Splitting the building work into phases

A few weeks back we took a first look at the proposed schedule.  This had been updated after we had received planning permission as well as a little more detailed added.  When we first started talking to the architect about the work, we had in mind that the building work would be complete by Christmas 2013.  At the time, we were surprised how long it was going to take.  Well, you can imagine how surprised we are when the latest completion date is April 2014!

Don’t get me wrong, the plan is what the plan is.  It just seems surprising that we aren’t going to start any building work until August.  Particularly when the existing cottages are already 75-80% stripped out.  If the stripping out work is finished by the 1st May, then it means building work effectively stops for 3 months.  The delay is due to the detailed work required for building regs, preparing tender documents and deciding on the main contractor.

In an attempt to reduce this delay, we have decided to split the building work into 2 phases:

  • Phase 1: Renovation of the existing cottages. This means re-roofing the existing main building, making the new internal openings, installing flooring (ground level and first floor) and installing new windows.  There will be no “first fix” for the services, insulation of the walls or roof, or doors installed.  This will all be done as part of Phase 2;
  • Phase 2: Extension of the barn plus refurb throughout the entire building.  This will ensure that the internals and services are all installed as one as well as reducing the overall cost.


By splitting it this way, we can start on Phase 1 while all the final details are being worked out for Phase 2.  And by doing all of the internals as part of Phase 2, this should reduce the chance that later changes need to be made to work completed as part of Phase 1.  At this point, I am not sure if this approach will reduce the overall length of the project – it feels as if it should – but we will have to wait until the detailed planning is complete.

Each of the phases will go out to tender and the intention is that we should be in a position for a main contractor to start work on Phase 1 during May.  For this to happen, the tender documents need to be ready the week after Easter.  There is still work to do on all the drawings, but there is still some work to do inside the cottages in preparation for the building work.

Dry stone walling – Day 3

Well, it wasn’t really a whole day – just a morning as I got distracted.

I spent about 3 hours this morning dis-assembling and digging out the footings for another 2m stretch of wall.  I am being “less precise” with this stretch of the wall and doing the best I can with the current wall stone.  Yes, it is horrible and rounded, but for this field wall I am just going to have to do my best.  Shipping in huge amounts of new stone to build a field wall seems like a huge amount of wasted time and effort (not to mention money!).  I am hoping that by the end of this weekend that I will have at least part of the wall up to the finished height.  We will have to see.

Not much to look at for 2.5 days work.

I then faced two distractions in the afternoon.  Firstly, measuring out where the new extension will be and marking this out on the ground.  I haven’t got an electronic version of the plans, so haven’t had chance to post them here yet. Jo is concerned that you will be able to see into the master bedroom from the road.  I took the new plans that we have and used road pins to mark out where the master bedroom is going to be.  This was a useful exercise.  We now know that it will be very difficult to see into the bedroom from road level.  And if we are still in any doub, a small dry stone wall on the crest of the rise would totally block the view from the road.

The second distraction was cutting the grass on the top field.  Rob kindly brought his tractor (and daughter – Ellie) to help with the job.  It took about an hour or so to cut the grass.  Strangely, it has a tendency to find all the stones in the field!  This slowed progress, but I now think that the majority of the loose stones have been removed.  We will have to see.  This is the last time that the field will have to be cut this year.

Rob showing the grass whose boss!
Rob and Ellie – Houston we have a problem!

The lower field has a lot more of slope, so the current plan is to graze some sheep in the lower field to get the grass down to more of a manageable level.  We just need to find out where we can borrow some sheep from!

How accurate is measuring using Google Maps?

Well, now I have an accurate set of floor plans, I can compare the estimates that I worked out using Google Maps (see previous post).

I estimated the overall size of the buildings (including the barn) to be around 20 feet by 80 feet.  The floor plans (and the topo survey) show that the building is in fact 22 feet by 82 feet.  Remarkably close to the Google Map estimate.  I tried a few other measurements that I had taken and they are all within about 10% of the actual measurement – this is particularly the case with longer measurements.  It is pretty scary about how much detail you can glean from these satellite images.

Using Google Earth to work out the layout of the property

One of the challenges with purchasing Hagg Leys Farm is that we do not have any property details.  We bought the property before the details had been produced and once the property had been sold, there was no interest in producing these.  So we are having problems answering basic questions such as “how many sq ft is the property?”, “How big is the garden?” etc.
As it turns out, the square footage is an important factor in estimating a number of the basic costs so it is important to be able to get an estimate of this, no matter how rough.  It occurred to me that Google Earth might be a good option here.  I zoomed in on the property as much as I could and grabbed the bitmap (using the snipping tool in Windows 7).  I then pasted this into PowerPoint and drew around the outline of the buildings including other features such as the access road and outbuildings.  You can then remove the underlining satellite image to reveal the outline of the property plan.
Two important things to remember.  Firstly, if you shrink the bitmap, make sure that you keep the proportions the same.  Secondly, when you grab the bitmap make sure that you include the scale.  If you do this, you should be able to mention the outline of the buildings.  Using this approach, I managed to estimate that the square footage of the existing building is around 2700 sq feet (excluding the unconverted barn). I could also start to building some outline designs for the renovation as well as calculating the potential increase in square footage.  I used this to provide some illustrations to the architect and it turned to be a really useful process.

Well, I am glad we shared our ideas first!

Because if we hadn’t, I think the architect would just have thought we had copied his!

We visited one of their latest projects – a renovation project that is currently up for sale.  There were so many similarities with what we want to do, it was spooky.  The bright modern interior inside a period shell, the open planning living that flows from room to room, the master bedroom that is separate from the guest bedrooms etc.

You can see the property here including interior photos and floor plans.

The property is around 2,200 sq ft so probably slightly smaller than our intended renovation.  This fact alone has us wondering about whether the overall size of our renovation is too big.  But it is still early days.

In the afternoon, we had a look at another property.  Different location. New build, rather than renovation and a lot bigger. You can see more of this property here.  Not really our sort of thing, but interesting from a design point of view, if nothing else.

First meeting with the architect

I have never employed an architect before, so this is going to be a bit of a voyage of discovery.  However, as with everything these days, a quick search on Google reveals some likely candidates.

Just looking at the architects websites, you are see that some architects specialise either in new build or major on commercial projects.  Probably none of these are going to be appropriate to the renovation of a 18th century farmhouse!  We might be wrong in doing our initial selection this way, but it does underline how important getting your website is if you are an architect!

We came across one architecture practice that we liked.  We had also heard good things about them locally.  They are also based not far away which also helps.  ONE17DESIGN (http://www.one17design.com) are based in Armitage Bridge about 5 miles away from the new house.

We met with Mark Lee from ONE17DESIGN on a rather wet Friday morning and took him through our ideas. We were due to meet at the property, but the rain was torrential.  From the ideas that we had pulled together – overlays on top of bitmaps from Google Earth – Mark seemed to understand what we were looking for.  After chatting for an hour, the raining had subsided enough for us to venture out and walk around the property.  This seemed to confirm Mark’s suspicions that what we want to do (including changing the position of the access road) was all very doable.

Mark suggested that we had a look at a couple of properties that he had just finished working on…..we arranged to view them the following day.

The way we live now

One of the things that has struck me when we were househunting is how much our lifestyles have changed over the years and how much this impacts the houses that we build.

You only need to look at large formal Georgian homes to realise that (while they are gorgeous properties) that they really don’t reflect the way we live today. Too big.  Too formal.  Drafty and expensive to heat. This ultimately affects the market for the property and it’s value – the market in our part of the UK already has it’s fair share on £1M properties that have been on the market for over 12 months and are struggling to find new owners.  On a number of occasions, I just got the feeling that the people trying to sell the protperties were trapped in their own homes.

So when I read that the RIBA had commissioned a report from MORI (yes, the survey folks) on looking at the way we live today and what that means for the homes that we should be building and buying, I was intrigued. 

You will find the report here: http://www.architecture.com/Files/RIBAHoldings/PolicyAndInternationalRelations/HomeWise/ThewaywelivenowRIBAIpsosMORIMay2012.pdf if you want to read it in full.  You can download it for free.

The major things (and there were a lot of minor ones too) that I took away from the report were:

  • Large open living spaces with high ceilings and large windows with natural light are seen as being very desirable;
  • Space for private time away from other members of the household and dedicated space for a home office was seen as being desirable.
  • Private outdoor space for socialising and for childsafe playspace;
  • Storage is seen as very important: both for short term storage (where do you put the vacuum cleaner or the recycling bin?) as well as long term storage (where do you store Grandad’s war medals or the family photo albums?). If you are going for open plan living, make sure that there is enough storage space to be able to put things away otherwise it will look messy;
  • Dedicated space for domestic tasks such as washing and drying clothes was seens as being important.

Surprisingly, a lot of the design ideas that we have for the new property ae consistent with the findings in the report.  Strange, because I thought we were unique!