Lofty heights

Having had two midnight tours of other people’s lofts in the last few months (thank you James B and David A) – I got serious loft envy.  My loft is a decent size (it’s about 6m by 6m) and has a decent amount of headroom (certainly for me).  For a self confessed hoarder that amount of loft space is akin to Nirvana but, like all heavens, it lacked a decent stairway…. and boarding…. and insulation (it was previously insulated with junk).

original loft hatch

The loft hatch spanned two joists and was around 28in by 28in (yes, I’m going to switch to imperial when measuring old things). It wasn’t tiny but I thought it might be a bit of a squeeze for some things  - there was no built-in loft ladder so the main problem was that, when standing on the top of the step ladder, I pretty much had to jump into the loft and to get out I had to lower myself down taking all my weight on my arms until I was positioned directly over the top of the ladder and drop.  It was fine but not something you’d want to do regularly (or something you could do while carrying anything).

The joists in my house run from front to the back which is left to right in the picture. As you can see there are walls on either side of the hatch – one of these walls (left of the picture) goes up into the loft. At the back of the hatch (furthest side away in the picture) is a structural brick wall which holds up one of the purlins.  So I figured with all this support around the hatch – it wouldn’t hurt to cut out one teeny tiny bit of a joist to make the hatch bigger.  I thought about this for weeks, did a lot of googling and then sent Dad up the step ladder to verify that it would all be fine and to double check my measurements.  He concurred.  The new hole would be around 1120mm by 740mm.  I tried to shop locally for a hatch – the builders’ merchant supplied Werner ladders (£129 + VAT) but at 550mm by 1130mm it was not suitable for my needs. So I ordered a 1100mm by 700mm spruce loft hatch with integrated ladder from BPS systems, it was actually cheaper to order from the same company via Amazon as it came with delivery to the Isle of Man for £139 all in.

Dad and I installed it a couple of weekends ago – I can’t deny it, it was a massive phaff – partly because Dad likes to do things the smart way (which isn’t always the quickest way) for example, using two purchases (a 3 by 4 and a 3 by 3) to lever the hatch into the loft might sound like a good idea but not when it takes you half an hour to first de-tangle all the ropes.  Oh and the existing joists weren’t straight so I spent a lot of time on that ladder with the plane and / or sander and the laser measurer trying to get it right.

Below is a photo from inside the loft once it was installed.  The joist that is about half way up the photo is the joist that was cut – so you can see how much bigger the hatch is now. The joists are only 3 inches high so rather than have the frame protruding I added more 3 by 2 on top (that’s the timber you can see around the edge).  As the frame was smaller than the existing ceiling hole, it needed some packing as well. Remember that fake beam in the dining room? Well the wood was really good quality and exactly the right size so it got a new lease of life in the loft (that’s the varnished wood with bits of white paint on in between the frame and the 3 x 2).


The ladder doesn’t look straight in this photo because it’s not – I left it a little long as I’ve not decided on the flooring in the hall yet (easier to cut a bit off than add a bit on…)

And from below:

new loft hatch

So obviously the architrave needs to be fitted yet but as the ceiling needs skimming I’ve left it off for now.  Yes, there is a index card taped to the door – those are my notes for the electrician to say what I wanted installing in the loft (strip light with pull cord and a couple of sockets).  The bit of tape on the ceiling behind the hatch is where the smoke detector will go. Oh and you can also see where I’ve been stripping the door frame (and also how high I can reach).

loft ladder

This is how the ladder folds up (this photo is taken facing the opposite way to the others) – I particularly liked that it didn’t use any additional space in the loft.  I’m not sure I would have had it facing this way had there been a choice but if it faced the other way there would have been a brick wall at the top of the ladder (see photo from inside the loft).  That white thing on the purlin is a grab handle (aimed at people with poor mobility) which I screwed there to make it easier to get on and off the ladder. The dirty marks on the bottom right of the door are because one of the ‘tips’ in the instructions says to set the ladder away from the door to give your feet more room – makes sense but the problem is the screws supplied aren’t long enough and because they are a weird thread and fit into self locking bolts within the door you can’t use any others – I tried setting it out on some blocks and gluing the blocks for extra security but it didn’t hold and it basically wasn’t worth the risk.

Oh and I was both aided and hindered by Dad’s cordless drill – as you can see (sorry about the blurry photo), it’s been adapted to use 12 C sized batteries. To give Dad his due, it’s a fantastic drill – it drove it those 4in screws without any fuss and it goes for months on one set of recharable batteries but it weighs an absolute TON! When you’re in a very hot loft, precariously balanced on two joists, leaning over a hole in the ceiling, while trying to screw straight – ideally you don’t want the drill you’re holding to have a significant impact on your centre of gravity!


Anyway that’s it – I’m pretty pleased with it.  Now I just need to get the loft insulated and boarded :)

Brambles to Blackberries

I saw in the paper the other day that a mild winter and warm spring were responsible for “an early and abundant harvest” but I was still surprised to see ripe blackberries growing on (through?) the shed in August.blackberries

The hedge was fairly well laden too so I stuffed my face. They were so good, I slightly regretted removing all the brambles from the front wall before the blackberries were ripe but this evening the stonemason called and said he’ll be starting on Monday morning :)

Dig on for Victory

I was about to “pen” an over excited post about mini diggers when I realised I’d not written about some of the work we did a few weeks ago – so this post is a bit long – sorry.

Now that I’ve got planning permission but not yet got building regs (another saga) I can get the wall knocked down and the new pillars put in.  One of the conditions of the planning permission is that this is done before the access is used.  I’ve got a stonemason coming to knock down the wall and build to pillars on either side.  I said I’d prep the site by removing the ivy, brambles and extra shrubs and clearing the soil away from the wall.

I forgot to take a “before” photo so here is a photo of the outside of the wall from February – imagine this but much worse (another season’s growth plus leaves on all the brambles).


Here’s the inside of the wall also from February – I actually can’t believe how much it has grown – I swear there was another foot on top of that privet in the middle.  So basically everything in this photo between the tree and the oil tank had to be removed.


I was pondering how I was going to clear all the stuff and I asked my friend Joe who has a tree surgery business (ABC Tree Surgery) but does all sorts of landscaping stuff as well and he brought me a trailer to “fill up like a skip”.  I thought he meant a dinky one which I could tow to the tip myself but he showed up with a beast of a trailer.

dave_trailerThat’s my friend Dave stomping down the foliage in said trailer – Dave kindly put in a few hours hard labour on a very hot day to help me out – aptly wearing a t-shirt which declared “What a difference a Dave makes”.  Speaking of stomping down brambles, was anyone else sceptical about all the princes who died by becoming trapped in the brambles surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s castle?  Like, they’re brambles – how hard could it be to fight your way out?  Now I know, really hard…..and mine weren’t magical brambles….


That’s the wall after all that ivy and brambles were removed – bit different eh? That’s the difference a Dave makes.


And the inside (I took this photo in the middle of a thunderstorm the following day).  The privet is hacked right back (I had planned to move it to the back garden where there is a dead privet in the party hedge but it was too close to the tree to dig out), there was some massive laurel type bush which is gone, a pine bush which was removed, the craggy old rosemary plant has been transplanted into a pot and we tried to pot up some of the crocosmia but I don’t think they’ve take well to that.  We emptied some of the stuff from the old compost heap (which was where I’d been dumping everything I couldn’t shred) and chopped back some stuff in the back garden too (e.g. the out of control escallonia).  Joe didn’t pick up the trailer for a couple of days so I carried on filling it – there was some wild privet all around the tree, the elaeagnus next to it got a decent hair cut, I gave the mahonia (next to the yew but out of shot) a good prune (it was probably about 10ft tall in the Spring, I’d pruned a couple of stems back and it resprouted fine so I cut the rest back – now it’s a much more compact plant, about 4ft high), the yew got a thinning (but I’ve more plans for that yet) and the red robin in the back garden was choking the apple tree so that got hacked to the ground.  The trailer ended up looking like this (stomping it down was no longer possible).


So that was a few weeks ago.  On Friday, I finished work and went to the house to discover a mini digger in the garden :)  I was ridiculously and inappropriately “mini jazz hands” excited – I just grinned at it for about 15 mins until my face started to ache.  Is that a typical reaction to a mini digger or is it just me?


Anyway, Joe showed up yesterday morning to show me it in action – see how it moves those rocks?  No sweat.


So yeah, it’s a massive trench!  You can see how high the flower bed was from the tide mark, the ditch is now slightly (6 inches or so) below road level – it will have to be dug out some more for the foundations for the driveway but this will be enough space for the stone mason to work.  We did hit some tree roots but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been – the driveway opening will have to be further away from the tree that I had hoped but I’m thinking of getting gas anyway (a controversial decision in the Isle of Man) so the oil tank can probably be dispensed with.


So I bet you’re wondering if we found any treasure? I asked Joe if he’d ever found anything interesting and the response was “a dildo and a Blackberry phone”, hmm, not really what I had in mind.  Anyway…. there was a load of old metal, a bed frame, perhaps part of a barrel, a piece of copper pipe, a lead pipe and some other unidentifiable metal stuff.


Plus an old “Boots the Chemist” bottle – it’s not cracked or chipped but it is dirty on the inside and I haven’t got anything to properly clean it.  It’s not worth anything (I checked) but it’s still pretty cool – I wonder how old it is?  The other weird thing about this is that I remember Boots opening in the Isle of Man – it was around 1994, so I wonder if there used to be a Boots here years ago or if this was an import!