home of the Sliding House

   The website of Ross Russell and Sally Morris:
   documenting progress on our project to design and build our house in Suffolk in the far east of England.

update photopanorama compressed

The latest state of play (early January 2009) is as follows.

It is in reverse chronological order - latest news first and earlier stuff later.  I’ve moved earlier years to separate pages to save on bandwidth: link to those pages here: 2008200720062005 and prior years.

January 2010: Check out the Lego version of Sliding House:

.and there are a few pictures below nicked from the website of deborah higdon from ottowa who built this model and who writes without upper case letters (just like my dad).

sliding house lego04sliding house lego 2sliding house lego 1sliding house lego 3

November 2009: Here are a few more pictures of the house taken in the last month or so.

rainbowsunset from inside

090331 sunset with moon

Since we must surely have finished the awards season for 2009 and probably for ever, here is the latest state of play on recognition for Alex and his team:

  • Grand Designs - Best New-Build House of 2009. See picture of the awards ceremony below.
  • Grand Designs - Best New Home of 2009.
  • Royal Institute of British Architects Award 2009 - see picture below.  This one is awarded by regions and we are part of RIBA East.
  • Royal Institute of British Architects - on the “mid-list” of the Stirling Prize for the best new building of 2009 (we didn’t make the short-list - some bloke called Lord Rogers usurped us).
  • Royal Institute of British Architects - Manser Medal (for the best housing project in the UK) - shortlisted.
  • Yellow Pencil Awards - shortlisted under the Environmental Design/ Residential category (and we won a Black Pencil rather than the coveted Yellow Pencil).
  • The Wood Awards - shortlisted (twice!) but not even a wooden spoon as a prize.
  • World Architecture Festival 2009 - “highly commended” in the private house category. Since only one house won the prize and another two were highly commended this arguably means we were voted one of the three best new houses in 2009 world wide! Or maybe not.
  • You Tube - up to 638,000 hits on the video - better than the 500 or so (when I last looked on You Tube)  for the Stirling Prize winning video for the Maggie’s Centre!
  • About to be featured in “One in a Million” on US television (well they had 11 hours of filming which I gather will make a 5 minute slot in their programme).

Grand Designs Award02RIBA East AwardStirling Prize dinner

One of my photographs made the front cover of an “internationally recognised architecture magazine” - the Plan.  Of course Alex’s own images are everywhere and they rather better than mine it has to be said.  A few photos below of some of the coverage we’ve had.

Plan MagazineA10 Magazinearhitext magazine cover

August 2009: We’ve had a few months of entertaining rather than doing much to the house and gardens. We had a great party late in July for the people who helped to design and build the place. No pictures here I am afraid (I was too busy serving the champagne and stuff, honest!) but it was good to see a few faces that we’d not seen for a long time and who were critical to the success of the project. So hello to Alex and Joana and Rutger and Dave and Ray and Martin and Gordon and Arthur and William and several more whose names escape me as I write this. And we’ve had enormous help with fruit picking and grass moving from various family members (thanks Sylvia, Kim, Mark, Rebecca, Tanya, Rob, Thomas).  We’ve not done so much entertaining at home for a long while, or indeed ever.

The latest project for Ross has been the things that needed scaffolding and needed to be done before winter. So we now have brush seals in place at the top of each gable wall to keep the heat in under the sliding roof (see the “thermographic” images below for why this was needed). And we have solar panels on the roof to keep the batteries that power the roof topped up.  This means we can turn off the mains charging circuits for much of the year.  That probably deserves a photo and here it is (below).  I could have just bought any old solar photovoltaic panel and stuck in on the roof but that would have been too easy. So instead I searched long and hard for panels that were the same width as the planks in the roof and then made up a plank of ten of them to fit in the slot where one of the roof planks was  There are ten panels of 6w peak output at 12v - wired in five batches of two panels so that I get 24 volts as required by each battery bank and five of them - one for the batteries for each of the four motor drive units and one for the batteries that power the control panel.    Lovely job.


The other things we’ve done have been less photographable(?) but necessary to comply with building control requirements. So we have a handrail for the stairs in the main house.  We had (for about a week during which the building control people came to visit) a ballustrade to the stairs in the annex building.  We had a chap come round to do an Energy Efficiency Report - another piece of bureaucracy involving me paying someone who knows less about the energy performance of the the building than I do charging me £100 to write a report that was mainly incorrect and of zero use to us, except that it enabled someone to tick a box to say that we have done it. We also have very tall fire doors between the glass section and the timber frame section of the house. The result of all of this is that we had a final inspection from the very nice man from building control and we now have a “Completion Certificate”.  That is, I think, the final step that enables us to say that the house is finished.  From now on all that we do is therefore maintenance rather than building.

The other thing we have done is got planning permission for a wind-turbine. This came through late in July 2009 and we are now arranging for the supply and installation of a 15 kilowatt turbine (that is nominal peak power - both adjectives are important)  on a 15 metre tall mast.  This was a major battle.  I had previously consulted each of our near neighbours and they have been very supportive.  I have had long discussions with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust about bats and the need to avoid disturbing their habitat. I have had long discussions with the environmental health department about noise pollution and agreed a noise condition.  If any resident complains then the local environmental health team will measure noise levels at their house with the turbine running and with it stopped and see if the difference is more than 5dB(A) in which case they can close me down.   And I went to great lengths to invite round the local parish council who came and looked at the house and the turbine site and then objected to it being 15 metres tall.

Anyway we got the permission and we hope to have it up and running by October in time for the windy season.    This probably deserves a web-page of its own and maybe in time it will get one. But not until I find time.

July 2009: We (or rather Alex and his team) keep wining awards. The latest list is as follows:

  • Grand Designs - Best New-Build House of 2009
  • Grand Designs - Best New Home of 2009
  • Royal Institute of British Architects award 2009
  • Royal Institute of British Architects - on the “mid-list” of the Stirling Prize for the best new building of 2009 (we didn’t make the short-list - some bloke called Lord Rogers usurped us)
  • Yellow Pencil Awards - shortlisted under the Environmental Design/ Residential category
  • The Wood Awards - shortlisted and awaiting news 

May 2009: A few more pictures (but not much commentary). Must have been a busy time for me. But I had great fun taking these from a tower scaffold in the garden and with a camera on top of a 5 metre high pole on top of that, set to an interval timer so it took a photo every 15 seconds or so and then edited to take out all the ones where the camera was facing the wrong way or moving with the breeze or otherwise not providing good images.   It was a bit hit and miss but much cheaper than hiring a helicopter for more well considered aerial photos.

view from on high nightview from on high sunset

April 2009: Not many new pictures I’m afraid (although I’ve got some cracking time lapse and video pictures ready to upload when I have time). Meantime here are just a couple so you can see how, from the front gate, it looks not at all like a building site but almost like a finished home.  The latest new on the build process is that we have:

  • mainly finished the bathroom - all the floor panels and wall panels are in but some need some final trimming to make the gaps even;
  • put a handrail in for the main stairs (ready for building control to do their final inspection);
  • put balustrades up for the annex stairs (ditto, although this may be a more temporary fixture);
  • put in two more vegetable beds for sally’s on-site allotment;
  • made a set of planters to demarcate the end of the driveway and separate it from the garden behind; and
  • cleared much of the front garden and put in a raised bed and some shrubs (making good use of a whole stack of off-cuts of 9” x 2” planks leftover from the infill panels to the sliding roof).

On the wider front we have submitted our VAT reclaim (self builders can do this for all build costs except professional fees, services such as scaffolding, cupboards and landscaping).  We have been living on site, in the house rather than the annex, since January (and hence paying Council Tax on the house since then) and this is one of the steps that enables you to say that the house is complete and hence VAT can be reclaimed.  It’ll be good to have all that cash in our bank account rather than under Gordon Brown’s bed.

And we have now submitted planning application for our wind-turbine, having consulted the neighbours and done the arithmetic on whether it’ll pay for itself.  Since we are all electric, we do use rather more electricity than a typical house (although of course no gas or oil at all).  We’ve sought permission for a 15kW turbine sitting on top of a 15m high mast. I am waiting now for a planning officer to come and look at the site to make an assessment so he can see whether to recommend approval - so I have a 3ft diameter red balloon and a canister of helium so I can hoist it 15m up to show him what it’ll look like.  Apparently, just saying “it is the height of that oak tree plus 50%” isn’t enough ...

If we do get this approved and installed then it should meet all of our electricity needs over the course of a year. It’ll be grid connected so we’ll import power from the grid when our consumption peaks (on cold still days in winter) and export it to the grid when the wind blows so strongly that we couldn’t feasibly use all of the power.  Since power prices have fallen in the last year (yes really!) it is not quite the investment that we thought it would be, but the payback is a lot better than I’d get on any other low risk investment and it’s tax free.

In pursuit of greater glory (and paying clients) for dRMM  we have had some more publicity.  We are due to be written up in a Dutch architecture magazine “A10” in May.  We had a write up in the Daily Mail (again done entirely by ripping of other people’s photography and research - no site visit, no interview with the architect, nothing that would constitute “research”).  I’ve turned down a bunch of interested parties ranging from the Discovery Channel in Canada, El Tiempo newspaper in Columbia, the advertising agency for Aston Martin (“can we photograph our new convertible car outside your convertible house?”); and a whole bunch of others. Frankly life is too short and I doubt dRMM get much benefit from publicity in Bogota....

We have however been watched by over half a million viewers via You Tube.  It’s here if you want to see it - although actually the one at Wallpaper is the same thing but in better quality.   

annex view compressedtulips compressed

March 2009: I am making some progress in the bathroom.   This (the first picture below) is however the only view that shows the place looking anywhere near complete - the view the other way shows the panelling finished only up to the top of the doorways and with a big gap where the higher panels should be.  There is also lots of finishing work still to be done around the shower and basin. But we have a jury panel from RIBA visiting the site in early April to see whether they want to short list us for a RIBA award - and in theory the place should be “complete and occupied” by then so we will do what we can to achieve that  We tick the box for being occupied, but I am not sure we can claim to be complete at this stage.....

bathroom02bathroom 3

Late February 2009: I’ve moved on to some work in the bathroom/terrace now.  I was supposed to have taken delivery of the wall panels, in which case I would have been fitting them these last few days but there has been a hold-up in manufacture. But I have cleared the bathroom space of all its accumulated clutter.  One thing this has revealed is that the boarding to the floor is not as well secured as it should be and hence creaks as you walk on it.  OK, you say, you just needed to screw the boards down again.  But there were two difficulties.  First the floor has been weatherproofed so any extra fixing had to be through a weatherproof membrane and hence I had to make it weatherproof again afterwards.  And more worryingly there are underfloor heat pipes in there and I did not have a good map of where they all were.....

The solutions to the second problem were to use magnets (to find the screws holding the boards to the joists in the floor); engineering drawings (to locate where the joists should have been) and a hired thermal imaging camera to identify the heat from the underfloor heat pipes where they crossed over the joists. An expensive solution, but less so than the cost of the damage I would have caused had I put a screw through the heat pipes.  Anyway that job is now done and I have the bath and other fittings lined up and ready to be plumbed in next week.

Meantime, I took advantage of the kit I had hired to check where the weak points are in the insulation to the house. Cue an evening of sweltering heat as the heat pump was cranked up to maximum and supplemented by 6kW of additional back-up heat.  Meanwhile it was just sub-zero outside. And this is what I found.

The grey and red pictures show where the hot-spots are, caused by weak points in the insulting layer.  Some of these are expected - windows and doors leak heat more than thickly insulated walls, no matter how well they are made - and some were suspected and now proven.  Some such as the large opening window in the glass gable wall I can fix (the frame was never sealed in place with mastic and I have not yet adjusted the electric actuator to close it properly). Some I will have to live with. For example look at all that heat leaking out at ground level - directly from the heated ground floor to the concrete upstands on which the timber frame is built.  There is a minimal thermal break between the floor screed and the concrete and it is too late to do anything about it now.    I’ll know to get this right next time I build a new house with a sliding roof....

The yellow and red images use a different colour code based on the colour of hot metal - red hot (coldest), then yellow then white hot (hottest) . The striking thing here is that (a) the heat is generally being kept in by the insulated sliding roof structure as planned but (b) until I fit the full set of brush seals, a lot of it then leaks out at each gable end particularly the highest point of the gables which are glowing positively white hot.  I will definitely have to get that part of the structure sorted well before next winter!

annex BRglass gable BRannex hot spots02

overview HM02courtyard detailsglass gable HM

Early February 2009:   There is not a lot of progress to report, what with Christmas and a holiday in Spain and freelance work intervening. So there are no new photographs posted here.

What we have done is played host to some journalists and video cameramen.  Alex and dRMM are seeking some publicity by showing off their latest project. It does seem that the sliding roof has captured the imagination of many in the architectural world. I’ve posted a few links to online architecture and news sites, although I suspect that given that they are news sites, some of the links will stop working after a while and may not be “live” by the time you try them.

The two page summary on dRMM’s own website is here.  The photography (Alex’s own, apart from one which you may recognise from this site) is excellent.

The Observer did a write up last Sunday. Click here for the online version. It was written without any prior contact with either me or Alex (presumably based solely on the dRMM press release). I think that is why it is so general in tone. 

And two online architecture magazines have done features, de Zeen and BD online The latter has a video of the roof in action.  A Google search will find several dozen others, but they all seem to be ripped off from these two sources.

We had a team of six in from a video production company making a four minute video for the online version of Wallpaper magazine. This is complete with time-lapse shots from every conceivable angle and interviews with Alex and me. It is now published here.

Did you miss the Sunday Times on 15 February?  See the online version here

Continue back in time to 2008

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