A self build house project diary
by Oliver Cannell

Blocks are flying up fast towards completing the retaining wall

Now that foundations are in and set, the blockwork for the rest of the retaining walls are going up quickly.

The day after the foundation concrete had been poured and set, the blocks were being laid for the rest of the retaining wall along the rear boundary and adjoining the neighbour's garden. Once the positions had been calculated and marked out on-site with lengths of string, the blocks themselves were put in place very quickly.

You can see that since the middle of last week, the whole of the outer skin of blocks along the rear boundary have been laid, along with the reinforcement steel mesh on the right hand side... and a single row of blocks and blues (engineering bricks) along the front.

It's with great relief that the rear retaining wall is finally underway. It's been quite a worry, leaving the rear of the site so exposed - and unsupported - for so many months. It's been a miracle that none of it has shifted or collapsed, with the number of vehicles that travel along the road on a daily basis. It will be great when site is all safe (structurally) and secure (from any dodgy characters in the neighbourhood) and we can focus on building the actual house.

Working on site

You might notice in the photos, that some of the concrete foundations have been covered up with the some dirt. This is so they can safely bring in machines, for distributing blocks and back-filling the soil behind the retaining walls, without damaging the foundations. This will all be scraped back once they are ready to lay the blocks for the house itself.

The weather has been superb - probably too hot - but it's meant the progress has been good and without loads of mud playing havoc. Hopefully this will last a while longer, so we can continue at a good pace.

More brick decisions

It came to light this week, that the blue brick wall, is going to be topped with half-soldier bricks. So, to explain... a full soldier, as I understand it, is when you stand the bricks upright and run them along the top of a wall. This creates a nice water resistant course of bricks, to prevent so much weather damage over the years, as well as having a nice patern to finish off. A half-soldier, is when half-bricks are used upright, instead of whole ones.

I was originally under the impression that whole bricks were going to be used for this course - as it would be quicker and cheaper. Additionally, I was originally told that cutting these very hard engineering bricks (which aren't usually used to build walls with) would melt the saw and couldn't be done. So, apparently it is now possible to cut the bricks, which brings us back to the idea of arranging them in a 45-degree pattern, to help prevent people climbing over. This will create a triangular saw-toothed top edge to the wall, and will make it quite painful and tricky to scale.

We've been looking into security featues, like plastic spikes and metal security devices, but most of the (decent) options come with Planning restrictions and we'd need to get permission. Not that we want to create Fort Knox or anything, but it would be good to minimise security risks. As it is, the roof will be moderately accessible from the footpath across the back - due to the house being so low in the ground - so any measures we can take to stop people is a good idea.

I thought it would be a good idea to test out how all the options might look, by laying some loose bricks out. To be honest all options will look good... but now that we know we can cut the bricks the 45-degree option is now very doable - although a bit more expensive to do, as it will take a bit longer to lay. To help the builders visualise this, I've also been drawing up the layout (to scale) in Adobe Illustrator. It's a bit geeky I know... but it's useful to be able to see what it will actually look like when built.

Next entry: Rear retaining wall is done (virtual tour) and new Santa’s grotto installed (Thursday 24th July 2014)

Previous entry: Pouring the concrete for the foundations (Tuesday 8th July 2014)

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