As Karin and I sit here preparing for New Year’s Eve, we thought it would be fitting to end the year with our final blog of 2015.
We’ve titled it the swan, as our ugly duckling of a building site is finally turning into a swan of a home.
It is often said that a person’s eyes are a window to their soul. In the case of a house, windows bring the vacant expression of a featureless wall to life. As we’ve mentioned before, we have been very keen to use local, British-based craftsmen and we made no exceptions for the windows. Karin made her usual, sterling effort to investigate and discover the best person to make our windows and doors, but it was a long task as there is so much choice out there, from the double-glazing cowboys on up. In the end, the solution was staring us in the face – literally. We have always really loved the woodwork in our current home, that we moved into in 2001. Luckily, the first owner left us all the paperwork from when the house was built in 1999, including for the oak doors, staircases and so on. This was all made by Meer End, a bespoke joinery founded more than 20 years ago and still run and owned by the same family. They have a wonderful site, near Kenilworth – around 80 miles away – where they design and manufacture high quality doors, windows, staircases, cabinetry and most other types of joinery.
All the team at Meer End are incredibly professional, creative and a pleasure to deal with and were very open to us making several visits and, in particular, letting us see our windows being made.
Sustainability has been an important factor for us and we had worries about the genuine sustainability of the hardwoods we planned to use. For oak we were confident we could get comfortable, but for anything sourced from outside Europe, particularly from rain forests, the claims for sustainability can be somewhat suspect and hard to prove.. For the windows, Meer End are big fans of Red Grandis, which is an engineered, strong, easy to use long-lasting wood and is perfect for windows. It is a sub species of Eucalyptus and is grown in plantations, primarily now in Uruguay. It is 100% certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and EUTR compliant.
Our windows are a mixture of sash, casement and french doors, all double glazed and painted in “pointing”, an off-white that is neutral but warm and goes beautifully with the brickwork.
Visiting Meer End to see our actual windows being made has been a highlight of the build. We drove up there on a wet day in October, en route to visit our daughter in Edinburgh. Seeing the progression from cutting, through preparation, sash-weighting and then to painting was marvellous and really helped to bring ownership to our build, even though we are obviously not doing the manual building work ourselves…..
The House on the Hill has turned out to have a lot of glass, one reason being that our current house is quite dark inside, very noticeable in the winter months, and something we are keen to avoid in the future. So one feature we really love, and which we designed in right from the start, is a roof lantern above the main staircase. The lantern is again made of wood, double glazed, and measures 5m x 1.6m. It has now been installed and really works, as light is spread from the top of the house to the ground floor. Hopefully the self-cleaning glass will work properly……
The other major element of works has been the installation of the ground source heat infrastructure. As I am sure is well known, the ground acts as a very large store of heat energy and can therefore be used as a heat source. A ground source heat pump is then used to extract heat energy from the ground in winter and to transfer the heat into buildings. It is clean, free of all carbon emissions other than that created in producing the small amount of electricity to run the compressor and the circulation pumps. Installations generally use a borehole or shallow trenches. A well designed ground source heat pump installation should deliver up to four times as much thermal energy as is used in electrical energy to drive the system. As it delivers water at a lower temperature than is commonly used in radiator systems ground source makes an ideal partner for underfloor heating systems. So, although not cheap and quite complex to install, we like the idea of genuinely renewable energy and very low maintenance with a 50 year life span. Just in case, we will have an LPG storage tank and boiler installed shortly.
As the House is situated on an eight acre plot, we chose to go with shallow trenches, which are generally cheaper to dig. Luckily, we were planning to flatten the main paddock in any event, as the trenches turned it into something resembling the Somme!
Other than that, it’s all been about first fix, plastering and generally a surprisingly quick transformation into the swan, especially once the scaffolding had been taken down.
Our last visit to the house this year on a beautiful, crisp, late December day reminded us why we love the location!
Happy New Year to all from both of us.