Sunday, 8 December 2013


A little over a week ago was a major milestone, as the heat pump was turned on for the first time. The big propeller is turning and the pumps are pumping, adding a sound of life to the cellar.  Not exactly something that is easy to show in photos, but look, there's a pump running! The system in the living room, the pufferspeicher and the heat pump itself were filled and set running. It's working away with fairly efficient numbers of 4:1, and is just taking the edge off the cold inside the house.

In the meantime, we built a small bit of scaffolding in order to do some work on the awning over the main barn door. The gutters here were broken for the past two-and-a-half years, since the original scaffolding for the house work was erected, meaning that water had been pouring onto the corner of the house all that time. This has resulted in a pretty damp spot in the cellar at that corner. We've now got nice, shiny new gutters, and the piece of roof I had to truncate has been retiled.

In a way, it was probably a mistake to repoint that part of the cellar wall before it dried out, but it will, I hope, eventually.

And, finally, I made some progress on the ceiling underconstruction in the same cellar. The idea is to insulate the ceiling with 120mm of rockwool, or similar, then seal it off with plasterboard or Fermacell. It was all going swimmingly till I ran out of timber, but I got a delivery of 330 metres last Friday night, so that should keep me going!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Wall heating, stage 1

It's been a busy couple of weeks. As well as continuing with repointing and plastering the walls of cellar 4, the "Techniksraum", we made some major steps with the heating installation.

Having already started with the black panels (see photo above), which simply stuck on the the styrofoam internal insulation of the living room gable wall, the south wall, insulated with wood fibre board, had to be tackled. First step, a skim coating of special plaster (actually, the same sticky, glue-like paste that I used to stick the insulation boards to the wall) so the panels would adhere, as the fibre board doesn't bond like styrofoam.

 Once this had hardened, after a couple of days, the same uninsulated black panels were stuck on, and we could begin installing the wall heating pipes. Under the expert guidance of Sace Bakan, who did the more tricky sections, I was let loose. It's definitely more challenging than it looks, being like a big labyrinth, but once the basic principles are learned, it's quite fun. Though my speed will never match his!

Living room done.
A little extra styrofoam to make a cabinet for the distributor.
The bedroom, on the other side of the house, had a slightly different configuration. The southern wall was insulated internally, using the same wood fibre boards on account of this being the half-timbered wall, while the eastern gable wall had been externally insulated. This meant that different wall heating panels had to be used, blue ones, this time, with a built-in, 1cm thick layer of styrofoam backing. This ensures that the wall heating doesn't heat the whole external wall, which would wick the heat away, and instead direct it solely into the plaster that will eventually envelope the whole system. After treating the walls with a plaster primer, to improve bonding, the panels were stuck on using foam

The small room to the north east of the bedroom got similar treatment, but this time only one wall, as it's small enough. The unheated wall will eventually have shelves or wardrobes in front of it, but this will probably be my home office for the first while.

The next steps will be to secure the panels more firmly to the walls using special wall plugs.

Last week, a man from the power company was in to install a new, dedicated meter for the heat pump, so it's all connected up and ready to run, once the spaghetti pipes are connected to the distribution manifolds. Looking forward to a bit of heat!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

One step closer to heating

The Bakan boys (our local, friendly electricians and heating experts) were in for most of the short week last week, connecting up the air-source heat pump, the hot water cylinder, buffer storage and all the lovely manifolds, pumps and gauges. Even though we have yet to turn it all on (reasons below), I have to say, it looks fantastic. Lots of nice technology, really neatly done, all on a background of rustic walls. I think we've the prettiest technical room in the village, at least...

In the meantime, I've got a little further with the repointing and plastering, so this cellar room is nearly complete. Just needs power in for lights and sockets, a new window, a door, one more wall to re-point, then insulate the ceiling, oh, and paint the plaster, probably, and we're done! It'll be the first complete room in the house!
Just a little more left to do on this wall...
Heating-wise, my next job is to get the wall heating panels up. After getting some pointers from Sace Bakan, I made a start yesterday evening, sticking the panels on the already-insulated walls of the living room. Nice and easy, but just need to put a couple sockets more in, and a little base work, then can continue. Once that's done, we'll get the pipes in and turn on the heating for the first time.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Big Hoist

Last Friday, our yard was filled with a million euro of mobile crane. As it had been used for another job nearby, Sace got him to pop over and lift the heat pump over the house and barn to place it in its new home.

Yesterday evening, we completed the pipework and back-filling behind the house, so it's no longer so Somme-like.Nevertheless, there'll be a lot of work to do to get that garden in shape! The heat pump isn't the most attractive, but maybe we can hide it a bit.

Next week, some of the internal work begins, at least with getting power sorted for the cellar and heat pump. In the meantime, I'll be continuing with repointing and plastering to get the technics room (AKA Cellar 4) complete.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Life in the trenches

The past three weeks have been mostly occupied with two tasks. One, getting the basics ready for the air-source heat pump installation, and related to that, getting some of the final dirty work in cellar 4 completed, so the heating equipment can be given a home.

For the cellar work, it's been an almost nightly task to do a few hours repointing or plastering to get the back area completed before the hot water tank and buffer reservoir (puffer speicher, so not sure what the English  technical term is!) are put into place. It's not hard work, but extremely slow. I'm using a mix of trass cement and sand, as trass doesn't have the lime elements of normal cement that can lead to leaching of salts in a damp cellar wall, plus it's a bit more breathable than plain Portland cement. In those areas where the old plaster has been too difficult to completely remove I've simply plastered over with lime-cement plaster.

After blasting, before repointing.
After repointing.
The end where the equipment will live.
"Rustic" plastering. Will be nicer once painted :)
After three weeks of this, I have about 65% of cellar 4 done. Like I said, slow... But I think it does look a lot better than before, and once completely dried out will be nice and bright. Actually, when I look back on how the cellar looked when we first bought the house, it's quite the transformation!

Last weekend we experienced life in the trenches. Our friend, master electrician Sace, and his son, popped over on the Friday with a mini digger and we began preparing the plinth for the heat pump to stand on, as well as the trenches for laying the necessary pipes into the cellar. Working well into the dark, we got as far as building the shuttering for the plinth, with the intention of pouring concrete the next day. Unfortunately, it rained the whole night, and pretty much all Saturday, but that didn't stop us. By Monday night, we'd gotten as far as getting the pipes in, but ran out of sand, as we'd then found one of the pipes leading to the rainwater cistern had been laid with a slope in the wrong direction. That added a couple of hours work, as we excavated it and reset it so water would actually flow towards the cistern from the barn roof...

Now that's a drill! Needed one more hole for the pipes.
Saturday... wet. Photo's don't do the mud justice.
Backfilling in the dark
Rough-fitting through cellar wall. Still needs to be sealed.
Slippery when wet.
So, the next job will be getting the heat pump from the front of the house to its permanent home behind the barn, and filling in the remaining trenches. I'm away for most of the week, so I'm hoping it will be left till my return.
The heatpump and water cylinders

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Last Blast

Almost two years ago, I had my first experience using a sand-blaster. We used it a lot for cleaning off oak beams in the upper levels of the house, to great effect, and a cursory clean of the walls in the cellar. Since then, the blaster went on its merry way, but we needed to call on its services again this weekend, to do a proper job on the cellar walls. Initially, we'd thought to simply clean the walls enough so that new plaster would hold, but then decided it would be better for the walls if they were left as natural as possible so any dampness coming from the foundation would find it easier to escape. My wife had spent a couple of weeks knocking the remaining plaster off the walls, but they needed a deep clean before we could repoint.

My old friend.
It's dirty, sweaty work, but enjoyable in its own way, as you see results quick. Well, once the dust has settled, which takes some time when blasting clay and plaster off walls in an enclosed space. But, it needed to be done before the heating equipment gets installed in cellar 4, and that, we hope, will be done in time for winter.

First, a look back to the type of thing we got back in late 2010.

Cellar 1
Cellar 4
Then how they looked a week ago.

"Cellar 2" is in two parts, the entry hall, and behind that as mall vaulted cellar. The left wall of the entry hall, as seen below, has been plastered over, with a damp-proof membrane under the plaster. This was disastrous for the wood beam resting on the wall, hence a good idea to leave it free. After removing the plaster and some of the old mortar (more like clay), it looked better, but pretty manky dirty. We thought it had potential, though.
Cellar 2/Entry hall
Cellar 2/Entry. The sandstone had already been blasted earlier.

In cellar 4, the easternmost former stall, we'd already began with the waterworks installation, so everything had to be wrapped up and protected prior to blasting.  There's quite a difference, even at the stage shown below, compared to what it was like when we first got it as seen above!

Cellar 4
Cellar 4
And the post-blasting shots. I think Cellar 1 is unrecognisable compared to what it was like in 2010. But it's still the messiest of all the cellars, and the floor will eventually have to be replaced, but that's on the very long finger.
Cellar 1 now.
The entry hall is important, and it's a pity the stones aren't nicer, but I think it should come out well in the end.

Cellar 2/Entry hall
Cellar 2/Entry hall
Cellar 4 is going to be fun to repoint...

Cellar 4
Cellar 4
 Difficult as it is to see through the dust, it wasn't helped by the visor on my mask getting frosted. Glad I have a backup, but I won't be blasting again!

All that was left to do was the cleanup. The used sand went to the neighbour's chickens...

Monday, 9 September 2013

Post-holiday update

It might seem like little was done during August, but before we disappeared to Ireland for a short holiday, it was all action with small bits and pieces. I'd continued to install the floor underconstruction, with pretty much all the first floor done now, apart from half of the living room, as a beam needs to be replaced before I can continue there. The floor beams at the  back half of the living room slope up towards the back of the house, so to make it even, we'll have a small, c. 5cm step midway in the room.

The first floor bathroom finally got what looks like a proper wall, after erecting some OSB sheeting on the stud partition.

 And as we couldn't wait for the sheep, I cut the grass out back for the first time in... well, a long time! Want to keep it short before the pears and nuts start dropping. The cherry plums have already been harvested. Over 70kg again this year!

Over the past week, since returning from holiday, I had to prep the remaining uninsulated walls, the half-timber ones that I first plastered so long ago. Being the first time I'd ever plastered, they needed some evening out! Not that it had been easy to plaster very uneven half-timbered walls, but I've learnt a lot since then.

They needed to be pretty even to allow me to stick on the new insulation panels that arrived just before we went away. Holzfaserdämmplatten, or wood fibre insulation boards, are highly breathable as well as environmentally friendly. The idea here is to use as breathable material as possible on the timber framed wall, to ensure moisture doesn't condense behind an impermeable membrane, so it can wick in and out. They're not cheap, when compared with styrofoam, and they're not as easy to work with. Styrofoam is like play, cutting with hot wires, spraying on some foam and sticking them together. With the fibre boards, it's a plaster-like goo that gets mixed, applied with a serrated float, and then pushed onto the wall. A bit messier, more preparation, and hell on my tennis elbow.

Nevertheless, after a half day last Saturday, I had the guts of the bedroom and the hall done.

And in other news, my wife invested many hours rescuing the flower bed in front of the house. Six months ago, it was full of grass, weeds, concrete, plaster and broken roof tiles. Looking like a proper country garden now :)