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?

On your marks, get set….

Do not go !

Not in Somerset anyway.

Still nothing happening with South Somerset District Council and their planning department. Seems that they are bereft of ideas on how to tackle the phosphate issues on the Somerset Moors. Next week they are 12 months over their approval date on a planning application that already had outline planning and that we know was approved.

Frustrating to say the least. What’s a builder girl to do?

The first thing is to stop pulling my hair out! A bald builder girl will only frighten future trades….and husbands!

I have had to look elsewhere for my renovating and building entertainment and am delighted to announce that Devon is my interim stop before returning to the new build in Somerset.

I have appointed an architect and will be building a new house on a plot of land in Salcombe and then renovating an existing property, also in Salcombe, which requires a touch of loving and tender care. The process should keep me occupied for 12 months by which time Somerset DC should have moved forward with the phosphate issues.

This means packing my bag of tools and work clothes and making another temporary move. Mr. Clooney will be staying in Somerset for the time being as he will still be needed here (and it’s doubtful if his transportation on the M5 would result in success).

My future accommodation will be more comfortable than my adored caravan and will include running water, electricity and other such mod cons. I am unsure as to when the move will take place but watch this space.

It’s likely to be weekday only too. Weekends will be back in Somerset, or Bristol. Salcombe is a beautiful part of the world (I grew up there pre-teenage years) and am looking forward to getting started.

Whilst this project has been in development I decided to further enrich my builder girl knowledge and signed up to a 4-week certified building course.

Three hours into Week One I was regretting it. We started with bricklaying – the sort of skill every girl about town should have in her portfolio. The learning was great but it was so physically demanding and the temperature for the whole week never dropped below 26degs. I became covered in cement dust and perspired so much I could wring my knickers out every couple of hours!!

I didn’t though.

I am one of 8 on the course. The other 7 are military men – the oldest of whom is 15 years younger than me! Clearly, there are certain delights working hand in hand with 7 men from the military – my love of uniform is not unknown – but the work itself has even exhausted some of them. They thought I might be in the military too – a Colonel or Wing Commander was the suggestion.

Hence the reason I did not wring my knickers out every couple of hours. We have standards.

My made up rank would put me in charge of them all. This builder girl had some funny dreams that first night!!

But I digress. I am now proficient at bricklaying.

Week Two was equally sweaty but different skills. In just a week I had to build a one window, one door room from 2×4 timber and plasterboard. If you ever try to fit plasterboard to a ceiling you will learn how difficult it is. Try doing it when you are 5ft 4in (1.6m). I had to ask for a bigger ladder and hold the plasterboard up with my head and still get the military to help me!

Then we learnt how to plaster. My first effort was a D- but by the end of the week I got an A. Plastering a ceiling should be left to the professionals, and I have no intention of plastering a whole house but I do feel capable of plastering a small room that no-one will want to go in.

As I write this draft I am learning more. It is electrics and plumbing week. A little bit of multimeter reading and lots of wiring followed by soldering (rather than soldiering which is another story), compression joints and fitting taps, sinks, etc.

There is plenty more to learn, then there is an exam. It might be the first one I ever pass but only if the military men follow my orders !!

And I should be able to get a job as a building site labourer!!

You Go girl…

Quick, quick, slow….

Stop.

That’s what it feels like. One moment nothing seems to be moving on. Then there are significant changes. Then we stop.

We had to order a further 22 sheets of plasterboard this week as the previously delivered 190 sheets were all used up. This seems an extraordinary amount of plasterboard needed for one property. They are now all but fitted…with just a couple of sheets set aside for finishing the boiler room and the cloakroom.

Neil and Andy have also been finishing off a few awkward areas. A dollop of cement here and there. A touch of timber for reinforcement. A jiggery pokery with a drainpipe or two. I think you can tell my builders terminology has improved over the last 9 months.

I had my last exciting foray into the loft. Neil kindly lent me his paper suit to protect me from the worst of it up there. I managed to rip the backside out on a nail – which went deep enough to also rip my shorts and puncture my ass! I also split the leg seam open as I straddled a joist and caught another nail. Neil just laughed when I apologised about the state of his paper suit. Bless! When I emerged having completed the job, I was again soaked through to my undies and filthy. I am so, so, so very happy that there is no more loft insulation needed. It is truly a horrid job.

I purchased some Danish Oil to bring some life back into the numerous beams dotted around the house. Initially 2 litres, then another 2 litres. 8 litres later and I still have one beam to oil. It’s probably taken about 3-4 (wo)man days to do all the beams but they do look better for it. Each evening I retire to Mr. Clooney and count the rings of oil splattered across my arms and legs – and sometimes my face. I am not sure that Danish Oil is considered a beauty treatment elsewhere but it’s been a daily dose during the last week. I now have a silky glow and I am creaking less than I was!

It’s good news the plasterboard is finished because it means the plastering can start….but of course it can’t because there is still a shortage. My order is on its way and all things being well it should be with us on 29th June. Pete and Morgan are booked in to get started and should be with us for a few weeks. In the meantime, Neil and Andy depart for a while and get to work with other people. I’ve asked them not to enjoy that experience.

For me, this delay means time to obtain further quotes for tiling, painting and decorating, floor coverings, doors and more. I thought I had a tiler lined up but it seems inflation has hit hard in South Somerset as he wants a further £500+ to do the job. Sure I said. That makes sense, I said. Let me sign the cheque, I said.

OK I didn’t.

That is not going to happen. I gave him the go-ahead on his original quote pre-lockdown and presumed that was it. So now I need to reassess the tiling requirement. Neil tells me I can do it so I might just have a go. What can possibly go wrong?

Painting and decorating is a necessity too. I can do some but not all if I want the house finished before the end of the year (and if I am busy tiling!). So I have been meeting up with individuals to get quotes on the job. One fella told me 6 weeks minimum for the work – 30 days at his not insignificant day rate. I am not sure what is going on in South Somerset? Has the lockdown affected their common sense or do I have a sign on my forehead that says “this girl can be mugged”?

The other two quotes suggest 18-20 days max. I will do a couple of the rooms myself so hopefully save on that time too.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Plaster arrives a week this Monday which allows me a week to rest, recuperate, play golf, go shopping (for lights and stuff), get the car MOT’d, pay the bills (and boy are they big now) and go out to play.

Onwards…for the end is in sight!

What’s the definition of a house..?

I don’t mean the word. I mean the feeling. I think I know.

It’s a collection of rooms with walls that you cannot walk through – all courtesy of sheet after sheet of plasterboard. With a huge amount of effort we almost have a house – apart from the fact there are no bathrooms, kitchen, etc. But you get the gist!

Upstairs has 4 bedrooms, 2 ensuites and a bathroom, a hallway and even an airing cupboard. Proper rooms defined. Of course, no doors or architrave or skirting or anything else for that matter. But they are actual rooms.

And so to downstairs. A slightly easier plasterboard job as no sloped ceilings, but still much to do. You’ve heard this story before. Insulation, plasterboard, clean up. Insulation, plasterboard, repeat….

Courtney the plumber has been back to fit the shower trays. Steve came back to fit the electrical back boxes – all in readiness for plastering.

Adam from Mec-Serve (our fab underfloor heating company) has been back in to assess the final area that needs screed. We couldn’t do it first time around as I hadn’t purchased some of the plumbing materials which were supposed to be fitted before the screed was laid! My bad!

The 8 yard skip filled by me slowly but surely last week has been exchanged with another empty one. It seems the shovel will never leave my hands, although there is a rumour that Andy has access to a digger this weekend and may be able to clear some of it by machine. Either way, hopefully this will be the last skip…until the next one!

I have worn out yet another pair of gloves.

I have been trying to get a telephone line and broadband put into the house. At the moment I use the data on my phone to run my computer. It’s incredibly unreliable and deeply frustrating. The O2 mobile signal in this area is weak and erratic even on 3G, so even normal telephone usage is impossible on some days – and not just O2 apparently. Ridiculous. Someone complain. Oh that’s a job for me!

This week saw the arrival of a router from Vodafone and an engineer from OpenReach. A simple job….but no. The engineer couldn’t reach the telephone cables on the telegraph pole immediately outside the house so we had to wait for a platform vehicle. The platform vehicle arrived, which was used sparingly as it was ‘the wrong one’ (something to do with the passing traffic and danger !). In the 3 minutes it was used, the engineer couldn’t find the necessary lines (pairs I think he called them) on the pole needed to input a telephone line into my property. Difficult to understand really as only last July there was a telephone line, broadband and a card machine data-line. But for this week, no phone; no broadband. So they have to come back.

It’s not the engineer’s fault. I know that. They will be back with a bigger platform vehicle, which means putting in a traffic control system as they will close off one side of the road. They will run cables to another telegraph pole and onwards to a big box. Gosh, I will be popular with the neighbours….again!

So..back to the renovation thing. I still need to do research on tiles, lighting, doors, architrave, skirting and other stuff online. I am so pleased the shops are starting to open. I will, at least, be able to view some of the needed items and get out of the caravan now and again.

And…drum roll. I have plaster. I don’t have it yet, but it’s coming at the end of June.

So another week of frustration with with a ridiculously poor mobile data signal and no broadband. This has lead me to (a) drink (b) profuse swearing (c) writing letters to the authorities (d) all of the above.

Answers on a postcard…!

The never-ending story…

When you start on a project like this it’s nigh on impossible to set an accurate timetable. Ripping a building apart opens up all sorts of surprises (understatement!), and these inevitably affect the timetable and the budget.

When I met with a number of builders prior to starting work with Neil, they all said it might be done in 6 months but best allow for a little longer to allow for anomalies. In my head I thought (hoped) it would all be done by May – allowing 8 months in total.

Unsurprisingly, the lockdown hasn’t helped. It’s not just the 7 weeks in which the property was closed. Many manufacturers closed their factories so it’s now difficult to obtain materials, particularly plaster. The knock-on effect in terms of timing and money is unhelpful. Another understatement.

I will be pleasantly surprised if I can get all the finishing touches completed by 1st September 2020. We started the work on 2nd September 2019. 8 months to 12 months. More than 30% more time needed.

Imagine, if you will, what that has done to the budget never mind my sense of humour!!

But continue we must. Plasterboard on the walls and insulation in the loft, the walls and the floors. We are not far off finishing upstairs. It takes so much longer when there are sloping ceilings, and much of upstairs is just that, but it’s almost done.

First fix plumbing is more or less complete. Just the shower trays to be positioned. First fix electrical will be completed once the plasterboard has been installed.

Carpentry continues. All the door linings are now positioned. Window boards are all but fixed. There is the formation of an under-stairs cupboard, and the start of an airing cupboard.

My tasks this week include once again covering myself head to toe in protection and masking up before rolling out more insulation throughout the loft space, whilst simultaneously batting away spiders and trying not to knock myself out. It is physically arduous!

A-rolling I do go.

I have a large shovel, an 8 yd skip and an enormous pile of rubble in the carpark. I have developed a rhythmic technique for filling the skip but can only put so much effort into it at one time. It is physically taxing!

A-labouring I do go.

Me, my skip and my shovel. What has my life become?

And of course, I am still the broom witch and cutting plasterboard and carpentry is dusty and dirty work. It is…what it is.!

A-sweeping I do go.

My evenings are still centred around paperwork and researching materials and suppliers. I also spend time listening to podcasts (this week Louis Theroux – Grounded) and reading (this week Norman Mailer – An American Dream) interspersed with phone calls. Thank you callers!

And every evening I have to make a bed up out of seat cushions. Caravan living may sound ‘romantic’ to some but if I can give one tip, make sure you have a separate sleeping compartment. Assembling a bed every night gets a little tedious.

It’s the end of a tough week but the sun is shining and everyone I know and love is safe. Today I will be heading back to my home and friends in Bristol.

A-drinking and eating I do go. Yay!

One step at a time…

Actually, more than one step. We have the outline of a staircase. The original staircase was removed on 4 October last year. Since then we have been hauling materials and ourselves up and down a very long ladder, many times a day. At times it has been precarious.

The joy of having a useable staircase is immense. There is much to finish with it but not until after the plastering is complete as the handrail, newels, etc are all solid oak and we need to protect them from the inevitable mess to come. Jonathan, the carpenter, has also been fitting door linings and window boards.

Courtney, the plumber, has all but finished first fix. A day or two next week and then that will be it until the plastering is finished. A grand old job he has done too.

We have no idea when the plastering is due to take place. There is a shortage of materials, as a result of factory lockdowns – unless one fancies a little bidding war on Ebay. I have no intention of paying £30/bag when it is normally less than £6. Some people – pah!

The delivery of plasterboard was timely and Neil and Andy are getting on with it. The rooms are looking like rooms. Once the boards are in place, it means the final layer of insulation can be installed. This is a less complex job which means it’s perfect for me. Much of the insulation is positioned between the walls and floor/ceiling joists.

But….there is of course the loft insulation and by golly, that is a dreadful job. Covered from head to toe, wearing a mask etc I hauled myself up a ladder along with roll after roll of 150mm insulation. First layer rolled one direction between the joists. Second layer across the joists. 300mm of warmth. Building regs satisfied.

Easy job. Except of course this property is ancient so the roof space is a mini assault course. My ducking and diving technique has improved. Professional boxers would be impressed, although I did manage to get a few sharp cracks on the head – one of which could / should have been a technical knock out!

Easy job. Except for the requirement to balance precariously on the ceiling joists whilst squatting underneath the beams in order to roll out the insulation. Another option is to kneel along the joists and shuffle along. Painful and bruised knees follow. A missed footing and the newly installed plasterboard would be ruined. A quick stretch to release the muscle tension generally means a thump on the head, back etc. Refer to previous paragraph.

Easy job. Unless you are terrified of spiders, webs and other scuttling insects who were suddenly unnerved by my presence. There is an itchy-ness working with insulation but that does not compare to face planting a lived-in spiders web in the near-dark, overheated conditions of a loft.

Easy job. Except we are having a mini heatwave. I went in pale and resurfaced pillar box red, soaked through and absolutely filthy. Even my socks had to be rung out.

There are spiders making their nests as I take this photo!

When I returned to Mr. Clooney and stripped naked (I’ve always wanted to say that!), a couple of errant spiders ran out of my hair! (I’ve never wanted to say that!).

The good news is that I have insulated half the loft.

Half.

Guess what I am going to be doing next week.

Mercy, mercy me…

And the mess returns…

My inner Little Miss Tidy has had a few moments this week as the work progresses. There is a continuous routine of make mess, clean up and repeat.

Things are moving along. Courtney has continued to install the plumbing and I have pipes of all sizes and shape everywhere! Steve popped back in to re-position a few more electrical cables and Jonathan the carpenter started fixing the door linings but then departed for the arrival of his first born. Lovely.

Neil and Andy have been creating a masterpiece with what was the Gents toilets in the old pub.

This room is to become the boiler room and store room. Internally its a relatively easy job to manage. Knock down one wall, insulate, batten, etc. Externally, the existing roof was an embarrassment to the tradesman that fitted it. No point in us leaving a crappy job (note the word links to the former use of the room. Ha!!) when everything else in the house is done to first class standards. So another batch of timber delivered, breather membrane, a little code 4 lead, batten, soffit and tiles, drainpipe and heyho – we have a working, waterproof, useable room.

Except…before we can finish it off we have to move a soil pipe, and wouldn’t you know – it is cracked and needs to be replaced. What the…? So the big guns have been out again as Andy has been digging more rubble out to access the pipe. Make mess, clean up. See what I mean.

In the meantime, we have been taking delivery of various materials required for the next stage. There has to be some thought process into where the materials are stored so that the minimal amount of handling is involved.

We took in 160 plus sheets (2400mmx1200mm) of plasterboard. The standard board weighs 23kg but the specialist board weighs 34kg and had to go upstairs – remembering of course I don’t yet have stairs. So it took 4 of us to pass the boards up. To say we were all muscle weary after moving it all is an understatement. This work starts next week.

In addition, we had hundreds of metres of insulation delivered. Rolls for the floors and attic, slab for the walls. I can just about carry a roll by myself but it’s a little comical to watch. I am just a little taller than a roll and I can only just get my arms around it. But at least I try!

It’s been a tough week for me personally. I have struggled with sleeping, washing, eating in the caravan after having a few months off and the luxury of a normal bed and flushing toilet! The budget – already pushed to the limit because of the roof – is again being tested daily as many of the prices for materials have increased.

I know I will get used to it again, but my energy levels dissipated as the week progressed. There are jobs for me to do but I didn’t really get on to them.

Am back home and I’ve had a word with myself. We probably have no more than 3 months to finish, and possibly less if we can get the materials. That time will fly – and at least we are busy and occupied – and healthy.

I will get back on it next week.

Enthused, energised and eager…

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…!

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.