Friday, 22 February 2013

The Yank's House - Back in the Saddle

This week the weather has improved and there is a touch of spring in the air even if the temperatures are still very low. The days are getting brighter and there is a great stretch in the day as we say here in Ireland.

Encouraged by this Pat and I took one-day leave from our day jobs to spend working at the Yank’s house. It is always difficult when we go back after being away from the house for a while. What tools do we need to take with us? Will the paint have gone hard in the tins over the winter and how well did we clean those brushes last time? Pat had some carpentry to do – there is no end to it really. So he was pulling out timber he had wondering what he would need.

We made lunch and headed off early. The sun was bright and everywhere looked lovely on the drive down especially Lough Ennell as the sun danced on its waters. I should have stopped and taken a photo for you - next time I will. When the house came into view it was like seeing an old friend for the first time in ages. It stood proud in the landscape telling us all had been well in our absences.

Last time we had been down we had turned on a storage heater we have installed in the basement so the house felt warm on entry. Everything looked just as we had left it. Our lovely neighbors on watch as always had kept it save. Have I mentioned our neighbors before? If not I should have – they are the best. No one gets in or out our lane unnoticed. Even if I send someone down to work on the house they ring me to check on the car. One of the lovely things about the Yank’s house has been the people we have met.

It is always a bit hard to motivate oneself on a first day back – where do you start when there is so much to do. I need a new list – that will give me some achievable goals. But this week I had no list. I had a look at the floor that I intend to tackle first. I have taken a few photos to show you the state of it.

I will need Pat with his carpentry skill to repair it in a few places then I think I will hire out a sander and see how it goes. I would need to have two days together to start this and make it worth my while hiring out the sander.

The last time I was down I had finished tiling and grouting the surround on the bedroom fireplace. This fire surround is made from scraps of timber I got at work when some shelves were being taken out and some simple wood brackets from the local hardware store.

I sourced the Mexican tiles on the Internet and had them delivered. The fire inset was already there and I just cleaned and spray-painted it. Finally Pat asked a friend to make the black trim around the fire opening. I am really happy with how it has come together and it has cost practically nothing. I think it looks really well against the blue paneling.

The old door into the room has been filled and sanded and I have now given it several coats of paint. It will never look perfect but I like it as it is. Again I painted the hinges and have removed the lock for my brother-in-law to have a look at. He might be able to fix it and get it working again.

So first day back is over. I got a bit more painting done and carried out an assessment of what needs to be done next. I must work on that list over the weekend. A bottle of red, feet up, a pad and pen in hand and Pat and I can talk and plan for the Yank’s house for hours. Life is good – we are back in the saddle.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Yank's House - Old floor boards - help needed.

The next big job I need to tackle at The Yank’s House will be finishing the wooden floors. These are the original floor boards and they have taken quite a battering over the years. I haven’t decided yet how to finish them.
The first problem is they are very dirty and covered in dust and lime. Originally there was a two foot border painted black around each room. The middle of the room was covered with lino. But now with all the dust and lime that has been walked into them you cannot see the border any more. In fact the floors look very light in colour.

So the first thing I need to research is how to clean them. What should I wash them with? Should I wash them at all? Or should I just sand them?

Any ideas welcome.

On the top floor the boards are not in great condition. I am considering painting them. I need to find out about floor paints. What type of paint to use? Do you wax or varnish over the paint? I have lots of questions but no answers.

In the middle floor the timber is in better condition but again the floors need cleaning. Then I will need to decide if I should stain the boards, do I varnish them or do I wax them. 

It is time to get back online and into my many books for ideas and inspiration I think.  And maybe some of you can help by telling me what you did – maybe share a photo.

Some sites I like

I like this video on painting a floor,,20278875,00.html
How to restore wooden floors – ideas here

Looks like I have to get the sander out. Might make a start next week.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Yank's House - What hides behind the fireplace?

When we found the Yank’s house there was an old green range cooker in the basement kitchen. Opening up the lid, we discovered the cooker was full of twigs and soot and debris that appeared to have come down the chimney. On the top floor of the house the chimney walls showed smoke damage. It appeared there had been a serious chimney fire at some stage. A full investigation of the chimney was needed if we wanted to open it up and use it again.

We started by pulling out the green range – which fell apart from rust once we moved it. Then we took a sledge hammer to the wall blocking up the arch of the old fireplace. What we discovered was quite shocking. 

Behind the range a wall had been built up to close over the face of the old fireplace but the flue from the range cooker had just been pushed through this wall into the wide open space behind. When it was first built the space would have been empty and just filled up with smoke which eventually would have made its way up the chimney.  But there was no way of cleaning this space out so over the years it had backed up with soot, sticks and other rubbish the crows had thrown down  as they tried to build their nests.

We were amazed that the house had never burnt down.  We took barrows of dirt out from behind the range cooker and then started to clear the chimney. There were several layers of crow’s nest with skeleton crows trapped between the layers. At one point the chimney was so densely packed with sticks, mud, sheep’s wool, feathers and God knows what else that we had to break a hole in the wall to loosen it. Eventually we were able to stand in the fireplace in the basement and see light at the top end of the chimney.

The old brick arch had been plastered over with cement possible when the range had been installed. It was difficult to get the cement plaster off the bricks and by the time we had finished the bricks were badly damaged. In fact the structure looked very dangerous. I was worried it would fall. 

We had to get supports in fast in case the chimney came crashing down. Then we headed off to the local salvage yard for old brink to repair our fireplace. Jason who has done other brick and stone work did the job and soon it looked like it had always been there.

When it was finished we were able to line the chimney and install a new stove. We are very pleased with the end result.

An examination of the fireplace and the chimney revealed that the current chimney-breast is not the original. The chimney rises up to one side of the current structure not in the center where one would expect it to be. Originally the fireplace would have been wider – taking over the full wall. Chipping away at the plaster in the little alcove beside the fireplace revealed a stone structure that suggested a much wider chimney-breast. Also we found a small brick arch in the wall that may have been an opening into the space under the stairs.  We wondered if it had been a fuel store. But there are many questions we will never know the answers to.