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Sheeps wools insulation

Category: Products & Materials November 18th, 2010 by mbc

I was at Rounded Developments last week for a meeting and a big bag of sheeps wool insulation was cluttering the place up. It was a cancelled order that was now looking for a home and fortunately I have a home for it. I have two ‘boxing-in’ projects to complete.

From Barn Conversion 2010

The first is around the manifold and associated gadgetry for the underfloor heating that currently hums away and looks very hi-tech under the stairs, the second is a larger project, to build a cabinet around the thermal store and all its associated gadgetry. The thermal store boxing-in will extend across the width of the second bedroom and incorporate a cabin or built in bed as I’ve discussed previously.

Under the stairs it’s mainly about muffling the sound of the pumps, whilst the thermal store / cabin bed project is a whole lot more complex, with the insulation needed for both sound-proofing and stopping the thermal store from over-heating the cabin and bedroom.

I’d always planned to use sheeps wool for this – I like the idea of the cabin bed being surrounded by nice, warm, natural sheeps wool rather than anything more artificial and harsh.

So far I’m pleased with the sheeps wool as a product – soft and with a pleasant smell, it seems to be just what I’m after. Not sure that the sound insulation will be like and it’s pricey (I haven’t paid for it yet so I’m not entirely sure what it costs) but I’m looking forward to working with it – a job for the forthcoming wet and dark post-pointing days…

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Borax as a wood preservative

Category: Products & Materials October 26th, 2010 by mbc

In keeping with a Healthy House ethos I’ve tried to avoid the use of potentially hazardous or environmentally harmful products in the barn. When it came to wood preservative borax was the option that stood out.

What is borax?
Borax is the name given to several mineral compounds of the chemical element boron, namely sodium borate, disodium tetraborate and sodium tetraborate. Boron is a metalloid and so belongs the same family of chemical elements as silicon and arsenic. It has a diverse range of properties and is used in products ranging from detergents, through to cosmetics and as a food additive (E285 – it is a preservative and gives a firm rubbery texture to food!).

Of relevance us and this blog, in building applications, it is fire retardant, it is anti-fungal and an insecticide – ideal for treating previously untreated timbers in renovation projects.

It should be applied at a dilution of around 1 part borax to 10 parts water. It is best applied to a moist surface and will travel through the grain of the wood – several coats are recommended. If possible timber should be dipped in a weaker solution (around 1:20) and allowed to soak. Upon drying crystals of borax may form on the surface of the wood and can simply be wiped away.

It is worth noting, that while not acutely toxic, it can be detrimental to health. A significant dose is required to cause severe symptoms, but exposure can cause respiratory and / or skin irritation and ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Handle with care and keep away from children. The EU has recently reclassified borax as a Substance of Very High Concern and as such it is no longer available as a general cleaning product. Despite this borax is still widely available – check Amazon or eBay as a start. I’ve personally used borax with my usual degree of care and despite it coming into contact with my skin, suffered no adverse consequences.

More information
The green living tips website has an informative article and loads of comments discussing the many uses of borax.

My experience
I must admit to a slightly belt and braces approach to wood preservation on the barns external hardwood lintels as I’ve also treated them with a branded wood preservative – I just didn’t want to take any risks.

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Windows shuttered

Category: Products & Materials December 31st, 2009 by mbc

For as long as we’ve been planning and designing the conversion of the barn the issue of how to screen the large window on the yard side of the building has been nagging at us.

The challenge being to allow as much light in as possible whilst retaining a degree of privacy (although it’s hardly Oxford Street out there).

We toyed around with various blind, curtain and shutter based options – the favourite always being shutters although the price tag always seemed steep.

After a quote for well over £3,000 pounds fitted put me completely off the idea for a time, I eventually came back to them when I discovered via Google, Opennshut who offer a DIY shutter solution at a very competitive price.

I emailed and talked on the phone through the options with the very helpful Sam, then placed an order and waited for delivery.

Delivery was via DHL and wasn’t an auspicious start as my shutters were jumbled together in the back of a transit van and the driver and I had to drag them out and man-handle them into the barn – despite the warnings and urges to caution displayed on the box.

Once inside things improved as the shutters were very well packed and protected and nothing untoward had befallen them in transit.

As you can see from the pictures, my window consists of four shutter ‘doors’, each of which opens independently and a frame for the shutters that mirrors the window frame.

The two sets of doors (‘outers’ and ‘inners’) were boxed separately and the frame was in the third box.

So removing all the pieces from the packaging I had a frame and four doors.

The frame was pretty easy to assemble.

The top and bottom bars where labelled and the vertical bars pretty easy to figure out.

Once identified and laid out in the correct position the six pieces of the frame slid together easily.

At this stage I made my first mistake as I forgot to remove the thin facia strips that slot in along the front of each bar of the frame and allow access to the screw holes through which the frame is attached to the existing window.

So, to cut a long story short, after assembling, de-assembling and re-assembling the frame I had a completed pretty sturdy frame lying on the floor in front of the window.

So in rapid succession to my first mistake, I made my second when I didn’t test fit the shutters into place with the frame still laying horizontally on the floor, but instead put the frame in place against the window, using the provided spacers and wedges. Not test fitting the shutters made fitting one of the shutters a little fiddly as I mention below.

The frame was quickly screwed through predrilled holes to the window frame and then the facia strips I’d messed about with earlier clicked back into place to tidy things up.

Three of the four doors easily slid into place, the fourth required a little coaxing with some loosening of the hinges and the hinge pin needing a little firm handling to slip into place.
I don’t think I had the frame 100% square and I could have avoided this by test hanging the shutter doors whilst the frame was still on the floor – but no big deal.

But that was that, I hope the pictures show how neat and effective the shutters are – they look great from both indoors and out and provide complete privacy – try as I might I can’t peak through any gaps in them.

Great thanks to Sam and Opennshut and a very sound recommendation to speak to Sam if you’re in the market for shutters.

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Project Management ~ Google Documents

Category: Products & Materials April 7th, 2008 by mbc

I now organise nearly all my documents for the project using Google Documents. These are mainly letters and the spreadsheets I use to juggle finances and it works well for me. As I access the internet from at least two different places most days the ability to store documents on the web is perfect for me.

Functionally, the tools are light-weight equivalents of Microsoft Office applications with stripped back functionality. This doesn’t really cause a problem as those things you can’t do are often those things you really don’t need to be doing. For example, there is a limited set of six fonts in the spreadsheet application, but do I really need more? And there is a relatively simple set of formulas, but do I really want the complex stuff in a web application?

Another nice feature is the ability to publish documents to the web for sharing with others. This is basically a push button exercise – chose Publish and a long hard to guess URL is generated that will link to your document. You can distribute this URL as you see fit, making online collaboration easy. I’ve used this method for distributing user instructions for one of the websites I’ve developed and it is hard to beat for speed and efficiency of communication.

This is also a way to avoid worrying about backups. I trust Google to keep my documents accessible better than I trust myself to do so. Additionally, you can always export a copy of a document to your hard-disk.

If you always access the web from the same computer and are happy to handle your own backups then this may not be the option for you, but otherwise, highly recommended.

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Project Management ~ Basecamp

Category: Products & Materials March 24th, 2008 by mbc

For me, the cornerstone of project management isn’t a gantt chart or a risk register, but lists. In Basecamp, I find the ability to create and maintain all the lists that I need to keep track of my barn conversion. It also provides you with the ability to share files, text, and messages and track time & tasks with other members of a project team. The emphasis is on project collaboration and communication. I’ll not rattle on too much about the details, best for you to take a look yourselves as a limited, free version of the software is available that will be sufficient for most small projects.

I’ve long been a admirer of 37signals (the company behind Basecamp). Minimalist software providing stripped back functionality with a style of its own – pushes my buttons.

The great advantage of online applications such as this is their access-anywhere-ability. All that is needed is internet access – not as ubiquitous as a notebook (those moleskine notebooks are still a favourite of mine) but the next best thing AND completely water-proof.

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Autumn 2013

Right that’s the summer over with, now I can get on with some real work without the distractions of other things (like holidays and playing with children, all that enjoyable stuff that gets in the way of progress)… With few major jobs (painting, boxing in – nasty stuff!) left inside, mainly fiddly things that need […]

I’m having a moan on twitter…

A lovely Flemish barn conversion

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Coming soon, my barn conversion guide… Interesting earthship greenhouse project on Kickstarter

I really like this Kickstarter project >> The Farm of the Future: Earthship-Inspired Greenhouse This project is “Prototyping the First 100% Off-The-Grid, Affordable, Low-Maintenance Greenhouse using Earthship Principles and Aquaponics“. If any of those words meaning anything to you you’ll be interested in the project if not, pass it by… It’s already funded so I […]


Barns Gallery on Remodelista

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Barns – the Balancing Barn

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De-assembled, re-assembled, re-cycled barns

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Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

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Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

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Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

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Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

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Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

The Stirling prize 2012 winner – the Sainsbury Laboratory

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The Stirling prize 2012

I think that this years Stirling prize has some exciting projects on the shortlist…

Our engineers … our architects – Le Corbusier

The efficient, shiny world of construction in 1923…

Design in Storage

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Green Deal slow beginnings?

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The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

Eric Pickles vague compromise on planning reform keeps the house happy (for now).

Energy policy, smoke screens, fracking, confusion and big bucks

There seems to be only one thing that is certain in the world of energy policy and that is that costs will rise annually above and beyond anything that inflation can currently throw at us. Beyond that, smoke screens & confusion seem to reign. Take the recent news for example… It’s reported today that the […]

Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

Green Deal Launch

The Green deal launched in the UK on Monday of this week. Fanfares? fireworks? a deluge of marketing? … read more …

Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal promise

The leader of Plaid Cymru has promised a “Green New Deal” to rejuvenate the Welsh economy and help maintain Wales’ position at the forefront of Green policies.

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

Sustainable development – with the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

Sir Patrick Abercrombie – “It is a matter for serious thought…”

While reading up on the response of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) I came across this quote from Sir Patrick Abercrombie…