For a Refreshing Change!

The Buildings

So, you have prepared all your patio area, the shrub/plant beds, the lawn, and mavbe even dug out the pond, Swimming Poll or Jacuzzi !  There are no big piles of soil to get in the way and your garden now looks like a WW2 bomb site !

What do we mean by 'Buildings' ?

It could be as small as a 4x6 wooden shed, a heavy duty log cabin or a purpose built games and/or laundry room.  Whatever you are having, be sure to get planning permission for any structures built of brick.  I know so many people who have just got advice from their friend at the pub, or a neighbour and then, after getting the wrong advice - they are pulling it all down again on a local authority order!  A quick phone call to the local authorityy/council will settle your mind and ensure you are not throwing money down the drain.

Once you have decided the type of building you are going for, then think about electricity !

Even a plug point in the shed can be an advantage when you want to use a drill, grinder, or any power tool - as well as the mower and strimmer (if you have gone all electric).  Now is the time to lay any armoured cable or exteriour cable through a heavy duty plastic pipe (for added security against digging through it!).  Any cable that is being buried, should be at least ten inches below the top soil level - the deeper the better, this depth is deeper than the spikes on a fork, or the blade length of a shovel and a spade, so cutting through or even seeing the cable should not happen below ten inches.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not weave and wind the cable all over the garden - not even around one plant - keep it straight and tight against the fence direct from the house to the building, this way, digging it up is again severely reduced plus you will always know exactly where the cable is buried.  You could add a few handfulls of pea-shingle on top of the cable, or even some old bricks and broken patio slabs to let you know it's underneath should you ever dig close by.

If running a cable through a conduit, place a well taped plastic carrier bag over both ends to stop any water from getting in.  And remember to include a safety circuit breaker at the house end to save being electrocuted when you cut through the mower cable !  If in the slightest doubt - seek a qualified electrician.

Whatever structure you are going to erect, you are going to need a good concrete base for it to sit on.  This is to do the job properly.  For cheapness, if it's only a small shed and your funds are a little light, you can just have a few patio slabs or railway sleepers as the base and save yourself quite a bit of money.  Whatever type of base you are going to lay - make sure it's level.

The concrete base.

Concrete is by far the best option to give that finished professional appearance to a finished garden - providing it has been laid properly.  Many people spend too much time concentrating on the top finish of the base and tend to neglect the sides and edges. It's the edges that are the only bits seen when the job is done, so attention to these is quite important.

A good timber frame with nice flat top for tamping the wet cement with a straight edged piece of timber is important to give you that uniformed flat topped finish to the base.  The timber frame should have sufficient stakes driven in along the frames edges to stop the frame from bowing outward when the full weight of the wet mix is added - and believe me, it is a lot of weight !

The base should be at least five or six inches thick and contain some clean rubble in the bottom to aid strength to the finished base. This rubble should not be touching any of the timber frame, if it is, you will have unsightly 'holes' and 'caves' in the sides of the base that not only weaken the area, but also give great little houses to slugs and woodlice !

The finished top of the base should be about two inches higher than your finished grass level. Remember the Bamboo stakes you put in the lawn area as a finished height guide? Use levels from these (check you have not kicked them about first !) with your spirit level to get your base a couple of inches higher than the grass, if the base is lower than the grass - it will flood after a downpour. If it is too high - you have to build a step to get into the building.   The actual size of the base should be three inches bigger than the building itself to allow for adjustments and the base should also be at least eighteen inches away from a fence or wall - to allow you to get behind it for maintenance etc.

Ballast is used to make concrete bases !   A lot of people try to use just sand - this still works, but makes a much weaker base.  Ballast is basicly sharp sand with stones in it. This mix is used for things like bases and setting in fence posts or footings for walls etc.

Get yourself some sheets of hardboard from your local diy store. These are used to lay on your front drive and in the garden next to the base.  Shovelling ballast direct from the ground out on your front drive will not only pick up dirt and debris, but will also mark your drive with the steel of the shovels.  The boards in the garden stops the ballast getting mixed up with the soil underneath and just keeps everything clean and manageable.

As a rule of thumb for a strong base, use about 2 good shovel fulls of cement to 10 of ballast. This amount should fill your hired cement mixer without all spilling out as it mixes - if it does, your shovel full's are too big !  For a ton of ballast use about 12 bags of cement.  If you are able to work out the quantity of ballast required for the mix great !  If not, tell the size of your base to the man at the building centre when ordering and he will ensure you have enough.

If you find yourself a little short on mixed cement when nearing the end of the base, dig a hole in several places in the wet cement already laid and bury some more clean bricks / stones or steel - this will displace the cement and make it stretch a littl further - don't over do this procedure though, or you will make the base much weaker.

Be sure that your timber framework is screwed or nailed on the inside of any stakes ie; the corners inside the frame should be sharp corners with the stakes being on the outside - so when you remove the timber to reveal your base you have nice sharp corners - no stake marks visible.   Be sure to use an old bit of timber to pummel the cement when wet down the sides to be sure there is no trapped air - this also leads to unsightly holes when dry.

If you are having some electric point in the building, get yourself some plastic pipe and weave it under the timber frame and up to a point you want the wire to come into the building. This pipe can be roughly held in place with some of the bricks and rubble to make stand upright. Put a plastic bag over both ends and leave the bit sticking up a foot or so higher than the base, this will be trimmed when the base is dry. When laying the floor section of your building, drill a hole in the floor section and thread the pipe through, then cut level - after the building is up, just thread your electrical wire through the plastic pipe. This makes a nice neat water safe way of getting the cable into the building - and it's all invisible at the end of the job !

Other bases.

If using railway sleepers, get either hardwood heavy or tanalised new and treat darker. These will still need a little bit of concrete to ensure they will not 'Titanic' after the building is up.  Once you have cut them and laid them out how you want them, scrach their position on the soil, remove them from the area and just dig a three or four inch deep hole at three points ie; both ends and centre.  These holes should be the same width of the sleeper so the sleeper will sit nice when laid. Lay a mix in these holes then lay the sleepers while the mix is wet, use a heavy club hammer but hit an old bit of wood laid onto the sleepers for protection. Be sure to use your level and be prepared for a little jiggling around to get them all right.  It's a good idea to look at the bottom of the floor section of your building you are going to lay to see what way the under battons are running - you may also have to put a sleeper across the middle of the base otherwise the whole floor will bow downwards when you walk into your new building.

If using some patio slabs as a base, this is more fiddly as there are now about nine or more seperate slabs that you have got to get all top level with each other - and all have to have some cement under to ensure no sinking occurs.  Likewise with a line or two of bricks.

Be sure to have some poly sheeting ready after the job is done.  It may rain, be frosty, or just keep the cats off at night - but it's a good idea to cover your finished base just as a precaution, and do not let it drape on the wet top - use some of the batton and make a quick tent - two 'V' shapes and a straight one, you know, just like the old scouts ridge tents, three screws and five bits of wood, thirty seconds then throw the sheet over , add bricks or something heavy on the sheet outside the base frame, pull tight - done !

"Maybe I won't hire a Mixer"

It is possible and more than sensible to have your cement delivered to you by one of the 'ready-mixed' types of lorries.  These will turn up at your chosen time, but then you gotta work like hell constantly barrowing till it's done.  If you go for this option, phone them, tell them your base size and what it's for, they make the mix up and deliver.  Make sure you have a couple of mates available for that day, along with some more barrows and lay your hose out front to wash away the dribbles.  The hardboard sheets may come in handy again here, under the barrow when the lorry shoots it down the chute.  Be sure to tell them how far roughly your base is away from the delivery point - a lot of these companies may start to get a bit narked at waiting for more than three minutes for you to return for another barrow full.  They do have quite good patience - it's up to you to find out how far you can push it !

Don't Forget !

Anything that has touched the wet cement mix will need to be cleaned the same day you finished withit. Especially the cement mixer if you hired one. The hire company will charge you for a new drum if you did not clean it - BE WARNED !  Use an old dustbin filled with water to wash the barrows, the shovels, the rake, and anything else.  Leaving it "till tomorrow" will mean you throwing away good tools - wash them, even if it is dark and you are knackered !

This now ends the section on Buildings.  Ready to move on to The Patio ?