Friday, 14 December 2018

Slates & Clay

We are still waiting for the builders to come and resolve some of the outstanding items on the 'To Do' list.  This includes the front door which is on a 3-month delivery and is now overdue.  To keep ourselves sane, work has shifted to the outside and in particular, the garden.
As we mentioned in the last entry, we decided that the amount of planting and work required in the garden would mean that we would be fully occupied there until well into next year.  So we have merged the various designs we had produced and sprinkled on a little of our own ideas and got someone else to do most of it!
The one thing that we have always said that we would do is replace the hedging that was removed to allow access for the house to be built.  The hedging arrived last week and we had run out of excuses for not doing it, so last weekend, we bit the bullet and got on with it.
Mixed hedging delivered
Future hedge location
We spent a happy time (!) outside in the occasional shower digging very thick clay to make trenches to plant hedging and bulbs in.  About 90 hedging plants arrived last week and were basically sticks with some roots at one end.  Each one had to be soaked in water and then lovingly basted in some sort of rooting compound before being artfully positioned in a precision-dug trench to just the perfect depth before being covered over with more clay soil.  This was a lot harder than it seemed as the heavy clay we have sticks to absolutely everything: clothes; shoes; spades; forks.  This increases the weight of every item two fold. 
The day before we started planting the hedge, the landscape gardener appeared with what seems like hundreds of plants and distributed them to the appropriate locations around the garden ready for the next tier of gardeners to plant during the following week.  This gave us a good idea of what was going where but did make hedge planting something of an obstacle course.  We were afraid to move plants out of the way as we didn't trust ourselves to put them back in the same place.  Digging then became some a contortionist's exercise.  Despite all this, by the end of the weekend, nearly all the hedging is planted.  This just left the rest of the garden!
Delivery of some the garden plants
Plants in position
New hedging in situ
More hedging
Fortunately on Monday morning one of two gardeners appeared to start planting the actual garden.  Within an hour he was complaining about how hard the clay was to work with.  Copious amounts of tea and mince pies seemed to be the only way to placate him.  On Tuesday and for part of Wednesday he was joined by a second gardener resulting in a trip to the shops for more tea and mince pies.  The main gardener estimated that planting would take 2 men 2 days.  We have already used more than that and they are back for another day each next week.  A further gardener will then appear to weed and lay the new lawn.  It's a good job that it's a fixed price contract!


Some plants planted
More plants planted (in the frost)
When you build a house it is inevitable that some bits will be left over.  We covered the saga of the surplus bricks in a previous blog (14th September), but we also found ourselves with a spare heated towel-rail (as a result of us changing our mind), and a crate of Welsh Slate.  Ebay came to the rescue and the the towel-rail was sold and collected yesterday.  The slate however is another story.  We felt we did rather well on ebay and got a reasonable price for the 300 slates.  It was sold on the basis of collection-only as postage could be a tad expensive.  We had expected the successful bidder to be local.  I suppose on the global scale Durham could be regarded as local, but this was going to present the buyer with a challenge to collect them.  We had carefully squirrelled the slates out of the way in the garage.  This was not easy and involved emptying all the slates out of the crate and stacking them somewhere else whilst the empty crate is relocated.  The crate was then refilled from the temporary stacks.  We recognised that whoever collected them would need them to be a little more accessible so over the weekend we again repeated the process to move the slates outside.  This was acceptable to the buyer (photos were sent to him) who then commissioned a palette company to collect them.  However, when they turned up it seems that it was not acceptable to them.  We had all expected a lorry to appear with a hiab crane on the back and lift them up.  Apparently this company doesn't use hiabs, preferring instead to use a small palette truck to wheel palettes on to a tail lift and hoist them on to the lorry that way.  The collection driver had already had a bad morning (I overheard him talking to one of our gardeners beforehand) and he decreed that the the crate was not on the 'right sort of palette'; it was not on the road; and anyway his palette truck could not run over gravel.  So he went away again, much to the buyer's annoyance.  It seems that we have now reached a compromise which involves moving the crate to the edge of the road.  The problem is that I rather did my back in moving the slates the first (or was it the second) time, so I am reluctant to move them again until it has recovered.  We have now agreed on Thursday next week which means that some time early next week we will to unpack the slates and stack them somewhere, move the empty crate 4-feet, and then repack it.  We are not looking forward to this!
Crate of Welsh Slate
Next week the builders have 'promised' to get 'Building Control' here to complete the sign-off of the house.  This has been delayed from this week apparently due to a broken down car.  I wonder what the next excuse will be?

It is now the run up to Christmas and the many many crates of decorations which have followed us around the village before being corralled in the garage have been opened, examined, and the best (well, meets the strict colour criteria apparently) decorations taken out for display in the new house.  Considering the number of decorations we actually have, I am really very surprised that so few have been put up.  However, amongst those few are three trees.  A small one on the boat, a medium one in the lounge, and a large one on the terrace outside the lounge.  One of our friends (you know who you are) has previously stated that they will know when we have finally settled in when the Christmas tree appears on the terrace.  So it looks like we've arrived then!

One of the 3 trees


Chilly evening in Cropredy


Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Erratic Snagging List

As the builders were 'finishing' and moving out of our house, we started to use a snagging list to keep tabs on what needed doing.  The list is actually split into two parts.  Part one deals with all those things which we think need doing before we part with the penultimate payment.  Part two deals with other snags which develop whilst we are living in the house.  The final payment is due after 12 months on the assumption that all the snags have been dealt with.

The builders do make occasional visits to the house and things do get crossed off both lists, but every so often we find something else which is then added to the lists, so its size does increase for a while, and then following visits from the 'trades' shrinks back a bit.  Overall though, the trend does seem to be downwards.

Over the last couple of weeks we have had 6 trades on site: builders; joiners; window fitters; stove fitters; garage door fitters; and renewables installer.

The builders themselves sent someone to touch up and repaint  some of the marks and minor cracks.  Larger cracks will be addressed in a couple of months when the house has finished 'settling'.  Fortunately, none of the cracks are structural!

The joiners returned to finally fit the door latch to the cloakroom door.  This latch was sacrificed to the bedroom door after it failed the first time.  They also fitted a new, different latch to the bedroom door following its second failure!  The new latches are very similar and slightly cheaper, but seem more robust.  If all goes well with the new version, and the supplier finally admits that the original latches are unsuitable, all the latches will be changed to the new type.

The windows company returned to remove a faulty window (the integral blind stopped working) and fitting a temporary (no integral blind) window whilst it is repaired.  This is due to be refitted in 'a week or two'.


One 'blinded' window, one temporarily 'unblinded'

The missing up-stand behind the stove was fitted.  This is made up of the same material as the hearth, and although it doesn't get hot around the back of the stove, we didn't think that putting skirting board that close was a good idea.  We tried the stove for the first time last weekend, and we are really pleased with it.

 
Stove hearth sporting the new up-stand behind
The garage door fitters returned last week to investigate why the garage door occasionally jams.  It did this quite a bit in the summer when the door got hot and expanded.  They thought that they had fixed it, but it has jammed a couple of times since.  Unfortunately, they could find nothing wrong, and we were asked to get them back when it does it again.  They suggested that we took a video of it to show them.  Since it only jams very occasionally, we do not propose to video the door every time it opens or closes!  The plan now is to wait until the Spring in the hope that the jamming becomes more predictable.

The 'renewables' have finally been commissioned.  This seemed to involve sticking warning labels on most of the equipment, and fitting a remote monitor to the heating system.  We can now monitor the amount of power consumed by the heating system as well as monitoring and changing the temperature of each room, from our PCs and mobile phones.  We can also now remotely monitor how much power the solar panels are generating.
Fully labelled solar power meter
More labels in the airing cupboard
More meters in the airing cupboard
...and more labels under the stairs!

There is still a lot of paperwork to be raised, mainly by the installer.  We are entitled to claim some money back from the government (the Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI) for the installation and operation of an efficient 'Air-sourced Heat Pump' heating system for the next 7 years.  Since we have solar panels, we are also entitled to the 'Feed in Tariff' which gives us some money back for generating electricity.  Applications to both of these schemes seems to require a significant amount of work and explains the large number of meters needed in the airing cupboard.  We have made a start on our application, but until we get the next tome of paperwork from the installer, we cannot complete the process and start to get some money back.  He has promised delivery of everything we need next week.  However he does not have an exemplary record in meeting deadlines, so we'll see.

The 'Blinds' company returned last week to fit the final blind over the staircase.  It seems that the risk assessment has finally been completed and the fitter arrived with his ladder and just got on with it.  This has added yet another remote control to the many already acquired.  Fortunately, in keeping with the heating, solar and CCTV systems, they can all be controlled from a PC or mobile phone.

The garden is making slow progress.  In the end, we gave in and let two different people have a go at designing it.  We like to think that we have taken the best bits from both plans to come up with something which should have some colour throughout the year.  Hopefully the lawn will be laid in the next couple of weeks.  Now that most of the leaves have now come off the trees we were finally able to order our hedging.  The only problem is that unsurprisingly, the hedging company is now rather busy and delivery of our hedging has been delayed until the middle of next week.

At some point during the week one of us (I'll let you guess), managed to accidentally switch off the freezer.  Of course, we didn't notice for a couple of days when the pool of water on the kitchen floor finally gave it away!  We did manage to salvage most of the contents, but since we cannot refreeze much of it, we have been trying to eat what we can over the last few days.  Those things which we really weren't going to manage were converted into copious amounts of soup.  We won't be buying any more soup this winter!

We now have our house signs up.  This means that we have removed the laminate with the house name printed on it which has been wedged behind the mailbox for the last 4 months! 


Sign on the Garage

Sign in the Porch



Friday, 9 November 2018

Holiday is over

Having returned from a well earned (at least in our opinion) break of 3 weeks, we arrived back to see if any further work has been done.  We did not allow inside access to the builders whilst we were away, so they were restricted to external works only.  Since there were several outstanding items on the 'External To Do' list, there was plenty for them to do.  The difficulty now is that they have moved everything off site (at last) and have basically moved on to pastures new and it is difficult to get them back!  Only the lack of payment seems to keep them interested!

It was dark when we returned home, so a look around the exterior would have to wait until the following morning.

Several months ago, when the garage walls were built, the builders seemed to have forgotten to put a brick near the top of the side facing the road.  On investigation, it seems that they had decided that the building needed an engraved brick with the date on it, as this would match a similar brick on the 1993 house nearby.  So for several weeks, we have been asking when they would fit our missing brick and the first thing we saw on our morning external tour of the house was that the wall was finally completed in 2018.

Complete brickwork at last
Our tour continued with the external plumbing to the rainwater harvester system which all seems to have been properly completed.  The tour then moved on to the garden where it was revealed that the paving slabs 'seemed' to have been cleaned.  The other thing that was noticeable (and it is hard to blame the builders for this) is that garden has sprouted all sorts of weeds in our absence.  In the few places where weeds had not grown, leaves from our weeping willow had made a home.
Our 'lawn'
Our tour of the estate seemed to indicate that all was well with the external works, but we noticed that as the paving dried out, cleaning and brush marks started to appear on the slabs.  Another item for the snagging list!


Strange patterns on the paving
Even though we have post-and-wire fence, it is a condition of planning that we need to augment this with hedging using plants found locally.  This is largely hawthorn, so a few days after our return, we set off back to the local nursery specialising in hedging.  We had been turned away from the nursery a few weeks ago as it was 'too early' and the hedging would not be available to buy until November..  When we turned up earlier this week, it seems that this Autumn has been too mild, and they are still not available.  So we left with the instruction that we should return in another two weeks time.

In the meantime, we have been wondering what to do about the lawn and the garden area.  We have missed the boat regarding seeding a new lawn and therefore must consider turf.  Two companies are looking at this for us, together with a planting scheme for the main garden area.  This is the right time of year to plant bulbs and Lesley is keen to do this.  My father has generously provided us with a load of crocus bulbs which are destined to go into the roadside verge with the hedging (when we can get it!).

The one area which has had no attention is the canal-side terrace which is at a lower level than the main garden.  We need to cross this area to get between the house and the boat.  It consists of thick clay which sticks to everything.  Our intention is to leave this area 'au natural', and allow it to develop its own plants.  Since it is canalside, it needs to be tolerant of ducks.  To give it a bit of a chance, we hired a rotavator to break up the soil and spend a happy couple of mornings raking in grass seed.  It is a little late in the season for seed, and I'm sure that the birds will love it, but we thought we'd give it a try.  It's either that, or live with a mud bath until next summer.
Rotavator, raking and seeding

Rotavated, raked and seeded
Regarding the inside of the house, then nothing was undertaken whilst we were away, so we are now chasing for them to finish things so that we can at least get the building signed off by Building Control.

Our kitchen was not fitted by our builders, but by a separate company.  The builders added oak skirting board as they have to the rest of the house, but we were never entirely happy that it went very well with the grey kitchen woodwork.  This week, the kitchen company returned to carry out some remedial work on the flooring and to replace all the skirting boards with the same wood as used for the kitchen plinths.  We are very pleased with the results.

A joiner has been to look at the creaking steps in the staircase so hopefully it will be possible to get up and down stairs without waking anyone else up.  The joiner was also asked to assess the internal door latches we have fitted to see if the 2 failures we have had are due to defective installation.  His company wasn't involved in the fitting of the doors, so he was asked as an independent expert.  His verdict was that there was nothing wrong with the installation, and it appears to be the latches themselves that are at fault.  The builders are therefore looking for a more reliable alternative which they will come and fit.  Hopefully before another one fails.  Watch this space!

Bedroom door with latch (and handles) removed
Finally, I forgot to mention that my broadband was sorted out on the day before we went away on holiday.  It was down to me to keep an eye on the Openreach website and inform my 'case manager' when the status changed from 'may be available' to 'available'.  I noticed the change in status about 10 days earlier and informed the case manager.  He then set the wheels in motion.  This time BT and Openreach did everything they said that they would do when they said they would do it.  In the space of an hour, my broadband speed changed from below 10Mbps to over 70Mbps.  It only took 3 months to sort out!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Loose ends

Things are gradually starting to come together with the house.  We have now been in the house for 2 months, initially camping in it, but now it is more like a home.  We even had a house-warming party last weekend for over 20 of our local neighbours and friends.  There are still things to do, which require the builders to come and finish various things.  The builders are now working elsewhere and getting them to come back and finish what they started has become something of a challenge.  Despite this, the list of jobs remaining is gradually reducing in size, even if the snagging list is gradually increasing!

The garden needs some attention!  Our lawn 'expert' has still not turned up, so we will probably bite the bullet and seed the lawn area ourselves.  We currently have a thin post and wire fence marking the boundary of the property.  Part of our planning conditions is that we also have to plant a hedge.  Off we went to a nursery to enquire about the purchase of about 12 metres-worth of hawthorn (the local hedge) where we were told to come back in a month's time.  Apparently the leaves should be off the trees before you plant hedges.  Another lesson learnt!
Waiting for grass seed
Waiting for hedging
We have now emptied all of our respective neighbours garages and stables of all of our belongings and re-assembled everything in our own garage.  Again, more trips to the tip were involved to dispose of items which had not survived 2 houses moves in the same number of years as well as the huge amount of packaging material involved.  Although the builders still need to do a small amount of work in the garage, we have been able to sort things and find a home for nearly everything. There is even room to put a car in. 

This car has never spent the night in a garage before!

Inside the house, the joiners finally graced us with their presence last week and were able to finish the skirting and architrave in the hallway and cloakroom.  This meant that the carpet fitters could come this week and fit the remainder of the carpet.  It was a shame that this couldn't be done before last weekend's housewarming though.


Shortly after we moved in, I found myself locked in our bedroom after the door latch failed.  Fortunately, the joiners were on site and they had to climb up a ladder and through a window with their tools to get the door open, and even then the lock had to smashed.  The latches were supposed to be of good quality and they were expensive, so the suppliers were surprised and put it down to a one-off incident. Can you see where this is going?  Yesterday morning I was woken up by Lesley informing me that we have a problem.  It seems that the replacement latch had again failed and we were locked in the bedroom again.  This time though it was 6am and our mobile phones were downstairs.  We have a landline in the bedroom, but not many of our contacts are stored on it (another lesson learnt).  This time the failure was slightly different and with the patient use of a nail scissors (the only tool available in the bedroom!), I was able to move the latch in a little at a time until we could just open the door.  Needless to say, the latch assembly was then rapidly removed from the door to prevent this happening again.  The builders were informed, who again contacted the supplier.  The supplier now wants to come and look at the door and the latch as they are adamant that this should not happen and it must be an installation problem.  However, I am struggling to see how this could be the case.  We'll find out more when they can 'spare someone' to visit us.
We have now had the blinds fitted in our bedroom which means that Lesley is able to sleep without the moonlight keeping her awake.  However, it does mean yet another remote control, although these blinds can be controlled by a timer, or from our phones as well.  Although all the blinds should have been fitted earlier this week, the installer would not install the upper blind on the staircase because apparently it is too high up and a risk assessment needs to be performed before the blind can be fitted!

Just to finish off, autumn is really starting to take hold here and we have notice the leaves floating passed on the canal, but the colours in the sunshine have been amazing so far.

Blue sky over Cropredy
 
Autumn colours


















Friday, 28 September 2018

Almost Done

The outside is almost done.  We still have a few things to be completed inside and yet again, we are waiting for the joiners to grace us with their presence to finish off the skirting and architrave in the hall and cloakroom.  When that is done. we can have the rest of the downstairs carpets fitted.  Here are a few photos of the outside.














We had break from the building site last week.  We had intended to take our boat out for 3 weeks, but it became clear that we couldn't spare 3 weeks, so 3 weeks became 2.  That also became something of a challenge, so 2 weeks finally became 10 days.  We had time to take 'Charlie Mo' down to Oxford and then, for a change, go up the Thames to the head of navigation near Lechlade.  Although we didn't have a lot of rain, we did have a lot of wind and with the Thames being so open, this did mean that occasionally we would have to seek shelter at one of the few mooring sites.  Fortunately most of these sites tend to be near at least one hostelry.  We even moored at the end of a pub garden for two nights in Lechlade!







Friday, 14 September 2018

Broken promises

It's been an erratic week in terms of the house build, with some days having large complement of trades on site, but with one day where only the site manager turned up (and even he went home in disgust)!  It seems that the construction industry is built (sorry for the pun) upon broken promises and unreliability.  Having said that, the 'things to do' list to complete the build is getting shorter.  Even if we do think of things to add to it occasionally, many more things have been crossed off as completed.

The garden is complete.  It 'just' needs a lawn and plants adding to it.  In true builder's fashion, the promised lawn contractor didn't turn up this week either!  Much of the builders rubbish has now been removed.  This was necessary as most of it was on the area designated as driveway and the builders wanted to get on with laying that.  The two unused palettes of bricks were meant to be collected by the supplier (no refund for them, but they would take them back free-of-charge) some weeks ago but they kept on failing to collect them.  They were told that they had until last week to remove them, or they would go with the rubbish to landfill.  A grab-lorry was booked by the builders and yesterday it took the rubbish and the bricks away.  This seems like a real waste, but it is apparently very common in the building industry.  It was inevitable that today, the brick supplier turned up to take the palettes of bricks away.  He didn't stay long!

With the rubbish and bricks removed, or at least relocated elsewhere on the site, the builders set about grading the driveway and putting the foundation stone on it.  We are informed that the official name of this foundation stone is 'MOT type 1'.  This will be covered with decorative gravel hopefully some time next week.  We originally wanted a resin-bonded porous drive, but were advised that we need to wait 12 months to allow the ground to settle first.  In order to avoid the potential for water from the road running into our driveway, we are building a 'hump' out of granite sets.  These will be set into concrete early next week and in order to let the concrete set hard, we won't be able to drive over it for another week.  Fortunately, our long-suffering neighbour is happy to let us leave our car in her large parking area.


Pile of 'MOT-1'

Spread out and compacted

Almost ready for the gravel on top
The paving around the house is now complete and has all been grouted.  It still needs an acid clean to tidy up the edges of the slabs but we are really pleased with it.  For all the problems we have with unreliability and organisation, our builders are capable of doing a good job.

We're not sure if it is a good or bad omen but we had a visit from a pair of swans this week.  It is the first time that we have seen an avian black swan (as opposed to a pub or film!).


Unusual wildlife

Our electrician has not been here as much as we'd like this week, but he has finished the wiring in the garage as well as a lot of smaller jobs in the house.  One of these smaller jobs was to wire up the hot water return pump.  We have never had one of these before and we are really surprised at what a difference it makes.  Our house is fitted with a sort of ring main for hot water.  This small pump continuously pushes hot water around the system which means that when you turn any hot tap on, you get hot water almost instantly and don't have to wait for the hot water to reach you down a long, cold pipe.  So for the cost of running a low power pump, we are saving quite a lot of water.  Whilst on the subject of plumbing, although we have had a toilet in our cloakroom since me moved it, it was finally connected today.

The area around the front door has also progressed this week.  Our feature larch pole has been installed and all the larch cladding in the ceiling completed.  All that is needed now is the fascia boarding and guttering.


Porch area: Work in progress

Almost complete