The Westacre Project – looking back at 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged that big projects never go the way you expect. Ours is no different. But we have done some great stuff in 2014.

The year took a while to get started. The winter was mild but relentlessly wet. In the early Spring, it did stop raining, and we started preparing for the great work of insulating the house.EWIWhiteSheet

Installing external wall insulation doesn’t start where you expect it to, though. Why you would make a substantial raised vegetable bed in order to insulate a house isn’t exactly obvious.

It’s because of the earth works. You need to insulate right into the foundations to below the level of the insulation under the floor. So we had to dig out all the foundations. The spoils of the digging works were transferred into the raised vegetable bed. Which is as huge as we could make it, but still nowhere large enough for all the soil we dug out.

And of course, once you’re digging, you may as well dig the path we are going to have all around the house, with the help of a posse of friends. It was a good idea to have the paths ready, so the scaffolding we’d need for installing the insulation would have something level to stand on. And while you’re doing that, you may as well dig the trenches for the drain pipes around the house. No use filling in the path and then having to dig it up again another time.

Consequently, the first half of the year was taken up with earth works of various kinds. We finished the raised vegetable bed with sturdy timbers and

- dug out the foundations.
– spray-insulated the foundations.
– uncovered drain pipes.
– dug out pathways around the house.
– created new trenches for new pipes.
– laid the pipes and connected them up with the existing ones.
– made foundations for the balcony we’ll eventually build.
– filled all the trenches in again.
– covered over the new pipes complying with the building regulations.
– created brick edges for the paths.
– filled the paths with gravel.

And only after that were we ready to start putting insulation on the house. Which requires a lot of measuring and cutting of polystyrene. And a lot of drilling holes and hammering in fastenings. And because we’re particular, we are also filling any gaps with expanding builders’ foam.

Of course, the polystyrene makes the walls 16 cm thicker, so we also have to extend the roof in all directions. We extended verges by adding an extra rafter, and eves by lengthening the rafters. A lot of meticulous measuring and cutting.

The insulation is not just polystyrene, though. Far more is going on underneath.

- A vapour barrier, custom tailored for the house.
– The wall around each window carefully smoothed out with crack-free render.
– Then the gap between render and window frame filled with a fibrous filler.
– An airtight membrane with a rubber gasket pushed into the window frame.
– Membrane glued to the wall.
– Vapour barrier glued to the membrane.

Hopefully, all of that will make the result pretty air tight.

By now, a few days after Christmas, we have covered just over half the walls with external wall insulation. And some of that has been covered with render by our plasterer. At least we have some idea of what the place is going to look like.

A few other jobs got done as well:

- Steel I-beam installed to replace the partition that was holding up the roof.
– Floor in the old kitchen and dining room taken out.
– Floor boards used to make a new wood store.
– Ceiling joists in the big room upstairs replaced with bigger, better ones.

It feels quite satisfying looking at it all like that. We have worked hard and achieved an awful lot.

Not according to plan, of course. If all had gone the way we imagined it, we wouldn’t have done most of this year’s work ourselves – or even at all. For one reason and another, these jobs added themselves to our list. That has slowed us down quite a lot, but we have learned so much in the process.

We’re having a rest now. And who knows what adventures we will have in the year to come…

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