All I want for Christmas is….. an island!

The last time I blogged about my kitchen it was just before Christmas 2015, when I was attempting to install a fridge without squashing my mother. The fridge went in, but beyond that there was an Aga and a couple of rickety old workbenches rescued from the builders. All water related activities – other than what came out of the fridge were up in the freezing cold kitchen in the cottage.

There was plenty of ice on demand for the G&T, but otherwise cooking the Christmas dinner was a bit of a challenge….

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I decided that I would aim to have a properly functioning kitchen before the next turkey roasting session came around, so we entertained ourselves one day by planning the kitchen layout with a tape measure, lots of newspaper and sellotape.

Well how else do you decide how big your island should be?

I’d got my kitchen designer lined up already. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, or so they say. So whenever Mr Incompetent Builder had really hacked me off, I’d take my plans and go for a wander around some of the posh kitchen designer shops. If your house is big enough that your plans don’t fit on anything smaller than A0 size sheet of paper, and the plans show that there are two kitchens in the house, those designer chappies get really excited.

“Would Madam like a glass of wine………?”

Well nice as some of those designs were, I really didn’t really think I could justify spending more on the kitchen than I did on the house. But I did find a decent local designer who was more or less within budget – not quite up there with the name-dropping designers where you really do need to re-mortgage the house to pay for the kitchen, but still pricey enough that I decided to to do it by instalments.

Fortunately they were happy enough to work with me on that, so towards the end of 2016 I arranged for the central island – which would house sink and dishwasher – to be installed first. The logic being that not only would that provide a nice large work surface area – perfect for turkey carving – but would also mean that we no longer needed to traipse up to the arctic kitchen in the cottage every time we needed to do some washing up.

In October I had the final get together with the designers to go through all the last minute details and we set a date for the work to start in a couple of weeks. At which point I jumped back on a plane and headed back to India, fully expecting that the next time I arrived home, I’d have a fully functioning island.

Hmmm. Well have you ever tried managing a building project from 5,000 miles away? First I got an email complaining that they’d turned up but no-one was there to let them in. Clearly my message about where to find the key under the proverbial doormat hadn’t got through to the delivery team. Next I got a panicked phone call asking where to turn the water off because they’d unclamped a pipe without checking where the water supply came from….. (Apparently my Aga got quite a good wash).

Still, I finally got an email saying they were all finished. So how excited was I walking back into my kitchen 6 weeks later?

Spot the deliberate mistake.

Yep. No taps.

I really should learn to read the small print when I get the contractors in. In my naivety I thought when you were building an island that included fitting a sink and integrating a dishwasher, installation meant plumbing it all in. So it all worked. And was ready to use.

Apparently not.

It means making sure there are the rudiments of pipework and (disconnected) cables in place before you build all the cabinets over the top of them, putting the sink in before topping it off with your nice granite work surface (complete with tap holes) and hiding the dishwasher in its appropriate cabinet. And leaving the taps in their box under the sink. Without connecting anything up.

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It was 10 days before Christmas. So once again, whilst most normal people are down at B&Q buying last minute Xmas trees, fairy lights and singing reindeer, I was in the Plumbing aisle buying U-bends and plastic pipe. Bah humbug to you too.

But hey, I’m an expert at the plastic pipe plumbing malarkey. Can do it in my sleep. So a couple of hours and we’ll have it all fully functioning. No worries. Right?

Wrong.

  1. The cabinets were custom made and beautifully fitted. And solid. And immoveable. The plinth was removable to access under the cabinets. And there was a gap left at the back of the cupboards under the sink. Theoretically there was enough room to fit all the waste and water pipes. If you had arms like an orang utan and were a contortionist to boot.
  2. Well I’ve had a bit of practice at the contortionist plumbers game. But on this occasion I’d ended my stint in India in a hospital in Chennai suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy. When I was finally allowed back on a plane to come home, I was still dosed up to the eyeballs on painkillers and struggling to breathe. Having to lay on my back with my head in the cupboard under the sink was probably not the best way to recuperate. It hurt. A lot.
  3. I did, with much swearing, pain and probably a few tears and tantrums, manage to get the waste and plastic water supply pipes all connected up. Only to discover that one of they tap levers was faulty. And since the shop was now closed until after the festive holidays, there was no way of getting a replacement in time for Christmas.
  4. And finally? A power cable for the island had been run under the floor when I’d had it screeded. But kitchen installation hadn’t included a sparky. So there was no socket for the dishwasher.

So even after all my heroic efforts (- well I was seriously on the sick list), all I had for Christmas was a decent work surface, a sink that was plumbed in and usable, but without working taps, and a dishwasher that needed a very long extension lead. Still at least we didn’t have to wash up by hand any more!

 

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I promised myself it would be working by the next Christmas……

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….!)

Snug as a bug in an insulated rug…

It was a fantastic weekend with a house full of people at Easter, when I briefly, but happily, deluded myself that life at the barn was all about relaxing by the fire and consuming G&T.

But now it’s back to reality with a bit of a bump! As I think I said at the end of the last blog, there’s still a very long list of things that need finishing, so tempting as it was to have a nice long lie-in on Saturday morning, unfortunately the overalls were waiting and there was work to be done.

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There’s nothing delusional about 15 rolls of insulation that need to be put into the loft. Bought a while ago, I wanted to get them laid before the Invaders arrived, but that was yet another one of those jobs that I was a bit too optimistic about.

Actually there was a bit of intentional procrastination going on as well. I hate insulation – it’s nasty stuff to work with; no matter how carefully you try to cut it, it gets everywhere. I’m probably not sufficiently ‘Health & Safety’ conscious as a rule when working on the house (as any picture of me up a ladder will demonstrate!)

But think about it – this stuff is a supposed to be an eco-friendly sort, made out of recycled glass bottles. I’ve never figured out how you make ‘wool’ out of glass bottles, but does it mean that all the little particles that fly around are actually bits of glass? Who knows – but I don’t think I’ll take any chances. So it’s full battle armour – overalls, gloves, boots, face mask.

  
Of course, this had to be one of those rare weekends in a Scottish spring, when the sun appears and the temperature almost reaches double digits… A weekend when any self-respecting Scot dons shorts and T-shirt gets outside to enjoy a bit of fresh air.

A perfect weekend to get suited up like you’re part of a bio-hazard squat team, I don’t think.

The first problem I encountered was getting access to the loft. A few months ago, when Bodgit and Fudgit had such a disastrous week up at the barn, they not only managed build a gutter that required water to flow uphill, but they were using my ladder when they did so. By the time I got it back, it could have taken pride of place in a modern art gallery under the title ‘Abstract: Ladder killed by Concrete’.

It was taken away to be jet washed, but was apparently so bad they couldn’t get it clean. Instead they replaced it with a new one – which was a little bit bigger and a little bit longer than the old one……

……So it doesn’t actually fit straight up into the loft hatch. The only way I could get it to work was by leaning it against the side wall of the roof light and taking a bit of a leap of faith into the loft!

 

OK. That minor detail sorted, it should all be relatively simple from now on. Just measure width between the rafters, cut insulation, roll it out, job done.

Really???

Well the cut insulation bit is easy enough. One thing I have learnt is that if you saw it while still wrapped it creates a lot less dust, is easier to cut, and easier to manhandle afterwards.

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But after that it all goes downhill.

My loft is a plastic pipework graveyard. Every conceivable length and diameter of plumbers pipe has been left up here to die. All those trips I kept making to B&Q to buy ‘a short length of pipe I need to plumb in ……’ – all totally unnecessary as I appear to have a complete stock of everything in my roofspace!

And then of course there’s all of the miles of ‘live’ pipes and cables that I clearly need to avoid cutting, piercing, breaking, moving…..

So, just cut a piece of insulation and roll it into place…… I think not.

Cut a piece of insulation, manhandle, manipulate, (swear a bit), coerce, and occasionally brute force shove it into place is a bit more like it! All while roasting in full body armour in an attic space that’s got a bit of sun on it.

As with all good project management, I appear to have over ordered on the materials, and underestimated the amount of time it would take!

But now my roof is as snug as that proverbial bug – bring on the snow…

 

 

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!

 

Ice on demand…

It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, which means most normal people will be madly dashing about buying presents, decorating the tree  or writing out Christmas cards to all those people they haven’t heard from since last year.

Me? I’m plumbing a fridge.

The downside of having bought one of those fancy all-singing, all-dancing things is that I needed to get a supply of water to it – ideally before Christmas so I can actually use it for that excess of food and (more importantly) drink that is the custom at this time of year.

I had at least done a little bit of forward planning on this one. A fridge that dispenses ice on demand for the G&T was always fairly high on my list of wants in the kitchen, so when the main water supply was being run through the house, I’d asked for a pipe to be put into the corner of the kitchen.

Quite why anybody thought a water supply should stick out of the wall 8ft above floor level is beyond me, but I’ve given up trying to figure the thinking behind Mr Incompetent Builder’s actions. At least he put a water connection in – when I eventually have the kitchen fitted, I’ll have to hide all the pipework behind cupboards or something.

But before you can plumb a fridge in, you have to get it out of the box. The lovely chaps who’d delivered it had brought in a great big box, put it neatly in its chosen location and then left.

Tearing off all the cardboard was like Christmas come early. But when we had cleared all that away, we were left with the fridge sitting on a polystyrene base, and no obvious way to get it onto the floor.

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I call this picture ‘The art of procrastination.’ We had looked at it, we had endlessly discussed it, we had gone away and had another cup of tea….

We came up with a cunning plan. Dad and I would tilt the fridge and hold it, while Mum cut half the polystyrene out from under it. Then we would tilt it in the other direction and take the rest out. Simple!

Our endless discussions had been about the fact that it weighed 138kg, so how could we safely hold it, while the base was removed? Flattening Mum under 138kg of fridge if we dropped it was not really an option.

Apparently we were taught the same things at Physics lessons. We decided the law of the lever theory would work – there is a point when an object is tilted where it is equally balanced on its fulcrum so no effort is required to hold the weight. Well that’s the theory…..

So after another cup of tea, when we could procrastinate no more, we put our theory to the test. And it worked. Or at least it did to begin with. We got the fridge tilted to a point where it required very little effort to hold it. Unfortunately my Dad & I are unevenly matched – I was applying more pressure holding it my side, which meant I started to pull it towards me. Which meant it was out of kilter. And the perfect balance/fulcrum was lost. At which point it became very heavy, very quickly…

I think I yelled quite loudly at this point. Fortunately we did still have enough grip between us to lower it rather than just drop it, and Mum did have time to get out of the way.

Time for another cup of tea. And another lengthy debate about whether we should try again. I was still a bit too shaky from having nearly squashed my mum under a fridge to want to try it again in a hurry.

Time to call in the cavalry. I went and knocked on my neighbour’s door. With an extra pair of strong hands supporting the weight from the other side there was no danger of dropping it. Five minutes later and the polystyrene base had disappeared.

In future, any company offering to unpack the goods when they deliver have got my vote.

Anyway, it was eventually unpacked and in its place. That was last weekend. So all I had to do this week is plumb it in….

IMG_1136The instructions weren’t exactly easy to follow, being of the ancient egyptian hieroglyphic type – no words, just random, seemingly unconnected pictures.

I eventually figured out what I needed, but having rummaged through my bag of leftover fittings from all my previous plumbing jobs, it was evident that a trip to B&Q was unavoidable.

I felt a bit out of place at the checkout. In amongst the trolleys full of Christmas trees, light-up reindeer and singing snowmen, there I am with 2 lengths of PEX pipe, a bag of pipe inserts and a couple of connecting joints….Bah humbug!

To be honest, it wasn’t really that difficult to put together. A few bits of pipe, a couple of connectors. Pushfit makes it fairly simple. The trick I’ve learnt (from previous disasters) is making sure you’ve really rammed the pipes into the fittings.

But the phobia I’ve invented – the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water – still kicks in every time I have to turn a water supply on to test a new connection.

I opened up the valve and waited for the water explosion. There was a sound of rushing water as the pipes filled, and the fridge started gurgling madly as it came to life. But all my joints stayed connected and nothing was leaking. Woohoo! I have a working fridge. And half hour later I had ice on demand!

Well there’s a risk there may be no turkey on the table, and unless I get my skates on nobody in my family is getting a christmas present from me, but at least anybody who visits over the festive period will always have ice in their G&T. It’s called getting your priorities sorted….

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……

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.