Loft conversion – week…3?

Well I’m not quite sure which week of build we are on (it is either 2 or 3), but what I can tell you is that there is no way anyone can put a tight schedule on this thing. For example, it rained buckets a couple of days in a row and that pretty much put the dormer build back, not a couple of days, but a whole week. They can’t start a big job like that in the rain or if they do not have enough dry days to finish it before the weekend, unless you want an unattended tarpaulin roof covering your home over a weekend… didn’t think so!

Add to that days where one half of a two-person team can’t make it to work, which then means some work just can’t happen full stop. Lifting huge beams up scaffolding and fixing them up is simply a two-person job for example. Another version of that issue is where in a two-person team, one person is clearly the brains of the operation and the other is the brawn.  The brains has to be there, if they can’t be there to direct proceedings then the brawn pretty much goes home.

And who would have thought rubble was something that could prevent work happening? Well it does and it is has! Our garden has limited space for rubble and we’ve already given over the patio, the side return AND the front bedroom for rubble! So another delay was that at one point, no more roof could come off until there was somewhere to put the resulting rubble! And that depends on availability of refuse collectors and managing the tension between the cost of doing that for a relatively small amount of waste and the issue preventing further work. 

Ah, and have I mentioned staff sickness? Plus the pregnant wives of staff being sick?! I’m not doubting that being legit by the way, but you get the picture. Realistically the timetable is never going to be perfectly slick when there are so many moving parts.

So all in all, trying to work out what is happening when has been a futile pursuit!

Which is difficult when you’ve promised the neighbour to be in for jobs that are on the party wall and you are negotiating with your own workplace to work from home when key trades are visiting the site, like electricians and plumbers. Because it might well look logical to someone else to put your light pendant in that place there… but it doesn’t mean that would work for your planned room layout! Also, it might well be easier not to relocate the fan onto a different wall…after all it involves hours of extra work. So it is quite tactical to be around to point out that unless the fan was relocated then it wouldn’t extract as well as it could in your power showered steamy bathroom. Plus leaving the fan where it is might impede the new floor in the loft sitting as low as it could above the bathroom (meaning that your loft ceilings wouldn’t be as high). Plus, of course, it is handy to be there is make reminders of particular tasks have been pre-agreed and written into the contract! To be fair to them, it isn’t malice, just poor communication. But these are the kinds of things it is useful to be around for and the kinds of conversation you need to be prepared to have. After all, if you say nowt then you definitely won’t get the end product you’ve been dreaming of and pinning hundreds of inspiration images to boards on pinterest for! And then it’ll be no one’s fault but yours!!

So here’s my potted learning to date:

  • Know when to pick your battles. Timetabling is an imprecise science and out of yours and sometimes your contractor’s hands, so build in plenty of slack in your mind for that. Keep your powder dry for  another battle where there is something that can actually be won.
  • Be onsite for the start of the day at least, when key tradespeople visit so that you can go through the details with them.
  • Make as much space as you can for rubble and materials to be stored. And then make some more!
  • In small gardens, be prepared to sacrifice your lawn for materials to be stored on. It can always be re-seeded.
  • Specifically ask about safety railings, footings required on neighbouring roofs and ‘overhang’ when discussing scaffolding. It would have been a lot easier for us in terms of talking to neighbours if we had known and been able to ask everything at the outset rather than having to constantly go back and ask for extra permissions.
  • Allow <10cm room for error in all your drawings and plans, especially in old houses. Ceiling height can vary in just the same room if your floor is wonky!
  • Make sure you think vertically in everything you do from planning to rubble collection; fans up on high some walls affect what you can do in the room above; there is no reason that rubble or materials have to be kept at ground level. The could go in a spare bedroom or on scaffolding. Think upward and downward.
  • Learn to love dust sheets. A fitted sheet works well on top of your already-made-up bed to keep the dust off before you go back to bed.
  • Have your showers in the evening when you havd privacy. It’s easier than getting up early before the builders arrive.
  • Make sure at the planning and quoting stage you get everything discussed written down.  Especially the smaller jobs that get easily forgotten. Don’t be afraid to bat your contract back and forth until all the words are there that you need.
  • House insurance whilst you have scaffolding is a very big issue as many insurers won’t cover it and those that do will charge extra, so budget for this. On our terraced property an additonal £200 was required.
  • Don’t take your phone into the loft to inspect things unless it is tied to your wrist. Much as spending over an hour thinking of ways to fish a fallen phone out of a 7 foot deep cavity wall was an especially creative and ‘team-building’ way to spend an evening with my husband, it is not necessarily one that’d bear repeating!

And finally…

  • If you are powdering your face in the morning whilst the builders are working above and brick-dust falls down on you… Just work it in! Cement is probably what they put in half your face products anyway 😉

Here are some pics.

  • All that planning I did beforehand… Absolutely key. As was the prosecco.

Our garden then:

Our garden now:

Our 1st floor ceiling with framework up so that they can be lowered to lend some height to the loft room being built above:

 And our 1st floor ceilings plasterboarded now:

The first dormer going up:

The dormers so far now:

And finally – 

Q: How to get a phone out of a 7 foot deep cavity wall space: 

A: Fashion a long hook using one of the garden tool hangers that was previously screwed to your shed wall.

Over and out for now 👍

Choosing your gardener/landscaper/own personal artist

Today is the day for the planting! I had some wonderful people come round and visit my garden to quote on the planting. All were very enthusiastic about the direction it was going in.  After quotes and ideas were tendered I took some time to consider a) whether I really wanted to spend money getting a contactor to do the job (doubt is forever present!) and b) who to go with.

I had an expensive quote, a reasonable quote,  a quote that never arrived as the contractor had such a lot on and also a contractor that politely declined the job as they felt it was a bit beyond their knowledge level, given that I had quite a defined list of ‘wants’/vision for the garden.

I have to admit that I also did take some time post quotes also to really consider whether this was a job that I could not manage myself. I did a lot of gardening book work and reading to see if I could suss it out … but every time I went to take myself to the nursery to order plants, I found I just had more questions than I did before.

So I went with the contracting. I am so pleased I did! I found that my new and improved plant knowledge meant that I could much more meaningfully engage with my plantsman when agreeing the planting list – which was a wonderful,  enjoyable process. We discussed ideas for plants and he made lots of great suggestions before submitting planting lists for me to check through and agree.

It was time spent just going through colours, shapes and textures of plants. A process being coordinated *just for me*. Much as with RTL (the landscaper), this process of bringing in expertise has been a creative one – much like commissioning artists – you want to employ someone you can work with on a practical level (including the ability to have a constructive disagreement), someone you can afford/who is prepared to work to your budget,  and also someone who ‘gets you’. Someone who is prepared to work to your style, provide insight and expertly shape your plans along the way.