Sunday 27 March 2011

A big writhing knot of froggy love. Spring has arrived.

Monday 21 March 2011


Last night, whilst eating dinner, the security light outside the kitchen tripped on to cast a glare over the back garden.  Nibbling delicately from the bird feeder was a pair of muntjack deer, which explains why the seed in that feeder had dropped so quickly.  Islay is now worried for the vegetables she has (not yet) planted.

Since the last update, we’ve had a couple more contractors round, and I’m starting to get my head around what we want.

Our friendly local plumber Ian came around for a half hour look-see.  That turned into an hour and a half long discussion with me about options and the like.  He confirmed what we already knew - that the boiler and heat pump was very old - and added some more subjects for discussion.  We’re now hoping to get from him a quote for replacing the current oil boiler with a) a new oil boiler, albeit a much more efficient one, or b) an air source heat pump.  The latter sounds pretty interesting, with an approx £6k cost for the device, we can move off oil-fired heating entirely.  What’s not clear to me is whether the house is suited to a heat pump.  More research is required.

We also had friendly near-local builder Francis Neville to prepare a quote for roofing and for insulation.  He hacked (actually neatly sawed) a hole in the top floor bedroom to reveal a 4” deep space with a very thin sheet of very old insulation in it.  He seemed to think that 50mm Celotex and then thermal plasterboard would make it nice and cosy.

Also, we’ve had a full wiring check conducted.  Our poor electrician quoted thinking it would take him a day (despite us warning him of the size and confusion of the place), and it has taken him two and a half days to work out which circuits power what and how it’s all put together.  The final report is not yet in, but the relatively good news seems to be that it’s not as bad as we might have feared and that little remedial work needs doing.

I got the mowers running.  This necessitated a full oil change on the ride-on mower, something I’ve never done before, which turned out to be pretty straightforward.  I was very chuffed when the engine kicked into life.  Together Sarah and I gave the full lawn its inaugural hair cut, taking just over an hour.  I reckon I’ll be able to do it in two hours singlehanded once I’ve worked out efficient routes.  Good news here is that the ride on mower has, I kid you not, a drinks holder which did a great job of holding a can of Coke this around.  In future I imagine a bottle of beer might live there.

Finally, I stripped all the picture hooks we weren’t using off all the walls.  Despite leaving holes behind, this has made the house look better.

With the mowers running, the next official project is to tackle the media room.  Sugar soap, Polyfilla and decorators calk are lined up, and we’d like to get it ready to paint within a few days.  I am nervous, who knows what state the walls will be in when we get up close and personal.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

The fridge. Kneel before its awe inspiring glory

Heat and noise

We always knew Walnut Tree House would be cold and/or expensive to heat.  That much was clear from the EPC we got pre-purchase which suggested it might cost a mind-melting £4k a year in oil and electricity.  Having had to top up the oil tank a mere four weeks after 500 litres went in there, I can now believe it.

Ula’s room aside the house is quite warm.  The Aga does a good, if expensive and almost certainly inefficient, job of heating the kitchen, and our room, sandwiched between under eaves storage, lounge and Ula’s room remains plenty warm enough.

The main problem is that there is almost no insulation anywhere in the house.  Most of the walls are timber framed with a coat of render on the outside, plasterboard on the inside and only air, fraying electric cables and escaping heat in between.  Add to that a boiler that we believe is older than Islay and you can see why burning fivers to keep warm might be more cost effective than the current arrangements.

But, we’ve planned and budgeted (very crudely) for spending money this year, perhaps £30k or more, on uprating the insulation and installing a new boiler and radiators.  The problem we’re both finding is that we’ve no clear idea of what we want to do (other than make it cheaper to run and warmer to live in), no idea what our budget will get us, and worse, no idea who to ask to help us solve the problem.

Since we’ve moved in we’ve had the following suggestions:

  • My mate Ian says install an air source heat pump and solar water heaters

  • Our surveyor Brien says get solar PV panels

  • One bunch of roofers says we should take the roof off and insulate from the outside

  • One plasterer says take the plasterboard off and insulate the wall space

  • Another says don’t take the plasterboard off, just stick thermal lining over the plasterboard

  • And the internet says do everything, but it’s all terrible and you should do the other everything.

Most of which seem more or less reasonable, but none of which help us reach a conclusion.

Hope may be at hand, we’ve found some local heating and insulation contractors and consultants.  I’d just like to find someone who seems to know a bit more than I do and can put a proposal forward.

Monday 7 March 2011

Week 3: The ratchet of progress

This blog seems to be little more than a list of works completed to date, but I’m going to keep it up so we’ve some way of looking back and seeing what we’ve accomplished.

In that spirit, here’s what’s gone on since last week:

We got an Aga engineer out to service the cast iron bad-boy.  According to him the smell of oil is not unusual, it’s just that our valvework is stored in a kitchen cupboard rather than just tucked away around the back.  Other than that it’s in rude health, and that’ll be £90 for the privilege.  Googling after his visit I found out it consumes 40l of oil a week.  A WEEK.  It’s a middle-class lifestyle affectation and, much as Islay’s enjoying it and I quite like its warmth on a cold day, I’m going to start plotting its downfall soon enough.

Islay played host to many contractors.  We got two quotes for plastering the media room (£110 and £630.  I think they’ve offered different things).  A quote for some fencing work.  A visit from some roofers, but no quote yet.

Our surveyor, Brien Walker, also paid us a follow up call (at our request).  He walked us through the survey and we got a chance to ask him how the property worked.  Very helpful, very friendly, highly recommended.  His nutshell summary: nice area, nice grounds, pretty poorly built but nothing wrong that’ll make it fall down.  Which is sort of reassuring I suppose.

At his prompting I clambered onto the flat roof on Saturday and, armed with a sturdy broom, swept five barrowfuls of moss out of the hidden valley and onto the compost heap.  It looks better now, and presumably might prolong the life of the roof a little.  Whilst up there I had the dubious pleasure of seeing quite how poorly cabled the antennae are (for there are two of them, and a satellite dish) with their cables draped loosely over the roof.  Two of them will be coming down soon.

I purchased my first ever crow-bar, actually a mini crow bar, and now I feel like Gordon Freeman.  My first target was not a headcrab but the recalcitrant shelving unit at the back of the media room.  With a little help from my dad it was out of the room and into the greenhouse in short order.

With naught but a squeegee and some washing up liquid I fitted a window film to the conservatory door so Ula can run pell mell around the house without (much) fear of losing a limb to falling sheets of plate glass.

And best of all our new fridge turned up.  It now looms vastly in the corner of the kitchen like a white domestic version of the monolith from 2001.  Albeit a monolith with two doors and really cool lighting system when you open it up.  It is a slice of 21st century awesome in an otherwise rather outdated house.