aj mccormack and son

Sitework - Page 02
The Brew Cabin


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Forum Question Steps - Leigh Villiers - 26 May 2002

I'm looking to replace the steps leading upto my house (currently they have risers of about 230mm and are about to fall to apart).
The run is about 4500m with a rise of 1200mm overall.

1) I'm looking at putting in 600mm treads witha 180mm riser, is that a fare tread/riser?

2) Footings, what sort of footing do I need to put in place?

forum answer Tony McCormack - 26 May 2002
The tread and riser dimensions you state are fine.

The type of footing depends on what materials you plan to use. For 105mm wide brick risers, a simple 300x100mm concrete strip footing is adequate, but, for other materials you may need to make it wider.

Leigh Villiers
27 May 2002
Thanks for the info. Tony!

The steps will be standard facing brick with a slab for the tread.

Will the footing still be okay as the steps are sort of free standing (brick each side). Also how long do we need to let the footings stand before building on top??

Great site by the way!

Tony McCormack
27 May 2002
A standard footing should be fine, Leigh, and you can place the brickwork on top more or less immediately, assuming you haven't used a high-slump concrete.

As soon as the concrete is firm enough to carry the brickwork, you can lay it. If you use a stiff mix, say 20mm slump or thereabouts, you can lay the brickwork more or less immediately and position the treads as you go. smiley

Forum Question Highway Kerbs - bigchasbroon - 4 Jun 2002
|I live in a regular street, however there is no pavement on my side of the street. The road has no kerb or edging, the drive and road basically merge into each other.
Is the local council liable to put something in?
forum answer Tony McCormack
Hi again,

it all depends on whether your road has been adopted and only your local authority can give you that information. Call them up tomorrow - if the road has been adopted, they (or their appointed agent) is responsible for the carriageway, footway and kerbing. If the road is not adopted, then responsibility lies with the owner of the road, which could be a private landlord or you and the other residents.

The LA will know.

Forum Question Road re-surface? - Ptk - 17 Jun 2002
Hi Tony
I think your the man who could help me out with this question smiley
The parish council had all our roads re-surfaced in the village 4 weeks ago, all the contractors did was to spray bitumen on the road and then lay chippings on top.

The problem is, today being the first hot day we have had, has seen the road actually melting, all the bitumen has come to the top and is making a lovely mess of everyones shoes etc! and you can hear the tyres sticking to the surface as the cars go by.

Was this the right way to re-surface? I am a complete idiot when it comes to this sort of thing, so thought it would be best to ask a well qualified man!

All the best

forum answer Tony McCormack - 17 Jun 2002

this is a popular cheap treatment for existing carriageways. A polymer modified bitumen is sprayed over the existing surface to act as an adhesive and then specially selected chippings are scattered over the surface and rolled into the adhesive.

For the first few weeks, the adhesive can seem soft and tacky, but, with time, it does become less so and in 2 or 3 months time, it will be hardly noticeable. In the meantime, be careful about treading the tacky bitumen into your carpets - check the soles of shoes before moving into the house.

The chippings will continue to work loose for a couple of weeks or so, and the contractor will probably send out a Road Sweeper once or twice over the next month to collect up all the loose stuff, but this depends on the contract agreed with your Council.

Does that help?

17 Jun 2002
Hi Tony
Firstly let me say thank you for a very swift reply, and I also think your site is excellent, I have certainly learnt a thing or two in the time I have been visiting...
anyway onto the road.
Yes that does explain some of it, trouble is this stuff is wet in hot weather and looking at the road right now, there are no chippings left where the cars have taken it away..literally smiley

we had 1 warmish day the day after it was laid and that took away quite a bit of the chippings, now it simply looks like a black painted road in places! (wet and sticky at that) smiley

Thanks once again for your time.

Tony McCormack
18 Jun 2002
That doesn't sound too good. Although some chippings are expected to work loose, there should be no 'bald spots', certainly not so soon after coating.

Has anyone from the council seen this, or have they appointed an inspector? You may find that the contractor re-appears in a week or so and re-treats the roadway, but I'd be more concerned about the chippings not bonding.

I know it's been warm, but even so, there shoyld not be any great problem doing a surface dressing in any temp below around 35 C, and we just don;t get those temps in this part of the world. I wonder if there was a problem with the binder?

Do you know the name of the contractor? If you wish to switch to private email to avoid making this public, use the Messenger system near the top of the page.

Forum Question No Pavement - TimD - 1 Jul 2002
Have just read previous post Highway Kerbs and thought you may help me with a problem.
We live in a 300 year old Devon Longhouse made out of Cob. The house was here long before the road was built and has been adopted by Local Authority. There is a pavement that runs along the front of the cottage, no front garden etc, but stops at the end of the cottage. The road falls away approx a foot into the gateway to our courtyard which is at the side.
Trouble is everytime it rains water flows along the pavement gully and into our courtyard along with other stuff deposited from the frequent tractors belonging to the dairy farm next door!
Where does the responsibility of the Local Authority for maintenance of the road end?

Great site, its rare for someone as knowledgeable as yourself to share their information for free!

forum answer Tony McCormack - 2 Jul 2002
Hi Tim,

it all depends on whether the road and pavement have been adopted. If they have, and your LA will be able to tell whether it has, then it is their responsibility to prevent surface water entering your property.

However, if it's a private road or unadopted, then it's your responsibility and you would be entitled to carry out any reasonable work necessary to protect your property from inundation.

Give the Highways Dept at your local council a call in the morning - they love getting called out from the office on warm summer days! wink

Richard Malin
3 Jul 2002
Hi Tim,
it's a great site and has a dedicated following, but don't praise Tony too much or it might go to his head! Especially that bit about charging. Shh, I already owe him a slab of Boddingtons!
Tony McCormack
4 Jul 2002
By 'eck! I'm spitting feathers! wink
Forum Question Sleeper cutting - Ricardo - 4 Jul 2002
Hi - sorry if this is in the wrong place, I couldn't see where best to post it!

I want ot rebuild our pond and add a waterfall.
This means creating a mound in a corner of the garden against two fences, neither of which are ours.
Obviously the weight of the soil will not do the fence panels any good, so I thought I'd try your railway sleeper retaining wall idea. As I don't wish to use a chainsaw, how else can I cut these things? Would a 21" lopping saw be up to the job?


forum answer Tony McCormack - 4 Jul 2002
How big are your biceps and how strong is your back? wink

You could saw the sleepers with almost any saw that was big enough, but it's damned hard work. A bow saw would probably be easier than a lopping saw. Hopefully, you won't have many to cut!

4 Jul 2002
Now that sounds tough! Yes - I mean one of those triangular saws used for cutting logs.

Perhaps I'll build a wall instead, unless anyone can suggest another idea?

Tony McCormack
4 Jul 2002
What height do you need? Walling is harder work than stacking sleepers.

If you need only 750mm or less of upstand, a flag-on-edge would be the easiest option, I reckon. For 750-1200mm, I'd consider using all-concrete base panels held in place by the slotted concrete posts. Anything over 1200mm is venturing into the realms of structural engineering and you ought to have it professionally designed, or, at least, have a basic design checked and approved by a qualified civil or structural engineer.

31 Jul 2002
I've spent ages last year cutting through sleepers with a bow saw - each cut took about 15 mins. The main problem I had was trying to get a straight line, but if you're stacking earth against it, this might not be too important.

One tip - you might benefit from wearing gloves while you do this. If you lean on the sleeper with one hand while sawing, the creosote which seeps out is a swine to get off your hands afterwards !

Tony McCormack
31 Jul 2002
The creosote's not the worst thing on those sleepers - what about the untreated, dried-on sewage? And the engine oil? And, scariest of all, the many, many years of ingrained British Rail Coffee---yeeeurggghhh! wink
Forum Question Flex Base (Crushed Concrete) - altsmith - 11 Jul 2002
Tony, I have just found your site and I think it is great. I live in the states and have done commercial building consturction in the past but have never done the dirt work. I have 2 acres of property (farm land) that I want to put down a surface to park RV's.I have found a source for Flex Base (crushed concrete) at a reasonable price.They tell me that once the material is laid and packed with moisture that it will set to a firm surface. My question is how much material should I lay before packing to support the RV's to keep from getting stuck when it rains.

I am working this project on a limited budget and will be doing most of the work my self.

Thanks Alton.

forum answer Tony McCormack - 12 Jul 2002
Hi Alton,

what's this RV you mention? Some kind of heavy vehicle? (we call them HGVs in UK/RoI- Heavy Goods Vehicle)

We use crushed concrete as a sub-base material, but only if it falls within certain grading limits (as given on the Sub-bases page). It doesn't actually 'set' in the way that fresh concrete would, but it does become reliably firm.

The thickness of a sub-base depnds on two factors: the strength of the underlying sub-grade (measured in CBR) and the anticpated usage. For small cars and light vcans, we'd use a minimum of 100mm. That would increase to 150mm for biggers cars and vans, and 225mm or more for heavier vehicles. Once a sub-base of more than 300mm is needed, we tend to build-up the sub-grade with a capping or improvement layer, using a lower grade of fill material, and keep the good stuff for the top 225mm layer.

12 Jul 2002
Tony, the term RV referres to Recreational viechles(motor homes). I am a little rusty on the metric systems any idea how many mm in 1 in.? I will be using a box blade on the back of a tractor this evening to remove the grass from the surface. Once I have removed the grass should I have the surface compacted before laying the crushed concrete?
Tony McCormack
13 Jul 2002
Aaaah! Now I understand. These RVs are like the van my missus has, a VW Type 2 camper, but bigger, I assume, given that this is in the US. What sort of weight are we talking?

As for the metric system, it really is time you Luddite Americans caught up with the rest of the world wink - the Civils trade in Britain has been metric since the mid 70s and we're even managing to convince the brickies and joiners in the Building Trade that metric is much easier than poles, perches, acres, yards, feet and inches. smiley

There are 25.4mm to one inch. 150mm is approximately 6 inches, 225mm is roughly 9" and 300mm is around 12" or one of your archaic feet.

Grade off the vegetation and allow for around 225mm (9" ) of sub-base, plus the thickness for the rest of the pavement. It's worth running the tractor or a roller over the excavated strip a couple of times, just to tighten up any loose stuff. A 225mm sub-base should be adequate for most vehicles up to around 7.5 Tonnes (7 US-ian Tons), but, if your sub-grade is suspect in any way, consider using a Geo-Membrane between the sub-grade and sub-base. This is fast becoming standard practice in Europe and is well worth the few pennies per m² (cents per square yard) that it costs.

Let me know how you get on, Alton.

Forum Question Road Kerb dropping - 2old4this - 14 Jul 2002
Hi guys
please help i have been told byBuckinghamshire County council that they will charge me £800 to have the kerb dropped for two cars. or get a licience from themfor £125 and get the work carried out by a sub contractor. dont know who to approach. please help
forum answer Tony McCormack - 15 Jul 2002
It's about the 'going rate' for a dropped crossing, I'm afraid. It's worth getting a couple of prices from local contractors to see if you can save a few bob, but I wouldn't build up my hopes. Many LAs price this so-called licence to make the contractors price un-competitive, so that the work goes to their DLO, which is little short of a scam.

Further, many LA's have a list of 'approved contractors' that they allow to work on the public highways. They tend to have a policy of not allowing just anyone to undertake the work - the normally insist on Road & Streetworks certification and 5 millions quids worth of Public Liabilty Insurance.

Has the LA given you a list of approved contractors? If not, I'd give them a call to find out.

15 Jul 2002
I have got list of approved contractors but they are talking between £700 & £900 plus i have to £125 to the LA. thats too expensive
Tony McCormack
15 Jul 2002
The kerb and the public highway fall under the jurisdiction of the LA. You use their DLO, one of their approved contractors, or no-one. You CANNOT undertake this work yourself or use a non-approved contractor, otherwise you will be prosecuted.

I know it may seem petty, but it's done for a good reason, which is to stop any Tom, Dick or Harry digging up the public highway. Only those who have been properly trained in streetworks, and have the requisite insurance cover, are allowed to excavate in a public highway.

15 Jul 2002
thanks for your info & help
20 Jul 2002
Got a letter from my County Council tell me it will cost £990.00 based on a a crossing with 8 kerbs {7.3 m} dropping and one ramped kerb each side constructed across the footway and verge.

But if i get my own contractor he will need to carry 5Million of insurance & will require an Accredited  NRSWA  Supervisor and a £125 licience. looks i will have to have it done on a one car access

Tony McCormack
21 Jul 2002
Bear in mind that the dropped crossing has to be of a certain 'strength' to protect the services underneath (lecky, gas, water, cable, phone etc) and that, once it's done by the council or an approved contractor, the responsibility for any damage to those services lies with them, not with you.

Also, it's worth remembering that a grand spent providing a properly authorised and approved access to a driveway on your property would more than pay for itself if you ever come to sell up. Ask a local <spit> Estate Agent just how much off-road parking on a nice driveway adds to the value of you house - I bet it's more than a grand!

21 Aug 2002
Hi Tony

Can you you help i have gone for 6kerb dropping does that mean 2 ramp kerbs and 4 slopes?

the house next to me has there done 2 ramps and 3 slopes they LA charged them £530 and for mine they are charging £825 so why are they charging me £325 extra for 1 slope then the next door house

I am confused so please help me any other place i can contact so i can find out they are not ripping me off

Tony McCormack
21 Aug 2002
Hi again,

a 6-kerb crossing includes, usually, 2 droppers (what you call 'ramp kerbs', but what are properly called 'transitions') plus 4 crossing kerbs - the low level ones with a chamfer or bullnose that you can drive over.

I've no idea why you're being charged so much more for the one extra kerb. Have you asked the council? As they are both the Highways Authority and the Contractor, only they can tell you how they've arrived at that cost, and there's nowhere else you can turn for advice, unless you ask a contractor from their select list to price the work, which is where you were at a month or so ago!

I'd contact the council and ask them to check their price in the light of what they charged your neighbour for the same type of work.

21 Aug 2002
This is what it says in the letter,

Unless previously agreed the estimate is based on a crossing with 6 kerbs{5.5m} dropping and one ramped kerb each side constructed across the footway and verge cost £825

Tony McCormack
22 Aug 2002
Aaaah! Then you have 6 crossing kerbs, sometimes called 'centre stones', giving 5.5m in width PLUS the two droppers, giving a total of 8 kerbs, which is 3 kerbs more than your neighbour. They paid £530 for 5 kerbs to be altered - that's £106 per kerb. You're being charged £825 for 8 kerbs, which is a mere £103.12 per kerb, so you're actually better off by 3 quid a kerb!

I'll have a pint of bitter, please. wink

22 Aug 2002
pint of bitter any time m8
27 Sep 2002
Can you tell me what the law is when you have had the work done? some guy has moved next door and is parking his car half way in my driveway had a word with him but with no luck it is a council property & i own my place. i thinking of using my camcorder will the police come out and deal with it or not
Many thanks
Tony McCormack
27 Sep 2002
If it's a public highway (either the footpath or the road itself ) there's nowt you can do, but if he's parking on private property that belongs to you, then you have some redress, but the police won't want to get involved - they'll only refer you to a solicitor.

If it was my private driveway and some a***hole neighbour was parking on it, refusing to be sensible and reasonable about it, then I'd get myself a big warning sign and one of the clamping devices, and clamp the bugger with a...oh, let's say 150 quid release fee! smiley

27 Sep 2002
Why have i paid £825 for the kerb dropping when i cant get access into my driveway? i thought by law noone is allowed to park outside your home once the kerb is dropped
Tony McCormack
27 Sep 2002
You've paid the council to alter their carriageway so that you can gain access to your private driveway. The carriageway still belongs to the council/Highways Agency, not to you, and you cannot stop anyone, be they freind, neighbour or stranger, from parking on a public carriageway.

If your neighbour is blocking your access to your driveway, then they are inconsiderate, but they are not breaking any laws. You paid to have the kerb line altered, not to buy exclusivity to a section of the public highway.

29 Sep 2002
I just had 3 quotes to construct a vehicle crossing Tony.

3mtr wide going to 4.6mtr with dropped and 2 angled kerbs. That gets from the road across the pavement to the grass area in front of my boundry wall, then there is another 2.9 x 3mtr wide stretch across the grass to the wall.

First quote was £2100
2nd   £1600
3rd    £1135

So if I keep getting quotes it should get to the stage where I can afford it!!

All the above are on the councils list of approved contractors.

Of course to add to the above is planning application fee of around £160 ( I live on an A road) and an inspection fee £77, plus someone to draw up the plans.

All that and it just gets you to your boundry wall, then you need a rail for a cowboy to tie his horse to so he can do his worst on your front garden while trying to form a driveway!

Still pointing here boss!!<S>


Tony McCormack
30 Sep 2002
Have the council themselves put in a price, Mike, or is it all approved contractors?

By the way, I had a bloke on the 'phone Saturday morning - his contractor has just finished his patio, and there's a few flags rocking still. They want to seal the joints by brushing in dry sand and cement. I told him to read your thread in The Craic and see if he still wants to pay them! wink

30 Sep 2002
The last lowest price was from the "council" Tony although its not really the council any more as they are a private company Serco who won the contract for doing all the councils normal work like this and street cleaning etc.

You sure the guy with the rockers hasnt got the same contractor<G>
I was in our high street the other day and my "specialist" drove past me trying very hard to make out he didnt see me!


11 Oct 2002
on some places where a kerb has been dropped i have seen the council put a white line across the pavement.. anyone know what that is for
Tony McCormack
13 Oct 2002
A white line on the footpath or on the carriageway? Is this a standard thermoplastic line, as used for road markings, or is it just a spray paint line?
13 Oct 2002
its a thermoplastic line
Tony McCormack
13 Oct 2002
On the carriageway it means 'Keep clear for access' - a sort of double yellow but not as strictly enforced. smiley
13 Oct 2002
do the council charge for it can i have one done
Tony McCormack
13 Oct 2002
You'll have to ask. Some LAs include it as part of the service when they've installed a drop crossing; some charge it as an extra and some won't allow it, no matter hoiw hard you beg.

Give them a call in the morning.

Forum Question Cement 'lifespan' - Harry Worrall - 17 Jul 2002
What is the 'shelf life' of cement?
Unlike everything from Tescos, no 'best before' date is printed on cement bags.
I have a bag of cement purchased a year ago, opened then but subsequently kepy in its paper bag, inside a plastic bag and in a dry, heated storeroom. It looks OK with no signs of hardening.
Is it still usable?
Many thanks for an excellent site, not only informative but a pleasure to read.
Best regards, Harry
forum answer Tony McCormack - 17 Jul 2002
Cement 'perishes' with age. It might not look any different, and it might still set (just about) but its strength is gone. Modern packaging and additives keep it 'fresh' for about 2 months, but in an ideal world, it should be used within a month or so of purchase.

That bag of yours, Harry, is knackered, I'm afraid. sulk

Forum Question Cleaning bricks - Matt Taylor - 4 Aug 2002
Hi Tony,

finally got beyond the digging up clay and filling skips stage. And am now slowly building a retaining wall around the patio (btw, I'm the guy who was asking about granite setts, drainage, clay,... about two months back).

The first length of the wall seemed to go well (but quite slow: why am I such a slow bricklayer only about 10 an hour sulk

However, I laid a second length the other day, finishing quite late, so I just left the bricks and was going to clean the mortar off them the next day.

I have cleaned off the mortar now. However, the bricks (Class A Staffs Blues from Ibstock) seem to be stained from the mortar.

Is there any way of cleaning off this staining?

Is there some chemical or something that can be used but which will damage the colour of the bricks themselves?

And one final, almost rhetorical, question, why am I such a messy bricklayer? I seem to get the stuff all over my brickwork. Could it be too runny? I've been using 1 part sulphate-resisting Portland cement, 3 parts soft sand, 0.5 parts lime about about ¾ or so parts water.

Thanks for any advice you can offer

forum answer Tony McCormack - 4 Aug 2002
Hi again, Matt,

to clean those Staff Blues, use a brick cleaning acid. It won't affect the bricks, but it will shift the last bit of staining from the spilled mortar. Make sure you're wearing gloves and goggles - see the Removing Stains Page.

To help tidy up your bricklaying, keep your mortar stiff - it should stand in peaks, not slump down; it should retain trowel strikes, not fold over on itself, and it should not drip water when squeezed in your hand. Try using a plasticiser - that makes the mortar workable but sticky, with less added water.

When you lay out the bedding mortar, remove the excess from the edges before placing the bricks, so that when you press down the bricks as they're laid, they squeeze the mortar out to the edge, not over the edge. Remove any excess as soon as the brick is tapped down to level.

Bricklaying isn't rocket science, but then, it's not the sort of thing you can learn in a day. Go for accuracy and cleanliness, rather than speed. 10 bricks per hour isn't too bad - on site, that'd earn you almost 16 quid a day! wink

Let us know how you get on - with pics, if you can.

Forum Question Removing yellow paint spray - 2old4this - 6 Aug 2002
Council use a can of yellow paint spray to mark the places where work needs to be carried out my contractors like when they come to do the kerb dropping. so i can move the line futher down about two kerbs to save money?
forum answer Tony McCormack - 6 Aug 2002
Eh?? Are you asking can you 'cheat' and create your own marker line an extra two kerbs width?

Well, you could, but ;you'll probably be rumbled. Not only do they spray-mark the kerbs to be swapped for a dropped crossing, but they make a note about how many replacement kerbs are needed, so that the Donkeys doing the work know what to bring with them. Also, most councils have a set width, usually 2.7m (3 kerbs) for a single driveway or 4.5m (5 kerbs) for a double.

Risk it, if you want, but I'd put your chances of getting away with it at less than 1 in 10. After umpteen years on the Highways, the Council wallahs have seen every trick in the book, and you're not the first to try this one!

6 Aug 2002
thanks for the info

i will think about it and let you know if i go ahead

Forum Question Collapsing Foundation Trenches - Old dog - 21 Aug 2002

i posted this in the Craic but I think I should have posted it here insytead so here goes....

I've had a bit of a problem with the foundation trenches I've dug for a conservatory I'm building.

The ground has never been disturbed before and is orange clay with very large flint nodules in it. The footings are 450mm wide and 600mm deep but we had some heavy rain and some of the sides have collapsed.

As the concrete is due in a couple of days I was hoping for a quick fix and the only thing I can think of is to line the collapsed sides with concrete paving slabs on end, back filled with soil to keep them in position then do the pour as normal.

Would anyone know if this is...a) a good idea and b) would work? I know timber would not be a good idea as this would rot away over time leaving a void to the side of the foundations.

Thanks for any ideas

forum answer Mike - 21 Aug 2002
Surely the use of wooden shuttering (removed after the concrete has set) for your foundations would be little different to the case of subterranean foundation blockwork, where the trench has to be back-filled anyway after blocklaying? Timber would be easier to set up than paving-slab balancing, wouldn't it?

Just my thoughts as an amateur.... - Mike -

Old dog
21 Aug 2002
Thanks for the thought Mike but I have very restricted space and not enough room to dig out and put in the wooden shuttering. I could slip some form of wooden shuttering down the side of the trench but would not be able to dig it out after.
Thanks anyway.
Tony McCormack
21 Aug 2002
The usual method is to use 18mm timber ply to line the sides of the trench, then run "walers" along the face of the ply and use "bracers" to span the width of the trench between the walers. 24 hours after pouring the concrete, the shoring can be removed, quite easily, and anything that then falls in can be shovelled up.

Walers are normally quite strong, buit you would get away with something like 75x25mm timber, an dthe same for the bracers with such a relatively shallow trench. The ply shuttering will wriggle free of the concrete after 24 hours, no problem.

You could use the flag-on-edge, if you prefer, but it'll be a right ball-acher getting those flags up out of the trench once the concrete has been poured. That's why we use timber - much lighter and easier to manipulate.

Old dog
21 Aug 2002
Thanks a lot for that
Forum Question Retaining wall design question - Matt Taylor - 21 Aug 2002
Hi Tony,

it's Matt, with the excavation, setts and speedy brickwork down in London. smiley

Remember I wrote that I was building a retaining wall around the patio area, as the remainder of the rear garden is now going to be higher.

This retaining wall is going to be on three sides. Two of the sides are the boundaries with my neighbours. The third side separates the patio from the rest of the garden.

Because of the height difference (even after the patio is laid, it will be approximately 25 cm lower), I was going to have a step in this third side to get up to the level of the rear garden -- call me lazy, but stepping up 25cm (especially on a hungover Sunday morning) creating some bulky gardening stuff for the next 20 years does not sound like fun to me.

Anyway, my initial idea was just to have a single stepped portion maybe about a metre or so wide. But then today I was wondering what it would be like if the entire third side (about 5 metres high) was stepped.

I was using single-bullnosed Ibstock blue Class A engineering bricks for capping the retaining wall. So I was thinking of something like 112.5mm for the first step done so, another 112.5mm for the second step and then just skim off a bit of soil in the garden to make up those last 25mm.

But anyway, design-wise (and looks-wise), which do you think would be/look better?

A one-metre wide step somewhere along the wall?

Or the entire five-metre wall stepped?

thanks for your advice,





just realised: one further question.

How best to do the stepping?


It will look something like the above, except that the top of brick A (the single bull-nosed brick) will be about 37.5mm above the top of brick B.

What is the best way to make up for this 37.5mm gap?

Also, should brick C overlap brick A at all?

Thinking of normal stairs in the house the answer seems to be no, but I just thought that I would ask first before getting onto that.

I've turned into quite a defender of the building trade (when not cursing them for all the usual reasons). There are so many design questions that come up in the course of doing work.

And a corollary of this new role as defender is that I've become quite sceptical of d-i-y writers: "laying bricks. oh that's easy, just lay them in a straight line". Arghh!!

thanks again,

forum answer Tony McCormack - 22 Aug 2002
First of all, what's this 112.5mm? That's the width of a brick PLUS the 10mm joint - the brick itself is only 102.5mm wide, and that is nowhere near enough for a step tread, not for a safe tread, at least! You can get away with a 225mm tread, ie, 1 brick length, but I always reckon 300mm is much, much safer, and 450mm is ideal.

It's always worth spending a bit of extra time with steps such as this as, if you made them with 102mm wide treads, you'd be cursing yourself everytime you slipped down them, whereas, if you spend a couple of extra hours and another 25 quids worth of bricks, you can make a really impressive 1200mm wide step, with 300mm treads that are safe and will look professional.


I know what you mean about some of these DIY writers. I was involved in putting together a website a couple of years ago that was supposed to be the UK's leading guide to DIY - some of the eejits Der Mannidgement had lined up for that should never have been let off the reins. I wouldn't let them repair a Doll's House, let alone leave them unsupervised with brickwork or electrickery. wink
Matt Taylor
23 Aug 2002
Hi Tony,

thanks for that and for the impressive graphic -- beats my ascii diagram hands down!

The 112.5mm comes from the size of the single-bullnosed bricks.

The way the curve on them is, when laid they are 102.5mm high (+10mm for mortar) and 75mm wide. This is, of course, the opposite of ordinary bricks.

I was thinking of having 225mm of the tread. Don't think I can do 300mm or 450mm treads due to the width of the footing (500mm).

I could do (and here's another great demonstration of my artistic abilities) the following. Again, this is the cross-sectional view (a bit worried about those joints that line up though).


As for the width of the steps. It seems that you believe that having them 1200mm would be more attractive than having the entire 5 metre wall be terraced into two steps?

Just checking.

thanks again for the advice!

Tony McCormack
23 Aug 2002
Aaah! I'm with you now. I should have checked the Ibstock Book of Building Fun before assuming the brick sizes. smiley

225mm for the tread is the abso-bloody-lute minimum I would consider for a garden step. Ar you sure you couldn't squeeze in another half-brick width and get that up to 300mm?

On the decision as to whether to go with a full width step or a specific step around 1200mm wide, then I prefer the focal point of a single step, as this guides users to/from the upper garden, whereas a full width step is more of a terrace and would look better with a wider tread that could be decorated, or cluttered, if you prefer, with pots and ornaments.

But, at the end of the day, it's you that has to live with this, not me, and you know your garden and how you use it far better than I do, so the decision has to be yours. The specific width step forms a focal point and, with a couple of small pillars either side, it would look quite stylish, while the full-width step is more open and informal.

Forum Question Sewer Benching - Vman - 26 Aug 2002
I like to know if anyone knows if there exists a pre-fabricated form of sewer benching?
forum answer Tony McCormack - 27 Aug 2002
There are pre-formed manhole bases, usually polypropylene, which have the benching moulded in place, but, apart from that, there's no way of pre-fabricating the benching as most MHs and ICs are one-offs, that's why they use a granolithic mortar for the benching.
Forum Question Sealing a sub-floor - als - 9 Sep 2002
Has anyone got any ideas on how to solve the problem of the bitumen course that seals the ash/ gravel/soil underneath a suspended wooden floor being knackered, over the years with occasional traffic its completely broken up, this leads to higher levels of water vapour/condensation/mould. Would laying a visqueen membrane over the top be ok. Any other ideas
forum answer Tony McCormack - 9 Sep 2002
Visqueen would be my first idea, but I'd consult a basement/sub-floor specialist, as there may be other considerations. I know that some sub-floors are now shaped to fall to a sump to alleviate any waterlogging problems, and there is also some issue regarding ventilation, but it's out of my usual sphere of work, so I'd definitely seek professional advice.
Forum Question DPM under or above the slab? - Old dog - 18 Sep 2002

I am in the process of putting in the floor for a conservatory I'm building but I have a question about the damp proof membrane (DPM).

Can anyone explain why the DPM usually goes under the concrete slab? I have already laid my sub base (MOT type 1) and plan to have 100mm concrete slab on top followed by 50mm insulation and a 50mm screed.

Rather than lay a sand blinding over the sub base then the DPM and then the concrete slab I'd prefer to lay the concrete straight onto the sub base then the sand blinding then the DPM, insulation and screed. Can anyone see a problem with this or a reason I should not do it?

By the way, the top of the slab will be below the DPC so it's not as if the slab will break the DPC line.

Thanks a lot for any advice or comments.

forum answer Tony McCormack - 19 Sep 2002
The dpm protects has two roles....

1 - it protects the entire floor, including the concrete, from damp and from attack by corrosive minerals/salts that can be carried by the groundwater.

2 - it ensures the mix water in the concrete is not 'sucked out' by a dry sub-base. The strength of the concrete is dependent on the water:cement ratio, and if the mix water is drained out by the sub base, or allowed to escape into open ground, it can adversely affect the curing process.

So that's why the dpm goes below the concrete. smiley

Forum Question Planting new hedge - Max Ali - 19 Sep 2002
Hi Tony,
Looks like the house opposite me will be knocked down to provide an access road to some new houses which will be built in other peoples back gardens. I'm fighting against it but am also making plans in case it gets the go ahead.
The entrance to my driveway will be right opposite the new road. When people come down the new road at night the headlights will shine straight onto my property. I want to prevent this by putting new hedging where my current drive is and then moving the drive to a new position within the garden. I have a 80' frontage so am able to do this.
My question is how far down should I dig my existing concrete drive in order to plant some mature beech hedging. Also there is a water meter within 1 ft of my gate where the new hedges will be planted. Could this be affected by the hedge roots? I had all of the pipework from the meter into my house replaced 2 years ago.

Thanks very much

forum answer Tony McCormack - 19 Sep 2002
The beech hedging will need to be planted in reasonable soil, so you'll need to cut back the concrete and excavate it full depth, as well as removing any sub-base that my be present. Once you've exposed the earth beneath, then you could 'improve' the soil by forking in a few spadefuls of garden compost or leaf litter to help get the young whips established.

Remember that a decent beech hedge will be 600-900mm wide, so you need to plant the whips on a centre line and make sure you have 300-450mm clearance to the edge of the remaining concrete.

With regard to the water meter, I'd guess that you'd be ok, as these new meters tend to be fairly decent yokes that are root-proof, but it may be worth checking with your water supply company. If any part of the meter casing (the vertical 'pipe' that contains the meter itself) is exposed during your works, it might be worth wrapping it in a root barrier membrane, for extra security.

Max Ali
19 Sep 2002
Thanks for that. I already have a beech hedge in place either side of the existing gate so that will give me my centre line. It is about 8 foot high. I'll let you know how things go if I have to go ahead
Forum Question Slab for oil tank - andyfr - 22 Sep 2002
Hi Tony

I have to lay a concrete slab for an oil tank to act as a bund. The size is 1.8m x 3.2m. Can you tell me what mix to use for this please? I am going to get a concrete mixer to do the job myself so would appreciate any tips on using one.

When the base has gone off I will build the containing wall around it and butter it with cement, do I need to add anything to it to seal it?

Thanks in advance


forum answer Tony McCormack - 22 Sep 2002
Use a C30 equivalent for the slab, and it should be 150mm thick to take the weight of the oil tank, so you'll need 3.2 x 1.8. 0.15m = 0.9m³ of concrete.

There's the standard recipe for C30 concrete on the Concrete Mixes page. You'll need around 400kg of cement, 600Kg of a grit sand and 900kg of 20mm gravel, all mixed together with about 200 litres of clean water. A plasticiser will help with the mixing and make it a bit easier to work.

As for the brickwork, the usual spec for an oil bund is 225mm Class A Engineering brick laid with a Class II mortar (you butter the bricks with mortar not cement! )

The height of the wall is calculated according to the slab size and capacity of the tank. The bunded area has to be sufficient to contain all the oil should the tank itself leak/burst when full. So, if you have a 1,000 litre tank, and the slab size (excluding brickwork ) is 3.0 x 1.6m, that gives a plan area of 4.8m², so the bund height would need to be at least ....

(1,000 / 4.8 ) = 210 mm high

....which would probably be increased to 300mm in reality, so that the oil isn't lapping at the lip of the bund.
23 Sep 2002
Thanks very much Tony. I did of course mean mortar to butter the inside with, bit of brain fade there!

I intend to get the cement from Wickes and there is no weight on the bags, do you have any idea what one weighs please?


Tony McCormack
23 Sep 2002
They're all 25Kg bags nowadays, thanks to the wimps in Brussels.

Eeeeh, when I were a lad..... wink

Forum Question Hardstanding query - andyfr - 25 Sep 2002
Hi Tony

The second part of the project after moving the oil tank (my previous post) is to construct a hardstanding for a compact tractor weighing about 1500kg. I was originally going to have the garage extended but the price the brickies wanted to do the job has shot up in the last three years so I am going to build a weatherboard structure on to the side of the garage myself.

The question is what do I do for the base? Concrete, slabs or block paving? The size of the base will be 5.5 metres by 3 metres. What would your recommendation be please?

If concrete I assume that it would need to be 150mm thick with DPM underneath. Would I need to have mesh reinforcement? Should I do it all in one go or in strips? (I will be mixing on site with an electric mixer) My biggest concern is that I won't get a smooth enough surface - when they laid the slab for the garage they used a power float.

If slabs, I would use 400mm square as they are easier to handle but the most affordable ones are only 25mm thick.

The blocks are obviously thicker but from reading the section on the sub-base I would have to construct a concrete slab anyway.

When I worked out the rough cost of materials there didn't seem to be a lot in it but maybe I missed something! Possibly that the sub-base for the blocks is as costly as a concrete slab. smiley

Sorry for the length of this post but I am trying to price all the materials and plan the job and want the best solution.



forum answer Tony McCormack - 25 Sep 2002
I'd opt for the concrete base. It's simple, it's slightly cheaper than the other options, and it offers the possibility of erecting a timber or pre-cast structure on top of it at some later date.

If you opt for the small-element flags, then the 25mm thick stuff won't last more than a month. Given you're planning to park up a 1500kg machine, you need to use the 65/70mm thick units at least, and they need bedding on sand over a sub-base of at least 100mm thickness.

Block paving would be fine, but you're paying for a decorative product (albeit a damn strong decorative product ) when all you need is a hardstanding.

Plain concrete, reinforced with poly-fibres, 100-150mm thick, laid on a dpm over a sub-base 100-150mm thick will be the best choice. The thickness of concrete and sub-base depends on existing ground conditions and whether you plan to trundle anything heavier than 1500kg across the base. If the ground is iffy in any way, use a 150mm sub-base, and possibly use a geo-membrane to maintain structural integrity. If the 1500kg tractor is the heaviest vehicle to use the base, then 100mm of fibre-reinforced concrete will be sound, but if you plan to use it for, say a large van, a full-size tractor etc, then play safe and use 150mm of concrete.

25 Sep 2002
Hi Tony

Thanks for the quick response smiley. I think I will do what you suggest and go for the concrete base.

Sorry, a few more questions now.

1. Should I do a C20 mix?

2. I will be using ballast in the superbag (I think that's what they are) from Travis Perkins so assuming a 100mm base how much ballast and how much cement would I need?

3. Can I get the poly fibres from TP?

4. As I am using an electric mixer, would I be better to do it in sections or can I just keep mixing and pouring until it is all done?

5. I haven't used a mixer before so should I clean it out between batches?

I know it has been said before but Great site and thanks for your invaluable information.


Tony McCormack
26 Sep 2002
To be frank, Andy, I'd use readymix. You need somewhere around 1.65m³ of concrete, and that's a hell of a lot of mixing in one of those small 'lecky mixers. Keeping the mix consistent and getting it all done in one go is a lot of work for one man.

Phone your local concrete co and get a price for 2m³ delivered. Barromix or Spotmix will even place it for you!

But, assuming you're determined to earn your pint, here's the answers to your Q's....

1 - C20 if you use readymix - go for a C30 if mixing your own.

2 - 700kg of cement and 3000kg of ballast - roughly

3 - possibly. If not, you can get them from a local concrete company for around a fiver per bag, and you'll need a couple of bags. Roughly.

4 - You need to get it all done in one shift, otherwise you end up with what we call 'day joints' which are weaknesses. Not a problem on large jobs, but undesirable on a small job such as yours. If you can get a mate to help, or if you've a missus like mine (she'd batter that Charlie Dimmock with one hand tied behind her back, nay bother!! ) then you should be able to do it in one day. Roughly. wink

5 - No - just make sure it's cleaned out when you've finished.

When are you thinking of doing this?

26 Sep 2002
Quote from TonyMcC on 11:33 pm on Sep. 25, 2002....
When are you thinking of doing this?

Within the next few weekends hopefully. I agree that it would be better to get readymix but as I can only do it at the weekend it's getting a dry one up here (near Inverness). If I ordered a batch and it p!$$&$ down then it is a total waste. At least if I am mixing my own then I can leave it for a dry day.

Did you ask because of the risk of frost?


Tony McCormack
26 Sep 2002
Yes, I was going to arn you about the frosts which should be with us any time now.

Going back to the readymix; if you order it in advance and then it turns out to be persisting down on the delivery day, they allow you to cancel and re-schedule at no extra cost. smiley

1 Oct 2002
Hi Tony

Well I got the slab down for the oil tank at the weekend. I was cream crackered by the time I had finished. There is no way that I would consider doing the hardstanding in one go by mixing on site.

I know that you said to go with the concrete slab but as it is a small load and they have to travel over 15 miles it makes it expensive. I am doing it on my own so will have to do it in stages which is why I was thinking of bedding blocks into wet concrete smiley

My thoughts are to put down a 150mm sub base and compact it. Then to mix concrete and spread to 50mm and lay the blocks in the wet concrete. This would allow me to work in sections as time and weather allow. Would this work or I am completely off my trolley!

The reason for choosing blocks instead of slabs is that there is only about 40 difference in price and they are a lot thicker.


Tony McCormack
1 Oct 2002
Why are you wanting to bed the blocks on concrete? Fair enough, the edge courses should be laid on and haunched with concrete, but the main body of the pavement can be laid on a suitable grit sand. Laying block pavers on wet concrete is a total bloody nightmare - what you're trying to achieve is known as Rigid Paving and its construction is much more labour intensive than standard, flexible block paving.

Stick with flexible construction. It can easily accommodate your little tractor and it's so much easier to lay.

2 Oct 2002
I thought that it would have to be done in concrete to make it solid. If I can do as you say then that is much better. Should any cement be mixed with the grit sand?


Tony McCormack
2 Oct 2002
Nope - just clean grit sand, as described on the Flexible Block Paving page. smiley
Forum Question Foul water pipes and slabs - Steve W - 28 Sep 2002
I am in the process of building an extension on the back of the house. I have laid the footings and now need to lay a floor slab.

The problem is that there are drainage pipes from the toilet and everything else at the back of the house. Which travel the length of the house to the manhole at the end of the house.

To lay the slab I have to move the pipes, but I can't think of a solution.
We still have to use the existing drainage but I need to lay the slab..........

Any ideas?

forum answer Tony McCormack - 28 Sep 2002
Your architect and/or the BCO should have resolved this issue before you started construction.

Building over sewers really is a last resort. It's much better to re-align the pipelines so that they lie outside the building line (by about a metre ). If this is not possible, your BCO/architect will have to advise as to how they want to resolve the issue - this may involve encasing the existing pipeline in concrete and converting any ICs to air-tight chambers, but it's just not possible for me to say without being familiar with the project.

Speak to the so-called 'professionals' on Monday.

Forum Question Horse Walking Surface - Concrete Chris - 25 Oct 2002
First congrats and thank you on a great site.

After completing succesfully my first concrete job (a new muck heap) and learning from my mistakes I am in a quandry about my next job and whether it is in my abilities.

I have an area about 144 m² where we have just chopped down some trees. It slopes gently. We are going to put a horse walker in this area. I need to do the sub-base, to level the area and do the circular shuttering for the concrete. I have a few worries:

1. I am getting mixed opinions on the base: do I need to get the tree stumps out?
2. Is it better to dig down or build up?
3. One friend has recommended planings as the base as he thinks I will not get my shuttering pegs into anything else. I am worried this will go mushy.
4. It seems to me for this area of sub-base the cost is going to be at least 1000 pounds for the material (I have a digger) so is it worth the hassle to do it myself ? I am keen.

Any other comments would be useful.


forum answer Tony McCormack - 25 Oct 2002
Hi Chris,

Tree stumps - yes, they should come out as they will rot down over time and create voids beneath the concrete which could lead to subsidence.

Dig down or build up? It doesn't really matter. On some sites, you could dig down for metres and still not find a decent sub-grade, and so it would be better to lay a geo-membrane and build up with a quality granular material, while on other sites, you can find damned solid clay just 300mm below the surface.

Planings - I have a deep aversion to road planings as a sub-base material for a number of reasons...
1 - they are asphalt/bitumen based, and therefore degrade over time and can result in subidence or settlement.
2 - they are 'sold as seen' so you can end up with cunks or with dust. Rarely do you end up with a good mix of solids and fines that privides a sound sub-base with adequate interlock.
3 - they have a nasty habit of holding water.
4 - they are not that much cheaper than a good quality recycled Type 1 material and I'd rather invest in a good qualoty 'underlay' that I know will give me years of trouble-free service, rather than save meself a few quid and then face the prospect of having to dig up the lot in 2-3 years time if it goes wrong.

Finally, if you're not sure whether it's worth getting your hands dirty installing the sub-base yourself, then get a local groundworker to give you a price for taking on the job. Only when you know what it would cost you to bring in a 'professional' can you make an informed decision as to what represents the best value.

Does that make it any easier?

Concrete Chris - 20 Nov 2002 Thanks for the reply. In the end we had a contractor do the work as I ran out of time. The contractor did not do a proper survey when quoting, but thanks to the stuff I have learnt from this site I managed to get a few choice requirements into our negotiations which he then had to stick to when he found out he had bitten off a bit more than he thought. To give the contractor credit he did not complain and did a great job. I got a relative bargain. All goes to show how useful this site is.

Thanks again


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