Sunday, January 24th 2021 – The Great House Extension Project (Days 105 – 112)
There has been something of a lull in the building progress during the depths of December, between Covid restrictions, people wanting to take time off, and the general unavailability of anyone who actually wanted to do any work. However, as we move into week 3 of 2021, there is progress, and it seems increasingly likely that the light at the end of the tunnel may actually be daylight and not the oncoming 18:05 express train. We live in hope.
Since last I put fingers to keyboard and mouse we have at least found ourselves in a more liveable space, thanks to the return, two days before Christmas, of two of the five crates of our furniture that went into storage in October. This meant we had beds! More importantly we had our bed, and would no longer have to sleep on the guest bed (Lynne) and a folding camp bed of only moderate comfort (me). I took the day off to try and organise things a bit (and to use up some of my spare holiday for the year). The week before had seen the electrician back once again, at least finishing off the heating system so that we could start to use the infra-red panels which are on the ceiling. That led to a certain amount of fun as I figured out the intricacies of the app to fly the thing, and the various extra “bits” like the individual thermostats in each room, along with the movement sensors that mean we can set the panels to warm up when there are people doing things in rooms. It’s all a bit modern! If anyone is interested, these people supplied our system.
The two things we have learned since fitting them is that they go through phases of being very noisy for a five minute period three or fours times a day, apparently at random! It’s a loud clicking sound that comes about when they heating panels, which are made of aluminium in this instance, heat up or cool down and thus expand or contract. Just occasionally it happens at around 3 am, which can be slightly startling. I’m not sure I’d recommend them if you’re of a nervous disposition, but I do like being able to set a temperature that I require, and the time of day I want that temperature. I’m still figuring out all the options, but on the whole I am very pleased with it and impressed by it.
We had hoped the dreaded electrician might also have fitted the two “outdoor” infra-red heaters we had bought for the patio, but he’d run out of time, having arrived late as ever (“first thing” turned out to be around 10:30). While he was doing that, Darren and Dave were merrily filling in holes, fitting skirting boards and painting walls and woodwork. They finished at the same time, and announced that they would not be back until the new year. The electrician made an attempt to arrange to come on Christmas Eve (!) but I promptly vetoed that. Even without any house guests, the last thing I wanted was him in the house, leaving mess and chaos everywhere and not finishing till 7pm. Not happening. We suggested he come back in the new year as well thank you very much.
The main problem we now faced was that no one wanted to do the flooring. The new section of the lounge and dining room was around 7.5cm lower than the old section and that needed to be screeded, which in case you didn’t know (I didn’t) a floor screed is applied to the concrete base of your house. “A floor screed is usually a cementitious material made from a 1:3 or 1:4.5 ratio of cement to sharp sand. It may be applied onto either a solid in-situ concrete ground floor slab or onto a precast concrete floor unit.” Bet you feel better for knowing that, don’t you?
The pursuit of someone with the expertise to do the job, as well as the availability, was not helped by the fact that the building contractor, Mal, had buggered off to Dubai on holiday (during lockdown, I should point out). He got back on 22nd December, so there wasn’t much doing there. After everyone had gone, including the removal men, I dragged thr Christmas tree in and put it up, despite there being no proper floor. We were having Christmas if it killed me. We decorated the fake chimney breast, put up lights all over the place, and enjoyed a quiet if strange break over the festive period.
First week in January the builders were back to paint the downstairs walls again, and the electrician turned up and fitted the two outdoor infrared heaters so we finally had heat in the conservatory without the need to run a noisy electric fan heater if we don’t want to freeze. Towards the end of the week the floor screeders finally showed up. And we instantly hit a hiccup when I asked how long the stuff would take to dry (which would determined when the flooring could go down) and they said that at 76mm and 1 day for each millimetre for the first three weeks, and then 1 day for each remaining 3 millmitres, we’d be looking at 40 days at least.
It was quite obvious that Mal had not listened to a single word I’d said to him about wanting the quick drying stuff. I pointed this out to the two young fellows who were going to do the job and got the response that they hadn’t brought the accelerant because it’s expensive. Yeah, well so is the storage we’re currently paying for and that we’ll need until we can get our furniture back, which obviously can’t happen until the floor is finished. So given the storage costs are around £500 a month right now, clearly what’s expensive may be a matter of perspective. Refusing to let them go ahead until I had an answer, they eventually came back and said the quick version would be £180! So that was an obvious no brainer. They were despatched back to base to collect the necessary material. Fours hours after they started, we had a screeded floor.
We were under strict instructions not to walk on the new floor for at least 24 hours – no one told the cats though, so one of them promptly walked straight across it almost as soon as the workmen had gone! Luckily, he didn’t leave a mark. And lo and behold a week later it was completely dry. So now we needed someone to come and fit the flooring. That, too, has proven hard to sort, a couple of blokes finally showed up last Thursday and (once we’d insisted they put their facemasks on), gave us a quote and said they could do the job next weel. Fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, the saga of the coving has developed. It started with us saying we wanted the LED lights to fit inside some coving and act as uplights. Cue a discussion that went backwards and forwards between me saying what shape/style I wanted, and Mal saying that the examples we were sending him wouldn’t work. It ended with me sending him the suggested style the interior designer wanted, and him again saying that was no good. I batted it back to him and said he should look for something that WOULD work and that was also the shape and style we wanted. He finally came back on Friday with a wooden coving sample, and we said get it ordered NOW.
In between all of that, we ordered new curtains and blinds from Hillary’s Blinds. On Monday two weeks back they were ready to fit. Their fitter arrived, hung curtains upstairs in the workroom and the bedroom, and then took a phone call. The call informed him that the people whose curtains he had fitted on the Friday before had tested positive for Covid. He packed up, wiped down all the surfaces he’d touched, and vanished, promising to call once he knew whether he did or did not have Covid! We’d been doing so well, so we kept our fingers crossed and on the Wednesday afternoon he called to say he was negative and could come back on the Friday. He did just that, which was when we found out that a pair of cushion covers we had ordered were missing from the order, and one set of curtains had been made far too long. It didn’t help that he couldn’t figure out where the curtain poles needed to go because we didn’t know what size the coving was going to be because we hadn’t seen a sample at that point… He went away again, and we promised we’d let him know when the coving question finally got solved. The order for the replacement curtains wasn’t due to arrive before 18th February anyway, so hopefully the damn coving will be fitted by then. It had better be, is all I can say.
The dressing room is probably now the most complete part of the project. Before Christmas I spent quite a bit of time in planning sessions with the local branch of Ikea, working out how best to fit out the wardrobes needed. After three sessions, the order went in, and was delivered in two installments on 7th and 11th January, which meant I had 10 wardrobes to build. I messed up a couple of the drawers, mostly by trying to do them on my own and realising too late that I don’t have enough hands, but other than that, and the hanging rails which I can’t clip in because my hands are too arthritic, they are now done and ready. We just need the electrician to connect the lights and that’s one room finally done, especially as we have the new blind fitted too. It has to be said, though, that two weeks later I’m still in pain, and I am never, ever building another piece of flat pack furniture, even if it means I won’t have the sound of Mitch Benn rattling around in my head.
Almost unnoticed in all of this, Darren removed the radiator we no longer need. The upstairs pair went in the week before Christmas, and caused a bit of drama when in turned out he hadn’t capped the bedroom one off properly, and it blew all the plaster out and started leaking as soon as we turned the heating on. Darren had to leg it back and sort it out, and we had to scrub the displaced plaster off the floorboards. The second set caused no problems at all, and we’re now living happily with the infrared, and have wall space that can be used for book cases now they don’t need a damn great iron radiator on them.
We’re so close now, we can feel it, and it’s probably the most frustrating part of the project. What’s left to do? Not much, but pinning anyone down to when they’ll show up is proving difficult. And just for good measure, the handful of extra shelves and drawers I ordered for the wardrobes were supposed to be delivered today by DPD. Except that all we got was a “sorry we missed you” message. Which is interesting because we were in, and it’s been snowing all day which means that, given our house is at the closed end of a cul-de-sac, there should have been tyre tracks in the snow outside if anyone had driven a van or truck into the close and there weren’t.