trades and diy
Ian Rock begins phase two of his extension project as he replaces the heating system and takes on more of the manual work himself, starting with the floorboards
With all the external works now signed off, we’ve been busy preparing for the second phase: transforming the crude shell of the extension into a living space. The internal works have been divided into jobs where specialist trades will be needed and tasks that I can manage on a DIY basis. Taking personal control of a building project means you need to draw up a detailed programme in the form of a flowchart highlighting key stages which are dependent on other tasks being completed in advance. This helps identify which jobs are time critical.
Mindful of the fact that decent tradespeople are generally booked up well in advance, we actually started the ball rolling a couple of months ago by inviting quotes. Choosing to run your project in this way has the advantage of putting you firmly in the driving seat, but you need to devote a lot of time to tracking down competent trades and sifting through quotes. Luckily there’s no pressing deadline to get our extension completed so we can focus primarily on quality and price.
Heating tHe House
It’s often the case when extending your home that the existing heating system turns out to be a bit wheezy and past-it. Our boiler has done good service but is in the autumn of its life. It’s also in the wrong position now that the house has been extended, so a provision has been made in the budget for a new heating system to serve the enlarged house.
I had originally hoped to deploy the latest eco-friendly technology, but working to a fairly tight budget meant that the sums for alternative heating sources like solar hot water and heat pumps in the final analysis didn’t add up. The most economical and practical solution was simply to install a more powerful oil-fired boiler augmented by a new ‘solar diverter’ to channel surplus electricity from our existing solar PV panels to the hot water cylinder.
Prices quoted just for installing a new boiler initially came in at well over £5,000 which struck me as a bit on the high side. So it made sense to cut out the middleman and buy our chosen Worcester Danesmoor 25/32 online along with the manufacturer’s filter and flue at a total cost of £2,238 (inc. VAT). After factoring in the cost of labour to install it, we ended up saving over £1,200 on the initial quotes.
I was lucky to find a local heating engineer called Edward Smith trading as Helix Heating; a young, quietly spoken guy who clearly knew his stuff and wasn’t too proud to listen to the client’s requirements! Ed made some sensible recommendations, and aided by his apprentice took three days to do the job, even taking the trouble to offer us some temporary heaters while the heating was cut off.
While you’ve got the system drained down, it’s worth checking for signs of erosion and seepage staining too, so we took the opportunity to replace the old rusty pump and a defective motor valve fitted to the hot water cylinder.
“We all have our favourite pieces of kit and my personal weapon of choice is the demolition concrete breaker”
Although modern condensing boilers are far more efficient and compact than those from previous generations, it’s striking how much they weigh — ours tipped the scales at a heady 112kg, and some external oil boilers can weigh twice as much. One factor that sometimes gets overlooked at the design stage is the positioning of the flue. For oil boilers the minimum distance from any opening windows is 60cm (double that stipulated for gas boilers).
Ed returned the following day with the completed paperwork for the five-year manufacturer’s warranty and a copy of the OFTEC documentation he’d submitted to building control. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story because we’d stumbled upon one of those classic ‘grey areas’ that afflict building projects. None of the heating guys we got quotes from were too keen on doing the related wiring, regarding that as a spark’s job. So we agreed to postpone Ed’s electrician installing the new clock programmer, utilising a makeshift timer until the first fix electrics were in place.
It’s slowly dawning on me just how busy I’m going to be with a monster list of DIY jobs, so to make time I’ve backed out of a whole bunch of non-essential pastimes like bell-ringing and yoga classes. The first DIY job I wanted to tick off the list was finishing fitting my traditional Victorian redwood floorboards upstairs (costing about £700 in materials for 40m2). It’s hard to beat real wood flooring for warmth and character but it needs to be laid with care, leaving 10mm expansion gaps at the edge of the room which can later to be neatly concealed under the skirting boards. I’ve known cases where builders have failed to leave sufficient expansion gaps, combined with using timber that wasn’t fully dried out, resulting in floors dramatically bowing. To secure the boards I use super-slim lost-head floor screws rather than traditional brad nails which tend to split modern kilndried wood.
Some DIY jobs hold more appeal than others, but the advent of cordless power tools has been a tremendous boon. I guess we all have our favourite pieces of kit and my personal weapon of choice is the demolition concrete breaker. One of my best buys to date has been an excellent mini SDS breaker which cost the grand sum of £60 and does the job of power tools thrice the price. True, after more than 20 minutes of power-chiselling the vibration can become a tad wearisome (risks of ‘white finger’ and hand-arm vibration are well documented for long-term use), and picking fights with heavy chunks of masonry obviously necessitates taking sensible protective measures, but a spell of creative destruction brings its own rewards.
First up was the remaining lower wall where our kitchen has been enlarged and partially knocked through into the new rear extension space. This needed to be cut down to size so it could host a new oak worktop to form a neat kitchen island. To my delight the breaker cut through hard render and dense concrete blocks like a ray gun through probiotic yoghurt.
The most urgent DIY job on my list is to construct the stud partition walls ready for the first fix electric cable runs. In my experience it’s a false economy to use thin 65mm studwork and I’m not a fan of flimsy metal stud partitioning used by developers, preferring more substantial traditional ‘four-by-two’ studwork (100 x 47mm). However, it’s essential to select the timber very carefully in store because it’s easy to get lumbered with lengths that are bowed and warped, making it all but impossible to build true and level. next montH: first fix, insulation and drylining
demolition and new studwork Ian has now demolished the wall between the kitchen and new extension (above), and has begun to construct the new studwalls (left) elsewhere, ready for first fix.