Building over the Monster Pipe…

I think its time I finally shared our house extension plans that I alluded to in my (not so) recent blog post. It’s been a long journey getting to this point but I specifically want to share it because its not been straight forward and I hope the information or just the story will help others in a similar position in future looking to do the same kind of thing.

So briefly, (because I feel like I’ve talked about it ad infinitum and you can read the full story and blog posts here and here,) we bought this house with the initial intention to extend it and create a family kitchen/diner living space at the back. the house is a bit front and top heavy – double fronted with lots of bedrooms but a small kitchen and two separate and distinct reception rooms which don’t lend themselves to family life. The day we exchanged contracts we found out there was a large pipe running beneath the perimeter of the houses’ footprint which meant we couldn’t build over it but we decided to go ahead with he purchase anyway. 2 years later, with one baby, I really felt trapped, the house layout wasn’t working for our lifestyle and I felt like we should just cut our losses, (fortunately there wouldn’t have been any as house prices in our area have sky rocketed,) and start again somewhere else. However we realised that if we did that we would be throwing money down the drain… stamp duty would have been hefty alone on a new property, plus agents fees, solicitors fees. It all amounted to not far off what a small extension would cost and we really didn’t want to move so we decided to invest some time and money into trying again to make it happen.

At this point I was fortunate to get in contact with someone really helpful at United Utilities to actually discuss the problem. Previously we had always been told that access to the pipe, should it need any routine maintenance, was the issue that prevented us building over it, but he conceded that actually any possible damage to the pipe was the bigger problem. He suggested that if we could find a way of ensuring the safety of the pipe, we might be granted permission to go ahead. So there was a glimmer of hope!

Next stop was finding a structural engineer willing to take us on. I had been through this process previously, looking for architects who might help us navigate the process and had been met with blank refusals to get involved. Responses ranged from ‘don’t bother, there’s no point‘, to ‘it’s not possible,‘ and I was immensely frustrated. What happened to all the people who make stuff happen on Grand Designs?! Eventually I spoke to a fantastic Structural Engineer, Nick Forman at BDI. He very helpfully pointed out that if UU were to want to access the pipe on our property then the hole they would have to dig would be so deep and wide to reach the pipe that the house would collapse into it. So it was never going to happen. I pretty much said to him, ‘I need somebody who is willing to take on a challenge and make this happen, it has to be possible.‘ And he made it happen. Nick is now basically my hero.

We invested in some preliminary drawings and calculations by BDI demonstrating how the load from any building work could be transferred into the earth beneath the pipe. We also were asked by UU to confirm where the pipe lay exactly (as they admitted that their public wastewater maps were very old and possibly inaccurate,) so paid for a CCTV drain survey. We are now the proud owners of video footage of the pipe beneath our home which is also essential to prove any pre-existing damage wasn’t caused by us, in case of dispute later. All of this was packaged up and sent of to UU and we waited with baited breath. Finally, just before Christmas almost 2 years ago now, an email landed in my inbox with no warning (we had expected to need to speak to someone again and explain further,) granting us a build over agreement ‘in-principle’. This essentially gave us the green light to invest the bigger sums required to get proper engineers drawings and calculations done and start talking to an Architect. We could actually do this! We couldn’t quite believe it.

Outside… looking in. I rarely look at the outside of our house in the dark because when we are outside it’s usually those long summer evenings. I love seeing life going on inside, framed by the windows, kids playing, Pete cooking (and sorry Instagram, all the daily detritus too like the back of Bea’s play kitchen ????.) it’s really the heart of our home so I can’t wait for it to be bigger and more family friendly! I also kind of can’t believe that nearly all of this glass and deck that we put in only 3 years ago is coming out ????????‍♀️… (Can you see the hydrangea heads drying on the Sputnik light too?! ????) #myhyggehome #instahome #bifolddoors #kitchen #modernheritage #lovemyrenovation #actualinstahomes #modernexterior #victorianhouse #igersmanchester #igersmcr #houserenovation #housetohome #housereno #bifolds #ecodecking

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We took the next step with SpaceAP, a fantastic local Architecture practice. At the beginning of the process our sole objective was to add a ‘glass box’ type structure to the back of the house, giving us the required living and dining space for family life. As a result we weren’t sure exactly how much Architect input we needed but we were keen to do things properly and get an outside view point. SpaceAP offered a design consultation session, where you walk around the space, talk about your needs then get some drawings done then and there demonstrating the possibilities. Obviously they aren’t usable for building purposes but we decided it was also a good way of testing the water with an Architect to see if we could form a working relationship. We asked Sonia and Sarah to give us two plans. One with the original glass box plan and one with the option of adding a utility room and extending the first floor bathroom.

Now at this point, Pete was all up for a two phase project, living area first, then coming back to do the utility and bathroom. I on the other hand was adamant that we were no way doing this twice. After this, bar one more project, the house will be D.O.N.E. so I wasn’t keen on dragging that out. At this point we were also planning a second child in the near future and I really wanted to crack on and get it done before that happened, if at all possible. Looking back that was really naive. We definitely could have done this all so much quicker by just being more on the ball pushing things along, but we intentionally had a hiatus from it (we weren’t ready to finance such a big project,) for several months in the first half of 2016, then I became pregnant with Cora before we picked it back up again. That was September 2016 and we hoped to start in January 2017, hoping to be finished in time for Cora arriving in late March. As time went on it became apparent that there was so much to plan and do that January was not realistic… and neither was the idea of being largely finished before baby number 2 arrived.
Eventually we resigned ourselves to starting later this year and I wrestled with the decision to start either in September, building through my last months of maternity leave, or on my return to work. In the end, the planning process has taken the decision out of our hands. Everything has taken that little bit longer than expected and we recently made the decision to wait until January, rather than start sooner.

So that’s where we are up to now. The process of contracting the builders has thrown up more uncertainty around the pipe, but I will leave all that for another day. Right now I’m enjoying the dust free house in the run up the Christmas and my remaining weeks of maternity leave, before it all descends into chaos in the New Year. We have a start date of 3rd of January, the legal Build Over Agreement has been signed of by UU and we are actually ready to go. As ready as we will ever be anyway… In all honesty, though it sounds exciting I can’t face doing it at all, but it will be worth it when it’s all done.

Next time I’ll show you the plans and write more about what we have actually end up doing! Fingers crossed work will have actually started by then. In the mean time, top tips for living trough the chaos of such a big project? I’ll take all and any advice you’ve got readers!


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2 thoughts on “Building over the Monster Pipe…

  1. Sounds great, progress finally.

    Without wanting to bring the mood down, how are you feeling about ripping out the relatively new and not cheap kitchen you did recently? We’re in a similar position, possibly extending in a part of the house we’ve recently worked on. I’m loathed to do it though, feels like a sheer waste of money.

    • Well, we don’t need to rip the kitchen out… the extension will simply be ‘tacked’ onto the area where the deck is now and will be living/dining space. Whilst I’d like to have a bigger kitchen space (more cupboards primarily) I’m happy not to touch this area as we love it still!

      However all the deck/glass balustrades and bifolds will be going. I dislike the waste too but we always sell items like this on eBay (we sold the old pvc windows before we put the glasss into the kitchen) and that helps me feel better. Some money back towards the new sofa etc and less in landfill!

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