A tale of two fireplaces

The weather here today has been completely horrible – sleet, snow, hail and wind.  In other words, not ideal conditions for getting up on a roof, so Pete and his crew abandoned their current job up the road in Strathy and came to have a look at our fireplaces.

One end went REALLY well – this is what the living room fireplace now looks like:
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Those stones will clean up nicely with a wire brush, Pete will repair the back with matching stone and I’m going to try and find an old oak beam to put above the lintel – the plan is to box around it with the plasterboard and leave the stone exposed.  Although there’s a hearthstone there, the floor level’s going to be raised up with the underfloor heating, so if we can find a big enough bit of Caithness flagstone (or two bits to go side by side), we’re going to use that, as Pete says he can fit it for us – but has warned me that the three exposed edges need to be natural, not cut, otherwise it won’t look right.  We’ve got a couple of bits here and a friend of Mick’s has got some he’s willing to let us have, so hopefully we can find one or two pieces that work.

In the kitchen, things haven’t quite gone to plan.  The guys got the Rayburn moved out of the way and the fireplace was revealed in all its glory (husband included for scale! – he’s 5’7″)
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Pete carefully chipped out a corner of the rubble – it’s 17″ from the front of the lintel to the back wall of the house!
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BUT we have two enormous load cracks in the lintel (one shown below, the other is a mirror image).  Pete is doing the calculations to work out if we can still break it out by inserting a big sheet of steel into the wall under the lintel to support it – essentially functioning as an RSJ, but less visible.  Fingers crossed!
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Another find down the back of the Rayburn – this looks handcarved.
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Damp corner.  The concrete floor is going to be cut back, the wall tanked, a new membrane put down on the floor going up the wall and then the floor re-poured.
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I don’t know what wood this is, but it’s obviously tasty!
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Yet another vintage wallpaper, this time in the bathroom.
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Mick has made a temporary sign for deliveries – 75p of stick-on letters and a bit of wood and two screws that came out of the house!
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Making progress

So we’re pretty much there with stripping out the upstairs – you can now see right the way through from one end to the other.
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Last of the panelling gone.

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Someone left us a message from when the windows were done!  Coincidentally, that’s my husband’s birthday and the year we moved to the village.

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That’s two more window seats for the kitchen then 😀

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And a VERY old copy of the Press & Journal twisted up blocking a draft.

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It is starting to dawn on me that in a few months’ time I am going to have to decorate and furnish this house and I have no idea what I want to do with it.  Time to hit up RightMove and Pinterest for some ideas, I think.

One good piece of news, I had a revised council tax bill through yesterday – seems that they’ve decided to grant me the 50% discount after all.  Thank you very much, Highland Council!

Plumbing the depths

Mick was away this week, so I took the opportunity to ramp up my workload and earn some extra cash, which meant that nothing got done in the house until the weekend.

Derek the heating engineer came round on Saturday morning to (a) remove the existing central heating system (we needed the radiators off the walls to take the last bits of panelling off) and (b) deliver his estimate for installing underfloor heating and fit the woodburner.  He warned me that I’d probably need to sit down before I opened the envelope, but I knew from Googling that I was going to be looking at £75-£100 per square metre, depending on which method of fitting was used.  So to:
1.  Disconnect existing radiator central heating system
2.  Supply, install and commission 65sqm of overfit insulation boards, 4 rolls of edge insulation, 200m of 15mm layflat pipe, 6-zone manifold, 6 actuators, pump control pack and an under-floor control system.
3.  Install multi-fuel stove.
for £5,685+VAT (total £6,822) was more or less bang on.  It’s actually going to be a little bit more, because thanks to a miscommunication he thought that we were keeping the existing wetroom floor in the bathroom and so didn’t include it in his measurements, but it won’t add too much more to the cost as it’s not a huge room.

Hot water cylinder out, Rayburn unplumbed, kitchen counter gone, radiators stacked up ready to be stored.

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My job today – stripping out bedroom three.  That still had two and a half completely untouched walls when I started!

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Plank addressed to the house

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A very old nail left on the studwork behind the plasterboard and a card found down the back of the skirting board.

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Upstairs really starting to open up now – just the two bits of panelling in bedroom one to take out.  We’ve decided that (a) for safety and (b) because we don’t fancy trying to plasterboard that high over the stairs, the panelling up the stairs can stay in place unless any of the trades needs it taking out. 
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Lovely old hearthstone set into the floor – it’s a shame this will have to be covered up.

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This was my reward for carrying a huge pile of removed panelling from the second bedroom out into the byres on Saturday – I’ve been itching to see what was under this bit of lino and now the radiator’s gone, I could finally find out.

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Sadly, a bit of a let-down!
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And finally – us!  Mick tackles the pipework, Jura supervises from her favourite spot on the windowsill and I take a boilersuit selfie 🙂

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Stripped

Mick decided to take the day off on Friday, got the bit between his teeth and completely stripped the living room.

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Sadly no enormous fireplace on this end.  We did have a brief discussion about the merits of swapping the kitchen and living room over, but decided that the extra hassle and expense of replumbing probably wasn’t going to be worth it.  It just means we rotate the kitchen layout 90 degrees and drop the idea of having a big dresser against a wall for all the crockery and cutlery.  There is, however, a lovely old hearthstone in that fireplace 🙂

As the plasterboard came off, it was clear that there was a membrane underneath the concrete floor, which is why it’s dry.  Unfortunately it doesn’t go under the walls, so a little damp has got into the old lime plaster.  We’re going to pick it all off, let it dry out and take a look at the stone, then see if it needs tanking before we put the studwork back up for the insulation and new plasterboard.

Dougie the electrician rang on Saturday with his quote.  Bear in mind that this was the list we ended up with when he asked us what electrical things we wanted in each room:

Front room

Main BT socket
Satellite connection
3 x wall lights
2 x standard double sockets
2 x double sockets with USB chargers
CO2 alarm

Hall
Smoke alarm
1 x single socket
1 x ceiling pendant light

Bathroom
Electric shower to be changed out
Electric towel rail
3 x large (about dinner plate size?) recessed ceiling lights
Extractor fan

Kitchen
6 x recessed ceiling lights (standard spotlight size)
Cooker
Heating control system
Hob hood extractor
Small spots for lighting the food preparation surfaces
3 x standard double sockets
2 x double socket with USB chargers

Landing
2 x recessed ceiling lights
1 x single socket
Smoke alarm
Move meter from hall and bring in power here instead of through the front door
Low-level, fairly dim lights up the stairs, wired to a switch in each of the three bedrooms to light people up and down to the bathroom at night, without waking everyone up by switching on the main landing light

The two larger bedrooms
1 x central pendant light
3 x double sockets with USB chargers
Satellite dish connection
Ethernet connection
Smoke alarm

Smaller bedroom
1 x central pendant light
2 x double sockets with USB chargers
Satellite dish connection
Ethernet connection
Smoke alarm

What do you reckon his quote was?  Mick was thinking in the region of £6,500-£7,000.  I was hoping it would be about £5,000.  He’s quoted us £4,655.  I was so surprised that I completely forgot to ask what I needed to buy and what was covered in that list!  When he was talking about the stair lights, he said the ones he intended to use were in pack of six, so lights must be included, but I know that I’ll need to pay for the shower, the extractors, the towel rail and, obviously, the cooker.  What I’m not sure about are the cover plates for the light switches and sockets, so I’ll have to email him and check.

Since he says he’ll want to start upstairs and can begin in about three weeks’ time, we attacked the upstairs again this morning and made good progress in stripping out some of the last bits of panelling – now David the Joiner has confirmed that all the internal wood that isn’t a sarking board or rafter is non-structural and can be removed, we’re being a bit more adventurous with the pry bars!  Only one worrying moment, which was when I was breaking out some of the panelling below the window in bedroom one, put my bar against an enormous rock in the wall to brace it and the rock moved….!!  It’s completely loose, so it’s been pushed back into place and we’ll get Pete to have a look when he’s next here.  A little bit of wet stone under the window in bedroom two as well, but we’ve had an easterly with rain in it all weekend, and I think it’s just been forced in around the window.

I also got to grips with a power tool for the first time – I used Mick’s drill with a Phillips screwdriver head attached to remove the handrail up the stairs.  It took a couple of goes to get the idea that I had to keep it pushed into the screw even though I was using it to take the screws out, as that seemed a bit counter-intuitive, but 24 screws later I was quite comfortable with it.

Discoveries

It’s been a day of discoveries in the house.  We’ve spent the last couple of days concentrating on the kitchen, which we knew was going to be hard work, but our efforts are slowly paying off.  Pete the Roofer came over this evening to introduce us to Dave the Joiner, and it was great timing because we were able to ask him about a couple of things we uncovered that looked slightly worrying!

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Yes, it’s a very big crack and that whole white bit wobbles, but fortunately it’s old lime plaster and just needs to be knocked off the stone and picked out.

We made a good start on breaking through the plasterboard and oooh, look – is that a lintel I spy emerging?

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I think that’s definitely a lintel!

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Would you look at the size of that fireplace behind??  It’s blocked up with cement and rubble, but we’re going to get it opened up and see what’s there (subject to the crack in the side of the lintel not being an unresolvable structural issue…).  It’ll make a fantastic feature if we can do it!

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The remains of the pantry innards have been removed.

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And would you believe that behind the plasterboard we removed, we found at least five layers of wallpaper??

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I ended up making a collage photo of all the different ones we found that still had enough left to photograph the pattern – this is just the kitchen, remember.

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And finally, scratched into the plaster behind the wallpaper, three names – Ethel’s three children

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Anyway, the good news is that we’ve found nothing that worries Pete and the even better news is that he thinks he’ll be able to start on the roof in about three weeks’ time.  I’ve spent very little so far, but now the bills are really going to start rolling in.  Pete’s bill will be split into three, the first part paid when materials are delivered to site, the second at the halfway point (to be predetermined and agreed) and the final third once I’m happy with the completed job.  Time to start working out the best way to extract the cash off my 0% balance transfer offers.

Demolition Sunday

A phone call this morning from Dougie the Electrician, to go through the list I’d sent him of what I thought I wanted, electrics-wise, in each room.  In the main he agreed and of the things I’d asked his opinion on, thought that putting a connection to the satellite dish and a wired internet connection into each bedroom was a good plan, but as it was going to be a rental, wouldn’t bother with wiring the place for sound.  He also suggested that I put a smoke detector into each bedroom instead of just the hall and landing, which I thought was a good idea, as I’m sure legislation will eventually require it (at the moment, hall and landing would be sufficient for a three-bedroom self catering cottage).  He’s now going to price everything up and get a quote back to me.

I’ve had to work today 🙁 so Mick headed down the road to destroy a bit more house.  The internal doors are now all removed, ready to be thrown into the back of the truck and driven south (probably to Nairn, I need to get a quote) for stripping back to the original wood.

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We wanted to see what was behind those enormous window sills in the living room and kitchen, wondering if we could get enough space in the kitchen one to put the table there. So he broke open the living room one today and this is what he found:

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Lots of breezeblocks, which must have been put in when the window was enlarged in the ’80s, but see those two blocks on either side?  The *perfect* size for two small window seats – another job for David the Joiner, I think!  Boxed in with some nice oak, a comfy padded seat on the top and a coaster on the windowsill for a coffee mug or a glass of wine, it’s going to be a nice spot to sit and enjoy the view.

Then he moved into the kitchen and broke out the pantry cupboard.

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It’s amazing what a difference just taking off the door and removing the shelves has made, the room looks so much bigger.

A good week’s work

Mick and I have been cracking on with more panelling removal and we’re making slow but steady progress.  Pete the Roofer was going to bring David the Joiner round for a look this week, but Pete’s wife (who works with Mick) passed on a message that David has the lurgy that’s going round (or man-flu, as she put it!), so hopefully he’ll be recovered soon and able to come round and size the place up.

One of the nice things about spring starting to spring is that flowers are popping up all over the place outside:

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Inside, we’ve depanelled the dormer window in bedroom two and found this – I think the initials may stand for Harry Macdonald, Ethel’s husband’s uncle (if I remember correctly), who left the house to her husband.  (EDIT:  Thanks to my friend Elizabeth, it may also be Hughie Mackay, her mother’s cousin, a joiner who worked on a lot of the houses in the village.)

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It’s amazing how much more space there is with the panelling taken out of the top of the dormer window alcove – that thin piece of wood was only to fix the panelling to, so hopefully we can leave it open and maybe put a small armchair in there for a quiet reading spot.

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One unwelcome find in this room (and it’s not very clear on the picture, but trust me, it’s there) was woodworm.  Lots of it.  On all the roof beams on the west-facing roof.  It’s live as well, a bit of sawdust came out of the holes when I banged the beams with a hammer, so that’ll all have to be soaked with treatment stuff.

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It was when I was working in this room and Mick was working in the little bedroom next door that we realised we could hear each other so clearly that we could have a conversation in normal voices, despite being in separate rooms.  As our target holiday guest is a family with young to teenage children, we thought that Mum and Dad might not appreciate the lack of soundproofing at bedtime (for any number of reasons!), so we stripped off some of the panelling on the internal walls to see what was inside.  Answer?  Sweet nothing – that wood is the back of the panelling on the other side, so we can’t take down both sides or we’ll remove all the internal walls!

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The only other thing we’ve done this week is break into the living room fireplace – Mick has done a great job and it looks like it’s been filled in with concrete and bricks, so we should be able to enlarge it for the woodburner fairly easily.

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