23rd August 2007

Well, here we all are: A year on.

I've had quite a few e mails asking how things are going, many from people I don't know but have read the build blog - so I thought I'd take one final bite of this particular cherry.

Firstly, all's well and happy and we're loving the house.

As expected, moving in was more of a comma than a full stop. The taps that were falling off on day one would continue to fall off for a further 186 days until they were finally fixed by the super efficient plumbers, who, when told that none of the toilet seats would stay up due to incorrect placement relative to the wall replied: "In Holland men usually sit down when they want a pee". To which I suggested that this being Scotland they should move all the toilets.

FINALLY completing their work (seven months after we moved in) they sent me a bill for £5,000.00 more than expected (£8,000.00 more than their initial 'estimate'). Having sat down in a darkened room for a while, I phoned the architect, who informed me that this happened a lot. The firm in question regularly sending out stupidly large bills for the simple reason that about one in twenty just pay it. The rest of us have to sit round a table and argue the toss about why we shouldn't pay.

Not being fond of sitting round tables, or indeed of arguing the toss, I wrote a long letter, an extract highlighting the costs to which I took exception below:


All the sanitaryware is standard. The company that supplied the sanitaryware say it's standard, a plumber here on the west coast says it's standard - and even if it wasn't standard, I would expect you to TELL me that it was not standard and would cost more to install - indeed, you have had the brochure listing all fittings since before the job started, and no mention was made of anything being 'non standard'. All the sanitaryware being standard, I see no reason to pay this charge.


The water mains is a private supply and was already laid. I see no reason to pay this charge.

EXTERNAL DRAINAGE: 3,127.25 (including 495 miles at 55p per mile and 42 hours x 2 men).

My site manager was on site when this work was undertaken and firstly, your plumbers generally turned up at 12.00 - sometimes staying only a couple of hours. If I'm paying 55p a mile I expect people to turn up at 09.00 and work until 17.00 - not come back and forward half a dozen times. More importantly the site manager laughed out loud when I quoted 84 man hours. He was there for the entire time and assures me that in the region of 20 hours were spent on this task, the bulk of it being completed in one two day spell. I consider this amount to be more than double that which it should legitimately be.

They reduced the bill by £3,000.00 and I was pleased to be shot of them. A week later a pipe thay had not connected properly made a sudden break for freedom and I walked into one of the en suites to find water pouring down through a light fitting.

On a brighter note, I kept a chippy (Andy) on part time for a few months and he built lots of steps, decking, seats and a garage out of the HUGE amount of wood left over from the build (I still have half a garage full). He also helped distribute 35 tons of aggregate on our driveway.... which was delivered by a chap who wasn't too handy with the controls of his lorry, for when he tried to spread the load evenly over a 100 yard driveway, managed to dump the entire 35 tons right outside my front door in a pile that resembled Mount Fuji. Several hours of backbreaking work later, we got it thus:


Some more snaps of Andy's handywork:


Some 'bling' rope L.E.D. lighting over the widow and spots along the decking


Stairs down to the jetty (yes, we've got a boat).


Considering we have absolutely no intention of ever selling this house, we don't strictly need a 'certificate of completion'. However it seemed like a fairly reasonable thing to do to apply for one, so we did. This necessitated getting the building regs officer back to examine the property and make sure it fulfilled all relevant conditions. It didn't of course, for if it had - he would be out of a job.

His main concern was that the upstairs outdoor balcony handrail was 10cm too short. This would mean that the first person to step onto said balcony would certainly trip, and blunder headlong over to certain death. The fact that the drop is only about 8 feet onto soft earth and that the internal balcony is the same height and has a 12 foot drop onto solid wood floor seemed unimportant.

Next was the missing 'Xpelair' which was on the original plans, but has been replaced by cooker hood.

Him: There's an xpelair missing.

Me: Yes I put one on the plans, but now we have the cooker hood instead.

Him: I'm afraid if it's on the plans it has to be fitted.

Me: If I'd left it off the plans, would I have to fit one?

Him: No, not now you have the cooker hood.

Me: er...

It was at this point that I started to regret the application. However, we made good all the problems he had found and sent off all relevant documents and photos of the completed work on the 5th April 2007... and have heard nothing since.

To the house... which has been a real pleasure to live and work in. The underfloor heating, solar panels and ground source heat pump are (after some initial how the hell do I do that moments) all doing more or less what they are supposed to, the internal temperature in winter is almost identical to that of summer, the hot water is piping hot, and we are saving a fair bit of cash compared to previous houses.

Talking of money, the final cost of the house build including EVERYTHING came in about £80k over budget. £30k of this was me upping the spec here and there and spending more on fixtures and fittings than I should have (hey, TV's over bathtubs are great) - the other £50k was mainly down to a time overrun of 4 months, unexpected costs, needing more joiners that I could shake a stick at, and hopelessly inaccurate builders' 'estimates' (cough). If anyone out there is considering a self build - In my humble opinion, ignore the 10% contingency fund guff you always hear about - just total it up then add 25% and you'll be close.

We've had dozens of visitors over the year (3 dozen and counting actually) and if truth be told, have hardly stopped. Almost every local has popped in to welcome us (all bearing gifts of copious amounts of alcohol) and we haven't missed our life in England once. We even found a beach at the bottom of the garden we never knew we had. (OK, it's not the biggest beach in the world and as you can see we have to share it).

We had a BIZARRELY wet winter (26 inches of rain in January ) and a stunningly dry and sunny spring. The best weather however, was an amazing few days in Feb which looked like this (yet another shameless insert - taken from my 'pic-a-day for a year project'):


There is something up here called the 'West Highland Way'. I naively thought this to be a coastal footpath or tourist route - but no. It's the way things are done in these parts. We are slowly getting used to it - for slow is the way of things here (Remember - "When God made time, he made plenty of it"!) If you ask the station guard what time the next train is, you'll be told "In a wee while". You'll often find yourself sitting in a car on a single track road waiting for a conversation to finish between two passing locals (which can go on for several minutes). I venture to suggest that if this happened in London, there would be bloodshed.

On New Year's Eve everyone returned home to wait for midnight, no Auld Lang Syne here... then 'first footing' began.

First footing consists of everyone in the village going out with bottles of booze and visiting everyone else in the village. Every house you pass the door is open and people are toasting in the new year with a dram or six. This continues nonstop (as far as I could see) until the entire stock of alcohol in the village has been consumed. This year it lasted about two days. Everyone then goes to bed and sleeps for a further two days. They then have hangovers until mid January, when work starts again.

By the way, it took a full six months for me to realise that 'picking up one's messages' was nothing to do with e mail or mobile phones, but was in fact the act of buying provisions (usually whisky).

Yesterday Robert (the Bruce) came down and continued to fit some galvanised 'hats' over the downstairs windows... so, four years since I started the design, two years since the foundations were dug and 22 months since the Finns arrived, the house STILL has some work to be completed.

Well that really is it. No more epilogues or addendums. Promise. Good night and good luck.