Reaching DPC!

This last week has been spent working up to DPC.  I knew this was going to take a long time because there are lots of fiddly bits to cut out and work around.

First job was to bond the floor beams and blocks using a sand & cement slurry (very wet mix 4:1).  We brushed the mix in to all the joints like a grout.  We couldn’t get up to the edges though as the edge blocks need to be bedded and the gap plugged.

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Next job was to cut all the edge blocks of the flooring and bed those one too.

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Now to plug the gaps in between the beams…

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Great, now the floor is finished and all the little cuts done Barrie can crack on and lay the blocks and bricks up to DPC level.  It’s still going to be slow as the beams are a little too close to the blockwork so there are lots of small cuts to make in every block, each air vent needs to be fitted in the correct location along the walls and the lintels need to be fitted wherever pipework enters the building.  But, after four working days, it’s starting to look really fantastic.

We are at DPC level.  Next, tomorrow we start building the walls!!!

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Block and Beam Floor Installation

Last week Barrie finished the block work up to ‘bearing level’ which is the level that supports the beams for the floor.   On Friday I received a call from Cemex to say that the beams would be ready 2 weeks earlier than I had expected and could they deliver on Tuesday!  Yes of course, let’s get started.

To prepare for the beams I had to think of some way of getting the 180 Kg beams from the front of the house to the site some 100 metres away.  I considered hiring a digger, dumper or crane but all of these options are simply too heavy for the soft ground.  Jason suggested that we could use two 500 Kg flat bed trailers and carry two at a time using the garden tractor.  Great idea, so I scoured eBay and found what appeared to be a reputable company selling just the item with delivery on Tuesday too (subject to a small fee), perfect timing!  All that was left was to ring round and muster as much help as possible.

On Tuesday Cemex arrived bright and early and used an amazing crane lifting 9 beams off the lorry at a time.  Amazing.

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Once the lorry had been unloaded of all our beams there was a seriously large pile of beams waiting for us to shift the next day.  Now to wait in for the trailers due for delivery ‘some-time’ today.

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Disappointingly, the trailers did not arrive yesterday so I need think of a plan b instead.  I started working this morning at 7 am just as dawn was breaking.  I needed to open the site, prep the garden tractor, roll up all the brickwork protection and set out the gloves and tools that we might use today.

I decided to hack the old green trailer and chop the front of the plastic away so that the beams could sit on the trailer base flat while also sitting on the newer trailer.  Hopefully it would last until the new trailers I had ordered on an ‘express’ delivery arrived today.  Shortly afterwards everyone arrived and we made a tentative start with the wobbly trailer.

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It didn’t take long to get into a rhythm and we were soon down to 5 minute rounds of loading, unloading, carrying and locating.  These beams are seriously heavy!!!

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By 12.30 pm we had moved every single beam.  Nearly 8 tonnes moved in just 4.5 hours, well done team!  A quick break for lunch and it was time to start on moving the blocks from the kerb up to the site.  Unfortunately, no trailers have been delivered yet so it looks like we are going to have to do it the slow way!  While Matt and Chad brought the blocks to the site Dad and I set about laying the blocks into the beams.  A floor is born!

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While laying the floor we discovered that some minor adjustments are needed to the ventilation under the floor so we are unable to carry on laying any more blocks.  Barrie quickly made the necessary adjustments and recommended that we leave it to set overnight.  So all we can do is tidy up and prepare to move this little lot tomorrow.

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The first course of blocks

Yesterday, while I was at work, Dad had managed to move about 140 blocks from the front of the house to the site by wheel barrow.  Unfortunately, in doing so he has hurt his back and is now laid up on the sofa recovering in a bad mood!  Not a fact I discovered until late last night and long after he had gone home.  I hope he gets better soon! 🙁

Barrie made a start on the blockwork pretty quickly as he had everything he needed.  The only problem was that the wall ties Jewson sent were the wrong size so I needed to drive over and get them swapped.  I also needed to collect telescopic vents for the under floor ventilation.  By the time I had arrived back Barrie had all four corners set out and string line across them ready for the blocks.

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This was great news as it meant we could take a measurement to the dead centre of the building.  A measurement we needed to give the flooring company so they could make the beams to the exact lengths.  Armed with this new measurement I immediately emailed the flooring company to get the order under way.

It quickly became apparent that the blocks Dad brought up yesterday would be used up before the days’ end.  Also I need to be at a customers site all day tomorrow and had no-one to move the 240 remaining blocks up to site for Barrie to continue with tomorrow.  While at lunch Karma and I discussed our options and knew we needed to move the blocks ourselves, today.  But, given Dads experience I was not at all keen on the wheel barrow method.  Luckily I had recently purchased a trailer for my lawn mower and so we thought of a plan.

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The wheel barrow method would carry about 5 or so blocks.  The mower would easily cope with 20 or more blocks without straining our backs.  The trailer, however, struggled at around 15 blocks because the axles are made of thin steel and are very flimsy.  So, with the aid of cable ties galore, we were able to move about 12-14 blocks per load.  And with Karma driving like she’d stolen them, each circuit took a mere 5 minutes each.

Within two hours or so we had moved all the remaining blocks up to site and stacked them in lovely neat piles ready for Barrie.  On the downside, we need another trailer as this one has buckled so badly it no longer travels in a straight line!!!

By now it was 3 pm and Barrie had made some amazing progress.  I think I’m going to find it difficult to keep the materials flowing fast enough for Barrie at this rate!

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By now the sun was setting and we quickly tidied up the site and made safe.  Tomorrow Barrie will be working alone as I need to go to work.  But hopefully he has everything he needs to have a fully productive day, fingers crossed!

Bricklayer starts

Now the footings have finally set we are ready to start on the brickwork.  I’d ordered all the materials to arrive here this morning and hired a fork lift to move the materials up to the site. The forklift was the first to arrive and, although it was the smallest one available, it was still very big.  At least it fits through the gap, just!


The bricklayer, Barrie Randall, arrived shortly afterwards but ufortunately the materials had not yet arrived.  He unloaded his tools and prepared everything he needed to while I called Jewsons and checked on an ETA.  I was promised a before lunch delivery, not so bad.

While waiting for the materials Barrie started setting out the string lines for his brickwork.  Moment of truth…  Have the footings been dug according to my markings and drawings?  Had we kept within the allowed tolerances during the rain?  How badly had the corner that collapsed affected the square of the building?  This was the day I was looking forward to and dreading at the same time!


At first attempt it seemed that there was something very wrong.  The brickwork was fine at one end of the building but too close to the edge of the concrete at the other end.  We checked and double checked and still it would not sit properly on the footings.  After a short while we discovered that the footings were about 2 inches bigger than our planned measurements.  So with the new measurements we were able to sit the planned brickwork nicely in the middle of the footings all the way round.

Now, with all four string lines set it was time to see if the building was square?!  We set up the 3,4,5 rule on one corner of the string and made small adjustments until we were happy that the corner was now square.  Using this new datum we were able to adjust the other two string lines.  Once they had been set we double checked everything by measuring the diagonals and again with a steel square.  All square, yippee!


By now it was way past lunch time and it dawned on us that the delivery still had not arrived.  Another call to Jewsons and this time we were promised a delivery this afternoon.  Well, OK then as we need to break for lunch anyway that’s not so bad.

Shortly after we’d finished our lunch Jewson called back to say that the materials had not arrived with them and that delivery would be ‘some time’ tomorrow!  Aargh!  Disaster!  The forklift was only booked for a day and what would Barrie do tomorrow? Jewsons agreed to deliver anything they did have and deliver the rest (just the 384 concrete blocks) tomorrow!

A short while later and the lorry arrived with most of the materials.  We quickly moved the sand up to the site using the forklift and packed away the cement in the utility room where it would be warm and dry.  It also became clear that we could not use this forklift again as it was simply too heavy for the garden, garden path and ex-garage flooring!


That’s it for today!  A fairly productive day, but one that created a problem for tomorrow as we would have no forklift to move the 4 packs of concrete blocks.  Luckily, Dad offered to move some by wheel barrow tomorrow while I was at work and Barrie agreed to come on Thursday instead of tomorrow.

Pouring the footings

I had about 10 minutes sleep last night and spent most of the night wondering if I heard the rest of the pit collapsing, or if the concrete pump would arrive, or will the pipe be long enough, or if the cement would turn up, or if enough people would arrive to help, or, well you get the idea!

At 5.40 am I’d had enough of worrying and got up to prepare for the 7 am arrival of the concrete pump.  I opened the site and laid out the necessary tools ready for them.  At 6.50 am the concrete pump arrived and two perky blokes hop out.  They have a look at the site and nod agreeably.  ‘You do have the 6 bags of cement for priming the pump don’t you?’ they ask me. So, I shot over to Wickes to get them while they set up the pump and lay out the pipes.

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While at Wickes I get a call from Cemex the concrete company asking if I’d be ready for the concrete at 7.45 am instead of 8.30 am.  No chance!  I said, we need it at 8.30 am as booked.  Just to confirm I checked with the pump guys and they agreed.

8.30 am on the dot and the pump is ready.  Minutes later the first cement truck arrives and backs up to the pump.  The belly of the cement lorry stops turning and reverses the other way forcing all the concrete to pour out and in to the yellow concrete pump lorry.

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Success!  Concrete is pouring out of the pipe and into the footings.  The pump is powerful and there is a serious kick on the pipe.  Unfortunately while watching the pipe tip we didn’t notice that the kick back was snaking the pipe backwards.  At that exact moment the pump operator decides to take a leisurely stroll to the front of the house.  Now the concrete is starting to pour down the back of the Claymaster and push it away from the sidewall.  Disaster!  Matt and I tried to move the pipe back to position but it must have weighed over 200 Kg as neither of us could move it.  By now the pipe had snaked back so far that the concrete was pouring on to the mud!  NO!

I caught a glimpse of the pump operator wandering around and screamed ‘OFF! Turn IT OFF!’  with hand signals.  He ran back to the pump and minute or two later it stopped and Matt and I collapsed in the wet mud and concrete.

OK, time to think fast!  Matt had a great idea and fetched as much steel as he could find.  The pump operator and I relocated the pipe back to where it should be and Matt hammered some steel pegs in to the ground to hold the pipe in place.  Given the strength of the pump we also decided to sit on the pipe to stop it moving too much.

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After that the trench filled nicely.  Each lorry load of 13 tonnes (6 m3) of concrete was discharged into the pit within 10 minutes or so.  After 2 lorry loads I thought we’d be done by 10 am!  Alas, though, no more lorries arrived.  After 45 minutes I called Cemex to find out what was going on.  I discovered that they only had 2 drivers today and both were reloading for the next load so we had no choice but to wait.  And so it was that from now on Cemex were only able to send about 1 lorry per hour.

After 6 lorry loads it was clear that we were getting very close to full.  We calculated the depth remaining and I estimated that we would need about another half a lorry load.  We decided to empty the 7th lorry before making that final call.

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Sure enough after the final load I measured the depth of the remaining gap and estimated that I’d need about 2.5 cubic metres of concrete.  The pump guys said there was about half a cubic metre in the pipes so I ordered just 2 cubic metres of concrete and crossed my fingers!

We repositioned the pipe and waited for the last bit of concrete to arrive.  When it finally arrived we filled the trench and quickly set about levelling the concrete as much as possible before breaking off for a late lunch while the pump team cleaned their equipment and packed up.

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After lunch all that was left was to vibrate the concrete with the petrol vibrators.  This was much more tiring than I had expected.  The vibrating pokers are incredibly heaving and fatigue set in pretty quickly.  Matt did an excellent job while Dad and I worked the other one.

Lastly we needed to tamp the concrete using the contractors rakes I’d purchased the night before.  We all worked our way around the entire site tamping the concrete and levelling the last little bits.

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All that remained was to clean the tools, pack them away, clean the road and return the hired pokers.  That’s enough for today, time for a well earned bath!

Preparing for Concrete

After nearly a week of no work on site, today is supposed to be a quick tidy up of the footings, fitting the Claymaster boards and fitting the gates on the front of the ex-garage.  Matt is booked to come and do most of the work as I need to go to the office.  Unfortunately as I open the site for Matt I am greeted with this…

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The footings have collapsed in one corner of the trench.  Disaster!  There is no way that Matt can work alone today so I need to clear my diary.

Matt and I considered our options and decided to try using a bucket, rope and brute force, but after 5 minutes that was clearly a non-starter.  The wet clay was FAR too heavy to move around the pit and to drag 2.5 metres up in a bucket.  A quick call to our friends at Aylesbury Plant Hire and we had a 2.5 tonne digger onsite within an hour.  I also called Jewsons and asked if they could deliver 6 sheets of 8ft x 4ft 12mm ply so that we could shore up the corner and stop it collapsing any more.  Amazingly they too had it onsite within 2 hours.  Awesome.

Now armed with the digger we were able to scoop a bunch of the soil out but the bulk of it simply had to be shovelled into the digger bucket.  Matt and I took turns to shovel / drive.  Eventually the pit was clean enough for us to put up the plywood and shore the corner up nicely.2014-11-12 13.17.25

Our next task was to install the Claymaster 75mm polystyrene sheets.  There aren’t any obvious fixings available for these, and in any case we were trying to fix to clay which is not the most reliable fixing medium!  Earlier in the week I ordered some 225 mm screws and a bunch of Insulation discs normally used to pin insulation on the inside of a cavity wall.  I’d accounted for six of these fixings per board backed up with Gaffer Tape!

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A short while later and all the Claymaster boards were in place.  Surprisingly it was now 4pm already and I had to shoot off and collect the Hardcore Vibrators (!) for tomorrow, oh and then go to the office to do some work!!!  Fingers crossed that nothing else collapses tonight and the trenches hold good until tomorrow when the concrete is coming.  It’s too late to cancel now!

Building Inspector Visit (footings)

This week I’ve had to work and not had much chance to be here.  Most days I’ve been getting home well after dark so I can’t even sneak a peak.

Wednesday night was a shocker though as I had come home to find the road outside our house in a real mess.  Where the dumper had been travelling it had sprayed clay all over the road.  Worse still there was an answer phone message from the Chair of the Parish Council waiting for me as I entered the front door.  I agreed with him that this was totally unacceptable and that it was my first priority in the morning.

Sure enough on Thursday morning the guys did a fantastic job of cleaning the road before they continued with the footings trenches.

Also on Wednesday Martin and I agreed that we should go for a block and beam floor as it would be the least likely to suffer from ground heave (swelling and shrinking due to rain and trees).  Unfortunately this meant a quick redesign of the footings and another trench that needs to be dug!  No problem, Matt and Dad were more than happy to oblige.


On Thursday some great progress was made and we were ready to request a visit from the building inspector late on Friday.  I called and arranged the visit.

On Friday I worked from home which allowed me to be there when the inspector came, order the Concrete Pump, Concrete and Claymaster boards that will be needed.  As I was busy working the guys plodded on digging the footings.

The bulding inspector arrived at around 2.30 pm and inspected the footings, took pictures and various measurements.  Then declared that he was satisfied and we could continue and pour the concrete.  Yay!

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We are to call him when the beam and block floor has been (partially?) laid.  He did comment on the state of the garden and how the Wife was taking it.  I said by spring she’d never know we were there!

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All that remains is to clear the site tomorrow ready for the concrete next week.

5 tonne footings

So today we have a 5 tonne digger on it’s way along with Matt and Dad here for an 8am start to try and get ahead of the weather.  The digger and dumper are due to be here before 9 am so while Matt and I waited for them (and Dad, of course) we started removing the steel garage door and clearing the garage of the last of the rubbish.

Then at about 9ish the lorry arrives with a digger and a dumper.  Well, more of a thimble than a dumper, but that’s probably my eyesight!  Once the dumper was offloaded I checked the paperwork.  A 1 tonne dumper.  What’s this?  I ordered a 1.5 tonne dumper.  This thing is tiny.  A quick call to the hire company and they promised to swap it out for a 2 tonne asap.

That’s me done!  I have to go to work now and am already over an hour late, so I’ll leave the site in the capable hands of my dad.

An hour later and I get the call… ‘It won’t fit!’.  WHAT!  Of course it will, we took the roof off the garage, moved the gas pipe up to 3 metres high.  IT WILL FIT!

No, widthways, the gap is too narrow!  “Tosh!” I said, I have checked and the digger is 1.7 metres wide according to the hire company and their website.  No mate, it’s 2.2 metres wide, do you want us to take down the utility room or the neighbours brick wall?


Don’t worry we’ve called the hire company and explained that they have incorrectly measured their own equipment (well they are blokes!) and they have agreed to replace it with one that will fit.  Luckily I learn’t a bit of meditation when I was younger so I calmly pulled over, sat in a field and meditated my zen. Shortly afterwards I arrived at work and soon forgot about the carnage that I’d left behind at home.

After I arrived home I could see that some serious progress had been made and that the entire back footings run had been dug to the correct depths.


And that the right footings had been started too…


I had been in Tring all day and, although it was damp, I had not had any significant rain.  I don’t think that Aylesbury was quite as fortunate as I hear that a certain someone got properly soaked today!  Let’s hope for more luck tomorrow.

Garage demolition

A few birthday drinks last night, followed by cocktails made for a very fuzzy head this morning and the last thing I was expecting at around 9 am was a text from Jason asking what time we were starting today.  Righto!  A quick bacon sandwich and a large glass of water and I’m ready to get started.

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The plan is to remove the roof from the top down.  Jason and I removed as much lead & felt as possible, then the corner fillets followed by the last of the plywood.  This cleared the top nicely ready to remove the old roof joists.  Using the crow bar on one end of the joists made light work of removing the noggins.  After that it was a simple case of lifting the joists out and down.

Once all the joists had been cleared Jason cleared the brickwork and lintel from above the garage door and I measured, de-nailed and cut some of the joists to create a large arch for the gas pipe later.

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After we moved all the rubble to the front for collection Jason started on rerouting the gas pipework while I tidied up the site.  The problem is that the gas pipe was running above the garage door and so must be rerouted to allow the digger through.

By now it was nearly 5 pm and it got dark pretty quickly so I hooked up the 300 watt work lamp and we were able to carry on.

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We were determined to finish by 6 pm so Jason focussed on the pipework while I took some more photos!

Then it happened.  The heavens opened and by golly did they!  Suddenly and without warning the rain came down hard.  Panic stations the tools were all out, electrics uncovered and mobile phones laid about.  We got pretty wet but at least most of the tools were protected.

With the pipework finished it was time to pressure test the pipework.  Jason put his pressure gauge on and set it correctly it seemed to hold until suddenly it dropped to zero!  Oh no, a leak?  A burst pipe?  A crisis?  Every joint got a quick look over but looked ok, then it occured to him, has someone switched on the oven?  It is tea time after all.  Sure enough the source of all problems was located and mentioning no names (Mrs A!) someone confessed to their crime.

A quick retest proved that all the pipework was sound and all that remained was to find a sofa and finally give in to the hangover!

Digging deeper

Right, after spending the evening calculating the price difference of two buildings vs 1 building with deep foundations it turns out it’s about a 3% cheaper to build a single building with the deeper footings. So that’s the decision made now let’s crack on.  The plan is today to make the most of this digger and just dig as deep as it will go.  Matt and I started excavating and worked through until Dad arrived.

Dad took over the dumper driving while I spent some time trying to find a 3 tonne digger that could have it’s cab removed.  A quick ring round proved that was just not going to happen.  I did find one company that was willing to do it, but their 3 tonne digger had a useless engine that wasn’t much more powerful than our current digger.

So, we need a plan B!  Our house is completely surrounded and getting a digger in any other way than through the garage is out of the question.  It occurred to me though that the garage we are trying to fit through isn’t really a garage at all.  It’s just a glorified lean to.  I went and looked at the garage again with fresh eyes and decided that the best course of action is to clear the garage and demolish it.

By 2 pm Matt declared that no more could be acheived with the digger we have.  It had bottomed out completely at 1.8 metres.

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So, the three of us set about clearing the garage, I was surprised at how dirty my stuff was in this ‘garage’.  It obviously was never meant for storage!

Now the garage was clear we were ready to start demolishing the garage.  Jason turned up just in time and dived straight in after a brief explanation.  Everybody seems to think it’s the best course of action and I, obviously, agree.

By 6 pm we had enough and it was properly dark too which meant it was no longer safe to work so Jason and Dad left while I cleaned up the last of the mess. That’s it for a while now as we can’t do any more until the garage is properly demolished and the 5 tonne digger arrives.