A self build house project diary
by Oliver Cannell
Tuesday 20th May 2014
(published/edited Wednesday 21st May 2014)

2 steps forward… 2 steps back

It's been a very trying few weeks, with nothing happening on-site but with plenty of things causing stress off-site instead.

When watching programmes on TV like Grand Designs, you can see how much stress some people are under and you're sure most of it is self-inflicted. Usually because they spend far more money than necessary on glossy finishes and posh kitchens or because they mess the builder around and change their minds during the construction.

However, I can now appreciate there are far more opportunities for stress and worry, having had nothing happening on-site for about 5 weeks and lots of paperwork and discussions going on instead. On the rare occasion when there has been progress, something else has come along to take the wind out of my sails. It really has been a case of 2 steps forwards... 2 steps back.

Footpath closure

This has been the biggest issue. We had to close the public footpath because it was starting to collapse while building the retaining wall alongside it. Normally an "Emergency Closure" gives you 21 days but you can extend this time for a fee. Initially we thought this would be no problem... but we have been trying to get some sort of solid guidance from the Planners regarding whether we'd be allowed to erect a wooden fence along that boundary instead of a brick wall. The price of a 4" brick wall was estimated at £9k while a close board fence was estimated at £4.5k. A no brainer decision. But the Planners took an age to respond and always with something non-commiting.

Additionally we have had to apply for a Planning Amendment to shift the house on the plot by 700mm as we are now separating the house from the retaining walls. Due to the timescales involved and the fact that we have signed letters from the immediate neighbours, we've opted to continue building at our own risk. Planning approval will take a minimum of 8 weeks and it just not possible to wit that long if we need to get the public footpath open again.

It's mad that the Highways department and the Planning department aren't able to talk to each other and work out a good solution, in terms of timescales. Instead, Highways are threatening us to get the footpath open again and in return we were getting little feedback from the Planners. In the meantime Highways are getting complaints about the footpath being closed and we have to continue the build at our own risk. There is a danger that the new design wont get passed, and I've got no idea what'll happen then!

Retaining wall damage

As things have been dormant on-site for a while, the footpath has been slowly crumbling away. Last week, however, a large chunk fell away and destroyed a 2-3m section of our newly building wall. It's very frustrating as it means we have to check for damage and rebuild that section. Basically, we need to crack on as quickly as possible, to get the concrete poured into the retaining wall, to make sure it's able to withstand any further abuse.

Meeting with the Structural Engineer

Last week we had a meeting with the Structural Engineer to discuss the designs and options for the retaining walls, the boundary walls/fencing and the house foundations.

As the house itself is no longer sharing the same walls as the retaining walls, and due to the house being only 700mm away, they've had to design a way to make the retaining walls strong enough to take the loads required, at the same time as allowing the house to share the same footings. This means they have had to come up with a slightly unusual system of allowing movement (via an expansion joint) in the back of the house, so that things can flex slightly under load. The main footings for the house will also be thicker at the rear and strengthened using reinforcing steel bars.

From a technical point of view this all sounds fine in theory, although I have no idea how this will perform (or look) in the practice - and I can't help but worry about how much extra this is going to cost.

This project was never a 'grand design' but I think it would quality for "Complicated and Expensive Designs' if there were such a TV show!

Next entry: Choosing a new kitchen (Tuesday 20th May 2014)

Previous entry: Is it a fence? Is it a wall? Neither yet. (Saturday 3rd May 2014)

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