Alex Baines explains the impact a mid-construction delay has had on him, his family, and his Long Barrow Passivhaus project.
Interview with Alex Baines
We have been following Alex's Long Barrow Passivhaus project in The Hub and on the podcast since it went through the planning stages. When we last caught up with Alex his employment status had recently changed and he was unable to secure a mortgage to complete the build. It's been two and a half years since then and work has finally resumed and progress is being made.
The ICF withstood the exposed conditions well
Alex has used insulated concrete form to create the main structure of the building. Whether this was the right choice he will reserve judgment on until they have completed the airtightness test. It has however been excellent in terms of the construction job it has done and how well it has stood up to the elements with no degradation at all in the two years that the site has effectively been closed. Had it been constructed from timber Alex would have been concerned about leaving it open and exposed for that length of time.
No stage was left incomplete
A complication with the excavations and additional costs that caused meant that they didn't have the funds available to complete the airtight and watertight stage. So instead they stopped before putting the windows in and render on, knowing that leaving either of those only partially complete would leave the internal timber window frame at risk of water damage.
Because they had the money to complete various sections, they didn't leave anything halfway through and ensured they they stuck to their finite stop points. They went through a checklist with the builder to sign-off on the items to show which parts of the contract were or weren't complete.
The JCT contract they had in place covered completion, quality and cost, and very little about timing as Alex knew that was the one thing he was prepared to compromise on if necessary. The builders were contracted to finish the job, so the pause happened between specific contract items, with the next item only being started when they were invited back on site.
Costs still accrue, even while the project is on hold
One extra cost they incurred was the scaffolding. It stayed on site for four months, with Alex expecting work to have resumed in that time, so when it didn't he had to pay for that additional time, plus the extra costs of setting it all up again when they restarted.
In the meantime, Alex has still had the additional costs of paying for rent, site insurance and third party liability insurance.
Alex has had financial assistance from his parents to get the project moving again, who have taken out mortgages on their property to fund it through to completion, with Alex taking out a mortgage at a certain stage to pay them back. This has meant that there have been emotional strains for the wider family being stakeholders, as well as for Alex, his wife and children.
Focus has been diverted during the delay
During the period of cessation, Alex has been focused on professional life, family life and getting the money to do the build. He has held back from pursuing contracts with utility companies etc, as these often only have 90 days on them.
The biggest delay has been caused by the construction company closing
Getting the project restarted and back on site has been a painful and lengthy process. In July 2016, six or seven months after they had put the project on hold, they had finance in place and invited the contractors to return. After several months of not being able to get answers about when they would re-start, they were contacted to say the company was being closed down by their parent company. They were trying to get out of the contract but Alex knew the parent company would still have to honour and complete the contract, even if the team that were doing the building and the company responsible for it were no longer operating.
It has taken until the summer of 2017 to finally get work restarted. Fortunately they were able to re-hire the original site manager, but the company that closed didn't leave any of its data with the parent company, so the current team are having difficulties finding their way without the original details.
When the contractors finally returned to site they reviewed the waterproofing of the building. Being below the water table means that's a detail they need to get right, and they discovered that their original plan wasn't robust enough. This was discovered when the same method on another site failed over a period of time.
Work has finally resumed
There had been some damage during the previous winter, where the pumps and electricity on site had stopped, and had ripped off part of the external waterproofing. Progress has been incredibly slow in getting that remedied and Alex had been keen to get the render and waterproofing details confirmed so he could order the windows. The contractors have struggled to find the right team to render the building but with an 8-12 week lead time on the windows he decided to order them anyway.
As of May 2018 there has been a recent flurry of activity with the base-coat rendering finished and the windows being installed.
Current finance should be enough to make the building habitable
First on Alex's long list of tasks is to get the ventilation system organised. He is still waiting on the final waterproofing detail before he can get the landscape contractors to do the backfill. Following that will be ordering the utilities, which come into the house at above head height on the below ground floor.
Alex is hoping that his finance will cover, at a minimum, a certain amount of first fix upstairs, get a bathroom in place, ventilation system installed and an operating kitchen, to make it a usable building.
It has been an emotional roller coaster of a journey!
Spirits are currently high with the previous week of activity making tangible differences to the aesthetics and fabric of the house.
“The process has obviously been very, very challenging. So, we are now looking at and trying to mentally break the process being awful and not associate that with I hate the whole thing, and I hate the building.”
While the last couple of years have been challenging and caused a bit of love loss for the building, Alex remains thankful that they still love the location. He is hopeful that once the building is finished they will be able to leave the negative thoughts behind as being part of the methodology and the process.
Find out more
Follow Alex Baines on Twitter
Listen to our previous podcasts with Alex – “How a public consultation helped a rural self build” and “Constructing Long Barrow Passivhaus”.