Before we begin this post, I wanted to let you all know that we are now on Youtube!
We filmed a house tour back in 2018 when we first bought the house! Now we have posted it so that we can all look back on how far we've come!
I'll be posting an updated house tour in the weeks to come (I promise, our camera work has come a lnog way!) But for now, you can check the video out and subscribe by clicking HERE!
When we first got to Jameswood, the house was an absolute disaster. With so much seemingly wrong with the building, it was hard to know where to start. We quickly decided a structural engineer's survey of the house would be needed - in order to find out exactly what was wrong with the building, and how to fix it! Commissioning this report was one of the best starting points we had for tackling our renovation.
For self builders who are interested: Ours cost about 500 pounds and was really worth every penny. If you are ever taking on a restoration or investing in property of any kind, I would highly recommend getting a structural survey done to the house!
When our report came back to us, it obviously didn't say that Jameswood had a clean bill of health. The structural engineer had even gone as far as to say that it would be easier to knock her down and start over.
Thankfully, however, our structural report did find one thing that wasn't wrong with our home: her main foundations. Our engineer told us that the main foundations were sturdy, and built onto solid, unmoving ground, (With no evidence of any rivers running underneath it…!)
But, unfortunately, this could only be said for our main foundations. Our engineer was worried about our sleeper walls.
Sleeper walls are a set of foundations that run parallel to each other, from gable-end to gable-end, every few meters below a building. They are separate from the outer foundations, which uphold the solid stone walls of a home.
The sleeper walls hold up the ground floor joists in a suspended floor system. In the Victorian era, it was not uncommon for the sleeper walls to consist of a few feet of stone wall sat on top of the surface soil. This was unlike the deeper outer wall foundations, which would be dug into the ground and sat on a firmer layer of ground far below the surface soil.
At Jameswood, the surface soil our sleeper walls sat on is particularly…squidgy… for lack of a better word! Over time, the weight of the ground floor compacted the muddy surface soil beneath the sleeper walls, and the floor slowly started to sink.
As it turns out, this problem was one of the reasons for the partial collapse of the bay window! As the roof was left unrepaired, and timber started to rot, the trusses were bending under their own weight. This problem was compacted by the sinking floor, which meant the roof was no longer receiving any structural support from the walls below! The roof eventually bent out of place, and pushed out stones in the bay window!
Before we could add any new timber framing into the building, we would need to replace the shallow sleeper walls with deep concrete foundations.
A digger would usually excavate trench foundations, but there was no way we were getting one in through the doorways, and we wouldn’t want heavy machinery disturbing the outer foundations. We had no choice but to hand-dig our new foundations.
Unlike many parts of our project, we didn't have anyone to help us with this task. It was the winter months, and it was far too cold to host friends and family.
From test holes, we knew that the firm till we would be setting our foundations onto was about one meter below the grounds surface.
Wheel-barrow by wheel-barrow, we set out to dig long, deep trenches inside our home.
Cal and I took turns digging and wheel-barrowing mud out of the building.
Admittedly, Cal would take on the digging job as the trench went deeper, and allow me the more satisfying task of digging the first few feet of trench, where the mud was drier and you were stood at wheel-barrow height while working.
The work kept us warm, and we certainly grew stronger as the weeks progressed. Finally, we managed to dig all the trenches out.
Filling them back in with concrete was an equally difficult task, but when we had poured all of our foundations and stepped on solid concrete for the first time, a relief washed over us.
For most moments in our project, I can look back at times with fondness. Even if the going got a bit tough, we managed to have fun while doing it.
But that just isn’t the take-away message for this piece of the project... I never want to dig another trench again in my life!
Looking back on this time in our project, I am amazed that we had the strength to push through and I am so proud of us for persevering. But I am even more happy that it's all over!
Now, with solid foundations that will stand the test of time, we are off the ground, and can truly start rebuilding home.
Thank you for following our journey, as we restore Jameswood Villa.
In our last progress report, Cal and I had managed to put on a roof all by ourselves! (Well… with a lot of help from our ragtag roofing team!)
It’s been a long time since our last report, and a LOT has happened since then! Our silence has not occurred because the project has come to a halt, but rather because we’ve been so busy building, it’s been hard to take a moment for blog writing!
In the winter of 2019, Cal and I had one of our most challenging tasks to carry out yet. Designing the rest of our restoration and applying for a building control warrant!
We wanted to take the design phase of this restoration seriously and we had a few goals in mind for our build!
We wanted to
As the sun started to set earlier, we spent long evenings in the caravan, reading textbooks and PDF’s cover to cover, and debating (sometimes heatedly) over how we were going to rebuild our floors and walls, insulate, ventilate and more! As we read, we realised there was a lot more to consider when designing a restoration than we had originally thought!
If we have some interest, I would be happy to write a more in depth blog post about the material and building approaches we chose to use for our restoration! We came across some excellent resources while researching for this project.
You can find a list of resources that we found helpful for our restoration by CLICKING HERE!
Once we had a plan, it was time to apply to building control.
In the UK, major alterations that are made on a home will have to be approved and overseen by building control. Similar regulatory bodies will exist in most other countries, and their job is to make sure that all work done to a building is carried out to a safe and efficient standard.
Usually, an architect or contractor would apply for building warrants on behalf of their client. I’ve found out that even self builders will usually hire a professional for help with the design phase of a project and building control applications.
Cal and I, however, don’t have the budget for an architect or contractor, and like most things, we set out to complete this task, rather naively thinking, “How hard could it really be?”
Cal tends to have very little patience for bureaucracy, and when he has to partake in paperwork of any kind, he has been known to voice his frustrations rather loudly to anyone in the vicinity. To make matters worse, Cal tends to have contempt towards authority. He knows right from wrong, but doesn’t like being told what to do. With so many injustices in todays world, I think it’s a good thing to beat to your own drum. But I am absolutely sure it will make our building control application a hundred times more difficult.
For these reasons, I took responsibility of the building control application, and plan on being the point of contact for all communications with building control officers.
The procedure for writing, drawing and submitting a building control application is very vaguely outlined online. I assume this is because the process is usually undertaken by professionals who have completed countless applications. From what I could gather, the more information, the better.
I read each part of the UK building standards that was related to our project. I included nearly word for word, every detail from the code that pertained to our project. I felt as though I was plagiarising the UK building code. Thankfully, our building control officer knew we weren’t professionals, and he didn’t expect computer-derived drawings from us. Two and a half weeks later, I had sixteen pages of information on how we would build our house, and a stack of drawings that showed elevations, sections, floor, electrical and plumbing plans for Jameswood.
I was sure there was far too much information included in the document, and I was later amused when our officer asked us to add three minor notes to the application in order to approve the warrant.
We managed to submit our application at one of the busiest times for the building control office. And to make matters worse, I’m sure my application was not in a conventional format, making it more difficult to read through and assess. But fair warning to those of you who are about to go through the process: get your application in with plenty of time before your planned start date.
It took eight weeks to get an initial response from building control (not an acceptance, just a response.)
How we saved a thousand pounds on our project!
Overall, the feedback was good. I must have submitted enough information, because I only had a few minor notes to add into the application. The adjustments took less than an hour to include. But there was one problem. We were told that even if we follow building code, all structural alterations made to buildings in Scotland required certification by a structural engineer.
When I read this line in the email, my stomach sank as I imagined the horrendous bill we would receive for commissioning a structural engineer. I started contacting engineer firms and after the first day of calls and emails, my worst fears had been confirmed.
Most structural engineers said they would only work on projects lead by an architect. Those that would work with us were quoting over 2000 pounds for their service.
At the time, it felt as though we were being penalised for making improvements to our building. All the changes we wanted to make were there to improve the structural integrity, fire and water resistance of our home. If we had just built a like-for-like structural that had the same problems as before, we wouldn’t be charged two grand for a structural engineer to tick off the project!
I really do understand that this requirement has been put into place to make sure structures are safely built, and I know the importance of these safeguards. But at the time, while receiving shocking quotes that would eat into savings we had set aside for windows, it didn’t feel very “fair”.
After calling what felt like every structural engineer in Glasgow and Edinburgh, we finally found a really understanding guy who liked our project. He had a similar original quote to the rest we had received, but he said he could take close to a grand off the original price if we could produce our own CAD drawings.
I had no idea how to use CAD software, but jumped at the opportunity. How hard could it be?
I decided to try out Skillshare, a subscription-based online learning platform. I found an autoCAD course that was specific to architecture, and over the next five days I managed to learn how to use the software and produce floorplans, new elevations and section drawings of the house!
It was so nice to see Jameswood come to life on my computer screen, and five days of learning and useful new skill had also saved our project 1000 pounds! We were thrilled!
Having genuinely been blown away by how helpful Skillshare was for our project, we’ve partnered up with the website to offer our readers a free trial! And as a bonus, if you enjoy the website as much as we do, signing up will directly support our restoration – so learning new skills for yourself will help us on our journey as we learn how to restore Jameswood!
You can sign up for your free-trial by clicking the link:
Thanks to the kindess and patience of a structural engineer that believed in our project, as well as the power of an incredible online learning community, Jameswood is one step closer to being structurally sound and stronger than ever.
Having submitted an amended application that now included a structural engineer’s certification, we heard back from our officer in less than a week. I jumped for joy when I received the email that said our application had been accepted.
It was a very drawn out and stressful process, but I’m glad Cal and I designed our restoration together, and lead the building control application process ourselves. Though I know I’m still far from being an expert, this process gave me a crash course in restoration design, and how to navigate the bureaucracy involved in a renovation. The process was frustrating, but it was also empowering. I’ve learnt how to design an efficient building, while taking into account the needs of a traditionally built home, I’ve learnt how to make and submit a building control application and how to produce architectural CAD drawings.
Admittedly, we’ve only just begun our journey through navigating building control. With our application accepted, we’ll now have a number of inspections throughout the restoration to make sure we are building everything to code. But we feel like the hard part, the paperwork, is over. Now we just have to follow our designs, and do things right, just like we had always planned.
Thank you again for following our journey,
As we take on the restoration of Jameswood Villa.
It’s been a very long while since I last did a progress report, so I thought I’d take some time to catch everyone up on the project!
In our last progress report, we had moved our caravan to the back yard, and started to settle into life on a building site.
We managed to complete some very daunting tasks, including raising our sunken roof, rebuilding a section of partially collapsed sandstone wall, and playing a giant game of Jenga with our house when we decided to replace the cracked red sandstones in our front bay window!
If you missed this update, you can click here to take a look!
With these tasks all complete, we had managed to tackle some of the biggest structural problems with the building, and we were gaining a new-found confidence in our ability to take on this project!
Progress Report #4: June – September, 2019. Reroofing Jameswood.
When Cal first went to visit Jameswood back in October of 2018, we were both very disheartened by the state of the roof. The house had clearly suffered many years of water damage, which had left dangerous holes in the upper floor, wood rot throughout and mould that clung to every surface and left an unpleasant stale scent in the air. The roof was misshapen and as Cal made his way up into the loft space, he was greeted by bright specs of daylight that created a starry night effect on the ceiling. When it rained, the water seemed to come down equally hard inside our house as outside. The house would drip hours after the rain had passed, depositing icy-cold drops down the back of your neck when you least suspected it.
From back in Canada, my father and I tried convincing Cal it wasn’t a big deal. We could learn to roof a building! But Cal was adamant that we didn’t have the skills and know-how to replace a slate roof.
He was right. Slate is notoriously difficult to work with. It’s hard to cut and cracks when you hammer a nail in too tightly, step on it, or drop a tile. We were resigned to the fact that we couldn’t do the roof ourselves, and started calling roofers for a quote.
One roofer spoke to Cal on the phone, and when he realised which building Cal was talking about, he immediately said his company wouldn’t work on it.
Finally, we got a quote from a company. 40 000 just for reslating! That wouldn’t include any of the structural repairs that we would need to do.
We didn’t even have 40 000 pounds! Getting a company to do our roof wasn’t going to be an option.
After lots of research, we found the perfect solution for our project. IKOslate. It’s a long-lasting composite slate that’s made out of 99% recycled materials and is 100% recyclable at the end of its life. It’s eco friendly, in keeping with the original character of the building, and most importantly, it’s easy to install. It was absolutely perfect.
We got in touch with IKO, and incredibly, they agreed to sponsor our project! Jameswood’s restoration would truly be at a standstill if it wasn’t for this company’s support. We can not thank them enough for their help.
I’ve posted a link to IKOslate for those of you who are interested in the product. And *spoiler* I can genuinely and whole-heartedly say I could not be happier with how beautiful these slates look opn our roof.
There's also a great video that we and the IKO team put together about our roof!
So, we had a brilliant solution for our roof covering. But first we had to focus on fixing the roof structure. Thankfully, Cal and his father are both carpenters. We convinced Cal’s dad to come up for a …relaxing Scottish retreat…? …and the two of them started splicing new timbers into the roof where rafters were too rotten or warped.
Cal and his father splicing new timbers in where roof rafters were rotten and warped.
As the weather warmed up, we posted our project on workaway – a website that connects travellers with hosts who are working on projects of all kinds. Similar to “woofing”, we would provide accommodation and food to travellers, and show them around the incredible Argyll coast (actually.. our good friends David and Tony usually showed everyone around while we worked on the house!) In return, our guests would help us out with restoring Jameswood!
With about ten people staying in the backyard to help us with the roof and enjoy the Scottish scenery, Jameswood was starting to look more like a hippy commune than a building site. We had tents scattered around the yard, and I loved our days of community living. We had family-style meals, and wound down our nights around a bonfire in the back yard. Everyone took turns cooking and washing-up, and with a lightened domestic work-load, we could properly focus our attention on the house.
A glimpse into life at Jameswood's "hippie commune"
Once Cal and his dad had fixed the rafters in the front face of the roof, it was all hands on deck! We boarded out the roof in OSB sheets, fixed down a breathable membrane that would add extra protection to the roof and installed kilometres of batten for the slates to be fixed to! I had a go at carpentry, building the outriggers to extend over the gable ends, and rebuilding some of the dormer windows.
Weeks went by as we prepared the roof for slating, and as unseasonably rainy weather kept coming, we became desperate for a dry space to store our tools. Once the front half of the roof was structurally sound, boarded and battened, we decided to start slating, and do the back half of the roof afterwards.
One of the trickiest parts of roofing is setting out. If you don’t get the spacing and overlap of your tiles right, your roof could leak, your slates could uplift in wind and you could be left with an awkward line of slates at the top of the roof that are more wide or narrow than the rest! Luckily, IKOslate has handy markings that help you get the right overlap, and the slightly curved shape keeps the slates tight against each other so they can’t get pulled up by wind. I watched countless Youtube videos to figure out how to space the slates evenly, and Cal and I measured everything out over and over to make sure we had gotten it right.
And then, when there was no more planning and double checking we could possibly do, we nervously got to slating.
We made an assembly line with our guests: Two workawayers cutting slates, two sending them up to Cal and I and receiving measurements for the next cut. We hadn’t wanted guests to do the slating for fear of mucking up our roof… but we soon realised just how easy the process was! After a few hours of roofing ourselves, we decided the IKOslate was foolproof, and rearranged our process.
We had as many volunteers up on the roof as possible. Usually about four of us. The slates were so easy to cut we decided to bring the jigsaws up to roof level and cut them as we needed them. With no more separate cutters and messengers, we just had two people passing up tiles at a constant rate and the slates started flying onto the roof! In less than a week, we had the front half of the roof complete!
We were over the moon, and with our excitement renewed, we got on with the laborious task of fixing, boarding and battening the back half of the roof.
At this time, I was taking on shifts at the local pub in the evenings, and one night, a local construction worker pointed out a problem with our roofing process. We had completely finished the front half of the roof and were about to open up the back half of the roof to the wind. What we had unknowingly managed to do is create a gigantic wind-sail on top of our house! He warned that he had seen whole roofs uplift in strong winds due to this mistake.
With this worry in the back of our minds, work suddenly picked up, and we had the back half of the roof prepared in half the time it took us to complete the front! Still, I spent that fortnight sleep deprived. Every gust of wind woke me up, and I sleeplessly spent my nights checking the window to see if our roof was still firmly attached to our building.
Having finished the front face of the roof, and opened up the back, we had unknowingly made the structure a giant sail! Good thing the rafters had been carefully fixed down!
As September came, we said goodbye to our workawayers, and got to slating the back half of our roof by ourselves. Cal and I were so motivated to push through and finish slating. We spent every hour of sunlight on top of the building, and incredibly, had the roof finished less than a week after we started slating.
Just the two of us. Slating our roof together!
On the last day of slating, I stayed up on the roof nearly the whole day. Getting tea and sandwiches brought to me. When the last slate was fixed, I clambered down to see the final results and I truly couldn’t have been happier. Our roof is absolutely beautiful, and I am completely over the moon about it.
I spent days doing double takes whenever I looked at the house. Still, 6 months later, I sometimes catch myself staring at our roof with pride. We did that! And it looks so good! We celebrated with a bottle a bubbly shared between friends, and a week-long rest!
Our beautiful new roof!!!
Reroofing Jameswood was an absolute game changer. We finally had a dry space to work, and store materials and tools. Gone are the days of being sternly told-off by Cal for leaving his favourite saw untarped. Jameswood’s walls could finally start to dry, and slowly, as they released water and brightened in colour from the top-down, the damp smell that hung in the air lifted.
We can not thank IKO enough for sponsoring the reroofing of Jameswood. When we had set out on the mission to reroof our house, we had expected it would drain our funds and leave our project at a stand-still. Because of IKO’s support, we have been able to carry on restoring Jameswood (in a dry space!!)
With this buildings’ biggest problems now behind us, accidentally buying Jameswood is starting to look much less like a giant f***-up, and much more like a blessing in disguise.
Thank you for joining us on our journey,
Sincerely, Claire (and Cal!)
We just wanted to start off this post by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has donated to our GoFundMe page! You've helped us get a little bit closer to making our dream of restoring Jameswood a reality!
As we said before, we will be including the names of everyone who has donated to the project somewhere in our house!
If you are interested in supporting the Jameswood Restoration, you can visit
We are blown away by the incredibly kind messages of support we receive from all over the world. Thank you SO much.
To catch up on the progress we had made before May, you can check out progress report #1 and #2 here!
PROGRESS REPORT #3: May - June, 2019
Last time I posted, we had just gotten the hang of putting up scaffolding, and were about to start to making our way around the building with it.
But first, we had to move the caravan. It was at the front of the house, which wasn't ideal for traffic noise, privacy and safety (it was sitting in front of our partially collapsed wall!), but it would also get in the way of the scaffolding braces.
Our neighbour has a 4 by 4 pickup truck, and he kindly offered to lend a hand. He moved the caravan from our original driveway, around to the new driveway we had recently made for receiving scaffolding.
It's been nearly four months since our last progress report, and lots has happened since then!
When you see Jameswood on a daily basis, it's really easy to forget how far you've come and notice the changes that are slowly happening. When a friend re-visits and exclaims, in shock, that, "the place has electricity!" Or, "this room is cleared out!" You realise, lots has changed since we first started the project!
It's important to allow some time for self reflection. We've taken on HUGE project, and looking back at all we've accomplished so far helps motivate us to carry on!
In our last progress report, we had managed to clear the garden - an epic task that required battling through a forest of weeds that had engulfed our property and rescuing trees from the chokehold of ivy and other climbers.
PROGRESS REPORT #2: March - April, 2019
While taking on a restoration project of this scale, we inevitably find ourselves hitting road bumps at nearly every step of the way. Finding a new problem seems to be a daily occurrence here at Jameswood.
To keep our spirits high, and stay motivated, Cal and I like to reflect on some of the small victories we've had, instead of the huge hurdles ahead of us.
So here they are...
Finding the elusive electricity wire
The first, and arguably, the best win we've had in the past week has been finding the cut electricity wire, that used to connect the property to mains electricity.
Soon, I'll post a blog explaining just how hard it was to find this wire, but for now, just know that we have been searching for this wire since November!
Hopes of finding the wire were starting to dwindle in the past few weeks, and the gravity of the situation was starting to become clear. If we couldn't find the wire, we were going to have to pay a hefty fee to have the pavement dug up, to be reconnected to the main line.
We were told to look for a little black box, where the cut end of the wire would be sheltered, about 500mm deep in the ground. We were also given a map of the property that indicated (inaccurately) where the wire was supposed to have run.
This week, while digging out drainage pipes at the front of the property, Cal stumbled upon a cut end of a thin, black wire, wrapped tightly in black electrical tape, lying in the ground, with no "black box" in sight.
It was the live electricity wire and we are so relieved to have found it! (And very excited to have electricity on site in the near future!)
Getting a driveway laid
One of the first things Cal did when he first got to Jameswood was clear a Ford Transit-sized space at the front of our property, to facilitate access to our building site.
Now, Transits are incredibly helpful to have when restoring a home, and I'd recommend them to anyone looking to take on a project like ours. However, I would not recommend them to those of you looking for an off-road vehicle..
Our van has gotten stuck in the slick, deep mud on our "driveway" too many times to count. And with such a heavy vehicle, pushing it out (with the help of our friendly, but exasperated neighbours) is not an easy task.
For a while, we would lay old plaster out on the driveway while we were clearing the house. The plaster was a great temporary driveway, but it was a bit too water soluble for the wet conditions we get here in Scotland. Once it had rained, the plaster just added more gunk to the the messy mud our van was getting stuck in.
This week, we were excited to receive our first on-site delivery: 10 tonnes of aggregate, about a quarter of which has gone into making a nice, new, sturdy resting spot for our van!
Our New Home - A Caravan!
As much as I love #vanlifeYoutube videos, trying to live in our Ford Transit, while also using it as a working van, has not been ideal. This week, we've found a new home!
We are now living in a little, 1990's, two berth caravan. It's a dry, clean space to retire to at the end of the day (and has way better closet space compared to the Transit.)
I am absolutely thrilled!
So, as frustrating as this house can be at times, Jameswood is helping Cal and I remember to appreciate the little things in life, and focus on our small victories, instead of the constant problems we encounter.
I hope we have many more little victories for me to write about soon!
We’ve had our property in Dunoon for a few months now, and I’m sure some of you are wondering what we’ve actually been doing. We’ve decided to start writing intermittent progress reports to update everyone on our developments.
Progress Report #1: Nov-Dec 2018
When Cal first visited Jameswood with our good friends Barry and Dexter, they had a difficult time reaching the front door of the building. The grounds were overgrown with a wide variety of bushes, trees and weeds and some ferns had even managed to take root inside the building. Nature had truly taken over.
We can now walk around the house!
On days where it was bucketing down, we had plenty to do inside the house – where our holey roof provided us with a little protection from the rain.
The apartments had been left fully furnished… with soggy, mouldy couches and mattresses, broken furniture and decades-old appliances. After more than five runs to the dump, with our Ford Transit filled to the brim, we are getting to know the friendly staff at Dunoon’s local tip and gradually clearing the trash that has been left on the property.
Click photos to view full size.
Before we can start fixing the house, we also have to clear out the crumbling wet plaster that lines Jameswood’s walls. Property development tv shows make this job look easy. Their montages of knocking down walls with sledge hammers and bringing a house back to its bones look fun and exciting!
I’ve now found out that plaster is dustier and heavier than I could ever have imagined! And getting rid of the mouldy, wet insulation sitting behind the walls and ceilings can be a very itchy endeavour!
Bucket by bucket, and with plenty of help from our friends, we’ve managed to bring our apartments back to the studs, and in the process, we’ve also collected a lifetime supply of kindling produced by the lath!
Clearing the land and the house has been A LOT of hard work, but we’ve managed to have a lot of fun in the process. Cal and I are really enjoying having nature right here on our doorstep, and have managed to take a few days off to explore and hike in the area.
Little by little, the property is starting to look less like a haunted house in a spooky, overgrown forest, and more like a proper building site. Now that we’ve prepped Jameswood Villa, we’re excited to start actual restoration work in the coming weeks!
Thank you for joining us, as we take on Jameswood Villa!