I’ve decided that renovating an old property is an organic process. You can plan, work out your Gantt charts, costings, source materials and expertise to your heart’s content – you think you are in control and then the building just says ”Nah!, You don’t wanna be doing it like that”
This last trip to France was another case of “ The best laid schemes of mice and men….” We had decided over Christmas, that we really had to do something about Monsieur’s pride and joy; his fireplace. When we took away the natty plasterboard covering to inspect the chimney it looked a bit like someone had dunked bricks in mortar and thrown them at the wall in the hope that they would stick. The chimney itself was constructed from preformed hollow clay blocks which were designed to interlock to form a smoke-proof duct to the sky. Now, we may not be native French-speakers (whilst the previous owner obviously was – and a self-proclaimed master builder, to boot) but if the manufacturers of your chimney bricks had helpfully embossed the word fumée (smoke) with a large arrow on each brick, wouldn’t you have installed your chimney with the arrows pointing up? Colin and I decided that we would have done. Monsieur hadn’t.
We’d arranged for a woodburner installer to come and give us a second opinion, in case there was anything we could salvage from the mess but his verdict was ‘Knock it out and start again’. Having anticipated this, we had taken the precaution of bringing across a 7 metre-high scaffolding tower. Colin spent best part of an afternoon, working out how to put it together on sensible, level land in front of the house, then dismantling it to carry each piece through the house to the wooden ‘balcony’ at the back, and reconstructing his Mecano-for-grown-ups model on a bodged wood platform that serves as our lunchtime terrace and the kingfisher’s morning diving platform.
Better still, Colin’s son was flying in, to come and spend a few days and help us to knock out the chimney flue from hell, ready for our nice new log burner.
Unfortunately, although the scaffolding tower would be absolutely fine for doing the guttering, the thickness of the old stone walls meant that the flue exited through the slates somewhat further up the roof than anticipated and we still couldn’t reach the top without a roof ladder. No time to source one of those during this visit. It would have to come back out with us next time.
On to Plan B. Not wanting to disappoint our strapping lad from England (who just happened to have spent most of his holidays from uni, working for a demolition firm – the opportunity was too good to waste) we decided to go back to the renovation of our bathroom.
A serendipitous find on Ebay had meant that, with a 5 minute diversion on our way to Portsmouth, we had been able to pick up a lovely contemporary freestanding bath, complete with floor -standing tap for £100. All we had to do was find a way to route the waste and water pipes from one side of the bathroom to the other. Colin carefully removed a few floor tiles to discover that our upstairs bathroom has a 4” thick concrete floor. Great. (not!) We didn’t fancy randomly drilling up the bathroom floor as we didn’t know where the joists were underneath. An added challenge was that all the plumbing was concealed either under the floor or behind the dry-lined cavity wall and we weren’t very sure exactly where the pipes ran.
After a bit of pondering, we decided that it would be a good idea to approach the plumbing from below. Judging from the depth of the floor in the stair well, there had to be a good-sized void between the downstairs bathroom ceiling, directly below, and the underside of the concrete floor.
In the downstairs bathroom a number of attempts to remove parts of the plasterboard ceiling failed as the dry-lined cavity walls had been fitted after the ceiling and were effectively holding it in place.
OK, so we’ll need to take out some of the plasterboard wall. This wasn’t a disaster, as there was damp in that corner and the plasterboard was mouldy and would need replacing eventually anyway. To remove the wall we had to take out the bath (you can see how this is going, can’t you?)
Ripping out the plasterboard revealed tons of soggy Rockwool insulation, which was black with mould. No face masks and as it was Sunday, nowhere open to go and buy some (Can you imagine it – DIY stores closed on a Sunday! How do they make any money?)
I’d brought some old sheets from home to use as dust sheets – the fitted kind, with elastic round the corners. A pair of scissors and voilà!
By the end of the day, the job had morphed somewhat.
Plan A: Remove chimney flue and fireplace
Plan B: Plumb in bath in upstairs bathroom
Final result: Wall, ceiling and bath ripped out of downstairs bathroom.
On the plus side we found that
- the waste pipes didn’t run where we thought they did and are actually easier to connect to than anticipated
- the water pipes actually run across the floor, not round the room as we’d supposed (good job we hadn’t drilled through that concrete then!)
- the damp in the downstairs bathroom was being caused by a leaking shower waste from the upstairs bathroom running down inside the cavity and puddling on the ground floor, not rising damp. (much cheaper to fix)
On a not-so-positive note, we also discovered that the boxed in ceiling beams everywhere in the house actually hide steel girders, not the beautiful oak beams we were hoping to bring back to their former glory. Well, at least it cuts down on the worry about wood-worm! 🙂
So, we still have our condemned fireplace and now have not one, but two wrecked bathrooms. Is it just us? Has anyone else had similar experiences?
Oh well. Something to look forward to on our next visit!