house – day 28 – the ghost of Father Ted

We have more prep work to do before the decorator can start:

  • remove the radiators in the big rooms, in order to tidy up the walls behind them
  • prepare the chimney breast in the big upstairs room (which will be our office). It’s obvious the boarded up fireplace has been bodged, so it will need new stud work and plaster board.
  • reclaim picture rail from the wall in the fourth bedroom so that I can use it to repair other parts of the picture rail
  • remove the doors in the kitchen, to refurbish them for re-use.

I drained the large radiator in the reception room and removed it, revealing wallpaper of a style I hadn’t seen since the 1970s – or since I last watched an episode of Father Ted. However, the wall’s in good condition, so at least there’s only a bit more stripping to do. The other large radiator was no problem – once I’d remembered to close the lockshield valve prior to draining it. The radiators are heavy things, but I managed to get them up to the back of the garden. After recent events, they’re staying within the bounds of the property for now.

I then started on the upstairs chimney breast. From the ventilation grille that had been nailed into the wall at a far from level angle and the distinctly hollow sound when you tapped the rough wall where the fireplace used to be, I should have had a clue about the state of this work. But I wasn’t prepared for the Nobel Prize winning level of bodgery that constituted this attempt to block the fireplace. I’m all in favour of re-use (you ask Fiona about my scrap wood collection), but there are times when new materials must used to do the job properly. At some time in the past, the hole left behind when the fireplace was removed, had been filled with the remains of kitchen cabinets nailed to the wall. Then a piece of painted hardboard (with a familiar grid pattern, it’s all over the house) was nailed over the top of that and a render that can only be described as patchy, uneven loose grit was applied over the top of that. At least it was easy to remove but it’s more unexpected work and more crap to get rid of. However, once removed, the brickwork appeared in good order. Despite the obvious length of time the fireplace has been closed up there’s only a relatively small pile of dust, soot etc at the bottom of the chimney.

To compensate for the previously shoddy work, I replaced the bodge-work with a massively over-engineered wooden structure to support the new plasterboard. Thanks to the tapering shape of the aperture, I had to start the framework from deep inside the fireplace and build outwards – three layers of stout timber. It should hold. The uneven brickwork, means a little of the plasterboard stands too proud, I’ll have to trim that back and render it.

It took a couple of hours to get the picture rail off the wall in the bedroom. The render and plaster is very hard and the wood started to split around the nails as I levered it off. I stripped the paint off to find the nails, so I could drill them out, but they were buried in the wood, I ended up using a flat cold chisel to cut though the render, behind the picture rail to get to the nails so I could cut them from behind. Eventually, I got the wood from the wall and there should be enough to complete the picture rail on the wall on the left, where there will be a space when a built-in cupboard  is removed.

Getting the materials and re-blocking the fireplace took rather longer than I thought which meant it had gone dark when I tried to remove the kitchen doors. There’s so much paint and crud on the hinges that you can’t get to the slot in the screw heads. I tried drilling them out, but it’s pretty hard steel. I’ll cut the hinges with and angle grinder when it’s daylight. Even with a 500W work light, there’s not enough light, you tend to block it with your shadow in such a confined space.

I almost got everything done that I needed to do today, which is a rare occurence.