As things progressed at a tremendous pace in the summer months - with walls and floors transforming our home week by week, we confidently invited Cal’s family to come spend Christmas in Dunoon.
Surely we would have a kitchen and heating system in by then?! What could go wrong?
We knew we didn’t have time to install a boiler for our central heating system at such short notice, but we had always had plans for a wood burning stove in our living room - so why not just pop it in before Christmas?
It turns out, trying to get the wood burner of your dreams, just as the weather has turned cold, and weeks before Christmas…is a big ask.
I went online, and after some research, found an efficient stove that would fit the style and size of our space - the problem was, the lead time on the stove was 6 weeks. Our dreams of a warm Christmas around a fire, surrounded by family and friends were fast dwindling, but determined, I called around to see what could be done.
With no answers, and now only two weeks before Christmas, we were ready to call off Christmas in Dunoon and head down south to meet family in Bristol, when to our surprise, my desperate attempts at contacting companies were answered by Stovax (PR Product). They could get us our dream wood stove before Christmas! I actually jumped for joy when we heard the good news. It was a Christmas miracle!
We got to tiling the hearth, in preparation for our stove. UK regulations state that a hearth must be made of a 125mm non-combustible material, unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer. Thankfully, our Stovax Sheraton 5 only specifies a 12mm thick decorative hearth - which meant we could use our beautiful Claybrook Studio Red Terracotta tiles, which were also going to be used in the entrance hall, to create the tiled area.
After installing the hearth, we worked on building out a temporary kitchen in our apartment while we waited for our flue and stove to arrive.
From here, things did not continue to go smoothly.
I had already ordered a twin walled flue for our wood stove, but after some measurements, we decided we needed a 15 degree offset, so that the twinwall flue was far enough away from combustible surfaces to meet regulations. The original website I ordered the flue from did not supply offsets, so we went to a different company for this part. On the phone with this new supplier, a representative explained to me that flues are not made to be universal - every brand has their own way of connecting the pipes, so I needed to make sure I was buying the correctly branded materials. I checked on the original website, where the title of the product stated the Brand name we had ordered and relayed this on to the new company who were helping with the missing piece.
On the day of our planned install, Cal’s mom had arrived, and was quickly assured we would a wood burning stove lit by the end of the evening. We excitedly opened up packages (our stove was so beautiful!! AHH!!!) and as Cal started dry-fitting pieces of flue together, we quickly realised they did not fit.
I sat in shock and disbelief - I was absolutely sure I had ordered the correct pieces! We called both companies, and soon found out the first supplier had recently swapped brands, but had not updated their website accordingly. With only 4 days before Christmas, and 2 days before Cal’s siblings and partners arrived, there was no way we could get the correct flue bits sent to us in time. We started calling around Glasgow suppliers, to see if we could drive into the city and pick up the missing piece. It turns out the flue brand we had chosen primarily sells its pieces online, and noone in the area kept it in stock. It was starting to look like we were not going to have a pleasant Christmas in Dunoon.
We were finally resigned to the fact that we were going to have to buy a whole new flue system.
It was a series of unfortunate events, but luckily, all the online companies were willing to make returns on the items we had bought, and we found a helpful company in Glasgow who was still open for business on the week of Christmas.
The next day, we managed to get the wood burner installed, and as we lit the stove for the first time, our living room was transformed. What was a cold, unpleasant space to spend any amount of time in, quickly warmed to a toasty room temperature. It was the first time we could really enjoy being in any part of the house during the winter months.
With plenty of wood cut down while clearing our property, and stacked by Cal and Jake two summers ago, we indulged in a lit fire every afternoon and evening during the Christmas holidays. I spent most of this time at the best spot in the house - the single mattress we sat on the floor in front of the burner. There is nothing more magical feeling than the cozy warmth that a wood burner engulfs you in on a cold winter night.
It was also a relief to see that our insulation was working - the room held its heat overnight, and the next day it was still noticeably warm before lighting a new fire.
When buying a wood burning stove, consider the size of your room and insulation levels to figure out what size burner you will need. Our room is approximately 5*8m, and the wood burner will be a secondary heat source - although, with the rising price of gas, and the ability to source cheap local fire wood, we are considering using the burner as more of a primary heat source in the winter to come - to keep the living room warm and toasty, while keeping bedrooms at a cooler temperature.
Here’s a rough sizing guide provided by Stovax for their burners: https://www.stovax.com/frequently-asked-questions/buyer-faqs/solid-fuel-buyer-faqs/size-stove-need/
The Sheraton 5 uses Stovax’s Cleanburn System for great efficiency, control and for a cleaner burn. Our wood burner has a beautiful, large glass pane incorporated in its door, which offers a beautiful glow to the space. The wood burns so cleanly, we rarely have to clean this glass.
Here's the stove we chose: https://www.stovax.com/stove-fire/sheraton-wood-burning-multi-fuel-stoves/sheraton-5/
We have a few takeaway messages from this close call at Christmas. Summer is the perfect time to start looking for your dream wood burner! That way you have plenty of time bfore the weather cools for ordering and installation. Also…order all your flue equipment from the same supplier!
Stovax truly saved Christmas in Dunoon, and their stove has made the rest of the winter months spent working on the house much more enjoyable. We can’t thank them enough for all their help.
In the Spring of 2021, we drove down South to the Bristol area for a 3 week visit with family.
In Autumn of the previous year, Cal had worked in Bristol on a contract with his dad, and had planned on putting the van through its MOT (yearly roadworthy test) while he was down South. After failing the MOT, Cal had to abandon the van down South.
This was the deal of a lifetime! In recent years, reclaimed floorboards have become increasingly trendy - for good reason. They are much thicker than the floorboards being made these days, and the old pine was traditionally slow grown - a better quality than you would find today. They last a lifetime, and if your boards ever look tattered and worn, a quick sand and oil will bring them back to life. As people have started realising the true value of these boards, they have gone up in price - some reclaimed boards can go for more than a brand new floor. At a minimum, we had expected reclaimed boards - without any refurbishment - probably naily and in poor condition, to go for between £20-25/sqm.
With a brand new MOT, we went straight to London to pick up our flooring. We found out these boards had previously been used as racking in an old carpet factory - which meant they were barely worn, and they only had one or two nails in either end - rather than every 600mm, as one would expect from old floorboards.
With heafty fines for overloading a vehicle, we decided it was worth making two trips. The extra tank of fuel was well worth it - as we were saving thousands on our flooring budget (note, this was well before the fuel crisis). We made the second trip fun, by stopping by Hull on our way home, to visit family.
I was surprised by how monumental this progress felt. For the first time in the years we had owned Jameswood, we could finally walk around upstairs without the fear of falling through the floor. The visual progress that the flooring contributed to was immense. Even with stud walls still open, the flooring made the house feel homely.
Once the flooring was all in, it was time to move on to plasterboarding. With Cal working on clients’ carpentry projects to bring in some much needed cashflow, I took on this task with the help of our workaway volunteers. I Youtubed how to install the boards, taught my team, and we got to work. This was dusty, heavy work, but many hands make light work, and in another 6 weeks, we had managed to plasterboard the house. A neighbour, who we had leant some scaffolding to, offered us a plasterboard lift, which helped immensely with the ceiling boards. By the end of the summer, I was able to lift a whole sheet of plasterboard by myself - something that I had struggled to do at the start of this project. With plasterboard in, the house was really starting to look like a finished space. There was lots left to do, but we were starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
It was a sereal moment in the project, where at the beginning of the summer we didn’t have floors and stud walls stood skeleton-like in each apartment - we now had finished floors and rooms forming in our home.
We were finally wind and water tight, just in time for the new year.
After our windows were in, Cal and I both took on winter jobs - doing some tree planting and seasonal picking to rebuild funds for the project.
As winter became spring, we decided to divide an conquer - a strategy we would use for the whole summer, only again working on projects together in late Autumn.
Cal had two main goals during this time. He was in charge of first-fix plumbing and electrics, as well as bringing in more income for the project.
While he got underway with these tasks, it would be my job to insulate the house, lay flooring throughout, and plasterboard our walls, with the help of our incredible volunteers.
Insulating Our Home
As Cal got on with first fix plumbing and electrics, I made it my mission to insulate our home. This part of our project was key to our sustainable renovation’s success. Jameswood is an old Victorian home, and like 91% of the UK’s traditionally built, solid-walled homes - she has never had wall insulation (1) - and like 32% of all British homes, the building had such a small layer of loft insulation included, that by British standards, the home was considered to be uninsulated (1).
For our home to be efficient, and ready for life in the 21st century, we were going to wrap the building in a continuous layer of insulation - under the floors, in the walls and of course, in the ceilings. But there were some factors we had to consider when choosing how to insulate this property. Traditionally built homes are made of solid stone walls, with an air gap between this, and the inner layer of lathe and plaster that encloses the living space. The stone walls are designed to get damp in rainy conditions, and with the help of ventilation blocks in the crawl space, air flow gaps in the eaves and the air gap between the outer and inner layer of the walls, the walls will breath and dry out in dry weather conditions. It’s essential that this process is unimpeded by the insulation we put in our home (2).
Unfortunately, SheepWool insulation is expensive. In terms of costs, it is comparable to Kingspan - which has also become an expensive way of insulating a home, and is far more expensive that Glass wool insulation. We decided to be strategic about its use in our home, because we just didn’t have the cash to insulate our entire home in the material.
In the roof space and under the floor, we used glasswool insulation, some of which was salvaged from a friends renovation project. We used Kingspan sparingly - it was used around window and door reveals, where room was tight, and we needed a highly efficient, thin insulating material - for these, we managed to get second-hand boards for many of the spaces, and “seconds” - rejected boards with small defects, for the rest.
With an insulation plan in place, I got to insulating! Working with the Sheep Wool insulation was a dream! It has a sweet grass smell to it, it was easy to cut and install, and it was safe to work with - no PPE required!
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said of our glass wool and Kingspan insulation. They were itchy and dusty to work with (always wear a proper face mask when working with this material!) and worming my way under the floor, and crawling around in the attic wasn’t the most fun job I’ve had to do in our renovation - but we quickly saw progress, and in no time at all, we had an insulated home! An exciting milestone for our project!
With an energy crisis AND and climate crisis in our midst, it’s increasingly important that we insulate our homes.
Putting wall insulation into a Victorian can be a bit tricky, and can require taking plaster down, reframing walls, and replastering large spaces. It’s not a practical solutions for everyone to tackle. However, there are some easy places to make your home more effiicient.
Check your loft - it should have about 300mm of insulation. If it doesn’t, topping up your insulation is a very quick, easy and inexpensive way of increasing the energy efficiency of your home. You could make savings that cover the cost of this upgrade in as little as a year (5)!
If you’re taking up flooring while doing renovations, consider putting underfloor insulation in as well. This job could save up to 10-20% extra on your energy bills (6).
Make sure your insulation creates a continuous envelope, with no gaps. A gap in your insulation can dramatically decrease its energy efficiency - it’s like putting on a jacket in the winter, but refusing to zip it up - you’ll get cold!
Check out your local government’s website for energy improvement grants. Right now, the Scottish government will cover the costs of putting insulation in your home! If you don’t own your home, make your landlord aware of these grants and ask that they make these important energy improvements.
I last posted on this blog over a year ago - and since then, I’ve had a number of concerned emails from readers, asking if we’re okay, and if the house is okay?
The silence has been a sign of good things! The fact of the matter is… blog posts take a LONG time to write, and so does building a house! This blog has taken a seat on the backburner for the sake of progress on Jameswood.
Now, I am taking a few weeks away from the house to visit family and friends in Canada, for the first time since the start of the pandemic. With a bit of extra time while I'm here, I thought I would sit down and update you on our house!
So what have we managed to get done over the past year? Let's go back to December 2020, and fill you in!
2020 brought with it one of the most exciting and memorable Christmas’ I’ve experienced. We were finally completing the momentous step of getting Jameswood wind and water tight - with the addition of our beautiful new windows!!!
This was a HUGE deal for us. They could easily cost more than we initially paid for one of our apartments, and they were likely to completely drain funds for the project.
Even with these facts looming over us, we wanted to make a good choice for our home.We didn’t want the cheapest windows we could find - we wanted something that would add value to our home, help bring the original character back to our Victorian property, and importantly, choose windows that would last - so that we didn’t have to make this very large purchase again any time soon.
It was for these reasons that we decided it was important for us that we put timber framed windows into our home. Unlike UPVC, which have a life expectancy of between 15 - 30 years, timber framed windows can last a lifetime, if taken care of properly.
Though most of Jameswood’s windows had been broken by vandals, and damaged beyond repair, we actually still had three windows left, that were original to our home. With a good sand and paint, these remaining three 120-year old windows have become a beautiful feature on our new shed - and a testament to why we chose timber frames for our home.
The key to making timber windows last is maintenance. Everyone seems to be afraid of this word these days. UPVC, as well as numerous other parts of our home, are marketed as maintenance-free. But let’s rephrase that, and say it as it is: they’re unmaintainable. They can’t be fixed. When they get discoloured and brittle from the sun… that’s that. If a piece of the frame breaks, you have to buy a brand new window. And the old one ends up in landfill.
Timber windows, in contrast, will last a lifetime. If a section of window does get damaged, you can replace a piece of the frame, instead of the whole window. As long as the windows protective paint coating is maintained, the window should stay in good working order. We decided we would much rather paint our windows with a high quality coating every ten years, instead of replace them every 15-30. Once we had re-framed our perspective, the additional cost of timber windows felt a lot less daunting.
After lots of careful research, we finally chose a company, style, and completed the very daunting task of putting down a deposit and ordering our windows.
Days before Christmas, with our bank account drained, but our spirits high, we got the best Christmas gift we could ever imagine. We received an exciting delivery of brand new, beautifully built and finished timber windows.
With extreme care, we started unpacking and moving our delivery into the house. We were so thankful to have great friends help with this task - with bay window openings that are taller than us, some of our timber windows were extremely heavy.
At this time, we didn't have any flooring upstairs, just temporary boards laid over joists. Even more problematic was the fact that there was no proper stairway to access this upper floor. We had been getting up to this area via ladder. With no way of safely carrying these huge windows up a ladder, Cal set up a block and tackle from the roof rafters, and - inch by inch - we pulled our precious cargo up to the second floor.
Over the next few days, with the help of our incredible friends, we closed out the windy and rainy December air, window by window. By Christmas, we had all the upstairs windows installed, and we were able to enjoy a... still cold, but wind-free Christmas with friends in our future living room!
As each window was installed, Jameswood started to come to life. She was looking more and more like a real-people house! I kept stopping and staring as we pulled into the driveway, or came home from a walk, and were greeted to a building that was really starting to look beautiful.
We couldn’t have been happier with the company we found to design and build our windows. Bereco makes high-quality timber framed windows from slow grown, sustainably forested timber. They offer free online design consultations, so that you can speak with an expert, and get the correct style window for your price point. We chose their traditional sash windows, though they also offer contemporary styles. They even matched the horn detail from our original windows, which was an exciting feature for us, that would help us restore the building to its original beauty and character. For transparency’s sake, we DID receive a discount on our windows, for sharing them with our audience on Instagram. But I can whole-heartedly recommend this brand. Their windows are such high-quality, stunning pieces. Their company is responsible to the environment and infinitely helpful. Their windows have truly been an investment that has added beauty and value to our home.
We were finally wind and water tight, just in time for the new year, and Cal and I couldn't be happier.