We have had a lot going on in the last couple of weeks since the last update – at least that is what the stage payment request tells me. There isn’t much visual to report on though but that might change for next week’s update.
So up to the beginning of this week we had the walls in the cottage completely insulated and they are basically ready for plastering now. You can see Alfie checking out the cladding below.
We finally got a response to our structural queries (to be fair Peter was on holiday and we did get a response from him so that is quite good). So the concrete lintel was removed from the cottage and a steel one installed higher up so we can now fit in our bifold doors.
We also have an answer to structural issues in the main house so that work is progressing as I write. Lost more to report on that next week.
Another step forward is the erection of scaffolding for the “heritage conservation roof light windows”. Basically expensive Velux type windows for the cottage kitchen and ensuite bathroom.
What has been highlighted though is how much lighter and more airy our front entrance is now. Below are two pictures showing the current light open access compared to the overgrown dark oppressive access in 2015 (we had already done quite a bit of cutting back of plant life when the photo was taken). Quite apart from the darkness all the vegetation is not good for the walls as it encourages damp. The dead leaves also block gutters which leads to damp and even wall collapse.
You can see also that the vegetation has been massively reduced by looking back into the building.
Just a short update today as it is a only a couple of days since the last update. I noticed that we have very few humans in our blog so here is a little video of the inside of the cottage.
There is a bit of progress in the cottage this week we were away including first fit of the plumbing. We also had a large eucalyptus tree removed. I was sorry to miss this as it was quite a technical removal. The crown was removed using ropes and pulleys without touching the building below despite half the tree overhanging the building. The trunk was left long and then removed by a block and pulley system using a 4×4 vehicle 30 metres away. I can thoroughly recommend our tree surgeon Richard Heyward (http://www.treesurgeoncornwall.com/) he has done several jobs for us and always done a very good job.Where the tree once stood is now a plinth for the oil tank for the cottage.
The very large root ball was also cut in half and removed, you can see Fred sitting the next to the two halves of the root ball below.
There is also a plinth for the oil combi boiler which will be outside. This is for safety (no carbon monoxide risk in side the building) and space saving.
We are still slightly frustrated by being held up by structural engineering requirements . The engineer is currently on holiday so we can’t expect any progress for a while.
It is a bit late due to us being away for most of the week but here is the update for Bank Holiday week. A few interesting things happened during the week running up to the Bank Holiday.
Firstly we had a delivery of sand in a 27 tonne tipper. We didn’t think we could get such a big lorry down our road. Not only did he arrive safely but he came up the hill from Penpol – anyone who knows that road will tell you it is steep, narrow and there are no passing places for 600 yards or so. A lorry this size will fill the whole road. Now we know practically any lorry can get to our house so we can order almost anything we want for delivery.
The sand was required for the screed floor in the cottage which was duly laid on Wednesday and needs to be left to cure for a week or so. It’s difficult to take a decent picture of the new floor but laying the new floor means that next week the walls can be insulated and plastered. We are hoping for big progress this week including a plumbing first fit. I have had to bring forward the delivery of the shower tray so that we can have it fitted ready for plaster boarding around the shower.
The next interesting occurrence was that we uncovered the septic tank. As we suspected there is no man hole on the tank which is about 3m x 3m. We were able to remove one of the concrete slabs and reveal inside a 2 chamber system. The solids chamber is almost totally full with sludge and worms. We know it has not been emptied for at least 15 years so it does work ok. We now have to find a contractor to empty it before it starts backing up in the pipe. Unfortunately whilst revealing the tank we damaged the pitch fibre sewage pipe. Whilst carrying out a repair we also discovered a cracked inlet T so that was also repaired.
We completed the removal of the render from the east wall of the house. So we have no more “Polperro Ripple” and only one wall is currently rendered. The west wall has an unknown render on it but it will remain for now. The stone work we have revealed is of mixed quality. Some is quite good and attractive and some is not in very good condition and has quite a lot of slate in it. We still have to decide what to do with it leave it natural or re-render with lime plaster.
The render/finish on the walls of a house of this age is very important. You should not have an impervious outer layer as the walls are designed to breathe. This breathing allows moisture to migrate through the wall and escape thus preventing damp issues. Our house has had two walls with impervious cement render which is most likely a contributory factor in the amount of rot and wood worm we have encountered. Both the wood worm and fungal rot prefer damp conditions (even so called dry rot needs damp). Wood worm requires a humidity greater than 60% and wood moisture content of greater than 12% to thrive. Fungal rot generally requires greater than 20% moisture in the wood to survive. Moisture contents of between 8 – 16% may be found in a ‘normal’ dry domestic dwelling wood.
This week also saw the mowing of the main sector of the lawn. Cutting a large area with a small electric flymo is quite time consuming but it looks good. The so called lawn is mostly meadow grass and weeds and I had left it un-mowed because I though the builders van would be parked on there a lot. We managed to arrange access through the farmer’s yard so we have hardly had any traffic on the lawn. The neater lawn is going to be nice when the building work is over and we look out of our new kitchen.
Also in preparation for a life after builders we have purchased and assembled a chicken coop. We plan to have our own fresh eggs and vegetables. Gardening at this house will be a challenge as there is very little topsoil and it is very windy. Many plants show signs of wind burn on new leaves when they are produced.
This week we ran out of luck with the weather and it rained all day Monday and Tuesday. Well you know what that means with builders – muuud. Actually it is very muddy but being in Cornwall the soil is loam so its not like sticky Essex mud we have known before. It is muddy but not as messy as it could be.
An early victory was the removal of a huge root ball. This was a potted bay leaf plant that my Grandmother planted in the flower bed in 1952. It had grown to over 30 feet tall with multiple large trunks. The trunks were removed by a tree surgeon in early 2016 as it was causing massive damp problems. The leaves were also falling into the gutters and blocking them – bay leaves don’t rot well so they form good plugs. Unfortunately due to access restrictions he couldn’t get his big stump grinder close to the stump and we hadn’t managed to kill the stump. It took two days of labour and a digger to remove it and we reckon it weighs over a tonne. When it finally came away there was much whooping, hollering and tooting of the digger hooter. There were no major roots just millions of little tiny roots bonded to the wall.
Luckily there were inside jobs to do. In the main house we have hit a hiatus though. The structural steel arrived Tuesday, Wednesday morning the builders prepared for beginning the job and we were out Wednesday afternoon. When we returned we found the dodgy beam lifted by a few inches and some stone work removed. The builders had revealed that the dodgy beam was supported by a wooden lintel over the ground floor window not the expected granite so we need a structural engineer to sign off proposed replacement lintel. This is our hiatus we can’t get hold of the engineer but we were able to leave a message with his wife to which he hasn’t responded (#Cornwall life ). So we are at a halt and most of the work in the house depends on getting the structural support into the floor.
The beam and ceiling are all supported by Acro Props ready to go and amazingly the room looks bigger as the ceiling in the middle of the room is now about 20cm higher. Being a listed building we need to keep the lathe and plaster ceiling which is now probably a bit unstable so we are going to fit a plaster board ceiling below it. This achieves two things – it secures the historical ceiling in place and it ensures a flat ceiling so we can have flush ceiling lights.
We had to go to Truro to confirm our choice of work top for the kitchen in the main house on Wednesday. We are using Fired Earth in Truro for our kitchen as we need free standing units due to the listing issues – they have been great and all the people who work there have been really helpful and knowledgeable. We went to Topps Tiles choosing flooring etc. I can recommend Topps Tiles Truro its massive and there is so much choice it is quite confusing, and the staff are very helpful.
In the cottage a lot of progress but not very visual. The walls are battened for installation of insulation. Electrical first fix is done and electric supply cables are laid in the trench. We have most of the insulation laid on the floor. That place is going to be so warm. Several drainage pipes were also laid and we began re-filling some trenches.
The big excitement cam on Friday afternoon. We used the digger to move the large lump of concrete over the old rain water tank. Only it isn’t a rain water tank but and old well – 21 metres down to the water and possibly another 4 metres after that. The hole is big as well approximately 2 metres by 2 metres! Its only 1.5 metres from our front door and we were oblivious to is existence but we do have a borehole drawing water from the same source a couple of metres away. We are now considering making a feature of this with a glass cover and some lighting. That will be for another day after the end of the main project.
This week was the time we turned The Trev Project into a proper building site.
First of all the digger arrived on site and started – well digging. We are digging trenches around Marler Cottage (the outbuilding we are converting) for drains, power supply water supply, oil pipeline and a French drain. Why oil I hear you think. Well as we are an isolated rural property there is no chance of getting gas so we are using an oil combi boiler.
As you can see this has turned our lovely courtyard area into a a load of holes and piles of shale dug out of them. A feature of the area is that there is very little topsoil and about 10 to 20 cm down you find rocky shale stone. this will be a challenge in developing the garden in years to come.
One thing we have done is tried to recycle some of the bushes dug up. So I have replanted a couple of lovely Weigelia bushes in the hope that they will recover and grow again. One is planted to hide and old tree stump (see picture) and another is planted in the vegetable garden. Bees love Weigelia flowers so we hope to attract bees in the future to our veg patch.
Another way our project is transformed is that we now have loads of scaffolding around the house. This will help in re-rendering the house and the removal of windows for repair (It is a condition of listed build consent that we repair not replace or upgrade the windows. This is bad for insulation and the environment due to the increased CO2 production required for heating. In the world of preserving old buildings keeping the old stuff trumps looking after the planet for our descendants.) There is also scaffold up the chimney which will be required when the flue liner is installed for the new modern, efficient Heritage cooker/boiler which will replace the old very inefficient Aga. Sadly even though the Aga is over 70 years old it has no second hand value, I would have thought it was an antique!
The inside of Marler Cottage has also made some progress with internal stud-work progressing. We have had to make a minor design change following the building inspector’s visit as he insisted on having damp proof membrane up to 1 metre so we now have to batten the walls before installing celotex insulation to the internal walls. This will make a minor change to the size of the inside space.
Undaunted by the upheaval we had friends to stay over the weekend. We still have 2 bedrooms and one working, if slightly temperamental, toilet so it worked OK and we had a great weekend. We did manage some stress relief.
Another interesting thing this weekend is that we had a wildlife incident in the house. A swallow looking for a nesting site came in the open front door flew up the stairs into the bathroom and then back down and out. Not much of an issue except that it left its signature in multiple places as it flew around. Luckily nothing too critical was signed.
The coming week is likely to see more disruption as the structural steel is due to be delivered and installed so it should be all go inside the house. The weather forecast good for farmers and growers this week but not so good for builders so if inside jobs are available that will be good.
Ok not that much visual stuff going on at the moment.
In Marler Cottage the big change is the delivery of the concrete for the new floor. We had to have a small cement mixer lorry to fit in the gate. Unfortunately the cement mixer was just 3 barrow loads short of the complete floor so the guys had to hand mix 3 barrow loads.
The other big thing, though not very visual, is that we ordered the kitchen for the cottage which will be delivered on 3rd June. We still make a final decision on what shower and toilet we want but that is looking good too.
In the main house we have made limited progress. The joists for the new floor in the ensuite bathroom have been put in. We have to keep the rotten old floor because the boards are lime washed underneath and the heritage people think that is great. It’s a bit of a shame because if we could raise the ceiling in the laundry below that would be very convenient.
We have the beginnings of the new panelling in the new kitchen. We have to keep the original so we are having matching panels made for the wall where the toilet was removed.
The main progress has been in removing the cement render from the front of the house. Rubblestone walls are designed to breath and get rid of moisture. If they are cement rendered that can’t happen because the cement is impervious. This leads to damp walls which can cause timber rot. We do have quite bad rot in at least one main beam at the wall end. The plan is to lime render the wall with a breathable paint on the outside. Originally we were going to remove only one layer of cement but as some of the render came off quite easily we are going for the full strip.
We also exposed some lovely granite lintels above the windows. You can just see a window that was blocked up at some point just to the left of the porch. We have an old photo copy of a drawing done in 1815 which shows the windows in the current position so when the window was changed is still a mystery
You can see that the porch is also partly gone. The timbers were totally rotten but the walls turned out to be very hard.
We decided that we would probably need planning permission since we were planning to convert an empty out building into accommodation. To quote the famous Fawlty Towers character “We no nothing”. To get the house up to scratch and to comply with the regulations we decided we needed help.
We needed someone to help pilot us through the system and the local council procedures. We appointed an architect by looking for someone local who had done this kind of project before. Our architect was working on a bigger, higher budget job in the same village so we felt he would be sympathetic. He has been invaluable in helping us navigate our way through the system and in preparing the necessary documentation and drawings. He also guided us through all the required pre-amble.
Planning is administered by the council Conservation Officers. At the time we took over the house the county had 2 conservation officers one was off long term ill and the other was due to go on maternity leave. Originally each district had its own conservation officers but the ravages of local Government cuts meant this was reduced to 2 officers for the whole county.
We were advised to create a planning pre-application which the Council would assess and advise if planning permission is required. We duly filed one with the help of our architect. It is worth noting that you have to pay for a “pre-app” and, it is assessed by the relevant planning officer. Getting your pre-app approved is no guarantee that you will get your planning permission/listed building consent approved when you submit it. It does however give you a good steer as to what if any modifications you might need to make and it is usually significantly less expensive than the final application.
The planning application was submitted in tandem with the Listed Building consent (see previous post) and all the accompanying documents. We received provisional approval subject to conditions mainly around the bats.
We started working on the planning process in January 2015. Our planning application was officially received by the Council 28/07/16 and approved subject to conditions 15/09/16. The application is submitted to the County Council but has to be approved by the Parish Council as well.
We submitted our revised application with mitigation plans 5/12/16 and planning permission subject to the issue of a license from Natural England was granted on 15/2/17. We could not apply for the licence until we had been granted Planning Permission. To find out more about the licence see the Totally Flipping Batty post.