The ‘DIY’ category:

I installed a wood-burning stove… and built a chimney

October 27th, 2013

Written by .  2 Comments - read/leave yours;

Our house has a slightly strange layout due to the fact that various extensions have been added to it over the years. This meant that our fireplace was between our kitchen and dining room. It was also an insert so almost all the heat went up, making it virtually pointless. Anyway, I ripped this out a while back whilst redoing our kitchen (photos might follow one day!) and yesterday began work on its replacement.

We bought a wood-burning stove. Because of the weird layout of the house – I’ve mentioned this, right? – we couldn’t use the existing chimney so the stove would need its own. Normally people get someone in to install their stove and create a chimney using twin-walled flue. This stuff is very expensive, and so is getting someone to do it all, so I figured I’d give it a go. How hard could it be? (The answer is very complicated as there are lots of things that must be done a certain way, but once these are figured out it’s not too hard).

The first job was going up into the loft to see where the new chimney could go; there are heating pipes up there so there were constraints. Then I built a hearth. Then I lifted the stove onto it with the help of my strong friend Paul. Then I cut a hole in the ceiling and installed my metal chimney block support. Once I’d measured where the chimney would exit the roof, I cut a hole in the roof, piled my chimney blocks one on top of the other, ran the flue through it, stuffed rock-wool into the void, joined it up with the black flue downstairs, rebuilt the roof, and took some photos.

Aside from the practical side of now having a lovely warm fireplace, I think the chimney really enhances the ramshackle look of the back of our house.

UK TV in France

December 1st, 2012

Written by .  Comments Off on UK TV in France

As you might have noticed, we live in France, so we have French TV.

Amongst people like us this is quite unusual; most people from the UK have satellite TV. Initially I wasn’t bothered and was actually quite happy watching French TV. My personal favourites are Fourchette & Sac à DosDes racines et des ailes and J’irai dormir chez vous – mainly travel documentary style programmes.

I must admit that I do download programmes such as ‘Have I Got News For You’ on iPlayer, so it’s not all French language stuff. And if you fiddle with the settings on your TV you can watch programmes like CSI in VO (version originale) which is quite good; everything foreign is dubbed on French TV rather than subtitled, and dubbing makes plots difficult to follow.

Anyway, with Christmas on the horizon, we were envious of our friends and family back home. There’s nothing quite like watching some Christmas telly with a few mince pies and… a few more mince pies. So it was time to install satellite TV.

Initially I thought this would be expensive, but I looked into it and discovered that the parts themselves are very cheap. I bought a 60cm satellite dish for 25 € and 10m of cable for 8 €, both from Leroy Merlin. The assistant wanted to sell me a bigger dish when I mentioned I was planning on getting UK channels with it; I ignored his advice since I’d read on forums that 60cm is plenty. Friends had an old Sky box that they were happy to lend to us, so I didn’t need to buy a satellite decoder. However, if I had needed to buy one I was surprised to learn that I didn’t need to use a Sky box; any Freesat box would do the trick. These start from around £35 for a basic model.

I put the dish together and, with the help of my compass and the coordinates of the relevant satellite on a piece of paper included with the dish, pointed it in the right direction. With the window open, the Sky box on channel 101 and the volume turned up full, I gently moved the dish around a bit until I heard BBC1 blaring out. Success!

It wasn’t quite as easy as I make it sound. The next day it was raining and we had no signal at all so I moved the dish but there were some branches between the dish as the sky and it didn’t work. After some more adjustments I got it to 100% signal. It wasn’t that difficult.

The only trouble now is that the boys are glued to CBeebies all day long!

I made a river. And a wall. And a couple of decks

September 20th, 2012

Written by .  2 Comments - read/leave yours;

I know, I know; it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything here. Here come the excuses….

‘Stuff’ is really getting in the way. You know, life ‘stuff’ like looking after the children, school, daily chores, making websites (have I mentioned my website business Uncomplicate before?), writing stories and articles for the local paper (I haven’t mentioned that before – I’ll get to that blog update one day) and watching loads of movies (which I review on one of my other websites Just finished watching…).

But I have been doing free range adventurey type stuff too.

I’ve made a river for the boys. It’s a stone riverbed with a pump at the bottom taking water via a buried hosepipe back up to the top. They love splashing about in it, making pools with pebbles, filling up buckets, floating leaves down it. Unfortunately this summer has been very dry so any bit of water is pounced on by the wasps. We’ve therefore not had this on very often.

I’ve made a wall for the river to flow out of, a bit like a waterfall but not as dramatic. Before leaving the Lakes I did a dry-stone walling course; I finally put those skills to some use. It’s a bit rustic and it’s not dry (it’s held together with lime and cement so there’s no risk of it falling on children) but it looks pretty good I reckon.

I made a deck, or two decks to be precise. Outside our dining room window was a muddy weedy mess. I dug this up, built a frame and laid a deck. The garden is quite a bit higher than the house so I built another smaller deck between the garden and the main deck, so there’s now a sort of deck step thing going on. It’s so much neater and the boys can play there when the grass is too wet and we can sit out there and generally make use of the space.

It’s good to have got this post finally done! I’d actually finished this project a couple of months ago :-/

Loft story

April 14th, 2012

Written by .  2 Comments - read/leave yours;

I’ll warn you in advance: this is quite a long and boring post but I know that if I don’t write down what we did I’ll forget.

My brother and I climbed up the ladder into the loft on 1st November 2011 to begin work on the conversion project. Five months later it was all done. Here’s a summarised account of what we did….

The boys' new room

The loft above the original part of the house was a traditional crop drying room with a door leading into it from the roof, thick soil on the floor beneath which was gorse then wooden planks. Overhead were the oak beams and roof framework. The loft above the extended bit of the house, which also had a door leading into it but this time from metal steps up the side of the house, already had wooden floorboards but rolls of loft insulation had been laid out over them for many years and it was all filthy, and also full of rubbish.

The first job was to remove all the junk that was up there: tiles, wood, cardboard boxes and loads of bits and pieces. It was dark and dirty up there but it was exciting to be starting on my biggest project yet. I’d spent a long time thinking about how things were going to be done up there so I had a plan, but it wasn’t written down anywhere so it was good to finally clear the space and start to visualise it.

The second job was to get the iPod and speakers up there. Over the next few weeks we listened to my entire music collection many times over. For one period all my brother wanted to listen to was Coldplay, and I, as usual, opted for Boy 8-Bit.

To help make things even easier to visualise, the next thing we did was put in the Velux windows, one in the ‘old’ loft (the boys’ bedroom) and one in the ‘new’ loft (our bedroom). Cutting a hole in the roof is very intimidating but once the tiles had been taken off and the wood sawn we were left with window-sized holes into which we slotted the Veluxes (Velii?). It wasn’t quite as simple as this, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d first feared. I also put a smaller window, just a skylight really, into the other side of the roof which would be the corridor. Once they were in it was lovely and bright up there – which was good!

Next up was some shopping. We hired a trailer from a local builder’s merchants, hooked it onto the back of the van and drove up to a big B&Q type place 60 miles away called Brico Depot (they were by far the cheapest and actually are part of the same group as B&Q)  to stock up on plasterboard, insulation panels, wood, more windows and the wooden floor. The trailer and van were absolutely full to bursting and driving down the motorway with such a precarious load was scary, but we made it back alright and unloaded all the materials into the garage in the dark.

Now that we had the supplies we made a start on building the frames for the ceiling and walls. There isn’t anything particularly dramatic to to recount about this stage other than it took a lot of wood and screws, and screwing into 100 year old oak beams is virtually impossible. Oh, and it took ages (about a week) and became rather tedious. Some sections were incredibly complicated and we discovered that the best way to work things out is to sit down with a cup of coffee and look at the problem for ten minutes or so. Once the frame was done we got to the part we’d been looking forward to for a while; insulation.

Pretty much as soon as we started to squeeze the insulation between the roof and the wooden frames we realised that this was a horrible job, and wished it would be over as quickly as possible. It took several days and we both developed nasty coughs, but once it was in we were very relieved.

The plumber and electrician came to set things up at this stage, running cables and pipes all over the place. He also rerouted some heating pipes that were in the way of where we were going to make a doorway through the 60cm thick stone wall to join the two lofts together. Once he was done we started with the floor.

First we had to build a frame. The loft floor was soil and, whilst most people round here remove tons and tons of this to lay their floor directly onto the floor joists when converting their lofts, I couldn’t face doing that. Plus all that soil and stuff worked well as insulation, so I figured it might as well stay. The frame in place we started to lay the planks, screwing them into place. This took a lot longer than we’d anticipated, mainly because we realised about half way in that we’d been putting the boards down the wrong way round so had to lift them all up to start again. Luckily we’d ignored advice and screwed the planks down.

Once that was in place we started with the plasterboard. I used four sorts of plasterboard: normal plasterboard for the partition walls (13mm); thinner stuff for the ceilings (10mm); medium insulating polystyrene-backed plasterboard for the sloping walls (10+40mm); and thick insulating polystyrene-backed plasterboard for the gable end (10+100mm). We had mountains of this stuff and carrying it up the ladders was a nightmare, as was measuring and cutting it. Oh and fitting it using adhesive cement and screws was also a nightmare! However, of all the jobs so far, this was the one which gave us the most satisfaction as we could really see the rooms taking shape.

Unfortunately my brother’s time was up and he had to head home. However, we’d done loads in just one month and I’d definitely have got nowhere without his help, so thanks little bro!

From then on it was lots and lots of smaller jobs. We hired a local builder to make the hole in the 60cm stone wall as I was worried I’d bring the roof down by not doing it properly, and once that was done I fitted windows into what had been the doorways into the two lofts. This involved building a short brick wall to fill the gap a bit and then fitting the windows. I built a step from the corridor into our new bedroom, cut a hole in the wall at the top of the stairs so that we could access our new rooms without having to go outside and up a ladder, and that marked the point at which we were weather-tight. Exciting!

Then I started with taping and plastering. The plumber and electrician came back a few times to do his stuff, including installing three radiators (luxury as it was a very cold winter), the builder came back to lime render the stone walls, and I just plodded on with filling gaps, taping and plastering.

I’d run out of enthusiasm by now and would go weeks without doing anything. But eventually the plastering was finished and I could sand the walls down. Then we painted, stained the floorboards, oiled the floorboards, put the skirting on… and moved in! All in all it took five months. If I’d carried on at the same pace my brother and I set at the start it would have taken two, but it just got so boring!

Anyway, it’s done and it’s awesome. Well, not 100% done: I still need to put the shutters on one of the windows and build the steps that join the stairs to the new corridor out of proper wood rather than cheap pine. But it’s very, very nearly all done.

I made the bed

January 10th, 2012

Written by .  Comments Off on I made the bed

My title is probably a little misleading. When I say ‘I made the bed’ I mean I actually built a bed. It only took a few hours and the materials came to just 18€; I’m feeling rather pleased with myself!

At the moment all four of us sleep in the same bed. It’s not the squash and the squeeze is might sound; we have two single mattresses and one queen-size mattress. Because of this setup we can’t use bed-frames so the mattresses are just on the floor. And because they’re on the floor they’re getting a little worse for wear.

The loft conversion is almost done so the boys will soon be moving into their own room and we’ll be able to use bed-frames once again. I took a break from working on the loft to make Soren a bed-frame, something that would lift his mattress off the floor just enough to allow some airflow but not so much that when he falls out he’ll hurt himself.

I bought some big planks – 400cm x 25cm  – and cut one into four strips, enough for the sides and the tops, and half of another into lots of strips for the slats. I added two little rails for the slats to sit on, screwed everything in place, put some 1 inch feet on the bottom, and then sanded everything smooth.

It was fun and actually very easy. Best of all though I think Soren likes it.


I’ve just popped upstairs

November 23rd, 2011

Written by .  1 Comment - read/leave yours;

I hate those blogs that leave huge gaps in between updates. I’ve unfortunately allowed ours to become one of those. Let me offer my excuses….

My brother came over on the 1st November to help me convert the loft, so we’ve been upstairs all day every day turning it into two bedrooms and a corridor joining them up with the existing stairs. It’s going very well – the Velux windows are in, the plasterboard frames are up, the floor frame and floor is down, the trip with a trailer to buy the supplies has been made, the plumbing and first fix electricals have been done – but we’re both properly knackered by the end of the day.

We’re now putting in the insulation after which we’ll put up the plasterboard; we’re almost at the point where everything will take shape and we’re very excited about that!

So please forgive my lack of virtual effort. Once my efforts upstairs have come to an end I’ll make it up to you.


Mini loft conversion

October 29th, 2011

Written by .  1 Comment - read/leave yours;

Corrie and the boys went to England last week to visit the family. I stayed behind to look after the dogs and chickens and to do the last bit of the little house project: the loft.

It’s tiny up there but it will make a cool mezzanine sleeping platform. Once we get the wood-burning stove in downstairs, it’ll be cosy and pretty much self-contained so people can stay in their own little house.

So they left on Wednesday and I got started straight away. Here’s the list of jobs I did, in the order I did them, followed by the pictures.

  • Block up the eaves so birds can’t fly in and help themselves to my insulation.
  • Cut away part of the ceiling/floor and remove the beam.
  • Insulate.
  • Plasterboard.
  • Build a floor frame as the existing floor – hard clay – was not level.
  • Build a window frame for the window to go into.
  • Put the window in.
  • Put the floorboards onto the floor frame.
  • Build a balustrade.
  • Establish the best way of getting up there without banging your head on the sloping ceiling and without taking up the entire downstairs – basically, a removable ladder.
This took me 7 days to do. It’s not finished – the plasterboard needs smoothing over and decorating and I need to put the carpet down – but it’s essentially done. It was very hard work, especially putting 2.5m x 1.2m pieces of plasterboard up on my own in such a cramped space, and I was absolutely knackered at the end of every day, but I’m pleased with it. And more importantly, I’ve learnt a lot about how to do loft conversions, ready for when we start on the lofts in the main house next week.

You can’t handle the roof!

October 7th, 2011

Written by .  3 Comments - read/leave yours;

It’s been a while since I replaced the corrugated asbestos roof on the little house’s lean-to. The plan had always been to replace all of the corrugated asbestos with proper tiles but it’s quite a big job and I needed to summon up the enthusiasm. This, it turned out, took just under 4 months. Once I got started though the work took me 6 days over the course of a few weeks.

  1. I removed the bolts from the asbestos panels, slid the panels (16 of them) off the roof and chucked them in a disused barn.
  2. I uncovered about 8 wasps’ nests under these panels, most of them active. It’s scary discovering a nest when you’re on top of a roof!
  3. With the little loft exposed to the air I removed all the stuff and swept it clean, ready to for its mini loft conversion that I’m doing in a few weeks’ time.
  4. There were some creepy things up there including mummified rats, some odd egg shells (snake I think) and old wine bottles filled with bleach.
  5. I cut the 5m rafters in half then nailed them on.
  6. On top of this I attached the waterproof membrane.
  7. The battens were there nailed on over the top.
  8. French gutters are different from English ones: they tend to be metal (zinc); they attach under the tiles; the bits are welded together. I managed to figure out how to attach the gutter to the battens and adjust the angle so the water runs down, but I couldn’t reuse the welded bends so the downpipe will have to wait till I’ve been to the shop.
  9. I finally got to the fun bit; putting the tiles on! I had enough of our old tiles for one side and had bought 650 from some guy down the road for the other side for €160. I clambered up and down the ladder onto the roof slotting the tiles into place for a couple of days.
There’s still the mortar flashing to do and that drainpipe, but it’s pretty much done. I’m proper knackered and can barely stand up straight, but it’s been fun and I’m very proud of the end result, a cute little house with a cute old-fashioned roof.


Our pool deck

August 29th, 2011

Written by .  Comments Off on Our pool deck

Our swimming pool has been open for a while now, and it’s been wonderful.

To make it easier to get in and out, especially for the children, I built a deck along two sides. Again, that’s been up for a while now, but it was only last week that I actually finished it. I’d done the minimum required to make it safe for Soren’s birthday party but lazily neglected to complete the project for another 6 weeks. It’s finally done now so I can tell you about it!

I dug 9 holes 45cm deep into which I put 9 massive 15cm x 15cm posts and several kilos of concrete. Then using a mixture of wood from the barns and wood from the shop I built the frame, extending it over the edge of the pool so the deck would protrude over the water. I put the decking planks on and attached the ladders. Finally I added some safety rails around the sides.

It’s works a treat. Over the summer it had around 12 people on it at one time and it was rock solid – thank God!

Admittedly it’s not particularly attractive, and it makes an already obtrusive thing even more so, but we’ve found it massively improved the usability of the pool.

Dull, but true.

A trailer for Murray

August 7th, 2011

Written by .  2 Comments - read/leave yours;

I made a little trailer for Murray the tractor today.

There wasn’t a great deal to do and it took me about 1 1/2 hours. I found an old trailer frame in a barn (this step significantly reduces the amount of time and effort required to make a trailer) and simply built a box, stapled some foam on the inside, and attached a pole that bolts onto the back of Murray.

I took the boys for a spin this evening and they liked it!

Made it, ma! Top of the roof!

June 14th, 2011

Written by .  4 Comments - read/leave yours;

The first thing you see when you come through our gate is this little house. It’s tiny but cute, or at least it would be if it wasn’t covered in a corrugated asbestos roof.

Last Tuesday I took down the roof on the lean-to and cleared out half of the little loft; the right-hand side is where we keep our garden tools so I left that as it is.

I then nailed up some rafters and stapled on some roof liner.

Nailed on some battens.

And finally laid some tiles that we found in the attic of the house.

Six days later and it was done! Except for some lime mortar flashing which I’m doing tomorrow.

It was a fun job to do, nowhere near as tricky as I’d imagined, and very satisfying. I’ve got the main bit of the little house to do next and I’m not quite sure how I’ll get up there without proper ladders. Maybe now’s the time to buy that helicopter I’ve always promised myself.