The bad with the good

When you’re writing a blog about a house build, it’s easy to only write about the good things and everything that’s going well with the process.

In that vein, this post is about something that went wrong in our build.

Cut underfloor heating pipes, and some extra digging to assist with re-connecting them

Our entrance has floor to ceiling glazing, and we were told that our floor screed started too far forward, stopping the bottom section from going in. The solution was to cut back the screed to the back edge of the steel beam that the glazing sits in.

However, what we hadn’t accounted for was the position of the underfloor heating pipes. Inevitably, this led to some of those pipe loops being cut as part of the cutting of the screed.

Luckily, this is not the first time that something like this has happened in the world, and our plumber was able to repair the loops with couplings, taking the opportunity to reduce them back a little so they don’t sit under the glazing. This of course meant we needed to dig out some more screed very carefully to allow enough room for this work to happen.

With a few bags of structural grout (a strong cement mix) we re-filled everything that was dug out after the plumber had done his job. Now, the cut out section is at a lower level to accommodate the glazing, and the extra dug-out parts are level again. We used some Ardex P51 primer around the edges of the existing liquid screed to ensure it bonds properly with the new structural grout.

We’re now back to where we were before this incident, but suffice to say there will always be parts of a build where you wonder whether things could get worse!

Our first window is in!

The view from a first floor window

They always say that getting your windows installed is a major milestone, and it definitely feels like we’ve been waiting our fair share of time!

Luckily, today (also my birthday) saw the first of our windows installed. After weeks of having to mop up puddles and leaks across the house, it is a relief to see them close all the holes in the house.

It’ll take a couple of days to install all the windows, but the doors will be a little longer as well as our fabled roof light (the subject of a whole post by itself).

Insulation all the way

Acoustic insulation and resilient bars on the ground floor ceiling

While our builders have been busy outside finishing off the block work, our carpenter from Maple Leaf Carpentry and Construction has been busy inside with all sorts of first-fix carpentry work.

Alongside the more usual noggins and framing work, he’s also been putting up some acoustic insulation in the ground floor ceiling. As well as keeping in the warmth, this should also reduce the amount of floor noise from above.

To further reduce this noise, we’re also adding resilient bars. These are metal bars that are screwed in on one side and loose on the other. The plasterboard for the ceiling is attached to these bars, and so is actually “floating” and this also reduces noise transfer.

Block work progressing well

External block work on the left-hand side of the house

For the last four week or so, while we’ve been blogging about what’s happening inside the house, a team have been working outside laying our block external wall.

This wall surrounds the timber frame and protects it as well as providing a base for rendering and cladding.

It’s been progressing well and has nearly reached the top of the first floor windows. This is good news since the windows are currently scheduled for installation starting next week!

Seamless guttering

Aluminium seamless guttering at the back of the house

While we wait for the roof at the front of the house to be completed (pending installation of the skylight), the roof at the back is complete, and we took the opportunity a few days ago to have the guttering installed while the scaffolding is still at the correct height.

We opted for an aluminium “ogee”-style seamless gutter in the same colour as the roof (anthracite). The “ogee”-style simply means that the gutter has a distinctive S-shaped profile at the front to add some detail.

While guttering can be purchased in lengths and attached, we went with a seamless version where the entire length of the gutter is extruded on-site and installed as one piece. This gives both a sharp finish with no joins, and also reduces the chances of leaks through these joins later on.

Once the block work and rendering is complete, we’ll be having square-profile downpipes installed to complement the gutters.

Let there be light

The beginnings of cabling and piping

In addition to our MVHR, there’s also been a lot of work on electical cabling.

Mark Warden from MW Property Solutions started work on the first fix electrics which includes running cabling for all the lights and power sockets, as well as network cabling for the places where we need to plug in devices to access the internet.

It’s not visible in this photo but it’s surprising just how much cabling goes into a new house. Maybe I’ll get a photo of the garage where it all leads and where it currently looks like a telephone exchange!

Adding in our ventilation

MVHR duct in the dining room ceiling

If you’re building a house these days, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be well insulated and pretty airtight.

What this means in practice is that you generally need some way of getting stale air out and fresh air in. One way is using a combination of trickle vents above windows and extractor fans in bathrooms, but a newer way is adding an MVHR (mechanical ventilation and heat recovery) system.

This system has a combination of input and output points around the house, connected by ducting to a central unit. Input points extract air out of rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms, while output points force fresh new air into rooms such as bedrooms and other living areas.

The heat recovery part retains the heat inside the house by extracting it from the stale air and using it to heat the fresh air as it comes in. This part can be bypassed in summer when the fresh air is already warm.

We’re now in the process of having the ducting fitted, which is the first service generally to be fitting inside the ceiling, followed by water pipes and electric cables. The ducting is a new, flat style which leaves more room for other services and insulation, and each input/output point has a short, flexible foil section eventually leading to a discreet vent in the finished ceiling.

Insulating the loft

PIR insulation panels installed in the first floor ceiling

Our house has been designed with the “cold roof” – that is, the loft space is intended to not be heated and be used as a storage space rather than a heated area that could be a room.

Since it’s a “cold roof”, the part we need to insulate is its floor (or the first floor ceiling) so we can keep the heat inside the main house and out of the loft. In many existing houses, this would be done using rolls of mineral wool or maybe blown insulation.

However, since we have a new build in quite an exposed area, we need to go one step further to ensure we have an energy efficient house that also has a usable loft space – that means installting rigid insulation panels (also known as PIR). These panels are roughly twice as efficient as mineral wool, and so you only need half the thickness for the same effect.

In our case, our ceiling joists are 100mm thick, so we started off with 100mm thick insulation panels, cut to fit between the joists. The carpenter had already installed ceiling battens to fit the plasterboard on to, which keep the insulation in place, but also make it a lot harder to get it in place to start with (especially when combined with timbers running across the top of the joists which act to “sandwich” the insulation in between)!

At this point, we’ve stopped to allow the plumbers to install our MVHR system (which will be running partially in the loft). After this, we will overlay 100mm of mineral wool on top. This will allow the insulation to run over and around the MVHR ducts as well as in all the intricate gaps between and around the roof trusses. Once this is then boarded over to provide a stable platform, we’ll have our finished loft space.