Addicted to the fire…

So this is it. My last weekend before the Invaders from the South arrive. I arrived up at the barn with a list as long my arm of all the things that need finishing off and with all good intentions to get up at the crack of dawn to get started. It’s going to be a weekend of ‘finishing things off’. Much like the ‘Bits, Bobs, Odds & Sods’ blog, there’s a myriad of little things that need sorting. And some bigger things too…

Well I did get up nice and early – but you know me and my ability to be distracted. The thing is, the lads had been up in the week and put the final bit of flue out through the roof. The fire was, in theory, now fully functioning. So I had to test it, didn’t I? It would have been rude not to…

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I sat there with my cup of tea watching the fire burn. And when it had all died away, I lit it again. No, I’m not a pyromaniac. Honest! But when you light a stove for the first time, you’re supposed to start with a very small fire – just a handful of kindling. And when it has gone out and the stove has cooled down, you do the same again.

Having successfully wasted an hour or so, I finally stopped playing with fire, and went to Dundee. So much for being stood outside the doors of B&Q waiting for them to open at 7am. And after B&Q, I headed round to Topps Tiles to collect the half a dozen tiles I needed to completely finish the bathroom. Only to find that they only had half my order – even though I’d phoned the day before and they’d assured me it was all in.

Cue much sarcastic muttering about incompetence and a promise that I would be getting active on twitter just as soon as I could find a WiFi signal. Clearly that didn’t put the fear of God into them, since they knew full well that the chances of finding a WiFi signal whilst driving around Scotland are right up there with the proverbial needle and haystack. (But wipe that smirk off your face boys – when I get back to London I will write that review…. and blog it…. and tweet it….)

All in all bit of a wasted trip.

And of course the holiday season has started. All the world’s happy campers have attached caravan to car and are now wending their merry way around Scotland. Or that’s how it seemed to me on my very slow drive home. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing against caravans. I’m sure it’s a lovely way to visit Scotland. But if you could try and avoid the A93, the A94 and the B954 between Alyth and Dundee, I’d be eternally grateful.

It was just on 11 when I got home, and so far I’d achieved the square root of nothing on my list.

So I had a cup of tea and lit another fire. (Believe me – it’s addictive…)

Hey ho. There’s still the rest of the day to get busy in. Or so I thought. I’d just donned all my work gear and had gone to work attacking the tap in the bathroom, when the piano tuner turned up. I’d forgotten I’d arranged for him to come this weekend.

I don’t have a doorbell; people bang on the glass for a bit and then just open the door and shout. He was obviously too polite. Quite what he thought when I opened the door – a mad woman in a mouse-eaten jumper and cement/paint/grout/sealant covered trousers, wielding a large spanner in one hand and a hammer in the other – I don’t know. But at least he didn’t run away.

In fact he spent the next hour or so pulling my beautiful boudoir grand piano to bits. I felt obliged to stick around and make him a cup of tea and then listen as he tried to explain C19th damper mechanisms to me.

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But after about two hours, having more or less dismantled the entire piano, he decided that he didn’t really have the right kind of glue to fix a broken hammer shank, and rather than botch the job, he would take it away, make a new one and come back on Easter Monday to finish. So he reassembled the piano and left, without having tuned it.

It was now the middle of the afternoon and I had done absolutely nothing on my list. Clearly this is a day destined to be wasted.

So I lit another little fire. (Hey, this isn’t for my sake – I have to temper the new stove. That’s all. I can give this up any time I like…..)

By about 3 in the afternoon I realised that if I didn’t tear myself away from the stove, nothing would get done this weekend. So I went back the tap I’d been working on when Mr Piano Tuner arrived.

And finished fixing it. And then moved on to the shower – just a a dozen or so mosaic tiles to finish. And a bit of grouting.  And then seal the corners. And a couple of wall tiles to finish. And seal around the bottom of the bath….

And finally I think I can declare this bathroom, if not quite finished, at least ready for the Invaders!

But there’s no rest for the wicked, and I still have a long list to get through. Next stop, the bathroom upstairs. Remember my bathroom floor – the one with 8,000 mosaic squares that I put down individually? Well I have a confession. In spite of the pictures that made it all look finished, in fact, after completing the main part of the design, my ‘attention-span -of -a-hyperactive-kitten’ thing got in the way. I got bored, moved on, and never quite got round to finishing it.

So, this weekend, last chance before the Invaders from the South arrive, I finally finished the mosaic floor.

And there were half a dozen or so wall tiles to finish off:

And that just leaves a whole lot of grouting.

At which point I realised I could have made my trip to Dundee in the morning a whole lot more useful if I’d remembered to by some more grout. But I didn’t. Oops.

Still, at least there was enough to finish inside the shower, so at least it will be usable.

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Have I achieved everything I wanted to before the IFTS arrive. No, not really. But is the house habitable and working – well enough for what I need, yes!

Setting a fire in the coffin

Woohoo!! I am celebrating. Remember those two toilets I plumbed in last week? Well I turned the water on and it all works. No puddles on the bathroom floors, no water running down the walls – all toilets fully functioning and correct!

IMG_1428Ha! Proud owner of the T-shirt…

(Perhaps I should give up the day job and become a plumber.)

But much as I would like to strut around feeling chuffed with myself, I can’t. Because it’s now only 2 weeks to go till the Invaders from the South arrive.

So this weekend’s big job is getting the fire installed. Obviously my success at plumbing in toilets has gone to my head. I’ve decided to install a woodburning stove myself. And for anyone sitting there shaking their head, muttering “You can’t do that”, well actually I can – and not just because my T-shirt says so.

When I was trawling through Google looking for info on what kind of woodburning stove to get, I came across the most awesome website. (At least, it’s awesome if you’re thinking about installing a stove. If you’re just looking for reviews on the local curry house, it’s not that helpful.)

The Stovefitter’s Warehouse website seems to be on a mission to convince anybody that they are perfectly capable of installing their own stove, and have written what it is pretty much the definitive ‘Idiot’s guide’ on the subject. And let’s face it, as someone who lives by the mantra of ‘How hard can it be?’, and who has pretty much converted a barn on the basis of having read a book called ‘Practical Housebuilding’, well I don’t really take much  convincing, do I?

Actually “How hard can it be?” probably isn’t the right question to ask this time. Perhaps what I should be asking is “What happens if I get it wrong?”

Well, I suppose potentially I could burn the house down, or possibly die of carbon monoxide poisoning. So no pressure then….

Joking aside, clearly installing a fire is a serious business, and I have been having a bit of a debate with myself about whether I really could or should DIY this. There’s a whole heap of safety issues to consider – minimum distances to combustibles, maximum number of bends in the flue, required height of the flue above the roof ridge….. But the Manual on the Stovefitter’s Warehouse website takes you through every step of what you need to prepare/think about/do, and what building regulations you need to be aware of. And if you’re still scratching your head, you can give them a call to ask for advice. With these guys, there really is no such thing as a numpty question – and trust me, I tested this theory to its limit.

Finally, after a lengthy email exchange with Mr Stovefitter as he was designing the flue for me, I asked the definitive question: “Can this really be installed by a DIYer?”

The response:

“Yes absolutely. It’s clip together stuff. Common sense required of course.”

So that’s it.It’s official. I think I can claim to have a reasonable amount of common sense. Mr Stovefitter says I can, and so does my T-shirt. Who am I to argue? (Anybody who thinks I shouldn’t be doing this – well blame the parents; they bought the T-shirt!)

Actually I suspect the biggest problem is going to be getting the stove up on to the hearth. It weighs 140kg. Getting it into the house was a bit of a saga, and that was with three of us and a sack barrow. This weekend, it’s just me. And I’m the walking wounded with a cracked rib.

So how am I going to get this up on to the hearth???

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Well I’ll confess I did just sit and look at it for a while. And had a cup of tea while I thought about it. And then possibly another one while I thought about it a bit more.

But you can’t put these things off forever. It’s that ‘bite the bullet’ moment. So I came up with a cunning plan – which involved 22 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a few random bits of wood.

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Where there’s a will, there’s most definitely a way. One book at a time. So anybody who ever tries to tell you that there is no place in the 21st Century for real books has obviously never had to lift a stove on their own, have they?

Actually, I’d got it propped up onto volume 17 when the cavalry arrived. In the form of my ever helpful contractor chappie and his sidekick. They’d come up to have a look at the roof, where the recent gale force winds have dislodged a few slates (and I’m feeling too lazy to get up there and sort it out myself…)

If I’d known there was going to be two of them, I wouldn’t have got the encyclopaedias out. Mind you after they’d gone and the stove was sitting nicely in its new home, I realised I still needed some way of propping it up so I could attach the legs.

But that only needed 6 volumes, not 22…

So, that’s the first step. Should all be a doddle after that, shouldn’t it?

Hmm. Maybe. Except that when Mr Stovefitter was designing my flue, he did comment “I don’t usually get involved with designs quite this complicated….” Well that sounds about right for my barn.

The challenge is in the design of the roof. The complexity of the rafters means that it is going to be quite a tight fit getting the flue in. The great thing about twin wall flue I’ve bought is that it only needs a clearance of 6cm to combustible materials. Unfortunately the positioning of the rafters in the ceiling above the fire means that I only just have enough room. Since I really don’t want to burn my house down, I’ve decided to go for a belt, braces and bits of string approach by building a little concrete box for my pipe. Concrete board = non-combustible, so that works!

So having worked out where everything is going to go, and cut a few holes in floors, ceilings and walls, time to join it all together.

A bit of fire cement to plug the vitreous pipe into the stove, and a couple of self tapping screws to join the two bits of vitreous pipe together and then just plonk the twin wall adapter on top. Well that was difficult wasn’t it?

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So next job is the twin wall stuff. Mr Stovefitter really wasn’t kidding when he said it was just clip together. All you do is insert one pipe into another put in the locking band and clip it in place. It really is that simple. My niece’s 2-year-old could work it out – though you’d probably have to paint it pink and cover it in Toy Story stickers to get her to have a look.

 

The hardest part was actually getting the angle from the snug up into the loft. It is quite a long reach and 2 metres of the pipe joined together is not exactly light weight. My poor cracked ribs were giving some serious protest by this point.

I’ve lost count of how many times I went up and down the ladder into the loft. But I got it all in place eventually.

And finally….. Well actually,  I am not taking the flue out through the roof. I’m paying someone else to do that. Call me a wimp if you like, but I really can’t face the thought of clambering around the roof at the moment.

PS: I don’t usually use this blog to promote anything, but honestly the Stovefitters Warehouse really is fantastic – so I’m promoting Mr Stovefitter to the Girl in a Hard Hat Hall of Fame – otherwise known as the ‘Tradesman I Trust’ page; only the second tradesman I’ve dealt with in my 15 years of building who I would actually recommend!

A Time for Toilets

Don’t worry, I’m not about to regale you with a horror story about the aftermath of a late night kebab from Ted’s tapeworm van….

A bit of over-enthusiastic exercising earlier this week has resulted in a cracked rib, so I’m currently staggering around clutching my side, a total space-cadet high on painkillers. I should probably avoid the ladders this weekend. And heavy lifting probably isn’t a good idea either. Oh, and it might be wise to avoid the kind of contortionist acts with the plumbing I enjoyed so much last week.

Note the liberal use of the words “should”, “probably” and “might be”. Because there’s only 3 weeks to go till the Invaders from the South arrive, and looking down my long list of jobs still to get done before then, if I avoid all of things mentioned above, then the only thing I’m fit for this weekend is staying in bed with a good book.

Nice thought but really not an option!

So I’ve re-ranked my list of jobs in order of ‘least likely to cause further injury or pain’, and decided that it’s toilet time.

Having got my bath sorted and half the grouting finished, it’s time to finish off the bathrooms completely. The only major thing left to do, apart from a bucketload more grouting, is connect up the loos.

All of the pipework is in place, so it’s just a matter of connecting up the cisterns. Job done. How hard can that be?

Ha! Remember where you are – my barn could never be that simple…

To start with, the exact layout of the pipes connecting to the toilets in the last two bathrooms is a little bit of a mystery. Normally it wouldn’t be too hard to work out. Just follow the cold pipe run. The feed to the toilets just comes off of that.

But In a moment of madness a number of years ago, I decided that Scotland was clearly at risk of running out of water so I installed a 6,000 litre rainwater water collection tank. The plan being that I would use recycled rainwater in the toilets and the washing machine. So a completely separate pipe run was put in accordingly. But I’m not entirely sure what route it follows.

And I can’t just ask the plumber. He got about halfway through putting in the first fix pipework and then downed tools because he said I hadn’t paid him. After his lovely wife/incompetent accountant had got to the point of illegally threatening to add daily Wonga level interest rates to my non-existent outstanding bill, Mr Plumber realised I’d been given different bank details and therefore they hadn’t noticed the money in their account. At that point I sacked him. But he didn’t leave me any plans so I don’t know where exactly the pipes have been run.

I think the pipe comes through the bothy wall and then goes down to the downstairs bathroom first. Then along the wall and back up in the corner of the bathroom upstairs. I think.

And some time ago when I was installing the bathroom at the bottom of the house, I think I put in a stopcock on the rainwater pipe. And I think I put another one in further along the pipe before it goes through the bothy wall. So I think I have a circuit of pipework that can come from the main water supply or the rainwater collection system, with a series of valves that will divert the water from either source.

But hey, that was a while ago. And I’ve got a memory  like a whadyacallit. So I can’t remember now the sequence of valve opening and closing that will ensure the water flows into the toilet cisterns rather than out through an open ended pipe in the boiler room. Oops.

Parking that problem for a moment, my more immediate concern is just physically getting to the pipes to connect up the last cistern. Until that’s connected, nothing gets switched on.

And to get to it requires some of that contortionist stuff I said my ribs wouldn’t allow – like climbing through a very small hole

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and contorting myself to work in the wall space….

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Not my idea of Saturday fun.

Particularly when I cut a hole in the tiles for the toilet flush but then realised I should have checked behind the wall first. I’d cut it in the wrong place. So I had to get creative with a few bits of wood and improvise a structure to support the cistern – all while squashed sideways on behind the wall with a broken rib….

Eventually I got it sorted and all connected up.

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So now all I need to do is switch it on. At which point my self-invented phobia kicks in – that ‘fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn’.

Because the pipes have never been tested. And they’re buried in the wall. And I don’t know which valves are on and which are off, and I hurt too much to go up and down ladders into the loft space trying to figure it out…

Do you know what, I think I might leave the grand switching on ceremony until next weekend….