Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Your new house, in hours

Whilst browsing t'interweb this morning I noticed that a construction company by the name of Persimmon Homes seems to be doing quite well for itself having completed 16,700 homes last year with profits rising by 17% - thats not bad going in anyones books.

It was a little bit different when I first came across Persimmon Homes in 1980-ish.

I was working as an estimator for an electrical contractors when we were approached by Persimmon for what was to be their first ever construction site in the north-east having just opened an office in York. They were one of a few companies pioneering the timber frame method of house construction in those days and the ethos behind all of those house building companies was to ram as many houses onto a site as possible - Bowey Homes in Newcastle were another client of ours and they broke all records for the petite-ness of their dwellings where the customers garden shed would often have more floor space than the ground floor of their new house.

Indeed we used double sized wooden garages for our site cabins in those days, breaking them down and transporting them to new sites as the need arose and it became an old joke that whenever we were erecting one on a new building site you'd always be asked by a passer-by (usually a confused old lady) what you were doing, to which you'd reply "building a Bowey home love" and they believed you every time, wandering away with a "eeeh, they're not very big are they love".

Traditionally in the UK houses have always been built from stone or brick and for 150 years or so have had two leaves of brickwork, and inner and outer wall with a gap inbetween to prevent incursion of damp into the inner walls, it works very well, but its expensive and inner walls tended to be built from cheaper concrete blocks - still the same principle though.

In Europe and America the timber framed house was well established, only the outer wall was brick or stone and did not support anything except itself, the actual house was in fact a giant wooden shed and could be manufactured in a factory and delivered to site on the back of a truck with a minimum of fuss and just a few hours of construction to get the thing up off the ground.

A friend of mine who eventually became an architect bought his very first house in Leeds from Geo. Wimpey the well known builder not realising that it would be of timber frame construction (he paid a bit more attention to his own clients projects after that). We'd always go for a pint on a saturday lunchtime and the first week after he'd signed the contract for his house he suggested that we drive to the site and photograph his house every week as it was being built.

The first week he took a photograph of the concrete slab that his house was to stand on, we went back the following week to photograph a few courses of brickwork to find his house standing there, finished.

And that wasn't unusual, a week to put up the timber frame, build up the brick outer walls, put windows and doors in and to an outside viewer the house would be complete, whole sites could be erected within a few months and the builders who pioneered this method of construction in the UK became very adept at getting their sites finished quicker and quicker, which of course made the houses cheaper, and when they made them smaller they could get more of them on a site and sell them cheaper still - I can still drive onto a housing estate that is 20 or so years old and tell you instantly whether or not they will be timber framed or not, they are all of a stylee.

Generally though that method of construction has fallen by the wayside, rumours abounded of how you couldn't hang pictures on the walls because if you put a nail through the internal plasterboard and penetrated the plastic membrane liner beyond the timber frame then damp would set into the woodwork and your whole house would fall down - a bit exagerated maybe, impossible to do unless you hang pictures on 6 inch nails, but still, they were not popular and are not generally built that way anymore.

I nearly bought one a few months ago but was beaten to it by another buyer.

I hope they don't have lots of pictures to hang inside.

1 comment:

Philippine builder said...

Great story!
In the Philippines we are still building with hollow block because wood will not last a month because of termites.