Studio arrival and shell construction

Some three weeks after ordering the studio arrived and was deposited on the drive by Garden Buildings Direct. Inspecting the parts revealed a couple of breakages, one of which I couldn’t live with, so I requested a replacement which duely arrived. This process was pretty straight-forward and, whilst I didn’t feel embraced by the warmth of their exquisite customer service, they were easy to contact and answered all my questions quickly with only slight confusion. A solid ‘B’ grade.

Before assembly I covered every part in either Wickes Garden Colour paint (Herb Garden) or Wickes wood preservative to ensure that any water that did creep in wouldn’t cause issues. The painting/treating took 3 solid days to complete and was a logistical nightmare as we had to protect the parts from the inevitable rain – you can see the ranks of painted components in the garage in the photos above. Painting T&G is also fiddly hence the length of time it took.

Once a sunny day, and parental-shaped help, materialised we set out to build the structure itself. The first change/addition we made was to raise the studio up on an additional set of treated bearers and place damp-proof course on top of these before putting down the floor bearers from the studio kit. The purpose here was twofold:

  • To provide an additional airgap and ventilation underneath the floor insulation to prevent damp forming there.
  • To enable us, if the worst happens and a floor bearer begins to rot, to jack up the studio and replace it.

The studio itself went together quickly and easily and was built and roofed within 24 hours. Along the way we made two other additions that are worth noting:

  1. The second-to-last wall board finished very untidily with a free ‘tongue’ and a space to the underside of the roof. I cut a piece of infill from the broken part for which I’d received a replacement however it’s worth noting as, without this, I’d have an irritatingly poor finish here.
  2. The instructions said to screw the roof into the top of the walls to anchor them however the jointing here wasn’t very close and would have resulted in a slightly curved roof. We added an extra piece of 75mm * 50mm screwed to the top/outside of the wall to bridge the gap and provide a more solid base for the edge of the roof.

The roof was covered in underlay (heavily overlapped due to the shallow pitch of the roof) and then Wickes felt roofing shingles. both of which were relatively easy to work with. Internally we inserted 25mm foil-backed PIR between the floor joists and then boarded over. We would have liked 50mm insulation in the floor but we couldn’t fit it in due to the depth of the floor bearers.

Next job is to make it watertight. Good luck all!

Costs: £2810.00 total

  • Studio: £2200.00
  • Additional bearers, all plates, and DPC: £80.00
  • Wickes Garden Colour (4 tins) and preservative (1 Tin): £90.00
  • Polyester underlay (3 rolls) and Roof shingles (9 packs): £370.00
  • 4 sheets of 25mm foil-backed PIR: £40.00
  • Misc screws/nails/fixings: £30.00

Lessons:

  • Allow time in your schedule for the replacement of broken or warped parts – I had this experience and seemingly so does everyone else who orders one of these log cabin structures. I had to accept that there was a level of warping and breakage that I’d just have to live with.
  • Get the supplier to send you some offcuts to use as blocks for tapping the boards down and filling in gaps/tidying up. The tongue and groove style of the boards means that you can easily damage the tongue if tapping them and the shape is a swine to replicate when you’re trying to get a good finish.

Laying the Base

Having selected the location for the studio and the log cabin that we would use as the basic structure we set about laying the base. Laying the base itself was actually broken into three separate phases; laying the concrete slab, infill and paths, and steps and brickwork.

Laying the concrete slab

For the slab itself we went with 100mm of compacted hardcore under 100mm (ish) of concrete including a damp-proof membrane under the slab on sand blinding. The membrane is probably overkill but the cost of building it in was relatively trivial as I was providing the faff and labour – this is probably not the case if you’re having someone do it for you.

As I haven’t laid concrete before I played things a bit too safe and made the slab 100mm larger in both dimensions than the base of the studio – in hindsight this was an error and could allow water to catch on the edge of the slab and run underneath. Much better to be a bit more brave and make the slab the right size.

In terms of pouring the slab we calculated that we’d need about 1.2 cubic metres of concrete – rather than mix this ourselves by hand we brought in readymix from a company called Easymix. They mix the concrete on site so you get decent control over how wet you want the mix and they can tweak it as they go.

Infill and Paths

In an attempt to mitigate the issue I created by sizing the slab larger than the studio when I laid the path and infill between the main slab and the garage I did 2 things:

  1. I laid it 10mm lower than the main slab so that there was no danger of water running up and onto the slab in heavy rain.
  2. I created a slope away from the main slab on all the concrete and paths to keep them nice and clear.

With the laying of the concrete around the slab being very fiddly and less volume I didn’t go for readymix this time but hired a concrete mixer and bought the materials. Another point worth noting if your planning this kind of thing yourself is, though it’s not readily apparent from the pictures below, I was very careful about depths and heights of concrete. As a result the path matches height with the grass so I can run a mower over the edge – it’s a small point but it makes me happy.

Steps and Brickwork

And finally to tidy up I added a couple of steps and some brickwork to hide the exposed earth and concrete behind the garage capping the wall off with some old roofing tiles. Here I just mixed the limited amout of concrete required by hand.

Costs for laying the base:

Concrete slab £440.00

  • 3 bulk bags of hardcore: £105.00
  • Hire of whacker plate: £25.00
  • 1 bulk bag of sand: £45.00
  • Damp proof membrane: £15.00
  • Wood for shuttering/tamps etc: £40.00
  • Readymix: £210.00

Infill and Paths £89.00

  • Bulk bag of ballast: £40.00
  • 10 bags of ce ment (offer): £19.00
  • Hire of concrete mixer: £30.00
  • Wood for shuttering/tamps etc: £0.00 (re-used)

Steps and Brickwork £74.00

  • Ballast: £0.00 (used surplus)
  • Cement: £0.00 (used surplus)
  • 6 25kg bags building sand: £14.00
  • 150 cheap garden bricks: £60.00
  • Wood for shuttering/tamps etc: £0.00 (re-used)

Hints and Tips:

  • Lay the base exactly the size of the building you’re putting on it. It will look tidier and prevent any issues you might have with water running underneath.
  • When pouring the readymix we had 2 of us running barrows and tamping… 2 people is not enough. Ideally we’d have had 2 running barrows and another 2 doing the levelling and tamping – it made for a very hard hours work.

Making a Plan

Having selected the site and cleared it the time had come to actually choose what the heck to build. The removal of the old shed gave us an area of roughtly 2.5m * 4.5m for the studio so we hatched our plan. Basically this amounted to:

  • The building: In the end we plumped for a 4.5m Devon from Garden Buildings Direct in 35mm timber (for strength) with 19mm floor and roof (for strength) and double glazed windows (for warmth). Cost for this without roofing was £2200.00. There were several candidates we could have gone for but this had the right arrangement of doors and windows in the right positions.
  • The base: In addition to the base we also need some paths and, because the top of the garden is on a slope, there would also be some brickwork required to build a low wall. As a result we chose a plain old concrete slab for the base working on 100mm of concrete on 100mm of hardcore.
  • External finishing: The plan here was to use ‘shed paint’ for the main structure but to use underlay and felt shingles for the roof rather than roofing felt. Whilst this finish is relatively expensive (£400.00 rather than £150.00) we chose the felt shingles for aesthetic reasons – both our house and garage have red clay tiles on the roof and we wanted to, at least, attempt to do something roughly in this style.
  • Internal finishing: Internally the structure would be battened out with breathable membrane andthen 50mm foil-backed PIR board used for floor/wall/ceiling insulation. Vapour-shield plasterboard would cover this to add a moisture barrier. Essential services (electricity, TV, networking) would be provided.
  • Misc: As a result of a conversation with our friendly electrician we decided to add a new consumer unit to the garage and to replace the garage wiring and lighting as well as doing the studio – this decision was mainly taken when, after a bit of investigation, it became apparent that the garage sockets and lights were running on a spur from the extractor fan in the bathroom.

Working on this basis we worked out our schedule and costs. We didn’t have a firm budget in mind provided it came in at less than the ~£8000.00 estimated by the builders so we were pretty pleased when we ended up at £5500.00 including the site clearance.

Let’s remember that number and see how we do….


Site selection and clearance

We had two main options for where to site the studio: at the bottom of the garden some 30 metres from the house, or just behind the garage in the space currently occupied by an old, leaking shed and some bits of concrete path. We chose the latter primarily because of the ease of running power to the site as I didn’t have much of a desire to dig a 30 metre trench.

Costs to clear away the old shed were relatively modest however, due to the fact that the old shed had a corrugated asbestos roof, we did have to pay a bunch of cash to get that removed. In the event I bought a some fine partical masks (to prevent me inhaling dust), some disposable coveralls (to stop dust getting caught on my clothes), and waited until it was lashing it down with rain (so the dust didn’t get into the air), and then removed the roof myself (whilst wet and miserable). We then paid a contractor to take away the asbestos for disposal.

Costs for site selection and clearance: £723.00

  • 2 skips @ £192.00 each inc VAT
  • Removal of asbestos @ £294.00 inc VAT
  • New angle grinder @ £45.00 inc VAT

Hints and tips for someone else doing much the same thing:

  • Ring around the list of folks in yellow pages for asbestos removal as I was quoted between £290.00 and £540.00. Start by calling 3 and if they’re all roughly the same just pick one. If they’re wildly different, as they were here, keep calling until you get the cheapest price.

Background and context

My wife is an equestrian artist (www.sallylancaster.co.uk) and, when we moved into our current house last year, she took up residence in the dining room and has been using it as her studio. Unfortunately we’d like to create a kitchen-diner and so, with zero experience or consideration of how badly it might go wrong, we decided to build her a studio in the garden.

After a bit of casting around the solution we’ve gone for is one of those ‘log cabin’ style garden offices that we’ll build and then add additional insulation etc ourselves. Arriving at this solution was a fairly simple process of elimination as we don’t have the cash to employ someone to build us something proper and I don’t have the confidence to build something out of nothing – hence buying a kit and customising.

So I hope this is useful to someone, somewhere and if you think I’ve made any hideous errors pop a comment on the post so I can keep an eye out as it all falls apart.

Thanking you.