Category Archives: Self-Build

My friend Frank builds his solstice house

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I found Frank scuttering around in his digger churning up the sticky clay-laden mud. Picking my way through the furrows on my way to the site office, I had to swiftly dart for cover along with his hens and three cockerels as apparently he stops for no man, woman or chicken. I was dressed in a military-style jacket and beret, and looked very much like I had parachuted down into occupied France to inspect the trenches leaving my parachute dangling from a nearby tree. I didn’t actually parachute in but I was indeed there to inspect his trenches and was probably camouflaged on this grey day threatening even more rain.

Rain was not something Frank needed now. Three weeks ago he started digging having demolished his house. The trenches for the footings of his new house are almost finished and he has excavated a cavernous area which will serve as his basement. The rain is his enemy. Swathes of blue plastic weighted down with flints cover the site but he tells me that as soon as he has finished his beautifully dug trench, the water caves it in again. I would be pulling my hair out, Frank is still smiling.

He is going to build the house himself. The whole thing. He has the architect’s plans and the structural engineer’s drawings as well as two excellent labourers. I would be worried if anyone else was taking on a project like this, but Frank is someone who can do anything if he puts his inventive mind to it and I’m looking forward to seeing his house emerge from this Somme-like squelchiness.

It being winter, as more rain is forecast to fall this evening and the light will soon fade, I am loathe to take him away from his shoring up duties. But luckily for me there is a tea break on the horizon and a window of opportunity to ask him some questions.
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Do you want an oak framed garage too?

WP_20151122_14_35_06_ProSunday 22nd November 2015

The Planet Rock Hairy Rock Show on the radio, racing through the winter landscape in a muddy Skoda Yeti, Mr and Mrs Clark made their way to the Bath & West Showground to the Somerset Homebuilding and Renovating Show. They sang My Woman from Tokyo by Deep Purple at full blast as they passed Stonehenge on the A303, take that you pagans! They shouted and sang When I was a Boy by ELO, harmonising very nicely indeed. This was going to be a grand day out. Read more

When I met The Girl in the Hard Hat

Shirley barnI have been following The Girl in the Hard Hat Shirley Alexander on Twitter for a while now, and reading her blog about an astounding barn renovation that she took on near Blairgowrie about 80 miles north of Edinburgh. I was so impressed with the scale of the project and the fact that she has done the vast majority of the work herself, I really wanted to meet her.

She very kindly accepted my request for a rendezvous and we met in a café in London near to where she works as an accountant. I didn’t know Shirley at all, but from the picture on her blog with tool belt and a slight scowl I had an image of a tall and slightly scary Amazonian woman. My image, as it turned out, was completely wrong – in walked a small, pretty, smiling lady – she must have immensely strong core muscles I thought to myself…

Read the full article ‘When I met The Girl in the Hard Hat’

So tell me, how is your build going?

Since building my own house I am still very much interested in what other self-builders Blog small
are up to. I sometimes mourn the fact that Mr Clark and I probably won’t be taking on another build in the near future, so I reckon the next best thing would be to poke my snoot into other people’s business.

As luck would have it I know some people who are building their own homes at the moment. They have kindly accepted my request for an interview, and happily enough are more than pleased to be able pass on their essential top tips to other aspiring housebuilding adventurers.

This week I had the great fortune to talk to a friend who is just starting out on his build after many months of preparation. We will mysteriously call him Mr X. Why? I hear you ask. Well I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you, let’s leave it there.

Read the full article ‘So tell me, how is your build going?’

 

Mandy Clark’s tips for working with builders

In an ideal world:

Getting quotes: Get three quotes for each trade if you are employing subcontractors – the same applies if you are employing a general builder.

Recommendations: Use people who have been recommended to you and if possible go and see their work.

Contracts: Get a price for the job and a schedule of works from each trade – as well as a signed contract. Make sure they have covered everything in their quote so there are no nasty surprises.

Communication: Make sure you communicate well with your subcontractors.

In real life:

Getting quotes: Some people won’t bother to get back to you at all, even if you do leave them a few messages (trying very hard not to hassle them) so it may be quite difficult to get three quotes. If your start date is looming and your wipeable wall calendar has its schedule mapped out, you may have to be extremely flexible with start dates – keep your wiping cloth handy. Some subcontractors are very professional however – you can tell by the state of their van.

Recommendations: Even if people have been recommended to you and you have seen their work it can still go wrong, (see Communication). If you employ fabulous and helpful subcontractors you can then happily give their details to other people.

Contracts: Some subcontractors may be slippery customers who say they will sign document to seal the deal, but in fact they will put it off for as long as possible or perhaps never sign it. They might then tell you that they haven’t accounted for this … and for that. Don’t be taken in by it. If they demand expensive fixings, stick up for yourself and get them to use cheaper ones. (Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing)?

Communication: It is handy if your subcontractors speak the same language as you. Then you won’t get annoyed while you undo all the work they have done that day – and then have to pay someone else to put it right.

Make sure you are on site for any major decisions otherwise they may be made for you in your absence. Mark out exactly where things should go, and say if you want to keep a particular tree (put red and white barrier tape around it as a reminder).

Remembering how many sugars a subcontractor has in their tea will give you lots of brownie points. Providing their favourite biscuits will help too.

Never interfere with a subcontractor’s lunch break, but do ask them politely not to put foreign items on your rubble pile.

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This is a picture of one of our excellent ground-workers – highly recommended!

You can read more handy tips in my book Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure. Available from this website or from Amazon.co.uk 

How to build a house

If we hadn’t built our own house where would we be, who knows? The Queen herself advocated that local authorities create a register of people interested in building their own homes and that they make provision for innovative self-build projects. Perhaps she’ll put some plans in for a new castle – she’ll have to put her name down on the list though.

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/selfbuildandcustomhousebuilding.html

A house built by a property developer can’t possibly provide the level of detail pertinent to your tastes; they don’t know your mind and which taps you would like. Every decision made when we built our house formed our home. To have the freedom to choose what you want is rare – we are bound by limitations, there is no question about that, but allowing for these and with the help of a good architect you can build a beautiful home. In a neighbouring village there are some castellated big modern houses in the middle of a picturesque village, I often wonder how they got past the planning police and who actually bought them with their postage stamp sized gardens. (Maybe it was Her Maj the Queen having a go at affordable housing).

We built our house to fit in with the local vernacular, but if we’d had free reign would we have done anything different? Probably not, we wouldn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb in a small village- well not on the outside anyway. Imagine the comments.

I have some friends just about to embark on a build. I congratulate them for getting their planning permission – not an easy task, but worth the effort in the long run. Having built a house and knowing what is involved I can imagine the road ahead for them, but every build is different; every subcontractor has a different number of sugars in their tea and every district council has their own planning officer, some who wear high heels and don’t give you any hassle, and some who don’t and who mess with your choice of bricks.

Good luck all you self-builders out there. If I can be of any help let me know.

If you’d like to read about my journey over the rubble pile and back again, you can buy Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure from this website or from Amazon.co.uk in paperback or on Kindle. It is packed with top tips and genuine insights into life on the building site.

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Why should you keep a diary?

I have recently been leafing through my old diaries from the nineties. There are things that I really don’t remember at all, which is a worry. I was full of hope for the future; it’s an odd feeling looking back, I feel quite protective of the young lady I was then, knowing what I know now. My mum says that I’m like a cartoon character – I keep getting squashed by a boulder but always somehow manage to ping back to life again. There goes that old song in my head ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again’.

The whole saga is chronicled in my mum’s diaries too. Oddly enough, as she was looking through them to help me remember events during the house build for my book – as well as providing me information about what the weather was doing at the time, she realised that her 2010 diary was missing, we hunted high and low but it had gone. No, it wasn’t me – I didn’t do anything particularly dastardly that year, so you can stop pointing the finger. Now we will never know now what the weather was doing in 2010, unless we Google it of course. We discussed what would happen to her diaries when she departs from this earthly life. She said to burn them, but I think not. Since writing Mud & Marriage I have now got into the habit of keeping a diary, not every day, but I know that looking back on them one day will give me a great sense of amusement.  I wonder why we only remember the highs and lows. It’s a puzzle how only a few strange details filter through.  I suppose we file many things away in the pleats of our mind, and there they will stay I expect. (Or until you become friends with someone on Facebook who you knew when you were fifteen and it all the embarrassing moments come flooding back).

I have written notes in my diaries for people to read on my departure to the heavenly realms. I’ll be glad to give people who might read them some food for thought. Wagging an advisory finger from a different dimension is safer I think. I’d better hide them until then eh.

We had some visitors today who have read Mud & Marriage – I was very pleased indeed to show them round the house. Mr Clark and I showed them the photo book  we made of the house build from start to finish and they said that it must have been a huge task.  Looking back, yes it was, but while you are living it, you just live it and get on with it. Keeping a diary is a great thing – It shows you how far you’ve come and that things usually turn out alright in the end.  I’d do it all again – it’s an adventure, and even though unpredictable events may be daunting at the time, they make for an interesting story.

 

You can buy Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure from Amazon.co.uk  or from this website.

How to build a site manager out of a fussy middle aged woman and a Pot Noodle – husbands and subcontractors take note.

  1. Make sure she has knee pads (with Velcro fasteners)  How about these?
  2. Make sure she has steel toecap boots
  3. Keep an emergency Pot Noodle in the site office
  4. Give her a kettle, teabags, some milk and a mouse-proof container
  5. Never attempt to put fish tins on her rubble pile
  6. Buy her draught-proof clothing
  7. Buy her waterproof clothing
  8. Sing to her
  9. Tell her some jokes when she looks upset –  You could have this book handy.
  10. Don’t tell her jokes when she looks a bit miffed
  11. Don’t ignore the red and white barrier tape around her trees
  12. Don’t tell porkies
  13. Admire her choice of bucket colour – this Jewson one looks nice.
  14. Remark how tidy her site office shed looks
  15. Don’t let on she has hat hair

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You can buy this fussy site manager’s book Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure from Amazon.co.uk in paperback or on Kindle or from this website.

Do you need more storage? An Ikea Pax wardrobe might float your boat.

Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure is available in paperback from this website or from Amazon.co.uk in paperback or on Kindle.

Well … I have made my first foray into writing an article for a magazine – I am very happy indeed and feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity. I was invited to write the article for the April edition of i-build magazine and I am very pleased with the result – thank you editor Emily Smith.

Self-building is a big life changing experience and writing the book is another. When I wrote the article I was thinking of other self-builders battling the wind and rain trying to get their build watertight – as being watertight is a major achievement and signals a significant step in the process of building a home. I suppose April showers are all part of the process. If you are building at the moment I feel for you, but hang on in there; it’ll be worth it, there is light at the end of the chilly and damp tunnel. One day you’ll look back fondly – it’s amazing how you forget the sogginess (but you do).

I don’t know if you have read my previous ramblings, but I have said in the past that I wish we had built in more storage at the time of the build. Well, Mr Clark and I took the plunge and now we have a fabulous Ikea Pax wardrobe.  Actually it isn’t just a wardrobe; it is a whole wall of storage with drawers and shelves, which we customised for the space with the help of a lovely young lady at the Southampton branch. We went to Ikea for dinner – who doesn’t love their meatballs – and came away with a printout of exactly what our wardrobe would look like. When it arrived, Mr C put it all together himself … he demolished a light fitting in the process but I think he enjoyed the challenge. It prompted an overdue spring clean which can only be a good thing and Oxfam will be happy.

As I wipe the salad cream off the ends of my hair (I’ve just had my dinner) and the dinner medals off my jumper, I would just like to say – before I have a glass of Chardonnay, thank you for reading my blog. It would be lovely to hear from you if you felt like dropping me a line.

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Building show tips and a total eclipse.

How many of you woke up this morning in Britain singing that Bonnie Tyler song? Mr Clark was treated to a rendition on my awakening. He wasn’t impressed.

I opened the shutters wide and what did I see? A completely grey sky staring back at me. Then the sun came out about an hour later – oh well. According to my horoscope in the Telegraph magazine, the solar eclipse is auspicious. I am still waiting for that ‘unexpected conversation this week that will help me branch out and break new ground’.

I had a long chat with a lovely young lady from Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine  yesterday. It wasn’t ground-breaking but a very good chat nonetheless. We talked about the Homebuilding and Renovating shows, as Mr Clark and I went to quite a few of them before and during our self-build. It was at one of the shows that we met a couple who were by then on their third house build, and they, along with Mark Brinkley and David Snell (the house building gurus), inspired us to go ahead and project manage our own build.

For us the shows were a vital part of gathering information for essential items, from roof tiles and ground- source heating, to sewage treatment systems and flooring, we always came away with bulging carrier bags full of brochures. If you are planning to go to a show, take your list of stands you want to visit, wear comfy shoes and also take a flask and sandwiches – gather as many free pens and sweets from the stands as you can, and have a lovely time eyeing up all those things you would love to have but you probably can’t afford (luxury mobile homes or caravans for living on site being one of them), they might not let you eat your sandwiches as you try out the comfy seats but you could have a go and see what happens!

You can read more about our Homebuilding and Renovating Show visits in my book Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure, available from Amazon.co.uk  or from this website.