A self build house project diary
by Oliver Cannell
Thursday 24th July 2014
(published/edited Monday 4th August 2014)

Rear retaining wall is done (virtual tour) and new Santa’s grotto installed

All the block work, reinforcing steel and concrete infill is complete along the rear - plus other little stories from around the site.

It's nice being able to relax a little, now that the retaining walls are pretty much all done. We've been blessed with some amazing weather these last few weeks, so some good progress has been made. The worry of shifting earth / land slides at the back of the site has been there for months, considering how deep we've had to dig and that there has been nothing supporting it. But now all the walls are in place, we can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on building the house and other non-heavily-engineered things.

Something I wasn't expecting, was the feeling of our boundaries falling into place and know what's ours and what's not, now that the neighbour's wall is well underway. Before, everything was open on that side of the site, so it was difficult to appreciate where things started/stopped... but when I stood on-site the other day it felt like the 3 sides of the plot where finally wrapping round to hold things in place. As the house is hunckered low into the ground, it feels like a safe and sheltered place to be, as it's hugged by the walls around it. Not that it feels like a bunker or anything, as there is a lovely view to the South, with a hill and trees on the horizon.

Santa's grotto

It's been a long time coming, but we also now have a proper little site office for the builders. We'd been promised a shed for a while, but I decided to get this sorted myself and buy a cheap second hand one online.

The builders picked it up for us and assembled it on site. It means they get a secure and dry place to store their tools (and kettle) and they have somewhere to lay out drawings and shelter from the rain. The bonus is - thinking longer term when I bought it - is that we get a nice garden shed once the house is complete. I made sure to get one with double doors and nice windows... rather than a pokey little shed which would fill up far too quickly.

Cutting bricks

I mentioned in the previous blog entry about the 45-degree bricks which we're going to be running along the top of the boundary wall, to cap it off. These will hopefully deter any local kids / hoodies / dodgy characters from climbing over the wall - although there will be quite a drop on the other side if they do attempt it - and will finish off the wall nicely.

So, we had a brick cutter turn up on site, which we have been using to cut the corners off the blue engineering bricks. It's basically a large motorised circular saw, with a diamond-tipped edge. The builders rigged up a wooden jig, so we can clamp each brick in at a 45-degree angle and cut the corner off. The motor itself is quite loud - although not a great deal louder than the diggers we've had on site to date. The noisiest part is when the saw blade is slicing through the brick - it's not much quieter than a plane coming into land! Ear defenders are a must. 

I've been trained up to use the machine - very simple really - and have been slowly working my way through the bricks. I think we need about 400-ish altogether, but it takes a couple of minutes to do each brick and I'm sure the neighbours are going to be glad when this job is out the way.

Virtual tour from the living room (to be)

Here you can see the newly completed retaining wall along the rear and also along the neighbour’s boundary. All the block work is in place - with the reinforcing steel mesh & bars inside the cavity… as well as the concrete infill… to make it strong enough to hold back the land behind.

The gap behind the wall has also been infilled, so that the land is pretty much back to normal - apart from dressing the top (with top soil and grass seed) to make it look nice again. This will be done once the new brick wall has been built on top.

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Next entry: First blocks laid for house itself (Tuesday 29th July 2014)

Previous entry: Blocks are flying up fast towards completing the retaining wall (Monday 14th July 2014)

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