Building Work (Week 5) – Foundations, drains and changes of plan

Week 5 was only a four day week on account of Easter – we had some pretty horrendous weather so the builders focused on the inside, but they did get the foundations for the extension poured.


I got to lay out the timber to illustrate exactly how I wanted the downstairs loo to be set out. The original plan and the one which is on the plans is to have it set out like the diagram below.  The primary reason for this particular layout being to make the soil pipe as short as possible.

Downstairs Loo Original Plan

As the sink was to be against where the doorway used to be, I’d assumed it would be a stud wall, and believing this I had bought a Barbican Basin.  Back in December, I was casually looking for bathroom inspiration on the internet and discovered the sink which was designed for the Barbican centre – apparently the Barbican plans had been drawn up before the regulation to have a washhand basin in every WC was introduced, so they had to come up with a compact solution and designed this basin that is mainly set into the wall and only protrudes 15cms.  It’s also amazingly retro and I loved it.  Twyfords still manufacture it but, as you have to no choice but to buy the brassware which specifically goes with the basin, it costs about £500.  Yeah…. exactly, but then, as always, one popped up on eBay.  It was in London and although I emailed the guy and asked if he would post it to me, he said it was for collection from Islington only.  Now my friend Hannah works in Islington, she happened to be on a trip home and I was going for tea with her that evening, so I hatched a plan and she was up for it.  I won the auction and after a bit of phaff sorting a courier the basin arrived in one piece.  Then Dave (the builder) happens to say something along the lines of “when that doorway is bricked up…”, “errr, WHAT?” – turns out that was another point I’d failed to appreciate on building regs plans.

Fortunately, the whole distance of the soil pipe thing is apparently neither here nor there so I suggested we turn the WC round and install the sink into the stud wall.  Phewf!

Downstairs Loo New Plan

This week I got to lay it out in timbers with the aid of a chair my Dad was given in 1984 from a Chinese restaurant which was downsizing.  The building regs plans also have the drain from the shower coming down inside the WC but the builders are going to make that end stud wall slightly thicker to conceal it.


In preparation the new soil pipe has been put in under the floor.


The waste pipes under the manhole cover were apparently not deep enough so a new chamber had to be installed.  Unfortunately that meant quite a bit of digging and breaking up of the concrete which had been put around the pipe.


There’s the new chamber.  Once the building inspector has seen it and said he’s happy, the soil can be filled around it so it’s flush with the surface.  You can also see my new earth rods (they went in last summer) in this photo.


Moving upstairs, I also got to decide exactly what size I wanted the shower to be.  I had had a massive dilemma about this previously and finally concluded that my only option was to go for a 760mm x 760mm square shower so that’s what was drawn on the plans.

760 square

Ages afterwards I was flicking through a bathroom brochure and spotted that you could get 700mm wide showers.  Why did no-one tell me this?  I asked in three bathroom showrooms and on an web forum for a solution!  The reason I thought I couldn’t go any longer on the shower than 760 was because the 10cm protrusion would get too close to the knee of anyone sitting on the loo, but if the shower only stuck out 4cm, it would be fine so it could be much wider, like 1000mm.  So when the builders put in the lintel above this wall they made it big enough to handle an enormous shower but I was also told that the work to keep the bits of wall left over from the airing cupboard and make it all good, would be roughly the same as the work to take it all out and build new stud walls. So I could have any size shower I wanted, it was just up to me how much of the bedroom I wanted to pilfer.  The field was now open to any combination of 700, 760, or 800 deep by 760, 800, 900 or 1000 wide.  Arrrghh – more decisions!

I figured, if it was no difference to build a new wall, I might as well avoid having the shower jutting out into bathroom – so it should move at least 4cm back (700 deep), but should I go deeper?  I was less worried about moving the wall back a few centimetres than I was about the swing of the door – if we moved the wall I’d assumed we would also move the door frame.  I was pondering this at lunchtime when the sound of my opening and closing my tape measure drew my colleague Gordon’s attention – once I explained the problem he suggested I ask if the doorway could stay where it was.  Dave, the builder, said it could so then my decision was should I just go for 760 (10cm into the room) or should I go out to 800 (14cm into the room).  I’d already decided the width should be 900mm; 1000 was ludicrously wide, 900 was wide enough and gave me a better choice of shower doors, I didn’t really gain anything in the bedroom by going smaller than 900.  But the depth had me stumped. Would the cupboard be too deep?  Is 800 x 900 just greedy?  This was definitely one of those moments when I realised quite how ridiculous I can be – stood there holding the tape measure, with Dave silently watching on, while I deliberated over four whole centimetres. Eventually, I asked if there would be enough space for a light switch on the jutting out bit of wall, the answer was “800 would be better for a light switch”.  Hurrah – decision made! 800 by 900!

800x900square So here it is – it feels enormous!  Hopefully that’s just because there are no walls yet!

shower-studwork shower-studwork2

The stud wall on the corridor side uses wider timber – this is so I can have a niche in the shower for shampoo etc – it’ll be in the corridor wall so the lack of sound insulation will be less of a problem.  The only problem with this is that the position of the niche depends on the size of the tiles – so the pressure is now on for me to pick my tiles!

The bathroom suite is being replaced, it wasn’t my original plan but the bath had a hole in it which looked suspiciously like a cigarette burn and the basin (although I actually really like the basin – it’s a classic Twyford style) has a cracked pedestal.  The bath is a old sized 5′ 6″ length (1675mm) and the wall had been channelled out fit it in.

bathwall1 It looks like the builders had to have a good chew to get it out.


The actual space between the walls is 1650mm.  Modern baths are mostly 1700mm. Compact ones are 1600mm.  You can get some imperial replacements at 1670mm but Dave recommend I get a bath which actually fitted rather than attempt to channel the wall again.  There are very few 1650mm baths and I would prefer a double ended one (I just think they look better with the taps in the middle).  Carron make a 1650mm but it’s single ended, Bette make a double ended 1650mm bath but it’s steel – with a steel bath you normally have your taps mounted in the wall, it is possible to have the manufacturer drill your holes but it means the lead times are quite long – plus it’s not cheap, around £600 for the bath with holes. Meh!

After explaining all this fiasco to Dave he pointed out that the walls are a mess and maybe we should board them out and make a 1600 bath fit!


As I was arriving on Thursday morning I saw a crow look like it was coming in to roost – the small holes left by the needles probably looking like the perfect nesting box.  I ran upstairs but there was no crow there – apparently one had got in the day before though! Now the builders have bricked up the inside wall and put a scratch of plaster on coat on, so it can’t happen again.  They’ve also patched my floorboards here and everywhere they’ve looked a bit rough – there are some ‘spongy’ patches just inside the front door which will have to be done too.

walls-floor-patchedMan, that was a long post!

A secondhand bed

Does the thought of a secondhand bed gross you out?  It was actually described as “Victorian” (although I have my doubts), if so, third or fourth hand might be more accurate.

Well, yesterday I bought this “secondhand” bed from an auction (photo from the catalogue)  It’s only a small double (4ft wide instead of 4ft 6in wide) but mattresses that size are far more common / affordable that I would have thought.  The head and footboards are oak and it has a sprung metal frame.


My aunt and uncle have given me four single beds from their London flat which are currently in storage, so buying more beds was really not on my agenda. Bidding started at £10 – there were no takers, so dropped to start at £2 – I tentatively raised my hand, someone bid £3, I bid £4 – they pulled out. Yep, I won it for £4 (plus 40p commission). I hadn’t really even looked at it before the auction so in the break I had to dash over to check it could be dismantled!  It could and I made a furtive phone call “Dad, please could you put the roof rack on your car? I’ll explain when I get home”.  Where I’m going to put it in the house is more tricky though, it will actually fit pretty well in the small bedroom (which is too small for a full double) but I wasn’t really planning on putting a bed in there (I was thinking craftroom / library / study), hmm… one to sleep on I think (sorry).

I didn’t get the cushions on top of the bed in the photo though – they were won by a guy who looked like Neptune.

Patricia the Stripper

Erm, that’s a Chris de Burgh song in case you’re wondering.

So when I got the house it was all magnolia – which isn’t a bad thing, while it was obviously a doer upper it didn’t look completely tragic.  The problem was the magnolia was painted over wallpaper and none of it was flat wallpaper, it was all either woodchip or anaglypta and as textured wallpaper is usually used to ‘paper over the cracks’, I thought it best to get it all off and find out ‘what lies beneath’.

Since I got the keys it’s been a relentless fight against wallpaper, the war may not yet be won but I think I’ve victories in all the major battles.  This how the course of the action panned out:

Saturday: get the keys bought a wallpaper steamer and a stripper.
Sunday: stripped bedroom number two.  Three walls of anaglypta wallpaper and one of anaglypta wallpaper and plaster.  It seems like the wallpaper steamer sometimes causes the plaster to ‘blow out’ and then it falls off.
Friday: Ellie, Paul and I stripped the master bedroom (anaglypta again) – bits of plaster come off but nothing major.  My suspicions about the wallpaper steamer get stronger.
Saturday: Paul and I strip the smallest bedroom (more anaglypta) – in a few more small areas bits of plaster come off.  The plaster on each of the walls in this rooms seems to be different and that makes a difference to how easily it comes off.  We make a start on the upstairs hall and the stairwell.  The top layer is woodchip but in some places it’s over several other layers of wallpaper, the bottom layer seems to be lining paper which was painted over with gloss, truly adhering it to the plaster – it’s a nightmare, you need to to apply excessive force and just keep chipping at it as it comes away millimetre by millimetre.
Sunday: Paul and I continue on the stairwell.  The two of us work for around 7 hours straight and we get most of it removed.  There is much phaffing to get the best configuration of the ladder in a confined space as well.
Wednesday: Because I’ve bought a sideboard and it’s getting delivered the following day, I decide to start stripping the living room at 7pm at night.  Three walls are anaglypta, so they take about an hour and a half and I spend the next three hours trying to strip just the chimney breast of woodchip, on top of several layers of paper.  Including this rather charming floral number

Floral Wallpaper

Friday: I continue at the bottom of the stairwell and the downstairs hall.  It’s more woodchip over more of that floral paper.  There are wires everywhere in the hall (electric and telephone) and they appear to have been both wallpapered and painted over – not good.   The paint on the ceiling also starts coming off with the paper and seems to be very loose (I’m worried there was a leak from the bathroom above).  As it flakes off it keeps getting in my eyes.  Some of the paint has also chipped off the woodwork and it appears to be a mid-brown colour, could be nice…  Anyway, I just remove the wallpaper as best as I can and call it a night.
Saturday: I go get some dusk masks and some safety goggles.  Then temptation gets too much and I go out and buy a heat gun (I spent an hour looking for Dad’s then gave up).  I start with the banister / stair frame in the hall, it doesn’t go at all well, I end up hacking at it so much that I think it will need to be planed back down and I’m still left with green paint scum on the surface.  The paint on the skirting board on the other hand just melts away – I make my way up a few of the stairs (peeling back carpet as I go) until the wires get too annoying.  So then I tried a door frame, same, the paint just melts away. I do half a door frame and then start on the picture rail in the living room, it isn’t quite so easy and I end up charring some of the wood – I don’t have a very good shave hook either.  By now the house is quite foggy and I’ve suddenly remembered that the paint probably contains lead, so I decide to call it a day.
Sunday: I decide to stick to safer tasks and avoid the heat gun until I’ve got a better idea of what I’m doing.  As the paint on the ceiling has half come off I decide I’d better get rid of the rest – easier said than done.  It takes me a good few hours (and a load of elbow grease) to get most of the rest of it off.  Then I spent several more hours removing the remaining bits of glossed lining paper and flakes of woodchip from the downstairs hall, stairwell and upstairs hall.  I’ve been picking up the wallpaper as I’ve been going along (two stuffed wheelie bins plus a few sacks which went straight to the tip) but I’ve not been too precious about it, however with the possibility of lead dust I decide to go around on my hands and knees and pick of all the larger remaining pieces and then give it a good hoover.  Well the hoover is about as much use as a chocolate teapot – I give up, go home and order a shopvac, a proper respirator and a sander.
Tuesday: Wake up to discover I can’t lift my right arm past my shoulder. The wallpaper fights back…

So that’s the saga to date – there were times when I wondered if it might be quicker to wait for woodchip to come back into fashion.  On the whole, all evidence indicates that the walls were fine when the wallpaper went up, they must have just liked it.  How easy it’s going to be to get them back into a state where they can be painted though…