How to Quickly Convert a Barn. Part Four. Is it Solid Underneath?

The barn was empty.  All we had to do was pop in a few facilities and add a lick of paint. The advisor said, ‘you can turn this around in three months.’  It took three months to knock down 2 walls, dig 6 holes, and learn 9 lessons.

Empty barn
It Wasn’t Empty

You don’t see stairs, taps, pipes, wiring, lights, or interior walls in the wrong place, when they are hidden behind stuff.  Snappy little phrases like ‘Just knock that down’ and ‘rip this out’ should be illegal.

Walls in the wrong places

Try ‘Drag that wall out, brick by heavy brick’ or ‘each rusted-in screw steals an hour of your life’ instead.

Rubble Does not Get Rid of Itself

Sorting plasterboard, plumbing, wood, metal and plastic into piles is a relaxing hobby for summer evenings.

Rubble outside the barn conversion

But the heaps kept growing.

Wood pile from the barn conversion

Google suggested a rubbish removal man, so somebody helpful turned up, and rushed backwards and forwards with his van, charging a little bit more every time.  Google is a liar and should have told us to get a skip, but that man was friendlier than a skip. 

Some Rubbish Does Get Rid of Itself

There is a free rubbish removal service in this sleepy little village.  I found out about it years ago when I left a broken washing machine outside, and it was gone the next day.  Whoever operates it only comes at about 3 in the morning, and they will kindly take the metal.

Bathroom rubbish from the barn conversion

This pile was full of copper pipes. ‘We can sell those’ was a frequent happy chant, as we chucked more in. It was also a stupid chant because nobody knew where, or how, to sell them. One morning they were gone, so that saved a bit of time.

Building Control Have all the Power

Planning permission is not free rein to do whatever you like.  Building Control will appear, out of nowhere, asking if things are structurally sound. To prove this you have to get a surveyor, out of nowhere, who is prepared to say ‘yes this building is not going to fall down.’

Surveyors Come in Many Forms and Can Make You Do Anything

We needed a surveyor who would say those words, without looking too closely. But the one we found was much too keen on checking the foundations and we were keen on not doing that, in case there weren’t any.  We wriggled around with this for a bit and finally agreed to dig some holes to find out.

Inspection hole for the barn conversion.

This is an inspection hole. Half a metre deep.  He made us dig six.  It was an interesting day when we realised that the walls of the barn did go down into the ground, on one side, but not the other. He went off to make a list of ‘required groundwork’

Woodworm Can Take Over your Brain

While we waited for that list, I played ‘sweep the dusty beams’ and noticed the entire building was riddled with woodworm.

Woodworm in the barn conversion

Google announced that woodworm destroys buildings from the inside out, so now it was clear that we had to abandon the project and knock the place down, before it collapsed and killed somebody. 

A week later the woodworm expert arrived, like an gentle therapist, soothing all fears with the word ‘inactive,’ and a spray so strong we could not enter the building for a week.  Whatever your problem is today, it will probably be gone in a 7 days.

Finding a Groundworker is a Big Deal

The surveyor’s list came. Time to find somebody with a spade to do all the work. Google was in a bad mood, and increasingly unhelpful, so I started asking around, and it is amazing what real people know. 

What is a groundworker? A team of several strong people, diggers and a boss who knows more about surveyors and building control than you ever will.

Where is this team? Just down the road, call Lee and you will be fine.

You Can’t Put off Starting For Ever

Lee turned up. Casual and all knowing.  He stood in the middle of the gutted building with our advisor, the surveyor, and somebody who fits bathrooms, who had accidentally turned up at the same time. 

Everybody in the room thought that they knew most and I got the feeling that nobody really liked anybody else.  But they went through the list, talked about ‘digging down, steel mesh and concrete plinths’ and came to some kind of uneasy agreement about what had to be done.

‘Right’ said Lee.  ‘Everybody happy?  I have a gap next week so we can start on Wednesday.’ 

Drains are a Big Deal

And we were off.

Digger in the barn conversion

Diggers squeezed in the door to dig down a metre.

Rubble piled up in small mountains. It was as if the barn was being sick, and the terrifying commitment was now a THING.

Then the awful day arrived when they turned to us and said ‘where do you want the drains?’ 

When you have never placed a drain in your life this is a difficult question.  We referred to the original plans but they made no sense, because we had changed our minds about a bathroom. We called our advisor who rushed round to helps us draw a new plan, on a huge sheet of paper, on the kitchen floor.

The groundworkers drank tea, that they didn’t really want, and waited.  We sweated, and miscalculated and all I could see around the plans were the crumbs, cat hairs, and grease on the floor. The advisor is super clean and you could see the reflection of this dirt in his shoes. But we came up with this.

Drains went down.

Drains in the barn conversion

The one on the right is for a toilet and turned out to be in the wrong place by 2 inches. Not bad for plans drawn on a filthy kitchen floor.

They came straight outside. Definitely starting to look like a luxury barn conversion now.

Hard core, damp proof membrane and steel supports went in. Building control were happy, and signed it off, so concrete turned up in a huge, exciting lorry with pumps and tubes to carry it up the path, and into the barn.

So we had a solid floor.

New floor in barn conversion

That looked exactly like the original floor. But psychologically it was a different floor because we knew what good things were underneath.

There were still a few more things to do, so we wrote lists.

Cat in front of lists of things to do for the Barn Conversion

So many lists that we had to give them their own noticeboard. By now, the only relaxed person left in the house was the cat.

Christmas chickens
And the chickens. Who are excited about their Christmas tree.

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