Johnny Paddy’s

The recreation of a family home in Ireland

November 24th – the Radon barrier

November 24th, 2010

Another peek at the viewThe first time I noticed radon gas mentioned was when we put our house on the market in February.  One of questions our solicitors sent us was whether we were in an area known to have high radon levels.  We hadn’t a clue.  Radon, apparently, occurs naturally as part of the decay chain of uranium, which the earth is full of, according to Wikipedia, and is the single largest contributor to a person’s lifetime background radiation dose.  Not healthy then.  Hence, where the levels of radon are higher than average, modern building regulations now require a barrier and sump to be sunk into the foundations of houses to stop the gas accumulating where it oughtn’t.  And this is what we found Pat doing when we turned up today.  radon barrier

Pat is very much a ‘belt and braces’ man.  Most builders will simply lay a layer of sand over the thick polythene membrane to protect it until the flooring material is laid, but Pat says this is all very well until it rains and then it is a “pure mess” – added to which, by the time the builders have trampled all over it, raked out the sand, erected scaffolding and dropped tools, the whole thing is full of holes and utterly useless.  So Pat uses a weak mix concrete instead.

Site canteenOur visit today was principally to see our neighbour, over whose land our right of way runs.  In theory, we already have his permission to run water pipes down his road, but it is good to talk and we also wanted to ask his permission to level an unsightly mound on his side of the boundary.  As usual, the 11.30am appointment was delayed by an hour or so, and 12.30pm also came and went with no sign of yer man.  Pat and his foreman, John, repaired to the site canteen for their lunch. (As I took this photo, John said “now don’t be putting that in the Champion”.”Oh no”, I said, “just the Internet”. “Well that’s ok then.”)Meet the neighbours

When yer man did, eventually, show up, he was helpful to a fault, allowing us to run our water pipes under a corner of his meadow rather than force us to employ a rock breaker to dig a trench in the road. Equally, he didn’t seem to mind in the least if we pushed the mound of overgrown earth over the escarpment to improve our view. We don’t know what to make of our neighbour really. He owns a lot of property all over the county, but he seems to have remarkably bad luck doing anything with it. He was particularly anxious that we shouldn’t disturb the meadow too much as he had spent a lot of money draining and re-seeding it.  It didn’t seem a particularly profitable enterprise though, as it had cost 100k to do and produced just 16 bales of silage. Such is farming, perhaps. However, he had also been in trouble with the county council over a percolation bore hole that had been left uncovered and had crossed swords with the ESB over re-routing some electricity lines underground. All over the county there seem to be planning applications started and abandoned, where, in the face of an apparently minor setback, he seemed to have simply thrown in the towel and given up, often leaving himself out of pocket in the process.

November 22nd – the road rises up

November 22nd, 2010

Well, its an odd thing, but each time I see the site, the rooms seem to change size.  When Pat first marked out the outline with a few blocks, I was slightly disappointed as the main living room looked smaller than I had imagined it.  Then when the first layer of blocks showed where the interior walls would be, the whole thing seemed much bigger.  Pat says these differences of perception are quite normal and can mostly be put down to tricks of the light.  Anyway, I hadn’t looked in on the site again while John was away so quite a lot of progress had been made in the interim. It wont be long before we have to start thinking about plumbing, so we sat down on Sunday night and desigView from our living roomned our new kitchen.  Now when I go to the site, it is easier to visualise how the furniture and kitchen units will fit.

The most obvious change was the ground level.  The foundations are now mostly buried and the walls have been filled in with gravel. You can no longer see the difference in height between the eastern and western ends of the plot. The radon sump has been installed, and the next step will be to lay a gas-proof barrier over the whole foundations before installing the damp-proof course and finishing with a final layer of smooth concrete.  Finished floor level will be approximately 7″ above what you see here. This picture hints at the magnificent view we will have from our living room, towards The Burren. Ready for radon barrier

When we saw Pat yesterday, his main concern was how to compensate for the height of the new building above the original rock bed.  A steep slope now exists between the main house and where we are to site our new garage and we need to find the most cost-effective way of dealing with it.  We could bring in more stones – a lot more – and bring the garage up to the same level as the house, but this would require some sort of retaining wall and would result in a sharp drop off the other side, perhaps not ideal for John’s and Mike’s grandchildren, should they (please God) come to visit. So, instead, we will borrow back a section of the hagget and build up a gentler slope towards the house.  It will probably make a great skateboard park, though we’ll have to keep a good supply of sticking plasters in the medicine cabinet for all those grazed knees.

November 16th – Floor plan

November 16th, 2010

I dropped John off at Shannon Airport this morning, before calling in at the site on my way home.  I was feeling rough, as I have caught John’s cold. Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood to be caught behind the world’s slowest tractor, travelling at 20kph, towing a heavy load of shale.  Driving a left-hand-drive car, I couldn’t see to get past, so I just had to wait until he turned off.  But, as luck would have it, the tractor was going the same way as me, so I carried on and took a later turn.

Room layoutThe blocks for the foundations are nearly all in place now, and you can see the room layout. It is easy to forget that all this will actually be below floor level in the finished house, so there are no apertures in the walls for doors and windows. The notches you can see in the tops of some of the block walls will carry the plumbing. Nevertheless, I hopped over the living room ‘wall’ and tried to imagine how our fully extended dining table would fit with our kitchen units and the lovely dual-fuel range that we saw yesterday at the electrical store.  (I can dream …)The world’s slowest tractor

I climbed up on the pile of grassed-over stone that used to be the front wall of the old house and took the annotated photo below.  Just as I was about to leave, I heard a tractor approaching.  Sure enough, the slowest tractor in the world hove into view.  It was Pat.  I should have guessed …

Click photo for larger image.

Floorplan at foundation level

November 12th – Building blocks

November 12th, 2010

John came down with a terrible cold on Wednesday and spent most of the day in bed.  On Thursday, the whole west coast was being buffeted by storm-force winds and torrential rain.  Local school children were sent home due to an electricity blackout. We barely set foot out of doors and couldn’t, for a moment, imagine that any work would be done.  On Friday, the sun came out again and we went to have another look at the site.

First blocksIn fact, Pat’s men had turned up for work on Thursday morning, but there was little they could achieve.  They laid out some corner blocks and went home. But, by mid-morning on Friday, the first layer of blocks had started to be laid around the outside walls of the new house and, at the far end, a double skin had been almost finished to floor level. We marveled at the speed of the work, until Marie explained that the men get paid per block!Floor level

The concrete foundation had been laid in steps to take account of the stability and level of the rocky ground underneath.  Remember that there was a 4′ 6″ fall between the old entrance gate and the chicken shed? In order to have level floors, it was necessary to compensate with three extra layers of blocks at the far end. In this picture, the top of the inside layer of blocks will be about 6″ below floor level by the time the foundations are filled with stone and a radon gas barrier and concrete skin added.

Height difference

We were amazed at the apparent difference in height.  It was difficult to see with the naked eye that the foundations would be level so, to reassure us a bit, Pat demonstrated with a laser theodolite.  Then, just for fun, he showed us the difference in height against the original farmhouse.  Look at where Pat is holding the laser pointer.  That is where the floor level of the new house will be. Water supply

Pat’s men weren’t the only people that were busy over the last day or two.  The Water Board had been to install our supply at the roadside.

November 9th – Concrete foundations

November 9th, 2010

We got back from the UK on Thursday.  Or was it?  I’m now getting so confused that I have to check our travel arrangements in the diary.  No, I discover that it was actually Wednesday when we caught the ferry. But then, of course, we stayed overnight in Dublin so that we would be in time to ask the saintly Nodlaig (prounounced Nolig) to let us into our Ennis storage unit to collect some essentials.  By the time we had picked up the keys to our rental house and Eamon had given us a quick run-down on the Stanley range, it was dark, so our first site visit had to wait till the following day.

Foundations dugIt had been raining heavily and there was no one around.  However, it was evident that work was still progressing.  The chicken shed had gone and the ground was dug ready for laying the foundations.  We could now clearly see the outline and position of the new house.  The footprint had been moved a few feet further away from the ruin, presumably to allow better access for vehicles.

A storm was forecast for Sunday, so we moved our furniture on Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend making ourselves at home.  We agreed to meet up with Pat on Tuesday morning, the day the concrete was due to be delivered for the foundations.

It duly poured with rain for most of Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, and we imagined the site would be a swamp by Tuesday.  However, when we got there at about 11.30am, the steel reinforcements were in place and the concrete mixer was en route.  The place slightly resembled some sort of Roman excavation. Roman excavation?

You will notice that the front wall and part of the gable end of the old house has now been demolished.  This was done in order to allow the lorries access without disturbing the foundation work.  We could now see the level of the old floor, though Pat assured us that the flagstones had not been disturbed.  We still don’t know what condition they might be in after all these years, but it will be a week or two before we need to decide on materials for our new flooring, so they are safer left where they are for the moment.

Road drainageIt was chilly, so we didn’t hang around and wait for the concrete.  Pat needed to discuss the drainage at the road entrance.  The Road Supervisor had initially asked for a pipe to be installed to allow rain water to drain freely into a ditch that runs along the perimeter of a neighbour’s field.  Unfortunately, the heavy rain over the weekend demonstrated that a more sophisticated solution might be required.

We left Pat to his work and went for a cup of tea with Bridie … who presented us with a heap of junk mail!  Our planning approval had not gone unnoticed in the local press and mail started to be delivered to a cousin of the same name a little further down the road.