Retaining walls, cameras and building regulations

Most of the retaining wall (and me digging a hole!)

It’s been a bit more than a month since we last posted, and a lot of that time has been taken up by architectural stuff – tweaking door placements, finishing off all the drawings and bringing together the work done by our structural engineer with the SAP (energy efficiency) calculations ready to submit to building control.

In the meantime, our groundworker has been doing his part to keep the build going by taking our ground levels down to the final finished floor levels on our plans. The level of the mud in the photo is pretty much the level the ground floor of the house will be at.

In our back garden, we’ve opted for split-levels, mostly to save on extra soil digging but also to provide some more interest. However, this does mean having a retaining wall to stop the back part of the garden collapsing. The photo shows most of the wall up (and since then, the rest has been finished off). We haven’t decided yet what the finish on the wall will be.

This is pretty much the limit of work that can be done before our architectural drawings are passed by building control and our timber frame provider has calculated what they need in terms of foundations (validating and tweaking the work done by our structural engineer).

Everything has been submitted to building control and we’re now waiting on their approval.

Me holding up a very long pole while the concrete sets!

While all of this is happening, we’ve decided it would be a fun idea to be able to keep an eye on build progress from afar as well as taking snapshots for posterity.

Our next door neighbours have set up a pole-mounted camera for this and we decided to do something similar. So last weekend, we went to the site and got hold of a few external timbers, some screws and “postcrete” (quick-setting concrete pre-mix for these situations).

After a bit of DIY-ing, we then mounted a battery-powered external camera and a solar panel to keep it charged, and then lifted the whole thing into a hole we dug, filled it with water and postcrete and waited!

For those of you interested in this setup, it consists of four 2×3 external timbers, each about 4 metres in length. One is sandwiched between another two with about half of the length overlapping, to give an overall height of around 6 metres. The final piece is cut to fill the gap between the outer two timbers in the lower half of the contraption. The off-cut from this can then be used to form a tripod-like support for extra strength. The whole thing stands in a hole around 1 metre deep filled half-way with water and then a bag and a half of postcrete.

Once this had set (around 10-15 minutes), we then surrounded it with stones, an earth mound and tripod-like supports on two sides. It leans to one side and sways a bit in the bracing coastal wind but so far, so good!

The camera is a Reolink Go paired with a Reolink solar panel. Due to there being no electricity or wifi on site, the camera has a battery that is charged by the solar panel. It also has a SIM card using Vodafone’s V-SIM service which charges a small monthly flat-fee for unlimited data, specifically for this sort of device. We use the Reolink app to watch the camera and take snaps, and I’m currently investigating how to automate the snapshot process so we can create a time-lapse video at the end.

Topsoil away!

Our site with the topsoil stripped ready for surveys

Work started in earnest this week on site! Finally after many months of phone calls, paperwork and emails, physical work has started with the stripping of the topsoil.

Part of the site preparation involves bringing the soil level down to where the final foundations and house will be built. The first part of this process is to strip the topsoil, which is the top 30cm or so. This then allows various surveys to take place before the rest of the soil is removed down to the final level.

The surveys we’ll be having include an archaeology survey to make sure there aren’t any relics on our site that need to be saved, and a mining survey to make sure there aren’t any seams or mine shafts that will affect our foundations.

At the same time, we’ve been working to get electricity onto the site ready for all the tools and machinery – the trenches are dug and the cable is in.

Hopefully the building regs drawings will be ready soon and we can get those approved and move onto the first real part of the house – the foundations!

Hello Seaglass

Architect’s 3D rendering of the finished house

Welcome to our blog! We’re Ruben and Joanna and we’re in the process of building our new house, Seaglass, in Carbis Bay, Cornwall.

We’ve started this blog to post updates on our progress, to hopefully inspire others like us to take up their own self-build challenge.

We’ll write posts regularly, each one with a photo or render, and hopefully you’ll come on a journey with us from a muddy field to a finished house.

In the meantime, feel free to take a look around the site where we’ll also write about the companies we’re using and anything else we think is generally useful. We’re also more than happy to answer questions (as far as we can) about what we’re doing and how.