Keeping busy…

It can be frustrating with all the waiting.

The new house in Somerset is still on hold. It looks like nothing will happen until at least Spring 2022 and no guarantees that the phosphate issues will be resolved by then.

No idea what the authorities are doing about it…except it was extremely surprising to hear that our local MP, along with hundreds of others throughout the country, just voted to allow water companies to continue to dump sewage into our rivers and seas. I wonder how much phosphate that amounts to?

Words fail me.

No they don’t. But if I used them here my Mum would tell me off.

Some Somerset builders are getting planning permission. If you are loaded you can literally buy your permission. They call it mitigation. Buy some land, plant some trees and permission is yours. A builder I know did just this. Cost him £1million.

I broke open my piggy bank but alas I will have to wait along with other mortals whilst the various authorities finish their naval gazing and develop some sort of solution to warrant them being called ‘experts’.

Thankfully the Devon property is moving forward albeit slowly. We have delivered our pre-application and have a scoping meeting in the diary. It’s a fairly traditional build so it shouldn’t upset the planners but then again….

So the waiting game continues.

Fortunately for me, my family do their best to ensure that I am not just sitting around. My sister kindly allowed me to renovate the ladies toilets in her pub. Having been (Covid) closed for much of the previous 18 months, there was no way her budget would cover a professional to undertake the work.

And family is family. (There are times I wish I was an orphan).

We agreed on part demolition, part cover up. I completed the demolition without chopping off any of my limbs or beheading any of the customers despite the constant use of an angle grinder and SDS drill. During the demolition, doubts started to creep in as to the size of the job. I do have most of the skills to do the work but not all…the plumbing in particular was a worry….and despite previous work experience I was not hugely confident in my skills. (You may understand imposter syndrome!).

So friends to the rescue. I asked John / Jenny D. to pop down and help and they obliged without question. Their 3 day trip turned into 5 days as we encountered more work than was imagined and the plumbing of the new toilets and sink took more time and effort than any of us anticipated.

By the end of week, most of the studwork was up. The walls were battened, pipes boxed in, the plasterboard was fitted and the toilets and sink were plumbed in. We purchased a cupboard from FaceBook marketplace and a tap from eBay and Jenny D sanded and painted the cabinet (and some of the tables in the pub) to give it a fresh new look. John and Jenny departed with toilets flushing and taps working, and we all remain hugely grateful to them for their help.

The following week involved finishing the batten and plasterboard and moving onto the plastering and tiling.

Mixing tiling adhesive, grout and plaster is sometimes compared with baking. However, cake batter does not go off if you leave it for 20-30 minutes. You don’t need to clean out the mixing bowl immediately to stop the remaining mixtures from hardening. I had to do the mixing where the water supply was (down two flights of stairs) and carry the heavy buckets of mix up stairs to only have to return downstairs for cleaning out the buckets prior to returning upstairs and using the mix before it went off.

I huffed and puffed.

And swore and grunted.

And thought about running away.

But I did it. Tiling first, but only because I was dreading the plastering. The windows were difficult. The first wall of tiles looks a tad dodgy (to me) because I didn’t clear the wet grout lines quick enough so they look a little rough to this trained eye. But it’s a pub. Hopefully most of those customers that use the loos will have focus issues so won’t notice !! The tiles could be straighter. They could lie flatter to the wall. They could be more aligned. But they couldn’t be installed cheaper!!

Plastering was a joy.

No, it wasn’t.

I completely forgot what to do and had a mild panic attack when mixing the muck. My first bucket resulted in diarrhoea! The mix, not me!!

I slapped it onto my trowel and it slid down my arm, my body, my leg and onto the floor with a lovely plop!!! The last time I experienced anything like it was on a trip to Cambodia…but that is another story.

A quick YouTube visit to remind me what to do and the second bucket calmed my nerves, and my tummy!

Then I forgot how to plaster into the corners, and finish the edges.

But I did it. I got over my doubting self. And finished the job.

And every time I finished the work-day my sister loaded me with G&T’s and praise.

What more could That There Builder Girl hope for?

And another week…

Well that was interesting. My meeting with the felt supplier and builders merchants (see last weeks blog) amounted to …well, nothing much. Perhaps not a surprise. The rainfall inside the property was all down to atmospheric pressure! Rob the roofer, Neil and Andy all have a different viewpoint. We have been assured the felt will dry out once the tiles are in place. I have asked for a guarantee – in writing – and am still waiting on that.

In the meantime, work continues. The fascia boards are done as is most of the guttering. We still have some drainpipes to sort but they need to wait until the rendering. Some of the roof tiles are now on and a little repointing of the chimneys has taken place.

The lead work is next. A product that goes up and down in price on a daily basis and although it’s purchased in rolls (3m & 6m) and various widths there are other considerations that I did not know about. The most important is you should always request Milled Lead for roof work. It is more expensive but it’s a must.

For those of us too inexperienced to tread the roof tiles more than once (scared!) there has been some more demolition and an ongoing relationship with my dance of the wheelbarrow. A new skip arrived and I was tasked to fill it. This I did over a number of days.

Glamorous job this building lark !!

The garden is accessible through a covered walkway that also leads to the gents. This walkway has now been dismantled – a job I took on. Another first for me – removing a window, then back on the crowbar, hammer, sledge hammer and drill. Tiles off the roof, battens removed, beams smashed and then the brick wall. I attacked it with all of my physical might – and it didn’t budge. Not an inch. Andy came to the rescue with the sledge hammer and the jack hammer and it gave in. I helped, of course, but the wall knew it had beaten me.

I should say at this stage if you have never used a sledge hammer yourself it is not as easy as it looks. Ours is heavy and has a typically long handle. Creating a momentum at shoulder height in order to strike a wall is simply knackering. Andy was very good for not laughing out loud at my effort.

So we now have an idea of how big the courtyard garden will be and I need to start thinking about doing something with the space.

In theory, all of the demolition is done – apart from breaking through a wall to reach the boiler room. A relatively small job.

In theory…

Fifteen and counting…

So there we have it. Fifteen weeks of gruelling effort and the property looks like a neglected squat. But to be fair I look similar!

But all is not as it seems. The big steel move last week proved successful and the property is still standing. Before I sleep at night I have that song going around in my head…you know the one about the bones but mine is about the property.

“The steel’s connected to the studwork.
The studwork’s connected to the wall plate
The wall plate’s connnected to the purlins…”

It lulls me to sleep. Surely this is what its like for every apprentice builder?

This week has seen the final wall demolished, even more floor joists installed along with chipboard flooring, and studwork built to shore up the leaning wall and start to define the rooms.

I have become a nogging champion! That is a real word – and no I have not missed an ‘s’ off the beginning! Those days are behind me !

All of this work means that apart from the roof, that the demolition stage has been completed – ish! A corner of the lounge, with curtains still intact, is as it was but this is more for security than necessity.

So what has been learnt and what is to come?

I have a load more words in my vocabulary and I know what they mean. I can’t wait for the challenges I will get playing Xmas scrabble with my family with all this new found knowledge.

I have muscles in my arms where before their girth was more aligned to comfort. Not suggesting the chicken wings have gone. Perhaps a little more like chicken thighs! I also have teeny, tiny little muscles in my fingers!

I was hoping this enormous effort would lead to weight loss but it seems there is nothing in this work (or any work for that matter) that assists my lack of personal willpower where chocolate bars are concerned. Pah!

I have three new body piercings. Not through choice but because I have occasionally, inadvertently, nailed myself to the property. This is a very real blood, sweat and tears effort.

The blood and sweat is obvious. Andy and Neil reassure me they will try better to control the tears when we re-start the project in 2020.

We are taking a Xmas break. Rob the roofer starts in January and then we start putting the property back together properly. The external render will be started. I am meeting the electrician and heating engineer during the first week of the new year to book them in for first fix. I have confirmed the underfloor heating and will be reviewing production of the stairs, windows and installation of the flue for the log-burner. The list of things not confirmed is still very long. Insulation, venting, kitchen, bathrooms, flooring, lighting, doors and more.

It will take as long as it takes…but my caravan dwelling days are going to be limited in 2020 – not least because I have to return it to its owners!

Merry Xmas to all That There Builder Girl blog followers. See you in 2020 !

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!

Who built this thing…?

I knew the property was old but blimey, have we been surprised by some of the building methods that have been unearthed.

We were expecting a bit of lath and plaster and that is what we have found. Along with horsehair and straw! It’s not clear when this method of building was used but needless to say its a while ago.

Modern day plasterboard is such a joy to remove. Older plaster methods is not. I cannot begin to explain how dirty the job is and when the ceilings as well as the walls are made using these old methods you can truly expect a mess when you pull them down. For Neil and Andy this was less of an issue. They went home every night and had hot showers. You’ll know from a previous blog, I did not.

Halfway through the first few weeks I thought we might find some treasure. This place is old. Surely a gold sovereign or similar can be found.


Nope.

A Samsung phone…If you read this and think you lost the phone in the pub then get in touch.

We did find a lovely old key and the place is held together with old nails some of which I have kept as a lovely reminder !!
We also found a box of matches that still work and an (empty) pack of cigarettes. Good job I gave up 20 years ago.

Living the high life…!

I was asked at the weekend what job I was doing now. A property developer role – I said. Wow, they replied. How incredibly exciting. Sounds like you’re living the high life.

Yes indeed. Perception is interesting. Perhaps I should have said apprentice builder, but to be fair even that role doesn’t explain how I am most definitely NOT living the high life.

This project is just too far away for me to commute every day and the budget doesn’t allow for unnecessary expense. I spent the first 2 weeks sleeping in the property. We erected some dust sheets and I took over a bedroom furthest away from the stairs to limit the dust reaching my sleeping accommodation. We were going to demolish downstairs first and would leave this bedroom until the end of the third week.

We cut the electric supply into the building and drained the water systems. But we did tap in a simple power supply (needed for the builders too) and fitted a tap into an outside toilet that we have also kept operational. So I had basic electric, cold water and a loo. I already owned an inflatable mattress and a flask. I went on a mad spending spree and bought a kettle for £2.50 (really) from Sainsbury’s. I was set.

It’s a little unnerving to sleep in a partly demolished property on your own with a single electric lamp. Our workday finished at 430pm. How was I going to use up my time without the usual entertainment? What would I eat? How was I going to wash? Was I going to get any sleep?

Well..I can tell you that nothing mattered during that first week apart from sleeping. I have never worked on a building site – no surprise there – and it’s close to two decades since I engaged in strong physical exertion for 8 hours a day. My first night I washed in a bucket, brushed my teeth, inflated my bed, ate a banana sandwich and was asleep before 8pm.

Of course I woke at 430 the next morning – bright and alert – so my whole body clock was screwed for the rest of that week. I tried to stay awake longer the second night but the work was too exhausting.

The third night was easier and on it went.

I am not sure what my fellow builders thought when they turned up to start work each morning. Although I washed as best I could, I had no mirror. I couldn’t wash my hair and I had a feeling that my cavernous wrinkles were like a magnet to the filthy dust and dirt being extracted from the walls and ceilings. On one morning a little chunk of grit fell out of my ear and I had a fair amount of straw embedded in my hair. But I don’t think I smelt. So that’s OK.

I am now living in a caravan – borrowed from good friends Sue & Colin. Bless you both….bless you….bless you.

Yep. Living the high life.

Late to the party. What have I done!!

Our first day of demolition.

The project started on 2 September 2019 and I was late – having been caught in the traffic on the M5. Nothing to worry about I had already handed over keys to my builder – Neil and he and his No. 2 Andy were on site from 0830hrs to get started. By 1030hrs when I turned up I walked into a mess – that simply got bigger and more dirty as the week progressed. No turning back now.
I had first day nerves. Not sure why. I know Neil (met him playing golf). I took out references on his work as a builder and we met several times to discuss the project. But even so I was still nervous.

The plan is simple. Knock everything to pieces and then re-build where necessary to meet current building regulations and to turn the old pub into a contemporary home. Simples !!

I took a course at the NSBRC (National Self Build & Renovation Centre) in Swindon. Three days on how to plan, manage and implement your project. I then did another one day course with them on Project Management. The courses were great – truly interesting and helpful. I took loads of notes.

One of the things they said again and again is make sure you budget for everything in advance. So here I am on day one, having only budgeted for the next 4-6 weeks on a project that is likely to last for 6 – 9 months. To be fair, I did get some total build quotes and they were around £50k over my entire budget so I have an idea of what this might cost if it all goes horribly wrong.

Ask me at the end of the project whether this way of doing things was a good idea.