What We Wanted To Fix

“What can you do when your dreams come true
And it’s not quite like you planned?”

— After The Thrill Is Gone, written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley,
recorded by The Eagles

Knocking an existing house down and building from scratch is a pretty drastic course of action (not to mention expensive), so what exactly was so wrong that we thought that was the best way forwards?

It’s Cold

Yes, first world problem: I acknowledge that.

But it’s really cold. We have the heating on until about 10:30pm in the winter; by 11:00, the master bedroom is cold. It will drop 10°C in that 30 minutes. The cold comes up through the wooden floor as a draught, and placing big mats in there helped a little.

The bathroom is unpleasant to shower in during the winter. Fitting a much more heat-efficient radiator helped, as did increasing the loft insulation, but if someone (no names, Lucy) leaves the bathroom door open after a nocturnal pee, the bathroom is cold in the morning.

Cavity wall insulation had the effect of slightly lowering the heating bills, but didn’t do much for the heat retention.

Talking of bills, there’s no mains gas so we rely on oil for heating. That works fine, but heating with oil is significantly more expensive than gas.

It goes without saying that older members of the family feel that cold even more.

A Maze

The layout of the bungalow has been extended twice, and it hasn’t really been thought through.

Existing floor plan

The bottom part of the plan is the original house, with the wall above the middle bedroom and study being an outside wall originally.

The effect of adding the new part at the top is to create a room trapped in the middle of the house (“study”). As there are two doors to the bedroom on the middle left, it’s possible to walk right around the middle study. Hours of fun for the easily amused.


Room Sizes

The three bedrooms in the top left corner (one is labelled ‘study’) are a generous size. The study in the middle of the house becomes a bedroom when an estate agent describes the house, and although not as large as the others, it would probably make a reasonable bedroom if you don’t mind there being no windows (other than a skylight).

One corner of the living room is >gone<

One corner of the living room is >gone<

But the lounge… For a house with four bedrooms, the lounge is pitifully small. Worse, it has a big chunk missing from one corner. Trying to fit two chairs, a sofa and a TV in there so that all can see the TV is challenging.

There’s also a very odd “something” on the wall (above the darker picture in the photo). It’s a box section that is about 5cm thick, runs from the ceiling down about 47cm, and runs along into the next room (the diner). What’s behind it? We don’t know (yet), but maybe we’ll find out.

The conservatory is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. That’s not surprising, but the folding doors to the lounge leak the cold air in.

Small But Inaccessible Flat Roof

I came home from work one rainy day to find Cecilia desperately trying to catch water that was coming through the ceiling at an alarming rate. It was taking a few minutes to fill a 5 litre bucket, and we had more than one of them collecting water in different places.

I couldn’t work out where the water was coming from. I went into the loft, suspecting a burst pipe or similar, but nothing. Then I noticed the water lapping in over the eaves.

The corridor between the top bedroom/study and the bottom bedroom/study has a flat roof. On all four sides, there is a gable roof. So, when it rains, water from a substantial proportion of the whole roof is directed to the flat roof section. Of course, there’s a drain hole, but until this time I didn’t even realise there was a flat roof: it’s completely invisible from the ground.

The flat room, fed rain from all four sides. Note the drain, bottom left.

The flat room, fed rain from all four sides. Note the drain, bottom left.

A quick(-ish) scamper up a ladder, climb up the gable, down the other side into my recently-discovered roof swimming pool, and some paddling later I found the drain hole, blocked with autumnal leaves. Easy to fix then.

But who in their right mind puts a flat roof in such a location?

Small Steps

For reasons that escape me, the bathroom and the bedroom to the top of the plan above have a small step up into them. The step is only about 6cm high, and we soon got used to it – but what a bizarre thing to have.

The 6cm step into the bathroom

The 6cm step into the bathroom

Those steps become annoying when trying to drag the Hoover vacuum cleaner around, and for guests they are a bit of a surprise. Getting rid of them is decidedly non-trivial. To lower a floor by 6cm before that part of the house is built is easy, but to do so afterwards requires manual labour to dig up the concrete floor.

The Standards

It became clear in the months following us moving in that every bit of work done in the house had had one overriding consideration: make it cheap. We found paper pictures taped over holes; lino laid in the bathroom but not secured; we even found a transition strip between two areas of floor that was held in place by Blu-Tack. We found a wooden curtain pole that had broken in two and been repaired with Blu-Tack (in fact, we found lots of Blu-Tack in various places).

What to do?

The issues above range from inconvenient (the small steps) to significant (the lounge size and shape, and the cold). We spent a lot of time talking to people, discussing ideas and trying to find a good way to improve our home.

Next: How We Tried To Fix It