An architect with a design drawing

Home renovations

When my wife and I moved into our house, we made a list of the structural alterations we wanted to make. Fifteen years later, we thought it was probably about time we made a start. And so we have.

Let’s be clear, though, that this isn’t exactly Grand Designs territory. Our house is a 1920s, three-bedroom, semi-detached ex-Council house in a small market town in Somerset. It’s built very solidly but, as my neighbour takes great pleasure in pointing out, there isn’t a straight line or a right angle in the place.

What there is, however, is lots of space that we struggle to use in a sensible way. We have a former coal store in the corner of the kitchen that can only be accessed from outside. We have a huge chimney breast in the kitchen and in one of the upstairs bedrooms that is blocked up and of no use whatsoever. And we have a long living room that is more of a corridor than a place to unwind.

Quite simply, while life has moved on, our lovely nearly-a-century-old house has failed to keep up. And so it’s due a bit of a refresh. Also, our antiquated back boiler, which works just fine but was probably installed in the 1980s, is hugely inefficient and requires us to have a large vent in the side wall of the living room in which it is situated (thus negating any benefit of having the heating on in the first place).

When we first thought about making a few changes to the house to better suit how we live our life, to make it more eco-friendly and to improve our self-reliance, we invited a local architect to come around and discuss some ideas. He was really helpful and did a brilliant job of showing us how we could remodel the house to better meet our needs. Even within our rather modest budget.

We then approached a local builder who has done some work on our roof previously (as I mentioned above, we live in a small town in Somerset, so there aren’t really many of anything to choose from) and talked him through what we had in mind. He put together an estimate, as a result of which we scaled down our plans somewhat and agreed that he’d start as soon as he’d finished the project he was currently working on.

I also had a chat with our builder’s preferred heating engineer (who happens to live opposite us) about what sort of boiler or heating system would best meet our needs. We’re not massive fans of heat pumps (nobody around here is, it seems), so he (who also isn’t a fan of heat pumps) came up with a plan for a gas boiler and a water tank with an immersion heater, so that we can integrate it with solar photovoltaic system that we’re planning to install on our roof.

Our remodelling plans are pretty modest in the big scheme of things, but hugely exciting for us. Our builder started on site earlier this week and has already dug and prepared the foundations for a small, single-storey extension on the back of our house, adjoining the kitchen, that will serve as a utility room. He’ll also be removing the useless chimney breast and converting the outside coal store into an inside part of the kitchen.

We’ll be dividing the living room into two with a new wall, which will give us a snug off the kitchen and a boot room (yay, a boot room!) off the hallway. We’ll also be knocking a doorway from the hallway into the kitchen, so that we can access the upstairs without having to go out the back door, around the side of the house and back in through the front door.

And, obviously, we’ll be getting our new boiler. But it needs to be installed in the opposite end of the house from the old boiler, so all the gas and water pipes need to be shifted around. And we’ll need some new radiators, because even now, and for reasons that escape me, not all of the rooms in the house have them.

This is Phase 1. Phase 2 will involve new flooring (fourteen years and counting of Labradors have taken the toll on our carpets, so we’re going for vinyl floor tiles everywhere we can) and a new kitchen (I very much doubt the existing one will survive the building work). Phase 3 is the solar photovoltaics. And Phase 4, budget permitting, will be a new bathroom.

For the moment, though, all attention is focused on the new extension. As I’ve mentioned already, the foundations are done and the base is going in next week. This will, fingers crossed, allow us to use our back door again. This has been off-limits for the past few days, because it led onto a little concrete island surrounded by the foundation trenches.

This state of affairs has necessitated the re-activation of our front door, which we use so little that the dogs didn’t even realise it was there. They appeared somewhat startled when we went through it for the first time and they found themselves on the front drive.

It’s all a little chaotic, I’ll admit. But our builders are very friendly, extremely efficient and fastidious about tidying up after themselves. So much so, in fact, that the building site outside is substantially tidier (and quite possibly less muddy) than the living space inside.

And after fifteen years of thinking we should really do something to make the house work better for us, its nice to finally be doing something about it.

If you’d like to stay up to date with what I’m thinking, writing and doing, sign up to receive my free email newsletter. Once a fortnight direct to your inbox. Including links to new blog posts as well as exclusive content just for subscribers. Written personally by me. Sign up now.

Image: Daniel McCullough on Unsplash





Join the conversation