PT has lived in his railwayman’s cottage in a village in Northamptonshire since the late nineties but decided that he need a bit more space so would have an extension made to the house. However, he enjoys a challenge and therefore decided to do a lot of the work himself, with the help of a local builder. Initially the local council refused the proposed plans, but on appeal the refusal was overturned and work could start. Ground clearing started in August 2010 but the building work didn’t start until January 2011.

Summer 2010

The majority of September was taken up carefully removing, cleaning and stacking about 6,000 bricks which were originally an old wash room, a brick shed (both in poor condition) and a walled garden, which would form the footprint of the new extension. Fortunately, that meant the new building could be built from matching bricks, without the need to buy new, although I did pick up another 1,800 imperial reclaims from an online auction. Although they looked very similar, they were in fact slightly smaller at 3in x 9in than my originals which were about 3.25in x 9.25in. This would come in rather useful later on.

Also during September, I spoke to a number of architects. The one I chose came up with a very interesting (and more extensive – i.e expensive) build than I had envisaged. The plans were drawn up and sent to the local council, who said they would reject them on the grounds that the upper storey was 900mm too wide. Revised plans were sent, and accepted, but subsequently rejected by building control because the staircase could no longer fit properly into the space available. Planning permission was sought for our extra 900mm, but was rejected. I felt we had no option but to appeal, which we did, and fortunately common sense prevailed. However, this had put the build back by about 4 months.

January 2011

The good news of the successful appeal came at the beginning of January, and work could finally start. January was taken up removing the last of the (quite deep) foundations of the old wash room and other walls. Apart from finding one old drain which didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose, nothing else was found apart from the water supply to the house, which took a very odd route and was found by the digger! Fortunately, although it was a 15mm copper pipe and was snagged right up, it didn’t puncture. Unfortunately, it was now exposed to the elements and at risk of freezing. It also meant that all the foundations had to be carefully laid around it.

One weekend was taken up checking and then re-doing the plans from the architects. Their measurements were out by about 1m in some areas, meaning the footings for the chimney had been dug in completely the wrong place. Grrrr. Fortunately, I picked this up in time, as noticing it later would have been much more problematic.

By the end of January, the footings had been dug and inspected, the old drains removed and a new drain installed, together with all the drainage for both the foul and surface water as the original was a combined system. The foundations were bailed out numerous times, and finally the strip foundation was laid and the initial concrete blocks built to sub-floor level. I also decided to dig out and pour footings for a double garage. As this was to be no larger than 30sq m it could proceed under permitted development. Hooray! No need to go back to the planners again!

February 2011

Dreadful weather, but finally the slab could be poured. The MOT and sand blind was laid and whacked down, then the damp proof membrane laid. I decided to put plenty of rebar in the slab as it was quite large – about 6m x 10m – and being close to the railway, I didn’t want any problems from vibrations in years to come. How nice to get the slab down, rather than being up to your ankles in clay mud.

Progress was halted at the end of February when I realised that the garage footings we’d laid were too small for a double garage. One demoralising day was taken demolishing one wall which we’d built, and digging new footings about 1 metre out. It also meant the drain which had been laid for the outside toilet was also in the wrong place, and would have to be removed and resited, another demoralising job I put off for another couple of months.

By the end of the month the walls were starting to go up, and it was beginning to look like a building.

March 2011

Good weather, which was a nice change after the previous month. The large amount of scaffolding I’d bought on Ebay the previous summer was finally starting to go up, and a difficult decision had to be made. The back wall of the stairwell would need, eventually, to be removed. At this stage only the lower section needed to come out, but it would be easier in the long run to take the whole wall down, rather than have to support the upper section. However, that would make the property very vulnerable as it would be impossible to secure it. In the end, I decided to take the wall down and hope for the best. It proved a bonus that it was a 13.5in solid wall, providing another 2,000 bricks once they’d all been cleaned. At the same time, the back door was removed, as was the old kitchen window which would need to be reduced in size, giving a new meaning to the phrase “open house”.

The brick arches over the windows started to go up. The slightly smaller bricks I’d bought previously came in very handy in getting the right size and number of bricks for each arch.

Another task was to dig a pad foundation for the steel posts supporting the RSJs. One set of steels was to support the upper walls and floors, and another halved the span of the floor joists on the first floor. Raising the steels was a half day’s job, with the help of two friendly neighbours. It was certainly good news to see them up! Once they were up, the first floor was joisted.

April 2011

Building went smoothly, with the brickwork and blockwork reaching wall plate level by the end of the month. Steadily progress became more exhausting, constantly raising the scaffold, and taking bricks, blocks and cement ever higher. Although I had (hopefully) enough bricks, I had to source some imperial cants for under the eaves and the window sills, as I was determined to match the original house. A decent job lot of cants was hard to come by, until by chance I found somewhere which had just had a delivery of over 2,000 of them. As I only needed 550, that was perfect. I also started looking to source chimney pots which matched the original. This was to prove rather more difficult.

And to add to the difficulties, the toilet was finally removed, and the only “toilet” remaining was the new manhole, which had two joist offcuts over it for a seat. As there was now no heating, no back door or rear windows, an enormous hole the height of the house, no toilet or bath etc, and only cold water to the kitchen, things were certainly pretty spartan.

May 2011

A further steel was successfully erected to halve the ceiling joists, and also a ridge steel, to provide a decent, unobstructed storage space in the loft. The new chimney went up, and was corbelled to match precisely the design of the original. Roof slates were a dilemma – whether to go for new Spanish, Chinese or similar, or reclaimed Welsh. Eventually I decided on the Welsh as the cost was only about 20% more, and they were then in keeping with the original. One of the chimneys on the original house, which had been rebuilt in fire bricks without proper corbelling was demolished, and rebuilt to match the original. At this point, all the “bad” alterations which had been made over the years (such as windows inserted with concrete lintels) had now gone, which was good to see.

Quotes for bespoke octagonal chimney pots ranged from £450 + VAT per pot to £650 + VAT per pot. As I wanted 10, that was totally out of the question. However, eventually I found somewhere to make them for just £100 each. Hooray!

Roof stripping began, and fortunately the good weather held out most of the time.

June 2011

Slating the roof continued apace, the second chimney went up, and the new loft was floored. The roof was also filled with insulation and stirlingboard fitted to the underside to prevent any racking. The small gable was also roofed, and the chimney to that was erected. This chimney was intended to take the outlet from the tumble drier up one side, and the outlet from the new boiler up the other. However, this turned out to be more problematic than I had envisaged. The chimney on the new gable to the double storey section was to take the outlet for the wood-burning stove up one side, and the SVP up the other. Those were both to be installed when the chimney pots were put on.

July 2011

The staircase was removed to lay a concrete floor in that section of the old hall. The suspended wooden floor in the kitchen was taken up the previous summer due to rotten joists, and a concrete floor laid. The floorboards were carefully stored over the winter to be used in the new first floor. The only wooden floor remaining downstairs was now the one in the old sitting room, and this will be removed later to enable the whole of the downstairs to be heated by underfloor heating.

The downstairs started to take shape, with interior walls going up. The incorrectly sited drainage to the garage was rectified and the plumbing installed. The base for that was poured. The new chimney pots arrived and were installed, as were the cant bricks for the window sills and gutters and some downpipes. All that is needed now are the windows and doors, and finally the house will be secure again after nearly half a year. Whew!

August 2011

Finally it was time to install the windows, doors and glazed roof. I decided to have the front windows replaced at the same time – as the house was in such a mess anyway! I had given plenty of thought regarding whether to have wooden windows or upvc; I decided that a red brick house needs white window frames, and to save having to paint all the astragal bars every few years, I went for upvc windows with a white ash effect, but bought a wooden back door. l was pleased with the look of it all, except the glazed roof which didn’t look good from the outside. Never mind – that can be leaded in due course.

Now the house was secure and weather-proof, the staircase was installed temporarily and the upstairs stud walls erected. We also put up a scaffold to place the chimney pots on the original chimney, and took the opportunity to install a liner for an extractor fan in the kitchen and do some re-pointing on that wall.

September 2011

Having worked on the house solidly from January, I decided, now it was secure, to take a short holiday which was nice. Unfortunately, that meant that progress slowed down, although we did make a start on the garage, which will match the house in terms of arched windows etc.

It was also time to make decisions about heating, lighting and bathrooms etc in preparation for the first fix electrics and plumbing. I had already bought a boiler before VAT went up, so that was one expense out of the way, but costs were really mounting up now, and I was coming to the conclusion that I might seriously run out of money before the build is complete. Oh well….

One disappointment was the flue for the boiler. I had hoped that the boiler could be vented up one of the chimneys. However, it would have necessitated a huge cowl about twice the size of my current chimney pots, and that was totally out of the question. After a rethink, I decided to re-site the boiler on the other side of the house where the balanced flue will be pretty much out of sight.

October 2011

With the house needing to be more or less empty in preparation for the under-floor heating and floor screed, I decided to press on with the garage which could then be used as a dry storage area. The circular window at the front was a labour of love which we started 3 times before getting it right(!), but I was pleased with the end result. I also decided to put a chimney on the garage, not only to match the rest of the house, but also to act as a buttress as everything (house and garage included) tends to shake when a train goes past.

November 2011

As the end of the year approached, it really felt as if things were slowing down. Pressure of work meant that less time could be devoted to the build. Some problems with the windows came to light which threatened to slow things down.

Some progress was made as the front door was refurbished, and the floor in the original sitting room was taken up and a concrete floor laid. The floorboards could then be used to complete the upstairs floors in the new section. In anticipation of a very cold winter, a week was taken cleaning up and stacking the remaining bricks to prevent frost damage, some of which had been lying in the ground and were soaked. It seemed an endless task as there were over a thousand of them. And a couple of months before, I had been worried about running out of bricks…

December 2011

As the end of the year approached, I had a difficult decision to make. The hatch to the loft really needed to be moved because I didn’t want it ruining the aesthetics of the ceiling on the landing as I had a plan for that. After much thought, I decided the only viable option was to remove part of the 13 1/2 inch original rear wall to gain an extra foot, and to site the hatch there. Unfortunately, that necessitated taking down the pier which we’d built earlier in the year to take the ridge steel. If only we’d built the house one brick longer..! However, it was now or never, as to do it in the future would have been almost impossible. So with a heavy heart the pier and the wall was taken down, and the roof supported with a steel beam and post. And then there were another 550 bricks to be cleaned and stacked.

As the first year of the project came to an end it was good to reflect on what had been achieved.

January 2012

Having had a rest over Christmas, the New Year started off with renewed enthusiasm. A number of outstanding external jobs was completed, including finishing the outside toilet and completing the guttering. The scaffold could also be partly dismantled, with just a couple of sections remaining, and the prolonged gale-force winds gave the new structures a good testing. Still there were delays with the windows, a saga which was now entering its sixth month, but internally we could forge ahead.

The joist pattern had to be altered due to the loft hatch, a fiddly job which would have been much easier had I thought more carefully about it earlier (!), but we managed to thread the extra joists through in the right place. The original floorboards were put down to complete most of the upstairs flooring, although those from the original sitting room were annoyingly 28mm, so 6mm had to be planed off to match the rest. The plasterboard was fitted and the soil pipes installed, again a fiddly job due to the number of steels to avoid. The first fix plumbing and wiring was also installed, and a whole load of catalogues thumbed through to choose and order everything for the bathroom and en suite at the lowest prices possible.

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