Frustrating Year

An Eccentric Anomaly: Ed Davies's Blog

I don't suppose I'm the only person to have found 2020 pretty frustrating so far.

I started this entry in July and had to move it to the August directory so I'd better get it finished before I have to move it into September as well. I often have a bit of a depressive episode in the second half of August and early September. Last year (2019) it was pretty minor but this year it's really clonked me over the back of the head.

The nights are already beginning to draw in noticeably but all I've managed to do so far is clad the lower part of the west gable of the house itself:

…and the easy part of the east gable:

As previously noted January and February were pretty quiet but I began to come out of hibernation at the beginning of March. I'd been thinking about what to do to, most importantly, get the roof covered and, connectedly, how to clad the gables without really coming to a proper decision.

Early in March I got a phone call from my usual timber supplier in Thurso asking if I'd like to come to a trade day on the 18th. Yes, definitely, as I hoped to be able to talk about various cladding products, etc.

However, when I turned up that morning it'd been cancelled due to “the current panic”. A few days later, of course, we all went into lockdown and the two suppliers I use most closed completely for the time being (apart from supplies to hospitals, etc).

This didn't do my mental health an awful lot of good as I'd already basically been in lockdown since the beginning of November having only had brief face-to-face conversations with my neighbours at home and the house site, a couple of astronomy group meetings and the usual grunts at shop checkout staff in the previous four months.

As a result of this, not being able to get materials and doubts about the lockdown rules vs working on my own on my house site, I didn't manage to do a lot of much use in April despite some nice weather. Towards the end of the month I was laid low with flu-like symptoms for a few days (about a week after I'd been shopping) which might or might not have been Covid. I've only had proper flu once previously AFAIK and it felt like that though a bit milder and without much of a runny nose, just a few sniffles.

In May I spent a few days up on the roof putting more staples in the membrane where some of the original ones had worked out or some edges didn't have staples nearby so were thrumming on windy days.

The major project for the year is, of course, to get the roof covered. As I mentioned last year my thinking now is to use wriggly tin (sinusoidal steel) rather than trapezoidal box profile. The question is, how to get it fitted.

Options seem to be:

  1. getting a largish company to supply and fit,
  2. buying the sheets from any of a number of possible suppliers then getting somebody local (e.g., the chaps who did the membrane last year) to fit them or
  3. doing the lot myself.

The complications (plural) arise from the bits around the windows. Velux's fittings are designed for tiles or slates and getting them to work well with profile steel is a bit of a puzzle, particularly if there's a long run of roof above to fire a stream of water at the top of the window. Both times I've talked to possible suppliers about this has resulted in a bit of teeth sucking.

Having a chance to play with this around the bedroom window in the east gable and to clarify what would happen at the verges has been the main reason I've started on the cladding before getting the roof sorted.

The Velux fittings also need to go on at the same time as the roof because the “skirt” at the bottom goes over the roof material whereas the roof goes over the “gutter” fittings at the side and top of the window (as you'd expect to keep the rain out).

Accordingly, what I have in mind now is to get a company in to do all of the north roof (which has no windows) and the south roof above the top of the windows but only supply the sheets for the bottom part around the windows for me to do at my own pace. I have various schemes in mind for diverting the rivers (perhaps involving consultations with friends more used to working with fibreglass than me) but haven't really come to a conclusion yet.

Rewinding a bit, as we somewhat emerged from the lockdown in late May/early June I had to come to a conclusion about the cladding to add. For the original house design since I first started seriously thinking about details in about 2006 or 7 the plans had been for solar thermal in the east gable to provide a bit of warmth into the house in the morning. I'd left it vague if that'd be warm air or warm water. This was what I specified on the planning application though by then I was just on the tipping point of deciding that didn't make sense.

By the middle of last year I'd decided it really didn't and that, with the current price of PV, having some extra PV panels on that gable to spread the generation would be simpler and more economical. Integrating the panels into the cladding seemed a good idea as it would save on the cost of cladding materials. What's usual considered a disadvantage of doing this, less ventilation behind the panels increasing the heating so reducing their efficiency, would be less of a problem in this application with most of any direct sun being through a greater air mass.

Consequently, I ordered 6 320 W black panels and various accessories at the beginning of June. Delivery of these was a bit of a hassle as the tame courier company the supplier had trained on handling these panels handed them off to another company for this “remote area“ delivery meaning it was very confusing as to when they were actually going to be delivered so I had to stay in on a couple of days and, worse, the packing materials (which I understand they normally return and reuse) didn't travel all the way which meant two of the panels arrived slightly damaged.

Testing the panels outside the front door of my rental house:

Cosmetic damage to one of the panels, which I could have painted over easily enough:

But more substantial damage to the corner of another which might have meant it didn't have a full and happy life if water vapour leaked in:

The suppliers were very good offering either a sum of money as compensation or replacement of the two damaged panels. Originally I'd have been happy with an apology and them sorting out the delivery mechanism (as I'll probably get the panels for the main roof from them too) but reflecting on the possible shortened life of the corner-damaged panel meant I opted for replacements which was a bit more hassle as collection of the returned panels and delivery of replacements was done separately and unannounced by the local couriers. The new ones didn't come with any special packaging, either, but seemed fine.

While that was going on, I'd been investigating different possible cladding materials. In the end, I came to the conclusion that doing board-on-board with 22x150 mm sawn treated whitewood (“sarking”) boards the same as I was already familiar with for the underside of the floor.

Since these boards are so cheap it didn't then seem worthwhile to go to all the hassle and complication of making a watertight join round the PV panels to integrate them into the cladding. I'll just mount them on the outside - so there was no need to order the panels so soon. Oh, well.

Apart from anything else, I've tried to maximise the use of the existing sawn ends of the boards because the treatment has already been pushed into those. It wouldn't have been practical to do that round PV panels as the resulting boards would have been so short.

Pile delivered on June 11th:

For this exposed application I've painted them. For now it's just with cheap fence paint to have them covered on both sides. Once they're up the externally exposed sides will be painted with something a bit more long term and suitable for the house's style (black for the outdoor bits, white for the bits in the porch/greenhouse).

Starting to paint a few outside:

After leaning over and down stacking the ends of the planks as we got the boards off the lorry my back was getting a bit uncomfortable just leaning over to paint these at about 500 mm off the ground so I propped and clamped a couple of battens in the study to allow me to paint with my back straight:

Since then I've been battening for these boards together with a certain amount of firestopping then painting, cutting and nailing up boards. How time flies.