Saturday, 27 December 2014

Building cupboards in the bedroom

We wanted a whole wall of cupboards in Bedroom 3 as storage, and to blend-in the enormous water tank that now resides in there.
The first job was to get in some datum uprights to take other measurements from. It took a while because there's no straight-lines in the Cottage - nothing is parallel and there had to be some 'by eye' judgements to line things up with either floor or ceiling, wall or floorboards.

The next job was to clean up and replace the area of ceiling above the cupboards, but allow access to the complicated water tank system which is now up there. I decided that installing a large hatch would be easiest in the long-term.

Removing the old insulation, cleaning the access areas and insulating the tanks took half a day, and I put back in new insulation in all of the areas except for directly under the cold-feed to the tank, in an effort to use some heat from the house to stop it freezing in winter.

The hatch is held up on a set of wedges which will be blended in to the black oak beams, and a pulley system which is hidden in one of the cupboards. The idea being that in the event of a leak or needing access to the roof it is quick and easy.

A simple set of pulleys make sure the hatch is up and snug with the ceiling.

Removing the unsupported hearth

Long-term followers of the blog may remember my horror when I removed a register-plate from the ceiling of the kitchen where an old Rayburn flue had been run, to discover an unsupported set of breeze blocks which had been made as the base of a hearth in Bedroom 3. 

With no structural support whatsoever, we had sealed off the hearth in Bedroom 3 as a danger area in case someone stood on it and went through the floor. 

The time had come to remove the hearth completely.

From above you can see that it looks a lot less dangerous than you might appreciate. Original looking... but in actual fact an addition which we can date to somewhere around 1950.

Some very careful use of a 5kg electric breaker drill broke up the breeze-blocks in to removable portions.

And then it was just a matter of removing them and cleaning up.
The flat surface you can see here is a plywood board that I had screwed to the kitchen ceiling to stop the breeze blocks falling through.

Since the hole was going to be under a built-in cupboard in the bedroom, I wanted to make sure that there was a safe amount of structure over the void to stop anyone standing in the cupboard and falling through to the kitchen. A set of CSLs (wooden battens) should do the job.

Insulating the gable end wall

In Bedroom 3, where we had the disused chimney breast removed, the gable end wall is North facing and very cold. We wanted to insulate it to minimise the amount of heat lost through the large solid-brick space, but we also wanted to keep it as breathable as possible.

I looked around at options for breathable boards and insulation and one thing that struck me was the extreme difficulty in sourcing them due to lack of plain-English information and suppliers. 
Somewhat exasporated, I decided to ad-lib a method for breathable insulation and ordered some rolls of sheep's wool insulation (6cm thick).

I started by attaching 60cm spaced battens to the wall, which hover above the central-heating pipes.

The sheep's wool insulation simply slots in between the batons, and is held up by a couple of panel pins at the top, and friction to the bricks.

When it came to sourcing a breathable board to put over the top of the wool, I again hit a bit of a dead-end in the sourcing - having a choice between astronomical delivery costs or minimum orders of massive quantities. I wanted to use a wood-fibre board - which in itself is an insulating layer, but offers a nice surface finish - but couldn't find the right combination of cost and practicality.

In the end I decided that B&Q's finest wood-fibre underfloor insulation was much the same thing without some of the structural integrity (it breaks really easily), so I pinned these over the wool and it seems to work pretty well.

We can get away with this stuff as a wall covering on this particular wall because it will be behind a bespoke cupboard. You couldn't use it on a 'normal' wall since it flexes too much.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

One year in to the project

One year since we moved in to the Cottage, I thought I'd take a moment to compare what it was like when we bought it, to how it is right now.

The 'now' photos are very dark because we don't have any electricity outside of the Kitchen, and no lights except for torches.


We've removed the rotten porch, rebuild the chimneys and chopped down all the trees and bushes which were compromising the light and sending roots under the house. We've also removed tonnes of concrete which surrounded the house, and dropped the outside ground level a few inches.

Outside Rear

We've removed the redundant and structurally-questionable chimney stack and had an internal flue put in for the new range. We've stripped off the concrete render to allow the underlying bricks to breathe. And we've replaced a broken drain which was saturating the back wall.

The Kitchen

We've removed the old range, which was badly flued and crossed the window. We've also removed the false-ceiling to reveal some dangerous electrics (removed) and a structural problem with the hearth in the bedroom above. 

We've blocked up the doorway to the annex, stripped the walls of various impermeable coverings and re-plastered in lime the wall behind the new range. We have recycled the kitchen units but added new worktops.

The Lounge

We removed all of the gypsum and concrete renders, and re-plastered in lime throughout. We also revealed a Victorian Bread Oven and fireplace, and are using it as a place for a woodburner. The new central heating no longer runs pipes across the doorway floor! And we've replaced the concrete floor with a breathable limecrete and flagstone floor.

The extremely wet wall between Lounge and Hallway has been stripped of gypsum and bitumen, and a coating of lime-plaster is allowing it to breathe. It is acting as a wick, so putting furniture against it will be a no-no.

The Sitting Room

We've stripped off all the impermeable gypsum plaster and some concrete render to allow the walls to breathe. They've been re-plastered in lime. We've stripped the brick fire surround to let the damp and salts out of the bricks. We've also pulled up the concrete floor in preparation for a breathable limecrete and flagstone floor.

New central heating is drying out the walls slowly. A new windowsill and part of the wall around the window was replaced because it had been bodged with an old wooden beam in place of bricks.

The Hallway

We stripped the false walls to reveal some dangerous electrics (removed) and water pipes buried in walls. The radiator wall needed replastering in lime, and we've removed the concrete floor to allow the area to breathe. We discovered the original staircase (under the current one).

Bedroom 1

We had to remove a large section of lime plaster from above the fireplace, which had been saturated by creosote from years of open-fires in the room below. We had the chimneys reinstated and this fireplace now breathes. The room is otherwise functional and is where we've been living for the last couple of months. Before that we were in a caravan.

Bedroom 2

Almost impossible to photograph because it's full of junk, but Bedroom 2's alcove (see above) has been sectioned off and is part-way through being made in to a shower-room so we can rip out the downstairs WC and crack on with the destruction of the Sun Room.

Bedroom 3

We un-decorated this room and removed loads of wood-chip wallpaper and some gyspum plaster.
The chimney breast and bricked-up fireplace (behind the cupboard above) were removed after we discovered they had been used for an unvented Rayburn flue - they were saturated with creosote. The new central heating system has been installed in this room and will be boxed in as part of a full wall of cupboards. This room, despite having 2 windows, is very dark.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Adding plumbing to the kitchen, and final worktops

Once the stove-fitters had left, it came down to me to put in permanent connections for the cold-water main and hot water in the kitchen. 

I'm not the world's most competent solderer of copper, but I wanted copper on show as an honest feature of the workings of the house, running near the stove flue. A couple of hours of measuring, cutting and soldering (using lead-free solder) and I had some bespoke pipes running down one corner of the kitchen and in to a void which will serve as a ventilation area for the stove.

So now we have the two 28mm pipes which are the flow and return for the central heating, and two 15mm pipes, which are the water flowing from above. The latter two convert to Speedfit when out of sight, so as to ease the process of supplying various outlets under the cupboards.

I had one final piece of worktop to fit, which had been left off to allow access to the stove pipes during fitting. It was a case of cutting the worktop (IKEA's laminate walnut) around the pipes to provide a loose-fitting support for them, and a little clearance for air-flow.

The last part of worktop fits above a cupboard and space for a slimline dishwasher, and leaves the aforementioned space for ventilation in the corner of the room.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The heating's on and the house is talking

The range is on, merrilly burning its way through logs, and the central heating is on now.
We haven't had proper heating since we moved in a year ago - even the old oil-fired central heating was useless and heated only bits of the house.

So I'm sat here in silence listening to the range popping occassionally, the central heat pumps whirring quietly and the structure of the house itself making small cracks, pops, creaks and fizzes.

There's so much damp and cold penetrating the fabric of the building that I expect the next few weeks and months to have some interesting changes appear in the walls as they start to dry out.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How old is the cottage?

I'm still interested in the history for the cottage, which is proving to be elusive.
My current theory is that the stone part of it, which is the front rectangle, is much older than we think.

The house appears as an L-shape on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map of the area. And the brick part of the house (the leg of the L) appears to tie in with the architectural features of the time. We had suspected that the brick part was built between 1870 and 1880 ish, and the architectural survey at would suggest the same.

But, we recently discovered that the house also appears on the 1817 Ordnance Survey original drawings - or at least there's a structure shown where it is.

Given that the stone part of the house is definitely earlier than the brick part - we know that because the brick part is tied in and knocked through from the original stone part - we're wondering just how old it is. Or, whether there was a house here which was knocked down and rebuilt between 1817 and 1870. 

We know that the building at the end of our garden is a blacksmith's forge which is located on a medieval byway between two major towns, and in the 1891 census our house was the Blacksmith's cottage. In the 1870s and 80s there was a boom in the mining industry locally, and a railway was introduced nearby. It is said that the Blacksmith who lived in our house made the pots and pans for the local mine workers, and shod the quarry horses. Perhaps that was the reason for extending the cottage - so he could take on an apprentice as work became busier?

Commissioning the range and central heating

We stocked up on some high-quality kiln-dried hardwood to maximise the heat efficiency of our new range in the first few months, and help dry the house out as quickly as possible.

And today was commissioning day for the range, which is now fully plumbed in and connected to the central heating system. The engineers started by lighting a small fire in the enormous firebox to gently warm the system through and burn off the pungent oil that the range is coated in to stop it rusting in the warehouse.

It was nice to see smoke coming out of the new chimney (even if it is massive and ugly).

But then - as you do with most major projects - they hit a snag and a compression fitting failed in one of the upstairs radiators, causing a bit of a leak in to the Sitting Room.

A swift drain-down in the garden and swapping-in of a new fitting, and the system was re-filled and is currently working fine. We are going to run it for an evening to check that it works consistently, before they come back tomorrow morning and give it final sign-off.

Discovering an old chimney

This picture shows the North East corner of the Kitchen, where we've noticed some darkened bricks and mortar in the past. We had assumed that there was, at one time, a range cooker here which had charred the wall.

The new range requires a large vent to be installed because it draws so much air, and the HETAS engineer gave us a few options. I chose the corner, above the pipework for our outside water supplies, and below the level of our worktop (there'll be no cupboard here). So they drilled out a large hole, and discovered that there is a chimney flue running to this exact spot - a lucky find!

From outside, looking in, you can see the darkness disappearing in to a void which was filled with dirt and soot, along with a fair amount of old birds' nests.

We removed a few buckets' worth of dirt before putting the new vent in place and securing it with an NHL mix.

You can see the size of the vent, which forms an S-shaped channel from outside to inside, allowing a draft for the range, but not a direct breeze.