Unexpected roofer in the living room area

There was a van parked in front of the house when I went down to feed the sheep this morning, so I went in and found Pete cheerfully sweeping out the living room chimney.  Despite Calum taking several full buckets of soot out of it when he swept it for me last year, there was about another bucket’s-worth sitting in the hearth after Pete’s efforts.

I hadn’t seen him for a while, so we had a good catch-up.  He’s been popping back every so often to keep an eye on the leak in the north chimney and had been up into the roof and tanked the chimney breast up there as well.  Today, after 48 hours of wind and rain, there was a small patch of water about the size of a 50p and since now the house is warm and we have an air gap between the outer wall and the insulation, he’s not worried about that and says we can plasterboard the gable end up.  He’s also going to put a coat of a different, thicker sealing gel onto the chimney, which he reckons should be the final step in getting it completely watertight.

His plan for the day was to clean the living room and bedroom chimneys and then go in search of some nice stone to dress the bits that had been patched over before returning tomorrow to take delivery of the new roof trusses for the barn, so I’ll catch up with progress when I feed the sheep tomorrow.

Treading water

Last weekend Mick levelled the bathroom floor:

So we’re ready for Derek and his team to come back and put the rest of the heating in, but they’re tied up on a job up the road in Bettyhill at the moment – however, they’re hoping to finish it on Thursday and then will be back 🙂

We’re expecting a bit of a breeze on Wednesday (this is Highland for up to 70mph), so Mick has come up with a clever way to keep the remaining part of the corrugated iron roof in place until Pete has time to replace it.  (Plus this picture is proof for my accountant that the two haynets I bought yesterday are a legitimate property expense – the other one is on the other side!)

For now, though, it’s sunny and mild, so what better day to get the tractor out of the shed after its winter lay-up?  It started first time and Mick has had a happy morning raising the clutch a bit and chugging around with a big grin on his face.

So fingers crossed Derek and team can make it to us next week and then we can start the final push.  I was on a smallholding forum this morning and found a post from someone wanting a croft to do some filming on at the beginning of May, so I’ve replied to see if Ethel’s would be suitable – with a warning that it might not be finished by then if they want to shoot interiors!

Men in brave pants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stress-testing the roof

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

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

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

Hay stops play!

As people who’ve read this blog from the beginning may remember, I didn’t actually buy a house, I bought two croft tenancies which just happen to have a house on them.  This means that I also have 12 acres of fields to look after and since we hit a rare window of settled good weather, all work on the house ground to a halt and I have literally been making hay while the sun shines 🙂

Pete and his crew came and took the scaffolding away and I wrote them a final cheque.  I have spent a smidge under £19,350 for the new roof, , replacement Velux windows, guttering, work on the chimneys and stonework and tanking inside, but we’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the finished article and I think it’s worth every penny.  Yes, we could have patched up the existing roof and it would probably have been fine for a couple more years, but the idea is that we’re setting up this house to last for decades with minimal expenses required, so getting it wind and watertight and damp-proof is important.

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I also took myself off to the local mart for a morning and came home with some new tenants for my fields – 12 of these:

lamb4 lamb5 lamb6

They’ve now been introduced to the three pet ewes I took on last October and flock integration seems to be going well .  Here are all 15 of them:

sheep and lambs

But this last week has been all about the hay.  I’ve helped out neighbours on baling day before, but never gone through the whole process of deciding when to cut, turn, etc., so I was fortunate that Ethel’s former partner, John (they were together for 25 years and were engaged but never married), has taken an interest in what’s going on at the house and has been making hay for the best part of his 72 years.  The two fields round the house lay on the ground for a couple of weeks getting rained on, because I called the cut a bit early, but we left it unturned and it’s made okay hay, if a bit lacking in nutrients.  Here’s John baling up the last strip using my bargain £300 baler (Mick and I have learned more about the mechanics of an International B47 square baler in the last month than you can imagine!):

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When I saw last week’s heatwave coming in, I called John again and asked him to cut the field on the point:

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Went down each night to check how it was drying, but got distracted by the sunset:

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After a nail-biting day of unexpected fog, which totally soaked it, we got sun and a good drying wind and went for it – we probably lost about 20 bales as it flew off the point and John’s tractor had a small fire, but it was a beautiful day for it and we were still smiling at the end, although when I took the selfie with John I didn’t realise that it would take Mick, me and another neighbour another 6 hours to take all the bales off the field and up to the byres.

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We ended up getting 138 bales off the two fields by the house and a massive 305 bales from the field on the point.  I only need about 100 to get me through winter, so I’ve bartered 80 with the neighbour who helped us bring the hay in for her 4 hours of physical labour plus horse and sheep sitting while we’re on holiday next month and will have some left to sell, which will be my first income from the house!  They’re all stacked in the biggest byre (the barn) and I now need to get the back window boarded up before it rains too hard!

Next week things should get moving again.  ERG are coming on Thursday and Friday to put the new windows and front door in, which means we have to take the plasterboard off around the front door that we’d left because the electricity meter used to be on it, and also put some chipboard down over the loose floorboards upstairs, as I don’t want a window installer going through the living room or kitchen ceiling.  Hopefully Mick and I should make a start on getting the insulation fitted as well, and things will start moving forwards again.

 

The roof’s nearly done

I was working away for a couple of days this week, so it was nice to come home and see progress.  The roof is now very nearly finished – the ridge tiles are on, the guttering has all been hung and the downpipes attached.  There was only a drain for one downpipe on the back, but Pete has advised a roof of this size needs two, so he’s fitted one and when we get Kev in to do the groundworks, we need to ask him to dig us a channel so we can put one in.  They’ve re-harled the track where the old power cable used to run and all that’s left to do is the chimneys, so they’re currently moving the scaffolding around to the gable ends.

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I got a call from SSE PD (Power Distribution) while I was away to say that they’d had a cancellation out my way and could fit my job in, if that was acceptable.  More than!  Fortunately Dougie was available to let them in and work alongside them.  The cable in has been completely replaced and we now have about a metre more clearance under it.

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David managed to get here for half a day as well and the framing is coming along nicely.  I now know what a dwang is!  (The horizontal brace piece between the vertical studs.)

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Dougie nearly gave Mick a heart attack by saying he was sure that 100mm Quinn Therm needed a 50mm air gap rather than a 25mm – we’ve only just got 25mm for where it’s going in the rafters.  So Mick did a bit of Googling, and yes, it does need a 50mm air gap if you’re using tar paper as your roof underlay, but if you have a breathable membrane like ours, 25mm is fine.  Phew.  I think Rembrand would probably have exchanged it for us, but it would have been a hassle!

We’ve also done a nice bit of materials recycling by asking James and Connor to dump the old roof into the big tractor ruts, which were getting on for a foot deep in places.

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So what next?  Well, Dougie’s away on holiday, which will hopefully give David a chance to get ahead a bit.  We’re going to start fitting the insulation into the roof today to make some space in the living room.  ERG rang me to say that my windows and doors could be installed on 25th and 26th August, so I’d like to have David around on at least the first day if possible.  Pete’s going to give me the number of a guy called Magnus who has an air-free paint spraying system and who can paint the house for me – whether I can get that done before the windows go in is debatable, but we’ll try!  Kev is hopefully coming over this afternoon to talk groundworks for both here and home – in other words, it’s all getting expensive!  Fortunately the last Barclaycard balance transfer offer has reappeared, so I cleared the card last week and will apply for the transfer on Monday, which gives me another £11,400.  That should finish paying for Pete and Dougie and the windows and Magnus with hopefully a bit left over towards Derek the heating engineer, who I should probably ring to find out what his availability is going to be over the next few weeks!

Progress update

It’s been a week of steady progress.  This afternoon Mick and I went down and finished clearing out the byre.  The hay might still be on the ground getting steadily wetter, but at least we have somewhere to put it and Ronald, who I’ve been told is one of the best hay makers in the area and lives opposite Ethel’s House, has reassured me that I haven’t lost it yet, I just need to hold my nerve.  The byre looks an awful lot better, anyway.

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I found this under several years of dirt on the floor – hopefully it’s a good omen!

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I also have an update on the two photographs.  I tagged a couple of neighbours on Facebook to see if they had any idea and someone tagged a relative of Ethel’s, who very kindly messaged me with this:

Hello , I believe you have purchased ,my late mothers family home ,used to love going there for my holidays late forties early fifties .the photo of the man you found , is my late maternal grandfather , Hugh MacDonald , he died very young , in his thirties , possibly around 1910 era ( burst appendix ) leaving my granny with three young children ,and pregnant with the fourth , my late uncle Harry .we are not sure who the lady in photograph is , but think it may be my fathers sister Ina . If you find any more photos could be interesting .

So that means one of those photos is possibly over 100 years old – incredible!  I’m going to see if my Photoshop skills are good enough to retouch them, if not I may get it professionally done.  I’d like to get the originals and cleaned-up copies put in one frame to hang in the house.  The Uncle Harry referred to was Ethel’s husband.

Travis Perkins were supposed to deliver the ridge tiles on Wednesday, but rang Pete to say their crane was being inspected, so it would be Thursday.  Turned out there was a fault on the crane, which was fixed on Thursday, but then the lorry came west without our order on it.  They said they’d bring it on Friday, but had to go to Wick first, so Pete hooked up his trailer and went to get it himself.  Of course, it promptly rained, but they did manage to make a start and Mick has been up the scaffolding to get some close-up photos of our beautiful, beautiful roof.

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The chimneys will be re-pointed, but we’re going to leave that stone in-fill detail visible.

In even better news, David managed to give us a day, so we have some studwork going in upstairs.

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Where did the weekend go?

It seems it was Friday only about two seconds ago!  This is where the roofing team got to on Friday afternoon:

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You can’t see it very well on the picture (click on it to enlarge), but there are four scalloped diamonds on the roof, spaced in between the windows.  Pete suggested that we do a line of scallops connecting them as well, to echo the one at the ridge line.  I was expecting the diamonds to be three slates wide, as per my original drawing – if you want a laugh…:

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they’ve actually gone for four and we may have overcooked it slightly, but I think it only looks a bit overdone at the moment because the rest of the outside isn’t finished.  Once the house is painted a warm white with a dark green front door, a couple of dark green planters with colourful flowers either side, a new fence and new gate, it might well be just right.

Of course, the fact that the front is nearly finished means that I’m going to have to write another big cheque soon, as the second of the three payments is due on completion of slating.  My credit card bill for the insulation and flooring arrived last week (1% cashback on that card!) and when I logged in to pay it, I was slightly alarmed to see that I had no money transfer or balance transfer offers available – there’s been one on that card every month for at least the last three years.  I still have one available on my other card from the same provider, which I will take up next week, but this card has a £12,000 limit and not being able to access that is going to leave quite a big hole in the budget.

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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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