It’s peaks and troughs, this house business - and our latest fortnight’s troughs involved finding out:
- we’d accidentally run up a structural engineering bill of £4,000, and
- we might have to re-design our entire house because the back garden may be too small to escape the flames, should the place go up in smoke (never mind the fact that our garden fence is so cheap and flimsy it could be instantly pushed over by the feeblest of potential escapees)
These are the things they don’t show you on Grand Designs. The trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be a simple manual one can consult to guide you through the renovation minefield. You think you’ve read every DIY blog and dissected in brain-addling detail the experiences of seasoned renovators over the water fountain, and then before you know it BAM! you’ve had a hefty hole blown in your budget.
We’ve become completely obsessed. In social situations we could barely get through the small-talk before the words
Do you know any structural engineers?
...tumbled out of our mouths. Anyway, we’ll spare you the details but we think we’ve found a loophole, and are anxiously watching the bank account to see if the company banks our full and final settlement cheque.
Needless to say, we have learnt some useful lessons. Don’t be embarrassed to go through the nitty gritty of costs, even if it’s a friend of a friend, and even if you’re English and therefore find talking about money a bit icky. And be sure to tell them they should carry out work only when you instruct them in writing, not if some bloke from the council calls to ask for a revised drawing. That’s what caught us out - not knowing that revisions, even tiny ones, can be billed in all sorts of imaginative ways.
As for the fire escape issue, this is the mysterious domain of Building Control, which we were only dimly aware of until it bit us on the bum. This is how it works: you submit a lengthy application (entirely separately from the planning application), pay them lots of money, and then a nice man comes round every couple of weeks and points out anything that’s contrary to Building Regulations. But the thing about Building Regulations is that no one seems to really know all of them, and no officer enforces them in the same way as the next. They take the form of a tome so weighty and complex that even years of devoted study on a Tibetan mountain would surely not unlock all its secrets. Our builders are experienced, but they hadn’t even heard of some of the more exotic fire regulations.
What hope is there for us?
So we wait, on tenterhooks, to find out what else we might be doing wrong.
But it’s not all bad - there are peaks. Seeing the guts of our very pretty shower being installed. The unveiling of the swan-like standpipe bath tap, which disgorges real hot water. And sheets of pink plasterboard being laid over all the ground floor walls - the undergarments of the house covering all the lumpy bits, as it’s gradually dressed up to become the palace we hardly dare believe it’ll become.