Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Welcome All,

Having been in our 3 bedroomed house for some 10 years now, raising our children to 6 and 7 years old, and my wife starting to develop her own bookkeeping business working from home, we started to think about how soon retirement would hit us.  Do we attempt to save some money for our retirement, pay into a private pension, or something else.  In the end we went for the latter option and decided to max out our mortgage, and have a nice house for the children to grow up in, and then in our golden years downsize and the equity release being our pension.  So began our project, during the course of this home extension, we have made many mistakes, and received some good advice, so I thought I would share the highlights, so others can benefit and understand the ups and downs of project managing your own home extension.

This first post covers all the activity we did during the previous 6 months.  Now I have started it, I will try and keep it upto date !!!

Planning Phase:
This is supposed to be the best part, this is where you dream about endless possibilities, and spend many hours thinking up new ways of extending your living space and sketching out countless ideas.  Some obvious advice is to have a look at other extensions in your area, see what you like / dislike.  I would also advice talking to a local builder about your ideas and get a rough estimate on typical costs of what you are thinking about at this early stage.  I was surprised at how complicated and therefore costly some ideas would be, and got some good suggestions on alternative ideas.

Once you have decided on what you want, and obtain cost estimates, you need to get a set of plans drawn up so you can start to get official quotations and apply for planning permission.  As we were on a budget, and knew exactly what we wanted, we decided against paying for an architect to design building plans, and used a local drafting company to create the drawings needed to obtain planning permission.  This option was considerably cheaper, somewhere between 15-20% of the cost of using a traditional architect but this means that your building regs will have to be done as a Building Notice rather than Full Plans submission (a simple explanation of the differences can be found at (
We asked our draftsman to act as our agent on the planning application, and after resolving a minor issue over the position of existing windows on the plans, the application was granted within a couple of months.

For us, it was important that the materials we used were as close a match as possible to the existing building, we didn’t want the extension to look too new compared to the existing building.  Luckily for us several neighbours had already built extensions and done the research in finding the exact brick the house was built out of.  The bad news was that during the recession, the brick manufacturer had gone bankrupt and there were very few bricks left in the country.  We knew that the brick was a Caradale Royal Mixture, and used the internet to identify several suppliers / merchants.  We decided to order the bricks very early into the project, as we needed the vast majority of the bricks available within the country and were concerned that they would not be available later on.  This meant that we had to estimate the quantity of bricks available before the plans were fixed and as a result, we ordered too many !  So if you can wait, better to get the builders to calculate exactly what you need, taking into account the areas such as windows, garage doors, etc that don’t require bricks.

Once you have a set of plans, it is time to select a building firm.  Whilst the plans are vital, it is also important to make sure that you have very clear instructions on what the builder will be required to do.  The clearer these instructions, the better the quotation will be.  Think of it from the builders view point, if the scope of works is not clear, he needs to include additional cost to cover all eventualities, or worst still, once the work starts you get a large additional bill for things he assumed you would pay for.  To make this stage as easy as possible we spent a few days detailing as many items as possible that needed to be done in each room.  I have attached a copy of the file so other people may use this as a starting point for your projects. (

We contacted builders we had personal recomendations from friends and after getting quotes from 4 builders, we were surprised at the wide spread of costs we got back.  Eventually after reviewing the quotes and checking out previous examples of building jobs they had done, we selected a small local builder, Porte Developements (

Simon was chosen as his quote was competitive, but also his previous examples of workmanship were great, I talked to his recent clients who were very positive, and whilst our build would be the largest project he has undertaken by himself, I just felt like we could work together on this project and have a good honest open relationship which was very important to myself.  I wanted someone who I could openly talk ideas with and likewise have someone who would bring alternative ideas to me for the benefit of the build and not builder.  They needed to understand our desire to complete this project to a high standard and avoid some of the mistakes we had made in the past and throughout this project I have been very happy with my choice of builder with no second thoughts.

Selecting the builder and getting them on board as early as possible is invaluable, as a good builder will help you make the right choices and talk through any options you may still want to define before making the final planning permission application.  A good example here is where Simon suggested that we put vaulted ceilings in the rear extension to make the rooms feel more spacious.

 As an example of the type of documents required and comments that are made, there is a planning portal that local authorities use to store all of these and keep them in the public domain.  Our plans can be found at

Also don't make the same mistake as we did, once we got planning permission approved, we assumed buildings regulations was automatic !!!  It is not and you should apply for this and get approval before work commences.  Luckily for us, our builder and buildings regs inspector were very good, with Simon helping to guide us through the forms  at the point of the first inspection (foundation depth check) !!!

Building Phase:
It is very exciting to see the work start, and we have taken several pictures to tell the story of the build progressing.  Most of the photo's have dates on them so you can see the pace of the progress.  As the build started in the autumn of 2012, the draught and hosepipe ban from earlier in the year had well and truly finished and we suffered from rain of biblical proportions.  The builders may well have turned their hands into making an ark rather than a house extension !

Front & rear shots before work commenced.

Preparation starts on the groundworks.

Foundations are dug. As we are on chalk, depth was about 1m.

Concrete foundations are poured. Luckily the lorry could get to the foundation so only minimum wheelbarrowing was required by Simon & his apprentice Aaron.  They also had additional labourers and experts as and when required.

Dont worry about it raining on the concrete, all the water in the concrete will rise to the top as it sets.

Digging out of the new pond started.  Be warned, soil multiplies by several times its original volume as it breaks up.  In the end we needed something like 3 to 4 grab lorries to get rid of it all.

Luckily the builders had the forsight to think about future drainage requirements and install this before the foundations were poured

Solid heavy blocks are layed on top of the foundation for the footings, followed by lighter blocks and bricks for the external wall.

 Brickwork is wrapped around the opening for the garage door that later will be fitted behind the reveal.  To minimise the costs we decided to keep the existing gas and electric meters in the garage rather than move them to an external wall.

Structure at the rear of the house starts to take place with lintels placed above the doorways and windows.  Simon was very patient with us deciding on exact window sizes, and gave good advice on how to blend the new and old parts of the house together.

One of my daughters decides that she is having the new extension has her new rooms  and decides to inspect the progress !!!!

The floor beams for the 1st floor are fitted in place.

 Steelwork is fitted to support the 1st floor & roof.  These looked extremely heavy, I wasn't around when the builder fitted them, but I am sure there must have been some explitives whilst lifting them in place. Also, Simon had listened to our request that we didn't want to have a support beam in our existing kitchen (want a flat wall to make kitchen design easier), so the steels have been positioned so that the support beam can be placed in the new family room.

Brickwork for the 2nd story goes up. Just a tip, our draftsman told us we only need to leave a 600mm gap from the extension to the boundary as scaffolding can be erected in this space.  Only problem is the scaffolders said they had never done this and would need an architectural drawing of how to errect scaffolding like this.  Luckily for us the neighbours were very good and allowed us to place the scaffolding on their property, which they didnt need to do.

Up on the scaffolding, you can get inside the rooms and get a feel for the size they will be.

The next day the woodwork for the roof starts to be cut and installed.

Roof is prepared with felt and battons, just ready for the tiles to go on next.

 Tiles are laid on the roof.  we were fortunate enough that another house on the street had already completed a major extension and we were able to buy the old roof tiles so they blended in better than brand new ones which have not been weathered.

Sun setting with the builders hard at work trying to recover some of the lost time due the never ending rain.  Also the brickwork between the old house and the new extension was perfectly aligned unlike many other extionsions I have seen.

 View from the opposite corner with the old gabel now in the centre of the property.
 Christmas time, the pet chickens expore the rear extension, scaffolding on the 1st floor extension has been removed and rebuilt on the opposite side to repair the chimney breast.

The upper part of the front of the house is completed.  Whilst the building is not complete, we still have a few thousand bricks left over.  Anyone want to buy some hard to obtain Caradale Royal Mixture ?

 Preparation for the floor takes place, with the ground insulation and damp proof course being layed.

 Concrete floor goes in, first a course slurry is mixed up on site to get the bulk of the floor down.

Then a smooth layer is delivered and levelled off.  The following day, they return to give the surface a scrape to level off any monor bumps before allowing it to fully dry.  Within 2 days the floor is solid and can be walked on.

 Wooden roof beams for the rear extension are cut to size on site

 The roof is then felted and battoned, before tiles are laid.  Due to the height of the rear doors, the roof ended up being a 12.5 degree pitch, not 15 degree as originally planned.  this meant we had to purchase some very expensive tiles which can remain watertight down to a 10 degree pitch.  Rather than nailed down, each tile is secured in place by a bespoke clip.

 Finally the snow is starting to melt and work can carry on again.  I guess this is what you have to expect when doing a major project throughout the winter.

External oak doors have now been fitted to the rear extension.

Garage door is installed and the house is now secure again !

 Windows are now installed, almost watertight, just the garage door to go.

Work starts on the inside, plumbing for radiators and new kitchen is laid.  Electric cabling is run throughout the extension in readiness for the drylining.
Finally the 1970's kitchen comes out and the old external wall is started to be removed.
 Builders hard at work removing the old external wall.
Dry lining of the new kitchen is nearly complete.
 Virtually all rooms are under some kind of construction, have to use every nook and cranny for storage as we have no kitchen yet.
A sink has been installed into the garage for washing up.  Unfortunately the internal door between the house and the garage is not in yet, so everything has to be taken out the front door, walk round to the garage, wash & dried by hand, then walked all the way back outside and into the house.  Very tempting to buy a load of paper plates and cups !!!!
Garage roof drylining starts to hide the network of water pipes.
Plastering is nearing completion, now you can really start to feel the size of the rooms and the scale of the painting job next !!!
Tiling of the kitchen floor starts. the builders worked out a pattern before they started to make sure there were no edges with a thin strip of tile.
Walls have been painted with a watered down white emulsion so the moisture soaks into the plasterwork.  If you use standard emulsion as the first coat, it will leave roller marks behind.
Most of the tiles are now layed.  A couple of days delay as the floor was levelled between the old and the new parts of the house to get a seamless join.
The new bedroom is plastered and ready for painting.
The ensuite tiling and painting is almost complete.  Shower is installed ready for mosaic tiles to be laid over the pipework.

The old external window in the downstairs bathroom has been bricked up and plastered as the garage is now the other side and any joining walls must be fire retardant.

The built in wardrobe in the existing bedroom is removed, in preparation for making a corridor into the extension.
A pressurised boiler system is installed in the garage, which will allow us to remove all the old header tanks in the loft, and the hot water system in the upstairs bathroom.  Good job the pressurised systems can stay downstairs, I don't think the hot water tank will fit in the loft.  Got the largest water tank we could (310L), with 3 bathrooms and 3 females, I am going to need it !!!

The old hot water tank cupboard is removed and about to be retiled, creating the way for the passageway into the new bedroom.

Finally I get round to starting the decorating... The passageway after a lick of paint.

 The new bedroom finally finished.

With the en suite Simon installed, very impressed with his tiling and constantly made suggestions on how to finish off the look.  Just like on the TV advert, we looked at all the designer bathrooms and high street stores, but in the end got everything from Victoria Plumb at a fraction of the cost and the quality is just as good as far more expensive suppliers.

The new kitchen is installed and the decorating nearly complete.  The kitchen was supplied from Howdens, and is the Howarth White range (Painted Oak & Ash), the Granite worktop from Anything Stone Swindon (Royal Blue Pearl).

The best feature is the x2 built in dishwashers, yeah no more piles of dirty dishes waiting for the dishwasher to be free, after using it for a few months now, definitely the best idea of the kitchen, it really helps to keep the place clean & tidy.

Due to the vaulted ceiling, the ceiling height was far taller than a normal room and the chimney hood would not reach to the ceiling.  Simon suggested we buy another section of the hood from Rangemaster, and he expertly joined them together and you don't really notice the join unless you look for it.

As the room was so big, it needed 2 radiators.  Another good suggestion from his plumber was to get a plinth heather instead of a second radiator, it connects to the central heating and blows out hot air from the hot water pipes, seems to work really well.

The old part of the kitchen was sectioned off into a utility room with separate door to keep all the crap out of the way.

A new shed built from left over bricks and roof tiles from the main extension, even the door and windows were removed from the house as part of the extension.

 Simon replaced the old wooden cladding from the porch and rebricked it to blend it in with the rest of the house.

 The rear of the house after the extension is finished.

The front of the house after the extension is finished.

The inside of the porch after Simon fitted new doors, windows, plastered and tiled.

New family room, after spending 2 hours tidying it up so I could take this Photo, it will never look like this again, not until the kids leave home anyway!

Family room from the outside.

I will add  pictures of the other refurbished rooms once they have been decorated and tidied!!!!