A plague on both your houses!

I got a call from Dougie the electrician yesterday.  “Sorry I haven’t been up this week,” he said.  “I’ve managed to catch ringworm and I’m trying not to go near people as I’m very contagious.”  He’ll be back with us next week, but in the meantime he’s been talking me through filling out the online SSE form to get someone out to have a look at the house and tell me how much it’s going to cost to move the incoming power cable and the meter.  All submitted and they should get back to me in three working days, so fingers crossed it’s not going to be too expensive.  Dougie did get a fair bit done last week, we have another couple of holes in the house, one in the living room where the power cable will go out for a switch for the two floodlights that will illuminate the sheep fanks and one where the new mains power will come in.  The current one is only hanging on by the skin of its teeth!

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Actually, it’s no bad thing that he’s not here, because he really needs an accurate drawing of the kitchen units and it hasn’t been done yet.  Mick has a colleague at work who used to work for a kitchen company and still has the design software, so she’s very kindly doing it for us (I’ve asked him to find out what kind of cake she likes!).  David’s also been back working on his neighbour’s extension, so it’s just been Pete and his team working on the roof.

The sarking boards are all replaced where necessary and the slates are now going on.  James has set up a small slate-cutting workshop in the kitchen to hand-cut all the scalloped slates for the ridge row and the patterns.

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David realised he hadn’t asked us for enough wood, so the Rembrand lorry came trundling over with another 30 lengths and the guys now have a nice bench to sit and have lunch on.

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There are some replacement floorboards on the way from Allans of Gillock as well, but they’ve been a bit delayed due to the county show last weekend throwing out their delivery schedule.

Tomorrow I have to turn my attention to the fields again – we are forecast dry weather from tomorrow until Sunday afternoon, so John Angy and his tractor are coming up tomorrow afternoon to cut this little lot for me and hopefully we’ll get it turned on Friday and Saturday and baled on Sunday.  That’s the plan, anyway, let’s hope the weather gods are kind!  It also means I have until Sunday to clear enough space in the byres to store the baled hay with enough air around it for it not to combust and go up in flames.  I suspect I’m in for some hard physical labour for the rest of the week!

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Time to hit the accelerator

Last week it looked like not much happened.  In fact, an awful lot did, but as seems to be the theme with this project, it’s all background preparation that won’t be on display when the house is the finished.

Pete and his team moved onto the front of the roof and hit some issues.  Apparently most roofers will start with the back of the house, because it gives you a good idea of what to expect, there are generally fewer features to deal with, and it gives you a chance to get a feel for the roof and get into the swing of how it slates so when you come round to the front there should be no nasty surprises.  That’s how Pete’s always done it and it’s served him very well.  My roof, however, decided to be difficult.  So since Pete had very sweetly bought me my own hard hat (apparently I have to write BOSS on it in permanent marker!) I got my brave pants on (I don’t do heights) and went up for a look.

hard hat selfie

The roof, as is traditional round here, has cement skews (the vertical slabs you can see at each end of the roof on pictures of it).  Now, if you’re a sensible roofer, you slate under the skew a little bit so there’s no gap that water can get into.  Remember when we took off all the panelling in the bedrooms and found that the gable ends were running wet and thought it was the chimneys?  It wasn’t…

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Yes, those sarking boards are absolutely rotten.  To add to that, it seems that no-one had ever bothered to take the previous liners off – they had to remove eight layers of tar paper and some of the old asbestos cement tiles (which would have been the cause of the diamond pattern you can see in this layer).

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And then they got to the dormers.  Now, you’d think that it might be sensible to use the same width of skew on the top of the dormer as the sides, right?  Apparently not.

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This is causing Pete all types of headache, because that tiny little triangle of wood behind the vertical skew needs making watertight somehow.  It was previously slated, but the slates bulged out where they met the cement and it had just been packed with mortar to try and keep the rain out, which hadn’t worked (we did wonder why we pulled out a few old towels from behind the panelling in one of the bedrooms!).  He’s currently thinking he might just do some fancy leadwork there instead, but was considering his options over the weekend, so may have a clearer idea tomorrow.

As the sarking boards were tinder-dry, Pete asked me if I could take a wander down about 9pm and just check that the house wasn’t on fire, because they’d been using diamond-tipped blades on the skews (they wore out two doing the back of the house!) and although they’d soaked everything in water before starting, sparks had been flying and he wanted to make sure one hadn’t smouldered.  No smoke and no flames, but a rather beautiful evening.

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Over the weekend, Mick got up on the scaffolding and started cleaning the old paint off the dormers in preparation for painting them.

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He found a green layer, which might have been a primer or they might once have been green, which makes me happy, because I’ve gone for a green front door and will have green gates 🙂  Rain stopped play before he could do much on the second one, so here’s the comparison shot:

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Good view from up there, but no whales today, sadly.

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The really great news is that we have David the joiner tomorrow!  I’m not sure how many days we’ve got him for, but quite frankly I’ll take what he can give me and be grateful at the moment.  He asked us if we’d got timber already, which we hadn’t, but obviously getting it ourselves would save on his time and we have an account at the same place he would have got it from, so Mick was dispatched into town with the truck to buy what David needed.  Turns out you can’t get 24 lengths of 3×2 on top of a Mitsubishi L200… 12 left it bouncing in a rather spectacular manner, even on its toughened suspension, so Mick had two rather careful drives home and now as well as all the insulation and floor packed into the living room, we have 24 lengths of wood in the hall.

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The plan was that David would start upstairs with the front Velux for Pete, then do the framing for Dougie to run cables into.  Mick and I would fit insulation in the evenings, thus gradually emptying out the living room for David to work in.  Which would have worked beautifully if it wasn’t for the fact that Mick is away from Tuesday to Friday!  I think what we’ll do is just move the insulation panels into the rooms they’ll be installed in as David finishes each one, which will hopefully free up enough space for him to work round.

In theory, we should have five on site tomorrow – do you think we’ve catered enough??  It’s getting like the Great British Bake-Off in our kitchen at weekends!

baking - sausage rolls shortcake

A very big delivery

We’ve made some pretty good progress this week.  Dougie has now got about as far as he can with the electrics until the studwall goes in, but we now have all the cables coming down the walls to where the sockets and switches will be, and they’re all neatly bundled up where the fusebox will be moved to on the landing.

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As we had a bit of bad weather earlier in the week, I asked Pete and the guys to take the kitchen and bathroom ceilings down – Mick strained his back over the weekend so we weren’t able to do it ourselves and I didn’t want it to hold Dougie up.  They found the kitchen ceiling was painted, so at some point it must have just been open to the floorboards above.  I’m very wary about going upstairs now though, as I don’t want to fall through Dougie’s cable runs!

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We did have our first on-site accident though – a dropped crowbar whilst taking down the bathroom ceiling unfortunately bounced the wrong way off the stepladder and took out the sink.

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Never mind, it wasn’t a particularly pretty basin, I’m almost pleased to have a good excuse for replacing it!  The bathroom ceiling is nothing to write home about and will be covered up with plasterboard once Dougie has done his stuff.

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Today is Mick’s birthday and fittingly we had a very, very large delivery – all the Quinn Therm insulation and my flooring 🙂  It took up most of the Rembrand lorry on its weekly trip west!

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Amazingly we just about managed to squeeze it all into the living room.  In theory, once David and Dougie have gone through upstairs, we can fit the 100mm stuff into the rafters, which will free up enough space for them to work in the living room.  In theory…!

We’ve had a pretty good day for weather today, which means the roof has made great progress.

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Fingers crossed we can get hold of David for next week, otherwise we’re going to grind to a halt again, but for now we’re moving forwards at pace.

Let there be light!

David arrived on Thursday and had a quick site meeting with Pete and Dougie, the upshot of which is that he put the Velux windows in on the side of the house Pete is currently working on and will be back again at some point this week to put the studwork in for Dougie.  I went down on Thursday evening to have a look at the windows and was so pleased that I almost cried!  The amount of light coming into the top floor now is amazing.

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Dougie is still tunnelling, very neatly.

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And having had a look at our kitchen layout, he’s now more convinced than ever that venting the extractor fans from there and the bathroom through the roof is going to be too much distance for them to work effectively, so he’s having an exploratory dig through the wall to put them out of the back instead.

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I went to Rembrand at the weekend and ordered up the insulation, which came to an eye-watering £1,778.  I keep telling myself that it’s paid for itself once I’ve saved about 4,200 litres of heating oil…  Seriously, as I intend to own this house for a very long time, it’s a good investment.  While we were in there we saw they had an end of line special offer on 18mm engineered oak flooring, so today I’ve been measuring up the ground floor as it looked really nice and at £21.99 a square metre, worth grabbing if they have enough.  (A similar thickness bought online is around £29.99 a square metre.)  Measurements are as follows:

Kitchen – 3.36 x 4.00 into bay window = 13.44sqm
Living room – 3.90 x 4.00 into bay window = 15.6sqm
Hall – 3.20 x 1 plus 1 x 0.52 plus 1.09 x 0.9 = 4.7sqm
Total = 33.74sqm – so I’ll order 35sqm, which will be £769.65 (assuming the price they were showing included VAT…) and if I go and see them tomorrow, it can be delivered with all the insulation on Thursday.
The bathroom will need something different, as engineered wood usually isn’t suitable for use in it, but I measured it anyway – 1.7 x 2.15 to the shower tray = 3.655sqm.

Today we’ve been baking to feed the team next week.  I’ve made a lemon drizzle cake and Mick has gone all in on the sausage rolls after they got rave reviews last week – he’s done sausage, pate, cheese and onion, Mexican-spiced sausage, and wild boar and mushroom!  Also pictured are the custard biscuits I made last week, after I raided Mum’s recipe book while I was away.

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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….

Hey big spender

I had to write the first big cheque last week (well, the first one since the one I wrote for buying the place, which was a whopper!), so I thought it was probably time to put my cards on the table and share my budget.

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There are really two parts to the budget: what’s needed to get it to the point where it could be sold or rented and what’s needed to furnish it to turn it into a holiday let.  Here are our figures.

Item Estimate
Roof & stonework £16,000.00
Electrics £4,655.00
Heating & burner install £7,000.00
Joinery £5,000.00
Kitchen units £3,000.00
Downstairs flooring £1,600.00
Carpets £750.00
Plasterboard & insulation £2,000.00
Skirting boards £200.00
Kitchen appliances £2,000.00
Switches, sockets, light fittings £500.00
Interior paint £500.00
Exterior paint £1,000.00
Shower tray & screen £700.00
Shower £400.00
Woodburner & kit £1,500.00
Windows and door £5,000.00
Door stripping £400.00
Miscellaneous tools £2,500.00
Bathroom tiles £250.00
Garden/fencing £2,000.00
Interest, council tax, electricity £3,500.00

Total: £60,455 *gulp* And we’re actually already £2,720 over the roof budget because of the extra work to the stone. On the plus side, the house and surrounding fields were valued at £77,500 on the home report (the rest of the value being assigned to the other croft) and should be worth in the region of £150-160,000 once we’re done, so we’re still just about in profit.

On the furnishings side..

Beds x 4 £750.00
Mattresses x 4 £1,300.00
Sofas x 2 £1,100.00
Kitchen table & chairs £800.00
Coffee table £200.00
TV unit £200.00
TV £300.00
Wardrobes x 3 £750.00
Drawers x 2 £500.00
Bedside tables x 4 £500.00
Pots, pans & crockery etc £600.00
Cushions, pictures etc. £500.00

Total:  £7,500.  I’ve priced up for mostly new, but am hoping I can save some money by buying good-quality second hand – browsing the local Facebook for sale group, I’ve already seen a really nice oak single bed frame that would be perfect for the small bedroom for £45.  A friend of mine recently furnished an entire rental property from the weekly furniture auctions at Dingwall and has a teenage niece who’s got the long summer holidays coming up who is very, very talented at smartening up bargain buys, so I’m hoping she might be employable for a few days!  The one thing I refuse to buy second-hand are mattresses.

We’ve also agreed a £5,000 contingency, bringing the overall grand total potential spend to an absolutely eye-watering £72,955.  We have enough cash, from savings and 0% offers, to get us to the house being more or less finished, but not the garden – so I need to crack on with the decrofting application for the house site to make sure that as soon as there’s a working kitchen and bathroom in place, I can get on with a mortgage application to release money to pay back the 0% deals as they expire and put the final touches to it so it can start earning its keep.

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.

Lift off!

I have actual people working on site 😀  It’s no longer just me, Mick and the dog, proper professionals are now getting to grips with my house (and one of them has told us we’ve saved a considerable sum of money by doing everything we’ve done so far by ourselves, which is good).

Dougie the electrician has been here two days this week and has removed all the old cabling, sockets, switches and the fuse box:

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He’s taken up the floorboards upstairs to run the new cabling underneath:

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And he casually mentioned that he’d need a plan of where I wanted all my light switches and sockets to go.  Not something I’d actually got round to thinking about, so last night I scribbled it all out on some rough paper, showed it to Mick who made a couple of suggestions, and then this morning made a clean copy, photocopied it and went up to the house to present it to Dougie with the comment of, ‘Please tell me where I’ve been an idiot.’

Fortunately he thought it all looked sensible and made some suggestions of his own, namely an optical smoke alarm for the living room (where the burner will be), a heat alarm for the kitchen, and he’ll run two shotgun cables from where the satellite dish will come into the house up to a splitter in the attic, so two screens in the house can watch two different things if required (there’s no reception for a standard TV aerial here, the only way to get any television is satellite).  The new fuse box and meter is going on the landing in the corner and we’ll probably put a slim run of cupboards along there to hide it, as the roof is too low for that space to be walked in anyway.

We are currently down a roofer, poor James has succumbed to the lurgy going round locally, but Pete and Connor have been here putting up scaffolding and today, since it was wet and windy, picking out the north gable end wall inside.  It is now looking almost certain that we won’t be able to open up that big kitchen fireplace 🙁  Pete’s insurance company will give him an extension on his policy to cover it, but they want £2,000 (yes, that’s right TWO THOUSAND POUNDS!!) to insure against it collapsing and that’s before we take into consideration what Pete’s annual premium would go up by if it did actually all fall down.  He’s asked them to review their figures and should get a reply from them tomorrow, but sadly it does look like it’s game over for the fireplace.  Never mind, the smaller one in the living room is still lovely, just not quite as dramatic!

One thing I believe very strongly is that anyone kind enough to come all the way out here and do a job for me deserves looking after while they’re here, so there’s now a box down the road with a kettle, mugs, spoons, tea, coffee, sugar, a Thermos with milk in, squash and some home baking.  This week it’s been my chocolate brownies, which Pete has had before and likes:

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(Each of those little squares – and they’re about two bites – is around 250 calories, they’re totally sinful and completely worth it!).  I asked what they’d like next week and Pete, who’s from the south east, was reminiscing about Kentish Apple Cake.  Now, I’ve only found two recipes for it on the internet and neither of them sounds like his version, because they have chunks of apple stirred throughout the cake and Pete’s one has all the apple in a layer in the middle, so it’s going to be a bit experimental.  I may have to put bowls and spoons in the box on Monday!

Renovation chic

This is not one of my better looks – you know it’s gone badly wrong when the selfie mode on your phone can’t identify a face!!

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You can do a cracking Darth Vader impression in that breathing mask though 🙂  I decided to take a brush to the walls to get as much plaster dust off as possible – one of the reasons the plasterboard in the kitchen and living room was damp at the bottom is because over the years the lime plaster behind it had crumbled off the wall and filled in the gap between wall and plasterboard, making a nice absorbent bridge for any moisture to work its way through.

Anyway, it’s all swept up into rubble sacks, waiting to go to the tip (we have an old Mitsubishi L200, which is tough as old boots, but even it starts to sag if we put more than 10 bags of rubble in the back!) and we’re pretty much good to go with the professionals next week.

Dougie the electrician called in today to see how things were going and to find out when David the joiner would be on site.  When he heard that Pete was hoping to start next week and would have David around, he said he’d stop by too and put in a temporary power supply for them, as it would be safer for them to work with than the existing power.  Hopefully next week we’re going to start making giant strides forwards.

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!