' the Woodlouse: August 2014


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Living in the baley bungalow

As anybody reading this who knows us or follows me on twitter will probably already know: we're in! We moved in at the beginning of June after an epic push to get the place ready.

It's not finished, but it mostly looks it if you don't look too closely. Architraves and skirting need filling, sanding and painting, the bath needs a bath panel, various cupboards and shelves need to be fitted (or created, then fitted), the garden needs emptying of extraneous building materials, the pile of clay needs levelling, the shed needs painting, a gate needs fitting; the sunroom needs plastering, painting and flooring; and paintwork everywhere needs touching up. But I think that might be kind of 'it'. Things have slowly been getting more finished since move-in, but everything takes longer when there's the apparatus of daily life to work around, and be kept clean, and be distracted by. Also when, frankly, we're both knackered! We started work on site roughly two years and two months before we moved in.

It was - of course - never meant to take so long. To blame for that is a mixture of wildly optimistic scheduling, appallingly bad weather (the wettest year in England on record), several major life events, flare-ups of chronic ill-health, total lack of experience, and various other things within and without our control. But whatever, we're living in our own strawbaley bungalow, and both refurb and extension are lovely to live in.

The day before move-in, Darren (wonderful brother-in-law and carpenter), Mike (lovely builder, window-fitter, solar-thermal installer and incredibly helpful person) and me were still hanging doors and frantically fitting skirtings and architraves well into the evening. Darren and Mike helped with clearing the larger debris from a week of last-minute works, then left me alone to clear everything else from the bungalow (mostly by cramming into the sunroom), try to remove all traces of sawdust and rubbish, and generally make the place presentable and ready to move in. It was a long evening, but actually really good for me and the bungalow to have some quiet time together while after the build stuff was removed and before everything we own arrived. Sort of time for me to go "so, then: we've done all-right together haven't we baley bungalow?". That probably sounds odd. Oh well.

Seeing the "finishing" touches come together in that last week, with the architraves and skirtings suddenly crisping up the look of place, was amazing and overwhelming.

On move in day itself I stayed at the mouldy bungalow to pack the inevitable "last few things" (about a big van's worth...) while Anna came ahead to the bungalow to be here when the removal men brought the first load (we used movers and I'm so glad we did. I was exhausted by the last push and would have collapsed completely if faced with moving everything too). A little while after Anna left to come up here, she called in tears and I had the usual worries about what could have happened, but then she said "it's beautiful" and I realised she was happy, not upset. Until that point Anna had naturally only ever seen the bungalow while I was working on it, so it was almost always a mess, and an unfinished mess at that. She didn't get to see it emerging from the mess in the same way I did. Turns out the place scrubbed up pretty well.

At some point soon I'll write about how the building is performing (mostly very well - a comfortable, low-energy living environment). For now I'll just say a massive heartfelt thankyou to everybody who has helped us get here. There are many of you and it wouldn't have happened without you. Really wouldn't. To all of you who built walls, brought cake, tied bales, shovelled gravel in the rain, chopped straw with a lawnmower, cleared rubble; nailed, tied, glued, wedged, screwed or otherwise fixed things together; hefted things about, scrabbled in the ground, scaled scaffolds and walls; mixed various types of mud, and plastered walls; fed us, brought us drinks; advised us, taught us, steered us away from some huge mistakes and towards solutions to others; put up with me talking about little else, were patient with my incessant posting of pictures online of walls, or holes in the ground, and even encouraged me by liking some of them; friends and family who encouraged us, and let us complain about things even though we chose this and are so very lucky to be able to do it; helped and entertained Anna when I was too busy, or tired, or both; really everybody who has helped in anyway at all; THANKYOU! You're all amazing.

And here's some more photos (in more or less chronological order).

The sedum-roofed extensions, sitting nonchalantly between the bungalows

Rainwater system sorted (more on this in a future blog - rainwater harvesting is more complicated than I'd thought, especially environmental credentials or otherwise, but if done correctly can be great)

Late night working the brother-in-law, two days before move-in. This is the main bedroom. Darren selected the pink as his preferred colour for the evening.

Bathroom (shower is out-of-shot)

External lighting on lime/glass render

7:30pm, day before move-in, the living room.

Later that night... (sawbench in previous photo was on far side of that counter)

Kitchen, night before move-in.

Our lovely neighbours gave us flowers when we moved in. I felt like we should have given them flowers for putting up with us!

The dog enjoying his new garden, despite the debris.

Solar thermal working well: 85 degrees C at the top of the hotwater tank

Excess skirting and architrave re-purposed as wardrobe shelving, allowing us to unpack some more boxes

Anna enjoying her maiden voyage down the newly sorted side-access (recycled-plastic paving grid filled with gravel - firm surface for scooter but well-draining)

Sedum roof starting to flower.

View from the back with some of the building debris cleared.

The roof in flower.

I hauled Anna up onto the roof so she could see it too.

Rainbows of light from a solatube

More solatube rainbows, over glass light-fitting (I have a lot of photos of these rainbows. I love them)

Finally persuaded the heat-recover ventilation controller to speak English. I was surprised to find it could control time.

Excess UK larch decking turned into shoe, coat, hat, scarf and bag racking in porchy bit.

Clay, wonderful clay, oh how I love you (clay plaster - quite a lot of photos of this too)

Two months after we moved in, we finally got the house number up (made by a friend).

Another 'finally done' - finally glazed the truth window, to display the straw (the shelving next to it is temporary)

Finally replaced the horrible plastic window sill end-caps with the metal ones we've had in a box for months, then completed the render by plastering up to end-cap - to make sure no water can find its way into the bales. Also fixed some cracks in the render.

Rear deck and access ramp. UK Larch

From the front, with pile of play.

Front access.

I love this bit. Lime/glass plaster sparkliness, clay plaster natural clayey loveliness, oak floor, nice doors, and a bit of stainless steel for good measure.


Kitchen shelves up, with cup hooks. Pots made my me and a variety of other potters.

And to prove we're still capable of smiling after it all, even with a camera pointing at us