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.

One year on

Unbelievably, it’s exactly a year today that we got the keys to Ethel’s.  That was the day we confidently expected to be welcoming our first guests when we got back from holiday in October – how wrong can you get??  Right now, I’m crossing everything very hard that we might just get our first visitors this summer!

Mick has spent most of the day down there putting up the kitchen ceiling, so Dougie can now fit the ceiling lights in the kitchen and bathroom, and Derek has said he’ll be here on Wednesday to finish installing the heating.  Assuming he does get it all done in one day, I can then ask David to reserve us a few days in a fortnight’s time to get the downstairs floor laid and install the kitchen.

Once Mick was back to dog-sit (our young collie is going through a phase of eating things he shouldn’t when left unsupervised during the day), I went down the road to get to grips with my new toy.

Appropriate gear was donned (this is SUCH a good look for me….)

After a couple of false starts before I worked out I could turn the speed down a bit (I’m sure the small chunks it took out of the rail will buff out), I got to grips with it.  The sanding reel seems best for the spindles, but the little flapper disc has done a great job on the groove in the bannister.  Unlike the random orbital sander I was using before, I do have to remember to sand with the grain using this.

With potential heating next week, I also needed to check we had some heating oil.  No glass level on the tank, so I found a stick and we appear to have about 4 inches left.  I should be okay to leave ordering until April.  One annoying thing is that the main filling hole is padlocked and none of the keys we have seem to fit it – either that or it’s rusted shut.  I think the tankers can fill it using the smaller one, but they’re not keen on doing it because it slows them down.  The little spike thing with the wire appears to be some sort of wireless level-checking device, called a Watchman, made by Kingspan Environmental.  I’ll contact them and see if it’s possible to get it working, as I’m guessing Ethel and John never used it.

The final job down there for the day was to feed the ladies, who were most unimpressed at me being late.

It was a beautiful evening – dare we hope that there’s a touch of spring in the air?  This was taken on the way back up towards Ethel’s from the sheep field on the point.

Is that a room I see?

Dougie turned up on Thursday and got David to plasterboard the two kitchen walls which will have units on them for him so he could draw out the kitchen on the walls and mark where all the sockets and switches are going to go.

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It turned out I had a couple of decisions to make about things I hadn’t even thought about – like did I want all the switches for the appliances separately by each appliance or wired to one block of switches (as it’s a small kitchen, I went for the block – less wall space) and where did I want the control unit for the central heating (it’s ended up on the wall outside the bathroom door)?  Dougie’s advised me I need to ask Derek to move the water for the sink a few inches, as it’s currently straddling the sink and the washing machine, and also to lengthen the stopcock or I’m going to be reaching through a hatch in the back of the sink unit *and* through a hole in the plasterboard to turn off the water.  We need to remember to leave access for the boiler’s filler loop too.

Mick has spent the weekend down there and did a bit more plasterboarding and the kitchen is actually starting to look like a room again.

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Upstairs, David has made cracking progress with the framing and Mick has been able to get some more insulation in.

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Where the dwangs are gives an idea of the panelling height, although I need to ask David about the fireplace because he’s framed over it rather than doing a return to show off the stone – this is likely my fault for saying I was panelling all round the room and not clarifying that I still wanted the fireplace exposed.  I may not be popular when I see him next…  I don’t know whether he’ll be getting to us next week, but looking at the weather forecast only Tuesday is scheduled to be wet, so fingers crossed we might see Magnus getting started on the painting.

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Sorry Royal Mail

So I’m very impressed with B&Q.  Not only did they get my paint to me on Saturday (the delivery estimate was Monday) but the cashback also tracked as a percentage of the full price of £580 rather than the discounted price of £400 (which I guess may change before it’s paid out).

The problem is that Royal Mail up here isn’t really set up to deliver 100 litres of masonry paint, so when all the boxes turned up at the sorting office in Thurso, they filled three parcel yokes on their own and wouldn’t fit into the postman’s van.  So James the postman was asked to come and knock on my door during his normal delivery round to see if I was going to be in at 3pm, which I was, and they put them into a van of their own which they gave the driver who comes round collecting from all the postboxes to deliver to me.  Absolute gold star to Royal Mail for that one!

The boxes are now taking up a big chunk of my annexe and I now have a bit of a problem.  I got the quotes through for the kitchen and the plain Burford and the Burford Tongue and Groove were the same price, so I get to have my T&G 🙂  The issue is that it’s their stock take at the end of the month, so the quote is only valid until 29th October, but if I order, pay for and take away my kitchen by that date, they’ll give me another 10% off.  Which would be no problem if it was flatpack, but Howdens’ units come ready-built.  I think for an extra £264 off I will make them all fit somehow…

First look at the kitchen!

Howdens emailed through the kitchen drawings for me over the weekend, in Burford Cream, Burford Tongue & Groove Cream and Tewksbury Antique White.  I like the Burford T&G the best, but may go for the plain Burford if there’s a serious price difference.

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While we were away, Dougie seems to have doubled the amount of cabling in the house and David has framed out the back wall of the kitchen, so that meant this week Derek and his team have been able to start running pipework. Mick’s been getting on with some more insulating as well.

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New stopcock!  No more washing up basin required whenever you turn the water on 🙂

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Flow and return pipes running through the kitchen ceiling up to…

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…the landing, where the manifolds will be hidden in a cupboard.

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Now David’s framed the back wall in the kitchen, Dougie reckons he can finish the wiring off in there, so he’ll be back for a day this week.  David has been tied up preparing his sheep to go through the sale ring (he’s cutting down on numbers), but they went through the mart yesterday, so I’ll drop him a text tomorrow and see if he’s able to get the framing in the bedrooms finished, so Mick can clear the insulation out of the living room and get it fitted.

Much to my relief, I got home to another revised Council Tax bill from the Highland Council – they’ve accepted that the house isn’t currently habitable and dropped the 200% charge.

Let there be paint

“You need Magnus,” said Pete the Roofer, when I double-checked with him that I’d understood all the stages I needed to go through to paint the outside of the house.  Magnus has an air-free paint spraying system that does a beautiful job on houses and was subsequently recommended to me by two more people, but I was also warned that he was very busy and could afford to pick and choose what jobs he took on.  Well, I got his number, tried to call him, got thwarted by a dodgy mobile signal, sent him a text – and this evening got one back saying he’d been to have a look and was interested in doing the job, weather permitting 😀  (Maybe word has spread about the cake!)  He asked me what colour from the Sandtex range I’d like:

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White paint is traditional, but Mick and I agreed a while back that if we went for Brilliant White, with it facing east we’d probably blind the two houses opposite until midday in summer, so wanted something a bit warmer, but not too yellow.  Out of the ones above, Cotton Belt is my top pick, but if Ivory Stone works out significantly cheaper due to it being available in 10l cans, then I can live with it!  Magnus has warned me we’re going to need about 160 litres to paint the whole house, so £35 for a 10l can versus £20 for a 5l can is a saving of £80.  Of course, the other way of looking at it is it’s only £80 more to have the colour I really like…  We’ll see what the quote comes in at 🙂

ERG came on Friday and it was the surveyor who’d come in initially to measure up rather than the fitter, I’d misheard his name when he rang.  We cleared up the slight confusion caused during his first visit when he’d thought I was simply the keyholder for the house rather than the owner, and he’s gone back to ERG with my proposal that rather than paying my joiner’s estimate, which I was never expecting them to do in the first place, they simply remove from the invoice the amount allocated to finishing off the insides – I’m sure they must be able to calculate the materials and labour cost for that.  Jeff helpfully told me that in future, if I find myself pulling apart a house on another project, I can ask for a first fix quote, which I wasn’t aware they did.

The Howdens kitchen designer was on holiday until yesterday, but I dropped my drawing off on Saturday so it was there waiting for him and was very chuffed to be told it was one of the best drawings they’d been given – usually they get something scribbled on the back of an envelope!  It was clear enough that the guy who took it thought the lady who helped out by drawing up the plans would be able to get started, so I’ll call in tomorrow when I’m in town and see how they’re getting on, as Dougie is now running out of things to do until David and Derek move forwards with the framing and pipework, and having the official kitchen plan would mean that he could finalise the wiring in there.  He made an heroic effort single-handed at the Kentish apple cake on Tuesday after Derek got diverted to another job!

Travis Perkins delivered some plyboard today, which is for putting down over the top of the underfloor heating when it goes in, so we won’t squash the insulation by treading on it directly but don’t have to lay the engineered wood floor while we’re still making a huge mess.  The delivery guys were fab and even had the good grace to tell me I was the first person to make the joke about their hi-vis jackets, though I suspect I wasn’t (when you spot one of them has ROBIN printed in large letters on the back of his, you naturally ask the other if his says BATMAN, right??  It didn’t, it was GARY, but I’d be getting a marker pen out if I was him!).

I had a nice friendly email from the Council Tax people today explaining what I needed to do to get the bill back down to 100% from 200%, so I’ve gathered up all the invoices from the last month, scanned them into a PDF and emailed them back with a list of what we still need to do, when we expect it to be done by and an open invitation to inspect the property any time they like.  Fingers crossed they issue me with a revised bill.

Council tax catastrophe!

I had a pile of post to open today and one of the letters was from the Highland Council.  “Oh good,” I thought.  “They got my email about extending the 50% council tax discount because the house was still uninhabitable.”

Yes, they did – and it made them look at their records and realise that the house had now been unoccupied for more than 12 months which has triggered their punitive 200% council tax rate!!  So I have a bill for £1,121 for council tax and water rates between September and the start of the next council tax year.  Ouch.

I have one hope of getting it reversed.  On the council’s website is a Long Term Empty Property Discretion Application Form and one of the allowable reasons for the 200% charge being delayed for up to 12 months is:

The owner is finishing renovations prior to moving in or selling or letting and can demonstrate that these works are progressing

I’ve filled it out and tomorrow I’ll photocopy the completion statement for the roof, the interim invoice for the rewiring and the quote for the new heating system, explain it still has no kitchen or bathroom and invite them to visit any time they like and with a bit of luck I’ll at least be able to pay normal council tax rather than double.

Anyway, onto happier things.  Derek, David and Dougie all came over on Tuesday morning and we had a very productive 45 minutes.  We’ve ended up agreeing that the best thing to do is take the heating manifolds out of the kitchen altogether.  They’re going to go on the landing, in the same cupboard that will hide the electricity cupboard.  It means the landing will seem very narrow, because the cupboard will run the length of it, but it’s going in space you couldn’t walk in anyway because of the roof slope, and it means I can put a carousel in the corner unit in the kitchen rather than having to put a false back in for the heating stuff.  So Derek will be back on Tuesday to start running pipes through the joists.

While they were here, Dougie and David measured up the kitchen and came to an agreement about where the stud wall would be and therefore how much space I had to put kitchen units in.  I’ve spent this evening redrawing the design to fit and will give Howdens a ring in the morning to see if we can pop in on Saturday and just talk it through with someone.

Pipework on Tuesday means that we need to get that Quinn Therm cleared out of the living room, so we’ve been working down there in the evenings again.  My job was to take out the last remaining bits of plasterboard in the bathroom and I found a lovely wooden lintel.

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Mick has been carefully cutting and fitting the 100mm Quinn Therm into the roof, but had a quick practice with one sheet of 25mm in the kitchen.  Bye-bye fireplace….

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David gave me his estimate for doing the window sills and I think there may have been some coughing and spluttering at ERG’s end (to be fair, I think it included some work that ERG wouldn’t have done) because I have one of the fitters coming up in the morning to have a look and see what needs doing.

All talk, no action

We’d hoped to be cracking on with fitting the Quinn Therm this week, but Mick’s mother has been unwell, so he’s been busy making sure she’s okay and I don’t want to start cutting into expensive insulation without supervision, at least not the first time I do it!

That doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs, I’ve been literally talking the talk today.  Dougie the electrician called to say he thought it would be a really good idea if he, Derek the heating engineer and David the joiner all got together on site with me (and Mick if he’s not at work) to have a meeting about where the heating manifolds are going to go and how we’re going to disguise them.  It’s a very good idea, so I’m doing my utmost to make it happen.  He’s going to be here next week, Derek is flexible for days and times next week and I’m waiting for a reply from David – fingers crossed he can do next week as well, because once I know how far that manifold is going to be coming out from the kitchen wall and how that affects where the kitchen units can go in, then I can finalise the kitchen design and make myself that Howdens appointment.

ERG also rang me to say that Billy had the door situation under control and would give me an update soon and what was the situation with the window sills that were mentioned in the ‘work to be completed’ section of the job sheet?  Well, when the salesman came round to see me, I chose oak window sills, however I’m not sure the surveyor who came round noticed them on the paperwork (he started off by telling me it was only four windows and no door on his list!), as the two guys who did the installation said they weren’t on their job sheet and they hadn’t been given the materials – however, it would have been tricky to fit them without the framing in place.  So I’ve told ERG that I would be equally happy with either option out of (1) I call them when the framing’s done and they come up and do them or (2) they take the cost of materials and labour off the final invoice and I’ll get David to do them – they’re going to think about it and let me know.

This is the bit of the whole project so far that I’m least comfortable with.  Buying a house?  No problem.  Talking to financial institutions?  No problem.  Stripping out a house?  No problem.  Discussing project with tradesmen?  No problem.  Sorting out a problem with some work?  I come over all British and apologetic!  Mick reckons I’m too nice about things like this, but I’ve spent nearly 20 years working in customer or client-facing roles of one kind or another and know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a complaint and, even if the customer’s being nice, it’s not the best part of your working day.  Hopefully we’ll get this resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Kitchen design

Dear Internet, please sense-check my kitchen plan!  Click the link below to open up a PDF of my drawing.

Kitchen scale drawing

The crossed units are the wall units.  Annoyingly, a sheet of A4 was 2cm too small to do it at 1:10, so I had to do it at 1:12 and the morning after my brain is still hurting from the maths!  I thought I had some graph paper as well, but no.  Manuscript paper a-plenty if you want me to write you a tune at any point…

Anyway, if I’ve done anything particularly stupid with the layout, PLEASE let me know – I’ll be getting feedback from my electrician and my joiner as well as, hopefully, Howdens when I get them to price it up for me.  I know the wall units don’t match up with the base units on the sink side, but I love that plate rack so much that I wanted to fit it in somehow.

 

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….