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Getting plastered and other inside jobs
Our Grand Design is almost complete and we think Kevin McCloud would have been quite impressed. Not quite on time or on budget, but fulfilling all our hopes and plans, and all in all, not too stressful an experience.
The ground source heat pump is performing well. We need to monitor the running costs before we can say how economical it is to run. If we manage to generate our own electricity next year we should be self sufficient for space heating.
In the three months since we have been living in the barn the wood burning stove have provided almost all our hot water - we have only had to use the immersion a couple of times.
Next year we will start on the vegetable garden and start to get the rest of the land under control ...
The garage shell had been completed last summer, but until doors were fitted to the two end sections it couldn't be used to store anything of value, so our first job for 2011 became the completion of the garage building.
We had permission from the planning officer to clad the back and sides in corrugated iron - to make the garage look as “agricultural” as possible.
I hadn't realised how hard this stuff was to cut, and without a grinder it would have been impossible. It must be quite different to the corrugated roofing in NZ where we had cut it with a pair of snips.
Cladding the back of the garage took over a day, and the two ends about a day each - so it was a bigger job than we had anticipated, but great to see some progress once again.
The front of the garage has been clad in waney edged oak which will be left to go grey with age, and will match the porch and snug on the main barn.
The final tasks were to construct some double doors out of some scaffold planks and paint the inside. Painting the concrete blocks using a roller wasn't very successful so I bought a paint spray to get an even finish. Still not perfect but makes the inside bright and clean.
It was a long cold winter. The snow and ice meant very few trips to the new barn, but the good news was that even in the midst of the cold spell the barn always felt warm and dry - thanks to the insulation and the Velfac windows.
As Spring approached we started spending weekends working on the new garage block, and then the first fix plumbing and electrical systems.
Our friendly farmer came up with a good use for the piles of soil and rubble that have blocked our view to the hills since last Autumn. The spoil has been used to fill some ditches along the driveway and in a couple of adjoining fields, so with some large pipes to take away the surface water we can now start to visualise the lay of the land.
A rather delicate job was to make a hole through the old stone wall for the flue for the wood burning stove.
The old wall had already suffered a collapse when the size of the doorway was increased, but this time there was not a problem. The stove will help heat the hot water in the winter months (while the solar panels are less effective).
Once the basic pipework had been laid to bathrooms, kitchens and manifolds - a 100cm (4 inches) of insulation was laid. This was a busy time as we had plumbers during the day, and laid the insulation during the evening.
The UFH pipes are clipped onto a track ready for the screed to be poured.
The was 400 metres of pipework to be laid in the ground at over a metre deep. It is amazing how much area this all takes and our tench snakes around the land like a giant anaconda.
Brinley, our JCB driver managed, to dig the trench exactly 400m long, there was not even half a metre of spare pipe at the manifold end.
The screed floor takes one day for about 5 specialist guys. And once the floor has been raised to almost the final finished floor level each room suddenly has sensible proportions.
The screed needs a few days to harden, and then we have our old team of Polish boys back to start on the ceiling and walls.
Our electrician is kept busy to stay ahead of the rendering team, and with power, lighting, security, phone, network, TV and audio cables to install there are wires everywhere..
All the wires radiate from the utility room which will be our control centre, so all timers and other controls will be in one place.
With plasterboard on the ceiling and some render on walls the barn suddenly starts to feel like home, and the barn always has a warm and fresh feel about it when we open the door.
We now have a few weeks with less happening while the Polish team take a holiday, and we start getting oak door frames and some more plumbing installed...
The walls are rendered and plastered by Shamek and Artur, our hard-working and professional Polish team. They start work at 7:30am and hardly stop until after 5pm. So room by room the house starts to really take shape.
The pace of the plastering pushed the electrical work along and it is quite a job ensuring that nothing gets missed.
Our carpenters install the oak frame between the porch and hall, and fit the oak door frames to the downstairs rooms.
The stud-work between the master bathroom and dressing area is also completed so the upstairs rooms are also taking shape.
The internal partition between the bathroom and dressing room is erected and the wood burning stove is installed in the snug.
Outside our huge pile of soil and "spoil" are cleared, and the whole area is levelled and landscaped. The grass seed is sown and the warm weather soon sees the first shoots coming through.
Now that the hill of soil has been cleared we can see the view again. And it is feels like another milestone has been reached.
In mid September we take a short break to a small village in the south west of France and make a trip to investigate some traditional “pigeonniers”...
We have planning permission for conversion of our small barn into a guest annexe, we have our own ideas of building a Le Pigeonnier. There are a number of UK examples which may give us some precedent, but will the planning department allow something that is unconventional? We shall see. (The answer was no)
The oak frames around the windows miraculously "lift" the external appearance of the barn. Lizzie says that the frames "put a smile on the face of the barn"
Upstairs the bath and shower are installed. Downstairs the guest bedroom, the shower room and the utility room are completed and we move in. We only have the bare essentials, but it is better than being in a caravan.
The ground floor will be covered in slate. We found that this is an excellent convector for underfloor heating and is easy to keep clean. But it involves a lot of work. First we have to carry the slate indoors, clean it and give it a coat of seal. Once the slate is laid it will have another coat of seal. After it has been grouted it will need to be cleaned again and have two coats of wax. But once this has done it will give years of maintenance free use.
The slate floor is finally finished and it all looks magnificent. At last the rooms have a feeling of being finished. We have undercoated the walls and given them their first coat of the Farrow and Ball finished colours. The second coat can wait until next year - when all the settling has finished.
Forty tons of type 1 sub base is spread across the entrance area and compressed with a whacker plate. This takes a couple of days, but the muddy expanse is transformed to a hard and level car parking amd turning area.
Late Autumn brings some beautiful clear sunny days and we explore some of the local walks. A short walk through Darlin Wood leads to St Cadoc church (Llangattock Vibon Avel). The square tower and parts of the church date back to the 14th century and it is the final resting place of members of the Rolls family, including Charles Rolls of Rolls Royce fame.
The waney edge cladding on the snug and porch bring the barn to life. From the garden the barn stands proud with its views over the Rolls of Monmouth to the Trellech Hills.
From the outside the barn is now looking finished. It has taken much longer to get to this stage, but our small team of builders, plus the joiner, plumber and electrician have done an excellent job, and we are delighted with the end result.
Upstairs we have laid the wide plank oak floor and treated it with wax-oil. At last we can move our bed and clothes upstairs and start putting our furniture in its proper place.
So we are in for Christmas and to celebrate we invite our new neighbours for a glass of Pimms Winter warmer and honey and mustard sausages on Boxing Day morning.
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