Archive for September, 2009

Rainwater Harvesting


When we were researching the idea of sustainable living we discovered the world of rain water recycling. Essentially rainwater water can be used for flushing toilets, washing cars, watering the garden and washing machines.

It’s clear we would need a regular supply from the water board coming into the property to service all our domestic needs (drinking, hand washing, baths etc) but for all other needs we could utilise the abundance of rainwater in this country.

Next we needed to research what was available and the technology involved to make it happen and actually found it’s a relatively simple process to capture and store rainwater.  We found local authority grants were available, subject to the installation being carried out by a certified professional.

At Fieldview we decided to get someone in to do the grunt work i.e. dig the hole and put the tank in and we’d sort the connections to the house ourselves. This would mean we’d lose out on the grant but would save considerably on any ‘specialised’ installation costs … pretty much balanced itself out in the end anyway.

Utilising rain water is nothing new, we’ve been doing it for centuries but our minds were brought into sharp focus when we were told by the water board we’d be subject to the installation of a water meter in the new house.

Wow … we’d have to pay based on the amount we consumed! … definitely not something we were used to. With the demands of the garden, Poly Tunnel and a four bedroom house with more than one toilet we knew we’d have to look seriously at how to collect and store sufficient rainwater to cover our needs.

How does a rainwater harvesting system work?

Basically all the water that falls on your roof and into your gutters makes its way to a large plastic tank buried somewhere in the garden via a basic filter system. (Piece of wire mesh inside a plastic housing sitting just inside the top of the tank)

Inside the rainwater tank is a large water pump capable of pumping the contents up to a regular black plastic storage tank usually housed in the loft. Connected to the pump is a 25mm water pipe running back to the controller in the utility room.

On our system we have the pump has a long length of rubber insulated cable which runs all the way back to a flow controller in the utility room.

The flow controller manages the source of the water supply into the loft tank. Essentially if the rainwater runs out, the main water supply into the house kicks in ensuring there is always adequate water supply to the storage tank.

Inside the controller are a couple of solenoids controlling the switching of the supply, simple technologies but extremely effective all the same.

Which system to go for?

There are several specialist companies out there offering systems and most can be found on the web. We spoke to the guys at www.rainwaterharvesting.co.uk who were extremely helpful and recommended we go for a ‘Stored System’. The other main option to go for is a standard direct pumped system where the water is pumped on demand from the storage tank to the controller.

With the ‘on demand’ system if you flush a loo or turn on a garden hose the pump in the rainwater tank kicks in and pumps to the appliances via the controller. Exactly what you would expect but the pump is on and off all the time which puts additional wear on the pump and makes constant demands on the electricity supply.

If you go for the stored water solution (slightly more expensive option) the pump will only kick in when the stored water in the loft is used up, so the pump is on less often and subsequently there is less demand on your electricity supply.

Doesn’t the stored water become stagnant and smell?

Initial fears were soon eliminated when we realised just how much water the average household uses on a day to day basis. The water wouldn’t get a chance to stagnate and the pump takes the water from the top half of the stored water anyway which is typically the cleanest.

Another great feature of the stored system is a built in refresh function. Basically if the stored water remains unused after 3 days the controller takes over and pumps water back into the rainwater tank stirring the contents discouraging bacteria from forming.

We couldn’t see a time when we wouldn’t use the water (other than if we were on holiday .. some chance) and so it wouldn’t have a chance to stagnate.

If there is too much rainfall the tank simply fills up and overflows into a large soak away in much the same was as conventional guttering system.

How much did it cost?

The complete package including everything we needed to store and deliver rainwater to all our appliances cost £2,500. The excavation and installation of the tank cost a further £200. We budgeted £2,500 for the complete system but as we already had the builders on site were installing the septic tank we bit the bullet on the extra £200 to save some time.

http://www.rainwaterharvesting.co.uk/products.php?cat=33v

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Thought we might be able to share some good news today but alas no.

A key element of our design is to create a seamless transition between the kitchen and the garden. We planned to achieve this by incorporating a set of bi-fold doors onto the back of the house along the main wall.  In the summer months we could open out pretty much the entire back wall of the kitchen and step out into the garden.

bifold

We went for a solid timber construction and selected a UK company as we wanted to keep the entire build with local suppliers, if at all possible. Yesterday, (6 months since we placed the original order with our timber frame manufacturer) the installers arrived to fit the most gorgeous set of bi fold doors  … huge excitement all round.

All started well as the frame went in beautifully .. but this wasn’t to last.

After a couple of hrs the guy in charge of the installation said “Afraid I have to tell you something you’re not going to like” Transpires the 6 doors that make up the opening were all manufactured 65mm to short for the frame!  Gets worse  … I’m then told it will take a further 4 weeks to correct the problem.

After much discussion we managed to convince the manufacturers this was not acceptable … eventually they agreed the replacements would be ready in 2 weeks.

What have we learnt from this exercise? … check everything at least 5 times and NEVER assume the supplier knows what they’re doing. :(

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Decided we’d tile the bathrooms ourselves.
Our plumber informed us he can’t complete the bathrooms until all the tiling is done and the floor surfaces are down.
Tip: If you can possibly afford it use the services of a professional as this is a specialist job and they can do it in half the time it will take you … and probably produce a better job in the end.
We decided to give it go ourselves and having done our research and tried out a few samples we headed down to KDP Tiles and bought pretty much everything we’d need for the job.
For the walls we decided on a larger tile … for two reasons really.
Small tiles tend to make the bathroom feel smaller.
Large tiles mean less to put up. (Given we have the main bathroom and 2 en-suites to do time was going to be at a premium)
For the floors we went with a regular square tile as the total floor area in each space is quite small and felt they wouldn’t look out of place.
KPD were really helpful and had a huge selection of tiles on show to choose from. What’s more they gave us a healthy discount which enabled us to complete all 3 rooms.
Now, having almost completed the job, we’ve amassed a fair few tips along the way, most of which are listed below.
Use a Marker Stick.
Take a piece of half decent timber… say 2” x 2” and put a series of marks at exactly the same width of each of a tiles, plus the width of your grout line.  By using a marker stick to mark out the position of your tiles on the wall meant we avoided any small cut tiles at the end of a run and reduce the risk of unsightly errors.
Decide on your datum point
If you don’t want the room to feel out of balance try to maintain a level grout line all the way around the perimeter. This will often be dictated by either your shower tray and/or bath. In our case it’s determined by the position of our bath.
Once we established the datum level we marked a line using a spirit level all the way round the perimeter of the room. Then take a piece of 2” x 1”, line up the top of the timber with the datum line and temporarily fix it to the wall.
This provided support for the first row of tiles and stopped them slipping out of position.  Providing both the line and timber are level your tiles will always line up and you’ll end up have a professional looking finish.
Buy your materials from a specialist tile company
You can ask them for advice on any aspect of the job and usually they’re happy to provide it if you position appropriately.
Make sure the floor or wall that you plan to tile is level and flat.
When tiling the floor make sure it’s completely clean.
If there are bits on the floor it can be a nightmare especially when you come to put the adhesive down as it gets all over your trowel. If it’s possible run the Hoover over the floor just before you start to tile.
Always use a spirit level or a flat piece of timber to check your tiles are going down level. What you want to avoid is a tile that is slightly proud of the others. May not look much when you’re laying it but by the time you add the grout it sticks out a mile!
Keep a bucket of water and a sponge handy.
However much you try adhesive will get everywhere, certainly on your hands and very likely on the tiles. Keep your hands and work area clean and you’ll lessen the chances of the getting in a muddle.
Take your time.
Doesn’t seem to matter how well prepared you are you can’t rush this job. Every tile you put on the wall or lay on the floor needs to be checked against those around it and above all the spacing needs to be consistent. If you need to remove a tile because it doesn’t sit right then take it out, clean it off and start again. Remember, you’ll be living with that tile a long time.
Invest in a tile cutter.
As we had a lot of tiling to be done we bit the bullet and invested in an electric tile cutter. We didn’t spend a great deal of money on it but it has proved invaluable and saved us hours of scoring and cutting by hand.
Try to enjoy it
There is a great deal of satisfaction in what you’re doing notwithstanding the money you’re saving! so stand back occasionally and admire what you’ve achieved.

Our plumber informed us he can’t complete the bathrooms until all the tiling is done and the floor surfaces are down.

Tip: If you can possibly afford it use the services of a professional as this is a specialist job and they can do it in half the time it will take you … and probably produce a better job in the end.

We decided to give it go ourselves and having done our research and tried out a few samples we headed down to KDP Tiles and bought pretty much everything we’d need for the job.

tile1tile4

tile1

For the walls we decided on a larger tile … for two reasons really.

Small tiles tend to make the bathroom feel smaller.

  1. Large tiles mean less to put up. (Given we have the main bathroom and 2 en-suites to do time was going to be at a premium)
  2. For the floors we went with a regular square tile as the total floor area in each space is quite small and felt they wouldn’t look out of place.

KPD were really helpful and had a huge selection of tiles on show to choose from. What’s more they gave us a healthy discount which enabled us to complete all 3 rooms.

tile2

Now, having almost completed the job, we’ve amassed a fair few tips along the way, most of which are listed below.

Use a Marker Stick.

Planning is everything in tiling and a key planning tool is a simple marker stick used to mark out the exact position of the tiles thereby avoiding any small cut tiles at the end of a run and reducing the risk of unsightly errors.

Take a piece of half decent timber (2” x 2” should do it)  and put a series of marks exactly the same width of a tile, plus the width of your grout line.

Decide on your datum point

If you don’t want the room to feel out of balance try to maintain a level grout line all the way around the perimeter. This will often be dictated by either your shower tray and/or bath. In our case it’s determined by the position of our bath.

Essentially this means wherever you start with your first tile will determine the datum level.  From the top of the bath we marked a line using a spirit level all the way round the perimeter of the room. It’s imperative the line is level all the way round the room if the tiles are to line up back at the begining.

Then we took a piece of 2” x 1”, lined up the top with the datum line and temporarily fixed to all 4 walls.  This provided support for the first row of tiles and stopped any likelihood of them slipping.  Providing both the line and timber are level your tiles will always line up and you’ll end up with a reasonable looking job.

Buy your materials from a specialist tile company

You can ask them for advice on any aspect of the job and usually they’re happy to provide it if you position appropriately.

Always check for level

One issue we encountered was occasionally a tile didn’t sit absolutely flat against those immediately adjacent to it. We managed to overcome this little problem by taking a straight and true piece of 4″ x 2″ and placing it flat against the tiles … any discrepancy were spotted thereafter and corrected by applying a little pressure on the timber.

When tiling the floor make sure it’s completely clean.

If there are bits on the floor it can be a nightmare especially when you come to put the adhesive down as it gets all over your trowel. If it’s possible run the Hoover over the floor just before you start to tile.

Always use a spirit level or a flat piece of timber to check your tiles are going down level. What you want to avoid is a tile that is slightly proud of the others. May not look much when you’re laying it but by the time you add the grout it sticks out a mile!

Keep a bucket of water and a sponge handy.

However much you try adhesive will get everywhere, certainly on your hands and very likely on the tiles. Keep your hands and work area clean and you’ll lessen the chances of the getting in a muddle.

Take your time.

Doesn’t seem to matter how well prepared you are you can’t rush this job. Every tile you put on the wall or lay on the floor needs to be checked against those around it and above all the spacing needs to be consistent. If you need to remove a tile because it doesn’t sit right then take it out, clean it off and start again. Remember, you’ll be living with that tile a long time.

Invest in a tile cutter.

As we had a lot of tiling to be done we bit the bullet and invested in an electric tile cutter. We didn’t spend a great deal of money on it but it has proved invaluable and saved us hours of scoring and cutting by hand.

Try to enjoy it.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in what you’re doing notwithstanding the money you’re saving! so stand back occasionally and admire what you’ve achieved.

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worktop

The oak worktop arrived yesterday from those talented guys at Higham Furniture. They also made the units up for us which we plan to seal with acrylic sealer followed by a couple of layers of white undercoat to build up a sound surface, before finishing off with Farrow and Ball ‘Lullworth Blue’. By doing the finishing ourselves we managed to keep the cost within our budget.

Having you units made rather than out of the box may seem an expensive option but they will last a lifetime and you don’t have to buy everything at once and if you go for a traditional style then it’s unlikely to go out of fashion.

The units are made from maple ply and the doors are made from American oak, reason being we wanted a texture to the paint finish.

worktop2

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plot1

Quite a few of you have written to us asking how we managed to get this off the ground in the first place  i.e. how did you go about raising the finance and then finding the plot.

We first started planning in Dec 2007 when we started to look for property’s that we might be able to renovate or perhaps find something in a poor state of repair that we may be able to demolish. Above all it had to have at least half an acre so we’d stand some chance of creating our own kitchen garden and keep a few chickens.

Despite trawling the usual suspects, Plotfinder, etc we became somewhat disillusioned until we  received a call from a relative suggesting we may want to look at a small bungalow that was on the market for just over £300k in the same village which would be ideal cadidate for a replacement dwelling.

Sounded a lot of money for a run down bungalow but the intrinsic value was not in the property but in the ¾ acres of land that came with it which backed onto open countryside and had additional land opportunities adjacent.

It took one viewing and a subsequent conversation with Test Valley planners to convince us this would warrent a new build and pretty much agreed a price of £300k in the same week.

Next step we needed to raise the cash for the build as well as funding for the various ‘green’ projects we had planned.

Fortunately we had some equity in our previous property which would help is to buy the plot but we would need to raise extra cash in the form of a mortgage.  Rather than spend time hiking around the banks and building society’s we approached Build Store Financial as we’d read in a magazine they were offering their aptly titled  ‘Accelerator Mortgage’ aimed specifically at self builders.  Basically it allows you to purchase the second property whilst still living in the first enabling you to commence work on the new build without fear of nowhere to live.

While we were sorting out the finance on Fieldview we put our existing property on the market and sold it in the first week, well we thought we had until after 3 weeks they decided to pull out! (Don’t really think they wanted it in the first place if we’re honest)

One week later we had some good news and sold it once again only to lose our buyer for the second time. Anyway we did after about a month of putting it on the market actually sell to a neighbour who wanted the house all along but wasn’t prepared to pay the full asking price.  Eventually we did agree to drop by 5k having heard rumours of a recession being around the corner … and 5 weeks later we’d completed the sale and our project was underway!

Build Store have a web site with all the information you’ll need to get your project off the ground and you can also visit them at the National Self Build Centre in Swindon. Well worth a visit.

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