Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Reducing humidity in a bathroom with no window

On the advice of Pete Ward from Heritage-House.org we've bought an RHL Dryvent B 12v bathroom fan, to install in the new upstairs shower room - which has no natural ventilation.

Inevitably, introducing a steamy shower to an area of the house which has never had to deal with such levels of humid air is going to cause it to absorb enormous amounts of moisture, and get cold, damp and problematic. So, in an effort to reduce as much of this as possible, the investment in the Dryvent (3 or 4 times to price of a basic bathroom fan) means that we'll have a constant air-flow in the room, and when it detects raised humidity levels, a boost of suction to chuck it all.

I'll place the fan in the shower-room roof in the next couple of evenings and get it ready for our electrician - who is coming to fit a new consumer unit and connect the new shower next week.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Rewiring - surface run lighting circuit experiment

In an effort to put this morning's paper idea in to something a little more tangible, I cobbled together some bits from the shed, with some braided 3-core wire which we bought a while ago, and mocked up a simple illustration of what I was imagining for the surface-run wiring.


I've re-used a crappy old wooden pattress with a new switch, but it gives the idea.

For cable-clips I've quickly knocked-up some wooden sections and used some screws that I had laying around. I think that the screw-heads would be as important as any other part of the design, and I prefer the black steel domed type (as on the corner piece) to the shiny brass screws.


I'm deeply in love with these switches. At £20 a piece they are an extravagance, but they're the first and last thing you interact with in a room, and the lovely, positive CLICK that they make when you flick them is solid and reassuring.


This black rose is one which we disconnected from the old, dodgy wiring and I've repurposed for the illustration. We could either attempt to find some new black ones, or spray up some white ones (probably at a fraction of the cost).

Now I've seen it in the flesh, I really like the braided cabling. On an off-white wall, the brown works well, but there are plenty of colours to choose from. I'd also go for a slightly richer colour for the wooden clips - oak or oak stain maybe. The clips could also do with being a fraction smaller, and we'd need more of them to keep the cable from being a snag hazard.

Rewiring - thinking about lighting circuits

My mind has turned (again) to the rewiring project, and what we can do to embrace the fact that we're going to have surface-run wires, rather than chased and hidden wires.

Right now, I'm wondering if we should actually go the whole hog and make a feature of the wiring. Design it to be a statement, much like the very first wiring might have been in a property this old.

I'm looking at a combination of textural and coloured products, where the switches, wires and junctions are all there to be touched and looked at.


And some of the visual ideas I've sourced are:







So, I'm imagining a brown junction box somewhere up near ceiling height, and a braided cord coming down directly to a brown switch (we've already bought these from Wylies Ironmongers) on an oak pattress. Also from the junction box would be a second braided cable to some sort of industrial vintage or retro wall-light, as a hint at the fact that this is an old blacksmiths cottage. I love the idea of using feature cable clips - be them wooded or brass buckle clips.

I think I might get a single set of the above in and mock it up to have a look before committing to the rewire.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Breathable insulation on a solid stone wall

In the Lounge we have a wall which has been stripped of plaster to reveal the bare stone, and some time ago we removed the concrete pointing which had been added. This concrete pointing was trapping some damp in the wall, and because it is an outside corner of the house, the result was a very cold, and condensation-prone internal corner.

We removed the pointing many months ago and have left the wall to dry out.
I read an excellent blog post on a friend's blog this week about a device called a Hygrometer - which measures the humidity in a room. I bought one and was pleasantly surprised to see that, even with the heating run down for a full day, the corner of the lounge was within the 'OK' range of humidity. So, the time seemed right to start the next phase for this wall, which is to insulate the bare stone, and prepare for the installation of some electrical sockets on this wall.

The first thing to do was to decide whether to follow the shape of the stone wall, which splays outward from the floor by roughly 5 inches to the ceiling, or to run the new false wall down from a beam. I chose the latter so that I can more-easily box in/hide the plumbing pipes at a later date. 

The only issue with this is the 5-inch deep gap to the top half of the stone wall, but more insulation is no bad thing as long as it is breathable.


We're going to leave the brick chimney breast revealed, which will mean that it's slightly recessed from the new false walls. This is a little unusual, but since the house has many unusual lumps, alcoves and shapes we think that it's quite in-keeping with the quirkiness of the place.

The batons would ideally be spaced at 600mm centres, to fit the 600mm wide rolls of sheep's wool insulation, but on the left-of-breast wall we're squeezed a little, and on the right-of-breast wall there is a big rock jutting out of the wall which makes putting the battens equidistant impossible.


Once the battens were in, and fixed to the beam with L-brackets, and to the base of the wall and each other at the bottom, it was time to address the 3-dimensional nature of the stones, and the lack of pointing.

Some of the gaps between stones are several inches deep, and would create pockets of air that could - due to temperature difference between wall and room - create a condensation source. 


There are a couple of options we could have done, including lime-plastering the wall to a vaguely flat state before insulating it. Or we could have created a false wall and filled the void with a granular insulation like vermiculite (foamy little flakes that would have filled all the holes, but been a nightmare mess if we'd ever removed the false wall.

In the end I opted for simplicity and simply tore off chunks of sheep's wool from the rolls of insulation, and pushed them by hand in to all of the recesses.


The end result was sort of pointing by wool, and looked quite amusing. It was, however, a nice flat surface devoid of air-holes.


Because the left-of-breast stone wall sloped hard away from the battens, I decided to build up the sheep's wool insulation in horizontal layers from ground up. Unlike man-made insulation, sheep's wool is heavy and won't self-support, so it was a case of using a couple of small tacks to hold it in place before a second layer was placed in front or above it.


Below you can see that the horizontal layers (right) were built up to completely fill the deep void behind the battens, and be snug to the stone wall. Then a vertical drop (left) was tacked in place to fill the void between the battens themselves.


Once we have the electrical wiring in place - which will run down the end battens on both sides of the wall - then I will "fluff up" the wool so that there's no air voids, and finally we'll board the wall with a breathable board. We haven't decided exactly which type of board to go for yet, but it will likely be a wood-fibre board, and then a clay or limewash paint to finish it.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Installing the new shower

I've put a couple of evenings' work in to getting the shower screens up, and the new electric shower mounted on the wall in our new upstairs shower room.


All it lacks now is some beading around the tops of the tiled walls, and the installation of the electrics, and we're good to go.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Rewiring quotes

We've now had site visits from three electricians - all of whom were very different in their approach.

Number 1 was very in to old properties and recommended heritage-style switches, pattresses and sockets, and was totally on-board with surface-run wiring. He said he'd be happy to spec the wires, clipping distances and routes, and then let us spend a couple of weeks of evenings running everything ourselves to minimise his costs, which would be £20/hour.

Number 2 came in and immediately tested the kitchen ring main for (I think...) strength of earth. He then recommended a raft of things we could get the electricity provider to do for us - new meter, new earth, pre-board switch - and threw lots of acronyms at me. He also threw a job price of £2500.

And number 3 has just left, after a brief tour of the house. He'll be emailing through a quote soon.

All three eventually 'got' our idea of using surface-run wiring, and spending a little more on nice (brown) sockets, and brass buckle-clips instead of plastic wire clips. And all three agreed that we'd be mad to try and chase wires in to the stone walls.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Planning for rewiring

I've looked in to various options for rewiring the house - the time has come to get it done - including doing it myself and getting sign off from Building Control.

I decided against that because, although I'm confident I can wire a circuit and work out what's needed, the consequences of getting it wrong are both expensive and potentially a massive fire risk, so I've decided to go with an expert.

We've asked 4 qualified sparkies to come in and quote (3 have responded). The first visited today and we talked for an hour about the options we have, and the relative simplicity of the job since we're not chasing or hiding any wires.


And since everything will be surface-run, the first electrician said he'd be happy for me to do all the cable runs, fixing and dogsbody work, which will save us some money and mean that I can take a while and care over how it's all laid out.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Tiling the new shower room

Funds have dictated a slowing of progress, but a high priority is the finishing of the upstairs shower room. So today I popped down to B&Q and blew £200 on tiles and a diamond cutting angle grinder disc. 

Flexible tile cement and an afternoon,s work and all the tiles are on the wall.


In 24 hours they can be grouted. And in another 24 I can put the shower screens up. Then it's just a matter of buying and fixing on a new shower, and getting a sparky in to commission it.