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.

Salts coming out of the damp lime-rendered walls

The fresh lime plaster on the brick wall between Lounge and Hallway (which was acting as a wick, sucking water up from the damp clay beneath) has salts coming out through it.

Damp patches appear during the day, and with a wood-burner lit in the lounge in the evening, they dry off to leave a salty residue on the walls. It's not harmful, and is a natural process which we were expecting.

Central heating pipes being fitted

The central heating pipework has now gone in, and I've been having a look around at the artistry that is the copper piping, bending and snaking its way around the house. The fitters have, for the most part, been sympathetic to the age and structure of the building, only needing to drill through one stone wall, and happilly shaping pipes to the quirky shapes of our walls.

They've all but moved-in upstairs, with toolboxes littered over every surface and the walkways between them becoming narrower by the day.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Installing the flue for the range

Our stove-fitters are continuing in the job of installing the central heating, but seized upon a rare sunny day to break through the roof and install the flue for the range itself.

There was lots of shouting during the process, which I stayed well out of. But it was interesting to see what was involved in cutting a hole in the roof. (Not a lot - they just cut a hole in the roof!)

The flue couldn't quite go in a straight line because floor and roof joists didn't line up, so there's a kink half-way up it. 

Where the flue exits the ceiling there's a concrete fire-board surround to prevent combustion. 
Where it exits the roof, they've added a lead collar and tied it in to the tiling neatly.

And here's the finished thing, which is considerably taller and more striking than we'd anticipated. HETAS regulations have dictated the height of the flue, which is a couple of feet lower than the chimneys (the photo below is deceptive).

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Stripping concrete render off brick walls in the Porch

One of the jobs that I've been putting off (for no real reason other than the dust) was the stripping of the concrete render from the originally-external brick wall in the Porch. There was clear evidence of damp being trapped in this wall which showed as rust coming through from the various screws and metal features in the wall, and the concrete at foot-level turning to a crumbly dust.

I finally got the impulse to strip it all off last week, and set about with my trusty 5kg breaker and a 2-inch chisel bit. You can see some pretty bad spalling in the bricks, which I was a little paranoid was my doing, but a closer inspection of the concrete coming off that wall - which wasn't stuck to more than brick dust - suggested that the wall has been rendered and stripped before.

The render was very, very easy to get off this wall, coming off in lumps about the size of a hand and larger. It makes some sense, because this is a Kitchen wall, and will be absorbing lots of moisture from cooking and washing, as well as acting like a sponge for all the ground moisture that is trapped under the Kitchen's solid concrete floor.

You can see in the picture above the dampness of the wall, even 3-4 hours after being stripped of its concrete render. The bricks are so wet that they have a layer of clay-like damp on their surface.

And, of course, because this is the house that Jack's lazy cousin built, I discovered plenty of unexpected electrics buried in the concrete. That small blue wire in the picture below is the main earth wire for the whole house, which it transpires runs from the consumer unit, in to the Kitchen wall, where it's joined by a choc-block to that ancient blue (!) wire and then on to an earth rod.

Since I managed to snap that wire, I had an hour's excitement replacing it from consumer unit to earth rod. We plan to get the house fully re-wired soon, so we'll add that to the list to be redone newest spec.

And I also unearthed two long-forgotten airbricks, which presumably once helped keep a nice fresh air exchange in the kitchen.