Thursday, 31 May 2012

Little Steps Big Jobs

This last fortnight has seen a total stop on anything travel related, be that in the immediate future (Jubilee week) or our extended travel plans. All in favour of dealing with the damp works at home. As reported earlier we found a patch of mould in a corner. And upon further investigation I found that damp is extensive. So extensive in fact that the only cure is to excavate the entire floor screed layer and replace it. I estimate 4 to 5 cubic yards of material or about 4 to 5 tonnes. We then have to tank the lower part of the walls, replace the subfloor DPM (Damp Proof Membrane), install sub-floor insulation, re-lay the screed over the insulation (thankfully considerably less that we took out with the addition of insulation), re-plaster and finally redecorate. To say the least a lot of upheaval, expense and back breaking work. And when I say its expensive, that’s expensive with me doing the bulk of the unskilled work. The first quote we got from a professional was for £3300, which is toe curling when you’ve just spent double that refurbishing the motorhome, and particularly galling when you price the materials quoted by the firm for yourself and see that most of the cost is brute force and ignorance labour and mark up… and the firm quoting expects you to get rid of the rubble, or pay extra for them to do it.
It is very easy to be disappointed, it’s very easy to be frustrated and angry, and in fairness these emotions are the usual first response. However with a week or two’s reflection, digging and discovery the mind accommodates the initial stress, faces up to the problem and rationalizes it. Ergo, you would have to fix the damp at home whether you were moving or not, in exactly the same way as we had to fix the motorhome if we were to live in it and continue our adventure. And there is the point: there is a goal beyond all these setbacks, and as long as you don’t lose sight of it, everything else is just part of the story.
We intend to sell this house, and use the equity in part to fund our travel. So the pragmatic way of looking at it is: Speculate to accumulate. We had intended to sell then move into a flat near Leigh on Sea for the rest of the year so we could enjoy the summer, close to one of our favourite local day out spots, and over winter in an area with a windy and wild beach. With the extra expense we have now incurred, we’ve changed tack. Instead of putting ourselves up against a hard target and ramping up the stress, we’ve changed our plans and timescales.
We will spend extra money doing the renovation works at home and make some marketable home improvements and hope that they in turn pay dividends when we come to sell. It’s like everything involved in this enterprise; a bit of a gamble, but I refer you to the blogs name, “It’s later than you think”. If you can’t gamble now before you are too old, then when can you?
Here’s the equation that put us on this path 5x22=110, and here’s how it breaks down. On average you get five weeks annual leave per annum, I have twenty two years left to work, that’s a literal one hundred and ten weeks (but some firms only offer four weeks leave for several years so that number can be a lot less). If you look at those numbers, my remaining life time annual leave entitlement is two years. Now try to imagine using all that leave just for travelling and fitting in all that you want to see without repetition, wasted miles and picking up previous threads. Quite simply you aren’t going to do it, and you’re going to have to contend with changing circumstances and the rigours of age as the twenty odd years progress. And lets not forget, that there is not a year goes by when outrageous fortune steals those hard earned days of annual leave from you… a good example being next week, we planned a week in Southwold Suffolk, testing out the re-fit, exploring somewhere new, and being far from the madding crowd. Instead we’re going to be carting five tonnes of rubble in bags to our local dump, and dealing with the other tasks listed above in preparation for an autumn house sale. When you look at it like that, sticking two fingers up to the rat race, taking your money and running for two years is clearly the most sensible, dare I say logical conclusion.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Motorhome Home and Aching Wrists

On the weekend of the 18th May I caught the train down to Devon to pick up the motorhome, now Blackdown have completed the repair and refurbishment works; more on that in a line or two, first the travel news.

I left home to catch my usual commute train to Fenchurch Street Station and then pootled my way across town to Waterloo to catch the 09.30 train to Exeter. In terms of travel things couldn’t have been easier, in part because I like to give myself wide margins of time for travel on train and tube (in case of hiccups). I tend to build in enough time to walk between connections; this is a legacy of being a walking engineer in London some ten years ago. People never believe when I say most places in the city are a walk away, until they walk with me.  

In any event my caution paid the dividend I’d hope for, to whit: an easy coffee and Croissant from a booth on Waterloo’s insane rush hour concourse and an easy stroll to the front three cars of the train that are the only part that goes as far as Exeter (the rest breaks of at Andover, and unless I miss heard splits off towards Bath).

The only incident to report relates to my clothes. There I was fumbling in my wallet to separate my train tickets from the receipts so I could pass through the barriers. During said fumble I dropped my wallet. I crouched down to pick it up as I can’t bend because my spine is fused pretty much from neck to waist, and heard rrrrriiiiiip… it was the crotch of my jeans. It was one of those little epiphany moments. From almost the time I’d gotten on the train at Tilbury I’d been getting odd looks. The reason being that the jeans I was wearing already had a minor rip by the seam at the base of the zip. I’d forgotten about the rip, and clearly I’d forgotten to do the repair, but the jeans had been cleaned and pressed and put back in my wardrobe. I’d then put them on totally oblivious to the fact that my nuts were already half hanging out… hence the odd looks earlier; and having now crouched to pick up my wallet I might as well have been walking around in just my boxers.

I did try to find a men’s clothes shop on Waterloos concourse, but unfortunately with the £10million pound refit that’s in progress, I all I could find was a Monsoon, an Accessorize or WHSmith which somewhat limited my choices…. In the end I decided that finding a seat with a table on the train would do. I then spent the next couple of hours sitting opposite Dr Gus Casely-Hayford and a team of women he was travelling with, followed shortly after his party left the train by a group of twenty chaps going well and truly “on the piss” in Torquay for the weekend.

I was happy to get off the train at Honiton, having been co-opted temporarily into the Piss up group, who seemed to be at pains to get me drinking beer, (always tempting but not when you have a long drive ahead).

And so we come to the Motorhome refurb; Paul has done a competent job. The leak repair and new ceiling are fantastic, and the colour match is as near as dammit perfect. The new wet-room is a clean white wipe-down affair, and the new cassette toilet looks great in the un-fussy easy clean wet-room. All that needs to be done is the fit and fix of a showerhead and taps gas and 12volt systems. The new roof lights are clean, aerodynamic and don’t have fly screens that rattle when the engine idles. The kitchen unit is resplendent with it’s new work top, hob/sink combination and spanking new cooker and Fridge. Paul’s wife has done a fabulous job with our re-designed cushions and the new extra large all over bed I designed is simply brilliant. The floor is now a hardwearing industrial lino in a pale blue terrazzo affect, and to finish Paul has fitted new blinds that are uncomplicated in operation and design (being blackout but plain white). All things being equal we are very happy.

Having spent several hours with Paul going over the fixture and fits, limitations of what he could do to seal the habitation unit, and a modification to the water tank that allows unparalleled ease of cleaning, it was time to hit the road for Somerset and the big clean. It was at this point that I realised I’d left the Satnav Power lead in the cars door pocket a hundred miles and more to the east and would now have to navigate to Somerset using a map drawn on the back of an envelope and the force. I had 54 miles to navigate, and was suddenly very aware of how reliant I’d become on the satnav, and equally aware that I need to put the old fashioned road atlas back in the cab and leave it there. I think I managed fairly well with only two definite wrong turns that required strategic three point turns.

I arrived at our friends house in Rooks Bridge Somerset around 4.30pm, and decamped. Amanda joined us later by train to Highbridge, and then after a quick whiz round Asda for supplies we had a splendid dinner and ales and a relatively early night.

Saturday morning I had a bit of a head on me from the ale, but nevertheless got the bucket and sponges and went out to clean the moho from top to bottom. There’s a little over 150 square feet of moho to clean, including roof sides and cab. It had sat mostly on a drive in Devon for two and a half months… it was filthy with rain residues and ale. To make things even harder on ourselves we also wanted the old Elddis Decals removed from the bodywork as they were faded and tatty after twenty years of pounding by both sun and rain. So armed with little more than finger nails and a small hair drier the stickers took the best part of three hours to remove, and my nail beds still hurt today.  It then took us four hours to wash the entire body shell and cab after that… but that’s not the punishing part. After washing it from stem to stern, it had to be T-Cut all over to get rid of the dark marks where rain drains from the roof down the sides, and to get the colour looking even where the stickers were removed. We finished at around 7.30pm, had another splendid dinner and some more beer, and I found myself making my excuses at 09.30pm and going to bed with a hot water bottle for my lumbar spine and a fervent desire for the magic pixies to come in the night and wash it again and wax it… and there in lies the problem with pixies, they are lazy feckless little bastards only interested in flitting round woodlands and looking good. So at 9am on Sunday morning we went back out with buckets and sponges and washed the moho from top to bottom again, this time to remove T-Cut residues in preparation for the waxing. Thankfully this entire process only took six hours, it must be said that the pain was worth it. I doubt the moho has shone so bright since it rolled off the production line in 1991.

The question now is; Will we actually get to use it this year? And the answer is likely to be “no”. We still have a huge amount of work to do at home to get it ready for sale, damp fix, and decoration being the least of it. I booked off the Jubilee week in hope that we would be going to Southwold in Suffolk to try everything out, but with damp works and decorating at home, I can see that nine days being eaten in one great big chunk. One must be philosophical; we intend to live in it full time from early next year for at least two years, so missing out on high summer for this year is on balance a worth it.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

It Never Rains it Pours.

Pinch Punch First day of the month, so the saying goes. I could have Googled its origins, and maybe later if I pique my own interest then I will... but right now I’m suffering from can’t be arsed. Can’t be arsed to do much of anything today. I’m on a weeks annual leave; throughout which I was intending to decorate the kitchen diner at the rear of the house. I found a couple of mildew spots on the wallpaper above the skirting boards and the room generally looked a bit tired, and because there are two different wallpaper finishes in the area it doesn’t feel like a fully integrated space. With this in mind the plan is to join the two areas with a common finish, lighten up the room and make it look more family friendly with new wall finishes and a new laminate floor (the existing one tends to a red coloured timber effect and is too dark).
The problem with decorating is that you can’t always be sure of what you will find. I started peeling wallpaper and immediately realised that the mildew that was visible was only a tiny proportion of what was there. I’d assumed condensation at the coldest and most exposed part of the house, what with the extension being open on four sides (if you include the roof.... which you should). Within fifteen minutes I realised that the mildew ran around the entire circumference of the room under the paper, which did seem odd, though given the amount of rain in April I kinda convinced myself that it was nothing to worry about... as you do. As I was stripping off the paper anyway I saw no issues. However I did have a slight sinking feeling that all was not well, when I found an area of mildew that is fully inside the central heated part of the room, and decided that I needed to bite the bullet and dig a little deeper. There is no point doing a bodged job if you’re selling, especially with something like damp, because depending on how rapid it is, your bodge or cosmetic cover up could be exposed by a surveyor with the resultant loss of sale, or compromised in a couple of weeks and then you won’t sell anyway.
I found a spot on the skirting boards that looked easy to fit a chisel behind and gently pried it away from the wall. At this point I had a proper surprise; all the skirtings are MFD (medium Density Fibreboard), and were stuck on the walls with “NO Nails” (which is entirely fine and a very good finish with no drilling). I slid my hand down behind the skirting and found the wall behind the skirting was damp and sticky, so I went to another area and tried there with the same result.

To get the skirting off I had to remove the existing laminate flooring, and as I was ditching it anyway it was effectively re-ordering the program of works. Much to my dismay, under the laminate I found the ceramic tiled finish from the kitchens dinners previous incarnation. Between the tiles and the laminate and been placed sheets of damp proof underlay, waterproof underside/wicking fabric surface. So on balance almost the right materials to protect one surface from the other and from the walls. However the fabric had been laid the full width of the room, thus allowing any condensation on the cold tile surface to travel to the edges of the room via the wicking layer where the fabric makes contact with the plaster of the walls. This allows the damp into the plaster, which allows for the growth of mould blah blah blah.
So you’re thinking, excellent damp source found problem solved. Unfortunately not; I also found a crack in the old tiled surface near the French windows onto the garden, and an oddly raised tile that had always left a tiny dump in the floor near the doors, that we had assumed  was either a nail or tiny off cut of underlay or laminate that had gotten stuck under the floor and the installers just couldn’t see the point in undoing it all and taking it out; assumption truly is the mother of all fuckups. Should you be tempted in future to assume stuff, feel free to have yourself whipped naked through the streets of Aberdeen for your stupidity. The bump I discovered was the size of one of the ceramic floor tiles, it was raised from the rest of the floor by maybe 3mm, it had a crack through the grout side to side. The crack in the grout followed the tiles out to the wall edges (and that sinking feeling was back for round two). The other significant point of order was; what had raised this one tile?. So with no effort whatsoever I lifted the tile from what appeared to be a mound of crystalline cement (cement that damp allows the salts to leach out and form crystals or Secondary Efflorescence I was taught many years ago in Industrial studies... at this point the use of phrases such as "Oh Bollocks", "shit shit shit, fuck shit", "fuck" and "fuckit", become entirely acceptable).
So my initial thought that the laminate floor was suffering from the effects of condensation through a poorly laid vapour barrier between it and the tiles, and subsequent transmission of condensate water through this medium to the plastered walls appears to be only one aspect of why the rear extension appears to have damp around pretty much 360 degrees. It’s looking like it’s got very little to do with the method of water transmission from the source of the fault (though one should actually be happy to have found mould/mildew this early) which now appears to be a cracked floor slab, that may or may not have a damaged DPM (Damproof Membrane) same eight inches below, which in turn is wicking water from foundation level, into the cement of the floor, and then via the laminates membrane to the wall, and this brings us full circle.
I can’t decorate until the damp is sorted. I can’t ascertain whether the damp source is a cracked slab through just bad luck, or whether we have a bigger issue with subsidence, and so I have had to call in the insurers to assess the damage and tell us how to proceed.
Does it affect the plan to go travelling? In the long run no. It’s either an aggravation and expense for us and a delay in putting the place up for sale, or its an aggravation for us and an expense for the insurance company, before the place is put up for sale. I’m trying hard to think of the worst case scenario, and how it would blow us out of the water? But I can’t find anything that is going to stop us, only things that are going to delay us or make us move our schedule around, and as long as all the steps necessary are complete before March 2013, then I think you’ll find that Thunderbirds are still go.
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