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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 !

That was the week that was…

Who ever thought this madness we are living through was possible? Not me.

I returned from my extended trip to Portugal last Saturday, very pleased to return home. I spent the weekend working online, sorting out the budget, paying invoices and was planning to stay in Bristol on Monday to order numerous building materials from plasterboard to stairs and more.

Monday morning I awoke, as we all did, to a strange atmosphere so I jumped in my car and went to site. It became pretty obvious that some type of lockdown was going to happen and I didn’t want to be stuck with Mr. Clooney (can’t believe I just wrote that), but more importantly I didn’t want to lock up a site with thousands of pounds of materials piled up inside. I discussed the choices with Neil and Andy and we all agreed to close the site at the end of that day. As it turned out, our instinct was right as the UK went into lockdown at 2030hrs that evening.

Fortunately, the scaffolding was already being dismantled and is now gone. A big shout out to Patrick D Warren Scaffolding. Their flexibility and helpfulness throughout the roof issues was brilliant. Great business if you need their services.

The rendering was completed and another good job by Pete the Plasterer who will be back for the internal plastering I hope. The external painting is almost complete with perhaps less than a day needed to finish the job. I am glad I threw the money into the pot to get this done. It looks so much better – even in an unfinished state.

It seems I have been pretty lucky in the timing of all this. That is the way I am looking at it anyway. The financial hit will need to be managed one way or another; the knock-on effect in terms of timing won’t be known until the lockdown is lifted. I am not getting anxious about it. It is what it is and there are more important things to worry about.

So back to Bristol. I am in lockdown with 2 others; one of whom happens to be a personal trainer which is obviously a good thing but when there are literally no excuses for turning up to train it can be quite painful. We actually have an organised daily routine. A run. A 1hour plus gym session. A yoga class.

And to think I used to complain about clearing rubble and my wheelbarrow journeys. That was nothing compared to the agony I am now enduring.

Wishing you well. Wish me luck, and feel free to send me ideas of how to get out of class!?!?!?

It’s gym time…

The waiting game…

Having escaped the site for a couple of days to celebrate a friend’s birthday and to get some much needed rest, I find myself with a gaggle of lost souls sitting at a kitchen table contemplating the current global crisis and wondering how and when we are going to get home. This short break away from site has turned into a longer sojourn than expected for all of us. The birthday celebrations/short break also involves a friend who lives in Spain, and has been held in another friend’s home in Portugal and it is their kitchen table at which we are sitting. Our return flights have been cancelled. Our re-booked flights were also cancelled. Portugal has declared a national emergency which includes limiting movement. The Spanish border is closed, and no ferries are running.

We do have a snorkel, but only one and it is a bit of a swim back to Blighty!

At the moment our short break has turned into 10 days…but that is only if we can get another re-booked flight this Saturday. No guarantees. Definitely a waiting game. Ah well!

At a time like this, the joy of working with competent and trustworthy builders is invaluable. The work continues in South Somerset and Neil and Andy have carried on at speed in my absence, sending pictures to keep me up to date with the progress. Bless ’em for being so damn good.

Pete and Morgan have also had several good weather days in which to complete the external render and …drum roll….it should be completed this week. Then a lick of paint and the facelift will be complete – ish. Doors, windows, drainpipes…still to do but you know what I mean.

In the meantime, every external wall upstairs is insulated and most of downstairs is being done this week. The stair man is visiting to measure. The plumber, electrician and tiler are all booked in readiness for first fix and the carpenter is booked in for door linings and other wood-related jobs.

We will be vigilant in regard to the current madness. All of our ‘trades’ are self-employed so we will continue, with the support of our builders merchants, to finish this project in a timely and healthy fashion!

In Portugal, we are lucky. Staying with a friend means we have access to a washing machine and other homely and needed goods. We are in the mountains north of Porto surrounded by little villages so no panic buying. We are surviving on great home-cooked food and lashings of wine and playing card games. No money has changed hands yet!

A couple of us have also managed two games of golf (alas, course closes Friday!). Now it’s time to repay our friends for their hospitality. We are stepping forward for jobs around the house. Sanding and painting doors, garden furniture and fences, weeding the garden and whatever is needed and useful.

We obviously don’t know what the next weeks and months will bring. Isolation may be a necessity but, ironically, it may also bring us all closer together. Let’s hope so.

Wishing you all good health…

Timing is everything (part two)…

So back in December I wrote about how important timing was.

You’d think I would follow my own posts. Timing is very important and I forgot. I have been so focussed on getting to a first fix date that I have forgotten to allow for a number of other to-dos prior to first fix. This week has therefore been a rush to get some additional quotes in for a carpenter and tiler. Anyone who has done this type of work knows that it can take weeks, if not months to get good trades booked in.

I am hoping to get a cancellation slot just to get some of the must have work done in the next couple of weeks…but we shall see.

In the meantime, Neil and Andy are back on the tools following a week away whilst the UFH and screed was laid. The final 60mm insulation boards were delivered on Monday and this will allow us to finish the external walls over the next 2 weeks. We have been through approximately 400m of batten upstairs and 80 sheets of insulation. Sometime soon we are going to have to work out exactly how much plasterboard is needed…a mildly terrifying thought given the cost. Plus of course I still need to order further insulation for between the walls and the roof space.

The screed looks gorgeous…OK maybe not gorgeous, but it is good to see. It’s a slightly odd feeling being closer to the ceiling with the floor having been raised about 190mm. I can also now open/close windows without standing on a chair.

Up to now my weekly payment runs have been pretty steady. From here-on the bills are going to come thick and fast. The render still needs finishing. Then the start of the electrics, plumbing, boiler, radiators, bathrooms, kitchen, tiles, flooring, door linings, window boards, skirting, architrave, fireplace, lighting…and more. And more. And more. And then it still won’t be done.

I am sneaking away from site as I have hit ‘the wall’. I am pooped. Done in. Energy-less. And a tired That There Builder Girl is not remotely productive. Even Mr. Clooney rocking me to sleep at night has had little effect on my rejuvenation.

So it’s half a week for me this week, and half again next. A serious adult would go home and rest-up, but I am away with a gaggle of girls to put the world to right.

Neil and Andy are on the job as always, and I have ordered a delivery of another 300m of batten and 100m of 3by2 timber. That should keep them busy.

Now where’s my passport…

Screed finished and UFH manifold in place.

What a difference a day makes…

Actually, make that a month. February has gone. March has arrived and we have just had two consecutive days without rain. The joy of it.

This means that the external rendering process has actually begun. Two days in and one long side of the property has been primed and also received a coat of render. Another long side and a gable end still to do and hopefully we can find another couple of days of sunshine in the next week or so. Pete the Plasterer, and his ever-so young sidekick Morgan, have done me proud so far.

Then its out with the scat gun (I think that’s what its called). The property cannot take a nice smooth finish. It would just highlight the oddities built into the fabric of the building. As such we are going dotty…a tyrolean render. Not my cup of tea, but it will suit the style and age of the building. The big decision is whether to pay for the colour stuff or keep it plain and then paint.

There is a cost difference but the budget has not had a good time recently. The last month or two should not be seen as simply a diversion of funds to unknown problems, but more as a full blown, unseen and unheard attack from behind.. a proper mugging.

The result is a financial hit delivering physical and mental torture. I know I will get over it. I will take another deep breath and rearrange a few things to get us on track but it still hurts.

Back to good news. The floor downstairs has received 100mm of insulation and a DPM layer. The underfloor heating pipes have been laid and the manifold fitted. This is to be finished off with the 75mm of screed in the next two days. I am really pleased with whats been done so far. I have been helped enormously by my friend Warren and the company he works for – Mec-Serv. Warren has held my hand throughout this process and provided expert knowledge and the reassurance needed at this stage of my big renovation. It is after all my first UFH experience. Love you my friend (and wifey Susie too) but you both know that anyway!

The flooring work has also meant there is no other work being done inside the building. Neil and Andy have gone elsewhere for the week (I hope they don’t like it too much) and I have spent most of my time with Mr. Clooney working out how to re-balance the budget whilst remembering all the things I forgot to include in the beginning – like skirting ! Who forgets skirting for goodness sake!!!!!

I try not to drink whilst I am down here but sometimes it’s simply not possible.

Anyone surprised…?

Six months in…

It’s true. This week is number 26 in my project. Six months of huge effort – mostly from Neil and Andy along with a few other helpers on the way.

Rob the Roofer has been with us recently..and I am delighted to announce the roof is officially… a roof. Eight weeks of ‘oh my..’, ‘what the heck is that…’ and ‘oh no…’ with me quietly weeping into my cups of tea. But the end is here. I never thought I would ever drool over a roof but, boy oh boy, it does look gorgeous and I won’t have anyone say otherwise. Rob did a simply brilliant job and in tough conditions.

Next week is a turning point in this project as the underfloor heating goes in which means the floor level rises 175mm or so with insulation, another damp proof membrane, the heating circuits, a vapour barrier and screed. More on that next week.

Downstairs with oh so much to do.

It won’t be long until the aesthetic needs to be considered. Tiles, flooring, porcelain, taps, kitchen cabinets, wall switches, internal doors, ironmongery, etc.

The kitchen and utility design has been finalised and I am just waiting on quotes from suppliers. I spent hours on this, measuring and re-measuring and then measuring again – and I still got my measurements wrong. What is wrong with me!!

I called Neil and Andy to the rescue and they used a length of batten, a tape and a pencil and got it right in one. Handy fellas them there builder blokes.

My evenings and some of my weekends have already been spent slathering over tiles and taps; trying to decide if a toilet has the right design for a comfortable poop(!); if the shower has the look and all on a budget that has been squeezed because of my beloved roof and various other surprises encountered over the last 6 months.

I have also been studying stairs and external doors. The front door can wait until we are no longer kicking it in with wheelbarrows but the back door can go in now. The stairs would be handy too, but they are a complex collection of bits. My little brain is struggling to understand what is needed, how many parts and where they go.

This week is finishing with installation of shutters (not those fancy things but pieces of wood to hold back the screed) and a massive clean up downstairs in readiness for next week. Everything must be removed from the floor. Much of the materials – wood, bricks, cement, etc, is hauled upstairs for storage and the big broom is out.

The clean up is a very dusty, dirty job.

Upstairs with much to do too!

I had a surprise visit this week from my brother (who was working in the area). I am not sure whether the look on his face was horror or glee. He knew the property inside and out from visiting the family when it was a pub and internally it is no longer recognisable. But it certainly doesn’t look like a home either.

Similarly, he has known me forever. As he arrived I was wearing my tat jeans, 4 layers of t-shirts, fleece and hoody along with gloves and my fantastic, but somewhat manly builders boots.

He didn’t mention my attire at all.

How grown up we have become!

It’s warming up…

Obviously, I don’t mean outside. When I got up this morning, and flannel washed in Mr. Clooney it was chilly. I can deal with that but it’s always a shock when I apply lashings of wrinkle cream to my face and the cream is not just cold but icy, icy cold.

So to building works. It may surprise you to know the roof is not finished despite my constant praying to the weather gods – and of course to St Vincent the Saint for builders! And the second non-surprise…the render work didn’t start on Monday.

These weather delays obviously affect the budget which will have a knock on effect. I need to choose my bathroom and kitchen – big purchase items – but cannot until I know what this stage is costing. If there are savings to be made then it will have to be in these rooms.

At this stage this could be the first house in the village in which the occupants use a metal watering can as a shower and a camping stove as a cooker! Retro….and earth friendly!

It is warming up in the house. The insulation is going in. A messy job but my clearing up skills have improved over the last 20 odd weeks. Upstairs walls will be done by the end of this week – more or less. There is already a noticeable difference in temperature inside the property.

Downstairs has to wait until we sort out the insulation, underfloor heating and screed effectively raising the floor by some 200+mm. This should be the week after next. In the meantime, the list of things to do just grows.

Stairs, doors, plumbing, electrics, skirting, plasterboard, kitchen, rendering, bathrooms, plastering and…

applied mathematics on the budget whilst drinking for medicinal purposes!

Outside the property is a mess. Obviously the rendering will help, but the courtyard garden will be a challenge. I met with a garden designer whose considered 7-hour expert recommendation was simply to pave the whole area and place a few plant tubs around. Really? Not impressed.

But we will need to do something so I am back on line looking for inspirational ideas.

When will it end…

It’s raining, it’s pouring…

Is it possible to grow webbed feet? Is Mr. Clooney the modern day ark? All answers on a postcard…

I can tell you it is a tad uncomfortable in South Somerset when the wind and rain announces itself. The days are disrupted as we are trying to finish the roof. The nights are difficult as Mr. Clooney rocks to the incessant beat of the downpour. Sleepeth interruptus occurred consistently last week. The only good point – at least I wasn’t there this weekend!

I guess that’s what you get for doing a renovation project in February. Ah well.

If anyone is thinking of doing property renovation I would still recommend it. It’s pretty interesting and certainly keeps me occupied. But I would issue a word of caution. Turning a commercial property into a residential property is so much more demanding.

Demanding = bigger budget.

The requirements are quite significant and only relevant because it was a commercial building. If this had been an old decrepid house that I was updating I wouldn’t have to do half the amount of work. About 1/3 of my total budget has been spent so far and much of it to comply with these commercial to residential regulations.

The bad weather has allowed us to move ahead inside. We have built the stud walls for the utility, both ensuite bathrooms and finished off a little brickwork here and there. The 4 new windows have been installed, but we are holding back on the new glazing for the existing windows (building regs) until I no longer need to use a hammer. Sensible precaution given my apprentice status and how many mis-hits I apply in a day.

We have also broken through the back wall which will eventually be the boiler room. At the moment its our toilet so its going to be ‘whistle while you pee’ as we no longer have a lockable door there.

So what next. We need 2 days clear weather to finish the roof and 5 days in the next 10 to do the rendering. In the meantime, we are inside insulating and it’s a big and expensive job. The sloped bedroom ceilings need 50mm between the rafters, then 60mm on top of that followed by battens and plasterboard. All of the outside walls get 60mm, then battens then plasterboard. The attic has 150mm between the joists and another 150mm on top. The bedroom floors get 100mm and each stud wall gets 75mm. The ground floor gets 100mm before the screed goes down.

I keep telling myself we are turning the corner. But it’s a long sloping, winding, uphill corner littered with hurdles and water features.

I am off to buy a snorkel and water wings…!