Not entirely sure where to start on this one as about 6,911 things have happened since my last post. There are only a couple more weeks of the builder/electrician/plumber being around so the focus is now moving to us for stuff like fitting the kitchen, decorating, getting the flooring laid etc. so it’s time to roll our sleeves up.
Crack, crack, crack city
Week 6 started with a worrying discovery. After living away from home for a few days whilst the back wall was knocked through and steels were added, we found that some pretty confident looking cracks had appeared in the two upstairs walls that sat on the 2 walls that had been knocked through.
We’d read about it being common for small cracks to appear as the walls settle between being supported by acrows and sitting on the steel joists. But our cracks aren’t exactly hairline and at their worst are 3mm wide. Needless to say, we were pretty worried about this so had a natter with the builder. He seemed very casual about them and said that they’d just need to be skimmed over.
We were still worried so I shared images of the cracks on a forum to get a second opinion and the consensus was that the cracks are larger than should be expected and that they’d need to be properly assessed. This could have brought the build to a standstill and ended up costing a lot of money. However, fortunately, Jim from building control came round early this week and after having a look said that it’s not a major concern, phew. For a belt and braces approach, he’s recommended that metals straps are inserted into the cracks and fixed in place with resin before being plastered over. It was such a relief to hear this!
With crack-gate out of the way, I can focus on all the awesome things that have happened in the last 2 weeks. First up, the floor of the extension has now been built up to the level of the existing floor so there’s no longer a massive drop when we walk into the extension.
First fix plumbing and electrics are sorted ahead of plastering. We spent a good half hour with the electrician, working out where to put spot lights, sockets and the kitchen pendants. We may have gone a bit overboard with sockets but it’s far better to have too many than too few, as we found when we moved into this place which only had one double socket per room.
The most exciting day was probably bi-fold day. Being the old man that I am, I’ve wanted to live somewhere with bi-fold doors out into the garden for quite a while so it was pretty great when they went in.
On the side of the house, the old back door has been blocked up and a new door fitted to the right of it, where the kitchen window was, which will lead into out mini utility.
To fill in the door left by taking the back door out, the builders used bricks they saved from knocking out the back wall. The blocked in door blends in really well so we’re chuffed with the job they’ve done on that. It’s a shame to lose the wee arched porch but to get a decent sized kitchen in it’s something we had to do.
ALSO, the stud wall that separates the utility from the kitchen has been put up, and the door opening has been prepared for a door that we picked up on FB marketplace for £20 which ties in perfectly with our other interior doors.
Soon after the guys had started in the stud wall, I took them a brew and it’s a good job I did. I suggested that we check the positioning of it and after measuring the space, there was too little space left for the kitchen units so they had to start again. Far better that way than having to rip it out once it was plastered or having to lose a kitchen unit!
The last couple of days of this week have totally transformed the space. On Thursday, all the plasterboard went up and on Friday, the walls were plastered. Quite an impressive operation with 5 blokes here on both days just cracking on with it.
If ever there was a time for an image slider, it’s now. The before photo was taken on Wednesday and the after on Friday! Mental.
It seems only right to mention the joys of life with only one downstairs room in action. Food-wise, we’ve been making the most of the slow cooker and microwave which has required some innovative thinking. We’ve been using paper plates wherever possible, but inevitably there’s still a fair amount of stuff to wash up so our bathroom is now washing up HQ.
On top of the house being a mess, despite Haz’ best efforts to put dust sheets up theres still brick dust and general dirt covering every surface. Outside, our front garden is an absolute state and the back garden is worse. Stopping Basil from trapsing dirt throughout the house and picking up things in his mouth that he shouldn’t is currently our main past time activity.
Some good, however, has come from all of this. Our downstairs doors haven’t closed properly since we moved in so to help prevent Basil running wild I planed the doors last weekend so they’d close properly. The hallway to dining room door also needed a new door knob so I made what I think is quite a fetching industrial-chic door knob out of wood but Haz isn’t a fan. We’ll see who gets the last word.
So all-in-all, a bloody decent couple of weeks. The extension is unrecognisable vs just a few days together end the end is in sight. Next week, our kitchen is due to arrive so I’ve got some time off work to get it fitted which I’m really looking forward to. Once the plaster is dry we can also start painting so we really are moving towards having an actual functioning space – this is how excited we are.
Maybe a bit more deranged-looking than excited, but you get the idea.
If our pebbledash garage had a mother, she’d call her own child ugly.
We thought of giving it away for free but decided that rather than get rid of it then build a replacement shed a similar size (5 x 2.5 metres) for a few grand, we’d simply tart up what we already had. It wasn’t quite as simple as hoped, but I reckon the finished result was worth it.
If you’re interested in doing something similar, the materials and equipment I used are at the bottom of this post.
The concrete that’s used to create the pre-fab panels of sectional garages is incredibly dense and often reinforced, meaning that drilling into it is a nightmare. Whilst a powerful SDS drill may just about manage it, you’ll likely burn out the motor, ruin dozens of masonry bits and risk shattering the panels. So after reading various horror stories, I decided to work out another way of cladding our garage.
Garages like ours are made up of a number of tall concrete panels, usually 60cm wide. They’re fixed together with long bolts that attach through flanges on the inside.
Because the garage is made up of separate sections, there are small gaps every 60cm where panels meet. I figured that these openings would be much easier to drill through than straight into the concrete.
After drilling 3 holes down each panel gap, I threaded a long bolt through a batten on both the inside and outside of the wall and used a flange head nut either side to tighten the battens against the wall. In case that made no sense whatsoever, here’s a wee diagram that my glamorous assistant drew.
Rather than buying long bolts, I bought some lengths of M6 threaded rod and used an angle grinder and a file to make my own (way cheaper).
The inside and outside battens effectively pull against each other with the concrete panels in between, making a very robust concrete sandwich and a perfect surface against which to nail the cladding onto. The added bonus of using this method is that I was left with battens throughout the inside of the garage which I’ve used to make a French cleat tool storage wall.
Chances are, you’ll still have to sacrifice a few masonry bits for this job as the concrete is ridiculously hard stuff. The bit below doesn’t look like it, but once upon a time it was a masonry bit, before the concrete ripped off the cutting tip. So it’s worth having a few bits on hand and definitely use an SDS drill rather than a bog standard combi drill on hammer mode.
I found it helped to drill a small hole first before drilling a larger hole that the bolt would comfortably fit through.
This technique worked well for the rear and right side of the garage (didn’t clad the left side as it’s hidden by a fence), but the front only had one very small panel either side of the garage door and so no gaps between panels. This meant finding alternative ways to fix the battens in place.
I used a combination of adhesive & brackets which worked okay but I’d definitely recommend drilling through the gaps where possible.
Once a few of the battens were in place, I moved onto cladding.
To be consistent with the driveway gate that I built, I opted for feather edge to clad the garage. It’s pretty cheap compared to other options and I think it looks great.
The cladding process was really easy once the battens were in place. After measuring up, I’d cut a length of feather edge to size and then give it a quick sand with 80 grit sandpaper. You don’t need to do this, but feather edge boards are typically made from quite low quality timber and so a cheeky sand makes a big difference.
Before fixing the cladding in place I dipped the cut ends in a wood preserver. In time, the end grain will rot if no preserver is applied so it’s really important to do this.
With the cladding cut to length, sanded and preserved, it was time to start fixing the boards in place. Starting at the bottom and working up, I’d rip cut the first board to just 3cm wide with my circular saw (easier with table saw) as this would provide the packer for the bottom feather edge board so that it would jut out at the bottom. Otherwise the first board would sit flat against the battens which wouldn’t look right.
With the bottom packer in place, I begin nailing the rest of the boards in place. Each board is 12.5cm wide and is overlapped by 2.5cm by the board above. To make sure that the galvanised ring shank nails I used went through only the top board and not the one it overlaps (to reduce the chance of splitting), I hammered nails in 3cm from the bottom of the board. Remember to give the nail a couple of taps to blunt the tip or you’ll split the the wood like I did.
You could make a simple jig to make sure that the boards are positioned with exactly 10cm of overlap. Instead of doing this, once I’d fixed a board in place I’d just make a mark 2.5cm down from the top and then used a spirit level to make sure the spacing was consistent across the length of the board.
If you’ve not got anyone to help you hold the cladding in place whilst you hammer in nails, it’s worth tapping the nails in slightly before offering the boards up to the battens so you can focus on getting your levels right.
After the first two or three boards you get into a flow and can make some decent progress in an hour or two. It’s worth screwing in a temporary length of scrap wood onto the batten where the cladding ends so that it butts up against it and is perfectly vertical.
While cladding my workshop more recently, I made a couple of jigs to make the feather edge spacing quicker and I’d really strongly recommend doing this. Much quicker and more accurate so the 10mins spent cutting out the jigs is well worth it. You can see an example of the jig in the below pic.
Cladding the back of the garage was pretty much the same process as the side. The main difference being the finishing trim at the top. For this, I just nailed in a couple of lengths of 150mm x 25mm pressure treated wood and covered the gap where they met in the middle with an off-cut that I sawed into a diamond sort of thing.
Cladding the front was quick because there were just two tiny sections either side of the door to clad, and I did the same thing at the top as I did with the back to make it look pretty.
There’s definitely a bit of ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ about the front of the garage as the metal door is a bit of an eyesore. We plan on painting the cladding light grey and the door dark grey one day which will hopefully make the front look better.
The cladding alone is a big improvement, but the corners of the garage and areas where two lengths of wood meet would look a mess without adding some trim. Also, the exposed cut edges of the feather edge would, in time, rot, even with the preserver treatment, so it’s important to cover them up.
At each corner of the garage, I fixed in place a length of 47mm x 47mm timber which the cut ends of the feather edge butt up against. I used adhesive and decking screws and will fill in the screw holes before painting.
I tidied up the cut ends along the side and back with lengths of 38mm x 47mm pressure treated timber that I screwed sideways into the battens.
For the bits of trim around the window I had to use my router to cut out a notch so that the window sill would sit inside. You could use a jigsaw for this but a router’s much neater.
After adding trim around the window, the orangey brown windowsill started looking pretty horrid so I grabbed a length of the same wood I used for the window trim and routed out a section that would let it sit on top of the existing window sill. A table saw would have been far easier but at the time I didn’t have one – I now could not live without one.
The window looked way better once it was surrounded by trim.
As with the battens, fixing the trim in place on the front of the garage was a right faff. Again, I used loads of adhesive, brackets screwed into the concrete floor and decking screws into the wood fascia until I was happy that the trim would stay in place. I fixed trim in place around the door like I had with the window.
Once I’d added the finishing trim around the door and cladding the section above it, I was done.
After a fair few nights of work, we’re really pleased with the result. At points I was doubting whether it was worth it but it cost less than £300 to turn a butt ugly pebbledash garage into a pretty handsome ‘faux shed’.
This week has been VERY exciting. The walls have finally come down and we can now really start imagining the space
Goodbye old kitchen
Last weekend, in preparation for the knock through, I smashed up our kitchen. The original plan had been to sell our kitchen dirt cheap/free for someone who could take it away and use it in their garage or summat. However, despite gradually reducing the price it was listed at online I got a grand total of zero messages. So I ended up taking a sledgehammer to the kitchen which actually turned out to be incredibly fun.
It’s now sat on a bonfire, RIP. Alex the plumber came to disconnect the gas hob and shift a couple of radiators in preparation for the wall coming down.
The knock through
This week was all focussed on preparing for the steels, knocking through, and hoisting the steels into place. The first step was to cut into the side walls of the extension so that the pillar that would support the main steel would be set into the wall. If they hadn’t done this we’d have a great big pillar protruding out into the room. By cutting into the existing walls, the pillar will only jut out by around 12cm.
With the pillars prepped for the steel, it was time to knock out the back wall. Every time I nipped downstairs to offer the guys a brew there was another section of house missing! They’ve preserved as many of the bricks as poss to fill in the current side door and for some future projects I’ve got planned.
After spending months trying to work out what the space is going to look like, we can finally see it. It looks way bigger than we expected, although that’ll soon change once there’s a kitchen and furniture in.
There’s definitely a certain amount of anxiety involved in seeing the back of your house propped up by a few acrows… So I was delighted to see the steels arrive on Friday, along with five blokes and a couple of ‘genie lifts’ to hoist the steels into place.
Turns out that a 5.5 metre steel beam is pretty heavy. It took all 6 of us + the genie lifts around an hour to get the steels up in place. I say 6 of us because I spent around 45 seconds helping lift one of them…
Once the main steel across the back of the house was in position, a smaller steel was added perpendicular to it over the wall that previously separated the kitchen from dining room.
One side effect of the steel installation is that cracks have appeared on our bedroom wall above where the house was knocked through. I’ve read about this before and apparently it’s quite normal so I’m not worried about it, unless they get any bigger! We’ll just ask the plasterer to sort it out when he comes in a couple of weeks and if for whatever reason the plasterer doesn’t do it, Haz and I are blackbelts in filling cracks so will sort it ourselves.
We were like excited schoolchildren this week. Seeing the wall get knocked through and the full space opening up was awesome. The noise and mess are pretty horrific, but I reckon sanding our floors was worse.
Another busy week coming up with plumber and electrician coming for first fix, side door being blocked in, partition wall into utility being built and various other bits I can’t remember. Stay tuned!
Four weeks in and we now have what looks very much like an extension. The walls are up, roof is finished, and now all that’s left to do before they knock a great big hole in our house is to fit the window and bi-folds.
During the first fortnight of the build, there were a few issues that cropped up. The last couple of weeks, however, have been spot on. There have been pretty much zero issues and the guys have got far better at keeping us posted and asking us questions.
A couple of days before the veluxes went in, Gavin (main man) asked us to have a think about where to put them. We’d planned to just have 2, but after thinking about the position of the island and 3 pendants above it, we realised that 2 wouldn’t work unless we wanted a light dangling from the Velux… Haz pointed out that 3 veluxes would work better so we asked Gavin if that was possible and how much extra it would be. He gave it the thumbs up and said it would be an extra £365 so we went for it. In hindsight, I have no idea why we originally had only 2 veluxes in the design as we want maximum natural light and 3 just looks better than 2. It’s a good job Gavin spoke to us rather than just following the plan or we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to add another Velux.
Okay so there was one issue in the last couple of weeks. We grabbed Gavin one day for a natter before ordering our kitchen. It’s a good job we did as whilst looking through the structural engineer’s calculations, he noticed that the padstone required to support the steels above the opening at the back of our house is a lot bigger than expected… Initially he said the pillar supporting the steel would come into the room by 66cm on either side. SIXTY SIX CENTIMETRES!!!! Haz and I both passed out but when we came to, he corrected himself that the pillar would be 66cm wide and protrude out of the wall by 12cm. That’s far more reasonable than coming into the room by 66cm, but the original assumption was a 30cm wide pillar coming 15cm into the room. So slightly less deep, but 36cm wider than expected. Pretty disappointing than we weren’t told earlier about this and a bloody good job we checked before ordering our kitchen.
After getting this news we needed to make changes to our kitchen units as the pillar would eat into them more than expected. We switched the fridge freezer position with the pantry unit and took out the fancy pull-out drawers. In the end this wasn’t really a compromise and removing the fancy drawers saved us £360 so could have been a lot worse and paid for the extra velux, but having clarity on the pillar size earlier would have been far better.
We’ve got a week or so without the lads on site until the window & bi-folds have arrived. After that we’re likely to move out for a couple of weeks as apparently the knock through and stages afterwards are well messy. We had a proper catch-up with Gavin on Thursday and they’re ahead of schedule which is great but it also means we need to crack on with ordering appliances which tbh I’m quite excited about. How life has changed.
After a dodgy first couple of weeks, we have renewed faith in our builders. Of course, there’s a lot that could still go wrong but at least the trust is back!
Within about 12 minutes of bringing Basil home (our cocker spaniel pup), it became clear that a wooden plank across the drive wasn’t going to stop him running onto the road. I spent the next couple of nights watching every DIY wood gate build on YouTube and took the best bits of each one to build ours. She still needs a lick of paint (we’re thinking dark grey) but here’s how I put it together.
I bloody love cracking out a pad to plan things like this. The gap between the side of our house and hedge after accounting for gate posts is around 2.3 metres. I decided to go for one smaller gate for everyday use (90cm) and another larger one in case we needed to get anything chunky through (1.4metres). As for the height, we wanted a bit of privacy without it looking like a prison so 1.75 metres seemed sensible as it would only allow tall men to see over.
After deciding on gate dimensions I worked out what post sizes I’d need, the framework design, what cladding to finish the gate in and the hardware (including hinges) that would suit the gate best. So there was actually a fair amount of planning involved given the gate itself was a relatively quick build.
Good old Google told me that I would need a 75mm x 75mm post for the smaller gate and that 125mm x 125mm would be a safe bet for the big boy. The smaller one would be fixed to the house so I just went for a 1.8metre post but the hedge side would need to be concreted into the ground. I bought a 2.4metre long post so that around 60cm could be concreted into the ground to make sure it was sturdy.
Before securing the posts I had to make sure that they would be positioned so the gate would be perpendicular to the wall. I went old school to work this out and used the 3, 4, 5 method. I cut 3 lengths of scrap wood to 1.5m, 2m and 2.5m (the 3, 4 and 5) and then laid the 1.5m length against the house. The point at which the other two lengths meet gives a perfectly perpendicular line to the wall. Good old GCSE maths.
To secure the wee post to the house I leveled it up and fixed it in place using four 12cm frame fixings. Turns out that our exterior wall is miles off straight up (mildly concerning) so I had to pack out the bottom. At some point I’ll get round to hiding the gap.
The larger post was in a bit of a state so I gave it a good sand and used a chamfer bit on my router to give it a clean edge.
Digging for the big post would have taken hours if it wasn’t for the post auger I borrowed from my Dad. It looks far too silly to be any good but actually it tore up the ground with ease.
Once the hole was ready I plonked in the gate post which I’d soaked the bottom of in creocote to make it last longer. I sat the post on a layer of gravel to aid drainage.
Two or three bags of postmix would have done the job but I had leftover ballast and cement from the garage concrete pad build. So out came my trusty £100 cement mixer and after a couple of mixes the concrete was in.
Whilst the concrete was still wet I attached a couple of stakes and levelled the post up.
I tapered off the concrete at the top to make sure water runs away from the post.
The posts were level across the top and so it was onto making the actual gate.
I went for a belt and braces approach to the framework to reduce the chance of sagging. It’s made from 45mm x 95mm pressure treated wood and is glued & screwed using a half lap technique so it’s ultra strong and as square as possible.
To create the half lap joints, I used a mitre saw set to cut to the depth of exactly 22.5mm so that when two half laps are combined, they sit flush with the rest of the frame. First, I made several ‘kerf’ cuts spaced 5-10mm apart.
Then I hammered out the remaining wood which left a rough finish.
The final step was to run the wood through the mitre saw again to give a smooth finish.
To allow the mitre saw to cut these half laps to a consistent depth, a piece of sacrificial wood needs to be used as per the below image.
After really carefully measuring, marking and cutting all the half lap joints, the framework slotted together perfectly which was a joyous moment.
If you’ve measured up properly then the added benefit of half lap joints is that the frame should be perfectly square. The last thing you want is a gate frame that’s not square so this needs to be checked and adjusted if required.
After checking for square, I glued and screwed the frame together through the half lap joints. As the front of the gate will be hidden with cladding, I screwed through the front.
After glueing & screwing the outer frame and middle support I moved onto the diagonal braces. Rather than fannying around with measuring these, I placed a length of timber below the frame and marked on where to cut.
Then it was simply a case of cutting, tapping the diagonals into place, lining them up and screwing in place. Ideally I’d have used pocket holes but I ain’t got a pocket hole jig (yet) so just screwed in from an angle.
After doing this process for both gates, I propped up both gate frames in place to check that I’d allowed enough space for them (ideally 1cm to either side and the middle) and all good. Framework done, onto cladding.
I should point out that I got a little excited after making the framework and went straight ahead with adding the hinges and other hardware before cladding. This worked out fine but if I did it again I would have clad the gate first, mainly because the added weight of the feather edge can make the gates hang differently. I’ve written the below based on the better method of cladding the gate before adding hardware, but some images will show hardware without cladding.
There are few cladding options including tongue & groove which is very popular. I went for feather edge as I love the look and it’s cheap compared to other cladding options. Plus I’ve clad our garage in feather edge and plan to make a bin store out of leftover feather edge.
I used 125mm wide boards and overlapped them by 25mm so each board covered 100mm. I cut the feather edge lengths to size and did a dry lay on the frame. This is a really important step as otherwise you may end up accidentally getting a repeated pattern of knots on the gate which would look naff.
The drawback of feather edge is that it’s typically made from fairly crap quality timber. Nothing that a quick sand won’t sort, though.
Before fixing the cladding in place, it’s worth doing 2 things to make alignment of the feather edge as accurate and consistent as possible. The first is to screw a piece of scrap wood against the top of the gate to butt the feather edge up to. This ensures perfect vertical alignment.
To get the horizontal alignment spot on you’ll need a spacer so that the overlap is consistently 25mm. I made a spacer by putting 3 screws into a scrap piece of the 95mm x 45mm framework. The screws protruded by 5mm, giving the 100mm that each board would be on show for. The beauty of making a spacer with screws like this is that when I got about 2/3 of the way to end of the gate cladding, I could measure the remaining space and adjust the screws slightly to make sure the feather edge boards ended exactly where I wanted them to.
Onto fixing the boards in place. I opted for 40mm galvanised ring shank nails as screws just don’t look right in feather board. It’s really important to give the nails a tap with a hammer to blunt the end before hammering on you’ll probably split the feather edge boards.
The position of the nails is key as you want them to only go through one board and effectively clamp down the previous board. Some people suggest that each nail should go through 2 boards but most advice online suggests that this can split the wood when it contracts/expands with the weather. I positioned the nails 30mm in from the thick edge, allowing a 5mm space between the thin edge of the board below. These photos makes what I’m on about much more clear.
Before cladding to the end of the large gate I fixed in place a length of wood for the small gate to close against and to hide the gap between the middle of the gates. I gave it a quick chamfer with my router to make it look pretty.
I then added the final boards and voila, cladding done.
There are a fair few options when it comes to hardware but the hinges are what you really need to get right. Nobody likes a saggy gate. I opted for hook and pin hinges that span about 1/3 of the gate. Fixing the hook part in place was just a case of marking out the position on the top and bottom parts of the frame and screwing them.
The next step is to get your gates positioned between the posts so you can align and fix your pins to the gate posts. You’ll definitely need a helper for this step as getting the gates level is takes a lot of adjustment. Something that made this adjusting way easier was to use wedges to support the gate. The height that the gate is lifted off the ground can easily be adjusted by moving the wedges closer together or further apart until the alignment and levels is spot on.
With the gates propped in place, I fixes the pin part of the hinges onto the gate posts and hung the gates. This was an exciting moment. The last step was to fix in place the coach bolts that go all the way through the gates frame and cladding. I used a spade bit to create this opening and was careful to drill through both sides to prevent causing a mess.
With the hinges on, I decided to fit the opening/closing mechanism next. I went for a Suffolk thumb latch cos I think they look great and are easier to use than the ring latches that are on most gates. First, I fixed a block in place to mount the inside element of the latch.
Then I stitch drilled an opening for the lever that lifts the bar over the catch (struggling for correct terminology here) and did a little routing to make sure the thumb side of the latch could mount flush to the frame.
Finally, I screwed the thumb latch in place. When it came to cladding this section I used a jigsaw to cut out around the thumb latch and routed the cut edge with a chamfered bit.
The final bits of hardware I added were a monkey tail bolt to anchor the larger gate to the ground and a Brenton bolt so that we can padlock the gates shut. These were simply screwed onto the gate with the opening for the monkey tail bolt fixed into the concrete ground.
To prevent rain from getting into the cut ends of the feather edge and rotting the wood, I fixed a top cap in place.
The final touch was to screw in some post caps to, again, protect the end grain. I cut these using my mitre saw and finished off the edges with my trusty chamfered router bit.
We’re really chuffed with how the gate turned out. Main thing is that Basilly lad can’t now (easily) escape! Altogether it cost £220 which is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting it made and fitted, and a lot more rewarding. If you fancy giving something similar a go I’ve put the equipment and materials at the bottom of the post.
Week two has been a 7/10. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the build is now well and truly out of the ground and we’re motoring along. No sign of any excrement this week which is always a plus and I was chuffed to see the guys enjoying our new decking seats. Although positives aside, there has been a need for some mild confrontation after some attempted wool pulling.
By the end of Tuesday, the brickwork had been laid up to the damp proof course and the concreting subfloor was curing away. In preparation for the walls going up, Mark showed us a sample of the exterior bricks that they planned on using. We had a good think and compared vs both our existing house and the neighbours’ extension.
It was an OK match but not great. There were a lot of darker bricks in the existing house which the ‘weathered red’ we were shown would not include. So we politely asked if the bricks could be a closer match to our neighbours extension (almost impossible to get them to match our 1930s house) which Mark said would be fine. The neighbours’ extension is made of civic bricks so when the bricks arrived on Wednesday morning we were expecting civics…
Low and behold, over 1,000 weathered red were plonked on our drive first thing Wednesday. The huge ‘WEATHERED RED’ lettering down the side of them was the key giveaway that these were, in fact, weathered red bricks rather than the civics we had agreed on. Initially I guessed it was an error on the supplier’s part but when I went for a chat with Mark he spun an impressively articulate story about how civic bricks are the same as weathered red. Not according to the chat we had 2 days earlier.
Anyway, we were miffed and said we weren’t happy with the extension being built with the bricks that had been delivered. After a small amount of huffing and puffing, Mark agreed that a selection of slightly darker civic bricks would be picked up to dot throughout the build. It’s worked out well in the end as the brickwork looks great but some more transparency would be great, ya know.
Realistically, we’re expecting bigger dramas than the brick one. Another small drama was around window positioning. Without going into too much detail, the windpost that supports the wall between our bifolds and the kitchen window was put up without us being asked about where we’d like the window. This has meant that we aren’t going to be able to have the window quite where we want it which is annoying as it won’t line up with the kitchen sink as sexily as we had planned. It’s a matter of centimetres so not worth asking them to take the wall down to adjust it, but frustrating nonetheless.
What with both brick gate and the windpost issue both happening due to a lack of communication, I managed to grab Gavin, the main man, for a chat on Friday. I mentioned both the brick issue and window positioning and he took more of a story-spinning approach than apologetic. Once the stories had been spun, I made it clear that we need to talk more often to make sure we’re on the same wavelength. He seemed to take that well as he spent the next 10mins taking me through the decisions we had coming up so fingers crossed we’ll have a better dialogue from now.
When somebody that you get along well with is at your house 5 days a week it’s easy to forget that we’re a customer and that this is the most expensive thing we’ll ever buy. Loads of decisions coming up soon so we need to be careful to keep a sensible balance (although I do think I’ll keep on making bacon sarnies for them on Monday mornings, I’ve never seen happiness like it).
Another post with a lot of moaning, but that’s just cos it’s easier to write about things that go badly than those that go well. We’re chuffed with the progress and well excited that the roof should be well underway by the end of next week.
I’ll end on a question. There’s a gap down the side of the extension, about 35cm, that absolutely needs to be used for something. I was thinking scrap wood storage or maybe a small hammock? If you have any bright ideas do let me know as I can’t not use this space for something.
One down, around nine to go. It’s not been a week without issues, but no sign of an Anglo-Saxon burial ground so the build continues.
I was 100% expecting the footings to be dug with a digger but the two chaps who have done most of the work this week (Mark & Daniel) spent all of Monday excavating the whole thing by hand! I guess the extension isn’t big enough to justify a digger, but still, it’s a 70cm deep trench that’s 3 metres out and 6 metres across – fair play.
During the dig they came across a random pipe that seemed to have no purpose. We spent a while staring at it and discussing what it might be (I mainly nodded along as if I knew what they were on about) and agreed that it must just be for a soakaway that was probably at some point used for the garage. They cut through it and packed up for the day.
When I took Basil outside for his morning wee the next day, I was greeted with the somewhat inevitable. A trench full of what would best be described as, shit. It was bizarrely somehow worse that it was shit from not only our own house, but also from three neighbours who live between where the sewer starts and us. What does it matter, it’s shit?
I gave the main man (Gavin) a call to tell him about our surprise poo-moat and he seemed remarkably chilled about it which was actually quite reassuring. After a couple of hours more digging, Mark & Daniel worked out that for some reason, some genius linked a pipe up to the sewer to take some of the contents out to the garden. They said it might have been to irrigate the ground which seems a tad daft and also concerning that our garden may be sat on decades of waste. But ultimately, it turned out to not be a big issue as the sewer pipe needed replacing anyway to add a new access point. So a few hours of scooping out excrement later and we were back on track. By the end of Tuesday, the new sewer pipe and manhole were in place.
3.6 or 3?
Wednesday was all about getting the concrete in. Concrete truck arrived, wheelbarrowed into the footings, tamped down a little, job done. Very impressive how quickly they worked.
So Wednesday was a good day. Thursday, not so good. Gavin arrived looking sheepish, and delivered the news that the footing had been dug wrong. Jesus.
When we first spoke with Gavin in January, we had two versions of the extension we were deciding between. One was 3.6 metres out, the other 3 metres. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Gavin had picked up the 3.6 metre version and given it to his lads to work to, but we’d confirmed in February that we were only after a 3 metre extension. A pretty costly cock-up (for them) and a day wasted for more digging and concreting. We weren’t overly impressed but were mostly disappointed they hadn’t spotted the error later – we could have had another 60cm of extension for free! By the end of Thursday, we were in the same position as 24hrs before, only with the footings now concreted in the correct place.
Actual building begins
Walls began going up on Friday which was pretty cool as it’s made it way easier to imagine the space.
The photo below is from our dining room window and shows where the bi-folds will be. It’s probably going to freezing by the time the build is done but I’ll be banging those bi-folds open allllllll day long.
Other than a couple of hiccups, I guess it was a fairly successful week. We get along really well with the guys which is great as it’d be pretty horrendous if we didn’t see eye-to-eye. I spontaneously offered to do them bacon sarnies on Monday morning which they got pretty excited about.
Next week should see the sub-floor get concreted, some more wall-building, and hopefully a little less faecal matter.
Tomorrow is day one of the build but we’ve actually done a fair amount of planning and prep to this point. Two of the main jobs have been deciding which architect to use and choosing a builder.
To architect or not to architect?
The very first step in sorting out our extension was to work out whether forking out for an architect was worth it. There’s nothing fancy about what we want to do so agreeing the plans with the builder was an option which would have saved us a few hundred quid. However, after several days of fannying around, we agreed that using an architect would mean we’d have A) a really well thought out design and B) a proper set of plans for builders to quote & build to. Too early to say whether it was worth it but it’s certainly given us peace of mind so far.
Alrighty, so once we’d decided to go down the architect route, we got a couple round for quotes. One of them we found online and came with good reviews, whilst the other was recommended by a colleague. We really should have got 3 quotes at least but the second chap who came round came across very well and from our research we found it was unlikely that we’d pay less. So that was it, architect chosen at a cost of £750.
We’re well chuffed we went for that bloke as he was really patient with us and drew up multiple versions of the plans. If you need an architect are near the York area let me know and I’ll pass on his details.
Choosing a builder
Once the plans were finalised we started contacting builders. Searching online is a tad overwhelming as there’s so much choice so we got in touch with a couple that we found through Google and 3 more that friends/fam/colleagues recommended. Five may seem a little OTT but the quotes varied by £17K so it was well worth it!
For each builder, we sent them the plans so they could have a look before they came round for a natter. You wouldn’t believe how different each of the builders were. A couple were very professional, another two were pleasant but didn’t come across well, whereas the last one cancelled twice and when he did finally come was really rude and actually a bit aggressive! So we went with the last bloke. Lol na we didn’t, he got a no straight away but that didn’t stop him pursuing us…
Anyway, we narrowed it down to 3. They each sent over a quote including a summary of all the work required. There was some back and forth to make sure that everything was included in each quote. The final quotes varied between £34K and £51K, bloody ridiculous. Although a colleague if mine recently had quotes for some building work that varied by £49K so what’s £17K between pals?
We based the final decision of who to use on the price, how we got along with them and the reviews/recommendations they came with. Initially we were focusing on how long until they could start but then realised that was daft – a long wait is probably a good sign. The frontrunner wasn’t the cheapest but we really wanted to use him so got in touch and proposed a slightly lower price. After a couple of days’ thought he came back saying that was fine and just like that, we had a builder.
We also had to find a structural engineer to calculate the steel required stop the house falling over. Not very exciting so in summary:
got a couple of quotes online and one from an engineer the builder recommended
quotes were pretty much all the same £700-£800
went with the bloke our builder recommended cos that was easy
Lockdown delayed things a little so it wasn’t until June that we were able to sign contracts with the builder and agree the payment schedule. But now it’s all in writing and tomorrow morning there’ll be a group of blokes (or perhaps ladies #2020) tearing up our garden. No idea what next week’s post will look like – perhaps a few photos of concrete-filled hols and a pie chart summarising our builders’ favourite biscuits, who knows.
The next 3 months are going to be incredibly noisy, dirty and expensive. BUT, it will (hopefully) all be worth it. I’m not really sure what to expect so thought I’d keep a track of the different stages on here for your enjoyment but also for us to look back on in the future and laugh about how naive we were.
Before making an offer on our house we agreed that if we got it we’d add an extension. Like a lot of 1930s semis, it’s perfect for a rear extension and the fact that almost all our neighbours have extended makes it a no brainer.
It’s 10 months since we moved in and the build starts a week today so we’re well excited but equally pooping our pants. We’re happy with the plans, our builder seems sound, and the neighbours are on board so all is well, right…?
As you can probs imagine, we were planning the extension before we even moved in. It’s not so much that the house needed it, more that an extension seemed like it would make a huge improvement. Here’s the floor plan pre-extension.
It’s a very standard 1930s semi layout, nothing exciting going on except maybe the funky diagonal doors off the hall. Here’s what we plan on having done.
The extension will be single storey with a pitched roof and go back 3 metres across the width of the house (around 6 metres).
We spent a while working out how we could include a utility space and decided that by moving the side door along slightly (on images below), we could squeeze one in without impacting the kitchen space too much. It’ll be perfect for cleaning up a muddy Basil.
One of the doors is being replaced by a small window. This is currently and outside store which will be an understairs loo. No cat swinging will be going on in here but it’ll be great not to have to leg it upstairs every time we need a waz.
The kitchen will be L-shaped, running along the same wall as today with the sink facing out to the garden. There’ll be a cheeky island to fulfil Haz’ lifelong dream but tbh we’re most excited about having a dishwasher.
The other side of the extension will be a chill out area with a sofa and coffee table. It’ll hopefully be really bright and have a lovely view through the bifold doors (my lifelong dream). The dining area will be set back in front of the fireplace.
The only other change is that at some point we’re going to add some internal doors between the living room and dining area. This is so we’ve got at least a bit of separation downstairs.
So that’s it. All very exciting and we can’t wait to see the progress. I don’t think any building project has ever gone fully to plan so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that any issues aren’t too horrendous. Next week I’ll add a post on how we went about choosing our architect and builder.
Most of the posts I’ve written on here about buying a first home assume that you’re already settled in the area that you’re looking to buy in. Of course, that’s not always the case and certainly wasn’t for us. Before getting on the ladder up in York we had to relocate from London which meant a load of change, including new jobs.
It was a fair amount of hassle, but has proven so worth it. It’s allowed us to buy a lovely house in a great neighbourhood with a sensibly-sized mortgage. If we’d stayed in London, it would have been a studio flat in the stabby part of town with a humongous mortgage.
I reckon a lot of people find themselves in our position in their 20s/30s so hopefully our story will help some of you guys with your life moves.
After uni, Haz and I both moved to North London for work. They were no doubt some of the best years of our lives. However, it got to the point that we were spending more time playing Scrabble than going out and making the most of what London has to offer and spent most weekends driving far away to see family and friends. On top of this the rent was a killer, annual flat move a ball ache, and we never really saw ourselves settling there. Cue some adult conversations about what to do with our lives.
Where to relocate
Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh – there are loads of areas of the UK where we’d love to live. But York was where the pin landed. I’m from York so have family there and know how lovely it is. Haz is from Ipswich which is a good 4 hour drive away but she’s always been a big fan of York and somehow I persuaded her to make the transition from southerner to northerner.
York is a pretty expensive place to live so it may seem like an odd choice, given that being able to afford a better home was top of our list of wants. Yep, it is certainly expensive for the north, but is nothing compared to London. Trust me, I spent about 2 years constantly on Rightmove.
Neither of us had jobs that could be transferred up north so finding new work was definitely the biggest challenge we had in our life relocation. We couldn’t move without jobs so this was our top priority.
Haz has worked in universities for several years which she really enjoys so it made sense for her to apply for jobs at unis in and around York. I was a bit more awkward as I worked at the head office of a car manufacturer and none of these are based anywhere near York. So I spent several months pondering what to do with myself.
I was going to have to change industry but didn’t want to go back down to the first rung of the career ladder. I half-heartedly applied to a couple of jobs and became frustrated with how few jobs were coming up in and around York that A) appealed and B) I thought I had a chance of getting.
Then, one day, a job alert came up on LinkedIn for a product manager job at a building society. This job really appealed as I was already working as a product manager and am a complete nerd who’s really interested in the housing market. When I got the call to offer me the job I tried to play it cool but as soon as I put the phone down I went mental.
Haz is apparently the most employable person on earth as she’s got pretty much every job she’s ever interviewed for. A few weeks after I was offered my job she got an interview for a role at a university and sure enough, got the job so we cracked open the bubbly. We were really lucky to have got jobs with start dates just 2 weeks apart. Time to start planing the move.
We were living in an unfurnished flat which meant that we had a hell of a lot of gear to take north. After shedding some of our stuff on Gumtree, we hired the biggest van we could and prepared ourselves for one of the least enjoyable days of our lives. We’d considered paying for a removal firm to do the job but assumed it would cost hundreds of pounds given that we were moving 4 hours away. The van hire only cost £50 for 24 hours so we must have saved a shed load by doing it ourselves.
The move took 16 hours and was absolutely knackering. A personal highlight was getting the sofa down the fire escape from our 2nd floor flat… But it all worked out in the end. A few goodbyes with friends and colleagues and that was it, see ya London.
Buying our first place
Having moved up and started our jobs, the final piece of the puzzle was to get on the ladder. Being able to stay with my family whilst we house-hunted was a massive help. If you have the option to do this then I’d definitely recommend it as it gave us flexibility for the move-in date of our place and meant that we could save really hard for a few months before moving in. Having some cash left in the bank when you move into your first home is a huge help
I won’t go into much detail here as I’ve written about our house buying journey already so have a browse if you’re interested in the ups and downs of the 3 months we spent buying our place.
We’ve been up in York for a year now and we bloody love it. The process of getting new jobs, moving up and buying our house was pretty intense but we’re so glad to have done it. We’ve settled into jobs that we enjoy, got ourselves a lovely little house and welcomed a furry fella to the family. It won’t be right for everyone, but if you’re thinking of relocating to settle down then I can’t recommend it enough.