An Eccentric Anomaly: Ed Davies's Blog

As I mentioned in my previous house post, things had been going slowly and haven't sped up since.

Actually, after posting that blog entry I had a bit of a wobble, wondering about continuing with the whole project at all. Though I'd ordered the timber for the main floor structure I put off ordering the metalwork to go with it for a few days while I had a think.

The main conclusion I came to was that I could actually cut back quite a bit on what I needed to get done before the winter. My brother-in-law suggested wrapping the house in Monarflex sheeting to allow work to continue underneath. I didn't think that would be particularly practical or useful as most of the work needed immediately is to the outside. But using it would give the option of leaving the greenhouse frame up but safe for the winter.

Similarly, I'd assumed that I'd need to get the windows in, which would be something needing a bit of learning, but on further thought it seemed I could leave them for now: just lay sarking board and breather membrane across and cut it out later.

With those thoughts in mind I got on with ordering the metalwork. Of course, while I was waiting for that to arrive the weather cheered up for a few days leading to me receiving a few sarcastic remarks about how I must be almost done if I had nothing to do in that weather.

When the first batch of brackets and bolts arrived I started with the floor structure for the main part of the house. It's more than just a simple floor, of course, as it'll support the whole structure including the roof.

C24 beams between the main posts.

LVL beams each side spanning the whole house.

Bolted to main posts.

And stub posts, counter-bored to allow the edge beam hangers to be nailed to a flat surface.

Now have somewhere to stack the rest of the floor timber.

I don't seem to have an up-to-date picture showing the overall state of the floor. This is a bit old: the next frame towards us (between the guest bedroom and the bathroom) with the associated edge beam and the blocking to the sides on the nearest frame (the west gable of the greenhouse) have been done.

There have been a few days of nice weather but mostly it's not been at all cooperative. I think there was only one day in July which was not affected by rain to at least some extent. It didn't rain on site during the working day every day but there were always problems with it such as it having rained heavily overnight so needing a few hours for the wood to dry out before wanting to cut it and nail bits together trapping water in the joints or there being heavy showers around and needing to keep tools and things ready to pack up at short notice.

I was fairly depressed about lots of things and the thought of another winter in the static caravan I was renting was really getting me down so at the end of June I started looking around for a proper house to rent. First option was one in Halkirk which I looked at the outside of and thought was a possible though it was a bit of a trek to the site.

My landlady at the caravan site put me on to one in Dunbeath, just across the river valley from the caravan site which I looked at and agreed to rent in the first full week of July. The owners took a couple of weeks to redecorate some of the rooms, fit a new kitchen and shower and so on, so I moved in at the end of the month. The whole operation, including multiple trips to the container most of my stuff was stored in took up about a week. The weather wasn't great that week but I did miss a couple of days which were better than most of the rest of the month.

Once things were progressing with the floor I went to the timber merchants I got the posts and beams from to order a replacement for that post I cracked but they were closed for their summer holidays. Accordingly, I went to the other merchant I've been using and ordered it (at a slightly higher price, but reasonable for a one-off) on Wednesday August 10th for delivery on Friday August 19th to fit in with their cycle which is that they get a lorry from their main place on Thursdays then deliver special orders the following day.

The lead time for such an order will always be long as the timber has to be cut and graded specially.

By Thursday the 18th I'd done as much with the main floor structure as I could without stiffening up the frames around the cracked post too much to allow a bit of flex to adjust for the exact lengths of the purlins above. Basically, that's the bays for the main bedroom, study, living room, kitchen and bathroom done leaving the guest bedroom and two porch/greenhouse bays with only the C24 blocking between the posts but not the LVL cross beams. Without the LVL cross beams it's not possible to do the edge beams.

Accordingly, I went up to the site that day with the intention of starting on the floor joists for the main bedroom. I'd been dithering about when to do those joists for a while: whether they'd make it easier to set up the scaffold tower to do the ridge beam or make that impossible. The compromise I decided on was to cut the joists to length and nail the joists hangers to their headers (the LVL cross beams) but not put in the last few nails to hold down the joists in the hangers. They'd be mostly done but could be removed easily if they proved to be a nuisance.

It turned out to be a pretty miserable day with haar and midges so, rather than suffer through a low-priority job, I decided to go do a few useful errands including popping into the timber merchants to pick up a few nails and timber connectors. While there I asked to check that my post had arrived: “umm, we're not getting a lorry this week”.

This was a bit of a setback but not too terrible when the manager was brought into the conversation and arranged for the lorry they have go down to Inverness on Tuesday (23rd ) pick up the post and drop it off at my site on the way back.

Friday and Saturday were too windy to set up the alignment of the joists (with either my laser or orange string - tried that before) so I actually started on the bedroom floor joists on Sunday the 21st (my 60th birthday) which was a sunny pleasant afternoon:

Looking east mid-to-late afternoon. North edge beam on the left, beam between the study and main bedroom in the foreground with the east gable further away. I've left the tops of the joist hangers sticking up for now. In this application they're too short to wrap over and get meaningful structural support but they might be useful for positioning some of the 145x45 floor joists which will go crosswise here.

Monday the 22nd was not as nice but did allow me to do a few more joists in this bay. Any more will need restacking the timber covering the area - something I hope to avoid until I've got some structure up at the greenhouse end to stack it on to.

Tuesday the 23rd started with a quick trip to Caithness General for some routine tests. In the afternoon the new post was delivered as scheduled. Only it was the wrong size. I'd ordered 145x145 but there'd been a transcription error somewhere along the line and it was delivered as 125x125. It was such heavy, dense wood that I didn't realise absolutely immediately but did catch it before the driver had backed out of the site completely. Quick bit of to and fro on the phone organized a replacement to be brought up on Thursday 1st of September's lorry for delivery on Friday the 2nd.

After that was sorted and the lorry had gone I had a further look at the post and noticed that it didn't have a grade stamp certifying that it met the required structural specification (C24). My understanding is that that's pretty important but I phoned a friend to confirm.

Not being overly happy about that delivery or with having a single item on the critical path for all work I decided a back-up plan was in order so the following day I went to Inverness to look at a couple of timber merchants there. One didn't look at all walk-in-customer-friendly but I ordered a spare piece from another who were very helpful but still, of course, 2 to 3 weeks lead time.

Even if the replacement from the first merchant was fine there was always the possibility that I'd mess things up with it so it'd relieve some pressure to know that a spare was coming.

The next day (Thur 25th) I had to do a few errands anyway so decided to pop into the first merchants to discuss the issue of the grade stamp. However, when I was just on the way to their office the manager rang me to double check the dimensions I wanted (he'd actually ordered 150x150 when I'd originally asked for 145x145 but that was OK, an extra 5 mm wouldn't matter).

I asked him about the lack of the stamp but he said the new timber was actually higher grade and he could provide the paperwork to support it. I don't doubt that'd be fine but it's still another complication and potential source of hassle so I wasn't completely happy.

Nothing much got done on site until the afternoon of Friday Sept 2nd when the new post was delivered as planned. I slotted the bottom of it and went to do a fit check on the base plate for one of the stub posts but it was too heavy for me to lift above head height.

I'd managed 18 posts previously with no problem and it was only a bit more awkward when they were still 3.6 metres long or had the steel bracket bolted to the top (getting the ones with the bracket down again needed more care and planning) but this one I couldn't manage at all because it was so much denser.

After a couple of tries I gave up. I'm sure I could work out a way to do it but given my previous problems with dropping two frames (two of these posts plus the cross beam between them) combined with the fact that I'd need to put the post up and down a number of times:

I really didn't want the extra hassle so decided to wait for the other post to arrive. I went to put away the new post but came near to hurting my back just trying to pick it up from near ground level so chopped it in two and dumped the bits on my spare decent timber stack.

Accordingly I was a bit depressed to realise that the backup post wasn't going to arrive the following Thursday (i.e., today, the 8th) as I had in mind but most likely the one after that (the 15th).

Any last hopes of getting a roof on this year are now gone. The best option is to cover the whole thing with treated battens and sheeting and hope it survives the winter OK. Meanwhile, I need to get the new post up and the rest of the main floor structure in place as that'll make the whole thing a lot more ridged which should increase the chances significantly.

Well, the above was all drafted by Thursday the 8th. I was going to do a proof read and post it in the evening but was feeling a bit tired and mistake prone so left it. Sure enough, going to bed I couldn't find my phone at first (I normally leave it on the window sill to get a decent signal) until I went upstairs where I found it with a couple of desperate voice mails from the Inverness timber merchant's driver asking for directions to my site. Oops.

They'd said two to three weeks and actually turned up an hour or so over two weeks from the time of the order whereas I'd not really been expecting it until next week though I had hoped they might deliver on their Monday run north.

Quick apologetic email (for missing the calls) with a request to deliver it on Monday ensued. By the time I got up and looked at my email this morning (at 08:30) they're replied to say the driver had actually found the site and left the post.

So slotted and fit checked it today on an empty stub-post bracket:

Noting that it has appropriate grade marking:

It actually came from the same timber mill (in the Perth area) as the previous posts and purlins I bought through the first merchant.

I then drilled the holes for the base of the post. The next step is to fit it in place of the cracked one. That'll be a slightly tricky operation with propping up the cross beam, trimming the new post to size and drilling the holes for the top bracket. All best done in one day, not starting later on when a wet and windy night is forecast.

It all seems a bit of a palaver over one detail but I've been basically blocked on this for a couple of weeks at a critical time in the project so it's rather filled my mind.