www.therussellhouse.org
   home of the Sliding House

   The website of Ross Russell and Sally Morris:
   documenting progress on our project to design and build our house in Suffolk in the far east of England.

update photopanorama compressed


Diary Archive: 2006

It is in reverse chronological order - latest news first and earlier stuff later.

December 2006:

Progress is painfully slow.  A combination of rain, high winds, fog and lack of daylight hours are slowing progress to a crawl.  My plans to be weatherproof before the bad weather set in have not come to much.  If it were not for the fact that the scaffold is costing me cash every extra week I have it, I would have closed down the site for winter and started again when the weather is better. As is it we are trying to get the weatherproof membrane finished on all of the buildings.  I am making progress with battening the buildings ready to clad with timber.  And you’ll see (if you look closely) that I have some of the skylights and windows now fitted.

Global Timber Frame  (who made the timber structures for me and deserve to be named and shamed publicly) have let me down again with failure to correct an inadequately strong supporting wall supporting the mezzanine (despite having ten weeks to do so and promising that they would do so). I have fired them and banned them from the site and I am now withholding payment of the last sum I owe them.  It does mean that I now have to find new contractors to do the work they have notched, which won’t now be until January.   

 

overview in snow

overview03

Late-November 2006:

There is not much to report since the last update in November. The glasshouse is tantalisingly close to being complete, But there are a few trims to fit, a broken pane to replace and some glass still needed in two of the opening windows.  The bottom panes of glass in this structure are currently some six inches above slab level (they will be in line with the finished floor level  which is higher as a result of insulation, underfloor heating, and slate tiles).   I have in-filled with concrete blocks to make the place watertight - at least it will be watertight when I get the chance to “tank” the block work to make it waterproof.

The rails and wheels have arrived from Swindon and are stored on site. I have reassured myself that the bolts which hold the rails in place are indeed accurately spaced (to within a couple of mm) so the rails do fit!  I have contractors lined up to drill into the concrete for the remaining bolts and then level the rails each side.

The weatherproofing is coming along, but very slowly.  And until this is done I cannot start on the wood cladding, and hence cannot get rid of the expensive scaffolding.  I hope at least that I will have the buildings weather-proof (including doors and windows fitted) soon so that I can start on laying floor screeds inside each building.

One major hold up has been the engineering of the timber frame house.  If there is a gale blowing and if the sliding roof is open, then the wind-loads from the glasshouse   are transmitted to the concrete slab via the timber mezzanine structure (the bit underneath the floor to the living room in the picture below). This has “K-braced”  walls which the timber company has been telling us for months are adequate.  When we finally go the calculations for this aspect, it turned out that they are nowhere near strong enough and have to be replaced by steel braced walls.  The company has at last admitted that it is their error (or at least an error by their engineer) and will do the remedial work. But no sign yet of when this will be! 

Early November 2006:

 I last saw the site on Tuesday at which point:

  • the glasshouse was nearly complete - it is fully glazed but still awaiting some detail work;
  • the timber frame has been amended to raise the roof level by 50mm - an error by the company concerned but one they have now fixed;
  • the weatherproof membrane to the timber frame buildings has stated to go up - the garage should be complete by now (and looks very, very red!);
  • the electrician has started the “first fix” work, with the main supply to the garage to be connected this Friday. 

 

living room

I have a few photos and moving images from my visit to the factory in Swindon which has made the wheels and motor drives for the sliding roof. But I cannot work out how to get the movie pictures onto the site, so you’ll have to wait to see this kit in action.  Meantime here is one of the main drive units for the roof - 24 volt electric motor at top right, attached to square looking gearbox unit and driving a MASSIVE steel wheel to the left of picture.

wheel and motor drive

Late-October 2006:

Well we are above ground and suddenly it looks like we have the makings of a house!  The timber frame itself was finally delivered and erected, starting two weeks after the delayed plan. So far as I was concerned it was all on track right up until the Monday morning when the team were due on site.  Only then did they tell me that the frame was not, as previously advised, already manufactured and sitting in their workshop - it was all still being made.  Oh and the team who were supposed to do the erection work had had a better offer and were hence off putting up someone else’s house. So a different team started two weeks later and added another week of delay to the process while sorting out manufacturing problems. The product is good quality and the guys putting up the frame did a great job, but the company’s back office support is dire. We still have an outstanding issue on the engineering reports (to confirm that the mezzanine area can take the wind loads from the finished glass house) and there is still one skylight opening which is too small for the skylight, but basically the timber structures are complete.

The glasshouse company started on site on Monday last week.  You can see the results below.  The main sections of the aluminium structure arrived on a single lorry and were quickly lined up ready for assembly. Over the week nearly the the whole of the metalwork has been put together although left “loose” so that it can be positioned correctly before being bolted to the slab.  We are missing a few bits (either made the wrong size or damaged in transit) but nothing that throws us too much off track. The glass arrives on Tuesday next week and they need another week to fit it.  And I’ve also had yet another section of scaffolding set up, as a “birdcage” within the glasshouse structure so that they can lift the glazing panels into the 45 degree pitched roof.    I hope I am not on site to see them disassemble all of those poles and boards and take them out of a regular doorway without breaking any of my expensive glass!

I have the roofing guys on site from Monday. All of the external timber work is being wrapped in a “Flag” weatherproof membrane. This was delivered to site on on Saturday and the fitting team start work on Monday. The race is on now to get as much work done as possible on the exterior of the building so that I can get rid of the scaffold. before I run into excess charges by exceeding my 10 week hire period.  I hope we can have the outside of the house finished relatively quickly so that all of that part of the scaffold can go - which means finishing the glasshouse, the weatherproofing and the wood cladding to one gable wall. I can then spend a bit more time doing the cladding on the annex and garage buildings.

I am off to Swindon this week to have a look at the mechanisms for the sliding roof - the rails, the wheels, the motors and the electrical control system. This is to be set up within the workshop with 8 metres of rails and two motor drive units ready for us to play at train sets.  Assuming that this goes to plan, we then get the whole lot shipped up to Lowestoft, to meet up with the steel roof structure itself, before coming to site for assembly.  And this can only happen after I have got rid of the scaffold, so it gives me another reason to want to press ahead quickly.

house with glass03

Mid-October 2006:

No time to draft words at the moment.  But the timber frames for the house, annex and garage are all now up. The glasshouse will be delivered next Monday and the weather-proofing of the buildings will start at the same time.  More details when I find the time to do so....

timber fram complete02

Early September 2006:

Well, the foundations are finally in and the site cleared ready for scaffolding and then timber frame to be erected. I’ll give a fuller update when time permits, but meanwhile here are a few photographs of the slab and the bolts which will hold the rails in place.  These are the ones that needed to be set to tolerances of 3mm or so - which I think we have probably achieved, although we won’t actually know until the rail is delivered to site and fixed in place.

Meantime the wheel and motor units for the sliding roof are being manufactured (I hope to visit the workshop in Swindon soon to see for myself) as is the metal framework for the sliding roof.  I’ll include an update on these elements as soon as I have anything to say. 

finished slab02

rails NW

August 2006:

Behind schedule again! The foundations are proving troublesome as the ground workers try to assemble what they say is the most complex steel reinforced concrete slab they have ever seen.  The five weeks they quoted is now set to be eight weeks - and that assumes that the final pour of concrete next Friday goes ahead as planned. There is no slack in the timetable before others are due on site.

Anyway the state of play is shown in the pictures below - first the overview of the site and then details of the steelwork, the annex area and the terrace outside of the southwest gable wall. 

foundations overview

steelwork

foundations annex

foundations terrace

July 2006:

Oh dear. I guess I should be more diligent about updating the site. But there has been so little happening for so long that it hardly seemed worthwhile.

The piles were completed in March 2006.  The next step was to lay services (water, drains, electricity supply, telephone etc) all of which is underground. And then the reinforced concrete slab is to be laid. 

The problem has been agreeing the details of services – the one part of the house that should have been easy, but for some reason was not. There is a minor complication that all services have to enter the house through the concrete slab (no cables on the roof or vent pipes through the roof – otherwise how would the sliding roof slide?) but nothing too difficult. 

I had no drawings from the architect, which meant no engineering specification for where the slab needed to be pierced to get services through it, which meant no contract placed with a groundwork contractor which meant no work at all done on site for the last 10 weeks. I could have done the drawings myself in a day (in fact in the end I did the specification myself and sent it to be included in the plans).  But the trouble with using architects nowadays is that they all use CAD software which ordinary mortals cannot access.  So control of the whole process, including the speed at which it progresses, passes to the architect.  That’s something I’ll think about if I ever do this again!

Anyway, I’ve now unblocked the log-jam and the slab contractor is on site laying steel reinforcement mesh and pouring concrete.  The pictures below show the site with all its piles in place and the concrete “blinding” laid ready for the construction above and the pile of polystyrene Cordek that will be laid on it. 

foundations

Cordek

To prevent “heave” in the clay soil lifting the slab off its piles, the slab is laid on top of a 300mm layer of polystyrene, which is really only there to keep the concrete off the ground during pouring, but stays under the house forever.  The idea is that it will compress and break down if there is any upwards ground movement thus leaving the slab where it should be.  It is another expense I had not allowed for – this stuff costs £75 for a standard 3 square metre panel and I have 250 square metres to cover! 

The timetable now is this:
•28 July: concrete works complete
•31 July: scaffold erected; timber frame company on site to erect the house, annex and garage. This will take less than two weeks.
•11 August: steel box frame supporting the glasshouse delivered and erected
•13 August: glasshouse company onsite to deliver and erect the curtain walling for the conservatory.  I’ve allowed three weeks for this.
•13 August: fixing of weatherproof membrane to all of the timber frame buildings ready for cladding to be fixed over the top. Maybe a couple of weeks for the house and the annex (which are being done by paid contractors) but longer for the garage which I’ll do myself. 
Late August: Skylights fitted. Doors and windows fitted.  Wood cladding delivered to site and work starts on fitting it.

There have been a few more decisions to enable me to get this lot lined up. 

The buildings are going to be clad with Siberian Larch timber. Larch is quite a dense softwood timber with good resistance to moisture. Siberian larch is even more so – it is very slow growing (coming from such a cold place with such a short summer) which makes it very dense.  Anyway I have over 600 square metres of the stuff on order for delivery in August.    As the drawings have indicated some of the timber is stained (red for the garage, black for the annex) and some is natural timber.  It is possible to get the timber delivered ready stained, but I found that the staining is far more expensive than the timber itself!  So I’ve be doing this myself by hand before the cladding is fixed. 

And I have also discovered that I will have to lay the boards as random lengths, rather than have panels of cladding with clean joins between them.  I would have preferred the latter.  But the cladding fixes to battens and the battens need to fix to the studs in the timber walls.  And the 1000 metre grid on which the house is laid out and should form the basis of the panels does not match the 600 mm spacing of the timber studs.  Oh well!

I’ve also gone firm on the weatherproofing materials.  The cladding profile is a weatherboard rather than closed (i.e. there are gaps between the planks) and air can circulate behind them. This means that the surface underneath needs to be not just a cheap breather membrane as often used with cladding, but an expensive multi-layered EPDM membrane. In this case I am buying from a company called Flag. They offer a choice of colours and I have gone for a red to match the garage cladding. Why does it matter?  Well, when the sliding roof is slid back and the house is open, it is this surface which is in plain view.  Using such a bold colour is the way of emphasising the transformation from traditional timber clad building (when closed) to a modern glass and metal and plastic structure (when open).  That’s the idea anyway.

Doors and windows has been another headache. They are mostly sourced from Scandinavian Window Systems.  They do a really chunky wood and aluminium composite product which has very high insulation properties and looks good.  I get to choose the colours and dimensions and they make them to order. So I have a bunch of silver grey doors (to match the conservatory) and a bunch of black ones (for the annex), all with a varnished wood finish in the inside. And skylights come from a specialist Norfolk firm. I has asked that they be fitted as near as possible to flush with the roof surface. This means very little “up-stand” to direct water away from the glass – a non-standard fitment.  Although we are sure this will work well, it does mean the manufacturer gives no guarantee on the product’s effectiveness when fitted like this.     
 

June 2006:

Very little has been happening on the house so let’s give you an update on the workshop. It is now rather more complete than this makes it look.  The roof is now on (a rubber membrane roof laid in one piece so there are no joins to leak) and the doors and windows are now in.  All I need is an electricity supply and it’s be ready for use! 

Roof on but not finished c

March 2006:

So what’s new then?  At last we have moved beyond planning and demolishing into actually building! After a bit of argy-bargy with piling firms I picked Central Piling from Essex do do the piled foundations. They use a bored technique (rather than driving precast piles into the ground using a pile-driver).  They also have a smaller sized rig than their competitors, which meant that access to the site was easier - the firm selected originally planned to use a 40 tonne rig and they just would not have been able to get it onto the site. It was planned to take four days to sink 22 piles down to 9.5 metres depth each.  but in the end it took two weeks. The soil was just fine down to about 7.5 metres and then the auger started hitting big chalk flints which they had to grind their way through. However it is now done.

Before that I had to lay a piling mat of 200mm of crushed concrete - just to support the rig while piling. Having done that, I now have a heap of old crush concrete on site which I’ll use as the hard-core on which the driveway will be laid. 

Pictured below is the site after the crush concrete was laid for the piling rig, but before the piling work started. you can see the outline of the house.  the red stakes in the ground are the pile positions.

footprint

On the planning front, I have (oral) confirmation that all of the planning conditions have been met. The only concern here is that I’d like to put some solar panels on the roof, but these were not anticipated in the original application and the  planning authorities are taking a strict line on this - it will need planning permission.   I cannot just apply for permission for the panels though - since the house on which they are to be fixed is not yet built, I cannot apply to modify it in this way.  Instead I will have to apply for planning permission for the whole scheme again, with the same plans as originally except for the solar panels. this is madness and I’m planning to challenge it.

 I am now trying to find someone who can lay a concrete slab for the foundations.  Again this is not easy - it is quite a complex design to accommodate the rails for the sliding roof and various cast in trenches and gaps and the like for rainwater run-off.  Hopefully I can move ahead on this during April.

And I have at last made some real progress on the mechanism for the sliding roof.  My engineer Rutger recommended a mechanical engineer to do this design work and he is coming up with some good ideas.  Of course we need to know what the rail details will be before we can specify the detail of the concrete slab, so this is on the “critical path”. The plan, by the way, is to have  a design  which uses 24 volt DC electric motors to do the work, driving one wheel on each side of the sliding roof structure itself.  The motors are powered by DC batteries and the batteries are recharged by solar power (hence the need for panels) or by a mains electric override.  I’ve spent more time than is good for me taking to various railway engineers and the like about this system, but eventually we have sources some wheels from an industrial warehouse door manufacturer, we’ll be fabricating our own rails and the motor and control kit will be sourced by the engineer suing “off the shelf” products.

And finally, I have made some progress on building the workshop and garden store.  This building replaces the Stable/Workshop building on the SW corner of the site. the old one was just too derelict to rescue, but I am building on the same footprint and to a similar design so that I can avoid having to go through the planning permission loop again - planning law allows for like-for-like replacement of existing buildings.  

workshopstables1

February 2006: Another long gap since I last updated the site - not least because Sally and I were away in Australia for most of January. But we have made some progress on a range of issues.

On the planning front, I have started the process of complying with all of the planners list of conditions.  Some of this is bureaucratic (consents from the Environment Agency to discharge from the sewage plant for example).  Some of it is conditions for the build process (putting protective fences around the trees etc).  And some requires us to provide details of finish and windows designs etc, which Alex and his team are looking at.

On the building control front we have submitted a “full plans” application.  As mentioned previously, although we can start building by only giving five days notice to the building control service, that then leaves them free to interpret the building requirements as we go along, with no certainty that they will accept any work that we have done or plan to do. For a complex design such as this we thought this was too risky. so we have gone down the alternative route of asking them to sign off the whole project in advance, which means that as long as we build the house in compliance with those plans we know we are OK.  But we do still owe them information on things like the details of the glasshouse structure and the wood burning stove details.  All this is to be progressed later this week.

On the “visible signs of progress on site” front,  I authorised the demolition of the house and barn recently. The results are shown below. In fact the demolition of the house was brought forward to December 2005 to permit better access to a team of soil investigation engineers.  They needed to get a drilling rig on site (to take a soil sample from a 13 metre bore hole) and couldn’t get their rig between the house and the oak tree by the front entrance. I wanted to keep the tree so it was the house that had to go.  I discovered after the event that I needed a separate consent to demolish the house.  I then gave notice on this after the event and asked the building control team to waive their requirement for notice - which they did. In fact they were wholly relaxed about this.  The barn and the caravan were then demolished/removed in January.

On the supplier front, I have selected suppliers for the timber frame element and the glasshouse element of the structure - two of the biggest cost elements.  The quotes for the timber frame section were very diverse, ranging from a low quote of some £32,500 from Global Timber Frame to high quotes of £63,000 and £66,000 from other local firms  We have checked out the cheaper quote thoroughly and it does come up to scratch so that is the one we are going with.  My budget was based on initial quotations at the top end of the scale, so that is a useful saving to make.    In respect of the glasshouse we are still checking details but again the range of prices is vast -  quotes have come in at £63,000 from a midlands-based curtain-walling firm called Duplus and at the top of the scale range up to £127,000 and £135,000.  All of these are for high-specification double glazing (toughened or laminated glass, low-E coatings and argon filled cavity) sitting on extruded aluminium mullions and transoms.  The sticking point is how much of a steel frame we might need to give structural support to the glazed elements.  We are working towards retaining the glass at first floor level only - by the mezzanine floor of the living room and with a steel structure extending around double height area of the glasshouse at the same level. Again the lower of the quotes is within budget, although I expect this may change when we get a revised quote from them with some suggested changes to the details. 

And the results of the soil survey are good - it may be clay soil but it is stable and dense - so we have been able to make progress on the specification for the piled foundations. We have quotes in for this work and can hopefully make a start on driving or boring the piles soon.

The main outstanding design issue is the design of the wheels and rails for the moving section of the house, where we have lots of ideas but no firm proposal, and a bunch of mechanical engineers who want to take another few thousand pounds off me to finalise such a design. Watch this space!

As for the progress to the next stage of the build, much depends on the weather. After a period of some drought through December and January, we now have heavy rain which is likely to make the ground conditions unsuitable for the work on the foundations. I am working on getting the groundworkers and piling contractors lined up so that we can start as soon as the weather permits this.       

demolition picture

Continue back in time to 2005 and prior years

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