The loo in the Long Drop…

It feels like my tales of plumbing woes are endless on this blog, but this, I promise, is the very last one. Because it’s the very last room that needs any kind of plumbing.

The Long Drop. I’m not entirely sure when it first got its name. It is a ridiculous room really, a metre long, a metre wide, and 4 metres high. Sitting in there feels a bit like having a loo at the bottom of a lift shaft.

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It has been sitting at the end of the corridor, neglected and ignored for quite a long time. Partly because there were plenty of other rooms to be getting on with, but partly because it is a room that has a few issues that I’ve been trying to avoid.

Because of where it sits in the house, the walls up to the first 6ft or so are technically below ground. And when Mr Incompetent Builder built the retaining walls, he appears to have skimped a bit on the damp-proofing. Since this part of the house faces up the hill, it  bears the brunt of the rainwater coming down. And the problem has been exacerbated by the foundations that were built for the conservatory on the cottage, that has acted like a giant concrete trough, collecting all the rainwater that poured out of the valley of the roof. (And let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of that in Scotland). With nowhere else to go, the water sat there, slowly seeping away through the cracks and under the building, straight down to the wall of the Long Drop. The resulting rising damp got so high it probably started to suffer from vertigo.

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With the recent construction of the conservatory, and gutters to take the rainwater from the valley away properly, the room does seem to have dried out, but it has retained that damp musty smell and feel, so I’m not entirely convinced the problem has gone away.

The other reason for avoiding this room is my age-old phobia ‘the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn.’ The cold water pipe into this room is the one that randomly and inexplicably exploded apart a while ago. Fortunately I was at home at the time so I managed to shut it down before too much damage was done. But even though the stopcock was replaced, and even though it hasn’t given me any trouble since, I am terrified of touching it again.

Unfortunately, if I ever want this as a functioning loo, I can’t keep avoiding it. So this weekend I decided it was time to get it sorted. I’d already put some of the first fix pipes in place, and though they weren’t connected to the main water feed yet, all I need to do is put a loo in place, bolt a sink to the wall and connect up a few pipes. How hard can that be?

I started with the loo. Since it’s a fairly bog -standard (sorry, couldn’t resist) loo, it’s not that hard to fit. Bolt a couple of plastic brackets to the floor and screw the pan in place. A bendy toilet waste connector and a bit of washing-up liquid, and the toilet is connected to the soil stack. My only slight irritation here is that Mr Incompetent builder has stuck the soil pipe so far out of the wall that he appears to have assumed that I want my toilet sitting in the middle of the room!

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Since the pipe comes out of a solid brick wall, not much I can do to change it. I’ll just have to build a false wall to hid the gap.

Next job – install the sink. I shall gloss over the pain of drilling into engineering bricks with a blunt drill bit. Suffice to say I got there in the end – and I have the blisters on my palms to prove it. After that, fitting the tap was the easy bit.

Next the waste pipe for the sink. Again, Mr Incompetent Builder’s handiwork seems to be designed to cause me hassle. Every other waste pipe that’s been installed in the house is 40mm. For some reason, this room got special treatment and he put a 50mm pipe in. So I had to trudge out to the nearest plumbing supplies shop to get an adaptor to fit. But when I got home I discovered that my newly purchased adaptor fitted the 50mm pipe, but the ‘adapted’ end of it didn’t fit the 40mm pipe I had.

It appears that a 40mm pipe from B&Q is not the same as a 40mm pipe from Screwfix which is not the same as a 40mm pipe from Plumbcentre. Which confuses me quite a lot. I’m fairly sure that when I went to school, rulers were all the same size…

Of course, this probably wouldn’t be a problem if you had a complete design for the whole house and went out and bought all you’re pipes, joint and fittings in one go, like most sensible people would. But that kind of forward planning  has never really been my style. I’m more of an adhoc, free-spirit kind of girl, with a very random approach to building a barn. I buy my materials in bits and pieces, as and when I decide to do something – and then curse quite a lot when it doesn’t all fit together.

Still there is a degree of bendiness in plastic pipes, so with some strategically positioned supports (aka a bit of wood wedged under the pipe) and copious quantities of sealant I got the waste connected.

So that’s it all done. Moment of truth time – time to turn on the water……

I started with the hot water a) because it’s just one run to the hot tap so not too many connections that could go wrong, and b) because I’m too nervous about the previously exploding cold feed pipe to want to touch it just yet.

I opened up the stopcock for the hot water and hared downstairs to check the results. Blissful silence. All the pipes appeared to be holding. I turned on the tap. Water came gushing out, just like it’s supposed to. See – how easy was that!

I opened the plug to let it all drain away. Hmm, a couple of small drips coming out of the connection between the waste pipe and the trap. Minor issue. I can fix that no problem. So I disconnected the waste from the sink again, to see if I could nudge all the waste pipes into alignment. Needing to get rid of all the water that sitting in the bottom of the trap, I emptied it away into the sink.

Er yes…. that will be the sink from which I had just removed said trap. So I poured water straight through hole in bottom of sink all over wood floor – a total muppet moment!

The air turned briefly blue while I mopped it all up again. But a bit of re-alignment of my strategic bit of wood and generously applied sealant, and the refitted waste trap was leaking no more.

So now I can’t put it off any longer. Time to open the cold water feed. But this time when I came back into the room there was a jet of water spraying out of the underneath of the cistern. Mad dash upstairs to turn the water off. Back downstairs to play the contortionist plumbers game, trying to get a spanner into the space under the cistern to tighten the connection.

Upstairs again (fortunately it is only 6 steps up into the kitchen where the stopcocks are – I’m not having to dash across the whole length of the building), turn on water. Back downstairs….and this time I came down to hear the sound of the cistern filling. Well that’s OK then. All sorted right?

So I thought. Until it had finished filling and the float valve shut off the water supply into the cistern, which increased the pressure elsewhere, causing one side of the T-joint connector to separate from the pipe and water to start gushing all over the floor……

Another mad dash upstairs to turn the water off. Another bunch of towels to mop all the water up. (Well at least I’ll have a clean floor at the end of all this!)

When I checked the pipe fitting, it looked like I just hadn’t quite pushed it together enough. So I rammed pipe and joint together as hard as I could and went and turned the water back on. At last, blissful silence again. I appear to have a fully functioning WC. Woohoo!!

By now it was too late to do any more, so I lit the fire, poured a G&T and chilled out for an hour or two for the remainder of the evening. Just before heading up to bed, I decided to check on my handiwork. Opening the door, all ready to admire my newly plumbed-in toilet, I found…… a fountain of water gushing up the walls. The same joint I’d had to fix before had separated again and the escaping water was rapidly creating an indoor swimming pool.

Mad dash up the stairs to turn off the stopcock, throw a whole heap of towels on the floor and go to bed in a sulk. It was a fairly sleepless night; I kept waking up thinking I could hear water – even though I’d turned it all off – and when I did get to sleep, strangely enough, I dreamt I was drowning.

In a slightly calmer frame of mind the next morning I examined the joint. When I took it apart it was clearly faulty – the little metal teeth inside the joint were missing. Relieved to find that I’m not in fact too incompetent to join a couple of pipes together, I went and found a replacement connection. (Well doesn’t everyone have a whole bag of leftover unused plumbing kit in their garage??)

This one seemed to work. So I could spend the rest of the day doing fun things like building the false walls to hide all that nasty pipework. But even though I’d spent the whole day in the room, and there had been no evidence that the pipes were about to explode on me again, I was still very nervous when I went to bed.

I kept waking up and just laying there listening. I even got up at 3 am and went down to check. And then I woke up in a panic at 5am because I could hear the sound of water. I got all the way downstairs before I realised that actually it was raining outside, and that was what I’d heard.

Well like I’ve said. When it comes to plumbing in this house, I am totally paranoid.

But needlessly so in this case. I mean, OK, so it needs a bit of decoration, but I believe the Long Drop is now functional!

(But I admit it, I still don’t entirely trust those pipes. I did wimp out as I left and turned off the cold water supply to that room – well I’m not going to be there for a week or so, and I’m still a bit nervous about it. I don’t like unplanned indoor water features….!)

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!

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….

 

The blind contortionist plumbers game

Only 4 weeks to go…

OK, I admit it. This weekend I had a bit of a meltdown. The list of things to get done before the Invaders from the South arrive doesn’t seem be getting any shorter, but the number of available weeks to get it done in definitely is.

My plan for this weekend was perfectly simple. To get the two remaining bathrooms finished. There’s not that much needed – a little bit of tiling to finish. A bit of grouting. And plumb in the toilets. Hardly a weekend’s work, right?

I decided to start with the bath downstairs.

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The bath has been sitting like that, tilted up on its side for months, because when I first tried to plumb it in, it had a leak in the waste pipe underneath. I tried a couple of times to fix it to no avail. So I left it and went on to something more exciting on the principle that if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. If after try, try again you still don’t succeed, ignore the problem and hope that the DIY fairies will somehow magically sort it out when you’re not looking. (Never works – can’t think why.)

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while will remember the saga of the bath with the plughole at one end, where my phenomenal lack of organisation resulted in the waste stack coming up through the floor in the wrong place.

The design of the bath means that even if the waste pipe had been put in the right place, it’s a bit of a tight fit. With the stack in the middle of the floor, I’d decided even a shallow waste trap wouldn’t work, so I’d custom made one by buying a flat bottomed bath waste outlet, cutting it in half and adding a bit of extra pipe so it would fit under the cross bar that supported the bath legs.

Easy peasy. Except that when I connected it up, one particular compression joint refused to play ball. No matter how tightly I screwed it, it leaked. Even with what felt like half a mile of PTFE tape wound over the thread and a bucket load of plumbers putty squidged into the joint, still it leaked.

I decided to take it all apart and start again.

Of course, none of this is made any easier when you’re having to play the blind contortionist plumbers game. Ever played that? Try joining two pipes together in a compression joint while lying on the floor on your back with your hands over your head underneath the bottom of a bath, so you can’t see what you’re doing, and trying to work out by feel whether you are turning the joint clockwise or anti-clockwise….. Trust me, it’s a whole lot of fun – not.

And it didn’t work. The pipes were still leaking.

In the end I decided to take the whole section out to see if I could get the offending joint to work, before putting it all back. Another mile of PTFE tape, and the joints tightened as much as I possibly could, I filled it with water and left it.

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Hallelujah – it’s not leaking.

So I put it all back in, playing the blind contortionist plumbers game again, poured a load water down the plughole, stood back and waited, and……it leaked again.

Cue the meltdown. Tears, tantrums and toys well and truly thrown out of the pram. Along the lines of “I hate this house; I’ll never get it finished; I can’t possibly have people to stay while it’s in this state….” You get the picture.

And then I drove down to B&Q and bought another shallow bath trap. One last ditch attempt to make it work before I give up and hang a ‘Display model only, do not use’ sign on the bath when my guests arrive.

But this trap was a slightly different design to the first one. And very slightly shorter. Which meant that if I turned it to one side, there was just about room to put a 90° solvent weld joint, which could then be welded to a length of pipe to reach the waste stack in the middle of the floor. No dodgy compression joints.

In the hope that the divine God of plumbing would look favourably upon my efforts I even drew a smiley face on the pipe, before welding it all together and leaving it overnight to ‘set’.

 

Next morning and the moment of truth. I poured a load of water down the plughole, stood back and waited. And…… that insidious little trickle of water appeared. It was still leaking.

Not, admittedly, on the scale of the puddles of the previous day. But enough to make me want to give up, shut the bathroom door and put up an ‘Out of Order’ sign.

But instead I tilted the bath up again and looked underneath to see where the problem was. All of my welded joints seemed to be dry. As did the compression joint on to the bottom of the bath. The problem seemed to be in the cap that shuts of the access to the trap. Which, it seems, I had forgotten to tighten. Duh!

So I do have a working bath after all. The smiley face worked.

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So that was my weekend. One solitary bath plumbed in. In the grand scheme of the to-do list, just a bit pathetic really.

Fortunately Mum and Dad were there to save the weekend.

While I toddled off to B&Q for my plumbing bits, Mum got on with the grouting. Which is a job I hate!

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So that means that bathroom is practically finished.

And as for Dad – well I’d asked him earlier in the week if he could frame the back wall in the kitchen so we could plasterboard it. Another job I’ve been putting off for a while as I didn’t really know how to go about it.

Neither did my Dad apparently. Rumour has it there was a fair amount of procrastination, head-scratching and general unwillingness to start. Possibly even the odd bit of cursing when he discovered that the wood I’d bought would have been better used making wonky corkscrews.

I’d probably have attempted to use the wood and ended up with a slightly corkscrewed wall. But my Dad, when he does eventually get going, is a perfectionist, so he went out a bought some properly square timber. And proceeded to build a beautifully over-engineered work of art.

It looks like one of those squirrel’s intelligence tests. You know – where you stick a hazelnut in the middle of an assault course and watch to see if the squirrel can work out how to get through it.

He deserves a medal for having created the only truly straight wall in the entire building. It would almost be an act of vandalism to board over it!

 

Those little squares of hell…….

If you’ve got a bathroom with a floor area somewhere in the region of 18m², it makes sense, if you’re planning on tiling the whole room, to use the biggest tiles you can find. Nobody, in their right mind, would consider tiling a room that size with 2.5cm squares.

Except somebody who likes to make life as difficult as possible.

To be fair, this wasn’t entirely self-inflicted pain. Yes, I’ve installed a wetroom style shower, and small tiles feel like a safer non-slip option, so that’s my own fault. But that’s just a relatively small surface area. The bigger problem goes back to Mr Incompetent Builder, who in the very early days of the build, decided there was no logical reason why the joists and the steel lintels should be put in at the same height. As a result, even with some judicious handling of the chipboard flooring, and an overlay of cement tile backer board, there was still a risk that large tiles could break on the uneven surface he’d left me with. No choice really – that’ll be some more mosaics then.

However, as I stated at the end of my last blog, I do vaguely recall, after all the trauma of creating the mosaic for the bathroom walls piece by piece, that I promised myself I would never do that again, and in future any mosaic tiles used would be ‘straight out of the box’.

So I made a plan: All of the shower/wetroom area in black mosaic; all of the floor in white mosaics. Straight out of the box. Dead simple.

My plan lasted about as long as a Labour/Conservative coalition – as soon as I realised I’d screwed up the tile order and bought too many sheets of black, and not enough sheets of white. Doh! So I would have to have some of the black squares on the floor, as well as in the shower area.

But that’s OK. I can still use whole sheets. No need to get complicated…

Except that actually it would probably look a lot neater if I gave it some kind of edging. Nothing too tricky. I’ll just take out a couple of rows of white and replace them with black all round the edge. Of course, the corners will be a bit fiddly, but nothing traumatic…..

And bit by bit those tiny little changes and ‘improvements’ develop and grow and morph and take on a life of their own. Until you find yourself in the middle of creating a full-scale masterpiece – tile by tile.

I mean, I know I really did say ‘never again’ after I’d tiled the sauna. Admittedly a good year or so had passed from when I finished the sauna to when I started the bathroom floor, but how could I have possibly have forgotten the backache, the cursing and the frustration of fiddling around with tiny little square tiles? Evidently my brain is good at burying the bad memories. Why else would I suddenly decide that actually it would be a really good idea to create a bespoke pattern across practically the whole area of the floor, using individual mosaic tiles? I suppose it really comes down to “do I really want a giant chessboard on my bathroom floor?”

Not particularly. So either I had to order more white tiles, or I had to get creative with the black and the white.

IMG_0677So I started, once again, with my ‘pattern’. But I kept forgetting to print off my Excel spreadsheet grid, so this time I had to draw one out by hand, and then colour it in…

And then came the real fun job. Once again I found myself laying out individual tiles, piece by piece.

These mosaics are slightly larger than the other (2.5cm instead of 2cm – woohoo!) but a larger area to cover – only 8,000 or so to put down….

And having laid them all out, and checked the pattern, I then had to lift them all again so I could apply the adhesive. So I stacked them all in blocks so I didn’t lose the pattern.

And when I had finally laid everything, I stood back and admired my handiwork. And took some photos so I could show off my handiwork to the social media world.

But as I was looking at the photo later I realised there was a mistake in the pattern. How could I miss that? 28 little black and white squares that need to be swapped over.

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Spot the deliberate mistake…..

Only 28 tiny tiles – that nobody on FB could spot until I told them where to look. So why didn’t I just leave it as it is???

Because once I’d noticed it, I knew that my anal, petty, symmetrical brain would go into melt down every time I’m I sat on the loo.

So the following weekend, out came the hammer and chisel. And order and harmony was restored.

All it needs now is a bit of grouting – that won’t take long, will it??

(Well I thought that’s all it needed. But my Mum went in there for the first time the other day. And came downstairs and uttered the immortal words “Did you know one of your tiles is wrong – your pattern isn’t symmetrical?”

One tiny white square that should be a black one. And now I know about it, I won’t be able to sit on the loo in peace until I’ve corrected it. Never let your Mum in your ME space!!)

50 shades of grey on the bathroom walls…..

Bendy wall board may be dead easy to work with, and I now have lots of lovely curves in my bathroom, but let’s face it, it’s not the most elegant finish on the planet.

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So how do I make it look pretty? Painting is not an option, unless I skim plaster the board – and as I think I’ve mentioned in the past – plastering is not a skill I have. Which means my only option is tiling.

So how do you tile a curved wall? Clearly my previous tiling strategy of “great big tiles + small area = less work and less mess” isn’t going to work here. Big tiles don’t go round bends!

The only way to tile round a bend is by using mosaics. Fortunately the world has moved on from the bad old days of the Romans, cutting individual tesserae and sticking them all down one by one. Nowadays mosaics come in sheets, on a mesh backing, usually in a nice useable 30cm x 30cm size. So it’s just like handling a flexible version of a large tile, and just as easy to put up.

In theory……

Unfortunately, I’d been indulging in some of those posh homes & interior decorating magazines again. (I think they become a bit of an addiction for self-builders). And in one of the posh house articles I saw a beautiful bathroom decorated in mosaics that graduated in colour from floor to ceiling. I decided that’s what I wanted for my ME space bathroom. Helpfully the article had the contact details for the suppliers, so I checked out their website. And nearly fainted at their prices; I would need a second mortgage just to cover the 5m² wall of my sauna. Undeterred, I spent ages trawling the internet trying to find cheaper alternatives, but without success.

I think I mentioned in the last blog the concept of the “DIY hell or high water approach”. In my normal stubborn way, I decided there had to be a way to replicate the look, without the squillion pound bill. I mean, if you think about it, it’s just mixing up different colour mosaic tiles. How hard can that be?

At work, an Excel spreadsheet is my answer to everything – but I never envisaged using it to tile a bathroom. However, being the total nerdy numbers geek I am, I designed a pattern by creating a formula to distribute black, white, three shades of grey, silver glitter and mirror squares in a randomised pattern to give me the graduated mosaic effect I wanted.  (OK, maybe not the 50 shades of grey I promised in the title – that was just to get your attention.…)IMG_0831

That gives me my template for a 2m x 1m length of graduated mosaic. Now all I have to do is replicate it with the real thing.

I went online and found a website selling individual mosaic tiles in a whole range of colours, and duly bought a couple of boxes of black, a couple of boxes of white and the necessary bags of grey, dark grey, light grey, mirror and silver glitter tiles. (My clever little spreadsheet had worked out how many of each I needed.) I also bought a 10m roll of mesh backing and a gallon of PVA.

All set to create my masterpiece……

What did I say at the beginning of the blog, about the bad old days creating a mosaic tile by tile?

Well, yes. That was me. I put a load of newspaper down to protect my wooden floor, marked it into sections of 30cm2 and started laying my tiles. One by one. Face down. Following my pattern. All 4,725 little squares. And I rued the day I ever came up with such a daft idea. Backbreaking work hunched over the floor for hours at a time, and impossibly frustrating trying to keep all the tiles equally spaced and in straight lines.

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When I’d finally got them all laid out, I painted each one with PVA, rolled out my mesh backing over the top, put a load more newspaper on top of that, and weighted the whole lot down with an entire set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And left it to dry out for a couple of days.

I’m sure some of you have already anticipated what happened next (and are smirking away to yourselves). PVA glue and newspaper – has a tendency to stick – to everything. The newspaper was stuck to the back of the mesh, the front of the tiles were stuck to the newspaper underneath, which in turn had stuck to the wood floor.

I believe, at this point, a certain amount of bad language ensued. I spent the next few evenings cleaning everything up and scraping newspaper off the tiles and the floor.

Worse – I’d created this monstrosity in my flat in London – without giving any thought to how I would get it up to Scotland. A metre-wide roll of glass mosaics – too big to take on as carry-on luggage, and too fragile to want to risk having it thrown around in the hold of a plane. I ended up having to hire a car to chauffeur it all the way to the frozen North.

So much effort, and this was less than half the job. I needed at least one more 2m length plus a bit more.

I really couldn’t face the thought of doing all that again. But another scouring of the internet provided an alternative solution. A ‘Mosaic Square’ – a 30cm square plastic tray with 225 mosaic size holes.

You just lay out your tiles in the holes and then stick a square of mesh on top – creating your own custom-designed mosaic tiles. What genius came up with that?

It was still a long slow job – I kept losing track of which section of the pattern I was working on, and in which order they needed to be arranged. But at least I wasn’t ruining my landlords antique wood floors. And I could smuggle them up to Scotland in my carry-on case (as long as nobody stopped me to check the weight of my bag!)

In total, over 10,000 little 2cm squares individually stuck down. Probably one of the fiddliest jobs I’ve undertaken in the barn. And at the time I swore I’d never do it again. Stick to the standard mosaics out of the box in future……

Still, the end result looks quite impressive – if I do say so myself!

Bending the walls….

You would think that in the face of wonky walls and uneven floors, I would crave some straight lines in the barn – just to make things like tiling easier.

But if I can make a thing more difficult than it needs to be, evidently I will.

As I think I’ve mentioned, in my lovely ME space upstairs, I have a fair amount of space in the bathroom. So I decided to install a sauna. And since it sits right at the entrance to the room, I thought that curving the walls would be a cool thing to do – without giving any thought to how, (or £how much!)

Curved walls in the bathroom – one of those things that seem like a really good idea at the time – when you’re sitting dreaming up trendy schemes for your interiors – without any kind of reality check on budgets, practicality or do-ability. Or when you’ve indulged in posh magazine overload and think you can emulate the look of the squillion pound homes in their glossy photos….

There are 3 possible outcomes to this kind of dreaming:

1. You have oodles of cash that you hand over in large wodges to an interior designer and let them deliver the dream.

2. You realise that you simply can’t afford the extra mortgage to pay for the interior designer, so you stick to bog-standard straight lines and ‘soften the look’ with a few cushions or something.

3. You know you don’t have the squillion pounds to spend but are too stubborn to give up on your super-trendy dream ideas, and therefore decide to do it anyway (also known as the ‘DIY hell or high water’ approach).

Guess which option I took. Curved walls in a bathroom – well how hard can it be? Surely all you have to do is just build a frame and wrap some bendy wall stuff round it. Right?

Building the frames was relatively simple.

All I needed to do now was wrap some ‘bendy stuff’ round the outside. I had a vague memory from primary school  days, that when making  ‘Blue Peter’ type craft projects we were taught that if you ‘scored’ your bit of cardboard with a sharp knife, it became bendy enough to create curves. In my infinite wisdom I decided the same logic could be applied to plasterboard. So I scored the length of a piece of plasterboard multiple times and then tried to wrap it round my curved wall. Total disaster! Plasterboard, apparently, is not like cardboard – absolutely zero flexibility! I just ended up with lots of broken bits of unusable plasterboard!

On to Plan B. Do what any sensible person would have done in the first place. Google it. And the all-knowing internet came back with lots of websites selling ‘Curved wallboard’. Well that should do the trick!

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(In defence of my mad attempt to DIY a curved board, I will point out here that this stuff is just some form of board, deeply scored. So my theory was perfectly sound. It just so happens that this stuff is a lot more flexible than plasterboard…)

So all I needed to to do was attach my ‘bendy stuff’ to the frame…

Actually dead easy to work with. And not that expensive either.

So after that, bendy wall board was too much fun to resist: Curved cupboard, curved steps, curved seat in the shower. There is no limit to things you can curve………

Of course, the next questions is how do you tile a curved wall? But that’s a whole new challenge……

Tiling the Leaning Tower…..

There is no respite when building (or converting) a house. With all the various traumas associated with the plumbing, including the unplanned, unwanted internal water features, it would have been nice to take a bit of time off. But everything seems to be interlinked – you have to finish (or at least get a good way through) one job, before you can get on with another.

So whilst I could put all the first fix pipework in for the plumbing, I couldn’t really fit all the taps and things until I’d decided how I was going to finish the walls.

I decided to tile everything – hides a multitude of sins, and it’s one of those things that’s flogged as a DIY job – so how hard could it be?

Well with with four bathrooms to get done, I can safely say I’ve now had plenty of practise! And one thing I’ve learnt is that the quickest and cleanest way to lay tiles is to make sure you’ve got the biggest slabs you can get your hand on. Stands to reason: great big tiles + small floor area = less work and less mess.

Well that’s the theory anyway. The obvious flaw to this approach is great big tiles require walls to be square and floors to be flat.

Sadly, there is nothing square or flat about my barn. As anyone who’s read the blog about slating the floors may recall, the concrete screed in the barn in places has a passing resemblance to a mountain range. And my door-hanging exploits will have exposed the fact that there isn’t a straight wall in the place.

Still, I’m an optimist. So I ignored my little unevenness problem and went and bought some giant 60 x60cm slabs of quartz for the floor of bathroom number 1.

At 7m² it’s the smallest bathroom in the main house – (yes I am showing off, I know, that’s still nearly twice as big as the national average). But when you take into account the space covered by the shower enclosure it meant I only needed 16 tiles. Ha – can get that done in a day, no problem!

And for once, it more or less went to plan. Yes the concrete slab was uneven – but an extra thick layer of cement will solve that, right? Hmm. I only just got away with that logic. It was fine, all apart from one tile, that started to sink into the cement like it was quicksand. And much like quicksand, once it started to sink, the suction power meant it was impossible to lift out. Fortunately it’s right in the corner of the room – no-one will ever know…..

The walls got the same treatment. Nice big 30cm x 60cm tiles. So they went on relatively quickly too. But obviously nothing in the barn can ever be entirely straight forward. Remember I mentioned the walls not being square…..

So what happens when you get to the corners of the room? It becomes blatantly obvious when the the tiles that were in perfect alignment together at the bottom of the wall start to diverge the higher up the wall they go. By the time you get to the ceiling it looks like you’ve been tiling the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

So do you try to match the corners up the wall – which will then create an angle to the floor and/or the ceiling. Or do you line up to the floor, which then creates a problem in the corners?? Only one answer to the impossible conundrum – I deferred to the wisdom of the spirit level. The walls may not be square; the floors and ceilings may slope; but believe me, the tiles are perfectly level!

A few simple tricks, and in fact the problem’s quite hard to spot:

  1. Big white tiles, bright white grout. Makes the gaps disappear like magic….
  2. Cunning ploy – I tiled one wall with mosaics – they’re slightly easier to ‘manipulate’ a little bit, stretch them out a little bit to hide the gaps
  3. Strategically placed furniture – two of the corners are mostly hidden by furniture – so unless you plan to spend your time in the shower ogling at the ceiling, you probably wont see the wonkiness anyway.
  4. Give them something else to ogle at. My posh glass radiator makes a better talking point than wonky walls….. IMG_0749

Now for bathroom number 2……..

What do you mean, ‘Where’s the plughole?’

I am insanely jealous of these self-build smugs on the TV who run their building sites like a military training exercise, with endless checklists, projects plans, meetings and milestones. And who seem to know the precise position of every cable, socket, light switch and tap.

Of course, my theory is that naturally it’s easier to plan the precise layout and location of everything when it’s a new-build project and you’re starting with a blank piece of paper. Whereas when you’re working within the existing framework of an old barn, retrofitting pipes and cables alongside, through and around old stone walls, obviously things are a bit more problematic.

Well that’s my excuse anyway. I suspect, in truth, it’s probably got as much to do with my colossal lack of organisation skills as it has to do with the fact that it’s an old building. That, and the fact that I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, having sacked all the expertise (the architect, the engineer, and even Mr Incompetent Builder), and was consequently making it up as I went along – in no logical order.

But be fair, if you were in that situation, when your building was still at the mud floors and bare stud walls stage, would worrying about plughole positions be top of your to-do list? I mean, why’s that even important when the walls are falling down around you?

Blame it on free-standing bath I’d bought, which needed an equally free-standing waste pipe to stick up through the floor in the appropriate place. The lovely chaps pouring the floor screed needed to know where that ‘appropriate place’ was.

At this point I think it’s probably fair to acknowledge that anyone who was more organised than me (which probably covers about 99% of the world’s population) would have checked the whereabouts of the plughole in the bath BEFORE telling the contractors where to bury the waste pipe in the concrete screed.

In my defence, I was at work when they phoned to ask. In the middle of a budget meeting to finalise a £400million IT budget, trying to have a surreptitious discussion about plugholes was not easy. “Yes, I have bought a bath already. What do you mean, ‘Where’s the plughole?’ Where do you think it is? On the bottom of course. Duh! Gotta go….”

Actually, I didn’t have a clue which end the plug was, so I guessed and said it was in the middle. Now before you all roll your eyes or laugh hysterically, it wasn’t entirely random coin-tossing guesswork; there was some method in my reasoning. It’s a big bath, roomy enough for two, and nobody likes sitting on the plughole – so of course it will have been designed with plughole in the middle to avoid that. Perfectly logical don’t you think?

Perfectly logical, but totally incorrect.

But so convinced was I by my logical reasoning that I went ahead and tiled the floor around the sticking up pipe – still without checking.

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It wasn’t until I actually unpacked the bath that my ‘logical’ theory fell apart and I discovered the plughole was at one end of the bath, whereas I now had a waste pipe  in the middle of the floor.

Oops!

It wasn’t even as if my new bath were an old fashioned rolltop on legs. At least then I could have fashioned a fancy stainless steel waste contraption and pretended it was all part of the design. And it would have been easy to get to.

Nope. Mine is a modern free-standing slipper bath that sits flush to the floor. So I had it precariously tilted on a couple of blocks of wood, giving me about 3 inches of accessible space as I tried to connect the waste trap at one end of the bath to the waste pipe in the middle of the floor…

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Cue the bruises and lots of swearing…..

And unfortunately the plughole sagas didn’t stop with the bath. The phone rang again, right in the middle of a heated debate with the Head of IT over his megalomaniac plans to bankrupt the company. “Yeah sorry love, it’s Bob the Builder again. What about the plughole in the shower?”

At least I knew the answer to that one. “It’s in the corner. Sorry, bit busy. Can’t talk now.”

Perhaps I should have been a little bit more specific. I got back up to the house to find the waste pipe for the shower in the corner. Right in the corner. So close that by the time the walls were boarded, there was only about 1cm gap between pipe and wall – compared with the 8 inch gap between plughole and edge of shower tray. To make matters worse, I’d deliberately bought a low-level shower tray, aiming for that ‘it’s almost a wetroom’ look.

My DIY-loving dad spent a whole weekend drilling and chiselling the concrete trying to create enough space and depth to fit the shower trap and waste pipe. In the end, the position of the waste stack meant it just wasn’t possible.

Plan B required. “Dad, can you just build a 2 inch frame to raise the shower tray…?”

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My cunning plan? Create a tiled plinth – nobody will ever know that’s not what was originally planned….

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It all worked out in the end, but it would have been a whole lot easier if I’d worked out what I wanted in advance. Hindsight is a wonderful thing……