' the Woodlouse: April 2012


Sunday, 22 April 2012


It's been a busy and exciting week.  We've had some proper builders in to speed things up and get vaguely back towards schedule, and most importantly to get in the giant glulam (glue-laminated) timber beams that will now support the roof, allowing us to open up the ceiling for the living space and have a wide of spread of light from roof windows there.  The beams are very strong, lighter than steel, have much better environmental credentials than steel, and are easier to deal with than steel in terms of fixings etc.  But they they are still pretty heavy (about 200 kilos each for the big two I think), and blatantly more than could be wrestled into place at the top of the roof by just me and a couple of friends.  Ever since the structural engineer presented us with his proposal for a wonderfully simple roof structure it's been preying on my mind that it would only be simple once finished: getting the beams in place underneath the existing roof looked anything but simple (actually I didn't think that far at first, it was Anna who first posed the crucial "how do we get it them in there?" question).  The builders have the experience, the equipment, and perhaps just the blind confidence to be able to get them in.

Monday, 16 April 2012

I'm not panicing, honest.

I've been doing a lot of this lately:

It's quite fun but I'm still finding the amount of internal bungalow demolition quite alarming.  Builders are due in tomorrow to put in the big glulam beams that'll support the roof once we cut out the ceiling in the living area.  Once that's done there's a bit more demolition to do -  a cluster of walls that currently hold up all the ceilings - then things will hopefully start to take a more constructive turn.  The new sloping ceiling will go in, the roof will go back on and, if time allows, possibly solar panels will go up on the roof.  Then the scaffolding will come down and all being well groundworks can begin.  Later on (or possibly while someone who actually knows what they're doing with a digger does the groundworks) new internal walls can be put in where needed.  There's much much more that will need doing but that'll do for now.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Strawbale Courses

Progress on site seems to be quite rapid now.  Lots has been done in the last few weeks, aided greatly by having temporarily hired a labourer so I'm not working alone.  It's brilliant how much faster things can happen with two people.  I'm still hoping to make great use of voluntary labour whenever it is available, so if anyone reading this likes the sound of that please let me know!  I'm starting to get a few people lined up for this now, which is a great weight off my mind.  Progress report via the photos below.

But first, it's time to announce the two strawbale building courses we're planning to run to build the loadbearing extension and the bungalow wrap.  Probably both courses will do a bit of both to give the broadest possible experience.  The instructor will be Kuba Wihan, the excellent strawbale building designer and consultant.  The lovely folk at Straw Works (which Kuba has close ties to) will be handling the admin for the course, so please contact them (strawworks@gmail.com) for full information and to book.  There is more info about Straw Works and their other current projects on their facebook page, and the courses are listed there under 'events'.

The dates for our courses are July 25th - 29th 2012, August 1st - 5th 2012.  The cost will be £325 for 5 day course, including a vegetarian lunch.  We hope to be able to include an evening meal in the price (though the course info currently says this will be extra) but can't promise anything yet.  There are many local campsites and B&Bs, and the sea is about 2 miles away.

Here's the blurb from the course flier:
During those two five day workshops, we will be upgrading an existing bungalow in Bridport to meet very low energy building standards, while using natural materials. This is a unique opportunity to take part in wrapping an existing bungalow externally with strawbales and simultaneously building a load bearing strawbale extension. The newly wrapped bungalow and strawbale extension is going to have solar thermal as well as solar PV panels on the roof, conservatory, rainwater harvesting, mechanical heat recovery ventilation system and Finnish wood burning massoven as a backup for extra cold winters. Anna and John Butler hope to give the 1960s bungalow a new lease of life, aiming for a home that is lovely, comfortable and consumes very little energy, using materials with lowest possible associated pollution and embodied energy. Anna has limited mobility so the completed bungalow will be accessible with level access throughout.

I don't know whether or not anyone in the UK has wrapped a building in strawbales for external insulation before (if you have - or know anyone who has - I would love to know) so this really is a rare chance to get some hands-on experience of doing it.  I think it should happen more often!  That part of the build is fairly straightforward and will result in a massive improvement of insulation for the bungalow (in conjunction with increased airtightness and loft insulation).  Kuba has done this before in the Czech Republic (see Strawbale Wrappaging), so he is the ideal person to be working with on this project.

Meanwhile, preparatory works continue:

Garage roof removed.  Boards saved for later use.

More back straining but highly satisfying sledgehammer swinging later...

There are lots of reusable bricks here.  Some will be used in internal changes to the existing bungalow, the rest will be stored in the garden to build raised beds and paths with later.

Demolishing the garage freed up a table and some doorframe timber to make a tool table with.  Things are getting more organised!

Scaffolding up.  It was suggested that I could just use a scaffold tower to strip the roof from but especially after the sunroom roof incident I decided the expense was well worth it for added ease and safety

End of Day 1 of roof strip.  No bats were found, but the very helpful ecologist from Dorset Ecology helped us stack tiles.

Mid morning on Day 2. The tiles to need to be stripped so that the roof timbers are unladen when we make structural changes.  The 47 year old felt was shot and disintegrated on touch so that had to come off too.

Hello kitchen

Hello sky

The wall cavity is a hideous place.  Anybody identify this spider? One of about 5 different species of large spider found during the course of roof work.

Eaves structure detail.  A new timber wall plate will shortly be added inside the eaves/above the soffit, which will enable us to compress the strawbale wrap down from it

End of Day 2.  Temporarily covered with plastic to keep most of the rain out until the structural changes are done and the roof can be re-tiled, hopefully within the next fortnight.  I don't like having to use all that plastic, but there wasn't much choice at the time.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


10kg demolition hammer made much quicker work of the stubbornly solid chimney breast.
I had hoped to have most of the roof work done by now, but instead we are just about ready to start it.  I keep remembering Kuba's comments about the works schedule (Kuba Wihan, strawbale building design/consultancy): I'm not sure of the exact words but the gist was that the schedule was something you do and then watch it go to hell (though I think he put it more nicely than that).  The written schedule is more a means of working out what order to do things in, and it provides me a framework to keep check on whether we're vaguely on track or not.  If I remember to check it often enough it should also remind me when to order things at roughly the right the time.  Should...

Right now the schedule is kind of dictating itself.  Structural details weren't approved earlier, I didn't get some things sorted earlier, I fell through the sunroom roof and that slowed me down etc etc.  I've decided to use a firm of local builders to (hopefully) speed things along a bit with the structural changes to the roof, so that we can still get the Bat-loft (as I've started thinking of it) re-roofed and sealed off from the rest of the build by the end of April, so that we comply with our Bat Mitigation Plan and have it ready in time for any bats that fancy it to hang out in there and breed.  Further roof work (insulation, running of MVHR - Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery - ducting and the like will then have to wait until October when the next bat-safe window opens).