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!

Wot no bath(room)?

It’s been booked for months, and after much anticipation, B-day finally arrived yesterday! Hopefully we’ll have a spangly new bathroom soon, and the first major project since we moved in will finally be finished. Just to give you an idea about why the bathroom was top priority, here’s the before photo:

And it’s worse than it looks! Although, to be honest, it does actually look ever so slightly worse now…

Hopefully it’ll start improving tomorrow!

Update: a very nice (and very heavy!) new bath has appeared! (21 March 2012)

Update: we now have some useful tool cupboards in the bathroom! And a new floor. (22 March 2012)

Update: and I can reveal that the chosen tile orientation was… <dramatic pause> …landscape. (23 March 2012)

Bonus update: a hastily arranged plasterer has sorted out the newly tile-free wall, so we now have a grand total of one smooth wall in the whole house! (24 March 2012)

Update: well the tiling is finished, and they’re mostly all white. It’s just a shame they aren’t all the same shade so, having been repeatedly assured they would be from the same batch, I foresee a fun trip to the tile shop in the near future. (26 March 2012)

Update: and just as everything was starting to come together, it turns out that the toilet pan is cracked. Still, the new sink is looking good, and only has a minor leak! (27 March 2012)

Update: almost there! Seems to be leak free too, which is nice. (28 March 2012)

Update: I spoke too soon about being leak free before, but I think I’ve fixed them all now! I’ve also finished the painting and, after adding a minor dent to the new worktop, put the new blind up at the weekend. (24 April 2012)

To be continued… almost there but I still need to fit the new light, and paint/fit the new skirting board. There may be bathroom cabinets and mirrors at some point in the future as well. That should be it though. Hopefully.

Floor show

Another quick floor related update- if only doing the work was as quick! Despite the best efforts of the pipes to get completely in the way, there’s a now a new bit of floor in the house…

I even stood on it without ending up downstairs in the kitchen! It took a little longer to fit than expected due to the cunning B&Q cutting service plan not quite working out as well as I hoped. Luckily the new piece of chipboard was too big to start with!!

As if to prove a point, the original leak has got worse, so will definitely need to get that fixed soon. At least there’s a floor to put the drip tray on in the mean time!

New boards please

So looking through my big book of DIY I had an idea for a completely new style of DIY book. The books I’ve seen all have illustrations or photos of someone confidently performing some task with exactly the right tools, and no chaos or clutter. Either I’m the odd one out or this version of reality is somewhat unrealistic. My new, “Accurately Illustrated Guide to DIY” will instead have illustrations of someone looking confused or throwing tools at the wall, and photos of battered pieces of wood nailed crookedly to a wall… through a pipe.

In chapter one I’ll be explaining how not to go about fixing floorboards damaged by a leaking radiator.

Helpfully there are plenty of other pipes just underneath to provide an excellent opportunity for disaster.

Any suggestions or material for future chapters gratefully received. That and any sensible tips for repairing floors!


It’s been a bit quiet here the last few months as we finally got to the end of the grand moving plan! We actually moved a couple of weeks ago but the new house came without telephone or broadband… or mobile signal or TV aerial!! Today our new found productivity looks set to come to an abrupt end with the installation of a shiny new internet connection. And this is not just broadband, this is fibre-to-a-green-box-just-400-meters-away-and-same-old-copper-wires-the-rest-of-the-way broadband.

That isn’t the internet I was looking for either: I had pretty much decided to go for fibre-optic-cable-provider broadband. That wasn’t the only last minute change of plan, so to ease back in to blogging, this is the first in a series about the companies supplying our new house. In most cases I’m reluctant to go as far as recommending companies because, as is often the case, your mileage may vary. It may help someone though, so it’s no coincidence that communication provider is first up…

By appointment to Jo and JT. Purveyors of telephone and broadband, BT.

BT did well to snatch this one from Virgin Media. I’ve been looking forward to a new phone company for longer than a new house, and judging by the increasing flood of post from Virgin Media, they’re pretty keen to get new customers. Adding to the temptation, the new house was already with Virgin. I phoned them to sign up. In contrast to their cheerful letters requesting the pleasure of my custom, I got through to someone who must have previously been a doctor surgery receptionist. Partly because of the price and partly because the overwhelming impression things would not go smoothly, I changed my mind.

Eventually, after trying several other companies, I ended up picking  BT Infinity. Only time will tell if that was a good idea or not, but they’ve been ok so far. It did take them a long time to actually connect us, and it would have been nice if they could prioritise customers with no service at all over upgrades, but what I liked is that they did what they said, when they said they would. @BTCare were also very responsive and helpful, and were able to provide BTOpenzone access to keep us ticking over, which was great.

I’m much more optimistic than I was with our previous supplier- TalkTalk even seem to be messing up closing our account, so they’ve managed to keep up their terrible customer service to the very end!

…and BT Openreach.

Take one router to connect to the internet? Now I just have two boxes to power! One quirk of BT Infinity is the separation of VDSL modem (owned by BT Openreach) and Homehub (provided by BT), which even means that the engineer brings one and the other gets posted separately. I can’t imagine there’s a technical reason not to have everything in one box, but Power over Ethernet might be nice to keep the tangle of power cords under control. I was wondering how they would cope with a master socket behind the front door with no power, but luckily the new (huge) master socket is behind the TV. (Must find the Current Cost IAM to see how much power the two boxes are using.)