Kate and Steve came to visit us for the weekend. We soon had them working hard: Sarah and Kate started by removing all the broken plaster from bedrooms two and four, while Steve and Mark dug out the remaining clay from beneath the troughs in the kitchen. We continued with slightly easier jobs in the afternoon as Kate and Sarah marked up windows in the east wall of bedroom three and the main bathroom. Meanwhile Steve and Mark were busy wiring up lights and power sockets in the kitchen block, giving us better light after the 16:00 sunset.



Despite the freezing weather, Kate and Steve survived the night in the caravan. We enjoyed a large builders' breakfast, then packed Steve and Kate off for a Christmas shopping expedition on their way back to London. Meanwhile we installed our security camera and tested time-lapse recording the building, in preparation for the builders' tomorrow. We also removed the timber panelling from the open-front barn and knocked out the small brick wall that was beneath the panelling.



Next we removed some remaining wooden post stumps from the floors, then wired up lights in the open-front barn. Finally we had a general tidy-up of the site ready for tomorrow.


The builders, Michael and Keith, started on site today. Their mission was to remove the posts supporting the front of the open barn, to allow us access to dig a foundation trench for the new wall. To keep the roof up we built extensions of the trusses, a metre beyond the roof line, with acrow-props supporting the beams.




Mark took the day off work to help out on site. Building progressed well: the three centre posts came out quite quickly. Each post is an old telegraph pole, and we expected them to be buried a long way underground. A firm knock with a sledgehammer disproved that however, as we discovered they were mounted in just a few inches of concrete.

The last post to come out was replaced with a large hangman's brace, extending further in to the yard to avoid a rainwater drain trench. Michael painted all the temporary posts white to ensure we won't bump into them in the dark; we'll need to be particularly careful working between them with the digger to ensure we don't bring the whole roof down.



Michael stopped in this morning to discuss the next section of work with Mark. Due to other commitments the builders won't be back until Monday, so we have a list of tasks to do over the weekend in preparation for their next section of work, cutting doors and windows through the walls. 




Mark started with more plumbing: smaller scale now, as we have progressed from sewerage pipes to 40mm waste pipes. This pipework runs under the kitchen floor to provide a sink in the central island benchtop. We are now ready for a thin layer of screed to level off the kitchen floor.



Meanwhile Sarah ripped the old door frame out of bedroom two, cleaning up the cavity ready for a new window with a new wall beneath it. We measured up for other windows and doorways, spray-painting their outlines on the stone. Finally we marked up the locations of internal walls, which helps give a feel for the size of the rooms, but the view isn't very good yet.



Today we started a fairly major task, cutting an opening through the existing brick wall between bedrooms two and four. We started by bracing the purlin beside the cut-out with a temporary prop down the wall and a tie between the purlins, to ensure the outside wall is not overloaded when the internal wall is cut. Once the timbers were in place Mark set to work with the grinder, cutting bricks. It was a short-lived venture, as the grinder failed, so we skipped the cutting stage and went straight for destruction. Using the SDS hammer the bricks came apart very quickly, so within a couple of hours we had knocked though the wall, creating a 900mm wide corridor alongside the bedrooms.




The builders were back today to start the doorways in each end of the kitchen block and between the open and closed bedroom barns. First stage was to insert lintels to support the walls above the doors, which involved cutting out existing brick, wood and stone to slot the 1500mm long prefab concrete lintels in. Once these were in place the mortar needs to be left for at least 24 hours before loading the lintels up, which can start on Wednesday.



Sarah had the day off work and Mark took a half day, so we were able to aid the builders continue the door preparation. Michael and Keith started by re-bricking the cavities above the lintels then began the arduous task of cutting and breaking out the double-brick wall in the end of the kitchen block.



Once the doorway was knocked out they moved on to the stone wall between the open and closed barns, preparing another lintel above the corridor outside bedroom four. Again this required removing a lot of stone and brick, and the mortar will need time to set before they can come back for the final stage.



Meanwhile we created a smaller cavity in the back of the kitchen wall to install the power meter box. This cavity only went a third of the way through the wall so it only needed a small timber lintel, recycled from one of the former kitchen windows. We thought we'd been quite quick installing the meter box, but looking at the time-lapse movie it took all morning, although we were interrupted by a visit from a damp-proofing specialist who is quoting on our tanking and chemical injection requirements.


Michael and Keith continued preparing the doorways today, knocking through both the kitchen wall into the dining link and the wall between the open and closed barns. With the holes knocked through between the open and closed barns we can now see the entire length on the corridor, from bedroom two all the way up to bedroom one, including a couple of floor level changes along the way.



Michael was back today to continue the stonework, building the new door frame at the west end of the kitchen. It was a slow job but a beautiful finish. Meanwhile we did our own stonework, finishing the meter box surround. Once that was done we moved on to excavating the stairwell in the corridor between the open and closed barns.

We finished soon after dark in order to prepare for the main event of the weekend: the BAR Christmas Party.



The morning after the night before required a quiet start... unfortunately Sarah had to go to work for a 06:00 shift, yikes! Mark had a thorough sleep-in, followed by a big brunch, then got back to the stair well excavations. Progress was slow, but the end result was satisfactory.

Sarah got back mid-afternoon and retired for a snooze, while Mark gave Porky a quick wash and wax.



We had a beautiful sunrise this morning, but it was accompanied by a heavy frost. After our previous experience with frozen water pipes we were better prepared this time: Mark wrapped the exposed tap and hose with a section of fibreglass insulation (aka Pink Batts) so we still had flowing water in the caravan.



Second delivery was Screwfix with the last order of tools before the new year, so we are now fully tooled up ready for the Post-Xmas/Pre-New Year Building Blast.


Sarah's Christmas break started today, so she had the day on site starting our preparations for Saturday. Michael was also back for the afternoon doing yet more stonework.

A couple of big deliveries came in too: our Santa Sleigh this Christmas is a JCB micro digger. We've got it for a couple of weeks so we'll be digging right through the holiday season.




The great cliché for all self-builders is to be "in by Christmas": we decided the opportunity was too good to miss, so we moved in to part of the barn for Christmas Day. Michael helped out by providing some old carpet which we laid in the kitchen block, then created a bench and bar top with blocks and some old formica, brought a sofa down from the portakabin, and moved in the bbq plus converted the concrete mixer into a drinks store by filling it with cold water and bottles of beer, wine and mixers.

Cass, Ken, Hamish and Angus joined us for the big day: we started with a roaring barbecue to cook some giant prawns for first course, then moved up to the caravan for turkey followed by plum pudding then cheeses, port and general decadence. What a great day!



After a couple of day's rest it was time to start the real work: first requirement was to excavate a few hundred millimetres from the clay floor of bedroom 2. The JCB Micro easily fitted into the room, once we'd removed the roll bar and wide bulldozer blade, so it was fairly easy to scoop out the floor. Getting rid of the clay was less easy: it went one wheelbarrow load at a time up to the dirt dump in the field.




Today we moved on to excavating bedroom 4: access was trickier than bedroom 2, so Mark had a JCB handling test getting through the link and into the bedroom door. Meanwhile Sarah shovelled more than a ton of subbase (gravel to you non-builders) into bedrooms 2 and 4 via the trusty wheelbarrows.


Sarah was working today, so Mark tackled the floor excavations for bedrooms 1 and 3 and the main bathroom, and started the foundation trenches for those rooms. This meant a whole lot more clay to move, and the wheelbarrows just weren't going to do the job. The increasingly battered trailer saved the day, but it took a push-pull relay to get it through the wet fields... first stage was to use the Focus to back the trailer part way up the slope into our field. The car can't get any traction on the wet grass, so it won't go further than the gateway.

Second stage was to lash a rope from the trailer's axle to the JCB to drag it backwards onto the level part of the field. Finally we then tied the JCB to the front of the trailer to drag then push it onto the dirt dump, where it was propped up with a fence post and emptied by dragging the clay off the back with the JCB. After a few training runs we got down to a one hour turnaround per trailer full.


More trench action today, making steady progress in the open barn. We've got three trenches running under the trusses, where the new walls separating the bedrooms, bathroom and garage will be built. The is also a 12 metre long trench along the front of the barn for the new external wall.

Another important part of the preparation work was to level off the bedroom floors. Using a hundred metres of builder's string we marked out the final floor level through the barns, then measured down from there to the target clay height. Mostly we needed to excavate down to the target, but in a couple of rooms the clay needed to be built up to achieve the right level.

Once the ground was levelled off we dumped a hundred millimetre layer of subbase over the clay. That will need to be compacted before adding 50mm of sand, then the damp proof membrane (big plastic sheet) goes over the top and we can then pour 100mm of concrete floor pad.


Sarah was working this afternoon so we got cracking in the morning to get the trenches finished. The building inspector came to see our handiwork in the afternoon and gave the trenches the all-clear, so we are ready for concrete foundations early in the new year.

Lawrence dropped by late afternoon to see how we are progressing. Once Sarah got home we did some work marking up the foundation concrete depth with reference pegs, then headed next door for a New Year celebration with the neighbours. As we heard the church bells ring midnight we had a moment to reflect on a year of mighty hard work, and look forward to getting much of the barn finished in 2005.




Green Farm Barn