You know the girl, ‘Jill of all trades’, or in this case Shirley Anne! I can turn my hand to pretty much anything when it comes to working with my hands and it has served me well over the years. Perhaps I should be called the Queen of DIY? The thing is unless you make the attempt yourself you’ll have to get someone else to do it and that can cost. A project will either be a success or it will fail and you’ll never know unless you try. You will probably surprise yourself at your capability, just give it a go. As for myself if there is one thing I like it is DIY but sometimes I just don’t know when to stop! On my current project I have done electrical work, concrete laying, joinery and painting. Being an electrician (retired) helps but I have worked at the other disciplines along with many more throughout my life. People say to me is there anything you cannot do to which I reply ‘yes, many’. There are far more things I cannot do than those I can. Am I getting near completing the work in the gym? Well I thought I was but I keep moving the goalposts. On Tuesday (13 th) I concentrated on painting the ceiling and pipes on the ceiling and it was then almost completed but I will have to go over parts of it again. Once that was done I set to work on the boiler plinth. I filled in the space between the two paving slabs (see yesterday’s post) with broken bricks then mixed some concrete to fill in and smooth off. I then watered down the remaining concrete and poured it into the base of the cupboard, later smoothing it out when it was dry enough to work. That took me to a belated lunch at two o’clock after which I returned to the room and began work on constructing the frame around the boiler and pipework so it can all be boxed-in. I had been to the builder’s yard first thing in the morning to purchase the timber. I ceased work at five o’clock after a nine-hour day!
You can do a lot of things in two hours. You can get in the weekly shopping, see a movie, take a drive somewhere and have a picnic, you can even fly off to another country if it isn’t too far away. Saturday was the day for E to meet up with her group, they meet together as a group on the third Saturday in the month and E sometimes meets with her friend from the group for special trips related to their groups activities. It means I get to stay alone at home unless I’ve anything planned, which is not often the case. In recent days I have been engaged it carrying out many of the little jobs that needed to be done at home now that I am free from doing any major project. I’ve been very busy this year doing major domestic projects and I hadn’t the time for the smaller things. The top room of the house, well one of the three that are up there, had been renovated earlier in the year but I never got around to re-fixing the curtain rail over the window. I decided to do it on Saturday afternoon. The original rail had been fixed to a length of wood which in turn had been screwed to the brick wall above the window but that part of the wall had been weak and the whole assembly had been insecure. Whilst engaged in the refurbishment I carried out repairs to the wall but knew that attempting to re-fix the rail there would still be fraught with difficulties unless I could find a good and solid place to screw it to. That meant finding the brick and not the seam but to do that wasn’t easy especially as the wall is covered with plaster. It’s a common problem with brick walls unless the seams are as hard as the bricks! Fixing the rail should have been straightforward and should have taken me no longer than fifteen minutes or so but it took two hours. Having decided to attempt to fix the two supports for the rail to the same brick wall I drilled the single hole for the first one which took a couple of minutes and screwed it in place. Then I began to drill the second hole and hit a seam. With the right sized screw and plug I thought it wouldn’t be a problem but the plug disappeared down the hole. I fetched another and put it in the hole and it stopped as it hit the first one. I attempted to screw the support but the screw kept on turning. I put a larger plug into the hole and using a larger screw made another attempt. Still no success. I was beginning to get very frustrated. I couldn’t simply move the support along and try again because it would have prevented the curtain from drawing closed. My only alternative was to attach that end of the rail to the adjacent wall which is at right angles to the window and fortunately right next to the window frame. The proper fixing support could not be used on the adjacent wall so instead I had to manufacture one which would support the end of the rail end-on. I needed a block of wood with a 25 mm hole drilled out in which the end of the rail could be pushed then that block could be screwed to the adjacent wall with two smaller screws. It all sounds so simple but at every point along the way I was met with one problem or another, screws too long or too short, drill bits blunt, brick wall too hard (yes the bricks are hard in one or two places around the house) and the fact that I had to take a few trips down to the cellar and back which is four floors below. In the end it took me two hours but I did hang the curtain too, after I had located the plastic curtain hooks and inserted them into the webbing. I also managed to get it all done five minutes before E returned home despite how long it had taken to do.
Quite literally too. I remember the time it took to construct the other steps in what we now call the Plot and you can see those is many of my previous posts. The reason they take so long, if they are to be constructed in a robust way, is that solid foundations need to be laid for each of the steps in turn. For the smaller projects, as this one is because there will only be three steps and the top one will simply blend in with the paving slabs I propose to lay in the area. As such the body of soil beneath it will be enough for support as it is compacted. Having to lay a foundation not only makes the construction solid but it is a great way to dispose of old bricks and rubble. They serve as a base for laying the concrete on which the paving slab steps can be laid. So the method I use is first dig out the ground, next fill the area with hard-core (bricks and rubble) and tamp down until solid then lay concrete on top. When the concrete is set lay a thin bed of mortar on it then lay the paving slab on the mortar making sure it isn’t perfectly level for when it rains you’ll want the water to run off the step! On this project I have to do all that twice as there will be two steps needing a solid base. On Thursday morning I laid the first step on a bed of mortar then I laid four bricks along the rear edge. The front edge of the second step will rest on them. Next I filled in the space behind those bricks with more hard-core. I had placed some old bricks at the rear to form a retaining wall for when I pour concrete on the rubble. It all sounds easy and in fact it is but it is also hard work. This is how far I got on the day…
The opening is wider than the paving slab I laid so each side was filled with a concrete mix using the granite dust or ‘granno’ instead of the stone chippings in order for it to blend in with the paving slab. In this picture you can only see the far edge where that small brick nib juts out. For some time I have been thinking of making the small single-brick wall which connects with the patio at the top right more solid. If I can dig out behind it I might be able to lay more bricks or I may simply shutter it with timber and pour in some concrete instead. Either way will ensure a more solid construction. With all that weight of soil behind it I am amazed it hasn’t been pushed out by now. I might add here that I wasn’t responsible for building it in the first place. Although the remainder of the wall at the bottom left of the picture is also of a single brick construction there is less weight of soil behind it due to the hidden wall which separates the area left of the new steps from that on the right. It is the same wall which runs to the boundary wall and on which I built the left-hand wall of the new flowerbed. You may have noticed that the whole area is slowly getting cleaner as I remove or use the old bricks and rubble that was scattered about.
I was talking about the possibility of starting the task of replacing many of the valves on the radiators on our heating system. Not every one needed to be changed and some couldn’t be reached anyway because of the things stored in the rooms they are in. Those rooms are currently not in use of course except for the storage of furniture, the furniture belonging to my sons. Should it be necessary to replace the valves in those rooms at a later date it won’t be too difficult but it will necessitate draining down the system again. So it was that in the afternoon on Thursday whilst E was out doing the weekly shopping I set about making a start in replacing the valves. First point of call, the top of the house into one of the two small loft areas in which the water storage tank for the heating system is located in order to isolate the water supply to the tank. It was then possible to drain the water out of the radiators without it being automatically replaced by the storage tank! Second point of call, the lowest part of the house, the cellar, where the boiler is located. I attached a hose pipe to the drain cock and led it out of the door into the garden then opened the valve. It was a case then of waiting a half-hour for the water to completely drain out of the system. I returned to the top of the house and opened the air bleed screws on each of the radiators in turn to test whether the radiators were empty. As soon as the first one was empty I began to replace its valves. I continued with each of the radiators in turn until I reached those on the ground floor. Of the five down there one didn’t need its valves replacing and one couldn’t be reached because of the furniture stored in the room. I managed to replace the valves on two of the three remaining radiators before E returned home with the shopping. At that time I stopped the work. It had taken me a little less than three hours. At the time of writing this on Thursday evening one radiator remains to be done. I have also to alter some pipework in the cupboard in the main bathroom in order to fit an air release valve there and then I have to fit a couple of ‘gate’ valves in the cellar beneath the wet room floor in readiness for the installation of a towel rail at a later date. The only form of heating in the wet room at this moment is from a fan heater at high level which is fine if wanting to heat the room whilst having a shower but not to have switched on all day long (in the colder months). Having a heated towel rail will keep the room reasonably warm whilst at the same time keeping the towels dry.
I had done no electrical work all week but on Friday I had one small job that would at least pay for my advertisement. It would also leave me with something extra too by way of compensation for not having had any work. I wasn’t bothered for it allowed me time at home to get on with my little projects. After lunch I went along to the electrical supplier to purchase a reel of cable and other things whilst E took her mom into town to have her new spectacle lenses fitted to her frames and do a little shopping whilst that was being done. I was back home an half hour later and looked so see what I could be getting on with in the small bedroom we are redecorating. The room is used by our youngest son and always was his room when he was a child. The colours in the room were more or less chosen by him. I asked him this time too what his preferences were. Now although we were happy to allow him his choice as a child I for one wouldn’t allow him to choose something I wasn’t happy with this time. However he has matured somewhat since then and he suggested grey as I wrote in the previous post. I decided the ceiling wanted painting but it had been painted with a textured vinyl paint last time which needed patching up in places beforehand. We had the same paint in storage in the cellar so I got it out and started painting over the whole ceiling with it. Because it is a paint it wouldn’t need overpainting afterwards which was a bonus but because the ceiling was pretty much clean it was difficult to see where I had just painted! I managed to do half the ceiling before I decided I’d had enough. I recall how it was the last time all those years ago with the problems associated with applying this textured paint. It tends to clog up the brush making the brush heavy in use so it has to be squeezed out every so often. As I wasn’t particularly painting to achieve a textured finish because it was that already and all I wanted to do was to fill in with it, I needed to thin out the paint with a little water which made it even more of a problem to use. It wanted to clog up the brush even more and wet my hand more in the process. I battled on nevertheless but still left the other half of the ceiling until the following day. I realise now that I don’t need to overpaint the ceiling at all which is good for I don’t much like painting ceilings at the best of times but someone has to do it. At the end of the day my greatest satisfaction is having done something constructive with my time at home instead of simply lounging about doing nothing. I might be a little like this fellow but I get things done
Over the last three days, that is Wednesday onward, we have had three young guys in our rear garden rebuilding the wall (see previous posts) but on Friday they cut their visit rather short. One of their party was feeling quite ill and in fact had brought up the contents of his stomach after stopping at an eatery for breakfast. Without naming the eatery its name begins with an ‘M’, a world-wide chain of eating places. I call their produce junk food myself but many people use them especially if they have children. As I write this on Friday evening I am not sure if we will see their return again this week. It isn’t important but I do hope the young guy is feeling better now. They have about three courses of bricks to lay on the double-thick wall, six rows and it will be completed. I am more concerned about the lack of progress on the roof repairs. I had one small job to do in the morning and was then prepared to do a little work at home after lunch but I received another request for my services at 11 o’clock. I drove the seven miles, did the job and was back home at 12.15 just as E had driven off to give a blood sample at the clinic for routine checks. That meant I had to cater for any needs the bricklayers might require but as I mentioned they were in the process of clearing up to leave. I prepared lunch but didn’t sit down to eat until 1.30 just before E returned. It was after 2.30 before I could do any work and by this time I was reluctant to start. Nevertheless I decided I would permanently isolate the gas supply to the bedroom as I mentioned in my previous post.
I located the pipe in the cellar cut it where it went through the wall and up to the bedroom on the outside of the house. I fitted a blanking connection but discovered that the short length of pipe that was left in the soldered ‘Tee’ joint on the main pipe run had loosened, its soldered joint had come adrift whilst I was fitting the blanking-off cap! Fortunately I have a gas torch and solder and was able to resolder the joint before turning on the gas valve. No leaks! Whilst I was doing that E was filling in the various holes in the window frames ready for painting later. I decided to call it a day as by now it was 4.o’clock and I’d had enough of work. I do like a rest from it now and then!
The start of this week has been very different from my usual schedule. The weather changed for the better and at the end of last week I decided to get on with the patio flowerbed project whilst it remained fine and sunny. The work started on Saturday as my recent post showed and Sunday was a day of rest. So on Monday I had the opportunity to continue with the work for I had no electrical work scheduled. Again I emptied out the van and drove off early in the morning to the builder’s merchant to purchase more sand and cement. I had laid some concrete over the drain pipes on Saturday but I needed to lay some more in order to increase the slope of the concrete toward the drain outlet boxes. So my first task was to do that and then begin to build the brick wall. The first course had been laid on Saturday to allow me to lay the concrete inside. I built a further three courses of the double-brick wall not being too fussy about the inside course as it will not be seen. I am using the misshapen and poorer quality bricks for the inner course but will still have to fill in all the gaps before filling the bed with soil. Three courses doesn’t sound much but there were 78 bricks in those double courses. I worked at a slower pace on Monday but was just as tired when I had finished for the day as I had been on Saturday! At the time of writing there are three more courses to lay making seven in all. I should be able to lay them in less time as I won’t have other work to do beforehand. I intend to cap the wall with natural stone in the same way the other walls on the patio are capped. The picture shows this. Much of the work involved is preparation, mixing the mortar and cement, cleaning up and hosing down afterwards. Bricklayers have labourers to do that work but I have to do it myself. E does help where she can and it is appreciated but in reality she is limited to what she is able to do. Nevertheless any help is better than none. The wall should be finished on Tuesday except for the capping stones which I have yet to purchase. That stone can be laid at any time and will not hinder filling the flowerbed ready for planting once the mortar is fully set.
Yesterday I wrote about things grinding to a halt or at least slowing right down but today was another day. It is Thursday afternoon as I write this and the sun is shining once again. If you remember it had been rather a dull day yesterday. The month of June should be more settled than it has become for we are not promised wall-to-wall sunshine in the next few days and it has been that way for much of the months so far. It was however quite warm and sunny last week. No point in complaining about something over which we have no control now is there? My work pattern is pretty much the same, unsettled. On Sunday E told me about the trouble she was having in opening and closing the roller door on the garage she uses. I managed to get it working again but I needed more information regarding the control circuit if I was to make an adjustment myself. I decided to call the guy who installed the door and who carries out repairs but he wasn’t available on Sunday. I didn’t expect him to be but I just wanted to leave him a message, which I did do. Unfortunately he hadn’t responded by Thursday (today as I write) morning so I called him again. He apologised for forgetting about the message I’d left and we made arrangements for him to call sometime in the afternoon. It meant I would have to remain at home during the afternoon, something I wanted to do anyway so that I could receive instructions on which adjustments I needed to do if the problem arose again. E would be out shopping with her mom in the afternoon. I decided to take the small step-ladder from my van parked in the other garage and place it in the garage ready for use later but just as I was about to do that I received a call from someone asking me to do a small job for them. I agreed to go as I wouldn’t be away from home more than an hour and I would be back at noon. The lady wanted a light replacing and when I arrived she looked surprised as I was dressed in some nice and bright summer clothes. She asked how long I had been an electrician and when I told her she couldn’t believe it. As I mentioned I had been in the business for 53 years to the month it followed that I must be around 70 years old. Now she really was amazed for I do not look as old as my years. I told her I was 69 and that ‘my secret’ is that I plug myself into the mains every night to recharge my batteries! She couldn’t stop laughing. She left me to finish the job as she was about to go to work but her teenaged son was at home. Five minutes later I was leaving the house myself. So everything changes and now I am waiting for the next request and at this very moment the guy to attend on the garage door.
I was bemoaning the fact that I had little to do the other day. I should have kept quiet I suppose as Thursday turned out very busy for me. It was also one of those days were things didn’t always run smoothly. My first stop was to purchase materials and goods then drive to a house some twelve miles away for my first job of the day, in fact at that point it was the only job of the day. One task was to replace a faulty twin-lamped fluorescent fitting with a new one. That went reasonably well except that one of the new lamps refused to work. I didn’t wish to drive back the ten or eleven miles to the supplier for a replacement lamp so I had to purchase one locally at twice the price. A bit of a rip-off I thought but it would have cost me more in fuel and time otherwise. The second job at the same address was to replace a faulty light switch but having seen it I had to change the switch to a completely different type as it had been incorrectly wired from a power outlet and required a fuse in circuit. Obviously done by the previous householder as a DIY project and totally against the regulations. The present householder being a 74-year-old woman knew nothing about it. Whilst working there I received a call from a woman who wanted some work doing the following Tuesday, that is this coming Tuesday morning. I was driving back home but had to stop at the electrical supplier to be reimbursed for the faulty tube but on the way there I received two more calls. After calling at the suppliers I went along to look at the first job but having seen what was required I declined the work. It was simply too large a job. I was about to drive to the second job when I got yet another request not far from home. I went to the second job and discovered they had no power at all because they had switched off the supply. There was a fault in the main isolation switch, a switch provided by the electricity provider and their responsibility. However because they needed the supply back on immediately I disconnected the faulty switch and using mains connecting blocks reconnected the supply as a temporary measure. They will have to contact the supply authority to have a new isolating switch fitted. Finally I was able to get to the last job near to home. That job though simple in principle was a bit of a pain to do. I was able to drive home for a very late lunch. Immediately after that light lunch I was called again asking if I could do a small job and at the same time quote for a complete rewire of the house! I explained that I no longer take on rewiring of houses and the reason why, my age! I was asked though to carry out the minor repairs on Friday morning, which I did. As a couple of my customers have pointed out, I shouldn’t be so popular!
Once our bathroom project is completed we shall be itching to do something else for if we don’t do something we will be at a loss. Oh don’t get me wrong there are plenty of things we can do if we wish but first of all there has to be a break for a while. After the Easter holiday I have to confess that I was feeling quite drained and just as I thought I could slow things down a bit we found a problem in the wet room. We finished that room months ago and everything had been pretty much fine until a couple of days ago when we discovered that one of the floor tiles near to the vanity unit and toilet was a little loose when stood upon and there were the tell-tale sign of water having gotten beneath it as there were air bubbles coming out of the water. That meant that the grout seal had been compromised. I lifted the tile and discovered that it was soaking wet beneath and the tile cement was soft. It appears that the cement hadn’t really set fast when originally laid. When we had the bathroom tiled by a professional he told us the reason why he was using a dry unmixed cement as opposed to a ready-mixed one, the hand-mixed cement set more quickly and is therefore more suitable for larger tiles. A ready-mixed cement takes far longer to set and because the tiles are large it can take an extremely long time to dry out beneath the tile, if indeed it dries out at all. We had used the ready-mixed cement without knowing those facts. Fortunately we hadn’t had many problems with the tiles not bedding in and drying out. So I removed that tile together with two adjacent tiles where some water had migrated beneath. I removed all of the original cement and left the floor alone for a few days to allow it to dry out. Actually it dried in a day but I left it for three days anyway as I was busy working in the bathroom. Only part of the cement under the other two tiles had been affected, most of it was solid and dry so removing the two tiles was impossible without destroying them. On Tuesday morning I spent an hour away from home but on my return I relaid the floor with three new tiles and used the cement we had left over from the bathroom project, the cement designed for larger tiles. I left them to set and dry out for a few days before filling in with grout. Hopefully that will be the end of it. The shower in the bathroom is now available to use and the bath will be soon too if the water supplies haven’t been done by the time you read this. So what will be our next project? Well I hope we can build that toilet in the cellar for use from the garden whilst the weather has improved. That will cost something like two to three thousand pounds I am thinking but hopefully we can lose much of the cost by doing most of the work ourselves as we have done with the wet room and bathroom. Even so those two rooms didn’t come cheap! Additionally, we would like to refurbish the presently unused large bedroom on the first floor but there is much junk and unused furniture in there to be gotten rid of first. We have been using the room to store the materials we used in the bathroom. That job we will do during the colder months of the year when we get around to it. In the meantime we have to finish the bathroom………….