In the previous post, I looked at essential preparation before embarking on an eco renovation. Once we had a plan, we were ready to start the eco renovation itself. This was exciting and scary! It was a huge undertaking, and it didn’t take long to realise that we needed flexibility in our plans, altering as necessary.
I initially intended to continue living in my house during the renovation, thinking I could just squash into one corner. However, the builder and the architect thought I should move into a rented home for the 6 to 8 months they estimated it would take to do the build.
The builders had to take plaster off some walls, and take a lot of the house apart, to know what was happening behind the scenes before they could finalise the details of the plan. This project was growing, taking on a life of its own. For instance, to accommodate under-floor heating the builders needed to dig up all the lower floors. Squashing in a corner was impossible.
Budget for unexpected expenses
So now, as well as the build, I needed to budget for rent, removal, and storage of a lot of my belongings. I searched the local papers and online for somewhere to stay, and visited various prospective homes. Ideally, I wanted somewhere in the same village as the cottage. Nothing suitable come up, but an apartment turned up in a nearby town. It’s a bit of a drive to my building site, but I can retreat to peace and quiet when it gets hectic. I stored much of my furniture with my trusty removers, Cotswold Carriers, so that I only needed to rent a small cheap place.
With me out of the way, the builders got to work pulling down bits of my house. One of the first things they needed to do was strengthen the building with rolled steel joists (RSJs.) These beams provide a lot of strength to the first floor of the house and help strengthen the whole building. Putting them in place was a major job in itself. Holes had to be made for two RSJs to go across the house from one side through the middle wall (which was still standing) and into the wall on the opposite side.
The builders told me that they would have to make pads for the RSJs to sit on in the wall. These provide insulation, and without them, cold would come in through the ends of joists from the outside walls. When I heard about these pads, I imagined something soft like a mattress, but they turned out to be made of a special insulating bricks. Not as soft as they sounded!
Once we’d started dismantling the house, we realised that the floor to the attic needed to go. It would also be a good idea to lower the first floor ceilings, to give more height in the attic bedroom.
As there was a couple of inches (5 cm) difference in floor level between the two halves of my cottage, (it used to be two cottages.) The builders were able to even this up, so the whole of the first floor would be one level. They dug out the ground floor by two feet (60 cm), leaving space for the insulation and under floor heating to go in.
At this point some old plaster remained on some of the walls. As we discussed various options of insulation for beneath the under floor heating, Sandy, the architect sketched these out on the walls! It seemed a good use of the plaster and made it easier for me to understand the different levels of the floor.
Be flexible with your renovation plan
So, as you can see, the process of starting the eco-renovation of an old house requires a plan. However, there is also a need for re-assessing and “thinking on your feet” as you get down to details.
The builders then discovered that there were no lintels or joists across the top of the windows, and they were amazed that the windows hadn’t collapsed. As it was, rotting window frames were all that held them up. Before the builders took out the old windows, they had to prop them up with Acro props (metal props) and put in concrete lintels to hold up the walls. Otherwise, when they took the windows out, the building would have collapsed.
Because the walls were so thick, it took two (and in some cases three) lintels side by side along the depth of the wall to hold the weight of the stonework above.
I went into this aware that building work always takes longer and costs more than expected. However I hadn’t anticipated it to become obvious so soon. The building had been renovated in the 1970s, so we had thought that during that builders would have fixed any major structural issues. It turned out we were wrong!
So my advice for you is: with an old building, never take anything for granted. You never know what horrors lie beneath the plaster.
Stop Press – My clever friend Yvonne, who is the Editor (and sometimes Ghost Writer) on Cotswold Eco Build, has won a major blogging award! In 2015, Yvonne started a blogging initiative as a counter to the violence occurring in our world. Her post, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion has won a BlogHer 2016 Voices of the Year Honorees award in the Impact category.