Week off; need holiday


Well that was a hectic week off.

We now have a tiny new boiler:

I’m sure the old one was twice the size. Despite all that space, you still need to dismantle the cupboard to get the cover on and off! Oh well, at least we have hot water on cloudy days now… not that we’ve had any clouds since getting rid of the old boiler. Typical.

We also have a freezer again:

Almost looks like the gap was designed for that fridge freezer. It wasn’t, that’s pure luck that is. As an aside, I foolishly claimed I’d be sticking to buying this kind of thing from John Lewis. Turns out that was a mistake, so we got the fridge freezer from a place round the corner instead. I won’t be avoiding John Lewis in the future, like a certain Swedish furniture store, but I also won’t be going out of my way to shop there after a decidedly below par performance when we had problems with a freesat recorder. John Lewis used to go well beyond the call of duty for customer service so it was a bit of a shock when they were talking about restocking fees for faulty goods. You can get that kind of service anywhere.

And we have less lethal electrics!

Obviously the cover is on now, otherwise it would probably be more lethal. Probably. Still a bit more to do on this one but it’s nice not to have cables for the outside lights coming through the walls taking up sockets on the inside.

It’s also possible to get in the garage now, there’s a table and chairs in the kitchen, there’s no kitchen in the living room, there’s slightly less junk in the house, and some progress was made decorating the front bedroom.

It wasn’t all work and no play: we did get to see the women’s Goalball final on Friday which was fantastic. We just missed out on tickets for athletics as well but it was impressive just hearing the roar from the stadium every now and then.

Definitely need a holiday after that week.

Here’s one we made earlier


After a week of camping in the living room, the new kitchen is starting to take shape. Most of the major bits are in, just not quite finished yet; the sink looks like it might work but produces a nice flood if you try and use it!

Here’s how things have been going over the last week, starting with a nice big empty room… if only we didn’t have to put a kitchen in it!

All the new plumbing took a while but is way better than my DIY attempts in the last house. There should actually be space in the cupboard under the sink for things other than pipes this time!

Once the plumbing and wiring was done, the kitchen reappeared in no time at all, and the room still feels bigger than it did with the old kitchen in, which is nice.

We almost finished the week with a working kitchen, plus a top of the range cardboard bistro table!

Really looking forward to being able to move back in next week, although it will be a bit longer until the tiles and floor get done. Mainly because we have to actually choose the tiles and floor; time to head to top-tile-warehouse-r-us…

Mad thermostat plan


Something I’ve really wanted to have a go at for a long time is hacking together a smarter heating system. The long process of moving house prevented any progress until now but I think a few things fell in to place today to get the project off the ground. And so a slightly mad thermostat plan was hatched…

The first part of the puzzle is a side effect of getting a solar water panel; to make the most of the solar panel we should only be using the boiler to top up the hot water at the end of the day. (Obviously that’s just theoretical at the moment because its pretty much been raining non stop since we got the solar panel!) Unfortunately the current central heating controller will only turn on the heating if the hot water is on at the same time, which is no help at all, so we really need a new controller to make the most of our zero carbon supply of hot water. There’s another, purely aesthetic reason to want a new heating controller; the kitchen upgrade got under way this week and the old controller has seen better days.

The current kitchen destruction has a bigger part to play though; now is an ideal opportunity to hide cables behind the new cupboards. For a while that didn’t actually seem like it was going to be all that much help, based on where the old thermostat was (hidden behind a door in the living room). I was looking at various programmable thermostats but the existing wiring from the thermostat restricted the options somewhat. The programmable thermostat we had in the old house seemed to work quite well with the existing wiring and controller… as long as the battery was fresh, otherwise it got confused about the temperature. Obviously not ideal for a thermostat, so I was hoping to avoid batteries this time!

Then, while being distracted by the wonky light switches yet again, inspiration struck…

The house hasn’t been constructed with the greatest care in the world, but those switches just could not have been original. The only thing that makes sense is if they were another botched DIY job, and it seemed highly unlikely that anyone would have dropped another cable run down the wall to do it. My hunch, based on the fact that there’s a water cylinder directly above those switches, is that there’s a horizontal cable run between the two. I checked, and… eureka! So now it’s a simple job to put both switches back on the same box, leaving an empty recessed box with a now bare kitchen wall behind it, making it perfect to run a new thermostat cable through the back of the box and round to the boiler! (Well I was pretty excited by this plan at the time.)

The thermostat to finish off this puzzle is a Heatmiser combined programmable thermostat and hot water timer. My theory is that I need the PRT/HW-N thermostat to go in the living room and a PRC powered relay card in place of the old central heating controller. I’m almost certain that the wiring will work with the existing system anyway, but if anyone has any experience/tips/gotchas, please let me know! That programmable thermostat should give me an RS485 interface to the thermostat which, if all goes well, won’t be too difficult to connect to my nanode– either with a bit of soldering, or one of these IO shields if I’m feeling lazy! The thing I like about this arrangement is that it should be possible to achieve plenty of automation if all goes well but, if there are any technical hitches, there’s a decent off the shelf controller to fall back on.

Update: a quick update since I’m doing some head scratching over whether the existing wiring from the central heating timer to the junction box in the airing cupboard will allow the heating to run independently from the hot water. If it does, the new thermostat is in place ready to go…

If it doesn’t, the new thermostat will just be a decorative feature while I figure out where I can sneak a new cable upstairs without disturbing the new kitchen! I don’t want to break the heating until I’m sure everything will work, so I’m working off a photo for now…

I’d love to hear from anyone who can decipher that lovely nest of wires! Here’s my theroy so far:

The black cable is the valve, and the other two cables that enter with it at the bottom are the pump and cylinder stat. It looks to me like the grey cable should be to turn the hot water off, which seems to be connected to the cylinder stat and a red wire from one of the cables above, which I’m hoping is from the timer. That just seems too easy for this house though, and I’m a bit puzzled by what the connections on the orange wire actually are. Lucky it’s all neatly connected and labelled so I can check the orange wire is connected to the cylinder stat and pump… bother. I guess I’m going to have to wait until Jo’s not looking so I can investigate more thoroughly!

What’s cooking?


Yesterday the next house project got started with some preparation for a new kitchen. If you’re keeping track, this is the third room which we’ve started work on and, no, neither of the previous rooms are finished yet!!

Here’s the current kitchen, which is going to a good home unlike the old bathroom which has mostly made it to the local recycling centre:

To get started we’ve had the radiator moved from one side of the kitchen door, which is helpfully in front of the fridge door, to the other side of the kitchen door, where we’ll hopefully have a kitchen table (assuming we can find one small enough)!

Now you don’t see it…

…now you do:

So just a minor hole or two in the wall/worktop! (Thats a couple of cat5 cables which came through with the pipes. They’ve been gradually working towards a socket near the kitchen table, via the bathroom while everything had been pulled out.)

Since the central heating system was being drained anyway, we got a few thermostatic radiator valves put in the bedrooms upstairs at the same time, which is nice.

Update: yesterday all the old wall cupboards departed a day ahead of schedule, so the kitchen is looking miles better already! Today we swapped some original features (nasty artex and poorly-repaired-leak-damage-bulge) with an incredibly smooooooooth new ceiling. (4 May 2012)

I can’t tell you how much I’m not looking forward to doing the mist coat on Monday!

Update: we have a new kitchen!! Not the new kitchen, but it has a microwave in so it should see us through the next week… or so! (6 May 2012)

Next ingredient: white paint!

Explaining the auto kitchen light plan


Since a few people seem interested/skeptical on Twitter, here’s a very quick explanation of a small update to the kitchen lights. Since getting a Current Cost meter it’s been obvious that the biggest waste of electricity are the halogen spotlights in the kitchen. (It amazes me that ordinary incandescent light bulbs are being phased out while at the same time many new houses are full of halogen bulbs, but that’s for a future post!)

Most of the time the two lights under the cupboards would be good enough, but the switch for those is a bit hidden away, so we usually use the five ceiling lights instead. The first part of the cunning kitchen light plan is to connect the two worktop lights to a Home Easy remote control ceiling switch. Now we could put an ordinary remote switch in easy reach next to the main light switch but where’s the fun in that? I got tentative spousal approval to use an indoor PIR remote control instead…

Results so far seem promising: the lights aren’t triggered walking past the kitchen because the sensor is looking inwards from above the existing light switch, and there’s often no need to resort to the manual switch to turn on the electricity burning main lights… which is actually quite lucky because they aren’t there at the moment!

Only temporarily removed due to some planned ceiling painting* but it was a good excuse to automate the backup lights.

* Well, it seemed pointless painting the tiny ceiling in the porch on it’s own, so the kitchen is getting a fresh coat as well.