Traditional Easter

Easter weekend and DIY – as British a tradition as toast and Marmite 🙂  We have been no exception, although I had to bow out gracefully today because I’ve pulled a muscle in my back.  We’ve made progress though.

Mick has plasterboarded one of the dormers upstairs.  Originally this was just a flat ceiling, but I wanted it opened up and I’m glad we have, though it’s going to be a git to plaster.

Talking of which, I’ve nearly finished plastering the kitchen – just the sides of the chimney breast and the window to go.  Mick started to sand down the dried stuff, but his lovely new random orbital sander worked for about 15 minutes and then the motor burned out, so that’s going to be a phone call to the place he bought it tomorrow!

While I’ve been plastering, Mick has been plumbing and the shower mixer is now plumbed in and plasterboarded over.  We thought we could hear a drip, but when Mick took the right-hand sheet of plasterboard off, everything was bone dry and we couldn’t hear it any more, which is a bit strange.  We’ve left the plasterboard off for now and will investigate properly next weekend.

Spoils of my last shopping trip – black slate to tile the shower with, a mosaic tile for a border, teal paint for the double bedroom, grey for the living room, platinum for the bathroom (which will have one dark grey feature wall opposite the shower) and sage green for the single bedroom.

Pete’s done an amazing job with the fireplace.  The mortar has faded as it’s dried (the close-up was taken on Friday, the wider angle today) and all he has left to do is clean the stone up and then he can fit the stove.  I’ll be asking David to finish it off by doing a return back to the stone and then a simple wood frame around it, painted white.

I heard back from my friendly mortgage broker on Thursday.  He wants to approach two different lenders and asked me to fill out a chunky form with all our financial information and send it to him, together with Mick’s payslips, my tax returns and copies of our credit reports.  I’ve pulled it all together over the weekend and emailed it over today, so all I can do now is cross my fingers.

Starting to feel like we’re getting somewhere

I’m not quite sure how it’s got to be Thursday already, but this week has passed in a blur and Pete, James and Connor have got an awful lot done.

The kitchen has been plastered:

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coated with bitumen:
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and then the liner was put down and the concrete floor re-poured. Try getting through THAT, damp!!
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The same’s happened upstairs in bedroom one (minus the floor liner), as that gable end faces the sea and takes a battering:

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And they’ve also sorted out that wobbly stone under the window:

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and picked and pointed the gable end in bedroom two (I’ve decided to keep that fireplace as bare stone and not put the little surround back in, by the way):

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So the inside is more or less ready to hand over to Dougie and David, once the floor’s set in the kitchen – only we’re having trouble tracking down David!  The problem with using someone widely acknowledged to be one of the best joiners in the area is that he’s very in demand.  Pete could really have done with him here this week, but we think he’s been working down at Forsinard where there’s no mobile signal, as no-one’s been able to speak to him.  By ringing his home number at 9pm last night, Pete finally managed to speak to his other half, so fingers crossed he might be able to start with us next week, as Dougie will be back and ideally we want the studwork to go up for the wiring to be run down (and I need to know whether he’s using 3×2 or 2×2 so I know what thickness of insulation to order!)

Outside there’s progress as well.  The scaffolding is up on the back and the roof tiles are off:

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That membrane does make it rather blue inside!

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And after a long weekend down the road at our neighbour’s house after they were delivered to the wrong address on Friday, Travis Perkins came back on Wednesday and brought the roof slates up:

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And, of course, one of the most important bits – care and feeding of your roofing team!  It was cheese and chive flapjacks today:

baking - cheese and chive flapjacks

I also had a visit from ERG today to quote me for the windows and door.  Before they arrived, I looked out the paperwork from when ours were done three years ago and noted that 2 doors and 10 windows came to £8,800 – so considering that I was wanting 1 door and 5 windows, my estimate in the budget of £5,000 seemed about right.  Er, no, their prices have gone up a bit.  List price £8,300, 20% returning customer discount brought it down to £6,640.  I made the time-honoured tradesman ‘suck-through-your-teeth’ noise, he asked how much I was hoping to do it for and we ended up shaking hands at £5,812.  The surveyor should be coming round in the next two weeks to measure up more accurately and then it’s 6-8 weeks for manufacture and delivery, which will be about right for my schedule.  The front door will be dark green outside, white inside and part-glazed.  The windows will be white inside and out, with oak window sills and door and window furniture will be silver.  Once the exterior is painted just off-white, it should look pretty smart!

Tomorrow Callum is coming to sweep the three chimneys.  I’m not sure how many years it is since they were last done, but Derek the heating engineer made the same suck-through-your-teeth noise when he looked up the living room one as we were discussing the woodburner, so I think it’s going to get messy….

Game over on the fireplace

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Well, I was right.  When Pete called in for the key this morning, he said the absolute best prices he could get from his insurers and from the people who’d provide the steel to support it would price the job at £2,200.  Now, spending that on opening up a single fireplace would be fine if we were doing a cottage in, say, Oxfordshire, which was going to be worth in the region of £500,000 when finished, but for house prices up here, it just doesn’t make sense.  Plus Mick would be forever worrying it was going to collapse with guests in situ and, as he pointed out, it might be horrible behind all that stuff anyway.  So it will be swept out (must ring Calum the sweep next week…) and hidden behind plasterboard and be a little secret for someone else to uncover the next time someone decides to strip it back to bare walls in another 100 years’ time 🙂  And in the meantime we’ll lavish a bit of extra care and attention on the two perfectly nice fireplaces we’ve got at the other end of the house.

As you can see, Pete and Connor have been busy today, cutting out the kitchen floor and plastering up the wall ready for spraying with bitumen on Monday.  Under 4cm of concrete, they found some of the original flagstones set into the bare earth.

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And the deliveries have started!  A big Travis Perkins lorry came down the village this afternoon, dropping off a load of stuff for Pete and the replacement Velux windows – we’ve gone for the conservation-style ones with the bar down the middle, so they’ll look a little similar to the original roof lights.

Time to start spending

Pete dropped round yesterday to have a chat about the kitchen fireplace and deliver his quote. “Caroline,” he said.  “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you want to open up this fireplace?”  I had a think about it.  “7.5.”  “Ah.  Not a 3 then.”

The fireplace has been causing headaches.  Pete’s consultants have been trying to work out the load on that wall, but because it’s a rubble wall (i.e. constructed out of random sizes of stone) rather than standard bricks or blocks it’s (a) difficult to calculate the weight and (b) difficult to predict how it will behave – because there’s no structure to it, if it starts to collapse then worst-case scenario the whole gable end could come down.

That said, they haven’t said ‘Don’t do it’, it’s more a case of ‘If you do, be very careful’!  They think that an RSJ at the front and back of the fireplace should work (both are needed in case the wall starts to twist), but obviously this is based on best guess.  Insurance-wise, Pete can get an extension to his normal insurance to cover the work.

Mick and I had a chat about it – I knew what my gut instinct was, but wanted to see what he thought, and it turns out we feel the same: if we don’t at least try, then every time we walk into the kitchen and look at that wall we’re going to wish we had.  So I sent Pete a text to say that we would like to go ahead with it, but we don’t want to put pressure on him to do a job he’s uncomfortable about, so if he has reservations then we’ll cover it over again.

Anyway, the quote.  When Pete first looked at the job last year, he said a thumb-in-the-air guesstimate was that a straight roof replacement would be about £12,000 and indeed, that part of the quote has come in at £12,485, including sorting the chimneys out.  However, once you add in the four new Velux conservation-style windows and the joinery work, that goes up to £15,301.80.  On top of that we have separate quotes for the other work we’ve talked about::

Supply and fit new half-round guttering system, including over joist hangers to front and rear £967.00
Pick and point upstairs gable ends internally (I checked, this includes sorting out that loose stone under the bedroom window) £1,172.00
Remove floor section in kitchen, tank to 1m, fit waterproof membrane and re-pour floor £940.00
Re-harl front section of wall after removal of fascia board £340.00

Once they’ve picked the upstairs gable end, it may be decided that we’d be better off tanking it, in which case Pete says he’ll do it for the same price.

Time-wise, they just have to get the ridge tiles on their current job (which they’re not going to manage today, by the looks of the weather!) and finish cleaning up site and then they’ll be over, so their gear should start arriving on site towards the end of next week and then they’ll start the week after – which is when I have to pony up the first third of the bill!

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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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.

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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