Friday, 12 November 2010

Week 1 of the build

We started on site this week after a rapid exit into temporary accommodation following long awaited granting of planning permission. I was determined that we would not delay the project, before the build had even started, by failing to move out in time. We only just made it though!

The construction team got to work with great alacrity and a building that had been our home three days before very quickly became a building site. All of the wooden stud partition walls are gone, as is all the internal plaster work, which practically came off on its own. Also gone are all the ceilings, all electrical cabling and sockets and all the old kitchen and bathroom fittings. One of the builders found someone to take all of the pine flooring, which he is going to de-nail, re-sand and lay for a small new build in the neighbouring county. Given that it was installed second hand in our house, it will now be getting its third use, which is very satisfying. Still, despite the fact that nearly all the existing structure remains, five or more skips have been filled so far, although the skip company will sort all the contents to separate out any recyclable material.

The attached garage, which is going to be replaced by a single storey new build, is also gone, except for its concrete floor, which goes next week, together with all the windows. Next week also sees the end of the road for the hideous concrete chimney, an original feature I'm told: I really can't imagine what possessed the architect or builder who specified it back in 1970.

It is interesting seeing the building reveal its structure. The quality of the original workmanship is no longer hidden. The 70mm of underfloor screed was removed today to allow us to insulate the floor with the minimum of increase in finished floor height. Unfortunately, the ceiling heights are not especially generous and we could not simply add the insulation on top of the existing screed. The original concrete slab is now exposed everywhere and, as expected, it is very rough and uneven and we will need to find a way to create a level, even base to place the insulation onto. As I think I discussed in an earlier post, the floor was one of the hardest-to-treat elements in the design stage. We were not able to design a floor with a U-value of below 0.15W/m2K, not without spending silly money on very exotic forms of insulation. We have managed to compensate for the relatively poor (>0.25W/m2K) floor U-value but it is still essential we get 70 to 80mm of insulation in there to get the building through Passivhaus Certification.

This week, we have been going through the fiddly process of building up an order for the Internorm windows. We must finalise the order in the next 12 days to avoid risking delaying the project. I had promised myself that we would not cut things so fine with the timing of the window order but this is proving quite hard to achieve. I can see how easy it is to delay progress on a build by taking your eyes off the windows.

One of our windows consists of a large, undivided, fixed, north-facing, triple glazed unit. If there are no other constraints, it is apparently possible to get a U-value for the glazing (Ug) of 0.5W/m2K without using very rare and expensive Krypton gas. Because UK building regulations require 6mm glass for (for inner and outer panes?) in windows of greater than 1300mm height (?), rather than the usual 4mm glass, we lose precious mm of Argon-filled space between the panes. This constraint means that the glazing can only get a Ug of 0.6W/m2K if we stick with Argon. The PHPP will come into its own again when I use it to check whether de-rating this window's glazing to 0.6 will affect the building's overall performance significantly. It is worth doing, as adding Krypton into this one window adds a few hundred pounds (£££) to its price.

It has been interesting as the builder works on further rationalising some of our design choices: balancing materials cost (financially and environmentally) with labour costs and simplifying the execution to minimise the risk of error that could create unintended thermal bridging or air tightness issues. We have managed to simplify a couple of the building junction details. As a client, it adds fantastic value to the project to have that second design iteration. However, it is only working because of the excellent communication and mutual respect between builder and architect. The importance of this team working, "common purpose" if you like, between architect, builder and of course client, has been underlined for me again this week.

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