Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Thursday, 9 January 2014
Not much luxe, eh Darley?
That house in Cornwall was demolished to build this one. It is an eco-house which costs peanuts to run, but a fortune to build, which is why my friends are seeking to rent it out as a luxury holiday house when they are not in it themselves.
The house which stood there before was built around 1920, I suppose, and was not really an architectural gem, but had the sort of charm which evokes (for my generation) childhood holidays in uncomfortable and draughty accommodation. It really did need a lot of money spent on it to stop the water coming in, etc, but if you looked at it unromantically, the cheapest thing to do would have been to start again, which is what they did. I'm not sure it was that cheap though.
For anyone who has never been to Cornwall, let me tell you that the standard of Cornish builders is second only in awfulness to certain parts of France. People take their own builders to Cornwall in the same way that they take their own to their Gite in France, the locals being so careless.
One almost positive thing that you can say about Cornish builders is that they embrace new technology with both arms if it makes life (and money) easy for them. The trouble is that they continue the embrace for so long that the new becomes the old very quickly, but not as quickly as it takes to fall apart.
Breeze-blocks are used in favour of concrete blocks, mainly because they are so light. Despite the fact that breeze-blocks soak up water like the sponges they emulate, they were hardly ever laid on a damp-proof membrane, meaning that they take in water from all directions - even upwardly.
Pebble-dash render has been the preferred way of disguising the breeze-blocks for almost 100 years now, and is still very much in use. The advantage of pebble-dash is that it traps the dirt and moisture very nicely, and if you happen to bump into the wall on a dark night, even a slight collision takes your skin off as if you had a close encounter with a giant shark.
About 40 years ago, the whole of Cornwall became the target of every double-glazing company in the U.K. and many locals made a fortune by ripping out perfectly good, traditional, casement windows and replacing them with really nasty, white, UPVC units which never fitted properly, and jammed just after the short guarantee had run out. Any modest house in Cornwall has at least 5 windows or doors which cannot be used, and if there were ever to be a fire blocking off the useable ones, people would have to smash the others out of the frames to escape.
The double-glazing fills up with water-vapour, meaning that the spectacular views to be had are hardly ever visible, and the white of the UPVC turns a dirty grey which cannot be reached in order to clean. I would estimate that well over half of all windows and doors in Cornwall are made of UPVC.
Despite the fact that almost every house in Cornwall is built on a thick bed of natural granite which has not moved for millions of years, the foundations of these pebble-dash houses shift around so badly that huge cracks appear in the breeze-block walls within a matter of about 20 years. Even if it were physically possible without using dynamite, underpinning them would serve no purpose, so everyone fills the ever-widening cracks every Spring, repairs the pebble-dash, then gives the house another coat of whitewash - if they can be bothered. The ones where nobody has bothered tend to merge into the landscape again, and cannot be seen from about a mile away.
I still miss that old house though - mainly because our friends actually lent it to us every year, and I have never become accustomed to luxe - but I don't think they can afford to do that any more. At least the view is still the same from the back windows, though.
(A worthless prize goes to anyone who can tell me where the title of this post comes from.)