Floored

Firstly, if the Highland Council is still reading, thank you very much for putting the council tax back down to the 100% rate.  I will do my utmost to get the house finished and onto business rates by the end of the council tax year!

David has been in for a day and a half this week and now we have a floor upstairs.

Twin bedroom – turns out that the underfloor heating plus 18mm chipboard (turns out we hadn’t ordered 22mm after all!) was exactly the right height to match up with the 3 x 2 round the window.

Hall – this will be covered up by a cupboard.

Double bedroom

Single bedroom

I had a bit of a scrub at the bannisters, just to see how easy it was going to be to sand the paint off.  The bannisters themselves should be fine, but the understairs cupboards not so much – I can see about three layers of paint there.  Fortunately Mick has a sander, so I won’t have to do it all by hand with sandpaper.

Today has been a sheep-wrangling day – our area is bad for liver fluke, so since my brother-in-law was staying, we took advantage of the extra pair of hands to get them penned up and dosed.  Two brothers looking very pleased with their herding efforts!

They also hung gates in the gateways between the three fields (they’d been removed before we bought the crofts), so catching them next time might be a bit easier, as I’ll be able to at least confine them to the small field rather than having them racing around all three when they escape!

Frog swallowing

Anyone else swallow frogs?  The saying stems from the thought that one should swallow a live frog first thing every morning on the grounds that nothing worse is likely to happen to you that day (or the frog, for that matter…).  Getting the maps done for the decrofting application has been a frog that’s been growing in size steadily over the past month or two, so last night I held my nose and swallowed it.

I need to ring the Department today (or the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspectorate Directorate, to give it its proper name, but SGRPID is tricky to pronounce, so everyone calls it the Department), as they are the representatives of my landlord (the Scottish Ministers) and see if I need an appointment to get a signature on the forms to say they approve of the application or whether I can just drop in.

What else has been happening?  Mick has been working hard on his improvised plasterboard-cutting table

and as a result we have three separate rooms again upstairs, plus Derek and his team have finished laying the underfloor up there.

Last of the insulation going in upstairs

Bathroom ready for the pipework for the shower.

Corner edging in place

We had a Rembrand delivery on Thursday.  Mick had ordered some more plasterboard and the 22mm chipboard sheets to go over the underfloor heating upstairs and had arranged with them to ring my office phone when they were close so I could go down and help unload.  Now, every time they’ve been here in the past, it’s been around 10.30-11am, so when I got down the road at 9.15 to feed the sheep I was a bit surprised to find the order neatly stacked outside the front door.  The problem was that moisture-resistant plasterboard sheets weigh 26kg (or about 57lbs) which is over a third of my bodyweight and we had a fairly stiff breeze of about 35mph coming directly from the south, which meant that the 8×4 plasterboard sheets and 8×2 chipboard sheets (which themselves were about 15kg each) turned into giant sails, blowing me around with them when I picked them up.  After a bit of a false start when I tried to take a plasterboard sheet straight into the living room, got it wedged between the stairs and the front door and had to climb out of the living room window, I got the 8 plasterboard sheets and 30 chipboard sheets inside and stacked up in about 45 minutes.  Seems a winter of heaving 25kg sacks of sheep feed about has its uses!  David’s away at a wedding at the moment, so once he’s back he’ll come and lay this for us, then it’ll be ready for underlay and carpet.

I also had a surprise gift – John, Ethel’s former partner, turned up with this and has refused to take any money for it, because he reckons he put the barn roof on in 1991 and it should have been good for a few years more yet.

For those of you going, ‘What on earth…???’ it’s a Massey Ferguson fingerbar mower (the second blade is in the shed for sharpening) and it means I now have all the equipment I need to make my hay without outside assistance this summer, though I suspect I shall be on the phone to John going, ‘Help!’ the moment something breaks down!

Post-Christmas progress

WARNING:  lots of pictures ahead!

One of the things I forgot to mention in my last post is that the Highland Council decided to give me a Christmas present of putting me back on 200% council tax as of 25th December.  I’ve sent them an email explaining that the house still isn’t done and attaching scans of the latest bunch of invoices and letting them know they can follow progress on this blog, so hello to the Highland Council council tax department if you’re reading this 🙂

So, what’s been happening in the last fortnight?  The stove arrived:

and Pete and James turned up to put the replacement hearthstone in, very, very carefully!

David’s put all the internal studwork back in, has been panelling like a demon and has also replaced all the rotted/woodworm-y floorboards.

We hit a bit of an issue last Friday.  We were forecast gales on Thursday night, not particularly high – gusting to about 65mph or so.  As I was walking down to feed the sheep on Friday morning I saw an SSE van in the village and a flapping power cable.  ‘Wonder what caused that?’ I thought.  The next field I passed was Ronald’s, who lives in the house diagonally opposite Ethel’s.  There appeared to be a heap of twisted metal in it.  ‘Crumbs, some poor sod’s lost their roof,’ I thought.

Er, yes, that poor sod would be me – the haybarn roof had completely gone!

Talking to the SSE guys, they said it looked like it had come off in one piece, bounced off the power cable between Ethel’s house and Ronald’s with such force that it snapped four cables as a result, knocking out power to that end of the village, and then bounced in Ronald’s field, breaking up on impact.  In the picture of the field, you can just make out a piece of wood stuck vertically in the ground to the left of the telegraph pole.  That had driven in over a foot deep.

Mick came home from work and we cleared out all the wood from the stalled byre, finding the chains for tethering the cattle in the process – there’s a selling point!  “If your children misbehave whilst on holiday, simply tether them in our handy cattle stalls…”

And I really must take this sofa to the tip.  Ethel got it for the front room, but decided it was too big, so it’s been living in a cattle stall ever since.

Anyway, the hay is all safe and sound, the wood is in the roofless hay barn and we’ll get a new roof on it once Mick has decided whether or not he’s going to rebuild the front wall, which is bowing out a bit.  Back to the house.

David, bless him, came over on Saturday to finish the last little bits he needed to get done before the heating team started.  I am LOVING the way the bedroom alcoves have turned out – how’s this for a bedroom with a view?

Derek turned up on Monday with his team and Dougie was on hand to wire up the manifold.  Heating is now going in 🙂

Holes are starting to appear for sockets and switches.

And once the pipework is done for the bathroom, the last bit of plasterboarding can be done.

So it’s just finish the heating, get the floor down, install the kitchen and bathroom, decorate it and make a garden.  Easy-peasy, right??

Nearly ready for heat

Happy new year!  I spent it getting plastered…

(Top tip: old bank cards make great miniature floats for skim when you’re filling in plasterboard screw heads!)

Actually, I’ve spent most of the Christmas break concentrating on breathing, as Mick kindly gave me an extra Christmas present of the lurgy going round his workplace, but while I only managed to do a few hours of hole filling, he has spent nearly every day of the holiday down there and has got a LOT done.

Plasterboard and insulation going up in the hall.

The kitchen windowseat has been done as well – just need some edge protector to finish that off.

He even managed to plasterboard the ceiling over the stairs.  I’m not sure I want to know exactly how he managed that – apparently it involved those two lengths of wood poking through the bannisters and a piece of chipboard…

David very kindly gave us some time between Christmas and new year as well, and has made good progress with the panelling upstairs.

And the framing for the internal walls is going back up as well, so it’s starting to look more like a house again and less like a shell.

David has been back this week too, replacing the damaged floorboards and finishing the framing, and Dougie has been finishing up the last bits of electrics needed, so hopefully we’ll be all set to go for Derek and his team to start putting the heating in on Monday 🙂

Men in brave pants

I was feeding the sheep this morning when the gate rattled open behind me and in drove Pete and James with their ladders.  I was surprised to see them because although they’d said they’d be here this week, it was pretty gusty and expected to get up to 60mph today.  Their thinking was that if they didn’t do it today, it wasn’t going to get done until after Christmas, thanks to storm Barbara, so they thought they’d come along and give it a go.

By the time I’d gone home, fed the dogs, done a bit of work and then decided to go back down to start tidying up anything that might potentially fly through one of my lovely new windows, they’d done the north chimney and were onto the south one.  The sealant they’ve painted on is very, very runny, almost the consistency of water, and Pete said it was running down all the stonework apart from that one problem block we’ve identified, where it was just sucked in straight away.

That was the second coat on anyway (they’d done the first yesterday but I’d been out), and it looks like its effectiveness is going to get a thorough testing over the next few days, as forecasts are now saying that people living on the north coast should prepare for gales of 100mph or more and heavy rain.  I fear Christmas lunch this year may be a pizza cooked on the top of the woodburner by candlelight!

I’ve picked up all the loose bits of wood and guttering and stashed them in the area between the house and the byres, along with the wheelie bins.  The pile of old plasterboard out front now has large breezeblocks holding it down and the cooker, small chest freezer and chest of drawers we turfed out of the hay barn over the summer have all been laid down on their sides.  I may lose my hay crate – I don’t want to lash it to the fence yet, because the sheep are tucking in well, but I’ll tie it down on Thursday, as I suspect the sheep will all hunker down in the gorse bushes.

Anyway, thank you to Pete and James, who definitely had their brave pants on today – I even got them to pose for a picture for the blog for me, though promising to put the Land Rover in it possibly was the deciding factor for James agreeing to do it 😉  Pete on the left, James on the right.

She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice…

…because she has a lot to do before the second week of January and she’s sure she’s going to forget some of it!

The Monday after we went to see the little gatehouse, I had a phone call from Derek the heating engineer.  “Small problem.  The supplier’s having a stock take and wants your system out of the warehouse before it happens.  I don’t suppose I could deliver it on Friday?”  Well, not to the annexe, no, as that’s still full of the Howdens kitchen!  So I said we’d clear out bedroom one for him and it duly turned up – it didn’t take up quite as much space as I’d feared.  Amazing to think there’s a heating system for an entire house packed into those boxes.

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I was going to help Derek unload it, but when he arrived it was to tell me that he’d already done it all and to drop off the invoice for it (which I was expecting, so the £3,840 wasn’t a nasty surprise just before Christmas!).  We talked about timings and he’s free the second week of January, so we agreed to aim for that as an installation date.

Of course, that meant panic mode on.  Before we can get the heating installed we need to:

  1. Fix the leaking chimney
  2. Get the framing for the internal bedroom walls done
  3. Finish all the insulation and plasterboarding
  4. Get all the tongue and groove in place around the upstairs walls

A few texts later and I had Pete on standby for a break in the weather, David booked over Christmas (and he’s said he’ll go into town and collect the tongue and groove so he can pick out good pieces rather than us just getting a banded load) and Dougie made aware of the installation date so he can be on hand for electrics as needed.

Part one is now underway after Pete and James turned up yesterday for further chimney investigations (in James’ rather lovely old flat-bed Land Rover after the van had an unfortunate incident with some black ice and a bus…).  Although they didn’t get the three-hour rain-free gap they needed to paint the sealant onto the chimney stacks, they did cap the two southern ones (they’re big 10″ pots, which isn’t helpful in terms of rainfall collection) and think they’ve discovered the source of the issue in the norther one.  Have a look at this crop from a photo from the summer, taken before the chimneys were picked and pointed.

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See that big patch of mortar on the chimney?  This is what it looked like after Pete had taken it off.

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And when Pete and James went up there on Friday, they had a look at that stone just above the roof, with the notch cut into it, and found that it was so saturated with water that if it had been a sponge you could have wrung several buckets’-worth out of it.  It’s a piece of sandstone, about the size of a shoe box, and it’s very porous, so rain is soaking into it and trickling down into the house.

The problem is that it needs to be dry before it can be sealed and at this time of year that’s just not going to happen, so the new plan is for Pete and James to go up there next week on a dry day with a couple of heat guns and dry out the surface of it enough to get the first coat of sealant on it.  I do love a good creative solution to a problem!

Mick is carrying on with the plasterboarding when he’s not at work and has now got enough done upstairs that David can put the internal bedroom walls back in when he’s here next.

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And finally a very specific tip for anyone who’s having a roof replaced and has sheep – the wooden crates that slates are delivered in make fantastic hay feeders!

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It’s amazing what you can do in two days

We had David and Dougie for two days last week and they’ve got a lot done 🙂

Dougie has been tunnelling again – we now have holes in the wall and cables for the outside floodlight, the satellite dish and a switch for all the external lights.

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Inside, the cable runs are just getting more and more wires in them – this was taken standing in the hall and looking up, so all these are running underneath the landing.  I have to confess, I had absolutely no idea how much wiring was in a modern house until now.

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Not to be outdone, David has been working away in the kitchen and spotted a problem – two of the joists weren’t actually resting on anything, they stopped just short of the window!  One quick trip home (fortunately he lives about 6 miles away, which is just round the corner in Highland terms) for a suitable bit of wood and problem solved.

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The framing is up in the hallway and around the front door.

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And the first of my window seats is taking shape – I LOVE it!  Eventually that wooden fence will be replaced with wire stock fencing, so there’ll be less of an interruption to the view.

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And last but by no means least, my wonderful husband has been cracking on with things as well.  The living room ceiling is completely plasterboarded over.

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He’s started on the coombes upstairs – if you’re wondering why he’s not gone all the way to the floor, that’s where the tongue and groove panelling is going to be.

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He’s also put in recessed dwangs ready for Dougie to attach the socket backs to.

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Pete dropped round today.  He’s been trying to get his hands on a beautiful piece of Caithness slab that he’d spotted way out west of here for me to use as a replacement hearthstone, but after weeks of gentle negotiation its owner has decided not to part with it.  Instead he gave me a 2″ x 2″ stone sample to check I was happy with the colour and will get it cut exactly to size at the quarry for me.  The quote for a 75mm-thick piece was over £700, which he choked at a bit, so since it’s a woodburner going on there rather than an open fire (i.e. no direct heat) and the floor’s being raised by the underfloor heating anyway, we’re ordering a 50mm piece and Pete will raise it to the right level – a far more reasonable bill of £350 for that stone and you won’t be able to tell the difference.

David is back tomorrow, I hope, and I must remember to ask him (a) when I need to order the tongue and groove, (b) how much of it I need to order and (c) which supplier he would prefer me to get it from, if any.  Tomorrow he’s hoping to get the window seat in the living room done and perhaps put in the studwork for the internal walls upstairs again.  It’s going to feel quite strange not having it all open up there any more.

Stress-testing the roof

We’ve had a bit of Weather over the past few days.  Not as bad as it can get up here, but winds gusting into the 50+mph range and heavy rain with it.  By Monday morning we had one slate off, one slate lifting and a small puddle in one of the bedrooms.

Pete came over yesterday to investigate.  He’d noticed the slate that came off was loose when he drove past a few days previously and had made a mental note to come and sort it out, but it’s not letting any water in, so it’s not hugely urgent.  The puddle was a bit more of a worry.  Mick, by this time, had spoken to some of his work colleagues who’d said that everything in their garages was soaking with condensation as a result of the unseasonably warm weather, so I put that to Pete as an option, who said it might be, or it might be coming in through the chimney somewhere.  Mick phoned him yesterday night with some more information about what moisture he found where and they came up with a plan of action to get the framing finished ASAP so the heating could go in, dry out the air in the house and then put the insulation back in and see if it happened again.

Except this morning I went down to feed the sheep and found bone-dry walls apart from three very long dribble marks all the way from above the tanking down to the ledge the gable sits on and a small puddle on the ledge.  My theory is that the chimney has a leak somewhere, it’s run down the wall and pooled on the ledge, only spilling over the ledge for the first time when we had some serious rain, but the presence of water behind the insulation has caused condensation to form – i.e. the condensation is a symptom rather than the problem.  I’ve updated Pete and when we get a gap in the weather and he’s free, he’ll go up and inspect the chimney.  Quite a few of the houses around here have some porous stones used in their construction, so if there’s nothing obvious on the stack, it may just be a case of painting it with a clear sealant.

Getting warm for winter

David has been framing like a man possessed and this morning Mick left our house at 7.30am saying he’d packed sandwiches – the result is that the upstairs is more or less completely insulated.

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The fireplace in the bedroom has been framed round now instead of going over it.

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Still not quite sure how I’m going to make a feature of that, but I went and picked up a stack of interiors magazines at the weekend, because once the plasterboard goes on, this is going to look scarily like a house I need to decorate!

The living room framing is mostly done as well – just the bits round the two large windows downstairs (and my window seats) to go, and then once Dougie has done everything he needs to, it’s plasterboard on and underfloor heating down.

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Exterior finished

I was down at the house for sunrise this morning, because I wanted to see what the newly-finished front elevation looked like at first light.  The aim was to have a soft white that wouldn’t dazzle the other people living at that end of the village, and I think we’ve got it about right:

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And in one of those ‘yes, we have been making progress’ pictures, here’s the original estate agent’s picture and one of the above from nearly the same angle:

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The total cost of the new roof, windows, door, guttering and paint is about £22,000 *gulp* but it has made a huge, huge difference and I’m over the moon with how it’s turned out.

Today I have David in finishing the living room gable end framing and then hopefully starting on the front walls and my little window seats, and Dougie now has the wiring spec for the underfloor heating from Derek, so is starting on that and will also be drilling the holes in the wall needed for wiring up the outside floodlights.  We had a chat about the kitchen – when he measured it out, it turns out the existing hot and cold feeds for the sink would need to be moved in our current kitchen layout, but if I put in a full-sized 600mm dishwasher instead of a slimline 450mm one, they’re in the right place.  However, that means I either need to have a slimline fridge freezer (which I don’t think would be a good idea, given that the nearest supermarket is a 52-mile round trip!) or move the fridge freezer to the corner by the window.  Happily it will fit in that corner and Dougie says wiring it there will be no problem, so that’s what I’m doing.  My homework for the day is to call Colin Chessor in Thurso and arrange for a reel of shotgun cable for Dougie to put the satellite dish cabling into the living room and all the bedrooms.