The Fireplace: Part 4

The fireplace is now dry, and we’ve had the chimney cleaned.

As the fireplace was drying it produced some cool patterns. You can see where the plaster is thickest by how it dried.

This pic was taken before the plastering work was complete
Drying
Almost dry

As for getting the chimney swept, it was over very quickly. I expected it to take several hours but it ended up being done within one hour. Messy, dirty work though. Lots of old, black soot and other detrius came tumbling out.

Now that the dirty work is complete we just need to get on with painting and get the stove installed. Not long now!

Sealing a door

So we’ve got a leak.

Occasionally we’ll notice that the floor by the front door is wet. We are currently living on a concrete floor at the moment as we decorate and prepare to install new flooring. Yes, it is cold. Anyway, it’s good that we’ve been hesitant with finding the right kind of laminate/LVT. If we’d rushed into fitting a floor we would have likely needed to rip some of it up to deal with this issue. The only problem is that I can’t identify where the water is coming from.

Originally I was suspicious that the leak was coming from the door itself, running down the front and getting in under the seal between the door and the frame within which the door sits. I have checked the seal and although it isn’t in the best condition it does seem like it would do the job.

We have a somewhat protected porch area where the door is set in slightly, and up a step. Unfortunately the guttering isn’t fitted properly so water does drip out from between two sections, then hits the floor which results in the water splashing up against the walls and the door itself.

Green = Corner section       Red = Leaky bit

I managed to pull the straight section to the right of the green box in the above image across just enough to clip into the corner section (green box in above image) and seal it with some Roof & Gutter Sealant (red box.) It looked like it was going to hold, so I had hoped this would stop the splashing, which would in turn stop or at the very least lessen the leak.

Whilst this has indeed fixed the gutter leak and improved the situation significantly, we’re still finding water coming in when the wind blows it in just the right (wrong?) direction.

So, what next? Well, the step up to our front door was clearly laid by an imbecile. It slopes towards the door, meaning whenever it rains we get a puddle of water sat literally on our door step. Ideally you want the water to flow away from your property, not toward it.

This concerned me, so now I am worrying that the water is coming in under the actual frame of the door (rather than under the door but above the frame) and have sealed up the entire front, plus some of the brickwork that looked a bit suspicious.

You can see the grey sealant along the wall and across the bottom of the door frame.

I sealed this a little while ago but only just took the pic. If it weren’t for the horrible weather it’d be much cleaner out there, promise!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that stopped anything, so I changed tack. I placed a large sheet of paper up against the base of the door frame and the wall, but under the door itself and not on the floor, to try and isolate exactly where the water is coming in.

After the next batch of rainfall I could see the concrete under the door was wet, but the paper was dry. Looks to me like it’s coming in from under the doorframe itself. This is an issue for sure as I have sealed the entire of the externally facing door frame at this point. There must be a crack somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t find it.

I may need to get an expert in to have a look. I hate problems I can’t fix. This is one of those unknown unknown times – I don’t really know what to look for, or where to look. If we get someone experienced in I’ll watch them figure it out and potentially fix the problem in moments. Once I’ve seen it done, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to replicate the fault finding process for this particular issue. Bit too late by then, though, eh?

The Cat

What a klutz.

The Fireplace: Part 3

The plastering work is complete!

I never realised plaster could be so smooth

We’ve got some kind of cement mix on the inside to protect against the immense amount of heat that the wood burning stove will release, with plaster around the chimney breast itself.

From the image it looks very rough, but the plaster is super smooth. It feels like glass. I was concerned about paint adhering to such a smooth surface but I have been reassured that with a 50/50 paint/water mix cloud-sprayed on, or a couple of layers of PVA/water, the paint will stick to it fine.

The next step for the chimeny is to get our chimney swept – we need to get this done before we do any further decorating really as it’s probably going to be incredibly messy.

Also, I spoke to the plasterer about our popcorn ceiling and he has offered to skim it for us. Painting it will be absolute hell if we don’t get rid of it so he’s done some of the prep work already and will return in a couple of weeks to finish the job. Good stuff!

The Fireplace: Part 2

I have another new toy.

Destroyer of worlds, boxed. Other brands are available.

Previously, we had our fireplace opened up with the goal of getting a wood burning stove installed.

We need to get the chimney breast plastered, which we can do now, but if we want to A) save the coving, and B) save the plasterer some time and effort, we will need to remove the old material that has been plastered all over it.

(more…)

The Fireplace

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted a log burning stove. One of the (many) reasons we picked this place to live in was because of the relative ease of installing one at some point in the future.

We’ve taken our first steps towards that now!

When we moved in, every room was stained yellow with nicotine. There was some serious discolouration going on, and we have had to literally rip out everything but the walls themselves to get rid of the smell. One of the dirtiest rooms (but not the dirtiest – the winner of that award goes to the third bedroom) was the livingroom.

When we first arrived and after getting most of our stuff in, I took panoramic photos of each room. I knew that we would eventually look back on them to see just how far we’ve come, give us an idea as to how much progress we have made. Unfortunately we’re not quite at that stage just yet, but with the work on the fireplace we’re one step closer!

(more…)

Makita Drill

Give a kid a hammer, and the world turns into a nail. Give me a drill, and suddenly everything needs a hole drilled into it…

After much deliberation (over a period of about 6 months) and the assistance of a generous gift card from a birthday I am finally the owner of a real powertool!

I’ve got a corded drill already, but having to move around with it whilst doing the refurbishment of the house (climbing ladders and going room to room) just isn’t practical. So I purchased a Makita 18V cordless drill to make my life easier.

(more…)

Grow your own… food!

Although we’re nowhere near complete with our house renovations, we couldn’t resist growing some of our own food in our garden over the summer.

I haven’t updated on the progress of this venture, so here’s how it went!

Tomato

Wow. Huge success here. We had them on the floor both outside the greenhouse over the summer as well as inside the greenhouse as it got colder. Unfortunately this resulted in slugs and other pests eating their way through a significant portion of our stock. Even so, starting with just six plants we ended up with hundreds of tomatoes which we barely managed to keep up with. We ate them with almost every meal, and even had to give some away!

We will absolutely be growing these again. We want to try some different varieties as well as get some form of shelving to keep them off of the ground next time. I think with half the number of plants on raised shelving, better protected from the cold, we would end up with more tomatoes than we had this year.

Cucumber

Another huge success. Not only did we get over a dozen spikey cucumbers, they tasted great too. They soak up water like a sponge, so after we went on holiday for a week we came back to a dead, crispy plant 🙁

Next year we will grow another plant (or two) as we know we can get much more fruit from it. As long as we remember to water them…

Cucamelon

We planted two Cucamelon plants in the same pot as the Cucumber (similar name, same pot. Makes sense, right?) but unfortunately they didn’t really grow many fruits. Interestingly, once the Cucumber plant died, the Cucamelon bumped up production of both fruits and shoots. I didn’t get a picture of any of these – they were so rare that we picked them and ate them almost immediately.

The few fruits we did get tasted good. It’s just a shame there weren’t many. We might try these again in a different pot, but possibly not next year as we have some alternative fruits we want to try our hand at growing.

Strawberry

We were gifted a strawberry plant by family but unfortunately the cat decided it would be fun to dig it up and play with it, ripping it apart almost immediately after planting it.

We can learn to forgive him. In time.

I’m very eager to grow and eat fresh strawberry, I don’t think I’ve ever had any that weren’t purchased in a store.

Lettuce

Ah, lettuce. This would have been a resounding success if it weren’t for the ultimate failure on my part to read the instructions properly.

I planted a whole packet of what must have been at least 40 seeds into a single tray. It turns out you are supposed to plant a few of them at a time, spreading them out so that when you eat up the first batch, the second is ready to go. By the time I realised my mistake, the tray was almost solid with the entangled roots of baby lettuce. There was no saving them, although we tried. They went into the compost.

Sorry, lettuce. I failed you. Next year we will grow more, but properly. I promise to read the instructions next time!

In conclusion

This was the first time we’ve grown something edible in our garden, and overall it was successful. We certainly learned a lot and will absolutely be growing more next year. As we clear out more and more of the garden, we should be able to bump up the volume of edibles that we grow. I don’t expect to be able to completely feed us all year around – we just don’t have the land nor the time for that to be feasible – but I do want to have something on the go as often as possible.

We have also tried growing some herbs and other plants, which I might write a bit about in another post.

Apple tree

When we moved in we had a somewhat large Buddleja (or buddleia) hidden behind a veritable forest of weeds. After removing the old tree, the weeds were cleared away which exposed the Buddleja you can see to the left of the following image:

We found that although it was still flowering, 90% of the plant was dead. The trunk was almost entirely rotten – there was a single vein of living wood wound around the back of the trunk which fed the surviving branches. We had high hopes – we knew that if we could trim it down we might be able to encourage it to regrow from lower down and keep our butterflies happy.

If you look closely at the debris in the picture you can probably guess what happened next.

It turns out the several-feet-high weeds were acting as supporting scaffold, holding the Buddleja up. We had some decently strong wind during a storm one night and it tore most of it down. The rotten base gave way in just the wrong places and most of the surviving branches collapsed. With a feeling of sadness we decided to take the rest of it down and, after clearing out the (very stubborn) roots, we ended up with a nice raised bed to work with.

With the larger tree and the Buddleja gone, we felt we had to put something back. We’ve always wanted an apple tree and originally thought about planting it on top of the old evergreen which we cut down. Unfortunately we’d either need to rip the roots out or wait for them to dissolve before we could plant on top of it, so instead we cleaned up the raised bed a bit and it turned into the perfect place to plant a new apple tree!

If you want to plant an apple tree in the UK, generally the best time to do so (according to our research, though this isn’t the case for all apple trees) is somewhere in or around October. Luckily for us, it was October when the Buddleja came down, so we wrapped up warm and ventured out to a local garden centre. After perusing the somewhat limited options, we picked out a Red Falstaff apple tree, which is now happily sat in our front garden!

The Falstaff was picked partly because we liked the look of it, but also because it does not require a second tree nearby to cross-polinate as it is self-fertile. Though I’m sure there are some apple trees around somewhere, meaning we probably could have gotten away with another breed, we felt that a self-fertile tree was a good option on the off-chance that we were wrong as we haven’t  seen any other apple trees nearby yet. We’ll either get some fruit if there are no others nearby, or lots of fruit after humanity’s second best friends cross-pollinate it for us!

We have since put a grease band around it to protect it from pests, which was a horrible sticky job to do on such a thin trunk. It seems to be happy, but the coming winter will be the true test. Fingers crossed we’ll get some fresh apples next Autumn!

Treeason

We’ve got a few trees on our property. One sits right at the front of the front garden, and it doesn’t look healthy:

When we first viewed the place we identified that tree as one thing we definitely wouldn’t be keeping. It’s a shame, we like trees and nature but it isn’t the greatest tree in the world:

  • Looks unhappy, possibly unhealthy
  • Blocks the view from the property out towards the horizon
  • Blocks the view of the road, making pulling out of the driveway a little dangerous
  • Takes up several square metres of garden

As we’ve been here it’s been sagging more and more, looking sadder every day. The ground beneath it is not the best, grey water has been dumped on it for years. We really need to get some soil tests done and possibly replace the dirt. Before that, though, we needed to get rid of it. So we did.

I really wanted to cut it down myself, but the aggravation of getting rid of the carcass (can I call it a carcass?) was too much, so we paid a local tree surgeon to come and help us out.

We had also been angrily looking at the evergreens in the back garden:

These trees are difficult to manage. You need to cut them back quite regularly, but not too far or you’ll kill them. If you don’t keep on top of it, the point at which you can cut them back to extends outward, meaning the trees always grow bigger.

This has resulted in a couple of issues. First off, the row of trees stick out into the garden by two metres. That’s two metres of garden we can’t do anything with. Secondly, they’re getting very high now. We can cut them back and keep them at a fairly sensible height, but there’s some power lines going above them which puts me right off.

We also discovered, after talking to the neighbour, that they’re a nightmare for them, too. Not only do they block the morning light for the entire year, but they’ve grown so big that they have pushed over the fence behind them. The only thing keeping the fence somewhat upright is a shed they’ve put against it. Not ideal at all.

So we got the tree surgeon to cut these down, too:

We’ve gained the two metres of extra garden, we can now comfortably access the brick shed, and we’ve secured the fence (temporarily) on our end and next door. It’ll need sorting out properly, but it’ll stand for now.

We’ve still got the stumps in the ground in the front and back garden. Getting them out will be tough (in the front garden the tree was planted over the top of the gas mains, so I don’t really want to dig it out) but we’ll drill some holes into them and disolve the wood, returning it to the ground. Once we’ve done that, we’re probably going to plant flowers and/or fruit and veg in the back. The trees in the back did one thing for us, and that was provide us some privacy in the back garden, so we’ll get some climbing plants and put some trellis on the top of the fence to get some privacy back.

As for the front garden, we love trees and feel bad for cutting the existing one down, so we’re considering planting another tree there, or nearby depending on exactly where the gas main runs. Something a bit more open, maybe a fruit tree. We’re thinking Apple tree, but may change our minds.

Either way we’ve got a long way to go before then.

Some family came over and helped us de-weed and de-bramble the front garden! Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of before the de-weeding, but just imagine this with a forest of weeds instead of empty useful space:

Looks so much better already. We’re going to cut that Buddleia back once it stops flowering. The butterflies and bees love it and we don’t want to take that away from them. After it’s cut back it should regrow from the stump next year.

We’ve got a load of weeds coming in through the land beyond the fence which is proving to be a pain but now that most of it is clear it should be fairly easy to keep on top of.