Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Carpenter, plumber, cat-wrangler, student

It is administrative day at Nickson Mansions, so I take my carpenter hat off and sit my Project Manager hat firmly on the old noggin. The renovation project at Large Villas is well into the second phase, and we will shortly begin Phase Three (Operation Taj Mahal). In truth, I am not exactly certain how many Phases this project will be divided into, although hopefully no more than five as follows:

Phase One; Tear-out and final Planning (Operation Focus)
Phase Two : Rebuild, insulate and make good existing structure (Operation Fishkettle)
Phase Three : Tear down existing 10ft by 4 ft structure and build new 15ft by 9 ft structure (Operation Taj Mahal)
Phase Four : Amalgamate old structure (Fishkettle) with new structure (Taj Mahal), including joining electrical, plumbing, heating and flooring elements into one Harmonious Whole (Operation Feng Shui)
Phase Five: Complete decoration of all (Operation Seven-Hours-in-Home-Depot-dithering-over-Paint-Samples-for-one tiny-room).

Phase Two and Phase Three run concurrently, and we are also finding that Phase One, Four and Five also have to run concurrently so every week, I take a day away from site to assess the Project and wrestle it back into shape so that it makes some kind of logical sense. English houses are very complicated pieces of engineering, much more so than the traditional North American built wood frame house. To build a wooden frame house, the process is simple - tear a great big hole in the ground, fill it with concrete, throw a bunch of wooden sticks together as a frame, nail some plywood to it and drywall the inside. If, in the course of this process, you discover that you've put the holes for the windows or the doors in the wrong place, you just cut a new hole in the side of the house(not particularly accurately) add a few more sticks or wood to frame out the new hole and fill any gaps with caulking or expanding foam. It is the way house building should be. Once built attaching

English houses are an entirely different matter. Take the outer walls for example. These consist of an inner leaf, made of things called blocks, and an outer leaf made of bricks. The inner and outer are separated by an air space, or cavity but are tied together by small stainless steel clips embedded into the mortar(mortar is the glue which is between bricks and is a different product for the outer leaf and the inner leaf) of each respective leaf. Not only this, but the cavity is also partially filled with insulation, and has a damp proof membrane. It does not help that the blocks and the bricks are different sizes by several order of magnitude, and that there are a myriad of different specifications within each category. Additionally, where windows or doors are required in a structure, a separate material - either structural steel or concrete - is required by code to act a lintel. Just to build a wall requires amalgamating five different materials together seamlessly. It is, I have to admit, a good solution in a deforested country, but as we are running this whole project ourselves instead of employing a building contractor, it is a massive learning curve, a curve that I've only just grasped, and one that has involved several false dawns. Local building suppliers will, I have discovered, sell you anything you ask for without providing advice, so the research has to be thorough and the results of that research accurate, as well as regionally specific (the soil type determines which materials you can use, how deep your foundations have to be and when you can build).

The process has been amazing and fascinating, and I'm now knowledgeable, if not expert in structural load calculations for type 4c soil, and have all sorts of ready facts available about the load bearing properties of all sorts of bricks (in Newtons per cubic metre). The cats have been useless in helping with this research. During any learning process, there is for me a cusp, a pivotal moment, when struggling with a complicated three dimensional puzzle. Suddenly the solution to the problem you are trying to solve becomes clear, lucid and you just grasp it. But the moments before these epiphanies are the most dangerous - the problem floats just in front of you, tantilizingly just out of reach. You know however that this is the moment of discovery and just a little bit longer in silent contemplation will give the solution. Usually at this point, Tosh jumps up on the desk, rubs my chin with his head and goes "MIAOW!!!", driving the solution away like a frightened bird.

THe best thing though is that these admin days are how I anticipate my student days - problem solving, writing essays, discovering information. If this is the next three years, I'm a very lucky carpenter.

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