Last part of the old plan

We’ve always made a virtue of doing projects slowly, which gives plenty of time to think through what we want. A dozen years is perhaps pushing it a bit – that’s the time between planning permission and commissioning builders for a garage, which was finished in the early summer.

Last year, we applied to the planners again to change the garage design and shrink it a bit, to make it more practical and less dominant in the garden. Another motive was to make it look more in harmony with the old barns scattered around the site of the former Rush Green Farm. We have added a storage room, 2 side doors and 2 windows plus loft space for more storage. Once again – three times lucky, in fact – we found an excellent firm of local Suffolk builders.

The builders ran the job, but we helped with finishing work. Chris on the scaffolding painting.

Its main use will be as a mini-barn, in fact. Not many people around here now bother to put their cars actually in their garages. We used to do that for weather protection when car bodies corroded, but now they last many years in the open, and most of the people we know with garages use them as store rooms or workshops.

The roof pitch we chose was 45 degrees, close to the 50 degrees that is common in old buildings round here. Anything higher would have taken it above the approved height.  It has been clad with black weather boarding and roofed with salvaged plain tiles, which are flat.

Peter checking the plans as the walls went up

That does, on the face of it, go against what we’ve said before, that buying reclaimed materials to disguise new work to look original confuses the story of a building’s history. Better to buy new materials and be open about it, which is why we used aluminium windows and slate on our extension a few years ago. (The slate’s dark grey harmonised better than bright new tiles with the grey of adjacent smoke-stained old tiles and nearby weathered thatch, so it was a perceptive suggestion by our architects).

and seen from the inside with the roof timbers fjnished

The garage/barn is, however, completely new, and well away from the house. The original planning permission, which we changed as little as possible to make our application for alterations go smoothly, specified plain tiles. So the choice was new tiles or old.

The structure is a new softwood-framed building, with nothing out of the ordinary in its construction. There is no story of the building to be obscured. New tiles would be glaringly red for years to come. Weathered second-hand tiles have already helped it harmonise quickly with the old buildings nearby. Our builder found some good ones darkened by smoke and moss which was still clinging to some of them. With a new vigorous climbing rose planted, and with our apple trees in front, the mini-barn has fitted quickly into the scene.

The second-hand tiles

We asked only 2 builders to quote, one a firm we did not know which came highly recommended, the other which did a great job building our extension. The latter said it would be a 6 month wait, so we went with the new builder, Kevin Bailey of Rickinghall, on a negotiated fixed price, and have not regretted it. He organised an excellent job.

We started in mid-winter, late in a January of heavy rain, snow and sleet, so the foundation work was a battle against soggy ground, using pumps to keep the water at bay before laying a trench foundation below ground, built up with brick footings and a reinforced concrete slab. The builders took a lot of care and even managed to avoid any damage to an apple tree a couple of feet from the new structure, shaping scaffolding around it.

The adapted and shrunken design was fractionally under 30 square meters and more than a metre from the boundary, just within the thresholds which allowed us to put it up without any dealings with building control (we confirmed that with the council).

That allowed us to commission the work on the basis of  outline plans with no detail, which is something we’ve done before in a previous home. It is only sensible when you are confident in the builder. With a free hand to get things right as they see them, rather than a tight and rigid spec, a good builder should be able to quote lower.

This is not a method to be recommended unless you are sure about the builder, either from previous commissions or from a sound recommendation,  which was the case with this contract. You also need to have developed a fairly good idea of the likely price of the job, so you can be confident an offer is in the right ballpark.

Work proceeded fast, hardly impeded by a week of ice and snow. Kevin Bailey showed himself a master of organisation around the bouts of terrible weather. The next few pictures show more of the detail of the job right from the beginning.

The site prepared
Trench foundations after the concrete was poured
Concrete arrives for the slab
The slab laid
The frame of the building ready for roofing and cladding….
Roof battens in place

There were tail end jobs to do, such as installing water, a soakaway for the rainwater, and electricity, but everything was complete by late spring. We used scrap tile battens to make a large number of racks for storage above the rafters, all easily accessible by stepladder.

The roofers at work – like the carpenters, they worked with impressive speed

We took charge of painting the barge boards, soffits, window surrounds, corner timbers and doors. Some, such as the bargeboards, we did before they were installed, and touched up afterwards from the scaffolding.

The weather boarding came ready-painted black, but we will add another coat, of matt barn paint, to protect the nailheads and holes. The windows also came ready painted but we’ll give them another coat too.

Battened ready for weatherboarding

Finally, we laid a gravel path round the back using leftover hard-core from the foundations, and renewed the gravel in the parking area.

The next job over the autumn will be to line and insulate the store room and put in an insulated ceiling. Then we’ll sit back and watch the roses climb over the barn!

As mentioned in a post last December, protected orchids potentially blocked us when we applied for planning permission in 2008. We won that battle, by demonstrating that ours were not actually the most endangered species.

Starting to dig the turf from the site

 That didn’t mean we weren’t very keen to protect them. We cut and moved the turf from the whole garage site this year and relaid it at the end of the pond, near where orchids had established themselves naturally.

The turf relaid in December at the end of the pond. About 40 sq metres was moved. It worked: this spring we had a fine display there of cowslips, fritillaries and orchids. The muddiest, most damaged turf seen in the picture was laid over the path, but even that burst out in a profusion of grass and flowers three months later.

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