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….

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!

Mick’s big week off

So my lovely husband decided that he needed a week off work, since he hadn’t had any time off yet this year, and last week he put in a massive effort to get the house more or less ready for the trades to start.

He got a little over-enthusiastic in the bathroom – we’ll have to rig up a sheet for some privacy!  Pete, Dougie and David all know each other well, but possibly not THAT well!!

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Bedroom one – wall ready for raking out and repointing.  You know that the hot water cylinder was there a long time when there’s a perfectly circular dent in the floorboards.

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Studwork removed between the rooms upstairs – that’s standing in bedroom one, looking through bedroom three/the landing to bedroom two.

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Lime plaster coming off downstairs.  Still waiting for the final verdict on supporting that lintel, which means it’s not a ‘No’ yet!

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Living room lime plaster coming off.  I’m sure there are probably better, safer and faster ways to do it than knocking it off by whacking it with a hammer, but I did that wall in the second and third pictures (and about a wall’s-worth in the kitchen) and it’s bloody good fun!  On a more practical note, I am a lot happier with my balance on a stepladder than I was before I started.

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He really did pick the right week to take off – we’ve enjoyed some stunning weather here over the past 10 days.

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So we are more or less there on the stripping out part of the job.  Upstairs has now been swept up and is ready to go.  Downstairs we still need to bag up and remove the lime plaster on the floor, but decided that a better breathing mask were required first – the filters for it arrived today, so we should be able to get tidied up downstairs by the end of the weekend, particularly since the Rayburn was rehomed today to someone who’s prepared to give it some TLC and restore it (and he very kindly brought us a bottle of whisky to say thank you!).

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!