Expanding foam is not a good hair gel

Welcome to a very wet weekend in Scotland. I don’t think it’s stopped raining at all up here this year!

The amount of water that has fallen on Scotland is unprecedented. Flooded roads are closed, the low lying fields have turned into skating rinks and the villages in the valley are stockpiling sandbags.

Since I’m about 600ft above sea level I’m not directly impacted. I mean, if I ever get to the point of having to buy in the sandbags, then frankly most of the UK will have drowned. But that doesn’t mean the rain isn’t causing problems. And I’m not just talking about the 20 mile detour I had to take to get to Dundee. The barn may be unlikely to flood, but it is very prone to leaks!

Anyone buying an ancient old barn for conversion might as well get used to the fact that it will be full of holes, which will need patching, filling or rebuilding at some point. For me it has been pretty much a constant battle keeping the water out of this building. And my efforts haven’t exactly been helped by employing a supremely incompetent builder who honestly did not understand the concept that ‘water does not flow uphill…..’

In fact, I’ve had so many problems that I invented a new phobia for it – ‘the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-the-barn’.

But whilst it was depressing to get up to the building and find pools of water on the floors and windowsills, to be honest, given the sheer volume of rain we’ve had, it wasn’t really that much of a surprise.

Unfortunately it seems some of the remedial work undertaken in the Summer last year hasn’t been as effective as I’d hoped. I had most of the outside of the building repointed in an effort to keep the inside dry but somewhere the water is still seeping in through the stone, running down the walls and dripping through the plasterboard above the window. Well actually above three different windows…

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I got the ladder out and in the pouring rain went out to check the gutters weren’t blocked. They weren’t. Unfortunately, beyond that, there’s not much I could do. If the problem is the pointing it will have to be redone. But not in weather like this. And not by me – I’ve decided to wimp out on that job and gave my contractor chap a call. He can sort it out.

It’s not that I’m not capable of mixing up a batch of lime mortar, raking out the old stuff and squidging in the new stuff. But in this weather – no thanks!

The contractor came up to inspect the damage. While he was there, I decided to point out a few other jobs he could have a look out. Most of them to do with unwanted water in the building.

One of these was the top of the wall/roof in the boiler room. It seems to be permanently damp, but it’s not entirely clear where the water’s coming from.

I’d had a go at fixing this one myself between Christmas and New Year. I’d decided to try squirting some expanding foam along the inside of the roof ridge, in the hope that it might fill in any rogue invisible gaps and stop the water running down the walls.

It wasn’t the most accessible of jobs; because of all the pipes running along the walls and the position of the rafters, I couldn’t get the ladder close enough to reach the top of the roof. So I was doing a bit of a contortionist act to get the nozzle of the can into the gaps in the top of the wall. And since there’s no light in the boiler room, on a murky Winter’s afternoon in Scotland, I was working in semi-darkness.

And that’s when I felt something land on my head. Now I may well be macho enough to trash a JCB or prance around the roof without a safety harness – but when it comes to unseen ‘creatures’ dropping on my head, I’m about as girly as you can get. I have a horror of spiders and creepy crawly things. I practically fell down the ladder in my haste to get rid of whatever it was.

It wasn’t a spider, bat, rat, bird or anything alive. It was far worse. It was a large blob of expanding foam.

If you’ve never used the stuff, it comes out of the can as a glutinous expanding mass. Very useful once it dries as it can be cut, sanded, painted, plastered or otherwise finished as you want. But at the point it first materialises, it is very, very sticky.

So the worst thing you can do is touch it. In my defence I will point out that I had no idea at that moment what it was that had dropped onto my head. But still, it really wasn’t a good idea to reach up and touch it, to see what it was. And in doing so, sort of smear it into my hair.

The next worst thing you can do (having smeared it over half your head) is attempt to wash it off. Sticky expanding foam doesn’t go well with water. It starts to set like superglue…

I blame the manufacturers. I mean surely they must know that there might be a need for a girl to find out how to get the stuff out of her hair – they ought to put the necessary instructions on the can. In big red letters – do not add water…..

The third worst thing you can do (after both of the above) is attempt to put a comb through it. The teeth of the comb all broke off and stuck to the matted superglued hair. I came out of the bathroom with dripping wet hair, looking like I’d had a hair-pulling contest with a treacle hedgehog.

(No – there are no photos. Not even for the sake of blog hits would I let a picture like that go public!)

At this point, if I’d been on my own, I’d have had to get the scissors out and cut a great chunk out of my hair.

Instead I did what any girl does in an emergency – went to find Mum – who patiently spent the next hour or so gently separating my hair and teasing all the congealed foam out strand by strand.

I felt like I’d spent a couple of hours headbutting a cactus – but at least I wasn’t bald!

That’s why my contractor chappy has now been given the job. And my New Year’s resolution is to wear my hard hat more often…….

The final frontier….

Well it’s the final floor really. The very last floor that needs to be laid is the wood flooring in the main kitchen. And there’s nothing like adding a bit of pressure to assist in actually getting the thing started.

So I went online and ordered myself a swanky new fridge-freezer. One of those all singing all dancing things that churns out ready made ice on demand for the G&T.

But having ordered it, I really needed to get the floor down before it was delivered. I’ve had everything I needed to complete the floor for a couple of months; it’s just been another one of those jobs that kept getting pushed to the bottom of the list – mainly because I was still using the kitchen as a builders site/workshop/toolstore…..

So with the aid of my ever-willing parents, we cleared the room of everything except the Aga and the boxes of wood flooring. Ready to go. Bog standard tongue and groove on the oak flooring and sticky-back plastic underlay. How hard can that be?

Well the real tricky bit is getting it started. Once the wood is stuck down it’s pretty much there for eternity. So you’re a bit scuppered if you haven’t lined all your T&G up nicely.

To make sure you can do that the underlay comes with a bit of spare film to start you off. Just peel back a plank’s width from the underlay, put the spare film in its place, and then you can lay all your wood on top, make sure it’s all nicely aligned, whip out the spare bit of film and then stick it all down. Simples!

Ha! This filmy stuff is like clingfilm – sticks to anything except what it’s supposed to – you, the scissors, any dust it can find – and it fights you all the way.

Still, once you’ve finally got it all in place and got that first row done, the rest starts to follow fairly quickly.

So by the time I had to leave for the airport, I’d at least got enough done to take the fridge-freezer when it was delivered.

I left my parents up there – and they’d sort of mentioned that they would have a go at getting it finished. Well that’s my kind of DIY – it does itself while you’re away…

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If only. But regular readers will know by now that nothing can ever be that simple in my barn;  the wonky floors struck again. Within a couple more rows, the floor at one end of the room started doing an impression of the nursery slopes at Val d’Isere. Mr Incompetent Builder had obviously been using a deformed spirit level when he put this one down….

So instead of coming home to a lovely solid oak kitchen floor, I came home to a bag of self-levelling compound and the enticing prospect of cleaning out the dreaded cement bucket.

I’ve never used this stuff before. I decided I probably wouldn’t need the whole 25kg bag full, so decided just to mix up half of it. In the absence of any way to weigh out 12.5kg of cement powder I stood the bag upright, measured it, and drew a line half way up. That should give me about the right amount…

I’ve mixed up all sorts of cementy stuff before – plasterboard adhesive, plaster, tile adhesive, grout… so I’ve got a bit of an idea about the necessary consistency of the various types of goo in the bucket.

But this stuff is different. The whole point is that it’s self-levelling. So one assumes it needs to be fairly runny. But how runny is that exactly??? Will it set if it’s too liquidy? I have no idea. I added all the powder down to ‘my halfway down the bag’ marker. But it still seemed a bit too much like runny pancake batter for my liking. Well what do I know? When in doubt, chuck in another couple of trowelfuls…

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I eventually got it to a consistency I was happy with, and upended my bucket into the corner of the floor. And watched it ooze itself out into what looked like a lovely level patch of concrete.

But when stuff had hardened enough to take a closer inspection with a spirit level, the self-appointed Harbinger of Doom (otherwise known as my Dad) helpfully pointed out that my self-levelling compound hadn’t in fact self-levelled.

Followed by:

  1. Me in complete denial – “It’s close enough… it won’t matter… will it? The other bits of wood must be wonky. I can just squidge it down… It will eventually all be hidden under cupboards anyway; nobody will ever see it.”
  2. Me admitting it’s not really OK. “Alright. It needs fixing. But I’m not doing it now. I’ve had enough for the day. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m going to get changed and then I need a G&T.” *Exits in a sulk*
  3. Me, having got showered and changed out of my work gear, standing there observing my handiwork in a more reasonable frame of mind, and realising that actually it probably wasn’t that hard to fix. The ski slope was just a bit wider than I’d allowed for and so I hadn’t mixed up enough gloop. And it probably hadn’t been quite runny enough…. Hmm. Maybe those extra trowelfuls were a mistake. So all it needed was one more bucketful…… Why wait till tomorrow?

One : Nil to the Harbinger of Doom…

So all showered and changed and no longer in my work gear, I mixed up another bucket of stuff – leaving it much more runny, and upended my bucket again.

IMG_1104Well this is probably not the most elegant photo of myself I will ever post on social media – but how else do you tell if wet cement is level??

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1103It looked pretty flat to me. And when it had time to set hard enough to take a spirit level, this time it looked like the self-levelling compound did do exactly what it said on the bag. I love that stuff!

It needed to be left for 16 hours before it could be covered, so we’d have to wait until the next day before we could carry on.

But barring any disasters kitchen floor would be finished on Sunday……

Well what kind of disasters could we possible get up there? Waking up on Sunday, it was a grim grey day with a drizzly sort of sleet going on. It didn’t look particularly menacing.

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But within about an hour the snow was coming down with a vengeance and suddenly it was couple of inches deep and showed absolutely no sign of stopping. Living in the remote middle of nowhere, there was a real risk the roads would soon become impossible to get through.

Change of plan. All thoughts of flooring and DIY were abandoned. It was time to leave before we were snowed in.

Maybe I’ll get the kitchen floor finished next weekend…

 

Totally guttered!

Minging! The Scots have such lovely ways to describe their weather. And ‘Minging’ is, frankly, the only way to describe my weekend.

Storm ‘Abigail’ swept through Scotland, battering the West Coast with 90mph winds and torrential rain. And whilst she may not have reached the Central Belt or East Coast with the full force of her fury, she still left some pretty squally weather in her wake.

Perfect weekend to be working on the outside of the house then…..

This is entirely self-inflicted misery – I could have done this when the weather was fair. It’s another long overdue job that I’ve been putting it off because a) I kept forgetting to buy the bits I needed to do the job, b) I was dreading the thought of trying put the ladders up on such horribly hilly ground, and c) well frankly gutters are boring and there are plenty more interesting things to do indoors.

Unfortunately gutters may be boring, but they’re necessary – creating all sorts of problems if you don’t fit them properly. I should know – ignoring my gutter problems has led to saturated walls, washed out pointing and water seeping inside the building. And with all the pundits promising the worst winter ever, I need to get it fixed before the snow arrives.

So I’d decided this was the weekend to get it sorted and not even Abigail was going to stop me! I’d even remembered, when I was passing B&Q last weekend, to nip in and buy all the extra brackets and things I thought I’d need. Not like me to be so organised, but at least it meant that whilst it wouldn’t be a particularly pleasant job given the weather, it shouldn’t take more than an afternoon to get done. After all, bit of plastic guttering – how hard can that be?

Well under ordinary circumstances, not very. But my barn is never that simple. I have to factor in the phenomenal idiocy of Mr Incompetent Builder – who, even though I sacked him about 8 years ago, has left a lasting legacy of shoddy workmanship.

Whether by design or accident the external walls of the building slope inwards slightly. Since some of these walls are a couple of hundred years old, and have shown no signs of collapse that doesn’t seem to be a major issue.

Or at least it wasn’t until Mr Incompetent Builder got involved. Having unintentionally demolished large sections of the back wall by screwing up the foundations, he compounded the problem by not rebuilding those sections in line with those slightly sloping parts of the wall that he’d left standing.

As a result I have a lovely wavy wall and an ‘undulating’ roof line – which may be very artistic, but is completely impractical when the planners have stipulated cast iron gutters. So I have had to defy them on this one. Cast iron doesn’t bend, so cast-iron gutters are physically impossible unless I take down the lovely wavy walls Mr IB has left me.

In an ideal world you put the slates on the roof to overhang your nice straight walls, so rain water runs down the roof into the gutters and away. Simple. Unfortunately since the ‘curves’ of my newly rebuilt stone walls protruded in some places so far from the original walls creating that overhang wasn’t possible either. The slates stopped on the edge of the stone, so the water just ran down the walls.

So when I had the back of the house repointed I’d asked my contractor if he could to do something to fix the gutters properly for once and for all. His answer to the problem was to fix plastic gutter to a wood fascia, and where there wasn’t enough overhang from the slates, to put an additional piece of waterproof membrane under the bottom slate to direct the water into the gutter.

Well that should work. In theory.

And it would have done if he hadn’t then handed the job over to a couple of labourers whom I shall lovingly refer to as Bodgit and Fudgit.

To be fair it was never going to be a simple job. Even before you worry about whether slates do or don’t overhang far enough, there’s the challenge of fixing a piece of wood to a wavy stone wall, whilst precariously balanced 20ft up a dodgy ladder – that’s why I didn’t want to take on the job myself.

But simple or not, if I’m handing over my hard earned wodges of cash to somebody to do the job for me, I expect it to be done properly. Bodgit and Fudgit didn’t seem to get that idea. To start with, plastic guttering, whilst the only option with such wonky wall lines, is nowhere near as strong as cast iron. And in an environment where winter can dump a few feet of snow on your roof, plastic gutters need twice as many support brackets to ensure they can take the weight. Bodgit and Fudgit decided on half the number, not twice the number. That was in part my fault, since I’d ordered in the materials and I’d miscalculated. But rather than get some more and add them to the bill, my lovely labourers just ‘made-do’ with what they had.

As a result, at the first sign of snow last year, half the gutter came down.

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I’d decided it was easier to just get up there myself and sort it. Since the wood fascia was in place it was just a matter of adding a few extra brackets and putting the gutter back. How hard can that be? Which is why I found myself precariously balance atop aforementioned dodgy ladder in the wild, windy, squally ‘post-Abigail’ weather with a dozen or so plastic gutter brackets and a screwdriver in hand.

And that’s where I discovered the true qualities of Bodgit and Fudgit.

What is it about some builders and the concept that ‘Water doesn’t flow uphill, or over obstacles, or through wood?’

For on the part of the wall that Mr Incompetent Builder had so spectacularly mis-aligned, those two muppets had fixed the wood fascia higher than the level of the slates. So not only did I have the problem that the slates stopped on top of the wall, which would cause the water to run straight down the outside walls, I also had a piece of wood in the way that meant the only place the rain could now go was back inside the walls and into the house. Pure genius.

I spent a few hours putting back as much of the missing gutter as I could. And then I phoned Bodgit and Fudgit’s boss.

To me the real test of a good contractor is when things go wrong. In an ideal world it’s great (and depressingly rare) to find someone who’s reliable, honest and good at what they do. But you know you’ve found a contractor to hang on to when he can deal with a cold, wet and thoroughly hacked off female having a right royal rant down the phone on a Saturday afternoon, and he turns up a 9 o’clock on the Sunday morning to sort the problem.

He’s promised that Bodgit and Fudgit wont be coming back….

And it all came tumbling down….

At last, the bureaucrats in the planning office are happy, the building warrant has been approved – building can commence. Hallelujah!

Well that was the plan anyway…

However you describe what happened next, it certainly wasn’t ‘building’ as I understand it. Quite the opposite in fact.

To start with my architect and engineer turned into human moles and became obsessed with digging little holes everywhere.  They would fill the hole with water, sit there until all the water had drained away, and then go and dig another one two feet away. (How many years do you have to study to be an engineer to learn how to use a bucket and spade??) Eventually, at the end of about 3 days impersonating moles, the fiat went forth: the whole building needed to be underpinned.

Really? I mean, there are parts of that building that are probably about 200 years old. Stuck up on the side of a hill exposed to the raw forces of the Scottish weather, the building has survived pretty well. I’ve witnessed 80mph gales and temperatures down to -20°, so surely if the walls have been standing that long, they must be pretty solid – why disturb them now? Who knows, but I suppose if you’re going to pay umpteen thousand pounds to an engineer to assess your site, even one with a fetish for digging holes, probably worth taking his advice. Foundations all round it is then!

So the whole stack of plans and elevation drawings and measurements and engineering calculations were handed over to the builder. Everything he needed so building could begin. Hahaha…

What would you do if you came home one day and discovered your builder had failed to mention there’d been a bit of a minor mishap….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Did I mention, in one of my previous posts, something about the incompetence of the builder? Hmmm, on an epic scale as it turned out…

In truth, when faced with something like this, there are only 2 options: Laugh or Cry. I laughed. Hysterically. For quite a long time.

It appears that my Yellow Pages builder ‘lacked experience with old buildings’. (Really? I would never have guessed.) So instead of digging out and underpinning the walls a metre at a time, so as not to undermine the rest of the building, he decided it would save time to dig out to foundation level along the entire 100ft length of wall in one go. With no stable ground left to hold it up, the wall collapsed.

And it gets better! Not content with demolishing the outside of the building, he also decided to scrape out the ground inside the building, ready to pour the concrete. But again he took out too much ground and in doing so destabilised all the internal walls – to such an extent that the engineer decided that all of the interior of the building would now have to be underpinned as well.

At this point it felt like the entire building was mostly held up by Acrow props…

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And the occasional half a brick…

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 (Actually I think it was largely held up by my constant litany of prayer – Please don’t let it fall down any more, please don’t let it fall down any more, please don’t let it fall down any more…)

At this point I should probably have found myself another builder. But I really couldn’t face that yellow pages palaver again, so I generously decided to put it down to his inexperience, rather than challenge his ineptitude. But let’s be honest – by now, the divorce was definitely on the cards.

Still, at least when he moved on to the front of the building, he had figured out the right way to do it…….

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A bit at a time….

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My only saving grace was that since it was the incompetence of the builder that caused the damage, he had to pick up the cost of rebuilding. But it delayed the completion of the foundations by several months.

Moral of the story? Find an experienced builder – before you start!!