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Our Diary 2009

December 09
Unfortunately December started in a real panic as our cash flow became critical. Tesco credit card had taken the full repayment a day before the cheque for the solar panels was processed which left me £6500 overdrawn! Luckily I have a very understanding bank manager who let the cheque clear, along with other bills. It took a week to finally get Tesco to refund the money into my account so that the mortgage could be paid.

Karen planted some more bulbs in the mound and some snowdrops around the blossom trees while I dismantled the pergola which had been blown over in the strong (and wet) November winds. Another job which I need to do again because I didn't concrete in the posts, doh!

The weather in December improved for a while (before a weekend of deep snow) and the last roof tiles were delivered so the roof was finally finished. The velux windows were installed in the hot tub and sauna rooms and the new doors and windows were installed which meant the building was finally water tight allowing the interior to move forward. The building is really starting to take shape! The insulation was finished and the hardboard was put around the walls, followed by the plasterboard ready for the finishing layer of plasterboard. The garage door was also put back on four inches higher then before ready for the new smooth concrete floor. I connected up some temporary sockets and wired in the garage door so now the cars can be put away out of the frost each night. The ceilings of the sauna and hot tub rooms were insulated and boarded ready for plastering and all the double glazing was fitted. Unfortunately the window fitter supplied the wrong doors for the back of the garage so they need to be replaced. He supplied a standard fit instead of the low threshold requested for driving the mower in and out.

The solar panels were finally connected and turned on and started generating electricity. It was fantastic to see the electricity meter counting backwards! However, after some rain we found that the installation still isn't water tight as the centre track still leaks badly. They must come back and correct that and also replace some bolts which are already going rusty; a £18k installation obviously didn't warrant the use of stainless bolts.

We started to clear up the front garden and moved all the wood from the tree into the back garden. I finally gave in and bought a chainsaw to finish the job the tree feller was supposed to do and cut the logs into useable lengths. Haven't started doing it yet...

November 09
November has started with crappy weather so I had to finish the trench work in the pouring rain. We found the existing water pipe easily enough however I managed to dig straight through a soak-away pipe, doh! I also removed the "platform" at the bottom of the stairs and made a new step which allowed Jason to get beneath the floor to drill the holes for the new power cables and water feed. The armoured cables and new water pipe were laid and Jason repaired the soak away so I could begin refilling the trench. Unfortunately I fitted the new step at exactly the same height as the original platform and this turned out to be too high, so the bottom step is now a different size to the rest of the steps and needs to be adjusted. This was not noticable when it was a platform but I shouldn't have trusted the original installation and should have made my own measurements.

A huge amount of work was undertaken on the rebuild, however November was eventually the wettest ever recorded so huge amounts of water and flooding slowed the work. The huge timbers for the back rooms were installed which will make a really nice feature of the ceiling above the hot tub and sauna rooms. The solar panels were finally delivered and installed although we weren't too impressed with the final fixing which would not have been water tight. Calls to Schuco technical support backed up our concerns so Solar Focus had to come back and make good the installation. However, they still did not have the inverter so the panels could not be connected and were basically very expensive roof tiles. In fairness to Solar Focus, the whole industry is complaining about supplies because Germany seem to have bought up most available stock in Europe. However, the panel installation did mean that the roof tiles could finally be fitted and the whole room could begin to become water tight. But even this was delayed because the special 20:20 tiles were not ready for delivery and when they were delivered they did not provide enough.

The quote for all the doors and windows came in at £7k mainly due to the cost of the bi-folding doors in the hot tub room. The quote for a new alarm to cover the house, games room and garage was £1500 providing I install all the cable ready for them to second fix.

With Karen's help I installed all the electrical circuits and alarm cables so that the walls and ceiling could be insulated. Karen started cutting the celotex insulation but Steve finished it off for us (much to her relief!). The games room fuse box was connected to the house and some temporary lights installed; external lights were used because the room was still not sealed from the weather.

Inside the house we finally got the carpet laid on the landing and the family bathroom and we spent half a day planting hundreds of daffodil bulbs around the beach hut, a reminder of our wedding day.

Unfortunately the money pit drained so much that I contacted Tesco and asked them to take only the minimum repayment for my maxed out credit card and had to apply for a new Amazon card to continue the build. In only a few minutes I was approved for a new card with an £18k limit! I thought the banks had decided to make it more difficult to borrow money, although I'm not complaining because I need this to try and pay for more supplies.

We did have two interesting visitors in November. At the beginning of the month a man pulled into the drive, got out of his car then told us how he used to own the house some 20 years ago. He told us a lot about the people who had lived here but not a great deal about the history of the house, other than it was him who had the windows installed. Then at the end of the month another man pulled into the drive and told us that his father had taken aerial photos of the house at different times and he had a photo of the house taken in 1979. We bought this and also another photo of the house taken in the late 1980s which was the one left behind as a faded canvas picture.

October 09
What a nightmare! Every step of the games room building work has led to even more work being required. We did not realise just how badly the building had been constructed. The 16.5m roof had only eight trusses and five of those were above the garage leaving only three trusses to span over 10 meters. This obviously resulted in the roof sagging and because the roof had also been built incorrectly the walls had been pushed out. The end result is that 80% of the games room has had to be completely demolished and rebuilt.

The soil blocking the driveway could not be taken away until it had been filtered of the bits of asbestos so I borrowed our neighbour's dumper truck and moved it all back into the back garden to be dealt with when we have more time. This allowed for the delivery of a few (eventually four) skips to start clearing the huge pile of rubble and waste generated by the demolition of the games room. It also means we can get a delivery of oil for heating. Karen and I took a load of the old wood and (in the rain) built a temporary wood store behind the Summer House ready for holding the logs from the removal of the sycamore tree in the front garden. That should provide us with plenty of wood for heating the house when the stove is installed next year.

In the middle of the month the rebuilding work begun on the games room, the foundations were strengthened and all the new walls built. Due to unseasonably good weather the whole project came along quite nicely without any more major issues. Scaffolding was erected around the building and the roof trusses were delivered and installed. One side of the roof was felted and battoned ready for the tiles and the solar panels, however these were delayed again due to a shortage of panels in the country. The tree was eventually felled which left us with a lot of logs (and mess) which we now need to tidy up. The tree surgeon was not exactly true to his word about cleanliness and cutting the wood into 18 inch logs so our good friends Julie and Graham came over with their chainsaw and helped out.

During the month I drew a plan of the rooms, mapped out all the electrical circuits and then ordered £1,700 worth of suppliers. Fitting it all is a job for November when the room is water tight. I hired a generator and detector to work out exactly where our water pipe crosses the garden so on the last day of the month Karen and I began the trenching work to lay new power cables for the games room.

September 09
The porch is progressing well and I have re-routed the telephone cable which now runs along the side of the house and into the study. We have had our application for a grant approved so we can now move ahead with the installation of solar panels on the games room roof. The government have recently announced a new "feed-in tarif" which makes solar panels a lot more financially viable. Basically, for a system under 4kw they will pay 36p for every unit that is generated for the next 25 years, regardless of whether we use the power ourselves or sell it back to the grid. Our current thinking is that we could potentially earn £1,200 from the government and also reduce our electricity bill by £300 per year. With the £2,100 grant the system could pay for itself in about 10 years. I now need to locate the water pipe coming into the house so that I can dig the trenches for the cables. I've also arranged for the sycamore tree in the front garden to be felled as it casts a shadow over the games room roof. The logs will be stored ready for when we get the stove installed in the lounge.

The games room rebuild is going well. We've changed our minds on the exact design a few times but have decided to rebuild the room a bit smaller than the original footprint. Izzy transfered tonnes of ballast and stone delivered to the front garden and the rubble from the porch was used for the hard core. Jason and Michael have been great and have laid the base and started to build the walls. Unfortunately it looks like one side of the games room roof will need to be completely rebuilt and strengthened as it isn't particularly well made. This meant we had to completely empty the games room and move all the contents into the upstairs front bedroom, a lot of heavy lifting up the stairs. I moved 10-12 tonnes of clay, flint and soil into the front garden ready to be collected by a grab lorry but unfortunately they found that there are small bits of asbestos roofing in it so it is considered toxic waste. We need to now filter this to remove the bits before it can be taken away. That will be a very big job! The porch is also now moving forward and now has walls and a roof.

August 09
In the first week Karen went on holiday with Anne so I took a week off work to spend time with Emma and Luke, and also to get them to help me in the back garden again. On the first day I finished off the family bathroom by putting up the towel rail and hooks etc. Then I set to work on the back garden with the kids and as usual they were complete heroes and helped with some very hard work. First we started work on the path by the Rhododendrons by laying fabric and covering with bark. Then we spent a week putting up the pergola at the end of Blossom Alley and around the orchard. This was a total nightmare job because Izzy just couldn't dig through the flint and we had to manually break them up with a metal spike and sledge hammer. It eventually took five days hard labour to finish this by which time I was ready to head back into work to recover at my desk!

We have also had the porch demolished this month ready to be rebuilt, slightly smaller but without the silly hobbit door. That left a lot rubble and rubbish that needed to be tidied by loading into the many bulk bags that we've collected and then moved them around the back using Izzy. I spent a bit of time greasing the joints and working on the electrics of the tractor and found that many of the bolts holding the front loader and bucket on were very loose and dangerous!

With interest rates still at a record low we decided to start work on rebuilding the part of the games room that had been removed. Luke wanted to earn some money so I paid him to collect up all the pea shingle from the area so I could dig out new foundations ready for the room that will hopefully, eventually, house a hot tub.

July 09
We've had our first proper powercut this month, a full 3 days with no electricity. All a bit of an adventure really and the local farm shop were very helpful and stored our food in their freezer. The main job this month was to finish the family bathroom. The natural stone tiles were not smoothed and filled like those we bought for our en-suite so the grouting took ages! Also, a lot of time was wasted trying to fix a leak which I though I had created but was in fact a faulty tap. Karen did her usual decorating job of painting and waxing, while I finished off the fixtures and fixings. All that is left to do is fit the towel rail and the carpet, but otherwise the kids finally have a proper bathroom to use instead of the kitchen sink. It has only taken me three years to get this done!

The usual garden jobs were undertaken, Karen spent time weeding and I trimmed the conifer hedges. Unfortunately I tried to rush this and made a bit of a mess of them. Hopefully they will grow back and I'll take more care next year.

Although we have been able to get very short and sporadic replies from Terry Rich, we have been unable to get him to come back and sort out the paint peeling from the front wall!

June 09
We've been neglecting the regular maintenance of the house because of the amount of work we want to get done. Hopefully Emma will help us out by cutting the grass in the back garden. Our Summer Hut (now called the beach hut by Karen because of the pebbles we have ordered for the path) was finally delivered and installed. It's great! We've spent a couple of weekends working on the area, Karen weeding and planting the mound while I build the path around the base. I've ordered some solar powered fairy lights to go inside for those warm summer evenings. Two bulk bags of Caledonian pebbles arrived and Izzy did the work of transfering them to the back garden.

One weekend Karen painted all the newly plastered ceilings so I could start working on fitting the bathroom suite. As usual this isn't as straight forward as hoped, probably because I have never fitted a bathroom before so I don't know the "tricks of the trade". I am doing a little bit more most evenings after work so it is slowly moving on.

May 09
A busy month! The Bank of England interest rate is so low now that we are going to invest a lot of the spare money on doing things on the house. We've ordered far too much for the back garden - benches, fencing, trellis, arches, arbours, pergolas and the gazebo (Summer Hut). This forced us into action to clear the rest of the pile of earth and put up the retaining wall before levelling the area ready for the delivery. Emma and Luke helped me flatten the area and as usual the chickens dug the earth over and got in the way! The strain proved too much for Izzy and we broke a few shear bolts leaving the auger buried a few feet down. A morning was spent fixing Izzy and doing general maintenance on her. The first delivery arrived on the back of a huge lorry and the sight of it made me wonder what on earth I'd been thinking of. The delivery of all the garden stuff came on some big lorries. I think there is enough work here to keep me going for most of the summer!

Between all the purchasing madness we also planted the rest of our specimen trees (twigs) at the end of the garden. Hopefully they will start to give some structure to the garden in about 10-15 years time. The silver birch are looking fantastic and have grown very quickly. The bluebells we planted are coming up nicely and the wild garlic have made an appearance, although I think they'll need a few more years to get fully established.

The other job that we finally started was the family bathroom, something I have been putting off for too long. We ripped off the walls (tiles upon tiles) disconnected the old shower before heading into town and ordering a new suite. I fitted all the pipework in the wall for the shower and bath taps before putting up new plasterboard. I also had to pull up the newly laid floor and replace the polybutylene UFH pipe with the polyethylene pipe. Steve came and did a great job plastering the walls and ceilings of the stairs, landing and bathroom so now I need to fit the new suite.

We've been trying to get hold of Terry Rich now for months to come back and sort out the front wall which he painted in October. We noticed the paint had been peeling off badly since February. He finally came to have a look at it but hasn't been back since. If he doesn't happen soon then I think our solicitor may need to write a letter.

We ordered a load of bark chippings and Karen covered the ground around the Rhododendrons and the dogwood during the half term.

We have some sad news at the end of May. The fox, which has already taken 9 chickens and 2 ducks from next door, finally found its way into our garden and killed Balti by the Rhododendrons. Our neighbours chased the fox away but unfortunately it was too late and it took Balti away with it. Because the ladies are our pets Karen found this very upsetting every time she saw all the feathers laying around so she cleared them up.

April 09
Karen spent part of her April break digging out all the masses of nettles from the front boundary wall and transplanting clumps of turf into the back garden to cover some bare earth. Unfortunately the work we had done on the wall has not even lasted 6 months as all the paint is flaking off and needs to be repainted. It is proving difficult to get Terry to come back to correct his work! We have spent more time in the back garden rather than in the house and have planted our small fruit trees next to Blossom Alley. Along the other side of the blossom trees against the fence we planted 50 dogwood and protected them from the rabbits with stakes and chicken wire. A van load of metal found it's way down to the scrap yard in exchange for a few sheckles which was an experience for Karen. With the help of the kids we continued to clear the pile of earth behind the Summer House ready for the Summer Hut. They also helped me finish the rest of the boundary fence, removing the old wire and converting from 3 bar to 4, while Karen started to deal with weeding the front garden.

March 09
Day 1 we got into The Warren and cleared out most of the rubbish, everything but the asbestos sheets. We cleared 2 trailers worth of broken glass, old plastic bottles, pots and bags, as well as a chest freezer, a load of old metal and an old car chassis. The piles of old concrete and paving slabs have been left there, far too many to try and clear. We also unearthed an awful stone gnome, Clarence, who is now protecting the area from intruders. All that is left to move are the many sheets of asbestos roofing.

We spent some time in March doing general maintenance like jet washing the tired old patio (which finally killed the pressure washer), hopefully for the only time. We would like to rip it up and put a new one down next year, or possibly the year after. I tried taking some time off work to continue with the family bathroom, but as usual I have so much development to do for the bank that I ended up spending the time working. Mind you, with so many of my friends and family finding themselves unemployed at the moment I'm not going to complain! We have found that the Polypipe we fitted to the underfloor heating in the bathroom just doesn't release enough heat so I think we'll need to pull up the floor and replace it with the less flexible speedfit pipe. What a pain!

We've started to clear the mound of earth from behind the Summer House by digging it over and manually filtering through it to remove the remains of many years rubbish that had been burried there like glass, matress springs and bits of car. This area was going to be planted with roses around a patio area but our plans have changed and it will eventually be the site of a round Summer Hut.

February 09
We had a good amount of snow this year which really does not please the chickens so to help keep them warm I re-inforced the door to The Taj Mahal with a metal strip to cover the hole made by the mouse.

Valentines weekend (and the following Tuesday) was spent installing underfloor heating in the family bathroom and landing, the usual process and helpers. Removed the bath and ripped up the tiles and floor before insulating, putting down the heat plates and feeding the pipe from the manifold downstairs. I left made sure pipes were left accessible to install a towel rail. I finally put the old bath back in place as a temporary measure until we get around to choosing and installing a new suite. Unfortunately I bought the wrong colour silicon sealant, black, which looked aweful. After we finished laughing we decided that as it's only a temporary measure, who cares? I also tried to fix the leak in the roof around the waste pipe.

We noticed that the recently painted front wall has already started peeling so Karen called Terry to get him back to sort it out. Also, the back gate has warped in the cold and wet so that needs to be replaced! Ever seen "The Money Pit?"

On the last day of the month we got out in the garden and Karen collected up the last of the diseased leaves and burnt them. We cut our way into The Warren and made a path ready to clear all the rubbish that is dumped there. I got in top of the games room and repaired a couple of the leaks, although I think it may be worth considering putting down a layer of felt shingles.

January 09
Happy New Year! We intended planting our trees in the first couple of weekends but the temperature had dropped and the ground was frozen, along with a nice covering of snow this was possible until later in the month, so we had to pot them until we could plant them properly. Eventually, even though it was still very cold and windy, we got to work on planting the hazel nut trees and sweet chestnut at the end of the garden. In a few years this will create another separate garden area.

I had to spend 2 weekends in the unit helping the electrician with the lights for the mezzanine so this reduced the time we could spend working on the house. We did get the first quote for the metal frame for the Laburnum arch and we also made the tile pictures for the conservatory. Our next big job is to crack on with the family bathroom.