The Ebay Eco-Home 2.
A fortnight ago I blogged about a very unusual house I’m helping to build for Mark, and old friend of mine.
Most of the work at Mark’s place is being done by Ed, a Polish worker who lives in a caravan on-site and is something of a Polymath.
He can lay bricks, do carpentry, electrics, plumbing and wiring, as well as welding, fixing cars and pretty much anything else practical. He has even built a wood-burning boiler on site from bits of scrap metal lying about. It heats the hot water and central heating for the entire site, but emits a lot of smoke!
Was there anything he couldn’t do? I was determined to catch him out, but didn’t manage it till I got to fixing computers. No, he could’t do that, it needs to be something tangible and physical that he can see.
When I arrived he was busy on the ‘lounge’. This room on it’s own measures 10.5 metres squared – as big as most houses! He had already raised the existing industrial metal-sheath roof by about 18 inches. A team including Mark and some of his workers from the scrapyard fabricated a new steel support for the ridge (apex) of the roof. They improvised it from three massive steel columns from an old warehouse, which they cut down and re-welded. Then two immense I-beams spanned the columns to form the ridge and support the wooden rafters. There was no structural engineer to specify sizes, but no problem as it was totally over-engineered and never going to fail. So professional fees saved… The materials were free too, had been lying about the scrap-yard for years waiting for the right use…
Then the roof eaves needed raising, and Ed lifted the principle rafters one-by-one with a car-jack, then supported them on 4 x 4 wooden columns about 2.4 metres apart. Then he infilled the spaces between with sub-rafters and massive quantities of foam and fibreglass insulation.
Having done that he went to work on the walls, a combination of block, natural stone, and bits of an industrial refrigeration plant (more on that next week!)
My first job was to build the windows on two sides of the lounge. Mark wanted them made from reclaimed wood that would also be very durable. I spent a couple of days sourcing this. Finding somewhere that could supply and mill wasn’t easy but eventually we settled on TR Demolition in Bristol who had pitch-pine from a Victorian warehouse in 10 x 6 beams, and could mill them down to 4 x 3 mullions and 6 x 2 sills.
As the building used to be a glassworks there were hundreds of double-glazed units about the place, but all in different sizes and shapes, as well as thicknesses. Mark wanted the windows made of these mis-matched units, and of course there were no drawings, so I had to improvise! But wasn’t he concerned that they’d all be misaligned and different heights and widths? “Nope, it’ll look like a Mondrian painting!” came the reply.
I found about 20 units of similar height. Unfortunately they were all a bit taller than was ideal (1.8 metres), so I’d have to cut the top rails down. I’d intended to keep them very thick in case they had to support the roof. Then I subdivided the units into sets the right width to match each of the walls and the door openings. It was a real jigsaw but somehow it came together with minimal infill panelling. The only thing I couldn’t avoid was having Ed’s roof-support posts in the middle of the glass. This is where not having an architect shows. It would have been designed out from the start, but at extra cost. But it’s only a problem if you decide it’s a problem. It doesn’t show from the outside and if Mark decides he wants the posts removed later, the roof can be carried by the windows. I purposely made the mullions very thick to be strong enough to carry the roof, and even though I’d cut the heads thinner than planned, a support could be improvised of steel along the top rails to carry the weight.
More details next week