Another kitchen….another fountain…..

Anyone who’s been following my blogs has probably worked out by now that I’m not the most organised person on the planet. If I’m going on holiday, tickets tend to get bought the day before, bags get packed about an half hour before I leave for the airport, and hotels are found when I arrive.

And I am now beginning to think that if I’d been more organised that whole saga of the water in the bedroom could have been avoided – I mean, if I’d just told the plumber upfront where I wanted a couple of extra stopcocks, I wouldn’t have had to do it myself. (Mind you, he was supposed to be the expert – you would have thought he’d have been the one advising me on what the options were.)

Oh well, hindsight may be a wonderful thing but it doesn’t actually fix the plumbing. So having recovered from the trauma of the cold water running through the light fittings, I turned my attention to the hot water pipes.

These flow into the building from the boiler room, at the opposite end of the house from where the cold water stopcock is located. Which meant that the most logical place to put an additional shut-off point was in the roof space above the bothy, before the pipe passed through the metre thick wall into the two bathrooms beyond.

First check – which one of the half-dozen or so pipes running through the roof space is the one for the hot water??? Not exactly something you want to find out by trial and error – or by randomly cutting through the wrong one!

I worked it out by tracing the pipes through the various walls – into the bathroom and into the boiler room to see which was the one running from the hot water tank. Up and down the ladder a dozen times just to figure out which pipe was which – who needs a gym? Clearly another job that is going to take me longer than planned!

Hot water pipe identified, I got to work. Turn off the main supply, cut the pipe. Drain out residual water. Fit stopcock. Easy…

And since I’m now becoming an expert at this, I made sure the stopcock was closed before I turned the water supply back on. No water explosions in the roof – which meant I’d at least put that connection in properly.

So, also learning from previous experience, I went round and checked that all the taps were off, and any unconnected pipes in the bathrooms were capped off. And with a vague memory that we’d run a hot pipe up to the kitchen I went and checked that too. Just as well; there was an open pipe above the door into the cottage, put in when I’d originally planned to run the hot water from the same supply as the rest of the house. I capped off that offending pipe, and feeling smug (but nervous) climbed back up into the roof to open the stopcock. I didn’t immediately hear any sound of running water, but admittedly I don’t have the best of hearing, and I was sitting in an insulated roof space with metre-thick stone walls either side of me.

The euphoria didn’t last. By the time I’d got down the ladder and halfway up the corridor to the bathrooms, that ‘fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn’ panic kicked in. Somewhere water was flowing freely. I dashed into the bathroom downstairs. Nothing. I hared up the stairs to the bathroom above. Nothing.

I took the plasterboard off (at least I was forward thinking enough to create an access hatch) and crawled behind the wall space to inspect the pipes.

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No leaking pipes anywhere.

I dashed downstairs again. And then I saw it.

Looking through a window from the stairs, through the living room there is an opening to the kitchen. And perfectly framed in this opening was a fountain of hot water spraying up in the middle of the kitchen.

I thought I thought I’d been so smart remembering to cap off the redundant water pipe to the cottage; I’d completely overlooked the pipe in the middle of the floor, put in place in anticipation of having an island sink in the kitchen.

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Another kitchen… another fountain. Hey ho! At least the Aga got a wash!

The tears and trauma of a bit of plumbing……

As you might have gathered from the previous blog, plumbing is clearly not my favourite job. In fact it terrifies me, but with 3 more bathrooms to get finished it’s obviously something I couldn’t avoid. I put it off for as long as I could – not hard given how much else there was to do – but eventually I had to bite the bullet and start playing with the pipework.

To make life easier I decided first job was to isolate the water supply in a couple of extra places so I could work on fitting the bathrooms without have to keep cutting off the water flow to the heating system.

My water is pumped in from a borehole, and it can be turned off at two points in the house. One stopcock turns off the supply to the kitchen and bathroom in the cottage, the other, located at the top of the house in the main kitchen, turns off the supply to the rest of the house.

(Interestingly, there is nothing to turn off the supply between the two – so if a pipe bursts in the roof space of the cottage, I’d have to leg it outside to the pumphouse to shut down the borehole. Bit of a design fault if you ask me – but since the original pipework bringing the supply into the house was installed by Mr Incompetent Builder, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised.)

I’d had a plumber in once to put in the first fix pipework for the bathrooms before they were plasterboarded – but he’d turned out to be another contractor disaster. He got the hump about half way through the job because he claimed I hadn’t paid him for work done. I had. But he downed tools and started sending ridiculous letters threatening to take me to court and charge me Wonga level daily interest until I paid up in line with agreed schedule. I eventually sent him a copy of the transaction from my bank statement, at which point he realised he had received the money – it had just gone to account he didn’t use very often so he had noticed it. Well don’t blame me matey,  I just used the account number you gave me – a trader who has so many bank accounts he loses track of his customers’ money?! Seems very dodgy to me. I didn’t get an apology. I didn’t invite him back.

Which left me with not enough pipes, most of them not in the right places and none of them actually connected up to anything.

Hey ho – back to the old DIY option. After all, a few pipes and fittings – anyone can connect up a couple of taps, right? How hard could it be??

I duly sat down and drew up my plan of where I was going to put all my taps and loos, and worked out how much more pipe and how many fittings I would need. A quick visit to the local plumbing shop and I returned with enough pipes and fittings to plumb all the leaks at Westminster.

I started with the main bathroom and the ensuite above it. Plastic pipe fittings are dead easy. The pipe has got enough give in it that you can manipulate it into awkward spaces, and to join it together you just fit a pipe insert and push the ends into the fitting; (though as I learnt the hard way with the dishwasher episode, you do need to make sure the pipe is properly pushed right the way in!)

For the main bathroom I’d already bought the taps and fittings so I connected them all up. For the bathroom upstairs, I’d only purchased the bath taps, as I hadn’t finalised the layout of the rest of the room. Fortunately the plumber had stopped off the ends of all the pipes, so I could just leave them be. (Or so I thought…)

Right, now time to actually join it all up to the water supply.

I shut off the water, drained all the water out via the tap in the boiler room, cut through the main cold supply pipe and water came gushing out. Don’t panic, it’s just the residual water in the pipes emptying – I had my bucket ready! Admittedly the water seemed to be pouring out for ages, and I was beginning to panic that maybe I hadn’t turned off the stopcock fully. But just as I was wondering where the nearest spare bucket was, the water trickled down to nothing and stopped.

So, just fit a couple of T-joints, connect up the pipe to the new stopcock and jobs a good’un.

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The moment of truth – I went up to the kitchen to turn the water back on…  And heard the unmistakeable sound of gushing water coming from the bathrooms.

I sprinted down the length of the corridor and into the downstairs bathroom. Only to discover that I’d left the shower tap in the open position and water was merrily cascading out of the shower into the shower tray and down the plughole, exactly as it was meant to. I heaved a sigh of relief, turned the tap off and relaxed…. for about 2 seconds…. until that ‘fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn phobia’ kicked in again and told me I could still hear gushing water and it sounded like it was in the next room.

I dashed into the bedroom next door to find water pouring through the light fittings and down the walls. Bolting up the stairs I discovered that the plumber had not been quite thorough enough. The pipes set in the floor for the basin in the ensuite had not been capped and were happily spraying a fountain of cold water up the wall of the sauna and down through the floor into the bedroom below.

Fortunately I didn’t have to leg it all the way back to the kitchen to turn it off. The new stopcock I’d installed was a few metres away, and it worked! The sounds of running water died away….

When I’d recovered from the trauma of the fountain in the bathroom and mopped up all the excess water, I capped off the offending pipes, checked all the taps were off, and opened the stopcock again.

The golden sound of silence – which meant that all my plumbing efforts were sound and nothing was leaking. See, it’s not that hard, is it?

Well that’s the cold water connected. Next job – connect the hot water pipes. Maybe I’ll leave that for another week…..

Why shouldn’t I have a fountain in the kitchen?

I have invented a new phobia – “the fear of the sound of running water in a barn” – I am totally paranoid that every time I open my front door, somewhere in the house there will be water pouring down the walls.

It all began with my first encounter with plumbing, which was installing a dishwasher in the self-contained cottage – the part of the house I was living in when I escaped the dreaded caravan. With no hot water supply in the cottage, I was fed up with having to boil the kettle every time I wanted to wash up. More importantly, the expat lifestyle in India, with maid, gardener, driver &etc.,  meant I hadn’t done any washing up for nearly 3 years, and I really wasn’t enjoying getting back into it. Executive decision – I’ll install a dishwasher.

I bought one of those slimline ones, perfect for the small kitchen in the cottage, and decided to install it myself. After all, it’s only connecting up a few pipes – how hard can it be???

For some reason, that with hindsight is completely unfathomable, I didn’t start the job until about 8 o’clock at night, assuming it would only take half hour. I mean, it’s all those push fit fittings. Dead easy….. (I really must get my rosy coloured glassed fixed).

Unfortunately, the plumber hadn’t allowed for anything other than the kitchen sink, so all the pipework in situ wasn’t in the right place to accommodate the dishwasher. The waste pipes were too high, so I had to take them all apart so I could cut a bit off the main stack. The water pipes were too short, so I had to add an extra length to them. Both of which meant disconnecting the sink, taking off the work surface, and emptying out and moving the kitchen cupboards. I was cursing the plumber and his pipework. But to be fair, my dishwasher was an afterthought, so I can’t really blame him. Half hour job – yeah right…… I finally crawled into bed at about midnight.

Something woke me up two hours later.

Thought number one: The burn is flowing well (there’s a stream that runs down off the hills and passes quite close to the house)

Thought number two: It’s not normally that loud

Thought number three: It’s the middle of winter; there’s 2ft of snow outside; the burn is frozen solid

Thought number four: ********************* (fill in expletives of your choice)

I dived out of bed, dashed into the kitchen, to find the connection I’d put onto the cold water pipe extension had come apart, and water was gushing out in a fountain in the middle of the room. Just in case I’ve never mentioned it, my water supply is on a high pressure pump from a 60ft borehole on my land. It’s the best water I’ve ever tasted, but it is always freezing cold. In the middle of summer, no ice ever required; in the middle of winter, you can’t hold your hand under the tap for more than 10 seconds.

And now I was wading through it barefoot, with my toes giving serious consideration to the idea of frostbite. I turned off the supply and wanted to cry.

It was minus 10 degrees outside, in an unheated stone house, at 2am, and I was standing in a lake in my kitchen. This might have been one of the (many) occasions that I questioned my sanity in taking on a project of this scale! I dropped a few towels on the floor to show willing, and went back to bed. Because things always look better in the morning!

Well that’s the theory anyway. But as far as I’m concerned, waking up to a freezing pool full of soggy towels in the kitchen and no water supply wasn’t much of an improvement on the 2am scenario. Fortunately investigation into the cause of the exploding pipe suggested it wasn’t anything serious; I just hadn’t pushed the pipe into the connection properly.

Not so hard after all. Off to the DIY store to by a new coupling joint and it was a 10 minute fix – both ends of the pipe well and truly rammed together! Job done. I had a fully functioning dishwasher so no more washing up. Happy days!

But so began the fear of the sound of running water in a barn. The thought of the remaining three bathrooms to be plumbed in was not exactly a happy one.

Hanging doors……

It’s not just the floors that aren’t level or straight in my barn. None of the walls are either – which created its own set of challenges when it came to hanging doors and fixing skirting.

I am fortunate that most of the barn is a sort of open plan layout. Most of the main rooms lead through openings and archways in the original stone walls, so no need for any doors.

And since there’s not doors at all upstairs in the master bedroom suite, it meant I only had 7 doors to hang in the main part of the house. More than enough, believe me.

Not only are none of my walls straight, but not a single one of them is standard door size. Unfortunately with doors, you can’t just trim to size as much as you want, and there are ‘maximum recommended adjustments’.  Which meant:

  1. My choice of door was partly determined by finding one with the largest possible adjustment allowance
  2. I had to spend ages working out for each individual door whether said allowance gave me enough leeway on a standard sized door, or whether I had to buy a non-standard size.
  3. if buying a non-standard size and trimming the door to the maximum allowance still wouldn’t fit, how could I adjust the size of the door linings in situ

Buying a door really shouldn’t be that difficult…..

I ended up with a separate design plan for every door, that looked something like this:

  • Door 1: Standard door, trim 6mm, reduce height of door opening 6cm
  • Door 2: Standard door, trim 4mm
  • Door 3: Standard door, trim max 8mm each side and plane 3mm off door lining
  • Door 4: Standard door, reduce width of door opening 2cm
  • Door 5: Standard door
  • Door 6: Standard door, trim 3mm, reduce height of door opening 1cm
  • Door 7: Buy a bigger door

And once again, with my rosy-eyed view of housebuilding, I’d assumed I’d be able to get 3 or 4 doors hung in a weekend. I, mean, apart from a bit of planing, how hard can hanging a door be? Couple of weekends to finish them all – jobs a good’un.

When will I ever learn?

Doors, hinges, handles and locks duly arrived. And at that point I discovered that not only are none of my walls straight, none of my door openings a standard size, but actually none of the door openings are square either.

Fortunately I do own an electric plane (a birthday present, because what every girl needs on her birthday wish list is an electric plane), so at least I wasn’t having to plane it all by hand. But given the erratic sizes and shapes of my door opening, the planing was a work of precision engineering – otherwise known as trial, error, guesswork and quite a lot of cursing.

And if planing the doors weren’t bad enough, planing the door linings was worse. The plane can’t reach into the corner of the door opening. Which meant doing the job by hand with a hammer and chisel. Not a job for the fainthearted.

When each  door/opening had finally been planed, chiselled and bullied to fit, next job was oiling. I’d bought oak doors. They’d been delivered unfinished. So three coats of Danish oil were required before they could be fitted. By comparison with the trauma of sizing the doors, not a difficult job, but a tough old workout for the arms and shoulders.

All oiled and looking good, final job before hanging was handles and hinges. Again by comparison to the planing, not hard. But since nothing should ever be truly straight forward for my barn, and as the final insult to my door hanging saga, I don’t know whether it was a design flaw, or whether I’d ordered the wrong size latches but the screws to fix the handle and lock plates on the door were too long. Only one in three of them went in properly – the others were blocked by the internal mechanism of the lock. Which meant getting an angle grinder out to cut down and re-sharpen half a dozen tiny screws for each door. Patience is a virtue……..or so I’ve been led to believe!

After all that, finally ready to be fitted. Ideally, door hanging is easiest as a two-man job – one man to lift and hold the door in place while the other marks out where the hinges have to go. As a one-girl job, it involved a crow-bar and some blocks of wood for leverage, some left over spacers (from fitting the wood floor) to balance the door on, a few more broken nails and quite a bit of swearing.

Yeah, of course I can get 4 doors hung in a weekend, no problem ……….. In fact it took about two months to do all seven of them.

Still, now they’re in place (and yes they do open, close and lock properly!) they’re looking pretty good if I do say so myself!