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The CSH house extension – progress update – part 2

This week on the blog I’m sharing our house extension journey so far. We’re still in the midst of construction, but following on from yesterday’s post, I wanted to take you back to the beginning of the building work. After receiving planning permission in 2020, we signed a contract with a contractor at the end of September 2022. They had a space for us almost immediately and work began in earnest in mid-October. Finally the wheels were in motion and we could make our dreams come to life!

I should probably have written a blog diary when things first kicked off, but in reality I had far too little time to note down my thoughts. It was all systems go. If you’ve been following me on Instagram you will have seen the progress, from demolition to decoration, on stories. It’s all saved in a highlight (or two) but this is for those that prefer the solidity of stills and words. I know I’ll be glad to come back to this when the dust has settled and the flurry of thoughts on insulation thicknesses, door systems, render finishes and grout lines have long gone. Perhaps its better this way to gain a bit of hindsight and reflect – maybe it’s the only way we can really appreciate how far we’ve come.

Architect: Scenario Architecture, Structural engineer: Baker Chatterton, Contractor: Polstar Group

Phase 1 – mid-October – Demolition – bye bye old bathroom!
The first stage of work happened surprisingly quickly. During demolition you see a big impact in a short amount of time. BANG – and suddenly the old, grotty bathroom extension was gone. I remember I was so excited the day I came back and saw the garden filled with broken breeze blocks and rubble. I had wanted to take a hammer to that extension myself. We had lived with a freezing cold, poorly built, ground floor bathroom for five years or so. Sometimes I would brush my teeth or wash my face in the kitchen sink it was that chilly. So to say I was relieved to see it go is something of an understatement. I was having a good riddance party!

It also felt exceedingly surreal – after so much planning and organising, I couldn’t quite believe we were finally doing the new extension. It still didn’t feel like we would ever see the finished space we pictured in our minds. How would this pile of rubble ever become a clean, considered, habited space?!

With the walls of the old extension down we could start to see how much space we had to play with. I, of course, knew the architect’s plan like the back of my hand, but it’s different seeing a space with your own eyes. We were one step closer to making it a reality and now the fun really began!

The CSH House extension - progress - demolitionThe CSH House extension - progress - demolition The CSH House extension - progress - demolition The CSH House extension - progress - demolitionThe CSH House extension - progress - demolition The CSH House extension - progress - demolition

Phase 2 – end of October – digging the foundations
The builders managed to get going with the foundations when the weather was fairly mild and to begin with the garden looked like it was hosting an archaeological dig. I was only slightly worried we might find a dead body, ha, but luckily no nasty surprises!

We then hit a period of heavy downpours and the garden became a bit of a mud bath. The builders didn’t seem phased though and it didn’t seem to set them back. They had a water pump and powered on through.

One slight hiccup, or rather distraction, was moving the manhole so it wouldn’t be inside the extension. This isn’t too tricky to do (it does add a little extra cost) but it sometimes requires a Build Over Agreement from Thames Water to ascertain whether you’re building within three metres of a pipe serving another property or public sewer. The agreement, which costs £299, basically ensures the pipework is protected and that Thames Water’s access isn’t restricted. It’s best to get this sorted during the design phase to avoid any delays – you can apply and send a drainage/CCTV survey – but we didn’t quite realise this. The builders carried on regardless, and after some confusion over whether we really did need one (one person at Thames Water said yes, another said no), we finally got the news that it wasn’t necessary and we could get a refund for the £299. I had fears it would delay everything, but luckily it didn’t effect the build progressing smoothly.

The builders also had a to build a toilet for themselves at the end of the garden. I love that they finished the door off with a little heart!

The CSH House extension - progress - demolitionThe CSH House extension - progress - demolition The CSH House extension - progress - demolition

Phase 3 – early November – the steel goes in and the structure starts to take shape
After the foundations were dug and approved by building control, a huge piece of steel was brought in and the concrete was poured to set the groundwork. This was the really noisy and messy bit. But finally we could see the form of the extension and the boundary lines of where it would go to. Once the steel was in place, the wooden beams started going up quickly.

One thing that really helped the build run smoothly was having the contractors liaise with all the different parties, including building control. They arranged site visits for building control and knew exactly when they needed to come so I didn’t have to worry about organising everyone. They also ordered the steel, working from the architect and engineer’s drawings. At this point, there wasn’t really much I could do but step back and let them get on with it.

The CSH House extension - progress - structure - Victorian renovationThe CSH House extension - progress - structure

Phase 4 – mid-end of November – blockwork starts to go up
I remember walking in to see the block work wall up between us and our neighbour and I was stunned – it looked absolutely vast, like the Berlin Wall! I think I literally just said ‘wow’ and couldn’t stop saying ‘wow’. This is where our side return had been. And since our garden wall had fallen down (it was old and had been leaning for sometime before collapsing out of the blue) and we had living for several months without a garden wall at all, going from being open to the neighbour to having a giant party wall was quite a shock. Suddenly we were completely blocked off from our neighbours and a huge new space had formed.

I’ve learnt on a build that you have to make decisions quickly. Things move fast and you have no time to dither or reflect. It pays to be decisive. When we refined our design to fit with our budget we took out a lot of glazing, leaving the extension space with a 1m x 1m roof light. But when they measured it out in the space it looked tiny in relation to the rest of the space. Before they got much further with the structure I made a quick decision to enlarge the roof light. I have no regrets, we might have spent a few hundred pounds more on a bigger roof light, but it looks so much more natural and will fill the north-facing space with natural light. So don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your concerns, it’s better to state them sooner rather than later. You need to have confidence on a construction site, especially as a woman.

The CSH House extension - progress - structure The CSH House extension - progress - structure

That takes us to end of November and the first few phases of the build – demolishing the old extension, digging the foundations and getting the structure in place.

There were moments when I saw the scale of the extension and it looked so big, I thought ‘what on earth are we doing?’ Are our neighbours going to hate us forever?’. But you’ve got to somehow keep the vision and faith that the builders know what they’re doing and that it will all work out in the end. When we first moved into the house and did the first set of renovations (knocking down some walls and installing a new kitchen), we had some terrible cowboy builders that left me with fear and dread for this project! This in comparison has been a breeze and it really depends on who your builders are and if you gel with them. It can really make or break a project.

Come back tomorrow where I will be talking through the next few steps and how we went from a breeze blocks to adding a first floor and becoming watertight. Below you can see me sitting in my future window seat, trying to block out the chaos and imagine myself with a book and a glass of wine, looking onto the greenery of the garden in peace and calm!

The CSH House extension - progress - structure

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