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Looking back on 2020

Ahh 2020, what a year. Haz and I had expected that our free time would be dominated by the refurb this year, but we didn’t expect to have quite so much free time. Looking back on what we’ve achieved, I’m actually really chuffed and feel very lucky to have had so much stuff to crack on with whilst stuck at home. There’s still a fair amount to get sorted, but we’re 90% of the way there. Here’s what 2020 looked like for project number nine.


January

January was mainly about finishing touches in our bedroom. The fitted wardrobe was finished, floor varnished and walls painted, so it was a case of filling the space. I made a picture ledge to go above the bed and some ‘smart’ hanging bedside lights

The wall where a fireplace once stood looked pretty sad so Haz found a lovely cast iron fireplace surround on Facebook to install. We weren’t bothered about having fire in the bedroom so it was just for show.

After breaking out the wall, I tiled the hearth with some fetching crackle glaze tiles.

Then it was a case of fixing the fireplace up against the wall and voila. Quite an improvement vs the white plastic grate that was sat there before.

By the end of January, our bedroom was finished.

February

February was all about the spare room. The ceiling and walls were in a state so it was a fairly bleak month of stripping, filling and sanding. Here’s Haz demonstrating how such grim jobs can be achieved whilst remaining glamorous.

We had to sand every inch of the walls and ceiling. I do not miss this job.

Looking back on Feb, I’m not sure how we stayed motivated. Another bleak job was stripping the fireplace that took between 12 and 15 coats of stripper to remove the multiple layers of paint.

Once all the prep work was done, we slapped some paint on the walls and that was all we could do until the carpets got fitted, which was supposed to be in April…

February was the month when we finalised our extension plans after much dithering. We also settled on a builder, with a planned start date of June.

With the architect’s drawings in hand, we started kitchen planning. We actually ended up ordering our kitchen and utility units in late February to beat a price increase which was pretty risky given that the measurements were only theoretical… But we were lucky and it all worked out.

March

March begun with more hearth tiling, this time in the spare bedroom.

Haz began painstakingly stripping the stair banister and spindles before sanding and repainting them.

Then it was onto the final bedroom, our box room. This actually felt like a treat as it’s so much smaller than the other rooms. The walls had dents all over them as you can see from the filling that Haz did. They looked like a spotty teenager.

After stripping the ceiling wallpaper, there was a load of adhesive that we couldn’t get off. We ended up sticking some thick lining paper up which worked a treat.

It was just about at this point that we went into lockdown. I picked up some essentials from Wilkos, thinking they’d last until it was all over… I was wrong.

The priorities became getting a couple of home-working set-ups sorted. Haz shotgunned the dining room table, a smart choice.

In my infinite wisdom, I cobbled together a desk for myself from scrap wood. No need for anything special, ey? Unbelievably, this monstrosity of a creation is still going strong.

Warmer weather and later nights meant that I could crack on with outside work. To allow for the extension, the garage had to move back 5 metres so I dug out for a concrete pad to sit it on.

April

April began in the same way as most months: stripping and sanding, this time on the stairs themselves.

And some wallpaper stripping…

And some radiator/windowsill stripping…

I ‘accidentally’ burnt my hand with the heat gun which was good fun. Little did I know that this would pale in comparison to the injury that I would sustain just a month later…

Anyway, this meant Haz became chief garden digger which I wasn’t sad about.

With the area for the garage concrete pad dug out, I laid the sub-base and set out the shuttering in preparation for concreting.

And then the day came – mixing 1.5 cubic metres of concrete in a £110 cement mixer similar in size to a blender. Somewhat inevitably, it ended up taking 2 days.

Our enthusiasm was short-lived.

In hindsight, it’d have been cheaper and 400 times quicker to get ready-mixed concrete delivered but at least we learnt a new skill, I guess…

With one load of digging behind me, I moved onto the next. This time for decking.

I love working with wood so once the digging was done, this was a pretty joyous task.

By the end of April, the decking base was down and ready for me to build the seating.

Look at the state of our drive at this point #neighboursoftheyear.

May

What a month May was. Primarily because of the arrival of this little man, Basil.

Needles to say, the rate of DIY took a hit from this point onwards. How can you bring yourself to sand walls when this little creature is flopping around?

We did get a few bits done. My Pa brought the big boys round to help clear our drive of several tonnes of earth. We must have saved a small fortune by not having to get skips, bless him.

The decking seats started to come along nicely.

With the framework in place, I began fixing the panels.

With some cheeky under-seat storage.

May also saw the start of project ‘dismantle and remantle the garage’, starting with removing the roof.

Before I got chance to take the walls apart, quite a bad thing happened. Long story short, I sat on a steak knife which impaled my left bum cheek up to the handle. In case you think I’m lying, here’s the knife and below it is a photo of my shorts post-knife-sit (WARNING: graphic content).

Yeah so that wasn’t ideal but I’m often reminded how ‘lucky’ I was that the knife didn’t hit an artery or ‘tear me a new bumhole’ – the sympathy was limited. 3 stitches, a large amount of drugs, and 2 weeks later, I was back at it.

June

Sorry for more Basil spam, promise it’s the last one. This is B-dog on Haz’ birthday.

With the little man on the scene, we couldn’t really afford to have an open drive anymore so I made a gate.

This was probably my favourite project of the year, I’d love to make another.

It’s not perfect, but it keeps the pooch in and unscrupulous people out.

With a fully healed buttock, I was able to return my focus to moving the garage. The walls are made out of 2 foot wide reinforced concrete panels so shifting them wasn’t fun. BUT, it was pretty cool to see the space open up ready for the extension.

July

With the ugly ducking garage moved, the time came to clad it.

This took a while as drilling into the panels to fit the battens was a nightmare but we’re chuffed with how it turned out. One day I’ll get round to painting it.

I made a little more progress on the decking in-between other jobs.

It such a nice space to use on a summer evening. Shame that 2020 was the worst year ever for socialising.

July marked the start of the extension build. I won’t lie, it didn’t start great. I’ve always fancied a moat around the house, but one filled with neighbours’ excrement wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

Once this was sorted, we were informed that the concrete foundations had been laid in the wrong place. These things happened within 3 days of the guys starting the work so needless to say, we were not filled with confidence. To be fair, from this point on there were only small mistakes that you’d expect with any building project.

Once the walls started going up, we could get a proper feel for the space.

By the end of July, the roof was on.

August

August was all about trying to minimise stress caused by the building work. Covid meant that we couldn’t stay anywhere during the wall knock through which was pretty bleak. At least it wasn’t winter, that would have been horrendous.

Seeing the space open up was great, although keeping a pup occupied during the disruption was a bit of a ‘mare. I have no idea how people with kids have building work done.

Bi-fold day was an exciting day.

Work started to shift the side door and separate the utility from the kitchen.

The little DIY I did get done in August was a french cleat tool wall for the garage – well fun and such a good way to organise stuff.

September

The transformation in September was awesome. We started with this hideous shell and ended with a fully functioning kitchen.

The plastering took 5 guys two days – ridiculously impressive operation.

Soon after the plastering was done, our kitchen arrived. Haz nattered away with the delivery guys whilst the builders and I lugged all the units round the back of the house.

The race was on to get the extension painted before the kitchen could be fitted.

Haz took a week off work and spent 8 days straight painting… What an effort. Some family support was much appreciated.

Haz painted the fireplace and wall behind it which is such a huge improvement on what it looked like before.

With the kitchen area painted, I made a start on fitting the kitchen. Having not done anything like this before, YouTube was my friend.

Slowly but surely, it started to take shape, despite a couple of meltdowns along the way.

This is the face of somebody who is incredibly excited to clean their island for the first time.

Once the kitchen & utility units were fixed in place, around 32 men slotted the range in place and second fix electrics and plumbing began.

The first ‘proper’ meal we cooked on the range was pizza, potato waffles and peas… What a couple of children.

Whilst we were painting/fitting the kitchen, the builders were working on the under stairs loo. Previously, this was a coal house with a door outside.

I whapped some funky tiles down. Another scenario where initially I wasn’t convinced but Haz was right. Hope she doesn’t read this.

The builders also blocked up what used to be the door to the kitchen.

The guys filled in the old doorway and switched the window out for a door that would lead into the utility.

I managed to spend some more time on the decking, finishing off the seats and adding a slate channel around the edge. There’s still a few more bits to do but let’s just assume I’ve finished it!

October

October was all about the patio. First, of course, more digging.

I hired a whacker for a weekend to compact the sub-base down which was well fun.

With the sub-base compacted, I started laying the porcelain tiles. I was a bit anxious about this job as I probably should have left it to people who knew what they were doing.

It took me bloody ages to lay just these 20 tiles and I’m pretty sure I did myself some long-term back damage in the process. BUT, it went well and saved a few grand by DIYing it. I’m leaving the last third of the patio until spring, by which point the pond that we filled in should hopefully have fully settled.

Whilst I was patio-ing, the builders and co. were checking off a few last bits. Basil was very confused about how a loo appeared out of nowhere.

November

It would probably have been cost-effective to have bought a mini-digger given the amount of earth I’ve shovelled this year. The garage isn’t big enough for storage + space for me making/breaking things so we’re building a small workshop/mancave at the back of the garden. Both Haz and I are delighted as she gets the house and I get my own shed.

I laid a load of flags, built the timber frame, and then fixed ply on top.

This project has been very much a father-son effort. My Dad built all the wall frames and roof trusses on the farm. Lockdown then delayed us as my Dad couldn’t bring the wall frames round.

Moving inside, the carpet fitting we had booked for April was finally rearranged for the end of Nov. Ahead of this, Haz painted the stairs ready for the runner and I spent some time ridding our floorboards of their ridiculous squeaks.

Then the carpet man came to do his thing. This carpet is fitted to 2 bedrooms as well as the landing and stairs.

Downstairs, the floor fitter cracked on with laying the Karndean.

Once the floor was down, I could finish off the last kitchen bits including end panels and plinths. And FINALLY, the extension was done!

And the utility too.

Our new sofa arrived on my bday which was exciting.

December

Wahooo tier 2! My Dad came round with the pre-made walls and trusses for the workshop. After a few hours, the walls and roof structure were up. I tell you, the man’s a genius.

The next day we raced against the clock to get the roof sheets on before it poured down.

After I added a few bits of trim, my Dad and a pal came round to start cladding.

With those two cladding and me cutting & pre-nailing the boards, we had one side done in no time. The fact that more people doing a job leads to it getting done quicker was a revelation for me. If anyone fancies helping out with stuff in 2021 let me know – you’d be paid in the currency of chips/bacon butties.

The outside is now 95% done, just got to add some trim at the top and make a ramp.

Once we’ve sheathed the inside of the walls and put some second-hand laminate flooring down, I’ll be officially moving in.


So there you have it, 12 months of fairly relentless refurbing and DIY. I have no idea what we did with our spare time when we lived in a 2 bed London flat…

There’s no way we’d have done so much if we hadn’t been stuck at home on evenings and weekends. Fingers crossed that 2021 will be a better balance of doing stuff and actually getting the chance to appreciate it.

Thanks to all who have followed our refurb journey this year, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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Extension post # 2 – choosing an architect & builder

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.

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Extension post #1 – the plans

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.