Ending the Radio silence – I hope….

There has been a radio silence on the blog recently. Which happens to coincide with a few mishaps and problems (“yet more?!” I hear you cry). I didn’t want this blog to be a litany of disasters and moans, and retain the upbeat, good news and optimism-in-the-face-of-house-Armageddon attitude, but that has unfortunately resulted in zero material for the blog over the past couple of months. So here is a bit of honest-blogging. There isn’t a neat narrative and happy ending to this (yet).

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One of the problems I’ve been dealing with is the aforementioned missing piece of structural metalwork. Another has been waiting for the large numbers of  things to be fixed by the framers. It seems many were the fault of the timber frame company for not providing the right items at the right time and the framers have been doing extra work at the site to fix them (fortunately not at my expense).
But it is hard to work out why the wall dividing the kitchen-dining room from the utility room is still learning against the wall, happily warping in the damp air.
Those readers who have been paying attention will remember this wall and its mysterious imaginary  neighbour had already been causing some consternation and much to-and-froing between the various camps of engineers on the project while we were in the final stages of getting the house translated from the architects plans to the timber kit. (See blog)
And despite all the back and forth to persued the timber kit company that one of the walls they had made a structural wall (a racking panel to be precise – tying together the house to stop it flexing in the wind, rather than holding up any beams etc) was not a wall at all – only the diving line between open-plan kitchen and dining room – both walls had been delivered and were sitting there.

IMG_9940Just sitting there warping (but the good side of having an extra wall I didn’t need is that I can use the one that isn’t warped – but is too short- in place and add bits on…)
There is also the issue of the windows. They have been fitted in the wrong place. It really is just too wearisome to describe here. You’ll have to wait for a bit of good news on this front before I dare to draw out a blog on this one…

There’s also the small issue of not having anyone to do the cladding for the house. I may have, in my trusting nativity, put a bit too much faith in the word of the framing company that they would be able to do the cladding as well as the frame erection.  Anyway, when it came to it – the pressures of lots and lots of houses to put up – meant that they didn’t want to do the cladding in the end and I was left with scaffolding and a half built house and no prospect whatsoever of getting cladding on it anytime soon.

I started the search for a company to do the cladding. The brilliant builders who did the foundations are tied up with two or three builds and couldn’t manage within my timeframe (the time frame of “GETTITUP!!!-the-scaffolding-is costing-me-and-the-rain-is-pouring-in-bigtime”) and calls to umpteen companies and visits from a few resulted in zero companies who could start this calendar year.

Eventually a company from Oban have been up and looked at the work and pointed out a few problems I have (including the window problem) and have sent me a quote. I am readying myself with a stiff drink just in case before I dare open the document.

And to finish with, here’s a nice sunset (it really went all these colours) taken from the Holly Tree Inn where I have been buying more than my fair share of cappuccinos recently to escape wind and rain and lack of reception and low battery power. It’s to remind me that life is beautiful despite the tiny issue of a troublesome house build.

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The agonies and the ecstasies

I’m bathed in a warm glow of light. The sky is more blue, the birds more eloquent. There is an ecstatic quality to the everyday, it’s all swimming in a haze of benign joy. It’s like I’m a little bit in love but not quite sure why and with whom.

I’m on cloud nine (or is it cloud cuckoo land?) The house is starting to come together.

I’ve been like this for a few days. It’s quite nice really. I’ve got other things to do – work, family, other busyness. But when I have a few moments spare I retreat back to this happy golden and sun-shining place.

It’s actually rather a novelty, given the stress and woe of the project recently. But, thinking philosophically, I recon you just cannot have the ecstatic highs without the miserable barrel-bottom-scraping lows.

It makes it all worth it.

And that’s why I’m going to enjoy it.

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Visiting a timber frame factory

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It’s taken me a while to get round to writing this up but here goes.

In July I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Scotframe, a timber frame company with a factory in Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow. It’s the first time that Matt has used a timber kit approach with the houses that he has designed and was keen to see the processes and the factory in action so I tagged along and, since it was school holidays, so did the kids. It was a hot and sunny day – one of the best of the summer thus far, and they moaned and groaned bitterly at the prospect of a morning sitting still and behaving on an industrial estate in one of central Scotland’s less picturesque spots.

We met Ray Waite, the business development manager and sat in a small and airless office meeting room. We talked through the basics of the process: a frame made from timber, with foam insulation between, refective membranes on each side and covered by chipboard. The panels are made in Cumbernauld but the insulation injection machine is in Aberdeen and so panels are transported there for finishing. You can choose the thickness of the walls, depending on the insultation you want in the house. I think we are having the most well-insulated version.

I have to admit to being somewhat bewitched by our host’s hair – a classic 80s do, with ample flicked fringe and luxurient demi-mullet. Something that the Hoff would have been proud of in his knightrider glory days and something that you just don’t see enough of. However, I am sure you will be glad to know that I didn’t let this distract me from collecting useful information for this blog.

We were all dying to see the factory though, and it was here that Ray really came into his own. It was obvious that he was happiest on the shop floor and he showed his real enthusiasm for his product – I’m not a great fan of professional salesmen but you can tell a guy who loves his precision nailing device (I think the impressively complicated machines actually do a lot more than nailing by the way).

Once our house is manufactured in the factory – windows and doors mounted in frames, panels packed up and labelled with the postcode, incredibly it will take only 4 days to build it to wind and water tight. Yes, you heard correctly. Four Days.

Once the kit is built, the slates and external cladding for the walls would need to go on but we would, essentially, have what would be recognisably a house. This is a dramatically shorter amount of time on site than conventional forms of building and far more controllable. It needs only a small weather window and, from there, the work can largely be protected from inclement weather. The system seems perfectly adapted for building in the notoriously unpredictable West coast of Scotland climate.

Given all of these advantages I wonder why Matt hadn’t specified this method of construction in previous houses. (that’s me sold on it)

The other query is whether this is going to give us the ‘Eco-house’ we so desire (see previous blog). It may be mainly timber but the insulation is made of evil petrochemicals.

I suppose this is a good point to remind us that we went to this system due to the costs of the extra-ecological-all-natural construction method Matt originally specified. This system looked to get us the best insulation and air-tightness for the cost.

The Scotframe panels can apparently achieve very good airtight ness as they fit together like a giant 3D jigsaw, with a female end (chipboard overhanging the wood frame) into which the male part – rounded ends of the wood frame fits. The membranes overlap and ensure a really airtight fit (figures were quoted but I was too busy keeping the kids quiet, or observing the mullet, to write them down – apologies). They use Scandinavian timber for the structural elements: slower growing and with a tighter grain, they give better strength than Scottish wood apparently. But they do use Scottish timber where they can, in the fibreboard/chipboard stuff.

The process they use has an impressive lack of waste. It will take a couple of weeks to program the designs for the house at Cuil Bay into their computers which then calculate how the machines need to cut the timber and assemble the panels most efficiently. This leaves about 3% waste – very impressive when compared against the 40-50% waste that there would be in a timber frame house being constructed on site.

The process all looks extremely efficient. Which is very comforting as it means that, presumably once we are past this current slow moving bit and we have made all the decisions and got all the permissions, the house will magically appear on the site. I can’t wait.

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