Sunday 26 February 2012

The Princess and the Hooker

Just in case you thought we all descend on the Silverwoods at the weekend for a chance of a rest and relax after all the builder-ing, here's the truth. Evil Landlady Mrs Silverwood makes us slave for our dry bread and water with a bit of painting and decorating. Here are, in no particular order

1) a nice coat of cream paint and a big "R" in princess style for a 4 year old R who is mad keen on all things Princess. On the opposite wall will go one of those fancy new 8' x 6' wall-paper murals, in her case containing an underwater scene of mermaid x princesses (Mermesses? Princaids?) as well as dolphins, shark and fishes.
2) Some fancy pink-roses on black wall paper, sealer/varnish on the new tongue and groove panelling and pink paint on the walls for the two older Silverwood girls, Em-J who is a bit 'goth' and wanted BLACK, and J-M who is girlie-pink and wanted PINK. Nice compromise. Went on well too till the very last minute of the first coat of pink when, holding a roller-tray and reaching for the open tin, Dad did a pink paint version of that cliche mistake where you spill your mug of tea because you rotate your wrist to look at your watch. Bubble gum pink paint all down his front and on his (old, fortunately) suede shoes. Gah! Excuse the mess, by the way. This is a teenager room and the builders are in (and the painters).
3) Also here, the Silverwoods keep 2 big rabbits (Ginny and Padfoot named after Harry Potter characters) in a hutch for the amusement of visiting Deefers. The two local dogs are bored with them at this stage, or scared of them. They got out onto the decking once and Max and Lily had to be rescued from a high vantage point, the kids' trampoline. Haggis has even been for a look in when toddler R left the door open and just stood there, nose to nose, confused as if asking them "What are you? Birds? Dogs? Big Mice?" I, though, an still convinced I should like to play with them, so here's me and Lily chatting them up through the hutch front. There are those who say I should know better because I have already fallen foul of local cat Thomas, taking a swipe across the nose when I got too close, which bled! He don't take no prisoners, that boy.
4)The beer? Dad says it's a nice local one, brewed in an artisan brewery in Roscommon. A place of pilgrimage, I would think.


First Fixing Photo's

Just for interest, some pictures of the plumbing and electrical first fixing. The plumbing is mainly being done in half inch "Qual-Pex" plastic pipe, although we have to use copper for the first ten feet or so coming from the stove. The electrics are being done in something called NYM-J cable which are a little more expensive than the normal grey 'mains' cable you see, but the NYM has extra fancy sheathing to protect it from all manner of degradation by nasty chemicals in the plaster, insulated foam, paints and so on. The main hub for electrics has become known as Electric Avenue and the main hub for plumbing, which will be the airing cupboard ("hot press" in Irish)is known as Plumb Central. Plumb central has all the red 'gate valves' in the photos.

All very technical

Saturday 25 February 2012

Bits and Pieces

The usual little flurry of photos to catch you up on some detailed bits.
1) An 'angle drill'. When the body of your power drill is too long to go in the gap between joists for those runs of lined up holes through which you can push pipes or cabling, hire a drill where the bit works at 90 degrees to the body. Then you can sneak the business end up between the joists and "work away" (as they say round here).
2) Some early signs of Spring. In the 2nd drive way up to the right hand side of the house is an old old stone wall, long since buried under a carpet of moss, soil and herbs. We don't use this drive way because it does not have a hard base and is pretty much just a farm field-gate, but it serves the cattle yard and then runs on down the hill towards where the peat cutting bogs for the farm were. Mum does, though, have designs on it and will create at some point in the future, a second vehicle access so we can swoop majestically in and out. The farm-field will be pushed back over the old wall and past the line of trees which run just East of the wall. It is along this bank and wall that Dad discovered a load of primroses were in bloom in the sunshine of Thursday afternoon.
3) Our new solid fuel stove has arrived but cannot be set up yet till we have a tiled floor, so is sitting there on its pallet, still in its plastic shroud to protect it till that day. It is a respected make (Stanley) and weighs a tonne (well, probably not quite, but it's a solid thing for sure.
4) Dad and Sparks treated themselves to a cement mixer. They have mixed enough concrete and cement by hand to know that they do not want to be mixing by hand to supply the Midnight Joker when he re-renders the end of the house. The many many other uses they will find for it mean that it's cheaper to buy than to hire one. It got assembled Monday and straight way used to mix the concrete which went into the 4 bits of shuttering around various windows. Simple. Shovel gravel or sand in, then cement, start it running (nice and quiet because it's electric) to mix these to an even grey colour, then add water from a bucket till the required consistency is reached (2-3 minutes). Tilt drum to pour mix into buckets and carry to place where needed. Brilliant.


Thermal panels and First Fixing

This week has been all about plumbing and electrical first fixes. These plumbers and electricians have their work on a house split up into fixes because there are bits they need to do before other tasks are done and bits they can only do nearer the end of the build. Running cables from room to room and pipes from where the stove will be, up to the roof and down again to kitchen, bathroom, utility room etc, can most easily be done BEFORE the ceilings are in place and the walls plastered. Wiring in sockets, switches and lights and plumbing in sinks and the stove can only be done when the rooms are nearly finished with floors tiled etc. Hence 'first fix, 2nd fix and sometimes 3rd, 4th etc.

This week Sparks needed to run his cables and pipes from room to room. Dad was on hand to do a lot of the drilling of holes through joists where pipes and cables would be run 'across' these rather than up and down between them, but was also 'stood down' from the fixing due to lack of knowledge of wiring and plumbing (In short, he'd have just been in the way!) Luckily we were also at the stage where he could start fitting the 4 inch thermal panels (sheets of dense plastic foam with tin foil coverings) into the gaps between rafters. This is the modern way to stop heat loss upwards and keep the house snug. The panels are easy to cut - an ordinary wood saw goes through them like a hot knife through butter but in this house the rafters are not evenly spaced or particularly straight or parallel so he had some fun measuring the sizes of the 'holes into which they'd slot' You also have to have a good eye for a 3D puzzle when you're cutting out bits to cope with roof trusses at funny angles. With practice though, Dad has become very proficient at this and in 2 and a half days work has pretty much completed the slabbing.

This kept him out from under Sparks's feet so he was able to crack on with the first fixing and by Friday we not only had a almost-fully insulated roof, but also wires and cables snaking around all over the place in bundles or neat arrays, all neatly inscribed with marker pen, finishing at blank cut ends where sockets will go, or lights, the stove, water tanks, kitchen and bathroom fittings etc. We even got the 2 water tanks into the loft space, connected them up, filled them to test for leaks.

Good going

Water, Water Everywhere

If there's an aspect of this house renovation which occasionally winds us up is probably the fact that some of the damage and dereliction could have been so easily avoided. Setting aside the idea of leaving the house shut up for 15 years in the cold and damp, much of the damp did not need to be there in the first place had a little more thought been given to the house's ability to shed water - the drains and the 'apron'. The poor ol' place had clay right up to the walls, and often moss, weeds, brambles and ivy clambering up its lower walls (the ivy right up to the gutters). The gutters, even when they were new seem to have been set up badly.

The roof is brilliant, so the water flows off it easily and the gutters (now cleared of 15 years of blown leaves and pine needles carry the water away well to the down pipes. The down pipes, though, dump their water into the most silly places. In one case into the 3 inch gap between dining room outer wall and the out-building we call the 'office'. In another case into the uphill side of the kitchen and Tigin. This would have made the soil permanently wet just uphill of the kitchen and, with no foundations except for the plinth-base of the kitchen wall, the damp would have flowed as ground-water through the clay to under the kitchen. Here a pathetic sheet of 'cake icing' cement was all that was between your feet and the cold, wet clay. The floor was glistening with damp.

A big part of our work has been about sorting this out and improving it. First we have dug out the floors to 17 inches and separated our feet from the cold, damp clay using 8 inches of '804 sub-base', 6 inches of thermal foam panels and 3 inches of screed. 2nd we will be re-routing gutters and down pipes so that they dump their water on the downhill sides of the house. Then we have had Paddy the Drains in over last weekend to dig gulleys and lay drain pipes which collect up all these down-pipes (green circle and 2nd picture)and send them under the cattle yard and into an outflow downhill from us (see bizarre picture of pipe end!). At some stage we will be creating a concrete apron around the uphill side of the house which will shed water away from the house for a meter.

Finally, if you look at the third picture you have some completely counter-productive places (not so much water-shedding as water-gathering) e.g. where the end of the Tigin's sloping walls fire water straight onto the outside wall of the kitchen (red circle) due to no-one thinking to create a gap here or flashing the join with lead. This we will solve by creating cement 'chevrons' guiding water onto the corrugated iron sheeting.

Ah well. It all makes work for...

Sunday 19 February 2012

Shallow Grave

Rather scarily there is now a place in the 'garden' of the Roscommon house which has become known as the "Shallow Grave". This low mound of soil under the big pine trees to the left of the drive as you go up towards the house was discovered by Sparks to have two old decomposing boots sticking out of it at suspiciously close distance from one another, all be it toes down and heels up. Neither Mum nor Dad (nor indeed Sparks) show any inclination to investigate further, although Em-J and J-M Silverwood, now they know it exists, cannot wait to get their forensic "murderer" gloves on and start gently digging. If there is 'anything' in there then the angle of the boots says the hole was dug first, fairly deep, then the 'person' pitched in head first from a position kneeling or leaning over to look into the hole.

Of course (cough)... all they'd surely find would be a pile of domestic rubbish including, if finds so far are anything to go by, plenty of empty bottles, bits of scrap farm implement and two old boots. Or would they?

I'm not looking

Catching up

The usual collection of pics to catch you up on the stuff which doesn't really wrangle into a good blog story.
1) Mum attacks some loose plaster with the mini-Kango
2) Mum and Dad took advantage of the absence of Sparks on Monday night, after the anti-woodworm spraying job, to celebrate St Valentine's Day with this steak (half each!), chips, Prosecco 'fizz'. Maybe the strong chemical whiff of dieselly stuff coming off the spray added to the romantic sensory delights.
3) Sparks living up to his name, angle-grinding a big metal strap out of the new, bigger, kitchen window orifice.
4) Last thing Friday saw the boys putting back the stud walls which separate the landing and stair well from either bedroom.
5) Big brother to the "Paslode" nail gun which you have already seen. This one is nominally for firing masonry type pins into metal, concrete or masonry. In fact, however, this house goes in for very hard, brittle stone and modern concrete. For the geologically minded these are hard Lower (i.e. older) Carboniferous Sandstones and Limestones which come out of the soil in these parts, including some which are known as 'blue-stone' like the ones used in Stonehenge. There! What an educational blog this is! Stamp Man, former Geography Teacher, would be proud of us! This gun, which carries the brand "SPIT" gun, fires its masonry pins into this stuff and the tips tend to explode ripping out a small crater in the surface of the stone (and/or lintel)half an inch deep and an inch or so across, the stone shards buzzing round the room like ricochetting bullets. Safety goggles are a must. Unfortunately you don't end up with the thing successfully nailed up, so we've been reverting to good old fashioned wooden battens, drilled holes and screws.


Paddy the Drains

At the risk of sounding like Peter Mayle of "Year in Provence" fame, Mum and Dad are experiencing a bit of culture shock and don't know whether to find it exasperating or to laugh hysterically. The mad laughing gets my vote. The local workers and tradesmen are all very friendly, easy-going, ready with a laugh or a joke and are, so far, brilliant hard workers who always give excellent value for money. BUT!!! You try to get them to talk money, quote you an actual price or tie themselves down to anything like an agreement on cost or time deadline and you are a braver dog than me!

Bloke A will do his job and chat away to you, find out that you need something else doing and will tell you he knows just the bloke - best plasterer, carpenter, drains engineer or whatever in the County. He will send the guy round or bring him round and the three or four of you will walk round describing what you want doing. You will be re-assured that the job is no problem and he'll sort you out "one of the days". He won't say which day. He won't give you contact details. Ask him for any idea of the price and he'll smile vaguely, make eye contact with his mate but never you, and say "Ah Sure, we'll not rob you!" They will then wander round some more reminiscing about the house, jobs they've done for our previous owners (TK Min and TK Max), hop back into the van. Press them for a price and they'll say "Sure - we'll get back to you, so we will".

Thus it was that our dealings with the Poetic Plumber while we got mains water connected, led to us finding out about his mate, Paddy who handles the drainage gulleys and water-removal pipework side of things. Paddy the Drains comes equipped with JCB and appropriate skills, plus another fine line in the strolling around, re-assuring you the job would happen whilst in no way tying himself down to date, price or even the need to talk to you any more. PP brought PtD round a couple weeks back and as far as we knew we were waiting for PtD to phone and offer us a price, where-upon we'd scratch our chins for a while, say yes, and agree a date.

By last Friday afternoon we were about to leave site for the weekend, headed for the Silverwoods. Dad was beginning to wonder where this had all gone. We'd heard no more from Paddy. Had he decided a price and date? Was he even interested? Had he gone on extended leave? Dad was just about to phone the Poetic Plumber when the bloke rang to say they'd be round tomorrow (Saturday) to do the drains. Dad tried a bit of meek half-hearted protest (But... but... but We were waiting for a price.... We're not here tomorrow... etc) but it was all batted away. We'll know the price when we pay for the pipes. You don't need to be here. 5 minutes later a truck pulled up to deliver half a dozen lengths of drain pipe and all the junctions and fittings. This suggested to Dad, at least, that maybe they had already bought the materials and probably did know the price.

Ah well. No harm done. We left site finally knowing the price. We'd agreed to it even though we felt slightly out-manoeuvred. We are trusting the pair of them to do the drains on Saturday (yesterday) as per the yellow lines painted onto the ground by Sparks, gulleys all in the right place and so on. We will then also trust them to turn up and eventually collect the agreed money. We won't demand that we ever see Paddy again or that he talks to us so we can thank him and congratulate him on a beautiful, professional job.


Extension Roof

There's a job we've been keeping back; not 'saving for a rainy day' but the opposite, saving for a warm sunny day. That is to replace the 'flat' roof of the extension. Not quite flat, it does have a bit of a fall on it away from the house but the tar-felt flashing and wooden structure at the join of extension roof to main house roof has broken down over the years and wet has got in causing rot and damage. The roof was only made of cheap fibre board anyway, so this has all puffed up like wet Weetabix and the water squeezes out between the roofing felt layers when you walk on it (carefully). But roofing is no fun in the wind and rain, so we'd been keeping the job back till a nice one was forecast.

Sparks arrived back on site Tuesday morning declaring that he had heard just such a forecast on the radio and we were green for go. We looked rather dubiously at the ten-tenths cloud and miserable sky, and the wind pushing the tree tops about and decided to risk it. Needless to say the forecast was wrong and the boys spent the day up there freezing and getting regularly doused with drizzly rain but once they'd broken through the old roof they didn't have a lot of choice but to carry on to the bitter end, or the bad rain now being forecast for later in the week would get in. Dad says it was the coldest and dampest, rawest work day so far but still not as bad as the clay-shovelling days! Sparks says "Oooh... I dunno... Give me shovelling any day!"

Anyway, these few pictures give you an idea of the task. Breaking into the roof was easy - just stab it with a crow bar in the middle till you have a hole and then make it bigger. Carefully lift and prize up the slates (These are man made modern slates, not the split-out-of-rock ones, but are still a bit brittle so we have bought 5 spares in reserve in case we break any). In our case don't take enough notice of the fancy jig-saw puzzle arrangement around the roof-join so that you have a good head-scratching conundrum at re-assembly time! Pull up and toss down into the yard all the old rotten roof; later square away to bonfire for evening warmth.

Wrangle new 8 by 4 sheets of modern, waterproof ply up stairs and through between bathroom roof joists while ensuring Sparks does not take off like a para-glider across the fields. Nail gun new sheets down, cut and fit bits of complete roof. Make bit that runs up the roof rafters under the slates. Paint new roof with gloopy black bitumen primer. Lay strips of underlay tar-felt (no green sand) long-ways down slope overlapping, heat with flame thrower so that it melts down onto primer and neighbouring sheets for good seal. Lay top-coat sand-covered green colour tar-felt at 90 degrees overlapping up the slope and torch this down to previous layer and itself. Make edges good where they lay down onto facing boards, leaning precariously over the edge and using heavy nail-gun back towards yourself. Now "simply" (ha ha!) remake the join between new roof and old by solving jigsaw puzzle of removed slates.

All this to be accomplished in the gaps between the drizzle showers. If you can arrange for Mum to call you down for a bacon sandwich when the worst of the rain hits, so much the better. You may have to squeegee the rain off the roof between flame-thrower activities. Never believe a weather forecast again, especially if it says warm bright sunny day in February in Roscommon. Never mind. The job got done and the boys all warmed up eventually, especially once the bonfire was lit.


Saturday 18 February 2012

CSI Roscommon

Sparks is not on site on Monday 13th, having a job to do up in Dublin, but he leaves Mum and Dad with a good job to do. They have to spray all the available wood now left in the house for woodworm; rafters, wall plates, lintels, joists, floorboards and any other kind of framing or plank left visible after all the destruction of the last few weeks. This will involve 5 gallons of nasty chemical which are liberally labelled "Harmful to the Environment", Death to Fish, Kills 99 percent of all known life forms and so on. They must tog up in disposable paper overalls , safety goggles and dust/spray masks like forensic examiners from "Crime Scene Investigations".

We, the dogs are included in the "environment" so for the duration of the spraying we are squared away into the caravan and not allowed out. Mum does all the downstairs and shoulder height stuff which can be reached by the nice long wand on the knapsack sprayer. Dad gets to go up the ladder and probe up into the rafters and the roof ridge. The overalls, gloves and dust masks get ruined with the spray. One of the tins is the version with green dye instead of the clear, diesel-coloured oil. The rubber fronts of the fairly cheap gloves bubble up and go all soft when hit by the spray, leaving them looking when discarded' like warty green toads. This all ends up on the bonfire heap. Because Dad has some juice left after all the indoor wood was wet with the stuff, and the pile of tinder wood was well infested and a bit too close to the house for comfort, Dad gave that a good spray over too.

A messy job, but worth doing.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Wedges and Green Goo

Four more pictures from last week just to fill in a bit of detail.

1) The low-tech wedge arrangement used to push all the floor boards up tight to each other before they were nailed down. An off cut of wood is cut through at an angle to make 2 wedges. This is nailed down to the joists just 'off-shore' of the new boards. A 2nd chunk of wood is placed between butting up to the new boards. The wedge is then driven in between the offcut and the new board, forcing these to tighten up to the ones you are kneeling on, which are already nailed down. No gaps!

2) This is the view north from the caravan. It will also therefore be the view from Mum's proposed kitchen-garden when we've finished wrecking the place and turned it back from building site into Garden-of-Eden. Our land finishes at the hawthorn hedge. The rest of the farm (the 10 acres or so we didn't buy) runs down the slope to the stream and back up a bit into the peat-cutting bogs you can see here. In the distance are some forestry and then the town of Ballaghaderreen, with low hills beyond that, by which time you're into Counties Mayo and Sligo. This is the view we want to keep clear in our gardening and 'borrow from' for our views as if we owned the place. This field is going to be our mixed fruit orchard with or without hot and cold running chickens and lambs, but we will leave an 'avenue' un-planted so that we can see this view.

3)Last thing Friday Sparks started to build stud walling on the main bedroom side of the hall. He would like to point out that the drunken looking upright on the left of the picture is not actually fixed in place yet. He does not want anyone to get the idea he can't do verticals.

4)...and finally a picture of the green goo with which we have protected the ends of our new joists. This is wood preservative, so we guess some kind of kill-all-known-germs stuff which kills woodworm and prevents re-attack but is dyed green just so you can see where you have painted it on. You larrup it on fairly thick especially on the grain ends.

But that's enough writing for one weekend. More from me next Friday or Saturday.

Wednesday Drama

This new floors job is not without its dramas as you can see from these pictures. When the joists were being pulled out of the spare bedroom floor (dining room ceiling) it quickly became apparent that the masonry in which they were sitting was not up to much. Look at the second picture down. You can see that the blocks of in-fill (generally stones and old cement) between joists are not held up by much and the lintel across the top of the window is just a lump of rotten old wood. When anyone stands looking out at the front garden, there was only this dodgy structure between them and a rocky head-ache, or worse.

Dad and Sparks were very worried that the whole lot would cave in, leaving one big hole where top and bottom windows and the bit between used to be, the lovely new windows smashed to bits in the collapse. Luckily these walls are 50 cms thick and have both an inner and an outside lintel and the outside ones were, at least, proper long beams of blue-stone, solid as the proverbial rock.

The boys had to move fast but carefully to ease out the remaining joists and lift out any stone which had already come free and was no longer holding anything up.New joists were then measured and cut to length and slotted carefully in to the solid wall either side of the dodgy bit and even more carefully across the top of the questionable lintel. A pit-prop arrangement was then made out of good timber to hold the ones across the window up into their pockets with bits of slate used to take up any slack. This was cemented in as best they could to stop movement.

Then the old dodgy lintel could be cut through and lifted out. It turned out to be made up of 2 very weak looking bits of former window-frame wood. With that gone the boys could bridge the gap with 2, 4-inch wide, 4 foot, reinforced concrete lintels. Sparks built a wooden shuttering around these so that concrete could be poured in all around and under the joists and through the loose inner side of the wall, all the way 'forwards' till it slopped around the inner surface of the good outer wall binding the whole thickness of the wall together. Now nothing was going to go anywhere. 2 days later the shuttering was prized off to reveal the solid, no-messing, structure and the joists could be finished and the floor boards laid without the risk of hammering and moving about setting off an avalanche. Today's first picture is of the window fixed.

The front door was simpler. No concrete pour was needed. The pit-prop arrangment was holding up the new joists here, too. The old soft baulk of timber was lifted out and a 6 inch wide, 5 foot concrete lintel slotted in, on top of which cement and blocks were built brick-layer style up to the level of the between-joist masonry. This is shown in the final picture.

We feel a lot safer now!