Nearly at wind and watertight…

SInce the steel beam was put back in place after the storm damage the joiners have been cracking on with the house at a great pace – despite the dismal driech November weather.  At least the lack of wind has allowed them to get the common rafters in place without them being blown off!


Most of the common rafters on

To make installing the valleys and the jacks (technical term for difficult looking rafters!) easier and to secure the common rafters, the joiners installed the first floor.  The joists and chipboard for these arrived the morning 31st October. Like everything in the house, these are no ordinary floor joists! They are posi-joists, engineered to allow easy installation and access to the services which will run between the floors.


Service duct in a steel beam lining up with the web of the posi-joists


Posi-joists, rim board and air tight membrane

The house is designed to be very air tight and to ensure this, the inner face of the stud wall has an air tight membrane attached to a layer of chipboard.  This has to be installed prior to the rim board, which the joists then attach to.  The fact that the membrane needs to be taped, ideally in dry conditions – of which we had not a lot of as we have no roof – and the complicated detailing of sealing the membrane around the steel beams meant that the installation of the floor took longer than Andy expected and hoped for but 1st November saw the majority of the joists installed and by 5th all joists were in and floor cover on and the joiners were cracking on with the remaining rafters.


Airtight membrane fitted behind the rim board and steel beam


First floor installed looking towards the stairs


Looking to the sky

panorama 9

Wacky panorama of gable end from the first floor – rafters definitely not bowed!

Now that the rafters are on and secured we are slowly running out of jobs while waiting for the woodfibre insulation for the roof to arrive before any work can start inside.  One big job that needed to be done before we can tick off wind and watertight was to install the windows.  What a choice of windows there were out there – to be honest before we started this project I thought windows were windows – airy single glazed sash windows which we have at the farmhouse – and we can’t wait to be rid of, double glazed and triple glazed, PVC or wood. However, even with the various technical specifications specified by our architect, Kirsty Maguire, limiting our options the  job of  choosing a window supplier was a still feat in itself. The options presenting themselves were Inwards or outwards opening, all wood or wood and aluminium, which windows to open and their dimensions, sliding doors or balcony style – we actually opted for both and finally colour!  After many hours deliberating and finding ourselves with a RAL colour chart at the site looking to see which colour suited It and also at friends houses with larch cladding to see if it would look good against the weathered larch we finally decided on Katzbeck windows. An Austrian company with good reviews, a very helpful sales rep in Euan Baxter and at a price we were willing to pay! We also decided that as we were paying a fair amount of money for these windows and were able to have pretty much any colour that you would have wanted we steered away from traditional greys and went for purple red!


This was one item we were determined would not hold up the build and we ordered them well in advance. Unfortunately we were running slightly behind and the windows arrived bang on time – about 4 weeks early. As always, Northmuir took great care of them until they were installed and added extra protection until the roof was finally completed.

Kirsty happened to be in the area on 14th November and stopped by the site, as we drove down the track Andy and Scotty were just finishing installing the last of the windows – the large one above the front door.  I have to admit that they look really good installed, the sliding door slides a treat.


Installing the final window


Windows, sliding and balcony doors all installed

One of the last few jobs on the list that could be done before the roof goes on was to fit the external strapping that the cladding will attach to when it arrives. This visually breaks up the house I think and makes it look more in proportion.

it seems so nearly at the wind and watertight stage now, until you look up and see the lack of a roof.  Hoping that the  woodfibre arrives  next week as the outdoor jobs list is steadily getting shorter, and sadly as are the daylight hours and the days of fine weather no doubt 😦

What goes up…..

must come down????  Sadly that was what I was dreading after a phone call from a concerned neighbour  to let us know that one of the steel ridge beams was sticking up in the air. This was Tuesday 21st October, the day of Hurricane Gonzalo!! All manner of things were going through my head as I drove over to the plot – the worst being that I was going to be met with a pile of essentially firewood with some steel littered through it.  Thankfully my worst nightmare was not played out as the four walls were still standing when we drove down the drive – sigh of relief but yes one of the steel ridge beams was pointing straight up in the air and swaying precariously with the other end lying on the concrete slab.  Being very sensible, all the while slightly emotional, I had a wander around ensuring I was at least one gable’s width from the house.  It didn’t look as bad as I had anticipated, apart from the obvious, the majority of the woodwork was intact, albeit the gables were swaying slightly more than they probably should – we were still experiencing gale/severe gale force winds.


The view as we drove down the track 😦


Some of the studs have been prised apart as the short ridge beam turned on it’s side

Thankfully Andy soon appeared on his week off, had a much closer inspection than I had, and decided to put up some more braces on the gable ends to tide us over until Monday. Can’t thank him enough for taking time out of his holiday to come and secure the walls, although I suppose if he hadn’t there may have been no walls to fix next week with the weather we were due to have! The gale force winds continued on Saturday night and both John and I were convinced again we would be met by a pile of firewood at the site – we should have had more faith in the construction – it was all still standing and even the steel beam was still swaying as it had been on Tuesday. It was all hands to the pump on Monday morning when we arrived, Vince was in the digger lifting the beam with Andy, Scotty, Liam and Sandy all assisting to get the beam back into position – it was agreed to lift it back into position, replace the bolts and inspect it there.  All seemed fine and when we appeared again on Tuesday afternoon it was all as if the hurricane had never happened and the first few rafters had been put in place.  Let us hope for no more storms like hurricane Gonzalo until the house is at least wind and watertight – but we are in Northern Scotland in November……


As if the storm had never happened


Cracking on with the rafters in the calm after the storm

Here’s to walls!

Week beginning 13th October arrived – the weather this week was looking pretty good, light breezes with a bit more wind forecast for Wednesday and then dropping off again, when was the crane likely to be available from – Wednesday!! Andy and Scotty still had some things to finish off before the panels were lifted anyhow – including fitting the strops to lift the panels with. However, 0730 Tuesday we received a text from Andy to say the crane was arriving on site at 0800!!!  We had to go into Inverness in the morning so would miss the first couple of lifts but as Andy reckoned it would take at least 1 1/2 days to fit we thought we’d get to see the last few being erected.


How wrong I was!!  This was the view as we parked at the top of the drive and walked down to where, until recently, there had been a scattering of large ‘lego’ panels.  These had all been lifted into place and the 1st floor steel had been put in place too, all by 1430!  As gutted as I was to miss the panels being lifted into place I’m sure Andy was probably grateful we weren’t there to add to the pressure.  I can imagine there are a few nervous moments lifting such huge panels, add to that any breeze attempting to swing them one way or the other with the potential for taking people out in the process – you don’t really need the client there watching too!!  Chatting to Andy later I don’t think he plans on building a house that way again with such huge panels!!

All that remained for us to see being hoisted into position were the 3 ridge steels. This, like all the panels, also went very smoothly and the crane was packed up and off site by 1600!


The first ridge beam slotted into place


The third ridge beam being lifted into place

This was the moment we were waiting for though as we could then enter our new house by the front door!! It looked amazing and for a change I was actually lost for words.  It is much bigger inside than the footprint of the house suggests and the double height living space will look amazing when the roof goes on – although how we’re ever going to paint the ceiling there I’ve no idea!!


Looking through the front door into the utility room and dining area


Project manager and assistant standing in the kitchen

There is a space as you enter the front door and go through the utility room where you can look in each of the four directions and see out through a fantastic window space – it works really well.  The joys of getting a house designed specifically for you.


Looking through dining area out to the fields


Through the living area out to yet more fields

So another major milestone ticked off on the build, next job is the roof and getting wind and watertight before the bad weather kicks in.  Until then we can revel in the fact that we now have a 3d house, albeit roofless, rather than some Lego panels, as someone described them to me, lying on the ground!

It’s not called the wooden house for nothing…

With one thing and another it’s been another couple of weeks with nothing happening on site – weather, material delays and delays on previous jobs causing the joiners to have to delay our start.  However, week beginning 8th September the wood for the frame started to arrive on site and there was a lot of it… And with that a new set of tradesmen – our joiners Andy, Scotty and Liam.   Andy made the decision to  make the frame as a series of panels on site as there is a fair bit of flat space around the footprint of the house and this would hopefully allow a wind and watertight stage to be met pretty quickly once the panels went up.  The first week was spent unloading wood, cutting wood and sorting into some sort of order that will be used in putting the panels together.   I’m hoping Andy and Scotty know which bit goes where as it all just looks like a giant game of pick up sticks on a much larger scale!!

Wood and lots of it, with more to arrive!

Wood and lots of it, with more to arrive!

Wood and lots of it - there's more to arrive

Pick up sticks

The pile gets bigger as more wood is delivered but our assistant project manager is enjoying ‘measuring’ the lengths in her own wee way.  We also have an additional helper on site  – he has a slightly more laid back approach to project managing!

IMG_0684 wpid-img_20140826_141721.jpg

The house really started to take shape with our next visit to the site as Andy and Scotty had completed the outer porch panel, the two panels that are adjacent to this and the long East South East facing panel. Seeing these makes the house look big again, and really emphasises how big the windows are going to be, particularly the sliding door. Over the next few days the remaining panels were completed prior to securing the outer OSB (chipboard – made just down the road) onto the frame.


Front porch panel


Two apex’s of the gables, one on top of the other











Front porch panel with outer OSB


Scattering of panels and initial stages of the scaffolding





The scaffolding arrived next and I don’t think I realised how long it would take just Andy and Scotty to put it up.  However by the 2nd week of October this was up and the site really does now look like a building site:-) So another milestone reached with the scaffolding being in place – this will now be up until the house is nearly finished  – will be an exciting time seeing it being dismantled in several months time!!

Not only has the frame been taking shape in 2 dimensions recently but we took delivery of our windows last week.  Slightly nervous watching Scotty unload the two pallets off the lorry, but probably nothing like the pressure he was feeling having the client watching you unload their very expensive triple glazed windows! He did a great job unloading both pallets and getting them down onto site.  Have to say they look amazing and actually very sizeable.  Can’t wait to see them fitted into the frame in not too many weeks time!!

Next job on the panels was to put the vapour membrane onto the OSB, followed by the batons which will be used to attach the larch cladding onto further down the line.


Scaffolding complete with vapour membrane attached to panels


Two gables from high on the scaffolding

This done, there was really little else to be done until the panels are fixed into position and this is highly weather dependent. The weather hasn’t exactly been great over the last few days, rain and strong winds – not really conducive to lifting gable sized panels up on a crane and supporting them until all the panels are fixed – all in a rather exposed location. So now we await a couple of calm days and of course the availability of the crane which is another matter entirely.

There is a floor..

After a couple of weeks of nothing happening on the site, the insulation finally arrived but we then had to wait for a couple of days of good weather so the damp proof membrane and insulation could be laid on one day with the concrete being poured the following day.  Sadly this being Scotland in the summer, and us having being delayed already and missing all the good stretch of weather we were delayed another week.


Assistant project manager checks one of the waste pipes with the large pile of blue insulation in the background.


4th August arrived, a month to the day since the first sods were cut and the boys started to lay the damp proof membrane and insulation.  The concrete was booked for 2 days time and this job took much longer than anticipated so it was a late finish for the boys on Tuesday night.

Fortunately for them, unfortunately for us, the first cement mixer arrived early the following morning with the next load arriving as the first lorry was leaving – very efficient.  However, we had a late start this morning and missed all the action 😦 Thankfully Vince doubled up as chief photographer and produced a grand selection of photos to send to the surveyor…

The rain that threatened to fall earlier in the morning finally appeared around lunch time but the concrete was poured and already starting to set and we are now able to tick off another milestone on our journey of building the wooden house (albeit no wood  yet!!)


All the pop ups for the services were taped to the damp proof membrane to ensure air tightness before laying the insulation


Slow progress – taping the pop ups to the damp proof membrane, laying 275mm insulation on the ground with 75mm insulation around the edges of the blockwork.



















Tom skimming the concrete to ensure a smooth finish

Awaiting insulation….

The water table at the plot is relatively high so to allow everything to drain we have had to raise the level of the floor and ground around the house by about 600mm.  This should then allow gravity to do the draining rather than relying on a pump which for waste we don’t think is even an option! So today, 9th July, Sandy and Tom were building up from the concrete foundations with 5 layers of blockwork – this they seemed to do with remarkable speed!


Another glorious day..


Starting on the porch section









 As we are building up and therefore not digging anything out we need a lot of infill material for both under the floor and adjacent to the house to comply with the level access building standards. Thank you Grant Nicholson for this!  With the house being very airtight, all the services (water, electrics, drainage etc) need to come from under the slab and be sealed and taped at a later date, so these have also been put in since our last visit. It’s starting to look like a house, albeit quite a small house!!


Smaller than we thought…

So we’re now just awaiting the insulation to arrive.  We  are putting 200mm of insulation under the floor and 75mm around the block work to avoid any cold bridges between internal and external faces – in a bid to keep the house as warm as possible.  However this needs to be structual insulation with high compressive strength as it will be taking some of the load of the roof where the steel post lands – due to our open plan dining/kitchen/living space.  Sadly this all seems to be being bought up by a refrigerant company in Aberdeenshire so we’re on the waiting list.  Work on the framework of house has stopped now until the insulation arrives but Vince has made a start on the drainage and I have gained myself a very willing and seemingly able assistant project manager!!


Assistant project manager inspecting the vent pipe..



Drainage channels from kitchen and bathrooms










Additionally while we’ve been waiting for the insulation, the treatment plant for the waste water has arrived.  The house will be off mains drainage so we have to use a sewage treatment plant. The Balmoral HydroClear system incorporates a 3 chamber design – primary settlement, aeration chamber and final settlement.  The first chamber is similar to a traditional septic tank where the solids settle out, the liquid then passes to the aeration chamber where is is treated by bacteria with induced air ensuring complete mixing.  The treated effluent then flows into the final chamber where any remaining small solids are removed prior to being discharged to the filter pits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now that the drainage has been installed, with the exception of the treatment plant we will be due to have our next inspection from the building standards officer.  Vince and the team have been running air tightness tests on all the drainage as they have been installing it so fingers crossed this inspection should cause us no trouble…




We now have a building site!


Tuesday 1st July came about slightly faster than we had anticipated.  I guess coming back from a week away sailing, John starting a new job and trying to get to grips with the concept of actually starting to build the house it was always going to be a manic time!  Sandy and Tom from Northmuir started the setting out and checking levels before we arrived at which point Vince rocked up in the big digger.


First sods being dug

Vince then set about clearing the site.  Before we  started any work on the site we designated a fixed point (post on the fence) to take pictures from of the build as a timeline.  However, this soon became pictures of a mound of earth (and some long grass) rather than of any ground works!!



Levels and position checked, rechecked and agreed it was time to start digging the trenches for the foundations.

Thursday arrived bright and sunny with no rain forecast for the day allowing Vince to finish digging the trenches.  Concrete was due to arrive that afternoon, after our first building inspection. With the trenches dug we saw the actual size of the house – looked much smaller than expected but I have been told that it will go through many phases of looking bigger/smaller than expected until it’s finished. Building inspector satisfied we waited in the sun for the concrete. It was great to have  my good friend Cath with me to see the house becoming a physical reality rather than just plans, and doubling up as dog sitter and daughter watcher!!


Bare trenches












It was running late in the day when the cement mixer arrived and we also thought our luck had run out as the mixer seemed to run out of power to dispense the concrete – nothing a few good endine revs couldn’t sort out and we finally started filling the trenches 🙂


Vince, Tom and Sandy did a great job, with Vince pouring from the digger and Tom and Sandy spreading the concrete, laying the reinforcing mesh, levelling and checking the final depths. John also arrived on site not long after we started to pour the foundations which was fab as sadly he’ll only get  to see the build now at weekends.  So a great couple of days on site, the concrete will set over the weekend before Tom and Sandy start on the blockwork.  Feeling very pleased:-)


Finished foundation

We can start :-)

After several months deliberating on buying a plot, we bought our wee piece of land with planning permission near Rafford. We neither wanted nor could afford the house on the planning permission so alongside our architect Kirsty Maguire we set about changing that, roll on several more months before plans were resubmitted and accepted.  The plan was then to sort out building warrant and start building in April 2014.  Building warrant was submitted Christmas 2013, but with several alterations in January – some rather severe, we were granted our building warrant in May 2014.


What the planners accepted…

Builders were then next on the list… The house has been designed to be very energy efficient, highly insulated and air tight.  We were not left with a huge choice of local (ish) builders who had built properties to these standards.  Luckily we came across Northmuir, a small company based near Inverness, who were just completing a similarly spec’d house nearby.  Several visits later to this and previous builds, Northmuir were tasked with building our own wee home…


The plot – slightly obscured by overgrown grass!