Monday, 5 November 2012

Back to Business

"What's the plan for this weekend?" I said to Janine a few weeks ago. "I dunno," came the reply. "Any reason we can't just decorate the lounge?" "Let's do it!"
We've lived with the horrible orange ceiling and the dark red walls in an already dark room, and more recently bare plaster, holes from removed plumbing etc. for far too long. There are still more important things to do, but this is the room we spend much of our time in so let's make it a nicer place to be.

 The first thing to do was to recruit some child labour, cheap and willing .

Good job Arne! Removing the paint has revealed the truly epic nature of the levels of stupidity some people are capable of. Someone in the past had crudely hacked out a channel (neither straight nor level) and sunk a live cable into the wall where anyone in the future could have decided to bang in a metal nail to hang a picture. That's how people get electrocuted in houses. Luckily they'd filled it so badly it was still clearly visible beneath the thick coat of paint.

Having reached the chimney breast and done much of the prepping, I couldn't bring myself to start painting knowing I intended to rebuild the fireplace into something altogether more pleasing and impressive than the hole in the wall with some unevenly exposed brickwork. Janine and Arne were going away for a few days during half term, so I had time to make a mess and get to work.

Step 1: Remove the rest of the plaster from around the fireplace. You may notice six bricks annoyingly protrude below the rest, and I decided they had to be cut. Hacking them off might well have brought half the house down.

 I made a tent to contain the dust, and borrowed Richard's stone cutter.

A gentle tap will now knock the bottoms off.

 The tent did it's job. It wasn't nice in there.

We have a large pile of original Victorian bricks saved from other building projects and dug up from the garden. After cleaning they were used with lime mortar (1 part lime, 1 part cement, 6 parts sand) to build a tower on either side of the fireplace.

Every few courses steel ties were added to keep them firmly anchored to the original wall.

Then a plywood former was made following the curve of the original arched top of the fireplace.

 Another couple of courses of bricks were laid which were cut at an angle to form a new arch.

 I laid the bricks loosely first and marked their positions on the former, before using mortar with more steel ties between the bricks.

 The next course of bricks required some neat cutting to follow the curve of the arch. One more on top of that and it's job done, nearly.

The moment of truth. The next day, I gently wiggled the former out and nothing fell down. Result. A large slab of oak should arrive this week to finish it off in style.  

Friday, 9 March 2012


The panels have been up for a week and we've made 53 units of electricity.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Taking a Gamble

We here at Pleamore House have spent most of the last decade working to reduce the carbon footprint of what is an old Victorian farmhouse which was built with no regard for such things. The insulation we've installed has brought most of the house up to around the current standard of a new-build which has reduced our consumption of heating oil by at least a third. Further savings can be made by installing a modern condensing boiler but that is something for the future.

Having never really seriously considered the possibility of installing an array of photovoltaic solar panels due to the fact that we have no large areas of south facing roof, I recently reconsidered having seen several of our neighbors install panels and I did a bit of research on the potential of an east or west facing array. A reduction of 10-15% efficiency when compared to south facing would still make PV solar a very viable prospect, provided that it could be installed before March 3 which was the cut-off date for getting on the government sponsored 43p feed in tariff. We are huge fans of renewable energy and this suddenly seemed like a very exciting prospect.

We had a few quotes and only one company said they were able to install before March 3 so after a bit of a family conference, we signed a contract. From then on it was a very stressful saga of neanderthal scaffolders failing to complete their job on time, installers turning up without scaffolding to work on and things slipping ever and alarmingly closer to the deadline. Had we not submitted our paperwork to the electric company by 2 March, we would have been on a 21p tariff which would take twice as long to pay us back. There is still a chance this will happen as the government have asked the Supreme Court for permission to lodge a third appeal (they have lost 2 already) to allow them to retrospectively reduce the feed in tarrif (where domestic generators are paid 43p for every unit of electricity they produce) thus doubling the time this big investment takes to pay off for investors in renewable energy who had already bought in. If they get permission to appeal again and the win the appeal, then we're facing 12-15 years before our investment pays back the cost of the panels and installation, so that's the gamble we've taken. It is my belief that even if they are granted leave for another appeal, they will lose, and that this was more a cynical move to create uncertainty and dampen down deamand.

Thursday March 1st the scaffolding is up and the installation team is on site.

All but one of the panels are installed, waiting for the final panel to be driven down from Cardiff as one panel of the wrong type was accidentally supplied. The company issued our completion certificate and it was posted the day before the deadline.

This array of 21 PV panels produces up to 3.99kw of power. Anything over 4kw is classed as commercial production and we're not allowed to do that.

The PV panels produce direct current which this box called an inverter (situated in the loft) converts to alternating current suitable to use in the house and export back into the national grid. In addition to the 43p we'll (hopefully) get for each unit we generate, we also get 3p a unit for what we export back to the grid. Also, of course, we'll run the dishwasher and washing machine etc during the day so that we're using free electricity!

As I write this the time is 10.45 am, the sun has been in and out all day and we've already made 4.4 units of electricity today. Since it was switched on last Friday, we've made just over 20. Whatever happens with the tariff, it gives me great pleasure to reduce our consumption of non-renewable energy and we've surely made the house more salable and desirable in the long term.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Over the Finish Line

Welcome back! I was busy at the drawing board from the end of September until mid-January but have since been working towards getting some more of the house finished. Feast your eyes...


The bath panel has now been fully grouted in and sealed with colour-enhancing tile sealant.

J9 likes to bathe in asses milk, which comes out of the left hand tap. I prefer the right one, which fills the bath with warm asparagus soup. Very good for the skin.

All neat and tidy with the skirting boards done, all the pipes hidden behind and now insulated with expanding foam. Hanging rail placed above the radiator.

Finally the sink, which stands next to the re-plastered and repainted enclosure for the hot water cylinder. All the fixtures are dead posh and expensive, except we bought them as an end of line ex-display at a fraction of their normal price.

Dressing Room

All we needed in here was the carpet and the gaps under the wardrobes (caused by the sloping floor) covered with some wooden moldings. Difficult to get a decent picture due to the restricted space but you get the idea.

Those of you who are on the ball and have very long memories will notice that we have changed our minds about tiling the floor as we envisaged here.

Airing Cupboard Passage

This small area has been painted, carpeted, architraved and skirting-boarded.