Category Archives: House

Opening up the lounge fireplace

I want to install an open fire in the lounge so this weekend, with Eli’s brother Yutlhiam, we got out the cold chisels and bolsters and started hacking away.

I was hoping that once we knocked through the wall I’d discover a neat Edwardian fireback, all ready to use, perhaps with a few loose bricks in there.

This is it before:

2014-05-30 18.02.14

Day 1

Getting the front removed wasn’t too difficult.  We chipped away plaster until we could see the outline of a brick, being careful to stay beneath where the lintel should be.  It helped that the old outline was clear in the plaster.

Then it was just a matter of carefully hacking away plaster and cement around a brick.  Once the first one was out the rest were easy.

The only thing to be careful of was to make sure the lintel was not removed or damaged – but that was always unlikely.  In any case, as soon as the hole was large enough I could stick my head up and check the lintel was there.  All good, so the rest of the bricks were removed and the house didn’t fall down.

A total surprise.  Once we’d chipped away all the bricks and removed three bag-fulls of cement breeze blocks I was left with a clean hole, freshly plastered, and with the remains of a gas pipe.

Not what I’d wanted!

2015-11-01 17.21.15 2015-11-01 17.40.45  IMG-20151102-WA0010

Clearly, the owners before last had ripped out the original fireplace and installed a modern gas fire in a minimalist rendered opening.  I’m sure it looked quite nice at the time.  It still does.  But for restoring the old open fire it’s a pain!

Day two

Continuing to reveal.  Now the arch of the lintel is visible.

IMG-20151102-WA0007 2015-11-02 22.46.38 2015-11-02 22.46.26

The arch is in OK condition (a few chips) but there is a loose brick that fell out above it.  Nothing a bit of cement can’t fix.

Going downwards is tough.  It’s all solid brick with masses of very tough cement.

To be continued…

Fixing the central heating system and plumbing

Fixing the heating system and plumbing of our Edwardian house has been a long-running saga.

When we first moved in in June I opened the airing cupboard to discover pools of water and rotting carpet.  The previous owners had neglected to do any maintenance for several years, so the first thing to address were the numerous leaks.

Learning the basics

I’d never done any plumbing before, so it was time to learn.  YouTube and the forums were a great help.  In particular I used the DIY plumbing forum which was a huge help when I needed advice.

I also bought a plumbing book to have somethign for the basics.  The one I chose was the Haynes Home Plumbing manual and it was perfect.  Plenty of pictures and and easy-going jocular style of writing, without trivialising anything.  Heavily recommended.

Fixing the leaks

Before worrying about fixing the central heating system and plumbing I wanted to fix the leaks.  This was easier than I thought.

Tell tale signs of a leak
Tell tale signs of a leak

I had three main sources of leaks.  Dripping stop cock valves, dripping gate valves and drip


ping compression joints.

The compression joints were fixed by removing the old one and replacing.  The only problem is the olive won’t come off, so I had to cut some new pipe.

After I did a couple this way I decided to just undo the leaking valve, carefully wrap some PTFE around the olive and redo it using the same nut.  It’s not as elegant, but holds perfectly well, and apparently it’s what most plumbers do – even though strictly speaking an olive should only be used once.

Gate valves are basically the same as normal compression valves.  Cut the pipe, take off the old valve and put in a new one.

After buying parts from Amazon (my usual one-stop shop for everything) I started buying them at Screwfix.  Much better value.  For plumbing parts Screwfix is fantastic.

The third type of leak I had was with stop cock valves.  These seem to develop a slow drip over time where the washer perishes.  The normal adcice is to replace the washer, but don’t bother.  I tried and it is a massive headache.  Getting the old washer off involved much lost skin and swearing, and getting a new one on was no better.

Much easier just to buy a new  part.  The valves are a couple of pounds.  Then just undo the centre spindle of the new valve and replace into the old one.  The main body of the valve was old and discoloured, but the leak will not be there so leave it alone.  By just replacing the centre spindle I got rid of the leaks entirely.

Getting the boiler and heating working again

Once the leaks were fixed the next challenge was to get the heating and hot water working.  This took much longer than expected…

There were multiple problems to fix, including:

  • A weak pump (I dismantled and cleaned it and then eventually replaced with a new one)
  • Silted up radiators.  I fitted a Magnetic filter, flushed the system several times with fresh water and then added a strong magnetite remover from Fernox, before again flushing and replacing inhibitor
  • Powerflush (when above didnt help)
  • Dismantle and clean out diverter valve
  • Clean out header tank
  • Rebalance
  • Replace PCB in the boiler (twice)
  • Attempt to fix explosive ignition in the boiler (in the end this wasn’t necessary as it was exacerbated by PCB problems)

The whole thing was a real pain, and took me every weekend and most evenings from November to end of February.

During this whole time the only heating we had were a couple of small electric heaters and the coal fireplace in the hall.  Waking up and seeing your breath every day was invigorating for me, but Eli wasn’t quite as happy with it.

The system is now properly fixed, thanks to some great help from Mischa Bitter (I built him a website in thanks for his work).

Without a photo I wouldn't have a hope of rewiring this the same way
Without a photo I wouldn’t have a hope of rewiring this the same way

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