is coming to an end – thankfully!

It’s a very good week for moving things forward. Jonathan is here using his carpentry skills to fit doors, architrave and skirting – upstairs only at this time. Courtney has returned to fit and plumb the bathrooms and radiators – also upstairs.

We did have a moment on site – a minor incident with the plumbing. Courtney switched the water back on after fitting various bathroom items all day. After he headed home and whilst I was still painting, there was a rush of water in the kitchen downstairs. Water poured through one of the holes for the light sockets. I turned the water off, positioned numerous buckets and Courtney returned to site. A small problem with the shower fittings in the bathroom….quickly resolved.

However, I spent the evening trouncing up and down the stairs to see if any more water was escaping…unnecessarily as it happens as Courtney had indeed fixed the problem. But things like this play with your headspace. That night I dreamt that my inflatable mattress had turned into a lilo and I floated down the M5 escorted by a flotilla of white vans.

I told you my dreams are weird.

You may not be surprised to hear that I am still painting – and I have still not finished. In fact the painting will not be finished for weeks as once the skirting and architrave is fitted, I will be starting on the woodwork. When that is done, I have to finish the outside of the building and the garden fence….and it goes on and on and on.

I have incredibly sore wrists and thumbs now and am considering putting in an “injured at work” claim to myself. If this has a long term effect on my almost professional golf swing I will be most upset.

A couple of friends popped by to say hello and view the site for themselves. It was great to get feedback on all the hard work from people who know me well. Susie and Wendy even brought food with them so we lunched al fresco in the carpark sitting on pallets. I am after all an exemplary host.

They appeared very happy with my efforts and weirdly said nothing about the state of my being. Paint splattered hair, face, arms and legs. But I did have to explain why I was using a skipping rope as a belt on my shorts.

Why not, I said…