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Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

Renovation tale – Part 5

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…

Rob and I have been digging for hours; it feels like it anyway. Actually it’s only 9.30am, and we’ve already had one tea break, a sandwich and some biscuits, but my arms and back feel as if they’ve seized up for ever. What’s more, even though we’ve been pushing wheelbarrows full of soil out to the skip in the road as if our life depends upon it, there’s little more than a small hollow in the ground to show for our efforts.

Dave, the builder, has decreed that the footings for the extension must be dug while the weather is fine. After using an aerosol to spray neat white lines on the ground, he suggested that we should dig a trench at least a metre deep between them before bothering him again. I get the distinct impression that he feels this is a test for his younger brother and me to see if we can be trusted after the fiasco of yesterday’s timber delivery.

He was out when we unloaded the floorboards for my attic study and, since the lengths of timber were too long to be manoeuvred up the stairs, we decided to cut them down to size. Somehow, between tape measure and saw, an error was made and each one is three inches short. Although Rob wouldn’t let me take all the blame I am quite certain that it had something to do with my total inability to contend with metric measurements.

-

Looking flushed, Rob has just returned from taking another load to the skip. “Are you going to empty that barrow?” he asks. “Only I think I’ll go and have a bit of a sweep up.” Puzzled I throw a few more shovel-fulls of earth into the wheelbarrow and push it out to the road with an agitated Rob following behind.

Strewn across the pavement is a pile of soil, the plank leading up to the skip is at a crazy angle and, at the corner of the street, a gaggle of schoolgirls are smoking and, on seeing Rob, start calling out. Reluctantly, mumbling under his breath, he admits he fell off the plank with the barrow as they passed. He is the colour of beetroot but I compound the situation by saying his name loud enough for the girls to hear.

Now, every schoolgirl that passes is shouting out to him and he won’t go to the skip unless he is chaperoned. Despite this minor irritation we are making good progress and even Dave has joined the digging because tomorrow the building inspector comes.

-

During the night the weather has broken – I was so exhausted that I didn’t even hear the storm – and now we’re standing with the inspector in a scene reminiscent of the Somme. The wall of one of the trenches has partly collapsed, the rain is stirring the puddles and Dave and Rob are soaked and splattered in mud from their efforts to bail out the water.

Mr McKinley, the inspector, is like a general displeased with the troops and makes unpleasant sucking noises with his mouth that are not dissimilar to those made by our boots as we squelch hopelessly around. He prods the puddles at the bottom of the trench with a stick, makes a note on his clipboard and orders us to dig six hundred deeper. “That’s two foot,” mutters Dave in my direction.

-

Two days have passed, the sun has come out, the extra earth has been excavated and it’s only taken a couple of hours to fill the trenches with concrete. I stand staring at its grey surface, pondering our efforts, and realise that Rob is chatting to a schoolgirl.

One Response to Renovation tale – Part 5

  1. Beautifully written. And I did laugh at Rob’s mishap and need to be chaperoned. I also identified closely with the measurement error due to inability to grasp metric measures. How I identify with that. My wife and I have gone back to doing everything in imperial. Yards, feet and inches are fine!

    As for the footings, I think you were lucky with your inspector. Our extension footings were to be one metre deep until the building inspector looked at the 300 year old hawthorn hedge. It hadn’t affected our 1732 cottage yet he declared it to be thirsty and insisted the foundation go down to 2 metres, at least in the corner nearest to the hedge.

    Like yours, the sides collapsed (it was January 2006 and very wet) and the footings ended up 2 metres wide as well as deep and took two massive 10-wheelers of ready-mix to fill.

    The cottage itself has no foundations; its stone walls go down 18 inches and just stop, sitting on some larger flat stones. The hedge is the same distance from the extension as it was from the cottage (we took out some of the plants).

    The joys of building work!

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