About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Heating project: Now the work begins!

Continuing the saga of our central heating...

Luckily, both heating and tank suppliers were able to deliver quickly, though our driveway proved a challenge to both, but that still gave us only two and a half weeks to take up all the floors in the house and lay the new boards with heating pipes in.

Heating boards filling the garage. We didn't expect all the plain ones - they evidently expect us to replace all the floors, not just the bits we want to heat.

Although all the boards are the same size, the pipes are fitted into different spaces within the boards. We have a selection of full length, half, 3/4, 5/8, 3/8 and 1/4 sized boards, and a plan to tell us where to put them all. They're also labelled 'T' and 'G' depending on whether there's a tongue or a groove at the end where the pipes emerge to be connected up. It's important not to mix those up, or they'll never fit together. The boards then have to be cut to fit the space available, avoiding cutting the pipes.

Before that, though, we had to get the old floorboards up. This is a particular challenge when you're living in the house at the time. Step 1: Empty the spare room. New homes were found for bed, piano, treadle sewing machine, spinning wheel and several guitars, carpet and underlay were lifted, rolled and taken up to the loft, and we were ready to begin.

I consulted the Readers Digest Complete DIY Manual, which I've had for years, on how to lift floorboards. I'll give you my facebook status updates for 4th Oct, for a flavour of how useful I found that (with apologies for bad language):

16:23 - From the Readers Digest complete DIY manual, on lifting floorboards: "Once you have loosened one or two sets of nails, push the handle of a hammer under the board as far from the loose end as possible, and press hard on the end. This sends a shock wave along the whole length, loosening nails farther along which you can remove." No it bloody doesn't!

19:22 - has reduced several floorboards to matchwood. Need beer now.

To illustrate the problem, a couple of pictures:

The boards tended to splinter rather than lift.

No amount of shockwaves through floorboards was going to loosen those nails.

My second facebook update of that day prompted a friend to offer help (thanks, Jasper!). He came the next day armed with considerably more experience than we had and several tricks up his sleeve, but even he resorted to smashing floorboards to pieces before too long. It got worse before we'd finished the room as some of the boards were fixed with flat-headed nails. We managed to get one of them up, with much damage to the joist below, but gave up after that. Given the choice between a board fixed with flat nails and one thoroughly cemented into the wall, we tackled the wall.

We thought we might trim the new boards to fit that space, but decided that would go too close to the pipes, so had to get that far board out of the wall instead.

We lifted the boards through the holes in the floor from downstairs.

Heating boards, ready to lay.

I don't seem to have pictures of the next stage, but don't worry - there are plenty more! Cutting the boards to size got a lot easier after a friend lent us his jigsaw (thanks, Geoff!). That fitted cupboard in the corner caused us particular difficulty. Having been fitted after the floorboards, it was nailed down to them. Once we'd dragged the boards out, the nails were still there, running top to bottom through the space we needed for the new boards. Chisels were deployed, and hammers, and much swearing, and we got the space clear in the end. I wouldn't be keen on re-doing that particular board, though. There were good bits too. It was very pleasing as I finished the room that the small wedge-shaped pieces I'd cut off the ends of the boards were exactly the right size to fill the gap down the edge.

Right, on to the next room! All the bedroom furniture - well, all apart from the fitted wardrobe - was moved into the spare room. That wardrobe was a pain because it was on top of the carpet, which we want to keep (I say want to - it's not a carpet we'd choose, but it's OK and it'll save us buying a new one for that room). I cut round the wardrobe. It remains to be seen how bad this looks when I put the carpet back.

Once clear, the bedroom floor presented its own challenges. Firstly, the joists were in the wrong place. We'd been expecting to find one under the partition wall, but in fact it was just on the kitchen side. If we used the next one, we wouldn't have space for the boards that were supposed to go there. Hmmm... Some studying of the plan later, and I decided to swap the four 5/8 sized boards from the bedroom for three half sized boards from the dining room and one 3/8 board that we couldn't be bothered to fit in the doorway of the spare room.

That decided, we lifted the old boards. This was much easier than the spare room because the boards weren't tongue and groove and the nails came out much more easily, possibly because they'd been replaced before. The previous replacement also meant that we didn't have to cut along the joist and fix an extra support for the new boards, which saved quite a bit of work.

Having got the boards up, the next particular challenge was revealed. The joists in this room were a long way off right angles with the walls. When fitting rectangular boards that need the ends resting on the joists, this isn't good news. There wasn't space to swing the boards round and in any case, we'd already fitted one, through the doorway to the kitchen, before we discovered the problem. Luckily, with two foot wide boards, it was possible to fit them so that the end rested on the joist at an angle, but it took a lot of measuring.

Marking the end-line on the joist and yes, that is a roll of carpet top left. I can replace a floor without removing the carpet from the room.

Sorry for the poor photo, but you can make out the stepped line in the middle as the joins in the boards follow the wonky joist and hey! It's a finished floor!

Moving swiftly on, furniture (and quite a lot of junk) was moved from the dining room/office into the bedroom...

Not everything fitted into this room, so quite a lot went into the spare room.
We now have no idea where anything is.

... another carpet was lifted, another radiator removed (I forgot to mention the radiators, didn't I? Well each room had one and they all had to go), and another set of floorboards to lift. The dining room was in the extension, so these boards were relatively new. Would you believe it, the nails actually came out? This meant that Jasper's tricks and, dare I say it, the Readers Digest instructions, finally proved effective.

Pebble kept a close eye on proceedings.

I've just noticed the radiator pipe in that picture. That caused minor alarm when I forgot how long it was and tried to draw it up through the hole in the ceiling into the loft. You may also notice the insulation under this floor (glass fibre - ugh!) The extension includes the garage downstairs, which actually has a ceiling. At least it did...

Since the heating pipes needed connecting up from underneath, we had to get that ceiling (and insulation) down and out of the way. While we had easy access to it from above, I gave it a few wallops with a hammer, just to see how easily it would come down. Not very, as it turned out, and I really shouldn't have done that. You see, there was an issue with that ceiling...

The results of our house-buying survey came back with a cautionary note about that ceiling - could be asbestos. At first I didn't believe it - I mean, the extension went up in the eighties - surely they wouldn't have still been using asbestos by that time, would they? I then ignored the issue until I absolutely had to face it, which was roughly the time I was walloping the ceiling with a hammer.

OK, a bit of time out from hitting things with hammers in order to learn about asbestos ceilings. I spent about half a day of online research (which felt like a lot of time to be losing in our tight schedule for floor replacement) and learnt the following:
  1. Yes, asbestos was still in common use at that time
  2. Sheets of board that look just like plasterboard could well have asbestos in them (OK, the surveyor said it, but still...)
  3. The only way to tell whether it's actually asbestos is by shining polarized light at it and looking at it through a microscope
  4. It's nothing to worry about if you're going to leave them alone (actually I knew that already), but precautions need taking if you're going to move it
  5. If you insist on tackling this stuff yourself, wear a disposable protective suit, boots, and a P3 rated respirator, and damp everything down with water to stop dust flying around
  6. When you've removed the stuff, wrap it in two layers of polythene, label it, and get it disposed of properly
Point 5 was the really useful information here - how to deal with asbestos yourself. I had a pair of wellies, and it turned out that the rest of the protective gear could be bought from the local builders merchant for about a tenner. So here I am, ready to tackle the garage (actually, almost ready. I wore goggles as well.):

I hate wearing face masks. The most annoying thing about this was, P3 rated masks are not suitable for people with beards, so Ian couldn't share the pain.

The next bit was really not fun, and even less fun that it would have been if I hadn't walloped the ceiling with a hammer. If you scroll back up to the top of this post and have a look at the picture of the the heating boards in the garage, you may notice that all around the boards there is stuff. Quite a lot of stuff. In fact, pretty much all of the floor that wasn't covered in boards was covered in a layer of small things. Some of these things were useful, a few were quite valuable (tools and whatnot), but a lot was rubbish. And all of it had a thin layer of (possibly) asbestos dust all over it.

Every single thing had to be picked up, wiped over with a damp cloth (rinsed at frequent intervals) and removed from the garage.

So that was what I did.

Once out of the garage, Ian sorted things and transported the useful and the valuable to the workshop, with the result that the workshop became almost inaccessible (much like the store room, in fact).

Eventually, the garage was cleared. The suspect ceiling boards were pulled down, nails were removed and nasty, itchy insulation was transferred to the loft... and we returned to the floorboards. Work on the dining room led out into the hall...

... which made it quite interesting getting to the bathroom. At one point, there was a hole in the floor right in front of the loo, through which the garage could be viewed. This was more inconvenient for Ian than it was for me. From there we progressed to the kitchen floor...

... some of which crumbled alarmingly. Evidently the woodworm had had a good time in here. We did worry about the state of the floors under the kitchen units, but not enough to seriously contemplate taking out the entire kitchen to replace the floor. Chatting to a neighbour about this, we were reassured that the previous owner had been very worried about the woodworm, and treated the house thoroughly. Three times. This was good to know.

For Pebble, the kitchen floor was a step too far. She shouted at us a lot.

The disappearing joist problem that we'd had in the bedroom was present here, too, disappearing just under the edge of the cupboards, and there was no getting away from it this time. This was solved by the ingenious bodge of fixing another floorboard underneath, itself supported by a square section length of wood fixed to the joist. (Sorry I don't have a photo to illustrate that.) This meant that we couldn't fit the new boards as we went along, as we had been doing, but had to lift all the old boards first.

This was pretty hairy to walk across, so we didn't hang about getting the new boards laid here.

Look! Another new floor! No, look at the floor, don't look at the washing up!

By the time we finished that, we were almost there. There was just one more awkward bit to do in the doorway between the kitchen and the extension.

It was a right fiddle getting these boards up with the door getting in the way. I did consider taking the door off, but the screws were firmly painted in place - it just wasn't going to happen. For the last piece I had to resort to cutting it in half to get it out, as you see in the picture. We deliberately didn't lay the last heating board here, though, because this was the likely route for all the heating pipes. When you realise that what you see in that picture is the tops of two solid walls, one very old and one new, you'll understand that it's worthwhile taking this doorway route with the pipework.

The plumbing can wait for another post. I'm quite exhausted just writing about all this work!


  1. Thank you for totally curing me of my burning desire to live a self-sufficient life. I would sooner have root-canal surgery than go through all that.

  2. Hahaha, I'm not sure gutting your house is a necessary part of self sufficiency, though come to think of it, all the people I know who live this sort of lifestyle either are doing or have done some major work on their houses. Perhaps it does go with the territory!


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