With the planning application submitted we just had to sit tight and wait for the wheels of civil service to slowly turn…….
A few of the neighbours raised objections, which wasn’t much of a surprise given that we were building in a residential area and house building is generally contentious in rural villages, but after a few further tweaks and a handful of meetings the application was finally approved.
The relief of finally having the planning approval paperwork (we didn’t celebrate until the document was actually in our hands!) was soon surpassed with a long list of ‘work’ that needed to be done. We began compiling the information required by our Design Office to prepare the Building Regulations and construction notes.
Border Oak are very fortunate to have our own ‘in house’ design studio, where we can prepare both planning drawings and the technical working drawings. It’s a huge and highly valuable resource, with decades of experience at our fingertips and endless solutions already practised. Having the same ‘team’ produce the frame drawings, Building Regs. submission and construction drawings ensures a streamlined, efficient approach. With all projects we always work on the basis that we might be responsible for the actual building work - so that the detail is front loaded and the nuances can be thought out at an early stage.
Within a few months we had the CAD drawings for the oak frame to look through and check. The frame drawings are always produced first and all other drawings (i.e. foundation plans, SIPs design, section detailing etc.) are layered from these. We need to order the oak in advance, and also need time to prepare and send off the engineering calculations as these are assessed independently. The frame design dictates so much of the other work such as foundation layouts and roof structures. The oak frame is a bit like a skeleton which needs ‘muscle and flesh’, but unless you know where the bones are and what they are doing you can’t really add the right muscle or cover it with skin ……oh dear - I love an analogy or two, but that is my first and last attempt at anatomical references. Apologies!
Anyway, with the frame drawings signed off, a detailed cutting list of all the timber needed was produced from the CAD files - allowing BODC to place the oak order. Border Oak are one of the world's largest procurers of green oak and one of very few timber frame companies that are also FSC and PEFC certified. This means all of our timber purchasing is audited and approved by FSC and PEFC and has to meet stringent ethical and ecological standards to demonstrate that the provenance is traceable and environmentally sound.
The oak cutting list was sent to our selected merchants, who then secure the oak from various oak farms based upon our very rigorous internal specification. We are very particular about not only provenance, but also quality – only buying Restoration Grade oak and refusing delivery of beams that have too many knots, handling damage (from the sawmills machinery) or too much sap wood. We know this is a bit annoying for the merchants (who often declare that ‘the other companies will take these beams – why won’t Border Oak?’) but as our frames are made by hand and we strive for excellence, it wouldn’t make sense to spend time or effort on timber that we know is substandard in any way. In order to rate (and possibly reject) the incoming timber with any professional clout we ensure that our carpenters are independently qualified timber ‘graders’ (certified by TRADA) as they might be if they worked in commercial sawmill or forest.
The oak can take up to 10 weeks to arrive, and in this time the remaining construction drawings were issued. Work was almost ready to start on site, but before breaking ground we had to contact the various service providers (for quotes and timescales to connect the gas, drainage, water and electrics), which is a thankless, joyless and frustrating task even on the simplest of sites.
The project was allocated a Border Oak project manager – who will be in overall charge of organising the right labour at the right time, ensuring materials arrive at the right time for the right people, producing and maintaining the schedule and any changes to this – but also generally being the ‘all seeing, all knowing presence’ on the job. I cannot imagine how any project can get off the ground without a PM – they are a proverbial fountain of experience and knowledge, anticipating issues before they arise and having a solution at their fingertips when needed. They are probably the best connected men in the company – their little black books for people and products are mind boggling, and collectively they have built thousands of Border Oak homes all over the UK.
The PM’s work weeks and months in advance, knowing which trades need to come in and also what those trades need to be able to do their job – this all translates into a quicker job for the least amount of money. They are also there to maintain standards, keep the site safe and productive, and are well aware of the Border Oak ‘look’ (which is so important to our product and sets us apart in a fairly competitive market). We have 5 (and a half) PM’s and they are the backbone of what we do (seems like I am sticking with the ‘skeleton’ references this week!).
One of the first things we had to do was hold a specification meeting - with the PM, the BODC Specification Manager and me (the pseudo client) - to determine all the materials, detailing and specifics, so that orders for items on the critical path can be placed. I will write a separate blog about this part of the process later as it is very detailed.
So, whilst the oak frame was being made in the Workshop, the base crew were booked and finally the diggers were put on standby to clear the site. Then, out of the blue, a chance discussion with a neighbour completely changed the entire proposal and a new opportunity was unexpectedly put on the table. It was an opportunity that was simply too good to miss.
We were offered the chance to buy the paddock behind our plot; enabling us to move the house further back into a more spacious site and therefore create a lovely garden and add a garage with additional parking. In the longer term it would give us access to additional plots, which had previously been landlocked. After much deliberation and consideration and despite being ready to start on site (we were literally a week from starting with the oak frame made and waiting and labour lined up) – we decided to pull the plug and bravely went back into the planning quagmire to relocate the house.
Fast forward 16 weeks, 3 parish council meetings, 1 upset neighbour and 22 new drawings….. we had secured approval to move the cottage.
And just to keep you interested (sorry, this is all a bit long) we have included a photo of work actually starting on the ‘new site’ – several years after we first embarked upon the project.
foundations are laid, but our world is rocked...